Tuesday, October 15, 2002
Plains, and Caves, and Caverns
Reading for the first time The Art of Memory -- Frances A. Yates's classic history of the ancient/medieval ars memoria, a pre-Gutenberg technique for memorizing vast amounts of information through the manipulation of imaginary mental spaces -- I was struck by a quotation I'd seen before. The quote was from Augustine's Confessions, and where I'd seen it was in Erik Davis's marvelous Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information, in a chapter on Cyberspace: The Virtual Craft:
Saint Augustine's paean to memory in the Confessions suggests not only the realms of the artificial memory but also the evanescent grids of cyberspace: "Behold the plains, and caves, and caverns of my memory, innumerable and innumerably full of innumerable kinds of things." Augustine calls this an "inner place, which is as yet no place," piled high with images, information, emotions, and experiences. "Over all these do I run, I fly," he writes, sounding like one of [William] Gibson's console cowboys. "I dive on this side and that, as far as I can, and there is no end."
Reading the passage again in Yates I noted, for one thing, how well Erik's comparison of the ars memoria to virtual reality stands the tests of time and recontextualization. But what really struck me was the oddly repetitive phrase "plains, and caves, and caverns." I am spending a lot of time these days thinking about virtual worlds as they exist now -- not as Gibson's gleaming, gridlike cyberspace but as the goofy, dungeony realms of games like Ultima Online and EverQuest. I also spent a lot of time this summer thinking about the origins of those games in the imagination of an avid caver, William Crowther, who created the underground-exploration game Adventure twenty-five years ago, and about the persistent importance of caves and cavelike spaces in role-playing games both off- and online. That Augustine chose to emphasize "caves and caverns," out of all the types of places he could have used to represent his memory, suggests a key role for cavespace in linking the ancient and postmodern arts of memory. Or anyway suggests that all my thought on the subject wasn't wasted. Watch this space for further thoughts.
Saturday, October 12, 2002
Sad, creepy, and true: Man Dies After Playing Computer Games Non-stop. Thanks for that, Associated Press. You missed the most important part, though -- what games was he playing?
Wednesday, October 09, 2002
Lessig at the Bat
This morning the Supreme Court heard arguments in a copyright case that could bring the first piece of good news for the cultural commons since Sony v. Universal won you the right to tape Survivor seventeen years ago. At around 10 am Eastern, cyberlaw rock star Larry Lessig spoke for the plaintiff in Eldred v. Ashcroft, and if he prevails, the recent 20-year extension of the copyright term (to an obscene 95 years) will be repealed. That would be nice, but what really matters is whether the Supremes decide to give credence to Lessig's bombshell of an argument: i.e., that copyright is a First Amendment issue. No court has ever acknowledged -- let alone tried to balance -- the tension between your Constitutional right to say what you want and some people's Constitutional right to stop you from saying the things they've already said. It could happen today. (But don't hold your breath, say some folks who were in the audience this morning.) (For more on what's at stake, check out Declan McCullough's lucid opinion on the matter.)