[NetBehaviour] Splatter Semiotics/Semiotics of Splatter, in relation to Trump's tweets and electronic literature

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Mon Jul 30 00:43:44 CEST 2018

(apologies for two posts in one day, would really appreciate
feedback, and this is a bid turgid)


Splatter Semiotics/Semiotics of Splatter, in relation to Trump's
tweets and electronic literature

[Outline of an upcoming ELO presentation in Montreal.
(comments appreciated)


I. Notes -

Of the reading or attempted reading of the world, however
"world" is defined:

I think through three different domains, and dynamics 'across'
them. In other words, between the signifier and the signified,
there are various regimes and ranges of processing times.
The first is game-space, characterized by rule-bound behaviors
within a classical environment which more or less stable
boundaries. There are limited sets of behaviors that might be
considered acceptable; time is constrained and the signifier/
signified processing times appears manageable. Chess, tetris,
adventure, most computer games.
The second is edge-space, characterized by breakdowns and
glitches within and without game space; some of these glitches
may be deliberately created within game-space, but most go
against the game and lead to new behaviors, and even new
ontologies. For example an edge-space phenomenon may throw a
player out of the game entirely, closing a computer or game
pitch down, etc. Edge-space problematizes the idea of "rule"
itself. It's here that epistemology extends into unknown
territories. The interval between signifier and signified may be
highly variable here; this becomes important in considering
splatter semiotics or semiotic splatter below.
The third is blank-space. This references the uncanny, the
untoward, the filling and fulfilling of those regimes of edge
where nothing appears, nothing appears to appear. "Heere bee
dragonnes" and the like. It's where signifiers reference
fluidities, instabilities. It's where we populate the
indeterminate. Which leads to the issue of our time and the
paradigm for electronic literature:
The Trump Tweet, or Speed and phenomenology of semiotic gluing.

[from dictation:

There are so many avenues that one could take or that I could
take in thinking about scatter semiotics. For one thing and, the
main thing, all sorts of different dynamic striations have to be
considered. For example it should be possible to ascertain what
it means for a tweet to be received, processed and then
regurgitated or expelled or explicated. What sort of temporality
is involved in all of this. Does it relate to the idea of the
parasite (Serres) which interferes with what might be considered
an instantaneous production of a sign? - In other words
newsrooms and their listeners and viewers are continuously
thrown off by variegated responses to anything in which the
truth value is 0. Or rather the truth value is irrelevant, might
as well be 0. So we have to look at this as a function of the
digital era - in other words we have to look at this as a
dynamics of sign production that can no longer be treated within
the aegis and phenomenology of the classical time frame.

[from informal typing:

Look, it's like this, take Kaja Silverman's The Subject of
Semiotics - material on Lacan, Peirce, Saussure, Eco. And in all
of it, there are these evanescent / problematic relationships
between signifier and signified, and in none of it is there any
sort of dynamic and temporal relationship between them as far as
I can tell. You have to wait until information theory, Shannon
for example, the route through Nyquist, then the tweets begin to
make sense with all their wavering - as if they're branches of
catastrophe theory geometries, and as such their truth value is
irrelevant - in other words, there's no 'fragility of good
things,' because anywhere leads to catastrophic jumps,
temporally-defined by the speed and processing protocols of the
media receptors and transmitters, CNN, MSNBC, and the like. The
study should be of _time,_ and as such, _time sensitive
processing subjectivities_ - not of static or slowly changing
(for example dialects) relationships. -

Which might lead us back to Freud's condensation/displacement,
both of which are temporal processes, but with the signs already
assumed or in the process of production - but then I'm thinking
about a basic _split_ between signifier and signified within
semiotics, not in terms of layerings but in terms of damage,
speed, Virilio's dromodology. Might lead us there. I think it


[from a newspaper article plus commentary, reformatted:

Lakoff's and Duran's Guardian article is also useful here -
6/13/18 - "Trump has turned words into weapons. And he's winning
the linguistic war." I recommend everyone find and read it. So
here are some quotes and my commentary -

"Scientists, marketers, advertisers and salespeople understand
these principles. So do Russian and Islamic State hackers. But
most reporters and editors clearly don't. So the press is at a
disadvantage when dealing with a super salesman with an
instinctive ability to manipulate thought by 1) framing first 2)
repeating often, and 3) leading others to repeat his words by
getting people to attack him within his own frame."

I say - the press is also at a disadvantage here because there
are incompatible processing times involved - that is
fundamental. so that when a tweet occurs, the p.t. is
considerably greater of course than the time for the next tweet.
its both repetition - which sutures over temporalities - and the
temporalities themselves which are the issue

"Trumps tweets are not random, they are strategic. There are
four types:
1) Preemptive framing, to get a framing advantage.
2) Diversion, to divert attention when news could embarrass him.
3) Deflection: Shift the blame to others. And
4) trial balloon test how much you can get away with. Reporting,
and therefore repeating, Trumps tweets just gives him more

I say - Trump tweets also collapse time; 1-4 operate within a
classical proscenium which is critical - but so is the
continuous setting-up and unfolding of that proscenium -

"First, journalists must understand how propaganda works on the
brain and grasp the cognitive science that marketers of
propaganda have implicitly mastered: frames, metaphors,
narratives and brain basics."

again, the issue of time; propaganda is not a modernist object -

"Second, keep a steely focus on the fact that American democracy
is under attack by a foreign power, possibly with collusion from
the sitting presidents campaign. This is a crisis. Certain rules
don't apply in a crisis, especially the rule that the press must
amplify the presidents words, whatever they are."

this is critical - the ability to create time envelopes around
whatever the case/cases may be -

In response to their comments on the 'news cycle' - it's
important to recognize that the news cycle is no longer a cycle.


[from an article I wrote for 2600, The Hacker Quarterly, 34:3,
Autumn 2017:

[first, description and relevance:

Finally, there's this article from last year's 2600 magazine,
which I quote in full. As you can see, I'm grasping at straws
with straws here. The fundamental point is, as far as the ELO
conference is concerned, Trump's tweets are, above all,
electronic literature in its most potent form. They move as
seeds processed in fast-forward time across literatures and
social media; they're as much a dangerous to U.S. 'democracy' as
Goebbels' onslaught of newspapers headlines was in the early
stages of Nazi Germany. And they have to be taken seriously and
fought against; this is absolutely necessary -

                                                      Alan Sondheim

I've been a reader of 2600 for a long time now. I'm not a hacker
but I write about being online (the title of an anthology I
edited). The Trump election took many people by surprise; I saw
it coming, and I want to talk about this in terms of hacking and
freedom of information. Most of this will probably be familiar.

Semiotics, the study of signs and sign systems, depends on
stability - the signifier and signified, for example, are
relatively coherent for a "reasonable" period of time. The
elaboration of signs and their relationships is complex;
semiosis describes the ongoing elucidation and transformation of
signs over time. What is important to understand is that
semiosis is presumed to be a rationalized process, one that's
traceable, accountable. But when we're dealing with high-speed
net acrobatics, the situation is qualitatively and fundamentally

Two things I want to point out - that hacking, particularly
release of documents (Wikileaks etc.) isn't neutral; it's highly
political by its very nature. The release of documents related
to HRC, and not to DT for a lengthy period of time ensured that
the attacks would be continuous; her campaign was derailed as a
result. Comey, unethical from the start, rushed into Congress
with vague allegations that had no basis in fact; the maxim that
one's innocent until proven guilty was derailed by innuendo.

The second point is that any sort of continuous attack forms a
kind of bullying to which there's no response; it's impossible
to fight back when semiosis is derailed or transformed into a
form of "splatter." Instead of the slow and absorbable evolution
of sign systems, one's faced with a high-speed and random
dynamics, much like DOS - you reply to one allegation, and a
number of others have already appeared. It's a form of torture;
the victim is worn down trying to keep up, the splattering
appears random, there's no way to stop it, to prepare against
it. The traditional news media were caught off-guard by this;
their responses were those of organizations who previously had
all the time in the world for analysis (or so it appeared) on
their hands. Now with fast-forward Net speeds and tweets, HRC
was raped by innuendo. ("Rape" may seem too strong a word here,
but so many of the attacks were based on her body, her age, her
"faltering," her gender. It was debilitating and horrifying to

Hackers have enormous power today - not only to potentially shut
down power plants, but to change the political direction of
entire countries. Continuous release of emails, Trump's
continuous tweets deeply transform the media landscape - in this
case for the worse of course, and with the attack on Net
neutrality (and the beginnings of censorship on the horizon), we
might find hacking itself limited and dangerous outside of
anonymous and brutal security agencies.

The splatter - what I call splatter semiotics - is based on
speed - something that been analyzed in postmodern studies for a
long time. The world is speeding up in its call-and-response
time, but the speedup isn't coherent from one site or
institution to another; there are fractures, breakdowns,
misrecognitions. When old media slide against new media, when
economies of attention themselves are disrupted, the potential
for absolutism and proto-fascism arises.

(For what it's worth, I use the term "defuge" to indicate a kind
of abject pastiness that arises when a book for example is
dropped half-way through and then picked up much later - it's
difficult to return to it, it seems worn-out. The same holds
true with erotic texts and images, and with the targets of
bullying; texts, images, and even people can feel "worn-out" to
others. The target of repeated bullying is often disparaged for
example.  The wearing-out is displaced from the reader or
onlooker to the victim him- or herself. HRC appeared more and
more worn-out, used up, as the campaign wore on; the attacks,
which increasingly seemed continuous, left the campaign in
shambles. I think defuge is a major component of politics today;
it's tied to bullying, to reducing the fullness of a person to a
discarded "thing." At the end, given gerrymandering, it was
clear that HRC would lose, her campaign's measured response
defeated by the tweet and email onslaught.)

This is where hacking of course can make an enormous difference
for good. It seems as if all the fake news and tweets come from
the right (I may be mistaken in this); it seems also that it's
necessary to fight back accordingly - not in terms of fake news,
but in terms of sped-up responses, responses which are no longer
replies, but are in themselves actions of resistance, attacks on
policies, etc. The dialog at the moment is mastered and
controlled by the right (who are themselves a loose coalition);
it has to be seized and subverted. It's not important whether or
not one likes HRC or would rather have had Bernie; what's coming
down the pike is incredibly frightening and brutal, erasing and
even annihilating divisions on the left. I think that hackers
can be in the forefront of a response which is absolutely
necessary today if democracy (in whatever form, and with all its
current miseries) is to continue and grow. I would never
underestimate the current regime; it takes just a few years at
most for a country to abandon a democratic agenda and turn
towards an absolutism that becomes increasingly difficult to

Resist from /dev/null !


[from the initial proposal:

The paper would be a presentation, with video, on the subject of
Splatter Semiotics, and The Semiotics of Splatter, which is
concerned with 'messy' digital lit / digital literacy. It will
discuss Trump's tweets, Russian hacking, blockchain, and
disruptive technologies which possess 'spread' as, not only a
form of digital literature, but also a new and dangerous
cultural horizon, one that threatens the very foundations of
democratic institutions. This work stems out of my thinking
about 'gamespace / edgespace / blankspace' that I've presented
at other conferences (including ELO); the three terms reference
gaming and habitus as forms of political, social, and artistic
thinking; I would include a summary of this work and indicate
its relationship and dissolution in splatter.

('Gamespace' is defined as a rule-governed domain; the term
applies to anything from a chessboard to a school community.
'Edgespace' is the borderlands of the gamespace; it's always
problematic, and might exist within competing regimes. In the
motion capture work I've done, edgespace references the
boundaries of the architecture for capture, and what happens at
the boundaries appears to 'break' the capture representation.
'Blankspace' then indicates how edgespace is 'filled in,' how
the imaginary operates there. I use the terms in considerations
of Arctic and Antarctic mappings, virtual worlds, and so forth.
Finally, the semiotics of splatter considers splatter as
world-breaking and fast-forward tendencies towards mobile
boundary closures; this leads to splatter semiotics, where the
terms form a field that remains always already ruptured. This is
the semiosis of the overloaded or hacked network, the network of
fake news and fake apps, the explosive and turbulent behavior of
the mediasphere itself.

I see this field as a form of politicized digital literature,
where words lose meaning, become puncta (Barthes) or tokens,
where language splays. The talk will be laptop-dependent; the
concepts are easiest to grasp through text-imagery, which will
include maps, tweets, word grids, virtual-world video, and so

(I do want to add that my papers are always from notes/outlines;
they're talked, not read. I can supply a detailed synopsis after
the presentation. I can also send you notes from past
presentations, which might 'round out' the kind of talks I


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