Reliquary for the Digital in Nine Key Words π or 5. or □ / Notes for Jen Reich / Steven Shaviro

“If mass can neither be created nor destroyed, creation only occurs through Organization.” But of course it is matter-energy, not matter or mass alone, that can neither be created nor destroyed.

“Organizations of matter, experiences, emotion, continuously changing over time” only subsist thanks to the massive energy flows that run through them. Energy is continually being accumulated and the being discharged. Organization is a product of continual flux. Every organism dissipates energy and exports entropy. Life is ultimately destructive, as the total entropy of the universe continually increases.

“As the edges of a wound heal into a scar they become a different type of tissue, with a different density and surface, existing as a part of the same body as before, in the same location.” Wounds never entirely heal, precisely because they leave scars behind. Even when everything grows back, the organism is different than it was before it was first wounded. The past accumulates in traces; scars are the most evident of these traces, but not the only ones. The trace may be either a superfluous presence, or a superfluous absence.

“So are we changed by interactions with the organizations of which we are made.” The ancient Greeks pondered the riddle of Theseus’ ship, still ostensibly the same even when all its original physical parts had been replaced. Scientists today observe flatworms that mutilate themselves, severing their heads from the rest of their bodies, and then growing new bodies to accompany their heads.

“I create small forms, bodies, transformed gradually through shifting time and energy… These small forms dissolve into images and emotional responses.” And these images and responses dissolve in their own turn. As David Bowie sang, “Time may change me/ But I can’t trace time.”

“The experience, the journey of these forms is defined in their aging process… they experience mimicry of the aging process the human body undergoes.” As the inverted saying goes, time wounds all heels. These fragile biomorphic forms, thread and glue, are always getting older, always on the verge of falling apart. Ultimately they fall victim to the entropy that they produce, and that they can no longer export quickly enough.

“Seeing the visual evolution and the life of these forms, we change and may gain also new perspectives, learn new strategies for understanding pain and beauty in our evolutions in time and self.” Up to a point, but then perhaps not. We develop new strategies, but we also forget. For even Hegel knew that the only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.

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Steven Shaviro