Back at his place, Doc found Scott and Denis in the kitchen investigating the icebox, having just climbed in the alley window after Denis, a bit earlier, down at his own place, had fallen asleep as he often did with a lit joint in his mouth, only this time the joint, instead of dropping onto his chest and burning him and waking him up at least partway, had rolled someplace else among the bedsheets, where it soon began to smoulder. After a while Denis woke, got up, and wondered into the bathroom, thought he would have a shower, sort of got into doing that. At some point the bed burst into flame, burning eventually up through the ceiling, directly above which was his neighbour Chico’s water bed, luckily for Chico without him on it, which being plastic melted from the heat, releasing nearly a ton of water through the hole that had by now burned in the ceiling, putting out the fire in Denis’s bedroom while turning the floor into a sort of wading pool. Denis came drifting back from the bathroom, and not able right away to account for what he found, plus getting the fire department, who had now arrived, confused with the police, went running down the alley to Scott Oof’s beach place, where he tried to describe what he thought had happened.
Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice
At the beginning of the year I found a copy of Metahaven’s half-decade old ‘White Night - Before A Manifesto’. Started reading it, couldn’t put it down, and I finished it that night. Read it again the next night, and I’ve reread it a couple more times since. There’s so much interesting thinking in it, but the language is dense and academic and so - like Denis in Inherent Vice - I’ve been at a complete loss trying to describe what I think is happening in it. Doesn’t really matter, you can read it as a PDF if (like me) you didn’t see it when it was published.
We are not useful.
At the 2007 Millionaire Fair in Moscow a diamond-plated Swarovski Mercedes Benz was unveiled. It looked monstrous. The Wenger Swiss Army Knife – a symbol of functionality and minimalism – now comes in a new and expanded version. The Wenger Ultimate Swiss Army Knife has no less than 85 tools. It looks bizarre. Use value and exchange value are not absolute, but eventually relative phenomena. An absolute exchange value, actualized through the excess of material worth in a design object, is so ostensibly valuable that it is cheap. An absolute use value, achieved by cramming every imaginable functionality into a tool, is so obviously useful that it is useless.
We embrace the realm of added or speculative value that is attached to objects. It is not the objects themselves, but the values inhabiting them that are fundamentally reshaped or reinvented. Objects are inhabited by values, and are at the same time, plastered or covered by them. While a laptop or a mobile phone may be ‘inhabited’ by new values through the actions that are performed with them, those values are not registered in the objects’ titanium shells, which curiously mimic a Dieter Rams-style simplicity from the era in which an apparatus was a dedicated machine. Compare a laptop or mobile phone that is made in China, which is inhabited with transgression and plastered with an impeccable surface, to the outer shell of the Guggenheim Bilbao – a surface inscribed with all kinds of values but inhabited by a conventional museum programme. The categories of inside and outside have become completely disconnected; like the arrival and departure gates of an airport, they register the global flows that design is now part of. The difference between outside and inside, and between form and content, administers these flows. There is little coherence in the insides and outsides of design objects and the ways in which they are programmed. As with the templates and placeholders for web 2.0-style internet pages, they may be inhabited by all kinds of values that account for the endless transformation of surface.
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