Monthly Archives: October 2007

Experiment in Cyberspace: Mutating Genre Meme (or better: ‘the ecology of emerging memes’)

The concept of meme, coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, describe a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, maintaining that replication also happens in culture, albeit in a different sense. In his book The Selfish Gene Dawkins speculated that the meme is a unit of information residing in the brain and is the mutating replicator in human cultural evolution, being a pattern that can influence its surroundings – that is, it has causal agency – and can propagate. Still, Dawkins apparently did not intend to present a comprehensive theory of memetics, but rather coined the term meme in a speculative spirit.

According to previous entries, by no means the Ecology of the Novel may support such approach to cultural evolution, likely arising and spreading on the basis of constant recoding of plastic patterns defining so called ‘memes’, that have to be eventually defined as emergent features instead of units of information residing in the brain. Textual plasticity found both in oral and in literary traditions, from papyri to manuscript, from print to digital media supporting shared meaning based on collaboration, corroborate the idea that narratives have to be addressed as emergent features, encoded by means of symbolic systems and referring to perceptual events, actions and emotional correlates. Hence, ramifications of descriptions based on multiple potential affordances of described features have to be credited as responsible of massive textual variation.

Indeed, acts as ‘reading a novel’ or ‘listening to a story’ lead to the embodiment of narrative events by means of mirror matching. Matter-of-factly, readers or listeners hardly feel urged to memorize phrases, sentences, words while reading a novel or listening to a story. They hardly succeed in the task of retelling a single sentence of given narratives they read or listen to, even though they can retell what the story is about in different words, sentences, phrases. Indeed, sensory experiences, actions and emotions emerging from novels, stories, narratives in general, are saved and stored as perceptual responses, motor schemes, feelings and behaviors into isolated or combined complex patterns, outlasting the textual features they are encoded into, that are soon gone and forgot.

Still, an interesting scientific experiment in cyberspace evolution based on blogging may provide some interesting hints about spreading of textual variation, even tho mutations are limited by rules that have been designed so to ease gradual evolution rather than stasis and punctuated equilibria. In my understanding, the submitted meme hardly mutates till the pattern “The best [subgenre] in [genre] is…” remains unchanged. Till then it’s all just about messing up and mixing the genetic pool of the very same species, basically enjoying stasis in Gould-Eldredge terms. Indeed, if mutation doesn’t actually happens after somebody getting wrong while applying the rules, so that the format changes into, say , “The best [genre] in [nation] is…”, I may eventually get back some code i would be able to cope (as in ‘couple’ in natural terms) with by processing it through the same rules I actually reproduce and (try to) apply (correctly?):

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, “The best [subgenre] in [genre] is…”. Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

* You can leave them exactly as is.

* You can delete any one question.

* You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change “The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is…” to “The best time travel novel in Westerns is…”, or “The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is…”, or “The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is…”.

* You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form “The best [subgenre] in [genre] is…”.

* You must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

Genealogic tree:

My great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite.

My grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.

My parent is Belgrad and Beyond.

Questions and Answers:

The best cyberpunk novel in SF/Fantasy is: Neuromancer by William Gibson.

The best neo-noir SF film in scientific and cyberpunk dystopias is: Bladerunner by Ridley Scott.

The best sexy song in trip-hop is: Undress me Now by Morcheeba

The best abstract painting in european art is: Super Chess by Paul Klee.

Tagging:

I am tagging the following people, some blogger friends, to do the same, so this lineage will not go extinct!

Kai Pata

Alessandro Lanni

Lorenzo Declich

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Action Potential and Urban Fiction

Xing Danwen’s work in progress named Urban fiction features a series of photographs shot both on film and digitally, manipulated with various computer techniques. Despite the 2dimensional framework supporting it, Urban Fiction provides very interesting samples of ecological art based on the action potential triggered by the placement of people into an urban landscape.

The statement of the artist provides some interesting hints about the purpose of her work. Namely, she offers that «When you face these models showing such a variety of different spaces and think about the life-styles associated with them, you start to wonder: is this the picture of life today? Do we really live in this kind of space and environment?». Basically, Danwen seems to establish her atwork in a traditional fictional framework that goes back to aristotelian mimesis, in terms that she aims to make people compare the artificial life of her artistic environment with the ‘real’ one they actually run.

Moreover, Danwen maintains that «people live in cubes that are squeezed next to one another, separated only by thin walls. This physical proximity, instead of leading to greater closeness and intimacy between people, can often create psychological distance and loneliness». Hence, an ecologically grounded approach emerges, since issues as proximity and spatial closeness arises and, interestingly, are asymmetrically paired with emotional correlatives as intimacy and loneliness.

An ecological approach seems to arise even more strongly when Danwen describes the urban setting she sets her fictions into:

«the sculptural form of these new residential buildings, the floor plan of the apartments, and the various interior designs are all related to the inhabitants and their “individual” taste and needs. The models of these new living spaces are perfect and clean and beautiful but they are also so empty and detached of human drama».

Indeed, landscape is shaped according to tastes and needs of characters performing in it and it’s even designed so to mark a sharp detachment from their feelings and emotions. Danwen offers that «when you take these models and begin to add real life–even a single drop of it–so much changes», since «this entire body of work is playful and fictitious, wandering between reality and fantasy». Basically, her art is described as going back and forth from ‘reality’ to ‘fantasy’ all the way back.

Even the chose of characters performing in the urban landscape contributes to the blending of ‘real’ and ‘unreal’, since the artist explains that «all the figures in this series are images of me, playing different characters», so to establish another paradox: «“I” am real but at the same time “I” am unreal» and to reshape the subject according to the urban surroundings they are immersed in. Indeed:

The figures act out totally imaginative roles as part of different plots and in different spaces that I visualize when I look at these models. For example, “I” am sometimes a white-collar office worker brought to despair by job pressures and spiritual emptiness. Sometimes “I” am a materialistic woman enjoying a life of pleasure and dissipation. Or “I” am a young girl who has accidentally killed her lover in a mood of anger.

Danwen conceives the various scenes as part of a general vision aimed to represent «represent the state of urban life today». Indeed, «together the resulting pictures compose the episodes of the urban fiction». The point of view of the observer matters, since future and Past are associated with age and growth, as modern life is: «In our childhood, skyscrapers were buildings that we had to raise our head to look at. Now we can imagine our future by bending down to examine tiny models of buildings».

From an ecological point of view, urban fictions matter in respect of the action potential triggered by still frames referring to ‘fictive’ people caught in the act of performing various action. Potential affordances of environmental features define the extent of the interaction between characters and landscapes that may be understood in a single framework based on common coding of perception and action. The very sharp detachment of landscapes from people’s feelings can’t help ruling completely out of the picture emotional correlates based on very subtle evaluation of environmental elements, as it will be shown in the following detailed appraisal of given episodes.

Murder Scene

The actual action is not represented in the making. Besides, the portrait of the wounded corpse laying into the blood puddle joint with the woman standing, his arms in the air, suggests that she just committed the crime, hitting him on the tummy with the weapon that is now on the floor.

Car Crash

The cars crashed into each other are necessarily the result of a motor action that took place in the very recent past, since the woman, eventually one of the drivers, seems still in a frenzy, her legs in motion, while looking for help. Even tho the landscape looks completely unreactive, the emotional state of the woman can be easily mirrored by the viewer exactly because it features given environmental items. Indeed, taking the crashed cars out of the pictures it would be impossible to clearly understand why the woman looks so hurried and afraid, all the eventual explanation being at that point equally suitable.

Condo People

The women on the roof look like they are sharing some kind of secrets, the one in the black dress wispering something in the ear of the one with blue hair. Sure thing, intimacy between them can be given for granted on the basis of spatial proximity and gesturing. The fact that they actually are on the roof may eventually imply some sort of secret going on between them, eventually concerning the other people set in the vicinities. Indeed, they could be talking about the gal who’s leaving with her bike, as they may be sharing some secret about the guy smoking by the window. Likewise, both of them may be concerned. The relative positioning of characters distributed in the urban landscape define actual and potential connections going on between them.

Bikers from the Window

Same as above. What do the smoking guy is thinking while staring at the couple on the bike by the window? Why is the gal almost crying? Are the three people connected in some way? Are their actions related?

Cliffhanger

Extreme action potential triggered by the woman on top of the skyscraper is a typical sample of cliffhanging suspence. Of course the question is: is she about to jump? And, eventually, why?

Affair

Relative positions of characters are in this case very interconnected. The woman has seen from the balcony his husband/partner, who probably just got off his blue car and is now strolling his troller while heading to the entrance of the building. The naked guy is just making his way out of her place. The whole scene looks basically like a crucial frame extracted from an episode featuring some sort of adultery.