Date: Wed, 8 Jan 1997 19:26:27 +0000
From: Matthew Fuller

Language of the internet

Matthew Fuller

A Paris court is to rule on february the 24th on a legal challenge lodged yesterday to the use of English without French translations on an Internet site established on the French campus in Metz, Lorraine of the Georgia Institute of Technology (USA).

Date: Tue, 7 Jan 1997 23:35:18 +1100 (EST)
From: McKenzie Wark

Essaying the net

McKenzie Wark

I’ve been reading a book called _Best American Essays 1996. [...]

To essay is to attempt. Montaigne coined the word, invented the genre, with his Essais. They are remarkable for the way Montaigne is not afraid to write in his own voice, and to seek after a truth about his owne experience that he is skeptical enough to always put in question, as he writes. [...] Mostly, i’m bored with a certain uniform speed at which the essay now travels. We are enjoined by the writing to look at things, imagine things, contemplate things, for just so long. Nothing is quite quick enough — or slow enough. [...] But what i hope for, here on the net, is for something else. A writing that might have other speeds. That might engage its readers with another mode of address. That might return to the original meaning of the essay — the attempt. And what it implies about writing — a certain liberty in writing, but one that goes hand in hand with a certain modesty. Each essay is only an attempt. It reveals a flaw, a crack in its author. Its not a theatrical revealing, in the mode of a confession (always based on the somewhat comic notion that a write can choose what to reveal or conceal). Rather, an aesthetics that honours a certain flawed beauty in the improvised attempt to become textual, to make oneself a process of writing. "I am myself the substance of this text" as Montaigne says.

I’m not sure there’s enough of the tradition of the essay left (in English at least) to be able to make up an aesthetic for it out of writing alone. So the nearest thing i can think of to it comes from elsewhere, from the music of jazz. On the one hand, jazz is slow. It requires a long process of practice, practice, practice. John Coltrane alone with his scales. Bird playing old records by Prez over and over, learning and relearning. On the other hand, jazz is fast. Get up on the stand. Someone counts in, there’s a tune, and then — everybody blows. Only the tune and tempo are given — a plane upon which to throw the dice. What one hears, listening to, say Coltrane and Miles Davis playing together in the ‘first quintet’ of the early 50s, is this combination of absolute slowness and speed. What one hears is the attempt to become music. What one hears, even at the best of times, are the flaws, the little particularities, the singular grain of a player’s finitude. Jazz is to essay the self as sound in time. Writing can be to essay the self as writing in time. In real time. Live, with no corrections, a first take. [...] Essaying, as a quality of net writing, happens, i think when there’s a particular meshing of individual desires and drives with some kind of collective assent to a certain plane of action, a certain style and mode of discourse. A certain tempo, perhaps, an agreed popular tune, some notion of what sounds good next to what. But other than than that, the paths multiply.

Duchamp used to say of certain works, the Large Glass for example, that it was ‘finally unfinished’. This unfinished quality is important. In the _Live at the Blackhawk recordings, Miles edited and re-edited the tapes, including only his best solos. The results sound a bit silly. The bits don’t match. A certain quality of time is sacrificed to the glory of the artist, wishing to bask in an image of perfection. Much better are the complete Plugged Nickel recordings — real snap frozen time. Better still is being there, at a great concert, or writing, in real time, going with the speed of one’s first thought. Taking time on writing improves everything *except* the time of writing itself. [...] But anyway, to go back up the path a bit — the listserver and the majordomo list seem to me to offer the potential for a kind of essaying, a certain relation to speed, to collaboration. The web site is something else. A stillness. A distillation. The book is something else again. The will to absolute slowness. Every well made book is a dice roll that wills itself to eternity.

But that’s enough on that tune.

McKenzie Wark Netletter #6 7th January 1997 written ‘live’ between 11.10 and 11.33 Sydney time