Research Transcript 3/4:

Nora N. Khan and Peli Grietzer on Nostalgia for Times Before Computation

The HOLO Annual has emerged, in part, through conversation between Nora Khan and Peli Grietzer, the Annual’s Research Partner. They discussed Nora’s first drafts of the “unframe” for the Annual (in resisting a frame, one still creates a frame) around prompts of Explainability, Myths of Prediction, Mapping Outside Language, and Ways of Partial Knowing, over months. Once drafts started rolling in, they discussed the ideas of contributors, the different angles each was taking to unpack the prompts, and the directions for suggested edits. They came together about four times to work on unknotting research and editorial knots. A deeper research conversation thread weaves in and out, in which Peli and Nora deconstruct the recent and influential Atlas of AI, by Kate Crawford.

In this final excerpt, right before Nora and Peli and contributor Sera Schwarz met up in Berlin after almost year of Annual-related discussions, they talk about ideas in contributors’ essays made in response to the prompts Mapping Outside Language and Explainability, again. Themes included: Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room, artistic use of language that is “in between” meditative practice and that of scientific experimentation, and finding one’s space in between fields, and outside of the explainable, and the mapped.

A fuller representation of Khan and Grietzer’s exchange will be published in the HOLO Annual.

“There’s much more self-reflection and embrace of doubt in this issue than I’m used to seeing in the art, science, and technology discourse space. Contributors reflect on what systems they are unwillingly contributing to, regardless of their criticality.”

Nora: There’s much more self-reflection and embrace of doubt in this issue than I’m used to seeing in the art, science, and technology discourse space. Meaning, the contributors gathered all take a lot of breaks to reflect on their position, and on what systems they are unwillingly contributing to, regardless of their criticality.

Peli: Oh, interesting. I can sort of see it. One piece was weirdly almost Heideggerian in its ideology—or left Heideggerian. But again, it was interesting to see a piece from someone who is a practicing technologist.

Nora: I think the prompt is coaxing a lot of things out from people. Especially practitioners.

Peli: There’s a certain kind of heavy technology problem and heavy technology solution, and the idea of trying to step outside it. I like that they thought in terms of being very plainspoken, based on their experiences of live, practical technologies. There’s an aspect of a practitioner’s diary or practitioner’s reflection. It’s one of the interesting things in the issue. A bunch of the pieces are by practitioners in technology or art, reflecting on their relationship to these systems and their broader concerns. When a theorist or an academic says these things … well, it can feel much more interesting when you know that the insights arise out of someone’s day to day engagement when acting in a certain field.

Nora: Workers on the inside having a moment of rest outside of the monolith. The pieces are granting you a way in. There’s a lot of, “And what is this all for?” Or, “Am I the bad guy?” There’s a lot of hilarious moments. I don’t know if the prompt elicited that, or if it’s just the time we’re in, but people are asking, across the board, “Maybe I’m the bad guy.” Maybe we all are. No matter how critical or incisive, or ruthlessly interrogative of the spaces they are in, it’s an important question to ask. Especially in many tech- spaces where being good, or making progress, is so built into the ethos and language. To take up a position outside the paradigms of explanation (of their work, to themselves), and outside known language, to assess their work and re-evaluate the stakes. But it’s also important not to romanticize a space outside and ’before’ technology, too.

“Workers on the inside having a moment of rest outside of the monolith. The pieces are granting you a way in. There’s a lot of, ‘And what is this all for?’ Or, ‘Am I the bad guy?’ There’s a lot of hilarious moments.”

Peli: That’s a point I’d impress on. Sometimes one might romanticize how agriculture is so integral to life, so it’s somehow especially bad that machines run agriculture. One would maybe want to press on the romanticism of that.

Nora: The idea of old and ancient knowledge that’s being tapped into. I guess one sees this a lot in memoirs of leaving technology. Being so overwhelmed by the horror of it all that they head to the woods.

Peli: There’s something a bit sort of hermetic in it. Is this just an aesthetic preference? Is it a poetic preference? Is this a moral edict, or is there sort of a practical and pragmatic dimension to it? It always makes a bit more sense to me when people romanticize hunter gatherer life than when people romanticize agriculture. I feel like we have so much immediate evidence that people absolutely fucking hated it, from the minute it began existing. You know, the Jewish Bible and Christian testament. The great punishment for getting out of the Garden of Eden is, oh, you will have to till the land in order to eat. That’s the punishment. Humans hated agriculture quite intensely in real time.

Nora: So to romanticize that is quite funny. I think there is a kind of softness in this aesthetic in the more, ah, rhizomatically-oriented art-technology spaces, if we can call them that, that often revolves around The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction. The longing for mending of clothes, sharpening of knives, tending to compost, fixing things with one’s hand. With the crucial context of being in a major metropolis, connected to the internet.

To move from one high technology system to a ‘lower’ or earlier technology system—well what are the advantages of moving and what are the costs one can’t predict or even see from our position? What would only be visible once outside? As we ask ourselves, potentially, “How have I aligned my life with the more reactionary elements of using these technologies, while critiquing their driving forces,” we might also ask, what would we do on the outside of them? Outside their language and beyond their gates?

“We ponder our alignment with the more reactionary elements of these technologies, while critiquing their driving forces. But what would we do on the outside of them? Outside their language and beyond their gates?”