Gregory Bringman
New Media Theory and Works
Memoirs of the Nineteenth Century: A Digital Uchronia

Michel Serres' Non-Reductive Reduction in Felix Bodin's Novel: A Reading of the Wave-Particle Function in Memoirs of the Nineteenth Century.

We learn from Michel Foucault's analysis of spaces of knowledge, in his The Order of Things, that an episteme can be reduced to one or two signs (a table, a network). These signs in turn may reductively frame everything about the knowledge space, but in fact they non-reductively operate, in practice. This reduction by an analyst overloads the symbol that he or she has constructed, thereby expanding the field of the signifier-signified relation. The sign becomes machinic in the Deleuzian sense of an agent who can respond in diverse ways--not as a mechanism, but as a black box, inputting and outputting information. In this sense, the signifier acting like a machine entails a network of relations that all point to another locus of knowledge.

Latour and Serres have pursued the implications of Foucauldian analysis in synthesizing both macro and micro theoretical paradigms: Latour with his non-Modern commonwealth; Serres with, for example Carnot's thermodynamics in the paintings of Turner. Their reasoning is that when knowledge is passed through a network, it is structure but, importantly, structure in context, that is entailing an historical element. It seems like a totalizing text and yet must be made completely from local knowledge.

Serres' writing on Michelet's The Sea sketches out both networked knowledge and non-reductive reduction. In asking, “What is the reservoir? What is the circulation?”, in order to trigger an understanding of the Nineteenth Century scientific space of knowledge, the analyst makes, as Serres says, the technology of the object become the object of science. That is, instead of building a filter to decode the object of science, Serres calls for acquiring the tools of the object as the tool of science. There is, implicit in Serres reduction to the method of reading a text, the technology of knowledge systems: previously a table; since the Nineteenth Century, a set consisting of a reservoir and circulation. Information circulates non-hierarchically--and Serres mentions that the center is continually re-positioned in the textual system of knowledge—in The Sea—in “The Soup”—in the Encyclopedia.

In addition non-reductive reduction prevents a structural derivation from forming a Structuralist system. Serres organizes, but does not construct a system except that he refers to a body of "highly differentiated relations". Thus non-reductive reduction is not an “ism” or system of thought. Rather, an agent operates according to the lack of distinction that he or she sees between disciplines. This has two effects as Serres’ conversations with Latour have illuminated--in addition to what we learn from being immersed in various disciplines and then seeing the mathematical, scientific, or literary in Serres' exposition--in the manner of his method. One is that non-reductive reduction is interested in its object: it is close to it, inventing a meta-language each time it frames or tackles a problem, in order to re-communicate a set of highly differentiated relations. The second is that in textual commentaries, non-reductive reduction says something about mathematical demonstration, which is exactly Serres’ presentation of Structuralist reduction back into context: La Fontaine the opulent body of knowledge, in a nutshell; Pascal as a fixed point from which to extract the world (96).

Serres provides for the condition that reduction into relations between things or the Structuralist definition of structure, is framed in such a way as to critique this notion, and in the manner of participant objectification, put a structural derivation back into historical context. One must non-reductively reduce to structure in historical context--and with the conditions for networked knowledge, non-reductive reduction becomes possible.

I want to take this insight from Serresian analysis and apply it to a sign generated in my most recent time-based work, Memoirs of the Nineteenth Century: A Digital Uchronia, and then trace the various pathways of meaning generated in the reduction of the project to that sign.

Memoirs looks at the historical conditions of digital imaging, virtual reality, history writing, and futuristic fiction, by narrating two seemingly separate intellectual events which through chance interact with each other and affect one another. Charles Babbage, the early computer designer, writes about his system of mathematical differences adapted from the Baron de Prony's. Felix Bodin gets hold of the paper and later extrapolates an early virtual reality based upon Babbage machinery and then current technology.

Bodin's system, which is all constructed within his novel, Le Roman de L'Avenir, calls for, with my additions to Le Roman, a condition in the future of 19th Century technology magnified and multiplied. Magic lanterns (18th century pre photographic projection devices) will be powerful enough to project across vast coliseums. However, they will most fruitfully be employed in lighting effects on panoramas.

Yet the panorama now, given Babbage's system of differences, as well as the properties of electromagnetism, allows images to be redrawn as perspective drawings. Because the Jacquard loom makes "drawings" or patterns from patterns in punched cards, these drawings can be ordered to display successively, creating motion, animation, and 19th century digital life.

The sign I want to isolate and then put back in context is this magic lantern projecting on a panorama full of magnetic particles. The magic lantern is networked to the tradition that would develop of camera work and photography. In conjunction with the panorama, it is a "virtual" camera. The panorama is linked to virtual reality or reality in the round. The magnetized particles with their projection are networked to Michael Faraday for electromagnetic induction--but also to James Clerk Maxwell for the initial groundwork for the wave/particle function of photons (light from a magic lantern being an electromagnetic wave) and electrons (metal particles on a panorama). This sign in turn opens possibilities for understanding how a computer age may have arrived earlier than 1950. But first I would like to briefly discuss the principal contributions of Michael Faraday and their relation to the Bodin that I have constructed in Memoirs.

Faraday is responsible for completing the contemporary understanding of the reciprocity of magnetism and electricity, otherwise known as electromagnetism. After Oersted's discovery of the deflection of a compass needle by an electric current, suggesting a relationship between magnets and currents, the concept of generalized charge, Faraday was responsible for showing that a moving magnet would have the opposite effect if placed by a metal wire--it would induce an electric current. This property made the dynamo a reality, and Bodin in the Memoirs alternate novel leaps to the conclusion that a Faraday generator could power data computation. In addition, the increased capacities of energy in moving magnets would lead to better projection devices--and in Bodin's scenario in my film, to a black box system that hides the later Nineteenth and Twentieth Century constructions/discoveries/presentations of the relations between electromagnetism and light and then also, waves and particles.

Faraday's work, like Bodin's literature, has a predictive element, even if his science did not accurately describe the phenomenal substrate that we perceive as the object of science. We know that Faraday felt he had discovered a new state of matter, an electro-tonic state producing electrical charges based upon changing configurations of the particles making up a given material. This state occurred as an extension into the full material of a given object (according to Faraday) rather than the electrostatic charges on the surface of the materials occurring based upon--only in part-- the arrangement of the atoms of the material.

A more contemporary physics would speak of electromagnetic induction in terms of the lines of magnetic flux that wires conduct, rather than an electro-tonic state. But Faraday made two predictions based on his earlier views about an electro-tonic state, namely: an electrical reaction in the wire inducing a current in a second wire, and self induction of current in a wire. These so-called "correct" predictions were made despite so-called "incorrect" science, and are analogous to the manner in which Bodin accurately predicts digital imaging, the computer and vision combination, but based upon incomplete science. Incomplete science, is a virtue of the inability to ever know the object completely. Objectification of the scientific object happens, but more because, as Latour would write, inscription or the constant preoccupation with writing things down. Writing is in turn analogous to knowledge being hidden from agents of knowledge, at the same time that they act it out and offer a temporary completion of it, a subjective completion of it. In turn this process can be seen in Faraday's predictions--and Bodin's as I have constructed the latter in my version of the novel of the future.

So what did the mathematization of Faraday’s discoveries do for 19th Century physics. Well, it seems to have allowed the Serresian concept too, of seeing an intuition of a later scientific discovery, such as laminar flow in Lucretius being seen in electrodynamics. In the same way. Maxwell’s contribution leading to the eventual abandonment of theories of the ether can be seen as an abandonment of a filtering substance for light—that light has the same "technology" or physics as its filter—that is, it can be reduced to electromagnetic phenomena.

The number of electrostatic units in one electromagnetic unit of electricity, according to Maxwell, is 310,740,000 meters per second. The velocity of light according to M. Frizeau is 314,858,000 meters per second. And According to M. Foucault, 298,000,000 as well as 308 million according to experiments that measured light in the space around the earth (in Maxwell’s time). Additionally, its inductive capacity, Maxwell writes, was equal to the square of the index of refraction divided by the coefficient of magnetic induction. Air conducts light at a capacity of a light refraction index squared, since the coefficient for air is 1. Light having an inductive capacity was seen by Maxwell as light being a form of electricity.

Thus the sign for non-reductive reduction in Memoirs is homologous to the future of technology, one of the scientific objects of Serres. Light is converted to electricity that powers the computer animation and scene/character description of an artificial world. That waves have the property of polarized light, in that disturbances of the conducting medium run transversely to the propagation of light, put the science needed to explain 20th Century inquiries into particle/wave phenomena in place. If a wave consists of magnetic disturbances due to transversals and a wave is synonymous with light , light must be a particle. Now, a few words on Faraday’s and Maxwell’s legacy in the 20th Century.

From Faraday’s work, electric fields from continually changing vibrations of electrons in space yield magnetic fields, and the magnetic fields yield electric fields. This process is known as electromagnetism. The oscillating electromagnetic field is synonymous with waves moving at the speed of light, also as light itself an electromagnetic phenomenon. That a wave is an oscillating particle was a discovery of the Twentieth Century, of Einstein observing the photoelectric effect. Previously, Newton had described light emission as a stream of particles, only to be disproved by Young and his experiments with diffractors producing continuous bands, maxima and minima that corresponded to crests and troughs, amplitudes and frequencies. The evidence from passing light through pin-holes, ala Young, and receiving interference was so conclusive, that scientists were hesitant in the 20th to reassign light the status of particles.

This is exactly what Einstein did when he used Plank's constant for oscillating energy of black-body radiation to explain the photoelectric effect. When measured in discreet energy units, (the constant times a cycle of oscillation), the data for total energy of a radiating body could be verified experimentally--whereas it could not when treating the radiation as continuous.

The analog approximation of gradations of light was empirically found to be quantized or digital. Through the science fiction storytelling apparatus, in the manner of reusable computer code, Bodin's novel gets several things for free, such as exactly reproducible digital objects that can be copied at will, and from this: the later twentieth century framework for digital philosophy. “Digital Philosophy” is philosophy or history done by computer animated characters--avatars that are constructed to influence and be influenced, in a single channel narrative that is truly interactive for the new meanings that are recreated with viewing. Digital philosophy is rooted in alternate history, although in keeping with the project of Serres non-reductive reduction, Memoirs confounds science and art, historiography and literature.

I have read Gibson's and Sterling's, The Difference Engine, and would say that I am interested not in strict alternate history but in conflation of categories, between science and literature, and historiography and literature or art. In the manner of Serres, I am making technology the operating mode of literature, and literature the operating mode of technology--through Bodin's completed novel.

In the manner of the paradox between local and total, Bodin's novel in Memoirs can be thought of as a black box, and as a literary machine with the appearance of binary technological infrastructure that we know how it works metaphorically or symbolically. It is a black box in the sense that we do not know the contents of the complete novel--because there never was one completed. Nevertheless, I speculate on the possible completion of this novel in my film--and yet have the novel become "lost" floating down the Atlantic Ocean at the film's end--we still don't "know"--the novel is completed in Memoirs and yet forced into masking this completion. And the black box metaphor is appealing here since it suggests developed technology rediscovered as systems where we learn how they work--after we have been using them, as if we solely were historians of science and technology who could not analyze the technology of our own culture.

In this way the magic lantern is Bodin's 'Complete" novel, is a black box, and can be reduced to a black box through reference to the "complete" novel existing only in Memoirs. Nevertheless, the culture of the French Revolution and Enlightenment is depicted within the computing system, Bodin's novel, virtual reality on a panorama, and is a multiplicity packed into a piece of technology packed into a piece of, what in today's production terms would be "software" in turn packed back into technology of data storage. Not only that but the failure of the protagonists to understand the workings of the black box that they have constructed (at least Bodin, who in Memoirs speculates on what we don't know, making it plausible), and, on the other hand, the success (on a sequential narrative level)of Nineteenth Century digital imaging creates an imaginary binary system.

The knowledge of the system, the binary system disclosing the workings of the black box, is hidden to Bodin, even if he knows how Babbage's machine works. Outside the system of differences which is a reduction to 1's in the 1’s and 0’s of binary code, and on a higher level of abstraction, is the failure to do anything more than juxtapose light and particles--without knowing, again in this sense of a black box, how electrons act like photons and vice versa. It is also the success of the space and trajectory of possibilities of a 19th century digital imaging masking the larger binary system from its progenitors, the protagonists of Memoirs.

This condition of complete knowledge hidden due to the failure to view the world in its totality--the inability to view the world in its totality--along with the success in the implementation of science in technology, points to the necessity of the theory of practice in Western discourse. The encyclopedia project, of the Enlightenment philosophes and Michel Serres knows the world as a multiplicity rather than as a totality. Of course it constructs a picture of the entire world of culture and science, as does the World Wide Web. Yet, it is never used by agents as a total view on the world. In the encyclopedia, since the 18th century, knowledge could not be perceived in its totality due to the modus operandi of the encyclopedia: cross-referencing, the undisclosed network element analogous to the hypertext link. Cross-referencing constructed the cultural facts of position taking and political alignment as collective knowledge and as a record of knowledge--the field for information construction.

On the opposite end, then, of the totalizing problem, is the reduction problem--structure out of some sense of historical context that is oblivious to the factors of it genesis. The mode of Michel Serres, is to reduce in the manner of a mathematical equation to a fact as thing (by the collectivity not the individual scientist) that is not however abandoned or set aside. In the true manner of reflexive practice, Serres constructs a limiting condition which then wholly necessitates that structure be put into historical context, that the analyst, scientist, or theorist reconstruct--in the manner of historical reconstruction-- the field of relations that cannot be thought of as a totality which nevertheless show how agents approach knowledge in an interdisciplinary way. As part of the condition of the field it also shows the link between agents and practices in the relatively autonomous fields of discourse, and in referring to that which is external to that field of discourse.

Any reduction is always made historical through the historical conditions of ahistoricality, that is the contextualization of someone’s work by themselves or, usually other persons, that shows the circulation and reservoirs that transport information content. In Memoirs, the magic lantern is the method for producing alternate historical animations in the Nineteenth Century. Like The Sea, the technology of the method provides the way of connecting a mass of concepts under a programmatic vehicle for understanding. It reduces at first but then entails an historical elaboration, not so much because of the responsibility that the analyst takes, but because of the inevitability of the recycling and reproducing of the texts of the past in new technological and critical creations. Memoirs looks to the past to construct the future to reconstruct the past, and is indebted to philosophers of science like Serres for providing homologous structures.

---Babbage Visits the cutter at Lambeth---

Babbage, to cutter:

“The shape of the teeth on the wheels that you cut appear to conform exactly to my drawings, yet they were unfit for their task.”
---Now, explain to me the task you had in mind.
---Well, they are for a machine to calculate logarithmic tables. Do you see the peculiar divisions of the teeth in my drawings?

I see. I don't believe my wheel-cutting machine can match the divisions in your gears in terms of the precise number that you require. Perhaps another number?

The extraordinary adaptability of machines. Why don't you lessen the divisions by three.

----Babbage returns home---
He begins to write a paper in response to Comte and Saint-Simon.
---He begins:

Theoretically, if a steam engine were able to complete its power-producing cycles by the motion of one lever, then it would be said to be fully automatic. But without a science of heating and cooling properties at work providing power in the machine, or with a purely mechanical device, automation would be much easier. Furthermore, with simplified mathematical processes, such as a system of differences, mathematical functions could be completed in one uniform, mechanical process. I propose that computation might be done by machines, fully or nearly automated. Further, I propose to show the nature of mathematical computation that can be adapted to a system of differences in turn adapted to machines.

To explain my system of differences, I turn to an occurrence of mathematical relationships in everyday life, that lends itself momentarily to a complexity, which on closer investigation, can be solved as a simple puzzle. A girl playing with the balls of a solitaire board or a boy playing with marbles intuitively see order, in an arrangement of the balls or marbles in the following manner:

The balls or marbles are placed, five groups in a row, with successively larger groups moving left to right. In the second group from the left, when all groups start with one, two balls or marbles are added, in triangular fashion. The third group, in the same manner or configuration gets three balls, and so on, with the remaining groups.

In this we can observe two sets of differences, the first, successive groups differ by two, by three, by four, by five; the second difference, the difference between the differences, is one. The second differences or difference is a reduction of patterned quantities into one uniform value.

--The paper goes on--”

----------Bodin’s System (excerpt)-----
Time to take a break before writing my postscript. In order to account for my researches into the past in the creation of a novel set in the future, I will tidy up my study. Some of these papers are nine to eleven year-old scraps, I having transported them between working locations.

Bodin then takes out a tied folder and opens it.


My file on mechanical computation. This file contains items from primarily 1822, a section in the American newspaper, the Minerva, on the French artist’s, M. Thomas of Colmar's patent for a machine of calculation, the Arithmometer. And here---the paper from Comte, the Babbage paper of 1822 wherein the aforesaid Babbage demonstrates his system of differences in which pattern is reduced to uniform value, within the realm of mechanical practice.

Although, here is a more recent note from the Royal Society on Babbage’s request for the funding of a new engine that is to use the punched cards of the Jacquard loom. Because the Jacquard creates patterns from tables of holes in cards, perhaps in the future our dioramas will be automated by these, so to speak, computation machines. But there needs to be a way of redrawing, from the same initial components, a new picture. I wonder if a system of very powerful magnets, run by a large battery or Faraday generator could fix metal particles onto or off of a panorama or diorama, while the diorama would remain transparent, so that lighting effects could be issued from a magic lantern, onto the diorama, in the tradition of the conjunction of these two visual devices or environments.

Surely in the twentieth century we will have powerful magic lanterns that will be able to project across large coliseums, and mechanical calculators that will use Babbage's system of differences to reduce the number of symbols or states used in mathematically describing drawings, reduce to magnetizing metal particles either onto or off of transparent metallic material constructed in the form of a panorama or diorama.

I think that in the twentieth century, the computation machine will take up a small factory with conveyor belts that feed an enormous number of punched cards containing information about perspective drawings. In addition the magnetic particles will be so fine as to reproduce the slightest variation in reality

Lo! Let me resume my novel at once, first working out a separate part for a parallel imaginary and total reality
computed by calculators. The question to ask is what benefit this invention could be to the telling of history, a now fallen power with genuine auspices that I feel I should pay tribute to.

In the year 2001, one Oimum Oibaf, technologist and philosopher
Futuristic inventor/adventurer, receives a printout from Alpha Techne Control for permission to acquire special magnets powered by a triple cell battery made from water and nitrous oxide for magnetizing metal particles on a diorama--particles that can also be sucked through pneumatic tubes to bring the collection of moving diorama images to any location in Paris.

Oimum Oibaf, after installation, positions himself at the control center of the battery architecture, and pulls out a large rod that shifts punched cards detailing perspective drawings, into position of the feeder track. A note, scribbled on card one reads: France, 1795. He feeds it into slot one for retrospective reviews of historical events randomly interspersed with alternate historical characters.

Enters one Robespierre Bayle on the Panorama/diorama in chains who is being transferred within a French prison.


Classify your history from A to D, Amanuensis to life in prison since 1794, to death Monsieur Bayle.

I will transcend, through memory, my execution, becauseof my immanent virtue and likely martyrdom. For was I not a great Orator of the Third Estate who offered influential programs of reform, the very political substance of the Revolution of our fair nation of renewed liberty?

Guard: Save your words until execution to request an epitaph on your grave, monsieur Bayle, whether the definition of one involved in lexicographic pursuits or merely a, so to speak "virtuous" human being.

If I may make a request instead, I would like you to send for Mistress Wollstonecraft so that I might dictate the details of my life before succumbing to the guillotine later today.

Guard: Alright, I will see that your wish is granted, for a "virtuous"human.

Wollstonecraft appears at the prison.

"I am extremely fascinated by your life mister Bayle. You were both an encyclopedist and a politician, and you do embody the critique of absolute government, of the philosophes, while being, yourself, a philosopher of wit and charm.

It is also an opportunity for me to include you in my volume, now being reprinted, on the very revolution for which you are slated to die, for which I will depict you with the greatest moral veracity, the greatest moral truthfulness.

Bayle: Well then, my memory will indeed live on. Being within a cell reminds me of the time when I was twenty and imprisoned in the Bastille, after being set up, for the threat of my intellect to the Duke of Rohan, among guestsat his dinner party.


My brother was later imprisoned for being a Protestant, and around the same time, my father died (havens).

I contributed to the disappearance of superstition through my dictionary and before that the "Miscellaneous thoughts on Astrology as provoked by the comet of 1728.
Moral progress cannot be forced by orthodoxy. While I wish that I had investigated more, natural science, I know for a fact that superstition is a barrier to human progress.

I once remember a conversation between Fontenelle, the English Samuel Johnson, and M de Voltaire, to which I also contributed, on the subject of progress. If I remember correctly Johnson remarked of his laborious and classicist disciplinary orientation to writing and criticism. To Johnson's line that the permanence of human vices and virtues, a writer creates in his texts through the juridical guidance of the classics(Hazard)...

...Fontenelle replied

I should think that modern science is an advancement over the past. We must be skeptical of superstition, and do much to popularize the science that dispels such superstition. How could you expect antiquity to be better than today?

I believe that you are mistaking a different appearance for a better appearance.

I should think that in an appreciation of the ancients we should conversely give the moderns their due. For instance, Why should not the mechanical arts be given credit for its inventions? No one can deny that the Wyatt and Paul (Hazard) weaving machine ameliorates manual labor, and increases efficiency. I do have reservations about efficiency in social life now that the first volume of D’Alembert's and Diderot's Encyclopedia has been published and is good for few things other than informing Mme de Pompadour of how the rouge on her cheeks is made. And Fontenelle, you could do more to popularize science than characterize the night of astronomy as a brunette. Moral progress, conversely is nil.

Bayle: I agree with you Voltaire, that, moral progress of a culture as a whole does not seem to change, as I argued as a part of my critique of Monsieur Moreri's interpretation of King David being justified by God.

Bayle to Wollstonecraft:
the critique of Moreri's work was along similar Enlightenment lines

Your quiet personality calls for a quiet political revolution, whereas I can see advantage gained by blood shed, and shed by the hands of women, such as the female agents provocateurs who stormed the quarters of the King, at Versailles, six years ago.

Bayle: Mistress Wollstonecraft, as an eminent terrible, I know the place of Bloodshed too.

Wollstonecraft: I almost forget what brought you here to prison, the placement later in life of your mind in public, thereby dispelling your inner thoughts in order to show how those around you have become corrupt--compared to you,
"The incorruptible”.

Bayle: Instead, those who speak of virtue must pay for it with their lives.

It is time Monsieur Bayle

Bayle: Then I must depart Mistress Wollstonecraft

Yes may your death lead to greater equality for all.

They move outside and begin to walk to the Place de Revolution

Then all the sudden they run into Napoleon Bonaparte on his way to Tuileries

Bayle: Bonaparte? I believe you knew Augustin Robespierre

Bonaparte: No, and I agree with the convention's decision to execute him--and to execute you.

Bayle: Bonaparte! Guards, may Napoleon and I have a last conversation in private?

Guard: I don't see why not, you are in handcuffs and Bonaparte is on our side.

Bonaparte to Bayle in private: You are right. I did know him and am sorry that he was executed. But the convention and republicanism hold the key element to the future of France. There isn't time--you must use the expected attack on the Tuileries as a diversion to attempt an escape to Brussels.

They walk away from the Place de revolution out of site of the guards.

Bonaparte: hold out your hands on this cinder block.

cuts handcuff chain

Bonaparte: Go in peace.

Bayle: Yes. You can count on my escape.


Switch back to Bodin

Bodin: And in this way history and philosophy will be in the 20th century reviewed for the speculation of scholars. Now my novel is complete. I now truly lower the curtain” ....