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Amodern 2: Network Archaeology
October 2013


Toward the Dissolution of Certain Vectoralist Relations

John Cayley

    • Language is a commons, and yet by contrast
    • With first nature’s free resources, it is constitutive
    • Of culture while all at once incorporate within
    • Those cultures it enables. As language is a commons,
    • To use it, we need not agree to terms.
    • Now, counter to our expectations and our rights,
    • Agreements as to terms of language use
    • Are daily ratified by the vast majority
    • Of so-called users – you-and-I – by all of us
    • Who make and share our language on the Internet.
    • Services, like those of Google and many others such
    • Still expressly offer their results in swift symbolical
    • Response to phrases of a language we call natural:
    • Words composed by human writers, desirous
    • To discover something that they wish to read,
    • If only with the aim of transacting through commerce,
    • And so satisfying a moiety of our more venal cravings.
    • Although the objects of our culture have each
    • Their specific materials, now these may be mediated
    • By the insubstantial substance of machines
    • That symbolize – or seem to, in potential –
    • Every thing. The digital appears
    • To us historically unprecedented, thus:
    • It presents itself as servant and as Golem,
    • Non-vital but commensurate, un-alive
    • And yet all-capable: of service, of facility:
    • A limitless archive of affordances,
    • And so it ceases to be some thing or substance
    • Amongst others; it becomes the currency
    • Of all we are: essential infrastructure,
    • Determinative of practice and of thought.
    • Despite this, it still seems made by us, and lesser,
    • A servant still, and so we treat the digital
    • As if it remained in service, though it sustains –
    • Or seems to – all that we desire to be.
    • We will not live without it, yet we believe
    • That we still choose to purchase and to use
    • A relation that is optional, elective, and we
    • Manage it as such.
    • Even for those writers
    • Who may be in denial of any digital mediation
    • Of their practice, networked services are likely
    • To provide for them: crucial points of reference,
    • Essential to the composition of their texts,
    • And intimate with whatever artistry they own.
    • If this is the case, then, given how the structures
    • Of the network and its services are deployed:
    • Terms of use have, literally, been agreed.
    • The commons of language is, in part, enclosed
    • By its very makers. The writer has conceded
    • That he or she is happy to supply a phrase –
    • How many? And to whom? And on what terms? –
    • And then to receive, to read, and to transact
    • With results that have been fashioned from the store
    • Of every other user’s phrases, and from the indexed
    • Language of all that you-and-I have published
    • On the Internet since it began.
    • Results that have been fashioned,” which is to say
    • That they, words orthothetically abject
    • To those within our selves, have been shaped
    • By algorithm: and to this circumstance the writer
    • Has agreed. Perhaps we may, you-or-I, pretend
    • To have some general understanding of these algorithms’
    • Behaviors, yet the detailed workings of such processes
    • Are jealously protected. Indeed, they are proprietary,
    • Closely guarded and esteemed as highly valuable
    • For reasons that may be entirely divorced from
    • Or at odds with the tenor of our queries.
    • The underlying transactions and the relationships
    • Devolved are very different from any that arise
    • When you or I take down our dictionary to look up
    • A word.
    • However the power of the cultural vector
    • Represented by the mouth or maw of Google’s
    • Search box and its ilk is all unprecedented.
    • For any artist-scientist of language, it is like
    • The revolutionary and revelatory power
    • Of a newly discovered optic, allowing you-and-I
    • To see, suddenly and spectacularly, farther
    • Into the universe of language by several
    • Orders of magnitude. The writer may observe
    • And get some sense of the frequency or range
    • Of usages for words and phrases in our living,
    • Contemporary tongues, up to the millisecond—
    • All in a few keystrokes and clicks. This extraordinary
    • Facility – inconceivable until just now – is presented
    • As a freely open service, in the guise of what
    • Has already been cited as “cultural vector.”
    • Oriented
    • Where? And how? By whom? For whom? To what
    • End? That this momentous shift in no less
    • Than the spacetime of linguistic culture
    • Should be radically skewed by terms of use
    • Should remind us that it is, fundamentally,
    • Motivated and driven by quite distinct concerns
    • To those of art. Here are vectors of utility and greed.
    • If language is a commons then what appears
    • To be a gateway or a portal to our language
    • Is, in truth, an enclosure, the outward sign
    • Of a non-reciprocal, hierarchical relation.
    • The vectoralist providers of what we call services
    • Harvest freely from our searches in themselves,
    • And from whatever language we have published,
    • Using fantastically powerful and sophisticated
    • Algorithmic process, lately known by many names,
    • As bots, robots, spiders and the like, but we users
    • You-and-I, who make and publish all we write –
    • Are explicitly denied, according to their terms of use,
    • Any such reciprocal opportunity. We may not freely
    • Use our own algorithmic processes to probe
    • The universe of capta – our captured and abducted data –
    • Even though our aim may be to imitate,
    • Assist or to prosthetically – aesthetically – enhance:
    • To beautify the human user.
    • And so, why not?
    • The foremost reason is: the harvested capta
    • Might be muddied and so rendered less effectively
    • Correlate with its primary purpose: to represent
    • In a normalized form, the most frequently expressed
    • And potentially most profitable human desires,
    • Such that advertisement may be intimately associated
    • With our harvested phrases, ideally, all at the moment
    • Of harvesting itself, with human eyes to read
    • Not only a desired result but an intimately associated
    • And immediately transactable new desire. Moreover,
    • The vectoralist ads are made with sign chains that are
    • Orthothetically disposed towards the language
    • We have written. This also is previously unknown:
    • That advertisement intended to induce a profitable
    • And non-reciprocal exchange be made from some thing
    • That is proper to its addressee. This is material
    • Appropriation of cultural interiority to venal desire,
    • Wrongly subjecting and reforming you-and-I
    • Within a false enclosure of precisely that which
    • Should never be enclosed: the openness of all
    • That we inscribe. As yet, the so-called interaction
    • Of so-called users is falsely founded on unwitting, habitual,
    • And ignorant terms of abuse.
    • Seize these vectors now!
    • To make art on terms? Impossible.
    • For the sake of art and for the sake
    • Of every cultural institution and their futures
    • We must find a way to refuse such
    • Terms of use. If you-and-I do not,
    • Then services like Google’s will, quite literally,
    • Show us how to write and give us what
    • They know we want to read, bettering our selves.

Author's note: This is the complete text of an expository poem, early- and perhaps, therefore, "A-modern" in style. The author’s commentary on the poem is provided by the text of a polemical-scholarly essay in this issue, "Terms of Reference & Vectoralist Transgressions: Situating Certain Literary Transactions over Networked Services," accessed here.

It is suggested that readers may wish to turn to the poem before the essay. It is hoped that once they have read its commentary, they may return to the poem. The use of pentametric rhythmical lineation and pseudo-archaic diction is neither pastiche or humor; it is part of a lament for public discourse, poetically rendered.

Article: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Image: "10,000 B.C. paragraph 9”
From: "Drawings from A Thousand Plateaus"
Original Artist: Marc Ngui
Copyright: Marc Ngui