[-empyre-] "Hactivating" and the Screw-Up

Kevin Hamilton kham at uiuc.edu
Thu Dec 10 13:40:31 EST 2009

Christina and all,

In any of the advertising for personal music devices or cell phones,  
listeners experience private pleasure through the knowing smile, and  
perhaps a look up and to the right.

This I would contrast to what actually happens when one reads or hears  
something funny when in public. For example, me on the bus this  
morning reading this line from Christina:

On Dec 9, 2009, at 1:15 AM, Christina McPhee wrote:

> The mistake is the beginning of the mutation.   "In the still cave of
> the witch poesy... "

Laughing out loud amongst silent commuters, nervous about where to put  
my smile and body.

I'm thinking about all this partly in light of some conversation over  
on IDC right now, between Brian Holmes and myself, a few others. As an  
instructor, I'm more and more aware of how my students arrive already  
trained, configured into a cybernetic matrix. For many of them, their  
senses are only sensors, ready to accept symbolic input for the  
production of expected actions. (Hell, I'm not much better.) No  
documentary is going to reveal the truth for them, there's no  
narrative moment waiting for them. They need a new sensory experience,  
to have they eyeballs and eardrums reconfigured in a non-programmatic  

The cyberneticist I've been researching, Heinz von Foerster, was a  
magician. Literally. Back in the sixties and seventies he would do  
magic tricks for the students as part of his lectures on  
consciousness. I'm looking for some tricks like that, through the  
linguistic and the visual.

Thus the word games. Searching for ways to use language that produce  
transformation without resorting to instrumental manipulation.

A typology of wordsmiths, magicians of meaning...

Words that could mean anything but which make us all think we're  
thinking the same thing.
[Sarah Palin]

Words that can mean two things, and everyone's in on the joke.
[Stephen Colbert]

[Bottom (from A Midsummer Night's Dream)]
Words that mean one thing to the speaker and a different thing to the  
listener, but only the listener is in on the joke.

Words that can mean more than one thing and no one knows which one is  
right, producing a plenitude of meaning.
[Stoppard? I don't know, this one is just thrilling though.]

One such overflow that just thrills me in this way is the piece "A  
Letter to Queen Victoria: The Sundance Kid is Beautiful" by Robert  
Wilson and Christopher Knowles.


But I don't know much about it, and frankly I'm a little unsure about  
the politics of how this autistic poet Knowles came to work with  
Wilson. But there's some overflow here, some linguistic plenitude  
through some mistakes and misapprehension.


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