Hollis Frampton's Friend's Dream

Years ago I had heard, second hand, about a dream recounted by Hollis Frampton, the experimental filmmaker, that fascinated me. I’ve referred to it many times in posts on this blog, but hadn’t found the text of it until a few weeks ago when I started working on an essay for the acclaimed show FREE at The New Museum, curated by Lauren Cornell. It comes from an essay he wrote called A Pentagram for Conjuring the Narrative (.pdf). I will be referring to this text in my essay, which will be published on the Rhizome site, and hopefully here as well. This is the dream:

Lately, a friend has complained to me that his sleep is troubled by a recurrent nightmare, in which he lives through two entire lifetimes.

In the first, he is born a brilliant and beautiful heiress to an immense fortune. Her loving and eccentric father arranges that his daughter’s birth should be filmed, together with her every conscious moment thereafter, in color and sound. Eventually he leaves in trust a capital sum, the income from which guarantees that the record shall continue, during all her waking hours, for the rest of her life. Her own inheritance is made contingent upon agreement to this invasion of privacy, to which she is, in any case, accustomed from earliest infancy.

As a woman, my friend lives a long, active, and passionate life. She travels the world, visits the moon, marries three men (amid scores of erotic adventures), gives birth to a daughter…becomes a Nobel laureate…In short, she so crowds her days with experience of every kind that she never once pauses to view the films of her own expanding past.

In extreme old age – having survived all her own children – she makes a will, leaving her fortune to the first child to be orn, following the instant of her own death, in the same city …on the single condition that such child shall spend its whole life watching the accumulated films of her own. Shortly thereafter she dies, quietly, in her sleep.

In his dream, my friend experiences her death; and then, after a brief intermission, he discovers, to his outrage astonishment, that he is about to be reincarnated as her heir.

He emerges from the womb to confront the filmed image of her birth. He receives a thorough but quaintly obsolete education from the films of her school days. As a chubby, asthmatic little boy, he learns (without ever leaving his chair) to dance, sit a horse, and play the viola. During his adolescence, wealthy young men fumble through the confusion of her clothing to caress his own unimaginable breasts.

By the time he reaches maturity, he is totally sedentary and reclusive, monstrously obese (from subsisting on an exclusive diet of buttered popcorn), decidedly homosexual by inclination (though masturbation is his only activity), hyperopic, pallid. He no longer speaks, except to shout, “FOCUS!”

In middle age, his health begins to fail, and with it, imperceptibly, the memory of his previous life, so that he grows increasingly dependent upon the films to know what to do next. Eventually, his entire inheritance goes to keep him barely alive: for decades he receives an incessant trickle of intravenous medication, as the projector behind him turns and turns.

Finally, he has watched the last reel of film. That same night, after the show, he dies, quietly, in his sleep, unaware that he has completed his task … whereupon my friend wakens, abruptly, to discover himself alive, at home, in his own bed.

Mamihlapinatapai

Mamihlapinatapai is a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the “most succinct word”, and is considered one of the hardest words to translate. It describes “a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that they both desire but which neither one wants to start.”

(sent to me by my friend Maura)

By coincidence I happen upon a list of 20 untranslatable words and wonder where that Dutch word for “place-replacing shame” is, the feeling of being embarrassed on another person’s behalf.

LinkedIn’s Pace is Just Fine

In her piece on LinkedIn in PEWire, Connie Loizos writes about Jeff Weiner’s talk at Web 2.0 Summit this week and exhorts him to pick up the pace at LinkedIn — using Reid Hoffman’s reluctance to introduce photos to LinkedIn as an example of an essential conservatism in the company. I have to completely disagree with her analysis, as I’ve been watching LinkedIn since its inception, and have been impressed with both their willingness to change, as well as their actual implementation of new UX, features and especially experimental features. Their rapid implementation of Groups, Answers, their search refinements, integration with other social networks, etc etc has always been rapidly executed. Their Chief Scientist, DJ Patil and his team are especially agile innovators, with an incredible fund of data to work with and many experimental features cooking in their labs.

I have to especially agree with Jeff’s assertion that the lack of Kegstands and hot tub photos on LinkedIn is one of LinkedIn’s key distinguishing features. It should be preserved and defended at all costs. In building a social network, the standards and mores of a community are its lifeblood; one does not lightly ‘experiment’ with these and LinkedIn is exactly right to defend them. I think Loizos’ article mistakenly conflates the company’s defense of LinkedIn’s culture with conservatism. It’s just not so.

I’d also take issue with the assertion that they haven’t made any “high profile” personnel changes. Weiner coming in as CEO is as high profile as you could hope for, and I believe that hiring name brand talent isn’t as successful of a strategy as hiring great engineers and developers, which I have seen them doing again and again. They should know, they’re a company that specializes in employment and hiring. 🙂

Vacations are good

I’m not good at vacationing. I’ve repeatedly failed at palapas and mai-tais. The word “thong” makes me nervous. And on a vacation to Boring-Boring I mean Bora Bora after snorkeling, waterskiing, visiting the marine preserve, getting stung by a jellyfish, eating at every restaurant and reading the seven books I’d brought, I spent all my time sneaking into the business center and wheeling around the island looking for a functioning cell tower. In any event I’m back from my first vacation in 4 years. I mean, I know I have a reputation for not relaxing, but I didn’t expect when I returned I’d be met with speculation that I’m leaving Hunch. Reporters calling me (Hi Mike!) asking if it’s true. But I’m a full time employee, and I just took a vacation. :-/

Hunch has pivoted. We’ve gone from being a consumer destination site based on user-created topics, to a taste-graph driven platform for partner sites. The things I’m good at are building communities, participatory media, places where people contribute things of their own making. So yes, I am wondering what I can do that best serves Hunch and utilizes my own particular talents. I will find the perfect role for me, and whatever it is, is TBD. I have no plans to parachute off the plane.

Hunch’s dataset has grown incredibly fast: we’ve mapped 30 billion “edges”, we’ve signed dozens of partnerships and 2011 will be the year that the internet gets personalized. Hunch will be at the center of it. I love Hunch, the awesome team, my brilliant cofounders — we’re doing great work and building a great company. Vacations are good, and I come back energized, with the whiff of Hawaiian Tropic in the air and 2,000 messages in my Inbox.

Dramatic overhaul vs. gradual changes

Ben Parr’s analysis of the latest Digg launch was spot on, and his column was full of great analysis and good suggestions of where Digg should go next. One part of his post stood out, and I think it’s right on the money:

2. Digg chose dramatic overhaul over gradual changes. If we’ve learned anything from Facebook’s many redesign and privacy fiascoes, it’s that major overhauls of large websites don’t go over well. The company tried to launch way too many things all at once, and the result was a buggy platform that frightened users.

This is so true. I think after the initial launch, if you have a large number of users the ‘big launch’ should be avoided as much as possible. The main reason being users can’t digest it all at once. If you release separate features continually over time, users can adapt to each of them give feedback on each, and you can debug and alter them as you see fit. What do we want? Gradual change. When do we want it? In due course.

Children in the gulag

Eugenia Ginzberg, who served eighteen years in the camps of Kolyma, wrote that when a camp of child prisoners was given two guard-dog puppies to raise the children at first could not think of anything to name them. The poverty of their surroundings had stripped their imaginations bare. Finally they chose names from common objects they saw every day. They named one puppy Ladle and the other Pail.

On the Prison Highway, Ian Frazier (New Yorker, August 30, 2010)