Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Great Writer: Graffiti and the Singularity

An Apocalyptic Fantasy in Some Acts, Maybe More, Maybe Less


So, I was wondering, as I do from time to time: What’s this blog about? Sure, I write it, but that doesn’t mean that I know what I’m going. What do all these things have to do with one another other than me being interested in them: cultural evolution, graffiti, music, anime (Miyazaki, Kawajiri) and animation (Disney, Paley), flowers (flix), Shakespeare, sexuality, and a little of this and some of that.

As I said, I was thinking through that stuff and it hit me: Graffiti and the Singularity!

WTF? What in doG’s name do they have to do with one another?


THE SINGULARITY, as you may know, is something that’s supposed to happen in the not too distant future, though not necessarily just around the corner, when computers get big enough and smart enough that they can light out for the territory on their own. Spontaneously, over night, they’ll out-think us and, from that point on, we won’t know what they’re up to. Heck, we won’t even know they’ve gone over to the THE OTHER SIDE because we won’t be smart enough to detect it and they won’t have any reason to tell us about it.

That’s one version, anyhow.

But what’s that have to do with graffiti? Well, it seems Vernor Vinge came up with the idea back in 1983, about a year before Subway Art came out. I suppose lots of notions were sent up in trial balloons within a year or two of Subway Art, one way or the other. But they don’t count. ‘Cause you see, Style Wars came out in 83 and you had Kase 2 talking about computer styles in graff.

Yeah, that’s it. Kase 2 read Vinge’s article and got the idea for computer styles from the singularity. Or did Vinge see Style Wars and cop the idea from Kase 2? Maybe neither. Maybe both were channeling the Great Writer.


For you see, both computers and graffiti are about writing. The graffiti case is well-known. It started with the tag, the writer’s name. And became more developed and elaborate until wild styles came on the scene. With wild styles the name was all but obliterated in the elaboration, figuration, and transformation. But it was still there, in the deep core, in the instruction set of the design matrix.

And computers, obviously about writing. Sure, we think of computers as being about numbers, math, and tech, but the numbers and math are written in symbols, machine-readable symbols, and the tech is all about elaboration and transformation of those symbols at warp speed. It’s writing on hyperdrive.

And that’s what graffiti became, writing on hyperdrive.


But how’s that get us to the singularity? Here’s what the Wikipedia says about the singularity: “the creation of superhuman intelligence would represent a breakdown in the ability of humans to model the future thereafter.” Well, back in 1974, when he wrote The Faith of Graffiti, did Norman Mailer predict that graffiti would go round the world, conquer all streets, get up on all walls? No he did not.

Thus, graffiti, like the singularity, is beyond human comprehension. It’s got a mind of its own. And it’s nudging us around, getting us to do its bidding.

You see, the possibility of the singularity predicates that intelligence doesn’t care whether it works through neural wetware or digital computer hardware. Intelligence is intelligence, regardless. Writers and stylemasters vs. computers and networks: what’s the difference, who cares? Writing is writing; graffiti is writing: computing is writing: thus graffiti is computing. And since both are beyond our ken, it follows that graffiti is the singularity.


And if you believe that, I’ll give you a choice between prime swampland in Florida, or prime shares in the Brooklyn Bridge.


The thing is, graffiti seems to be one thing, and is; and computers seem to be something completely different, and they are. But they’re also writing. And they’re joined at the hip, through the web.

When it goes up on the wall, someone snaps a flick and posts it on the web. And so the writing is around the world, instantly. Writers who don’t share the same walls nonetheless share the same servers. Their bits cross and intermingle. All under the watchful gaze of the Great Writer. It’s become a world unto its own, the writers, the code, the web. An autonomous cultural system outside the world of galleries, museums, and art schools. Connections? yes. But it’s the singular graff web interchange that drives the action.

It’s beyond our ken. Singular. The Future. Where’s it headed?


The Great Wall. You see, if two writers get up on the same wall, they share a link. They’re at one degree of separation. If two writers are each one degree away from two writers who are together on the same wall, then these two writers are at two degrees of separation. And so forth. Is there any wall in the world where all writers are connected? No, probably not. But somewhere in the web there’s a virtual wall where all writers are linked. The Great Wall. Written by the Great Writer. And that’s what’s pulling us to the future.

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