hi nico! only just realized you were sat behind me today. i'm gonna do my springtime edition of guestbook signing soon so stay tuned, happy spring 🌼


Nico Chilla:

ah didn't realize that was you either! looking forward to it

4/22/2024 from dani bloop:

your website is so cool


Nico Chilla:

why thank you, your site is pretty neat too 😎 been meaning to try your testflight are.na client

4/21/2024 from Yihui H.:

I love my cobwebs!!!!


Nico Chilla:

🕸️

4/21/2024 from Cole Bryant:

wagwan


Nico Chilla:

👋 thanks for introducing me to this expression!

4/21/2024 from Jingqi Kay Liu:

hi from spring cleaning


Nico Chilla:

thanks for dropping by! ⭐️

4/21/2024 from Christina 💗:

This page is my notepad and guestbook. It pulls from an Are.na channel that I have used for over two years to record random musings and receive messages from online neighbors.

Leave me a note! The channel is open for anyone to add to, and this page updates once per day.

The process of domain naming acknowledges our self-made authority to define the environments we inhabit, and thus ourselves. As we settle with language, words determine the visibility of a place's logic. Logic in turn, is just an evaluation of language. Within these dichotomies, naming treads the line between liberation and oppression, illegibility and clarity, obfuscation and identification. 

The secret to construction (of identity, object, or place) has always been in naming. Language and space are interlinked, each mutating our understanding of a world and the possibilities within. Truth is revealed when it is recognized. Names are tools for recognition / memory-making / cognition / meaning-making. Like a collective contract to recognize one color as red, or to dispute for centuries over the name of a land and its authority, names as relations are always embroiled with questions of power.

3/13/2024 Chia Amisola

In search for better descriptors than “personal” for work that is done without any financial or institutional motivator. The word seems to imply I don’t put a lot of myself into my professional work, which is hardly true, and it also seems to exclude projects I do collaboratively.

The term that best captures the spirit of the thing is causa sui — but you can’t use it as an adjective, and no one would get it anyway.

2/12/2024

Through all these kinds of image references, there seems to be something kind of paradoxical about editing. The conventional view of the editor is one that envisages the editorial mandate as one of shortening; of cutting, of removal and abbreviation. But as these images show, within the figure of editing and the role of the editor, there is simultaneously an opposing process of assemblage, of generating stuff, of collecting writers and images, of acquisition. Editing, then, does two opposite things at exactly the same time.

Edit or be Damned talk given at Columbia GSAPP

2/9/2024 Thomas Weaver

On one level it’s impressive that Spotify can perfectly capture my musical taste in a series of data points, and regurgitate it to me in a series of weekly playlists. But as good as it has gotten, I can’t remember the last time it pointed me to something I never expected I would like, but ultimately fell totally in love with. 

For that you needed someone who could go beyond the data to tell you the story: of the artist, of the genre, of the music they made. For that you needed criticism.

– from Why Pitchfork Died

1/21/2024 Casey Newton

You don’t want people to be too happy with who they are, too early in their lives. Like a two-year-old should not be happy to remain a two-year-old. Kids are great! But they haven’t really encountered most of the valuable things in life yet. A really big part of life is coming to care about new things that you didn’t even know were valuable beforehand. We want people to do that, and there’s a problem with how people can do it, because it doesn’t seem valuable to them, so why are they gonna start valuing it. Competition is a really powerful psychological mechanism for that. You see it in schools — people want to get a good grade, and because they want to get a good grade they study, and because they study they’re immersed in a world. We use competition to leverage ourselves out of what would have been an impoverished point of view on value; I think that’s got to be the ultimate justification of meritocracy. But that justification is only a justification of meritocracy as a way to motivate people. It’s not a justification of meritocracy as a way to ultimately assess the value of your life or what you care about. It’s sort of a theory of transition, not a theory of the end point. I think one of the really deep ways in which meritocracy gets corrupted is when people take it to be a theory of the end point. In effect, my view is if you are comparing yourself negatively to someone else — which is I think a perfectly fine thing and a very useful thing to do — you better be in the process of trying to become better.

— from this interview with Ezra Klein

1/15/2024 Agnes Callard on the justification of meritocracy

I think we’re way too quick to identify ourselves with long-term goals, especially when we’re not in the moment of being tempted. We can say “look, I know how I should really live. I know that I should read those books, and I should not eat the cookies, and I should be less stressed about these things, and I should spend more time with my family—these are things that I know”. And I think the truth is that I do not know any of them. I believe them, and I also believe the opposite. Some of my beliefs are more presentable to other people; so I am more to you if I say, “yeah I know I should spend more time with my kids” than if I say “I have a profound need to escape my kids”. But both of those things are true of me, and I think the violence to the self occurs as long as both are true of you. I think — but this is sort of just me agreeing with Socrates about something — that if you had knowledge, you would not have that conflict. A lot of people have the goal of mastering themselves, which is to say exerting enough violence over themselves to quiet that other voice, because they “know” the other thing. But the truth is the fact that the other voice is there means you don’t know it. The violence over yourself is trying to quiet it when it’s really there. Knowledge would mean that you unanimously and obviously in a very simple way did the thing you thought you should. … Suppose that I feel like having the cookie but I “know” I shouldn’t. I think people are inclined to think of the feeling that you want the cookie as bodily, and the knowing that you shouldn’t as not-bodily, but I think that’s bodily too. That’s just how things look to you in a bodily way when you’re looking from far away. You are somebody who is just trapped in the images of things. And when you look at something like eating a cookie from close-up it looks really good to you, and when you look at it from far away it looks not very good. Those are both bodily judgements— there are just proximate and distant bodily judgements. And what we do when we don’t have knowledge is we just vacillate between these bodily judgements, and we dress one of them up as though it were knowledge, namely the distant one. … The way I am is that I see a bunch of conflicts, and I don’t know how to resolve them, and that’s just my ignorance. If I had knowledge, I would know how to resolve them. But what I at least try to do is not be under the illusion that I have the knowledge already.

— from this interview with Ezra Klein

1/15/2024 Agnes Callard’s Socratic framing of knowledge

What’s especially fascinating about Times New Roman and Arial is they’ve acquired an air of neutrality — moreso than Helvetica or Akzidenz — not because of some aspect of their type design, but rather by virtue of their ubiquity. By being used widely, democratically, and indiscriminately, the specific history and original connotations of the typefaces have been more or less drowned out.

1/10/2024 The neutrality of system fonts

A takeaway from this piece by Agnes Callard: “Person A thought...” or “Person A frames X as...” is a better way of bringing in a reference to another author’s idea than some of the formulations I typically use, like “There’s this compelling idea from Person A, that...” or “This is similar to the Person A’s conception of X as...”.

These latter phrasings, I’m realizing, feel verbose and overly scholarly, and they usually force me to rely on the author’s specific terminology. That might be valuable if I was still doing academic writing, but not when writing an essay for a general audience. What I want now is just to bring in an idea to support or apply to the topic at hand, while properly attributing its source. Thus I like “He/she/they thought...” — it allows me to give credit and then get right into the flow of explaining the idea in a simple and accessible form.

But I guess the thing to be careful of, and the reason I sometimes avoid the more simple phrasings, is that they can feel like authoritative descriptions of an author’s thinking, which I don’t necessarily feel qualified to give.

1/10/2024

The tourist is a deferential character. He outsources the vindication of his experiences to the ethnologist, to postcards, to conventional wisdom about what you are or are not supposed to do in a place. This deference, this “openness to experience,” is exactly what renders the tourist incapable of experience. Emerson confessed, “I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated.” He speaks for every tourist who has stood before a monument, or a painting, or a falcon, and demanded herself to feel something. Emerson and Percy help us understand why this demand is unreasonable: to be a tourist is to have already decided that it is not one’s own feelings that count. Whether an experience is authentically X is precisely what you, as a non-X, cannot judge. ... The single most important fact about tourism is this: we already know what we will be like when we return. A vacation is not like immigrating to a foreign country, or matriculating at a university, or starting a new job, or falling in love. We embark on those pursuits with the trepidation of one who enters a tunnel not knowing who she will be when she walks out. The traveller departs confident that she will come back with the same basic interests, political beliefs, and living arrangements. Travel is a boomerang. It drops you right where you started.

— In The Case Against Travel, for The New Yorker

1/10/2024 Agnes Callard

In an ironic turn of events, I’m afraid to visit my own website on my work laptop because one of the page themes crashes the operating system.


Nico Chilla:

Update: as of installing a newer version of Ventura, this no longer happens :)

1/10/2024

People will often censure ChatGPT, DALL-E, and other AI products for stealing human intellectual and creative output without compensating the sources of their data. As this line of thinking goes, the works generated by these programs are purely derivative; they take advantage of human originality to generate infinite renditions that then compete with and cheapen the value of the works they were trained on.

My concern is, if you compare AI authorship and human authorship, it seems like this attitude penalizes behavior in AI which we consider harmless and ordinary in humans, not to mention foundational to human creative practice: Like generative AI, people absorb large amounts of writing and artwork corresponding to their disciplines; interfacing with that existing world of intellectual output develops our mastery of language and understanding as writers, or of craft as artists and designers. I think producing “original” work then consists not of working from a clean slate, but rather making new connections and observations, remixing, reframing, challenging existing material, intermingling it with our individual experiences. Looked at this way, human work is ‘derivative’ in the same way AI works are derivative.

You might justifiably challenge me on this: you could argue that even if people do similarly start from an existing corpus, they grow it into work which is more inventive, more rational, somehow more “original” than AI output. And aside from these doubts, I obviously grant that today’s AIs don’t have personal histories and experiences that inform their work. But the first response I have to this kind of skepticism is that it feels like philosophical hedging to me. That is: it draws a line around the state of the technology today and uses that as an essential delimiter of what AI is capable of, and of what differentiates human and AI creativity. I think this is an ill-advised position to take, not just because the technology is evolving rapidly, but because at a fundamental level I don’t believe there’s any categorical boundary barring machines from becoming as creatively competent as professional human authors.

My second response to this skepticism is that regardless of AI’s actual capabilities, I’m actually more interested in what the mere possibility of genuinely generative, creative AI means for the way we understand our own work. What if the only thing that significantly distinguished the quality of the output of a machine from that of a human was the fact that a machine can do it a lot faster, and with far vaster resources and references than any human can gather? Like a piece of good science fiction, that looming technological threat allows us to reframe our preconceptions about the world: it allows us to reflect on creativity and creative value not as essential qualities, but as concepts formed out of contingent social, economic, and human conditions.

12/30/2023 what do we mean by creative?

Something I think I’ve noticed about myself is that I slip into different states of “flow” where my attention and decision-making become bound to particular patterns. For example, when I establish deep focus on a particular task or activity, I become obsessed with it — even my absent mind gravitates towards it, and it becomes difficult to think intentionally about anything beyond it. At other times I just succumb repeatedly and absent-mindedly to habits, like listening or watching something while I brush my teeth (I’ve done this for long enough that I now find it uncomfortable to brush my teeth without any auditory accompaniment).

This connects to a confucian idea I heard a while ago (ironically on a podcast, which I probably listened to while brushing my teeth): people tend to naturally fall into patterns of behavior; it’s the role of ritual to break those patterns. So although rituals can feel forced and arbitrary, they disrupt rather than maintain the status quo — I really like this framing.

12/24/2023

My problem with the “it’s all subjective” line of thinking isn’t necessarily that it’s a position with no merit, but rather that it masks a lack of understanding, and prevents meaningful disagreement or reconciliation of different points of view.

Matters of artistic taste, matters of ethics, these things can’t be reduced to differences in personal preference, like your favorite flavor of ice cream. Again, that’s not to deny that they are relative in an important sense. But their relativity is contingent on shared culture and a shared human condition.

12/6/2023

Something I would like to think about more intentionally is serendipity, and particularly the role of serendipity in the techno-capitalist age we live in.

12/4/2023

A conflation I would like to explore: we typically use “narrative” to mean a chronology, but we also use it to refer to representations of people or things at single moments in time. Maybe the meaning has expanded in this way because we pull from our pasts to generate unified representations of our present selves?

12/1/2023

People often use the term “philosophy” to describe a set of rules or guiding principles for how to behave, but I like to think of it as almost the antithesis to this: philosophy is what you do when your rules cease to make sense or fail to account for your present circumstances. This is similar to the distinction that John Dewey marks between “customary” and “reflective” morality.

11/12/2023

One thing that it has taken me a while to wrap my head around is how designers work collaboratively; design seems to depend on the execution of a single coherent vision, and I wasn't sure how you could bring multiple people into that process as equal creative partners.

In my first forays into the professional world, I've gotten exposed to several approaches to this, and I’m tentatively forming an insight about what works well for me: it’s ideal to avoid situations where multiple people independently tackle the same asset. This forces a team to try to consolidate and litigate between different concepts that each author feels creatively invested in. In my experience it’s far easier to build on a single concept, driven by one primary author, through discussion and debate with backseat collaborators.

As a primary author, I’ve really appreciated this model because it allows me to address my collaborators’ feedback in a way that feels unified and coherent with my own ideas. And on the other side, I was surprised to find that as a backseat collaborator I don’t feel creatively disempowered (although this is partially to the credit of generous collaborators). On the contrary, I feel creatively empowered because I can spitball ideas and amendments to the design without putting the primary author under any pressure to accept them directly, and the end product feels like something which I share authorship in.

I should probably make clear that this is by no means a categorical rule: there are probably many cases, such as a preliminary ideation phase or a particularly large project with many components, where working simultaneously is useful or even necessary. It just hinges on being and working with collaborators that don’t invest too heavily in their own ideas, and possibly having a hierarchy where lead designers set the direction and adjudicate disagreements.

11/8/2023 some thoughts on designing collaboratively

Kleptoplasty is a phenomenon so strange and alien that before its discovery it would have been considered physically and anatomically impossible. Certain sea slugs can steal an algae’s lifegiving material, sucking up DNA, proteins, and cells through a straw-like organ. The slugs are then able to photosynthesize, metabolizing light just like the planta they’ve pillaged, turning green with chlorophyll. The divide between fauna and flora, alive or not, dissolves under the pressure of this discovery. How can you not be moved? Where is the sense in insisting, “No, I am a slug. And you are a plant”? Or “I am the plant and you are the slug”?

In that dissolution is a demonstration of the cultural power of science. The seemingly obvious axioms of our humanity—who we are, what we are—are in an instant reconceived.

— editor’s introduction to Issue 1, Fall 2023 of Broadcast (print edition)

11/5/2023 Janna Levin & Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Contrary to Wittgenstein’s famous dictum, I’m now of the attitude that ideas do transcend language: you can believe something without being able to articulate it. But I think his basic point was that ideas don’t live in some untouchable mental realm; they manifest themselves in our everyday practices and dispositions.

10/30/2023

I think there's something to the idea that we read not only to open our minds to new ideas, but also to find better articulations of the ideas that resonate with us, words that give form to our existing attitudes.

10/30/2023

Foreword to The Most Beautiful Swiss Books 2023 exhibition at Pratt Institute: a conversation between Gaia Scagnetti Hwang, Chairperson of the Pratt Graduate Communications department, and Scott Vander Zee, Adjunct Assistant Professor

Gaia on bookmaking as an act of inquiry:

At the core of our MA in Communications Design at Pratt lies the foundational idea that the program serves as a space for students to learn not only to manipulate design as a mode of production but also as a mode of inquiry. This educational framework shifts away from traditional academic paradigms.

When bookmaking is approached as a mode of inquiry, rather than simply as a means of dissemination, the relationship with the production chain undergoes a significant shift. The goal of bookmaking isn’t just to produce, but to investigate, experiment, and explore. As such, each specialist involved in the design and production process becomes a collaborator in the research itself.

In light of this, a provocative question arises: If the act of bookmaking is itself a form of inquiry, how does that redefine the relationship between the graduate students and the specialists involved in the production chain? Given your expertise in the field of book design, I am keen to hear your insights on this question: Does the reframing of bookmaking as a practice of inquiry alter the stakes when graduate students engage with the entire production process?

Scott on production as R&D phases:

Bookmaking—as an art and /or craft—can only truly succeed through multiple forms of inquiry. They (books) are investigations into language and its formulation; systems, hierarchies, and dramaturgies; printing and binding techniques; and various aspects of materiality they are formal objects; sensory experiences; and capsules of physical presence, time, and thought. They are a technology, etymologically speaking. Within this framing, the best-case scenario is for students to become as much of a specialist as possible with the production processes of bookmaking and its impact on design.

The production process, despite typically being associated with mechanical finalization, actually begins (or should) at a book’s conception—inquiring into what’s relevant and appropriate, captivating, affordable, ecological, etc. From the beginning of any book project, designers undergo a series of R&D phases. The reason being, that production cannot be an afterthought in bookmaking. This is why students’ engagement with them plays such a crucial role in understanding the full spectrum of design and its processes and, within the context of a school, why it’s important to see them explore and experiment with all such possibilities.

Gaia on books without arguments:

You raise a compelling point. What intrigues me is the notion commonly held by students that research and production are separate phases, or at least distinct skill sets. This perspective seems to relegate research to an optional, purely intellectual process that operates in a vacuum and is needed mostly for innovation. On the other hand, production is often perceived as a vocational process—reliant on the dexterity of skills and developing from a concrete objective and outcome.

This false dichotomy lies at the heart of many of the failures in our discipline. It often prevents design projects from communicating through an argument or a point of view.

And to take a step forward in our conversation, I feel it’s worth exploring those failures in this context. Specifically, what types of books do we end up with when production is merely an afterthought. What do books look like when they are designed without an argument? Or, maybe even further, do books always communicate a point of view regardless of production choices? This reminds me of the 1972 edition of Learning From Las Vegas designed by Muriel Cooper versus the 1977 paperback edition. I feel that the two editions live in two parallel universes

Scott on designing with intentionality:

The types of books we end up with when the production is an afterthought and /or they are designed without an argument, is what we see 85-90% of the time. One thing I always try to get across—about design in general, but typography and typesetting specifically is that it should have an attitude. That’s not to imply it has to be an aggressive, brutal, or bold one; however, design decisions should feel intentional. Intentionality functions as the argument in design and the forethought of production.

Agreed. Most editions do live in parallel worlds-especially if redesigned. This is what makes editions interesting, regardless of which is perceived as having a higher value or better design. Kind of like re-issues of recordings in music, etc. Regardless, there’s an inherited conversation between them all. Similarly, this newspaper sets in dialog with the official catalog related to the exhibition of The Most Beautiful Swiss Books as well.

Gaia on “the magic”:

Building on our earlier discussion, it’s evident that the design process can yield unforeseen narratives identities that are sometimes unexpected even to the authors. Books are such good examples of the revealing power of design, the ability to show us more evidently what we might have intuitively perceived but now is presented in front of our eyes. This is the magic that happens at the intersection of intentionality, argument, production, and inquiry.

10/30/2023

Nico! I just discovered that you actually have a webpage on your site made from this inbox. That's amazing. Do you physically copy paste every note, or write codes that automatically take text and apply to the site?


Nico Chilla:

Hi Selina! Yes indeed haha, so happy you enjoy it :-)

Thankfully I don't have to do it manually — I wrote a short program to do it that relies on Eleventy, the tool that I use to build my site, the are.na API, and Netlify, which automatically refreshes it every 24 hours

Selina Kehuan Wu:

@nico-chilla oh wow, this is way more advanced than I thought!

10/29/2023 from Selina Kehuan Wu:

I love the idea of putting different films together into one program. I grew up seeing double features, programs in repertory houses, evenings of avant-garde films in storefront theatres. You always learn something, see something in a new light, because every movie is in conversation with every other movie. The greater the difference between the pictures, the better.

Over the years, I’ve been asked to pair my own pictures with older films by other people that have inspired them. The request has come from film festivals, which present the pairings as a program. The terms “inspiration” and “influence” aren’t completely accurate. I think of them as companion films. Sometimes the relationship is based on inspiration. Sometimes it’s the relationships between the characters. Sometimes it’s the spirit of the picture. Sometimes it’s far more mysterious than that.

from a collection he made on letterboxd

10/29/2023 Martin Scorsese on Letterboxd

“It’s a very personal kind of expressivity, a meditation on character where the music and the editing is meant to share the filmmakers’ — and they are filmmakers — readings,” said Francesca Coppa, a fandom scholar who teaches English and film studies at Muhlenberg College. “And then other people buy into those readings, like, Yes, I totally see that.”

Ms. McLaughlin says that editing helps her process what she’s consuming. “It’s kind of like when you have a thought and it isn’t fully realized until you say it out loud,” she said.

— Cat Zhang in Why Do Fan-Made Trailers Rule the Internet?, quoting Emily McLaughlin and Francesca Coppa

10/25/2023 saying it aloud

nico!!!!!!!!!! thank u

10/19/2023 from dani bloop:

Following up on my takeaways from an interview of Masha Gessen:

I think what I find compelling about the idea of a “liberatory” framework for gender — as opposed to a “rights-based” or deterministic one — is that it moves us away from fraught metaphysical debates that never resolve, and towards conversations about the recognition we humbly ask of and depend on from one another. In other words, the rights-based framework forces our discussion of gender to be argumentative and combative, whereas the liberatory framework turns it into an open social dialogue.

And more broadly, that seems to me to be a good way of thinking about morality in general — it’s about the commitments we make to each other, not what we categorically owe each other.

10/18/2023 the commitments we make

going around doing my fall edition of guestbook signing! tell me about someone u love!


Nico Chilla:

Hi Dani, what a wonderful tradition.

I will tell you about Frida and Diego. Unlike their namesakes, they are brother and sister, the surviving two kittens from their litter, now around one and a half years old.
Frida is a coal grey with green eyes, and Diego is silvery white with light blue eyes. When they adopted, my parents were told Diego was the confident one who liked to be in the center of the action, and Frida was very timid. This continues to perplex us all, because the reverse has been true in our experience. Frida is possibly the most affable, trusting, and loving cat I have ever met. She befriends most people within minutes of meeting, and she is quite chatty. Diego is terrified of everyone. When my partner and I visited this month, he lurked around and silently observed us, only becoming comfortable in our proximity after about a week. He is, more like my childhood cat, independent, food-driven, and endearingly moody. Among their shared joys and pastimes are:

watching the squirrels and birds in the yard playing with toys food. mischief. food-related mischief.

dani bloop:

thank you for this sweet answer! @nico-chilla

something i have always loved is when pets' names come in pairs. i also miss living with cats so much. the stubborn part of me feels committed to ensuring diego would not be terrified of me somehow. like, my last roommate in new york had a cat called ursula and i loved her so much. she was possibly the meanest cat i've ever met but she would still keep me company and i loved feeling her presence. i was so determined to having her like me, and i think she did! but she definitely didn't respect me because of it.

maybe frida is secretly diego and diego is secretly frida. cats are such gifts. what was your childhood cat called?

ah yes, food-related mischief, the best kind.

thanks for tuning into the walkthrough on friday too :~~)

10/15/2023 from dani bloop:

In every way, the literary life involves collecting: words and ideas, libraries and anthologies, yes, even architectural dictionaries. One of the writer’s essential duties is to gather—to filter and weave fragments, to refract perspectives and form new points of contact. The reader, in turn, acts the Widsith’s listening audience, learning from the sojourner’s song how to speak of the textures of life. Such is the ongoing, collaborative nature of a language we are not born knowing; we cannot express ourselves without first encountering the words of others. As is often remarked, effective writing serves not as explanation, but invitation—a bowerbird’s nest of noticings, calling other minds to take roost.

A Gathering of Particulars: On Building a Word-Hoard


Nico Chilla:

@charles-broskoski

10/5/2023 Lara Palmquist

I do not equate advanced vocabulary with intelligence, though I do suspect precision is another way of becoming more present. As Hempel suggests, I believe that hoarding or heeding words—whether slang, vernacular, or verbs-turned-nouns—is a means to improve our attention and, by extension, ourselves. We can read for plot, for story, or for information, but reading for words affords unique gains; every term amassed further liberates us from falling back on default language, thus granting as much fidelity as possible to whatever we wish to express or describe.

A Gathering of Particulars: On Building a Word-Hoard

10/5/2023 Lara Palmquist

The dictionary is part of my own reading process; if I come across a word I do not know, I look it up and record (or hoard) the definition in a notebook. This can make for slow going, as when I recently read Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, narrated by a woman with an outsize vocabulary. Yet the effort to define new words never felt tedious; rather, I felt a sense of intentional awareness similar to when a biology course taught me to identify species of birds by their songs. The noisy symbols on the page suddenly held meaning: oneiric, pertaining to dreams; verklempt, overjoyed. I’d found word-treasure, and Fowler had provided the map.

— Lara Palmquist, A Gathering of Particulars: On Building a Word-Hoard

10/5/2023 Lara Palmquist

At any moment on our planet there are at most a few dozen novelists working with great power, for a broad audience, with the material of consciousness, which is what the novel is so uniquely good at handling, how it feels to be inside us, what it means, the devastations and beauties it brings. Murakami is one of them. If his book about that experience is fitful and odd, perhaps it reveals, rather than diminishes, the undomesticated radiance of his gifts. “I am not an ornithologist,” Saul Bellow once said. “I am a bird.”

— Charles Finch, in his review of Haruki Murakami’s memoir, Novelist as Vocation

10/3/2023 Charles Finch

“Human beings are not short-term, selfish, hedonistic consumers, or at least that’s not our entirety, and we’re losing the depth of our own humanity by living inside a system that pretends we are those individuals, and that creates all the institutional arrangements to confine us in what I see as a kind if a cage. I see capitalism as a cage that confines us to an image of ourselves that I don’t personally believe in… The only people who do seem to believe in it are economists.”

— economist Tim Jackson on Today Explained

10/2/2023

My dream is for consumers to move away from using many different subscription-based, web-hosted services, each with their own cloud storage feature, and shift to a model in which each person uses just one or two services like Dropbox to sync local files across multiple devices, editing them with software installed locally and purchased through one-time or update-based payments.

One wrinkle in this that I see is that online collaboration depends on a centralized server host, typically the company providing the service. So my further dream is that we find a way to decentralize server hosting and empower ordinary users to host their own servers.

9/28/2023

Where does a fact live, if not in a true statement?

In “operational coherence” (to use Hasok Chang’s not-so-catchy term). That is, in the successful actions taken and predictions made based on knowledge of that fact.

There is a lovely parallel that I’m starting to see here between Chang and Wittgenstein: where does the meaning of a term live, per Wittgenstein? Not in a single brittle definition, but in its use.

Maybe, just as the diverse and infinite uses of a term mean you can never reach a conclusive definition, the diverse and infinite actions you can take to validate a fact mean you can never exclude it completely from doubt. This points back to Chang’s idea of truth in degrees rather than a binary.

9/24/2023

I’ve heard linguists say that for all its success, the lack of mechanistic interpretability in LLMs means they don’t really help us understand how language works, and to that extent it’s more of an engineering innovation than a scientific one.

But within a pragmatist conception of knowledge, where truth is grounded in applicability and direct contact with experience, how do we make sense of this? Would AI not be a model of good science? Here is maybe one way of making sense of this: AI technology can produce impressive results in the contexts that it was designed for, i.e. simulating coherent human behavior, but unlike a typical scientific model, it doesn’t provide concepts and methods that you can apply in other contexts, and connect to other domains of knowledge. The “knowledge” it provides is very brittle.

To use an old example from Socrates, it’s like comparing the pastry baker and the doctor: a good pastry baker knows how to produce things which bring people pleasure in the short-term, but they can’t relate that to things like the chemistry of the food and the functioning of the body, and they can’t predict the impact their goods will have on the health of a person in the long term. This is what doctors can do: bring knowledge from anatomy, medicine, chemistry, etcetera to bear on our everyday activities and diet, interrogating and explaining the behavior of the body.

9/22/2023 the pastry baker and the doctor

This page caps at the ~40ish latest entries — partly because it would be laborious to implement a dynamic feed, and partly because I like the idea of this page being finite, like a journal ran out of pages — you can see earlier blocks in the full channel on are.na.

continued on are.na...

4/22/2024 from dani bloop:

hi nico! only just realized you were sat behind me today. i'm gonna do my springtime edition of guestbook signing soon so stay tuned, happy spring 🌼


Nico Chilla:

ah didn't realize that was you either! looking forward to it

4/21/2024 from Yihui H.:

your website is so cool


Nico Chilla:

why thank you, your site is pretty neat too 😎 been meaning to try your testflight are.na client

4/21/2024 from Cole Bryant:

I love my cobwebs!!!!


Nico Chilla:

🕸️

4/21/2024 from Jingqi Kay Liu:

wagwan


Nico Chilla:

👋 thanks for introducing me to this expression!

4/21/2024 from Christina 💗:

hi from spring cleaning


Nico Chilla:

thanks for dropping by! ⭐️

3/13/2024 Chia Amisola

The process of domain naming acknowledges our self-made authority to define the environments we inhabit, and thus ourselves. As we settle with language, words determine the visibility of a place's logic. Logic in turn, is just an evaluation of language. Within these dichotomies, naming treads the line between liberation and oppression, illegibility and clarity, obfuscation and identification. 

The secret to construction (of identity, object, or place) has always been in naming. Language and space are interlinked, each mutating our understanding of a world and the possibilities within. Truth is revealed when it is recognized. Names are tools for recognition / memory-making / cognition / meaning-making. Like a collective contract to recognize one color as red, or to dispute for centuries over the name of a land and its authority, names as relations are always embroiled with questions of power.

2/12/2024

In search for better descriptors than “personal” for work that is done without any financial or institutional motivator. The word seems to imply I don’t put a lot of myself into my professional work, which is hardly true, and it also seems to exclude projects I do collaboratively.

The term that best captures the spirit of the thing is causa sui — but you can’t use it as an adjective, and no one would get it anyway.

2/9/2024 Thomas Weaver

Through all these kinds of image references, there seems to be something kind of paradoxical about editing. The conventional view of the editor is one that envisages the editorial mandate as one of shortening; of cutting, of removal and abbreviation. But as these images show, within the figure of editing and the role of the editor, there is simultaneously an opposing process of assemblage, of generating stuff, of collecting writers and images, of acquisition. Editing, then, does two opposite things at exactly the same time.

Edit or be Damned talk given at Columbia GSAPP

1/21/2024 Casey Newton

On one level it’s impressive that Spotify can perfectly capture my musical taste in a series of data points, and regurgitate it to me in a series of weekly playlists. But as good as it has gotten, I can’t remember the last time it pointed me to something I never expected I would like, but ultimately fell totally in love with. 

For that you needed someone who could go beyond the data to tell you the story: of the artist, of the genre, of the music they made. For that you needed criticism.

– from Why Pitchfork Died

1/15/2024 Agnes Callard on the justification of meritocracy

You don’t want people to be too happy with who they are, too early in their lives. Like a two-year-old should not be happy to remain a two-year-old. Kids are great! But they haven’t really encountered most of the valuable things in life yet. A really big part of life is coming to care about new things that you didn’t even know were valuable beforehand. We want people to do that, and there’s a problem with how people can do it, because it doesn’t seem valuable to them, so why are they gonna start valuing it. Competition is a really powerful psychological mechanism for that. You see it in schools — people want to get a good grade, and because they want to get a good grade they study, and because they study they’re immersed in a world. We use competition to leverage ourselves out of what would have been an impoverished point of view on value; I think that’s got to be the ultimate justification of meritocracy. But that justification is only a justification of meritocracy as a way to motivate people. It’s not a justification of meritocracy as a way to ultimately assess the value of your life or what you care about. It’s sort of a theory of transition, not a theory of the end point. I think one of the really deep ways in which meritocracy gets corrupted is when people take it to be a theory of the end point. In effect, my view is if you are comparing yourself negatively to someone else — which is I think a perfectly fine thing and a very useful thing to do — you better be in the process of trying to become better.

— from this interview with Ezra Klein

1/15/2024 Agnes Callard’s Socratic framing of knowledge

I think we’re way too quick to identify ourselves with long-term goals, especially when we’re not in the moment of being tempted. We can say “look, I know how I should really live. I know that I should read those books, and I should not eat the cookies, and I should be less stressed about these things, and I should spend more time with my family—these are things that I know”. And I think the truth is that I do not know any of them. I believe them, and I also believe the opposite. Some of my beliefs are more presentable to other people; so I am more to you if I say, “yeah I know I should spend more time with my kids” than if I say “I have a profound need to escape my kids”. But both of those things are true of me, and I think the violence to the self occurs as long as both are true of you. I think — but this is sort of just me agreeing with Socrates about something — that if you had knowledge, you would not have that conflict. A lot of people have the goal of mastering themselves, which is to say exerting enough violence over themselves to quiet that other voice, because they “know” the other thing. But the truth is the fact that the other voice is there means you don’t know it. The violence over yourself is trying to quiet it when it’s really there. Knowledge would mean that you unanimously and obviously in a very simple way did the thing you thought you should. … Suppose that I feel like having the cookie but I “know” I shouldn’t. I think people are inclined to think of the feeling that you want the cookie as bodily, and the knowing that you shouldn’t as not-bodily, but I think that’s bodily too. That’s just how things look to you in a bodily way when you’re looking from far away. You are somebody who is just trapped in the images of things. And when you look at something like eating a cookie from close-up it looks really good to you, and when you look at it from far away it looks not very good. Those are both bodily judgements— there are just proximate and distant bodily judgements. And what we do when we don’t have knowledge is we just vacillate between these bodily judgements, and we dress one of them up as though it were knowledge, namely the distant one. … The way I am is that I see a bunch of conflicts, and I don’t know how to resolve them, and that’s just my ignorance. If I had knowledge, I would know how to resolve them. But what I at least try to do is not be under the illusion that I have the knowledge already.

— from this interview with Ezra Klein

1/10/2024 The neutrality of system fonts

What’s especially fascinating about Times New Roman and Arial is they’ve acquired an air of neutrality — moreso than Helvetica or Akzidenz — not because of some aspect of their type design, but rather by virtue of their ubiquity. By being used widely, democratically, and indiscriminately, the specific history and original connotations of the typefaces have been more or less drowned out.

1/10/2024

A takeaway from this piece by Agnes Callard: “Person A thought...” or “Person A frames X as...” is a better way of bringing in a reference to another author’s idea than some of the formulations I typically use, like “There’s this compelling idea from Person A, that...” or “This is similar to the Person A’s conception of X as...”.

These latter phrasings, I’m realizing, feel verbose and overly scholarly, and they usually force me to rely on the author’s specific terminology. That might be valuable if I was still doing academic writing, but not when writing an essay for a general audience. What I want now is just to bring in an idea to support or apply to the topic at hand, while properly attributing its source. Thus I like “He/she/they thought...” — it allows me to give credit and then get right into the flow of explaining the idea in a simple and accessible form.

But I guess the thing to be careful of, and the reason I sometimes avoid the more simple phrasings, is that they can feel like authoritative descriptions of an author’s thinking, which I don’t necessarily feel qualified to give.

1/10/2024 Agnes Callard

The tourist is a deferential character. He outsources the vindication of his experiences to the ethnologist, to postcards, to conventional wisdom about what you are or are not supposed to do in a place. This deference, this “openness to experience,” is exactly what renders the tourist incapable of experience. Emerson confessed, “I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated.” He speaks for every tourist who has stood before a monument, or a painting, or a falcon, and demanded herself to feel something. Emerson and Percy help us understand why this demand is unreasonable: to be a tourist is to have already decided that it is not one’s own feelings that count. Whether an experience is authentically X is precisely what you, as a non-X, cannot judge. ... The single most important fact about tourism is this: we already know what we will be like when we return. A vacation is not like immigrating to a foreign country, or matriculating at a university, or starting a new job, or falling in love. We embark on those pursuits with the trepidation of one who enters a tunnel not knowing who she will be when she walks out. The traveller departs confident that she will come back with the same basic interests, political beliefs, and living arrangements. Travel is a boomerang. It drops you right where you started.

— In The Case Against Travel, for The New Yorker

1/10/2024

In an ironic turn of events, I’m afraid to visit my own website on my work laptop because one of the page themes crashes the operating system.


Nico Chilla:

Update: as of installing a newer version of Ventura, this no longer happens :)

12/30/2023 what do we mean by creative?

People will often censure ChatGPT, DALL-E, and other AI products for stealing human intellectual and creative output without compensating the sources of their data. As this line of thinking goes, the works generated by these programs are purely derivative; they take advantage of human originality to generate infinite renditions that then compete with and cheapen the value of the works they were trained on.

My concern is, if you compare AI authorship and human authorship, it seems like this attitude penalizes behavior in AI which we consider harmless and ordinary in humans, not to mention foundational to human creative practice: Like generative AI, people absorb large amounts of writing and artwork corresponding to their disciplines; interfacing with that existing world of intellectual output develops our mastery of language and understanding as writers, or of craft as artists and designers. I think producing “original” work then consists not of working from a clean slate, but rather making new connections and observations, remixing, reframing, challenging existing material, intermingling it with our individual experiences. Looked at this way, human work is ‘derivative’ in the same way AI works are derivative.

You might justifiably challenge me on this: you could argue that even if people do similarly start from an existing corpus, they grow it into work which is more inventive, more rational, somehow more “original” than AI output. And aside from these doubts, I obviously grant that today’s AIs don’t have personal histories and experiences that inform their work. But the first response I have to this kind of skepticism is that it feels like philosophical hedging to me. That is: it draws a line around the state of the technology today and uses that as an essential delimiter of what AI is capable of, and of what differentiates human and AI creativity. I think this is an ill-advised position to take, not just because the technology is evolving rapidly, but because at a fundamental level I don’t believe there’s any categorical boundary barring machines from becoming as creatively competent as professional human authors.

My second response to this skepticism is that regardless of AI’s actual capabilities, I’m actually more interested in what the mere possibility of genuinely generative, creative AI means for the way we understand our own work. What if the only thing that significantly distinguished the quality of the output of a machine from that of a human was the fact that a machine can do it a lot faster, and with far vaster resources and references than any human can gather? Like a piece of good science fiction, that looming technological threat allows us to reframe our preconceptions about the world: it allows us to reflect on creativity and creative value not as essential qualities, but as concepts formed out of contingent social, economic, and human conditions.

12/24/2023

Something I think I’ve noticed about myself is that I slip into different states of “flow” where my attention and decision-making become bound to particular patterns. For example, when I establish deep focus on a particular task or activity, I become obsessed with it — even my absent mind gravitates towards it, and it becomes difficult to think intentionally about anything beyond it. At other times I just succumb repeatedly and absent-mindedly to habits, like listening or watching something while I brush my teeth (I’ve done this for long enough that I now find it uncomfortable to brush my teeth without any auditory accompaniment).

This connects to a confucian idea I heard a while ago (ironically on a podcast, which I probably listened to while brushing my teeth): people tend to naturally fall into patterns of behavior; it’s the role of ritual to break those patterns. So although rituals can feel forced and arbitrary, they disrupt rather than maintain the status quo — I really like this framing.

12/6/2023

My problem with the “it’s all subjective” line of thinking isn’t necessarily that it’s a position with no merit, but rather that it masks a lack of understanding, and prevents meaningful disagreement or reconciliation of different points of view.

Matters of artistic taste, matters of ethics, these things can’t be reduced to differences in personal preference, like your favorite flavor of ice cream. Again, that’s not to deny that they are relative in an important sense. But their relativity is contingent on shared culture and a shared human condition.

12/4/2023

Something I would like to think about more intentionally is serendipity, and particularly the role of serendipity in the techno-capitalist age we live in.

12/1/2023

A conflation I would like to explore: we typically use “narrative” to mean a chronology, but we also use it to refer to representations of people or things at single moments in time. Maybe the meaning has expanded in this way because we pull from our pasts to generate unified representations of our present selves?

11/12/2023

People often use the term “philosophy” to describe a set of rules or guiding principles for how to behave, but I like to think of it as almost the antithesis to this: philosophy is what you do when your rules cease to make sense or fail to account for your present circumstances. This is similar to the distinction that John Dewey marks between “customary” and “reflective” morality.

11/8/2023 some thoughts on designing collaboratively

One thing that it has taken me a while to wrap my head around is how designers work collaboratively; design seems to depend on the execution of a single coherent vision, and I wasn't sure how you could bring multiple people into that process as equal creative partners.

In my first forays into the professional world, I've gotten exposed to several approaches to this, and I’m tentatively forming an insight about what works well for me: it’s ideal to avoid situations where multiple people independently tackle the same asset. This forces a team to try to consolidate and litigate between different concepts that each author feels creatively invested in. In my experience it’s far easier to build on a single concept, driven by one primary author, through discussion and debate with backseat collaborators.

As a primary author, I’ve really appreciated this model because it allows me to address my collaborators’ feedback in a way that feels unified and coherent with my own ideas. And on the other side, I was surprised to find that as a backseat collaborator I don’t feel creatively disempowered (although this is partially to the credit of generous collaborators). On the contrary, I feel creatively empowered because I can spitball ideas and amendments to the design without putting the primary author under any pressure to accept them directly, and the end product feels like something which I share authorship in.

I should probably make clear that this is by no means a categorical rule: there are probably many cases, such as a preliminary ideation phase or a particularly large project with many components, where working simultaneously is useful or even necessary. It just hinges on being and working with collaborators that don’t invest too heavily in their own ideas, and possibly having a hierarchy where lead designers set the direction and adjudicate disagreements.

11/5/2023 Janna Levin & Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Kleptoplasty is a phenomenon so strange and alien that before its discovery it would have been considered physically and anatomically impossible. Certain sea slugs can steal an algae’s lifegiving material, sucking up DNA, proteins, and cells through a straw-like organ. The slugs are then able to photosynthesize, metabolizing light just like the planta they’ve pillaged, turning green with chlorophyll. The divide between fauna and flora, alive or not, dissolves under the pressure of this discovery. How can you not be moved? Where is the sense in insisting, “No, I am a slug. And you are a plant”? Or “I am the plant and you are the slug”?

In that dissolution is a demonstration of the cultural power of science. The seemingly obvious axioms of our humanity—who we are, what we are—are in an instant reconceived.

— editor’s introduction to Issue 1, Fall 2023 of Broadcast (print edition)

10/30/2023

Contrary to Wittgenstein’s famous dictum, I’m now of the attitude that ideas do transcend language: you can believe something without being able to articulate it. But I think his basic point was that ideas don’t live in some untouchable mental realm; they manifest themselves in our everyday practices and dispositions.

10/30/2023

I think there's something to the idea that we read not only to open our minds to new ideas, but also to find better articulations of the ideas that resonate with us, words that give form to our existing attitudes.

10/30/2023

Foreword to The Most Beautiful Swiss Books 2023 exhibition at Pratt Institute: a conversation between Gaia Scagnetti Hwang, Chairperson of the Pratt Graduate Communications department, and Scott Vander Zee, Adjunct Assistant Professor

Gaia on bookmaking as an act of inquiry:

At the core of our MA in Communications Design at Pratt lies the foundational idea that the program serves as a space for students to learn not only to manipulate design as a mode of production but also as a mode of inquiry. This educational framework shifts away from traditional academic paradigms.

When bookmaking is approached as a mode of inquiry, rather than simply as a means of dissemination, the relationship with the production chain undergoes a significant shift. The goal of bookmaking isn’t just to produce, but to investigate, experiment, and explore. As such, each specialist involved in the design and production process becomes a collaborator in the research itself.

In light of this, a provocative question arises: If the act of bookmaking is itself a form of inquiry, how does that redefine the relationship between the graduate students and the specialists involved in the production chain? Given your expertise in the field of book design, I am keen to hear your insights on this question: Does the reframing of bookmaking as a practice of inquiry alter the stakes when graduate students engage with the entire production process?

Scott on production as R&D phases:

Bookmaking—as an art and /or craft—can only truly succeed through multiple forms of inquiry. They (books) are investigations into language and its formulation; systems, hierarchies, and dramaturgies; printing and binding techniques; and various aspects of materiality they are formal objects; sensory experiences; and capsules of physical presence, time, and thought. They are a technology, etymologically speaking. Within this framing, the best-case scenario is for students to become as much of a specialist as possible with the production processes of bookmaking and its impact on design.

The production process, despite typically being associated with mechanical finalization, actually begins (or should) at a book’s conception—inquiring into what’s relevant and appropriate, captivating, affordable, ecological, etc. From the beginning of any book project, designers undergo a series of R&D phases. The reason being, that production cannot be an afterthought in bookmaking. This is why students’ engagement with them plays such a crucial role in understanding the full spectrum of design and its processes and, within the context of a school, why it’s important to see them explore and experiment with all such possibilities.

Gaia on books without arguments:

You raise a compelling point. What intrigues me is the notion commonly held by students that research and production are separate phases, or at least distinct skill sets. This perspective seems to relegate research to an optional, purely intellectual process that operates in a vacuum and is needed mostly for innovation. On the other hand, production is often perceived as a vocational process—reliant on the dexterity of skills and developing from a concrete objective and outcome.

This false dichotomy lies at the heart of many of the failures in our discipline. It often prevents design projects from communicating through an argument or a point of view.

And to take a step forward in our conversation, I feel it’s worth exploring those failures in this context. Specifically, what types of books do we end up with when production is merely an afterthought. What do books look like when they are designed without an argument? Or, maybe even further, do books always communicate a point of view regardless of production choices? This reminds me of the 1972 edition of Learning From Las Vegas designed by Muriel Cooper versus the 1977 paperback edition. I feel that the two editions live in two parallel universes

Scott on designing with intentionality:

The types of books we end up with when the production is an afterthought and /or they are designed without an argument, is what we see 85-90% of the time. One thing I always try to get across—about design in general, but typography and typesetting specifically is that it should have an attitude. That’s not to imply it has to be an aggressive, brutal, or bold one; however, design decisions should feel intentional. Intentionality functions as the argument in design and the forethought of production.

Agreed. Most editions do live in parallel worlds-especially if redesigned. This is what makes editions interesting, regardless of which is perceived as having a higher value or better design. Kind of like re-issues of recordings in music, etc. Regardless, there’s an inherited conversation between them all. Similarly, this newspaper sets in dialog with the official catalog related to the exhibition of The Most Beautiful Swiss Books as well.

Gaia on “the magic”:

Building on our earlier discussion, it’s evident that the design process can yield unforeseen narratives identities that are sometimes unexpected even to the authors. Books are such good examples of the revealing power of design, the ability to show us more evidently what we might have intuitively perceived but now is presented in front of our eyes. This is the magic that happens at the intersection of intentionality, argument, production, and inquiry.

10/29/2023 from Selina Kehuan Wu:

Nico! I just discovered that you actually have a webpage on your site made from this inbox. That's amazing. Do you physically copy paste every note, or write codes that automatically take text and apply to the site?


Nico Chilla:

Hi Selina! Yes indeed haha, so happy you enjoy it :-)

Thankfully I don't have to do it manually — I wrote a short program to do it that relies on Eleventy, the tool that I use to build my site, the are.na API, and Netlify, which automatically refreshes it every 24 hours

Selina Kehuan Wu:

@nico-chilla oh wow, this is way more advanced than I thought!

10/29/2023 Martin Scorsese on Letterboxd

I love the idea of putting different films together into one program. I grew up seeing double features, programs in repertory houses, evenings of avant-garde films in storefront theatres. You always learn something, see something in a new light, because every movie is in conversation with every other movie. The greater the difference between the pictures, the better.

Over the years, I’ve been asked to pair my own pictures with older films by other people that have inspired them. The request has come from film festivals, which present the pairings as a program. The terms “inspiration” and “influence” aren’t completely accurate. I think of them as companion films. Sometimes the relationship is based on inspiration. Sometimes it’s the relationships between the characters. Sometimes it’s the spirit of the picture. Sometimes it’s far more mysterious than that.

from a collection he made on letterboxd

10/25/2023 saying it aloud

“It’s a very personal kind of expressivity, a meditation on character where the music and the editing is meant to share the filmmakers’ — and they are filmmakers — readings,” said Francesca Coppa, a fandom scholar who teaches English and film studies at Muhlenberg College. “And then other people buy into those readings, like, Yes, I totally see that.”

Ms. McLaughlin says that editing helps her process what she’s consuming. “It’s kind of like when you have a thought and it isn’t fully realized until you say it out loud,” she said.

— Cat Zhang in Why Do Fan-Made Trailers Rule the Internet?, quoting Emily McLaughlin and Francesca Coppa

10/19/2023 from dani bloop:

nico!!!!!!!!!! thank u

10/18/2023 the commitments we make

Following up on my takeaways from an interview of Masha Gessen:

I think what I find compelling about the idea of a “liberatory” framework for gender — as opposed to a “rights-based” or deterministic one — is that it moves us away from fraught metaphysical debates that never resolve, and towards conversations about the recognition we humbly ask of and depend on from one another. In other words, the rights-based framework forces our discussion of gender to be argumentative and combative, whereas the liberatory framework turns it into an open social dialogue.

And more broadly, that seems to me to be a good way of thinking about morality in general — it’s about the commitments we make to each other, not what we categorically owe each other.

10/15/2023 from dani bloop:

going around doing my fall edition of guestbook signing! tell me about someone u love!


Nico Chilla:

Hi Dani, what a wonderful tradition.

I will tell you about Frida and Diego. Unlike their namesakes, they are brother and sister, the surviving two kittens from their litter, now around one and a half years old.
Frida is a coal grey with green eyes, and Diego is silvery white with light blue eyes. When they adopted, my parents were told Diego was the confident one who liked to be in the center of the action, and Frida was very timid. This continues to perplex us all, because the reverse has been true in our experience. Frida is possibly the most affable, trusting, and loving cat I have ever met. She befriends most people within minutes of meeting, and she is quite chatty. Diego is terrified of everyone. When my partner and I visited this month, he lurked around and silently observed us, only becoming comfortable in our proximity after about a week. He is, more like my childhood cat, independent, food-driven, and endearingly moody. Among their shared joys and pastimes are:

watching the squirrels and birds in the yard playing with toys food. mischief. food-related mischief.

dani bloop:

thank you for this sweet answer! @nico-chilla

something i have always loved is when pets' names come in pairs. i also miss living with cats so much. the stubborn part of me feels committed to ensuring diego would not be terrified of me somehow. like, my last roommate in new york had a cat called ursula and i loved her so much. she was possibly the meanest cat i've ever met but she would still keep me company and i loved feeling her presence. i was so determined to having her like me, and i think she did! but she definitely didn't respect me because of it.

maybe frida is secretly diego and diego is secretly frida. cats are such gifts. what was your childhood cat called?

ah yes, food-related mischief, the best kind.

thanks for tuning into the walkthrough on friday too :~~)

10/5/2023 Lara Palmquist

In every way, the literary life involves collecting: words and ideas, libraries and anthologies, yes, even architectural dictionaries. One of the writer’s essential duties is to gather—to filter and weave fragments, to refract perspectives and form new points of contact. The reader, in turn, acts the Widsith’s listening audience, learning from the sojourner’s song how to speak of the textures of life. Such is the ongoing, collaborative nature of a language we are not born knowing; we cannot express ourselves without first encountering the words of others. As is often remarked, effective writing serves not as explanation, but invitation—a bowerbird’s nest of noticings, calling other minds to take roost.

A Gathering of Particulars: On Building a Word-Hoard


Nico Chilla:

@charles-broskoski

10/5/2023 Lara Palmquist

I do not equate advanced vocabulary with intelligence, though I do suspect precision is another way of becoming more present. As Hempel suggests, I believe that hoarding or heeding words—whether slang, vernacular, or verbs-turned-nouns—is a means to improve our attention and, by extension, ourselves. We can read for plot, for story, or for information, but reading for words affords unique gains; every term amassed further liberates us from falling back on default language, thus granting as much fidelity as possible to whatever we wish to express or describe.

A Gathering of Particulars: On Building a Word-Hoard

10/5/2023 Lara Palmquist

The dictionary is part of my own reading process; if I come across a word I do not know, I look it up and record (or hoard) the definition in a notebook. This can make for slow going, as when I recently read Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, narrated by a woman with an outsize vocabulary. Yet the effort to define new words never felt tedious; rather, I felt a sense of intentional awareness similar to when a biology course taught me to identify species of birds by their songs. The noisy symbols on the page suddenly held meaning: oneiric, pertaining to dreams; verklempt, overjoyed. I’d found word-treasure, and Fowler had provided the map.

— Lara Palmquist, A Gathering of Particulars: On Building a Word-Hoard

10/3/2023 Charles Finch

At any moment on our planet there are at most a few dozen novelists working with great power, for a broad audience, with the material of consciousness, which is what the novel is so uniquely good at handling, how it feels to be inside us, what it means, the devastations and beauties it brings. Murakami is one of them. If his book about that experience is fitful and odd, perhaps it reveals, rather than diminishes, the undomesticated radiance of his gifts. “I am not an ornithologist,” Saul Bellow once said. “I am a bird.”

— Charles Finch, in his review of Haruki Murakami’s memoir, Novelist as Vocation

10/2/2023

“Human beings are not short-term, selfish, hedonistic consumers, or at least that’s not our entirety, and we’re losing the depth of our own humanity by living inside a system that pretends we are those individuals, and that creates all the institutional arrangements to confine us in what I see as a kind if a cage. I see capitalism as a cage that confines us to an image of ourselves that I don’t personally believe in… The only people who do seem to believe in it are economists.”

— economist Tim Jackson on Today Explained

9/28/2023

My dream is for consumers to move away from using many different subscription-based, web-hosted services, each with their own cloud storage feature, and shift to a model in which each person uses just one or two services like Dropbox to sync local files across multiple devices, editing them with software installed locally and purchased through one-time or update-based payments.

One wrinkle in this that I see is that online collaboration depends on a centralized server host, typically the company providing the service. So my further dream is that we find a way to decentralize server hosting and empower ordinary users to host their own servers.

9/24/2023

Where does a fact live, if not in a true statement?

In “operational coherence” (to use Hasok Chang’s not-so-catchy term). That is, in the successful actions taken and predictions made based on knowledge of that fact.

There is a lovely parallel that I’m starting to see here between Chang and Wittgenstein: where does the meaning of a term live, per Wittgenstein? Not in a single brittle definition, but in its use.

Maybe, just as the diverse and infinite uses of a term mean you can never reach a conclusive definition, the diverse and infinite actions you can take to validate a fact mean you can never exclude it completely from doubt. This points back to Chang’s idea of truth in degrees rather than a binary.

9/22/2023 the pastry baker and the doctor

I’ve heard linguists say that for all its success, the lack of mechanistic interpretability in LLMs means they don’t really help us understand how language works, and to that extent it’s more of an engineering innovation than a scientific one.

But within a pragmatist conception of knowledge, where truth is grounded in applicability and direct contact with experience, how do we make sense of this? Would AI not be a model of good science? Here is maybe one way of making sense of this: AI technology can produce impressive results in the contexts that it was designed for, i.e. simulating coherent human behavior, but unlike a typical scientific model, it doesn’t provide concepts and methods that you can apply in other contexts, and connect to other domains of knowledge. The “knowledge” it provides is very brittle.

To use an old example from Socrates, it’s like comparing the pastry baker and the doctor: a good pastry baker knows how to produce things which bring people pleasure in the short-term, but they can’t relate that to things like the chemistry of the food and the functioning of the body, and they can’t predict the impact their goods will have on the health of a person in the long term. This is what doctors can do: bring knowledge from anatomy, medicine, chemistry, etcetera to bear on our everyday activities and diet, interrogating and explaining the behavior of the body.

continued on are.na...

This page caps at the ~40ish latest entries — partly because it would be laborious to implement a dynamic feed, and partly because I like the idea of this page being finite, like a journal ran out of pages — you can see earlier blocks in the full channel on are.na.