All posts by Paul Raven

Six foot of unkempt postgraduate researcher.

a Rube Goldberg machine made of fucking corpses

Plenty of critiques of the NFT “art” scene exist, but they—neither unreasonably nor unnecessarily—tend to focus on the (socio)technological side of the phenomenon. These two essays from back in June cropped up on Metafilter yesterday, coming at it from a more art-critical and political-economic angle… and while they’re pretty depressing in many respects, it’s a long time since I read pieces of this length which hinge on their author’s repeatedly stated boredom with the object of critique, but which are nonetheless really fun to read*.

Clip from the first one:

The product being labored over for the contemporary artist of social media is not “the work of art” but “the gestalt experience of art-posting”. From that perspective, artists might be more or less successful but the same is true of any gig economy worker. Imagine if every warehouse worker could simply be timed and optimized and would have their livelihoods determined by their profit making metrics! We’re headed in that direction but this will not make Amazon employees entrepreneurs, it just will make them proletarians subject to a particularly horrific conditioning, the final dream of Fordism. Twitter and Patreon aren’t that, just yet, but I think once you stop seeing people using it as producing individual WORKS but producing a WHOLE GESTALT EXPERIENCE it’s more apparent that these workers are profoundly fungible. Twitter has finally successfully done for all forms of art what factory production did for ceramics and textiles, which the Arts and Crafts movement struggled hopelessly against. And all without producing a standardized product at all!

Clip from the second one:

So sweep aside literally everything I’ve said about the APPARENT Rube Goldberg contraption that is cryptokitties and behold the real one: the same gold bug economics that all of cryptocurrency runs on, a deranged libertarian conviction that currencies that people use to buy basic shit for survival should ONLY EVER BECOME MORE RARE AND VALUABLE. In the first one of these I said I didn’t want to talk about Blockchain cause it’s stupid and boring. But I arrived at that after going through this frustrating emotional relationship that involved comprehending the incredibly clever structure blockchain uses to achieve a deflationary basis and trustless records of transactions, getting kind of impressed, remembering that this is a Rube Goldberg machine made of fucking corpses, getting insanely mad, then eventually just getting bored. They managed to invent a Rube Goldberg machine that on final examination is just banal: the ultimate banality of finance capitalism, which not even The Wolf of Wall Street could make look anything other than repulsive and tedious.

Understanding that this is all a huge dumb alchemy mechanism for turning coal into a virtual gold by way of Chinese power plants helpfully clarifies why cryptokitty design contradicts itself fundamentally. The breeding mechanics and extra bullshit? It’s just a pretext. The Rube Goldberg really is a mechanism for generating token uniqueness: literally, unique tokens, non fungible tokens, tokens that hold different values due to their attached artistic content, and so cannot be used interchangeably. But also, token uniqueness, uniqueness that only exists on a surface level, because it only needs to be surface level in order to fulfill a minimum of it’s pitch to investors.

[ * Briefly donning my Grandpa Simpson mask, I will note that this sort of writing was a staple of the golden age of blogging, and I miss both the time in which more of it was being made, and the time in which I had the time to read and write more of it myself. Please consider your clouds to have had my fist vigorously shaken at them. ]

the most animal of all human abilities

It is perfectly possible, then, that far from being an exclusively human attribute, the narrative faculty is the most animal of human abilities, a product of one of the traits that humans indisputably share with animals and many other beings—attachments to place. Perhaps, then, storytelling, far from setting humans apart from animals, is actually the most important residue of our formerly wild selves. This would explain why stories, above all, are quintessentially the domain of human imaginative life in which nonhumans had voices, and where nonhuman agency was fully recognized and even celebrated. To make this leap may be difficult in other, more prosaic domains of thought, but it was by no means a stretch in the world of storytelling, where anything is possible.

The shrinking of the possibilities of this domain, and the consequent erasure of nonhuman voices from “serious” literature, has played no small part in creating that blindness to other beings that is so marked a feature of official modernity. It follows, then, that if those nonhuman voices are to be restored to their proper place, then it must be, in the first instance, through the medium of stories.