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reflections on hauntology

Wed May 29 22:40:07 UTC 2024

my friend E sent me a link some weeks ago to a short youtube video about hauntology; specifically, cultural hauntology:

the video on youtube

The following is an e-letter to E I wrote out immediately after viewing:

I have been giving myself the brainspace today to catch up on my tab queue and finally watched that Hauntology video you sent me. I liked it a lot. I appreciated ending on the observation/question about how the nostalgia mining is clearly the result of a need people have as opposed to (victim) blaming the people partaking in it of being wrong/stupid. I think an argument “against” (not fully) the Fisherism of cultural hauntology is the assertion that all art (and thus culture) has to start in the past; it has to be a reaction to / conversation with the past. so I think this endless recycling is not a neoliberalism exclusive thing; I think neoliberalism has just capped how much imagination one can bring to the past/present conversation that is art.

I said in the preface to my cyberpunk cutup collection that I was (to steal phrasing from burroughs) cutting into the past as a kind of divination into the present in the hopes of then imagining and constructing an alternate future which I think all these years later is still the guiding principle of all my dives into the past (VHS, tilde.town, old books, etc). I butt heads all the time with people who just want to dig into the past for the past’s sake and I find it really troubling and I feel like that’s echoed well in the hauntology video

when I think about creating futures the most clear examples that jump to mind are 20th century revolutionary movements–fascism, sovietism, maoism. there are effectively infinite nightmares that occurred within/because of those movements and i often wonder if we’re collectively terrified that trying to dream up the truly new has to lead to immense suffering. neoliberalism with its short term commitment to big-tent-ism feels so safe even as long term it flings us into the apocalypse toilet. it leads me to think that all human attempts at organization are inherently deathward and the only real choices are ardent anarchism (short term localized suffering for potential long term chill) or continuing to sink into the neoliberal drug fog (short term pleasure(?) for long term disaster)

lately i have been feeling extremely TWO WOLVES as a result of my history research. one wolf is turbo anarchist, all states must be destroyed, all centralization of power has a greater cost than benefit; the other wolf is swooning for the visions of early communists (egalitarianism, science, atheism, frugality, collectivism, all wrapped up in a motherly state that can defend itself) and asking me to wonder “maybe this time?? maaayyybbeee this time???” even as i research the nightmare totalitarian end state of communist nations

(end)

I also linked the video in tilde town which spurred some good discussion. I reflected on hauntology, cut-up, and LLM “art” (reproduced below with other replies edited out):

22:02:05   @vilmibm | i think the video's perceived negativity is from mourning this 
                    | seeming difficulty in imagining new futures
22:02:30   @vilmibm | what i said in my notes to a friend about it was that this video
                    | could observe that /all/ art starts in the past since all art is a
                    | reaction to what an artist has seen
22:02:56   @vilmibm | and what's changed is not starting out making art/culture based on
                    | the past but a newfound difficulty of taking that inspiration and
                    | making something new with it
22:03:09   @vilmibm | as opposed to just regurgitating it wholesale but in 4k or whatever
22:07:16   @vilmibm | personally the video hits at a creative concern near and dear to
                    | me: cutup poetry vs. LLM-generated "art". i think the level of
                    | human involvement in the former leads to taking the past (the
                    | content being cut up) and turning it into something new (ie meaning
                    | created through more than mere juxtaposition). meanwhile, LLMs can
                    | only autocomplete art
22:07:16   @vilmibm | that has already been made, offering novelty in terms of
                    | juxtaposition but never being able to rise above mere juxtaposition
22:07:42   @vilmibm | humans imbue cutup pieces with a new narrative; LLMs can only
                    | autocomplete old narratives
22:10:12   @vilmibm | whereas a human artist might be doing 90% pastiche but invent a
                    | whole new art form in that last 10%
22:10:30   @vilmibm | which to me is the thing most interesting about humans

reposting it all here in case it inspires conversation for anyone else. there are no comments here (YET) but there is always email.

the sound from the well

Sun May 19 23:27:33 UTC 2024
a lonesome death needs not be
the only future for a life
lived as a tear wet
apology

The MUD That's In My Mind

Thu Aug 31 19:38:25 UTC 2023

(content warning: suicide)

I don’t know when I came across the memory palace technique but I thought it was interesting. I historically do not think of myself as a person with a “good memory” so I filed away this concept to try at some point. What ended up sticking with me and resurfacing was not the idea that a memory palace could help me memorize things but instead wonderment at the idea of building physical spaces in my head at all.

I first noticed myself creating such spaces in the early 2010s when I was groping at an understanding of my severe, suicidal depression. I had started obsessively journaling (in addition to therapy) in this detached and impersonal sense in order to see how my emotions fluctuated day to day. I started getting this notion of depression as a room I would wake up in with no windows and no doors–the lack of escape representing my obsession with suicide as the only means of dealing with my life. Realizing based on my journal/therapy that sometimes I was not in the doorless room was key to treating my depression. In other words–my brainspace could feel inescapable and I could feel incapable of remembering that any other type of brainspace existed but if I held onto there being places outside of the doorless room as an article of faith I could weather the worst depressive episodes (nota bene: though I still have the occasional depressive episode, the worst of my depression is years behind me and I do not experience suicidal thoughts).

Years later I was struggling to explain what the inside of my head was like to a new therapist. I ended up visualizing what the experience of having my consciousness felt like as a physical space like I had done years prior with the doorless room.

I remember two distinct visualizations. One was of sitting in a massive room surrounded by ropes that led off into the darkness. The ropes would twitch and I could follow one towards some idea but I end up with a bunch of ropes in my hand I can’t manage and would start dropping them. Once I drop enough I would be lost in the dark with no sense of self. The other visualization was of sitting in an armchair with a massive wall of TVs before me, all rapidly changing channels. I could try and focus on one but I would either be distracted by another or caught off guard by a channel change.

My therapist used somatic techniques to help me calm and focus; I ended up visualizing these, too. For example I would close my eyes and imagine the wall of TVs but also imagine whatever somatic distraction he had going–a candle, an aroma, a sound–in my consciousness too. I would imagine looking from the TV wall away at the distraction. The effect was to be aware of the TV wall “behind” me but focusing on the somatic distraction. This was super helpful and led to my being able to calm myself on a more regular basis.

I don’t remember when but at some point during the pandemic I was reflecting on how these room metaphors had helped so much with my therapy. I took stock of the various “rooms” that I had come up with and at this point was reminded of another interest of mine: MUDs. A MUD maps out a world in terms of “rooms” which have connections between them. So from some starting room (often called a foyer) you could go north to somewhere or east to somewhere and then so on. I don’t know why but I decided to build a MUD in my head using my space visualization therapy techniques.

I started with a foyer. It has a tiled floor with black and white checkering, dark wood panel walls with red velvet padding, a rosewood hat rack, and a plain wooden chair.

North from there there is an entry hallway with a similar aesthetic. It has doors to the north, east, and west and a staircase up. The door east opens into a WWI era trench. I go here in times of crisis and hunker into a dugout while artillery explodes and bullets fly overhead. To the west is the pillow room which is warm but not hot, fragrant but not reeking, and absolutely stuffed with pillows. I go here when I’m allowing myself to relax.

Up the stairs is a long landing with doors along the wall. The first door is the room of constant suffering. In this room I can’t close my eyes and everywhere I look is a gilded framed picture playing out the worst scenes I can imagine (like Salò x 100). I can hear an incessant, surrounding wall of screaming anguish and the harshest feedback. I don’t really choose to go in here. I just find myself in here during panic attacks.

Next is the TV room, then the rope room. After that, a door opens into a glass dome I call the observation deck. Outside the glass dome is whatever I’m seeing in “real” life. I go here when I’m in a situation that is uncomfortable and “watch” it from behind the glass, putting myself on autopilot.

North from the entryway is another hallway with a door for the library which is just a library. I go here to review ideas and things I’ve read. At the end of the hallway is a staircase down which goes to the basement of my parents’ house circa 2001. It’s dark and wet down there and under foot are broken toys. I can hear sobbing.

Floating somewhere with no connecting doorways (something that can happen in a MUD if a door object is destroyed) is the doorless room.

I “go” into this palace a lot and it helps when I’m experiencing panic, depression, or executive dysfunction. By focusing on “being” there and moving around I can start a cognitive feedback loop that affects my mood and state of being.

Recently I was having a very rough panic episode about my life and quitting my job. I went into the foyer and sat down unsure where to go. It occurred to me that I had never visualized the south “wall” of the foyer. I’m always sitting in it peering north into the structure. I decided to imagine turning southward and opening the “front door” of the palace.

My imagination populated the “space” beyond the open door with an infinite swell of blue-white light that pulsated. I perceived it as my unconscious/subconscious/reactive self and saw it with a total sense of compassion and love; it was like a wild creature and I wanted to care for it. This experience really affected me and has stayed vibrant and powerful in the weeks since. It feels like it represents one of the most significant leaps forward for my daily mental health in years.

Ultimately I can’t say whether all of this is a fluke of my own overactive imagination or if it has any applicability for others. I also don’t know if this “technique” is what has helped me with mental health over the years or if it’s just a retroactive way of telling a story about my self-work with therapy, journaling, and meditation. I’ve never met anyone else who has described this sort of thing but I feel like the memory palace approach to memorization must be psychologically very similar.

Addendum: I shared a draft of this with a friend and he pointed out that whatever it is I’m doing, it has a lot in common with mandala techniques .

blackout.tilde.town

Fri Jul 14 04:52:12 UTC 2023

I made a new thing: a website for making blackout poetry with over nine million chunks of text extracted from Project Gutenberg. It’s here at blackout.tilde.town .

a screenshot of a blackout poem that reads: the picturesque decay remains an idea of the beautiful

Ever since ~kc posted this page I’ve been inspired by blackout poetry. I wanted an interface not only for doing it, but for giving me novel text to work with as well.

I used Project Gutenberg’s robot access instructions to get about 12 gigabytes of compressed plaintext English language books. It translated to about 35,000 books once duplicate encodings were ignored.

This code , gutchunk, uncompressed the books and combed through them for what i’m calling “chunks.” I was looking for meaty sections of text that would make for good blackout poetry fodder. My approach is fairly naive. I store text in a buffer until I see two newlines, then check if I have enough in the buffer; if I do, I cut a chunk. If I don’t, I discard it.

To my extreme pleasure I ended up with over nine million chunks. This is all sitting in a sqlite3 database on the town and if you’re reading this and are also a townie, let me know if you want access to it.

When I was working on prosaic over the years I got a lot of junk from my sloppy parsing of gutenberg books. I was young and silly and not writing great code then. I was also afflicted with this perverse need to ingest ALL of the text into my cut-up corpora. I got a lot of cruft: chapter headings, tables of content, captions, and similar. So far I’ve pulled well over a hundred of my nine million chunks and they all look quite good. My simple heuristic avoided a lot of the noise that I get when running prosaic. Of course, I’m missing some text: short bits of dialogue, for example. This kind of thing would have haunted me in the past, but now knowing that mystery remains in these books feels good. I don’t like finding the bottom of the swamp .

If you’re interested, the code for blackout.tilde.town is also up on our gitea .

There is no way to iterate over the chunks; you get a random one every single page load. Given the size of the ID space, this should mean an infinitesimally small chance for repeats. I wanted an experience like the library of babel ; one of wandering and digging up scraps to scrawl upon.

I’m hosting this decidedly personal project on tilde.town because I felt like it was a nice fit for our community. It’s also my house and I can do whatever, though I try not to have that mindset too often.

I may also make an SSH-hosted text-mode version. I haven’t decided.

I’ve already been really pleased with the experience of making poems using the new site and hope you like it, too. Please let me know on mastodon or wherever if you’re making stuff with it.

smudge

Thu Apr 13 05:06:39 UTC 2023

I made a new piece of software . It’s a command line piece of art.

a recording of a terminal running the smudge program. a grid of characters in grey turns orange from the top town, eventually dissipating into smoke

The software accepts any number of filenames as arguments. each file is then interleaved, character by character, into a grid. the grid of characters is then ignited and the fire spreads downward. characters eventually become smoke particles that float upward and wisp away into nothing.

You can read about the practice that inspired this project on on wikipedia .

I made this program because I wanted something I could run ritualistically. Initially, it was to run on a computer as a way to make it feel like a home. I’ve been using it, however, as a meditation aid. Before commiting to a potentially stressful task, I get a related text file and then watch it burn away. It’s comforting and gives me some space and time to breathe.

Ritual is important. It can help nudge the brain into certain states. It can provide structure to a day or event which in turn can help focus a mind in turmoil. It provides an intentional space for reflection. I don’t get much out of rituals involving physical objects, however. I think living in America my whole life has made me consider many physical goods as a form of kipple . This was less true growing up when I lived in a forest since I could wander out and find a weird stick or rock or curious leaf covered in gall; but since then, even if I go out and obtain something from the natural world to use ritualistically, I am distracted by how shallow and capitalist it feels. It’s also frowned on to be seen burning things in an urban environment.

the smudge program is a way to address this for me. Text files feel like special objects. They occur organically and have a shape to them that is incidental, like something from a forest floor. And digital conflagration can’t burn down my house. I have found this program to be highly satisfying for its intended end.

It is written in Go. I have been slowly adding to a tiny “framework” for doing this kind of programming in Go on the command line based on a library I really like called tcell . If you are interested in that code, you can see it on github. I might split it out into its own library. Let me know if that seems useful.

If you want to download and use smudge, you can get a binary from its release page for your OS.

book marks

Thu Mar 31 04:37:31 UTC 2023

I got a new computer. It’s a thinkpad (x1 carbon gen10) and came with Ubuntu preinstalled. I often say this about new computers, but I really like it. I tend to get to a point when I’m mad at the new computer and then all feels lost until the next one. This one feels different; it feels like home. This is a blog post about bookmarks but first: a tour through computing disappointments from the thinkpad I had in 2010 to today:

This new bud has a beautiful screen. decent speakers. A luxurious keyboard and touchpad. Big SSD. even the fingerprint reader works in Ubuntu. Since its first boot this laptop has felt like home.

Something about this home feeling has made me feel comfortable. Like I’m sinking into a cozy chair and taking stock of a warm, safe, familiar cottage. I set up Firefox and synced my stuff and felt like arranging my big pile of unsorted bookmarks from the past decade-ish.

here’s some that felt notable. maybe i’ll add more later.

increpare.com a large collection of interesting little games, many of which are playable in the browser. I do not know how or when I came across this.

neo habitat a remake of the original graphical multiplayer game.

A PDF of Richard Bartle’s Designing Virtual Worlds book Unfortunately his site has gone down but the Wayback machine has a backup.

lincoln brigade database database of americans that volunteered in the spanish civil war

this da share zone tweet my wife and i reference constantly

this gif

imdb entry for Colony Mutation Came across this fascinating, kind of cronenberg-without-budget movie recorded onto a blank VHS tape in a thrift store.

the patent for disco balls

the wikipedia article for Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Masochism is named for him. Though he didn’t want that.

drama in alphaworld

a gallery of cyberpunk/hacker zines some really cool stuff i haven’t seen elsewhere.

announcing Hermeticum (formerly tildemush)

Sat Jan 7 02:34:49 UTC 2023

tl;dr

I’m fully rewriting the tildemush MOO engine as hermeticum and actually plan to release it for real this time ^_^

huh what

A few years ago I shipped an alpha version of a new MOO style system called tildemush. It was crude in many respects, but did function. In addition to basic account creation and chatting features, it supported:

Unfortunately, it had an insurmountably large amount of technical debt and continuing development on it was not pleasant. I shelved the project for almost four years, seriously unwilling to admit that I felt it was unsalvagable. I was not able to shake the dream of seeing this project through, however, and decided it was worth a full rewrite.

Thus, this blog post serves as an announcement of Hermeticum, a full rewrite and re-imagining of tildemush. I waited to make a statement like this until I actually had something working. I’m pleased to say I have a rudimentary client and server going in the Go language, including a new version of WITCH powered by Lua instead of Hy.

The vision of the project remains the same: a social, creative place targeted at the tilde town community that embraces the spirit of MOO/MUSH/MUD/MUCK engines with a fresh perspective.

Though huge features are still missing, I am very excited about the foundation I have laid and am more optimistic on delivering a compelling experience than I ever was with tildemush. If you want to follow along, I’m tracking progress in a roadmap file.

rambling pontification

You, dear hypothetical reader, might be asking why I’m bothering with all this. It’s 2022; there are both decades-old existing MOO/MUSH/MUD/MUCK engines as well as a whole world that has moved on from them. Why not try and revitalize interest in existing technology? or just go live inside of the metaverse forging NFTs or whatever with my digital blood, cyber sweat, and virtual tears?

I have, since youth, been obsessed with the idea of being “inside” a computer. To this end I have created things like tilde town, murepl, and other communities and technologies long since dead. I have also tried a bunch of MUDs and MOOs. To date, however, none of my creations or dabbling with pre-existing communities has fully scratched the itch I have had since I first used a computer in like 1992 or whatever.

I feel that existing MOO/MUD/MUCK/MUSH technology is saddled by both technical and community debt. Technically, such engines had to make engineering trade-offs for very constrained execution environments. These trade-offs led to scripting experiences very difficult for beginners to understand. They are also from the telnet era, which seriously constrains both client capability and security. Community-wise, MOO/MUD/MUCK/MUSH engines rose up out of a kind of competitive and often exclusive nerd culture. There was a lot to love about this era of culture (most notably how it fostered techno-utopian feminist thinkers), but I like less RTFM-style environments in favor of those that welcome the kind of spontaneous creativity that newcomers can bring to a place if they feel sufficiently welcomed.

As far as why I’m still so invested in “antiquated” text-based experiences in this (cursed) world of ponzicoins and addiction-oriented graphical MMOs? Text is a perfect jumping-off point for imagination and creativity. It’s endlessly mutable and highly accessible. I love text and don’t see a reason to abandon it, especially in a post-unicode world.

do you want to help?

The user registration/login code both client and server side needs help and is isolated from the actual game engine stuff that I’ll be focusing on in the short term.

Additionally, I’d love help shaping WITCH, the in-game object scripting language. This requires folks interested in doing some beta testing–creating objects, giving them behavior, and providing feedback on its ease of use. I’m new to Lua and would appreciate feedback on how I’m using it.

For now the development is happening on GitHub. I’d like it to be elsewhere, but haven’t made up my mind where it should go.

anyway, uh

have a good one!

the wall drug cinematic universe

Thu Sep 8 18:23:31 UTC 2022

driving from chicago to berkeley we chose to go through south dakota because to my friend and me it was a mysterious, unvisited place. the wall drug signs begin soon after crossing the border on 80. i was unfamiliar, but my friend filled me in: a place that exists self-referentially. it doesn’t offer services beyond that of any typical rest stop, and the draw to go there is the chance to experience what amounts to a meme (in the classical sense). in other words, a tourist trap.

it got me thinking about self referential advertising: ads for a place that exists only to serve ads for itself. the place makes money by selling advertising (ie tchotchkes with Wall Drug on them).

then, Marvel movies popped into my head. my experience of Marvel movies is that they lack any real substance. they are an IP portfolio: a collection of brands that interact in surface and shallow ways in order to sell merchandising. a Marvel movie is a commercial; the commercial is for itself.

ultimately i decided i preferred Wall Drug since, unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least Wall Drug gives you free ice water.

berkeoffe

Thu Sep 8 18:06:00 UTC 2022

i have moved to berkeley. of chief importance is finding the coffee. the following is the result of initial recon bike rides.

  1. artis. the first espresso i had here was capital P Perfect. the second two were Pretty Good. the cafe music switching over to top 40 at some point was disconcerting.
  2. réveille coffee. it was pretty good, though i wasn’t too into the breakfast burrito. Further recon revealed that their chilaquiles are really delicious, though.
  3. highwire (san pablo). perfectly cromulent
  4. cafenated. the espresso was in no way bad, just the one i was least excited about. i did rather enjoy their breakfast burrito, though.
  5. coffee conscious. i really hate to say this. i do. but it’s the worst coffee i have had in the city. i’ve been multiple times in disbelief. i also do not like the donuts they carry.
  6. my coffee. have only been once but the espresso was very, very good.
  7. signal. pretty good. similar tier as Cafenated.
  8. the hidden cafe. i do not remember the coffee from here which means it was neither notably bad nor good. mostly i just remember how cramped it is trying to go there if the weather is at all nice out.

still to try: breadxcoffee, coro, royal ground, souvenir, hal’s

dark steps

Fri Jun 10 21:04:50 UTC 2022

taking dark steps and eating half the breadcrumbs is how i live. i no longer try to find the exit, just remember the rooms. meal time with the minotaur. the maze has it all: a trade in lunacy, nickelodeons, international coinage, soliloquies, eulogies, biscuits. when the imagery gets vivid i don’t depart in death–it’s just imperative to keep moving. it’s imperative to keep moving and not get stuck in the windowless room that sometimes forgets its own door. there is an infinity of better rooms than that. there’s the screaming room where ears can’t be covered eyes can’t be closed and in every direction the worst thing you ever beheld. there is the room of soft walls always yielding but never suffocating full of dry warmth and lavender. the library smelling of book mold and dark woods. the study with green glass lamps and green felt desk beds and pens and pens. the dark room where there is nothing. most critically, the foyer with the umbrella bucket and the coat pegs and the wash stand with the white marble. there’s a chair in the foyer and i’ll sit here when i don’t know which door to open. the chair is made of wood and has a creak to it.

new blog

Sat May 21 13:25:37 UTC 2022

I made a blog. I haven’t had one in years. When I did it was mostly for dream logging and poetry. I was always pretty self conscious about what I put there. I published my town feels posts as a “blog” for a while, but that never felt right. My feels content was overly personal, diaristic, and vulnerable. I used to think you could either be authentic (vulnerable to a fault) or inauthentic (crafting a personal brand), but now think often of a phrase I heard an actor use in an interview about learning to be “private in public.” I interpreted that as being forthcoming with yourself in the public eye – which we’re all in, now, thanks to the internet – but being defensive about what you share.

Another reason I’m making one of these again is self-actualization. Historically I’ve thought very poorly of myself and agonized over anyone actually caring what I posted. Now, I’m just excited to share whatever I’m excited about or mentally chewing on, not out of self-aggrandizement, but because the stuff I find interesting is interesting because I find it interesting. It’s a very cozy tautology. I’m not interested in building a following or crafting a brand: just sharing what inspires me in an honest way while still keeping some of myself to myself.

Finally, I like to mark time with the discovery of artifacts. I’m always hunting for inspiring things–books, sites, objects, people–and feel an urge to catalogue them so I can be re-inspired in the future. I post on social media about these things sometimes, but social media is uniquely unsuited to reflection and later perusal. I liked Tumblr for this to an extent but never got comfy posting there; too many numbers and buttons and noise there for me to feel like I could collect my thoughts or feel like I was posting for myself instead of a hypothetical audience that might “like” something. I also don’t like being beholden to corporate platforms.

Some initial posting fodder:

Technically speaking, this is all powered by some markdown files with custom metadata embedded in it, a <100 line bash script, and a Go program for handling a little linking macro. I wanted to be able to author links in a consistent way but have sensible renderings in HTML, Gemini, and Gopher. All of this, including posts, can be found in this repository. I considered a static site generator…but I prefer scripting my own thing wrt blogging. It keeps me humble and I find that I don’t use most of the features of off the shelf things.