Trey Parker and Matt Stone – Mystics in Cyberspace

Next to me are two books: Kind of Minds by Daniel Dennett, and The Essentials of Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill. The twelfth edition, water damaged, makes claims tentatively offered and supported by ancient mystics qualifying everything, as if they might be saying too much by saying anything at all.

Contrast that with Dennett’s claim, “You great, great…. Grandmother was a robot! Not only are you descended from such macromolecular robots but you are composed of them: your hemoglobin molecules, your antibodies…”

Both volumes fall apart in my hand, literally.

(‘Literally’ – as if writing something down, making it literature, which certainly must be the underlying assumption of the expression, makes it really true.  The expression ‘literally’ entails so many implicit assumptions regarding the primacy of mental activity and expression over the thing itself, but I digress.)

Dennett uses robots metaphorically here.  The biological being who created robots is now described as that which is created, the terms of the metaphor becoming an odd example of circular reasoning.  This is not at all what he is talking about.  He is pointing beyond the expression, and that extension of meaning is precisely the point.  It’s not that we can’t get there from here; here is all there is.  Dennett’s insistence on this point makes me aware that I have given short shrift to the here and now.  Focusing on Kenny’s out-of-body experiences of death and rebirth, I missed Kyle’s moments of wisdom and failed to follow Trey Parker and Matt Stone into the twenty-first-century gaming world.  Here.  Now.

Here. Now in Toronto two brothers are sitting on a couch fighting over the console while I help their grandmother set up for dinner.  They are having some difficulty keeping up with their cousin who complains, “That isn’t fair.  I’m not … What are you doing?”  The cousin is playing with them from Mexico City.  The oldest of the three, eight years old.  He’s going to quit if they don’t start playing fair.

Distances are diminished in this gaming world that is as familiar to these three boys as the four-square painted on the asphalt in playgrounds of yesteryear, and today.  These three cousins get together apart from cyberspace and might play four-square, their physical world seamlessly integrated across North America and through cyberspace.  These boys are not robots.  Robots are just their tools, not unlike the spoon I use to serve soup.  Dennett’s reductionism isn’t helpful in figuring out what is happening here. The cousin in Mexico is now thoroughly annoyed.  “I’m hanging up now!”  Felt-space is bigger; for these boys it’s the entire continent and their playground.

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Kenny – Getting on with it

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Questions), 1989–90

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Questions), 1990/2018, on view October 20, 2018–November 2020 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, photo by Elon Schoenholz

I’ve been implicitly comparing to Jesus.   Kenny the super-hero but just a humble kid who opens us to understanding infinity – maybe even making Jesus make sense.  Yet accused him of being a deceiver, created all this time in 3D animation and reduced to 2D.  Of course, Kenny doesn’t exist except as a cartoon.  My complaint was with the artists all along, and not deception is involved, just artistry and a business decision.   It’s faster to create him and all South Park in 3D; a workflow issue, more efficient to work in 3D and then transfer those images to 2D….  I saw this as deception.  My next question now, at least, is, What does it matter?

I’ve been puzzling over that for a few weeks.  It matters, at least to me. The medium informs our consciousness and with consciousness or even unconsciously impacts the matter.  There is a reason the creators decided to take the 3D, easier to produce, to 2D at least as the apparent aesthetic.

While I argued that2D and 3D is all anticipation and memory in our experience – only tangentially related to our actual present existence that we can’t fathom (because that requires a thought and in the instant it is thought it is past, just a memory) — still it’s our material.

There is art history and art isn’t progressive,  so the expression “history” is misleading.  Ancient Egyptian encryptions and pottery aren’t less sophisticated than Barbara Krugger’s work at the Geffen in LA, even though Krugger’s work is more accessible to me – physically just a few Metro stops from here and aesthetically I get her work implicitly and Egyptian pottery I’m always trying to ‘read’.  We’re pasting a timeline onto a mesh of perceptual experiences that are present at least before we process them, perceive them in time.

I want to NOT read Krugger’s work.  I’m going to try to just be present so that a letter in the alphabet is a pure sensation.  That, of course, might prove impossible but I’m going try anyhow.

Approaching things another way, recently I’m trying to read South Park as I would a 3-d text, although I promised at least myself earlier I was done with South Park altogether, that it’s time to go on.  So soon…

 

 

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Over Kenny?

Joshua Tree night

I’ve got to let go of Kenny.  South Park has been going on twenty-two years and I’ve been obsessing on Kenny nearly that whole time.  Kenny keeps dying and dying and living again.  That never bores me actually, but maybe I’ve had enough.  There are books to read…  I need to take a walk…

On a walk I encounter this-ness, haecceity – you gotta love this God.  This tree, this stone in my shoe, the smell of the wet bark.  The infinite is lonely and mostly empty space, and before all that lonely and empty space there is just a little matter here and there throughout the universe.  Or so we’re told and I believe it.  But there is here and now (that I keep reminding you, reminding myself, is past but it feels here, it feels now.  It’s not the logically necessary specious present; it’s what is felt, the phenomena.  I pay attention: this tree, this pebble in my shoe…)

My complaint against God is that our all-knowing God seems to be such a slow learner.  All those millennia where biological beings developed sensory perception and experience, we soon gained the knowledge that pain hurts.  Was God just standing outside creation, observing, tweaking this and that cosmos when life began?  With life came pleasure and pain.  Was that God’s first tickle, first breath, but maybe God was somehow outside of this creation until fully identified with the creation.  In Christianity we call it “the incarnation”, when God became one of us, although in all humility we must allow for at least the possibility that there is an ameba Christ, a plankton Jesus.

Christian teachings would have it that the particular human experience is most identified with God, the messy birth, breast milk on God’s infant lips.  And maybe only in the crucifixion, when the God-Son experiences personally and intensely and definitively death, that everything was changed because God experienced pain and death as a phenomenological truth – no turning back on this, God.  Yeah, death sucks but at least then the pain stops, at least if you’re the one who is dead.

(I think of Mary at the foot of the cross, that she might not have ever got over that moment, how absent she seems in all the resurrection scenes because she didn’t care so much about the magic trick, another resurrection.  Okay.  Welcome back, son.  But they’ll do it all again, and nothing you’ve done changes that for anyone, even for you.  You’ve still got the holes in your hands, and the slit in your side, for God’s sake…)

Yet as discussed before, we exist in the present while we can only know what is just past, even if we experience it as present.  That’s the difference between us and God, a big difference.  We enter into this knowing, or something akin to knowing, when we shut up and are still, quit putting things out there which are artifacts of the present even as we are still working on them, even a single word we speak.  The Word is different than our words, beautifully expressed by the Jewish practice of refusing to express it, spelling it with a dash marking an empty space, G-D.

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Digitize this…

Yesterday I was trying to explain this to some students.  They work with digital media. They create it.  So I thought they’d get it if I could just get it out. It didn’t go well.

Here, let me try again here.  Let me start by defining time consciousness.  It’s different than time.  It’s our consciousness of time, how we experience it, that is not as absolute time (whatever that is) but as a human being in time experiences time.

Digital media makes the structure of time consciousness clear.

The structure of time consciousness, as the German philosopher Edmund Husserl pointed out over a century ago, (and taught Heidegger but that’s another story) goes something like this.:

Think about a bell ringing.  You might anticipate the bell ringing, then someone rings the bell but you hear its reverberation and process it in your mind at least a nanosecond after it actually rings, and then you enjoy the reverberations.

So the structure of time consciousness is:

  • the anticipated future which doesn’t exist yet, just as the past and the specious present don’t exist anymore.
  • the “specious present”, specious because in the moment it takes to register the present sound in consciousness it’s already past, and
  • the remembered just-past….

We exist, we know (rehash Rene Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am”) because, if I wasn’t in existence I couldn’t be thinking. But there’s no ‘now’ to this conscious existence.  Like the sound, there is anticipation,.  Then there’s the sensation or thought that occurs,  but as we sense it and think it and it is registered in consciousness it’s  just-past.  Then there’s recollection.  It has a narrative structure: a beginning, middle, and end, but this is constructed around a present that we can’t actually bring to consciousness.

There may even be the thought of the ‘now’ but, like sound, we anticipate it, we think about it in time and that is a process, thus taking time and in time, time passes.   There’s no now in this that is actually present.  It’s already past, a reflection on what we refer to as now, that has already past.  It exists as an idea we had, we might still hold, but the experience itself of the thought is past as soon as we think it.

What is actually present doesn’t share this narrative structure.   It just is.  That’s where we live, or so we assume.  That’s where we have the experience, but we can’t think about that without it already being past.

The time that we are conscious of, that’s all just what is remembered or anticipated.  There’s no ‘now’ now because in the thinking about it it’s already past.

Yet we live here; we just can’t experience it consciously or think about it in the now of narrative structures because we exist as bodies.  Bodies (us) do have a narrative structure.  We are born, we do exist now, and we live on until we die.  We can make wild imaginative variations on that structure.  But it’s gapped.  We are conscious of the structure but the ‘now’ that is the epicenter of the structure is like a black hole only more so (really less so – there’s not even dark matter there.)  The gap is the present, but as soon as it’s brought to mind it’s not ‘now’ now.

Digital media takes us back to this ancient truth.  There’s ‘now’ now that is the imagined narrative that the media presents, but it is riddled with gaps in the code.  Between the x and the o in our digital reality nothing exists, except we exist.

Without a beginning and middle and end in itself, this gap in the code has infinite breadth and width and depth, insofar as it doesn’t share the narrative structure.

We might picture it as a gap but the gap has external dimensions.  The very idea of a gap is my lame way of bringing what is infinite into the narrative of this expression, this text, that also has a beginning, middle and end. (I’m almost done here.)

So my students create code.  They make out of this infinite-lived space an  image, a game, a storyline.  They give it worldly dimensions.  A narrative.  But they just make this stuff up, out of nothing.  Really.  Infinite nothing.

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Cartoon Physics and what’s really real

The irony isn’t lost on me here:  I’m talking about how digital media allows us to recognize how the narrative structure of the story, and even of our lived lives, is something we make up.  There’s nothing absolutely real about it (and we’ll try to unpack what absolutely real might mean) except in our perception that is structured narratively – and only because we’re alive.  It has a beginning, middle and end we perceive just as we perceive ourselves as having a beginning middle and end.  The thing is, we make all this shit up.


There’s a rich intellectual analysis of this with respect to the social revolution that occurred with the invention of the printing press, that parallels the ongoing social revolution that occurred with digital media.  Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, Elizabeth Eisenstein and Neil Postman all identify the transformation of “manuscript culture” to “print culture” with the invention of the printing press.  In manuscript culture every copy is an original in its own right/rite, a kind of performance of the word, copied and yet one-of-a-kind.  Illuminated manuscripts make the distinctive quality of each copy obvious; another scribe might illuminate it differently.  The embellishments point to the possibility (really a fact) that there are also errors and omissions, so that each copy is unique.

Each copy is an imaginative variation on that which is copied.  It strives to preserve and inevitably transforms that which is copied.

Animation has that in common with the older technology of copying printed material and carries into the present these practices of copying/illuminating.  I’m not asking you to pardon the pun; the bifocal expression is exactly the point and that’s what these ancient texts are called – illuminated manuscripts.

Even the rules of physics give way to imaginative variations, what becomes known as cartoon physics.  The huge boulder falls on the roadrunner, he gets smashed, but the force isn’t enough to kill him.  It just has to work for comedic value, not according to normal laws of physics. The comedic principle is made explicit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) when Roger squeezes out of handcuffs while Eddie is trying to free him, in order to help Eddie out with the task.  Eddie asks, “Do you mean to tell me you could have taken your hand out of that cuff at any time?” and Roger explains, “Not at any time.  Only when it was funny!”

So Marshall McLuhan’s famous edict, “the medium is the message” makes intuitive sense, it’s a catching meme, and he just seems to forget half of the communication in this expression: the audience’s perception is a vital part of the medium.  It has to strike us as funny, scare us, or touch our hearts, and we have to think about it, no matter how shallow it is and how shallow are our thoughts. Our interpretative faculties are engaged even when we’re spaced out in front of the television or our computer screens.  Whatever happens when we watch a program only happens because we are watching. It only makes sense because we make sense of it.

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Deceived

I’ve been deceived – by Kenny!  Innocent Kenny, who I’ve been comparing to Jesus, Kenny the super-hero but not, just a humble kid who opens us to understanding infinity – maybe even making Jesus makes sense.  That Kenny.

Deceiver!  Kenny has been created all this time in 3D animation and reduced to 2D since the first few seasons.    It’s faster to create him and all South Park in 3D, because of F*#king ‘workflow’ issues, more efficient to work in 3D and then transfer those images to 2D….

What does it matter?  Does this deception have metaphysical consequences?  It depends. I hadn’t finished working through the metaphysical implications of what I thought was going on when I learned what was really going on.

It’s like that scene in The Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls back the curtain and it’s really a fraud wizard…

… and he points out that he’s a very bad wizard but that she’s going home anyway…

… and then she learns that she had what she needed all along, the slippers…

… and then that it was all a dream… “There’s no place

Yes, kind of like that.

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A new frontier for Metaphysics and Media

… So once the South Park kids in 2D animation morph to digital characters, from drawings to pixels, then comes the new video game South Park; Fractured but Whole:

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-pty-pty_maps&hsimp=yhs-pty_maps&hspart=pty&p=review+South+Park+video+game#id=1&vid=18d29df277be61e7d99c889d55a02547&action=click

This isn’t the first South Park game.  The South Park franchise produced a first-person shooter game in 1998,  and this style of game is perhaps not the most challenging game for our metaphysics.  But even then, do our metaphysics keep up?  We haven’t come to terms yet with Shane Hipps’  “communities of individuals” identified in Flickering Pixels.  So how do we recognize communities reconstructing themselves as games?  They might refer to themselves as ‘virtual communities’ but they are very real.

Who recalls “Chose Your Adventure” books?  They are closer to these games than regular printed pages, inviting interaction.  The robust quality of modern games is matched by the communities they create – groups of people engaged, creating their own identities – go far beyond those children’s books.  And these programs overtake television and movies as the preferred medium, not just preferred by adolescent men but women of all ages as well.

At least for the purposes of philosophy, I want to crawl back to the printed page.  I don’t even own an Xbox.  Yet, I was one of the Pokemon Go traffic hazards.  I chased after virtually real objects which is a misnomer for sure given any metaphysics,  And am I now preparing to go where no metaphysicians have gone before…

… Just not yet.  Let’s get back to the concept of “virtual” as in “virtual reality” after taking the weekend off to play South Park, Fractured but Whole

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Kenny’s consciousness – like Jesus only not

Try this:  Think about your own future:  What’s the chances of that actually happening?  We might not be responsible for what actually happens in the future, but certainly what we think might happen is all in our imagination, therefore partly in our control. Yes, possibly it’s informed by logic, careful planning, or maybe it’s just a leap of faith but we have to will it (in time) and leap (in time).  And by the time we will and leap, that action is past.

Similarly, and more obviously, the past, rooted in actual historical occurrences, is brought back to consciousness through memory, a construction, our own construction of what happened, and we forget a lot.  (This proves particularly annoying to Kenny – that his friends don’t seem to remember that he died, again and again and again…)  Kenny remembers, and we can check his memory (if a cartoon character can have a memory) by scrolling back through past episodes, but even then…

I’m being ridiculous here – you remember.  But you might also forget, like Kyle…   Or you misremember.  In any case, memory is a process of re-creating the past from traces.

So this crazy animation represents a point I am belaboring.  Just to get to the present moment…

Which is already past….

It’s way past by the time I cut and paste this text into the blog, but it was already past by the time I thought of it, even before I wrote anything, even in the present moment by the time I thought of it as present, or as a moment.

And not just because I’m slow.  If you were thinking about your own past, present and future… well, think about it.  There it goes, you just thought about it in the present moment, and it’s past now.   By the time the present is brought to conscious awareness it’s over. That’s my point, and I’m sorry if I’m belaboring the obvious.

I just love Kenny.

When Kyle objects that maybe it’s not so bad that Kenny can’t die, that maybe it’s a good thing, Kenny loses his temper.  The point isn’t about being dead; it’s that dying hurts.  “It fucking hurts,” Kenny shouts and pulls out a gun.  “See?  Try to remember this time,” he shouts at his friends and then shoots himself.

Here’s where Kenny really isn’t a Christ figure: “Accepted death on the cross” is a phrase used in creeds, that can be misleading.   Jesus didn’t embrace the cross; he was nailed to it.  Jesus didn’t kill himself; he was murdered.  And once was enough, and it wasn’t suicide; it was murder.  It’s a lot different.

But there are some similarities to Kenny’s reality is all I’m saying… that the present moment may not have any structure in consciousness.  It certainly doesn’t have a narrative structure: past, present and future.  So, like Kenny, we live in infinity even if we die.  Even if we’re born again (like Kenny) or rise from the dead (like Jesus.)

We live in infinity, this unstructured timeless present/presence, unlike Kenny.  He’s just a comic character, but he makes this much clear which is only one reason why I love him.

[Check out this tribute video:

Kenny as Mysterion – https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&hspart=adk&p=kenny+as+mysterion#action=view&id=10&vid=d40574aa318156c9a4132847f2d9f1bb

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&hspart=adk&p=kenny+as+mysterion#action=view&id=10&vid=d40574aa318156c9a4132847f2d9f1bb

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