Bruce Sterling explains "atemporality for artists"

Here's Bruce Sterling's speech at Transmediale, a talk on "atemporality for the creative artist," which explains what the net and technology have done to the idea of the history and the future. It's chunky stuff, exciting, and weird:

Now let me tell you how the atemporal Richard Feynman approaches this. The atemporal Richard Feynman is not very paper-friendly, because he lives in a network culture. So it occurs to the atemporal Feynman that he may, or may not, have a problem.

'Step one - write problem in a search engine, see if somebody else has solved it already. Step two - write problem in my blog; study the commentory cross-linked to other guys. Step three - write my problem in Twitter in a hundred and forty characters. See if I can get it that small. See if it gets retweeted. Step four - open source the problem; supply some instructables to get me as far as I've been able to get, see if the community takes it any further. Step five - start a Ning social network about my problem, name the network after my problem, see if anybody accumulates around my problem. Step six - make a video of my problem. Youtube my video, see if it spreads virally, see if any media convergence accumulates around my problem. Step seven - create a design fiction that pretends that my problem has already been solved. Create some gadget or application or product that has some relevance to my problem and see if anybody builds it. Step eight - exacerbate or intensify my problem with a work of interventionist tactical media. And step nine - find some kind of pretty illustrations from the Flickr 'Looking into the Past' photo pool.'

Atemporality for the Creative Artist (Thanks, p0dde)


  1. Step 10. Give up and forget about the problem
    Step 11. Revisit problem after a year. Do a Google search and discover your blog post describing it is top of the list. Still no answer.

    Happens to me at least once a quarter.

  2. Is atemporality just post-meodernism for people with larger navels?

    None of the things he talks about seem particularly new. People crowdsourced and social-networked their problems before anyone new what crowdsourcing was. The internet and modern culture just make it easier.

    I’m pretty sure that I’ve never considered to past to be something that we ‘know’ and something with an authoritative narrative. Views and narratives about history have always changed. There have always been nutjobs with strange ideas about the past. Modern culture just makes it easier to find different narratives, whether it’s JFK assassination, 9/11 truthers or the real cause and implications of the French defeat at Agincourt. Even the bible has multiple atemporal narratives about the birth and life of Jesus. Not to mention the fact that over the last 2000 years we’ve had a vast number of attempts to re-interpret, re-analyse, re-translate, re-contextualise and build social networks around the problems discussed in the bible.
    I guess that atemporalism is more of the same thing, just with less witch-burning.

    1. >Is atemporality just post-modernism for people with larger navels?

      It seems the art world has already come up with the moniker Altermodernism for this sort of paradigm…

  3. Nice, Nice. Thanks Cory. Another fun part besides Sterling’s ‘serene scepticism’ are Alexander Kluge’s “Gardens” or “hortus conclusus” he says:
    “[I]f you have the chance to minimalise the data mass so that it fits in your head, then it works. You enter a garden, Freitag magazine, the Guardian or the information garden of and then you can retreat into yourself. What we need are walled-off spaces, where volumes of data are collected, sorted and reduced. Gardens, ports, vessels, whichever metaphor your prefer.” … “We have to collect and build ourselves a hortus conclusus. But something is growing in this garden. And it is connected underground with all forms of life. Pablo Neruda said that you can mow down all the flowers but you cannot stop the spring.”

  4. I just don’t buy into this notion that there is ‘A’ past or ‘THE’ news. Everything we read, see, and hear is filtered. If we’re lucky, we know the source’s bias and can adjust ‘the truth’ to our reality. The notion that citizen journalists have nothing to offer really irks me considering how far the profession of journalism has fallen in the last 10 years. Everybody is a pitchman now and I take everything with a large boulder of salt.

    Someone much smarter than me made the point that history is told by the winners…

  5. “So, old Feynman, who was not the atemporal Feynman, would naturally object: ‘You have not solved the problem! You have not advanced scientific knowledge. There is no progress in this. You didn’t get to Step three – solving the problem.’ Whereas, the atemporal Feynman would respond: ‘It’s worse than that. I haven’t even done step one of defining the problem and writing it down. But I have done a lot of work about its meaning, and its value and its social framing, combined with some database mining, and some collaborative filtering, which is far beyond you and your pencil.’”

    Far beyond Feynmans pencil? Hardly.
    Once upon a time Structuralism looked at how we created meaning in a descriptive sense, and didn’t try to insist that in a normative sense it should or could replace actually thinking hard.

  6. I really want to like Bruce Sterling, but this just seems to be an argument for demonstrable incoherence.

    Historians have been long aware of the cultural and temporal problems facing their field. It’s called historiography, the study of how history is recorded and why, and it’s as important as chronology (a science not a humanity) in research.

    Art, of course, is an exercise in temporality. Time is one of its dimensions, even in the hands of someone like Dali. Nothing he described was particularly “atemporal”, i.e. without or outside of time.

    He did use the term “multi-temporal” (comparing it to “multi-cultural”) and here is the germ of his idea.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, “the past is a foreign country”; and since we are their future, and we are someone else’s past, it should stand to reason that this has always been part of the human condition, and not just some idea belonging to an art movement with a declaration of planned obsolescence.

    But I’m not the first person to have said that.

  7. am I supposed to understand how (the long dead) Fenyman figures into this quote without having watched the video? Because I’m a bit baffled, though not enough to load a flash player that is going to skip and jitter the whole time on my janky laptop.

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