At White Wizard I have set up a round-the-clock online audio stream that plays an evolving and randomly selected series of audio works by artists and musicians. This includes music, ASMR, spoken word and field recordings up to now. Content is accepted by submission. The stream also piggybacks events from which it broadcasts live.
My research into asceticism, particularly Franciscan monasticism, has led me to think about the difference between what an artist does and the form that the the artists life takes. Within the question of ‘what am I doing’ subtly suggests that I am doing something with a label, following a rule. Questioning ‘the form that my activity takes’ is less fixed and relates to an ongoing process of emulation (of the form). In the early catholic church this describes the difference between priests and monks. Priests follow rules, while monks gather together and make up their own rules based on their interpretation of the form of Jesus life, then try to embody these rules every day, all the time. The problems for the church begin when, for the priests, following the rules and the power they offer becomes more important than living a righteous life, and, for the monks, when their refusing to follow rules became popular and threatened the authority of the church. So the monks, in some respects, were rebels, questioning the rules and trying to find ways to avoid following them. The monks could, perhaps, be suffering from what Stephen Wright, in Towards a Lexicon of Usership calls a double ontology. Monks are, simply, what they are, attempts at a living embodiment of Jesus. They also fall under the rubric of the church, and so have the second ontology of being Roman Catholic ‘propositions of that same thing’. Two ontologies, as Wright points out, is not necessarily better than one, and medieval monks and the early church expended considerable energy attempting to justify respective their positions (with loss of control and power at stake for one, and excommunication or death as a heretic at stake for the other, no pun intended).
Wright suggests that this double ontology is at work in practices that operate on what he calls a 1:1 scale. These are full scale real world activities undertaken by artists, ‘house-painting outfits, online archives, libraries, resaurants, mushroom hunts, whatever’. Arguably setting up an audio stream, which sort of corresponds to a radio broadcast but with additional functionality and a different reach, is a 1:1 scale project. This state of at once being a ‘real world thing’ and readable as an artwork, is for Wright a useful opportunity. The doubt, or curiosity that is aroused when one realises a thing is not quite the thing one thought it was offers a chance to rethink each pole, and sets one in a limbo between both (the art world already tinkers with this by allowing pretty much any object into it’s space, but insists on a particular form of presentation or ‘performativity’ that effectively crushes any sort of useful uncertainty). The Franciscans recognised this, and tried to invent a particular form of poor use, one in which they were incapable of ownership (like children or very ill people), yet could accept that which was necessary to keep them alive. This allowed them to touch both poles, the poles of rule on one side and life on the other, without falling into the trap of falling completely into the meaningless adherence to one or the other. By situating themselves in the middle, effectively labelling themselves as governed by a constellation of factors but primarily by a de-facto concern with simply surviving and following Christ’s example, the Franciscans established a perverse equilibrium that allowed them to exist outside the law.
This tacit acknowledgement that a disciplined withdrawl into a zone where the strictures of rule and the infinite actuality of life lose controlling relevance sound suspiciously like an answer to how one could imagine a poetics of the network might feel. The node and link informational diagrams of networks we are so used to seeing perhaps find their analog in the liturgical doctrine, perpetuating an ideology of order and control, while the constant live streaming and immersion into virtuality perhaps corresponds to a form of life which is similarly translated into massive data, to an extent which becomes simply another life (no more or less poetic than real life itself). A digital ascetic practice, or more specifically a poor form of digital interactivity perhaps allows the for emergence of a uncertain poetics that reflects the tension within the technology itself, between control and complete unstructured-ness. It’s characteristics would be an acknowledgement and knowledge, as far as possible, of the complexity of the technical systems that underlie it (a practice that recognises it’s reliance on others, but does not exploit it, nor does it reject it), an awareness of it’s sphere of influence (what are the implications of seeking a wide reach and at what point does reach become meaningless?) and attention to spanning aesthetic territories without necessarily synchronising them (building a platform for multi-directional input/output).