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 knowledgein The Seain The
Soupin the Encyclopedia.
In addition non-reductive reduction prevents a structural derivation
from forming a Structuralist system. Serres organizes, but does
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
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
particles with their projection are networked to Michael Faraday for
electromagnetic induction--but also to James Clerk Maxwell for the initial
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
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
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
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,
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 Faradays 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. Maxwells
contribution leading to the eventual abandonment of theories of the ether
can be seen as an abandonment of a filtering substance for lightthat
light has the same "technology" or physics as its filterthat
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 Maxwells
time). Additionally, its inductive capacity, Maxwell writes, was equal
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.
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
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 Faradays and
Maxwells legacy in the 20th Century.
From Faradays 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
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
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,
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
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
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 1s and 0s 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
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
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
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
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
past to construct the future to reconstruct the past, and is indebted
to philosophers of science like Serres for providing homologous
---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
The extraordinary adaptability of machines. Why don't you lessen the divisions
----Babbage returns home---
He begins to write a paper in response to Comte and Saint-Simon.
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
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--
----------Bodins 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 artists,
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 Babbages
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
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
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)...
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
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 DAlembert'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
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
Guard: I don't see why not, you are in handcuffs and Bonaparte is on our
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 ....