Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Joe Lovano, Regattabar, October 14, 2010

Das Ganze ist das Unwahre. – Theodor Adorno

It was some months ago now that I saw Joe Lovano and the Us Five band (pianist James Weidman, bassist Peter Slavov, who was filling in for the suddenly famous Esperanza Spalding, and drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela) at the Regattabar. At the time I thought they were the best jazz band I’d ever seen. Why?

First of all, they had the most beautifully organic sound with a wild spaciousness to it. It was also like being in a bohemian atelier or beat workshop with the music bouncing and reflecting off paintings and posters, bottles and tables, windows and alleys. Or, at times, like being on a pirate ship or a fishing boat. Wood. Space. Heat. Earth. Light. Etc.

Second of all, they were playing, with real mastery and joy, also, in an early sixties/late fifties style that was disciplined and structured (in like a Mingus way) and, at the same time, casually intense and free (i.e., played with a kind of abandon verging on the wanton).

Third, there was Lovano himself. With his hat and his sunglasses and his soul patch he was the textbook jazz cat—really archetypical, man. He’s got a warm, sculpted tone, has a concept that’s dense, mellow, focused, and figured, and sometimes goes for the raggedy, fraying-into-madness sound of 1961-ish Trane (remaining, for all that, on the homage side of mimicry).

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This Post Has No Value

Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. – Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Epistemology pays no bills,” Martin remarked drily. – Charles Stross, “The Singularity Sky”

48586290_55059a732a_mWhen I wrote about the “database of intentions” and linked that concept to my own longstanding view of the web as the “database of human consciousness,” and thus the fulfillment or actualization of Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit, I was not trying to make a business point; I was trying to make a philosophical point.

By making a distinction between the two, however, I do not mean to elevate the latter (philosophy) above the former (business). In fact, I was mildly chagrined that my arcane references to a long-dead philosopher and the equally deliquescent tradition of German Idealism with which he is associated bore so few immediately practical fruits. A few kindly souls actually took the time to read the post, so where was the pay off?

While I would like to say that “philosophy is it’s own pay off,” I actually believe that philosophy’s pay off is always and necessarily extra-philosophical. As the  the epigram to this post suggests, by “putting things before us” philosophy’s product amounts to “a perspective on things,” rather than any “thing” in particular. Wittgenstein put it this way: “One might also give the name ‘philosophy’ to what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions.”

Heidegger too insisted on the “no-thing-ness” of philosophical thought. To him, thinking was unique as an human activity because it did not truck with beings, but solely with Being (Sein), which he called “essentially the same as Nothingness” (wesenslgeich mit dem Nichts, or something like that).

But the case of Heidegger reminds us that philosophy’s product – a perspective on things – while not belonging properly to the order of things  can nevertheless have a tangible impact. A philosophical perspective not only shows what is there, but what is possible and, in some cases, what is necessary. When these things, possibilities, and necessities get organized into practices, philosophy has its pay off and that pay off could take the form of a religion, a political system, a life-style, or even a business.

Of course, in all these just-mentioned cases the work of organizing is what produces the real value, not the work’s philosophical underpinnings. The value of philosophy is always mediated. In the absence of this mediation, philosophy is as bereft as the coin of a vanished realm or lyric poetry in a dead and forgotten language.

Image Source: danbri.

The Web of Intentions

2881902001_9445c69839_mJohn Battelle recently pointed out that Google is compiling a Database of Intention (strictly speaking, he pointed this out back in 2003).

Said database is comprised of every search ever entered, every list of results every tendered, and every click-path thereafter taken. Referring to AdWords, AdSense, and Omniture, he additionally pointed out that an ecosystem had blossomed around this pure, though recently attenuated, signal.

One implication/assumption of his insight: Wherever we feel that humans are expressing intent, business(es) will grow.

To put it another way: When I know what you want to do, I can make money by facilitating the accomplishment of that need.

Although there were some who disagreed with Battelle, the many comments on the post demonstrated the concept’s potential primarily by playing with it. For example, some said the Web also constitutes a database of “What I’m listening to” or “What I’m eating” or “What I just saw.” Furthermore, someone also pointed out that all the commercial information on the web – “What I actually bought” – significantly completes the intention picture by capturing which intentions actually led to thing businesses care about most: realized revenue.

This all took me back to 1995 when I was teaching Hegel to Middelbury students and told them that the world wide web was the true realization of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Mind” because, in the totality of the web, Spirit (“Geist” or “Mind”) represented itself to itself in an unprecedented manner. (In his characteristically grandiose fashion, Hegel had implied that this self-representation was happening in his book.)

The web is the medium of our lives and increasingly a medium where fusion overcomes immersion. As such, the Web doesn’t just archive what we’re looking for; it archives much of what we actually do. Not just, “This is what I said,” but, “This is what I’m saying.” Not just, “This is what I saw,” but, “This is what I’m seeing.” Not just, “This is what I thought,” but, “This is what I’m thinking.” Etc.

Many years ago, I saw some German dudes talking about how private videotapes constituted the greatest recorded catalog of everyday life ever assembled. The web has absolutely superseded that by creating “not just” a database of intention (in addition to a database of videotaped qoutidiana), but a database of consciousness itself.

Any idears how we could make money off that? Wait, somebody already has!

Image Source: quapan.

Content Marketing and the Hegelian Dialectic


In the olden days, the watchword was: “Content is King!” Thinking on this now, however, I’m not sure that that it was ever really true.

Certainly, if your site featured lots and lots of stuff that lots and lots of people wanted to read, look at, and/or share, if it was “explorable,” in other words, then it may have, at least for a time, stood shoulder to shoulder with its peers in the interwebs’ pantheon of much-favored destinations.

Still, though like any great house it may have owed its rank and status to the tireless service of its retainers, the site itself was the true lord and master; the content, on the other hand served as knight and page, courtier and courtesan attracting visitors to the gilded halls, making their stay enjoyable, and vanishing like the April snow when the favor of these visitors or the sovereign turned from them.

Which is not to say, of course, that content is unnecessary. On the contrary, the content on your site – and I’m thinking both of information generally (address, phone number, product descriptions, client lists, etc.) as well as articles, stories, reports, white papers, opinion pieces, user reviews, videos, podcasts, and consumable images (i.e., NOT stock photos evanescently embodying your brand’s look and feel), and so on – is your site for all intents and purposes.

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