sianne ngai, “shulamith firestone’s airless spaces”
"neural nets have less to do with the rigors of orthodox logic than the intuitive leaps and cross-connections once pathologized as the hysteria of a thinking marked by associations between ideas which are dangerously ‘cut off from associative connection with the other ideas, but can be associated among themselves…’ they continue to meet with a hostile reception from the orthodox artificial intelligence community, and have so far ‘achieved only limited success in generating partial ‘intelligence.” but it is the very fact ‘that anything at all emerges from a field of lowly connections’ that is, as kelly says, ‘startling.’ what is now described as an ‘order-emerging-out-of-massive-connections’ approach defines intelligence as a bottom-up process of trial and error marked by sudden jumps and unexpected shifts, a piecemeal process which learns and learns to learn for itself regardless of the materials of which it is composed and the context and scale in which it works. it is not a question of learning something in particular, gaining knowledge that already exists, but rather a process of learning, an exploration which feels its own way and makes its own mistakes, rather than follow some preordained route.
neural networks function as parallel distributed processors in which multiple interconnected units operate simultaneously without being bound to some organizing point. these are also nervous systems: highly strung, volatile, easily excited, and oversensitive. hysterics are not the only scatterbrains. ’parallel software is a tangled web of horizontal, simultaneous causes. you can’t check such nonlinearity for flaws since it’s all hidden corners. there is no narrative…parallel computers can easily be built, but can’t be easily programmed.’ they are finely tuned, susceptible to unexpected disruptions and breakdowns, liable to sudden fluctuations and transitions, subject to surges of activity, waves of instability, emergent currents, and local squalls. all complex systems are indeterminate processes rather than entities. ‘we are faced with a system which depends on the levels of activity of its various subunits, and on the manner in which the activity levels of some subunits affect one another.’ if we try to ‘fix’ all this activity by trying to define the entire state of the system at one time…we immediately lose appreciation of the evolution of these activity levels over time. conversely, if it is the activity levels in which we are interested, we need to look for patterns over time.’ the interconnectedness of such systems is such that the subtle fluctuations in one area can have great implications for others without reference to some central site. there is no headquarters, no core zone. information storage and processing is distributed throughout networks which defy all attempts to pin them down. short of ”freezing’ all the separate units or processors, so that all stop operating together and then restarted after read-outs have been attained, we simply cannot take in all that is happening while it is happening.’
this is not computer memory of the read-only, ‘arborescent and centralized’ variety, but a short-term memory of ‘the rhizome or diagram type,’ which is not confined to a matter of recalling the very immediate past, or even recollection of anything. it can ‘act at a distance, come or return a long term after,’ and also ‘includes forgetting as a process.’ all such connectionist machines are subject to sudden disturbances and agitations, flashes and intuitions. these are ‘transition machines’ or ‘associative engines’ which can also undergo processes of ‘catastrophic forgetting,’ so that ‘even when a network near its theoretical storage capacity, learning a single new input can completely disrupt all of the previously learned information.’ anna smiled. they were getting close.”
—sadie plant, zeros + ones: digital women and the new technoculture (quoting kevin kelly, out of control; richard j. eisner, attitudes, chaos and the connectionist mind; gilles deleuze and felix guattari, a thousand plateaus; and andy clark associative engines)
“all hysterics, wrote freud, give accounts of themselves which ‘may be compared to an unnavigable river.’ its streams dip in and out of consciousness, ‘at one moment choked by masses of rock and at another divided and lost among shallows and sandbanks. i cannot help wondering how it is that the authorities can produce such smooth and precise histories in cases of hysteria,’ he continues, when even ‘the patients are incapable of giving such reports about themselves.’ there is so much they forget or fabricate. ‘the connections—even the ostensible ones—are for the most part incoherent, and the sequence of different events is uncertain.’ if they can ‘give the physician plenty of coherent information about this or that period of their lives…it is sure to be followed by another period as to which their communications run dry, leaving gaps unfilled, and riddles unanswered.’
and it has functioned as a paralyzing pathology of the sex that is not one, 'in hysteria there is at the same time the possibility of another mode of 'production'…maintained in latency. perhaps as a cultural reserve yet to come?'
by the end of twentieth century, only the most one track, fixated, single-minded individuals continued to think that focus and concentration worked. as one commentator writes: ‘determinateness, direct logical analysis and/or exposition, and direct confrontation of any sort are simply out of order.’…high-resolution, high-definition minds are anathema to the parallel processors, intuitive programs, nonlinearities, interactivities, simulation systems, and virtualities of the late twentieth century. a strong sense of identity and direction gets one nowhere in cyberspace.
plans and determination had not merely become economically and socially counterproductive. as it turned out, paying too much attention to anything was brain damaging. overused cells died of boredom.”
—sadie plant, zeros + ones: digital women and the new technoculture (quoting freud’s “case histories 1,” irigaray’s “this sex which is not one”), and daniel mcneil and paul friedberger’s fuzzy logic)
"hysterical women were characterized as oversensitive, self-obsessed, antisocial loners whose symptoms were extreme versions of behavior patterns common to all women. they were mutable, capricious, unpredictable, temperamental, moody. they were nervous weather systems fluctuating between stormy energy and catatonic calm. and it was still thought that the hysterical patient had some space to be filled, a gap in her life to be satisfied. whereas earlier physicians had placed flowers like little offerings between their patients’ legs in an effort to encourage the wandering womb to return to its proper place, the new analytical engine was designed to deal with ‘gaps in the memory,’ to the point at which ‘we have before us an unintelligible, consistent, and unbroken case history.’
anna o. ‘would complain of having ‘lost’ some time and would remark upon the gap in her train of conscious thoughts.’ torn apart by the twin pressures of their own longings for autonomy and the demands of familiar and social expectations, women found themselves living several lives, some of them so secret they didn’t even seem to know what was going on themselves. after each of her momentary ‘absences’—and these were constantly occurring—she did not know what she had thought in the course of it.’
but she continued to play the parts expected of her, and she often played them very well. ‘while everyone thought she was attending, she was living through fairy tales in her imagination; but she was always on the spot when she was spoken to, so no one was aware of it.' she always kept up appearances. did everything she could to save her face. pulled herself together, remained composed, even when she was dying to fall apart. 'social circumstances often necessitate a duplication of this kind even when the thoughts involved are of an exacting kind, as for instance when a woman who is in the throes of extreme worry or of passionate excitement carries out her social duties and the functions of an affable hostess.'
and so she never quite identified with the one-track roles she was supposed to play, the thing for which she was intended to keep fit. ‘throughout the entire illness her two states of consciousness persisted side by side: the primary one in which she was quite normal psychically, and the secondary one which may well be likened to a dream in view of its wealth of imaginative products and hallucinations, its large gaps of memory and the lack of inhibition and control in its associations.'
while many earlier investigators had ascribed such imbalances to the weaknesses and failings of hysterics in particular and women in general, freud and breuer described their patients as having ‘the clearest intellect, strongest will, greatest character and highest critical power.’ emmy von n. had ‘an unusual degree of education and intelligence,’ and anna o. was said to be ‘bubbling over with intellectual vitality.’ if they suffered from anything, it was less a failing than ‘an excess of efficiency, the habitual co-existence of two heterogeneous trains of ideas.’
'the overflowing productivity of their minds,' wrote breuer, 'has led one of my friends to assert that hysterics are the flower of mankind, as sterile, no doubt, but as beautiful as double flowers.' a double flower with a 'double conscience': hysterics are always operating in (at least) two modes, flitting in and out of what breur and freud describes as 'dispositional hypnoid states' which 'often, it would seem, grow out of the day-dreams which are so common even in healthy people and to which needlework and similar occupations render women especially prone.’ indeed there are ‘a whole number of activities, from mechanical ones such as knitting or playing scales, to some requiring at least a small degree of mental functioning, all of which are performed by many people with only half their mind on them.’ the ‘other half’ is busy elsewhere.’
—sadie plant, zeros + ones: digital women and the new technoculture (quoting breuer and freud, “studies on hysteria” and “case histories 1: ‘dora’ and ‘little hans’”)
it’s so weird that i tried to convince my therapist and psychiatrist that i was borderline, bipolar, depressed, and whatever else, when i am obviously just a straight-up hysteric.
from last year: one of my favorite interactions with someone i didn’t know who facebook messaged me.
No Regrets | Edited by Dayna Tortorici | n+1 Small Book Series | Emily Books
last night at our pre-panel dinner someone remarked (paraphrasing) that maybe we can’t talk about tumblr without talking about desire—the desire to be kind of private, kind of public, like you can say anything you want but no one’s going to see it, but you hope maybe someone will see it, because otherwise why wouldn’t you at least password protect it. then we talked about the allure of tumblr as a super-shitty platform with terrible archiving capabilities. i mean, we all kind of love tumblr’s particular brand of shittiness.
tavia once wanted to know why i was writing a dissertation with all of these psychoanalytic keywords without any actual psychoanalytic critique. last time josh and i had drinks after a lecture we could not stop talking about how the speaker’s psychoanalytic critique was so worthless. finally, i was like “god, we obviously love psychoanalysis.”
if i were to be psychoanalytic in my dissertation i don’t see how it could add less than two years to the amount of time to completion. my therapist might call me on this if i ever talked about it with her, and if i hadn’t stopped seeing her again after two appointments.
Jen Hofer | Terms and Limits | I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women
"afterward, we agreed we liked the idea of refusing to identify with one’s former self even while refusing to repudiate what she did."
aka what is the meaning of feminine superpower? freud, the interpretation of dreams. trans james strachey, 1955. (via lazz)