Sunday, 17 February 2008

From Mikhail - Michel Serres and NOISE

Dear All,

I thought you may find the following short text describing Michel Serres's (contemporary French philosopher writing on noise, communication, message, art and science) understanding of noise interesting.

All the best,

"In our usual notions of communication, noise is an unwanted third thing that interferes in what would other wise be a clear connection between a sender and a receiver. On closer reflection, though, noise is more complex. To being with, it always indicates the wider context, or milieu in which communication takes place. Any given message must pass through a medium. The medium generates effects that attach to the message. Noise, therefore, is an ineradicable feature of any communication. Noise is the presence of the medium through which the message must pass. The desire for immediacy that has driven the history of technology is a desire to eliminate the noisy presence of the medium. Each attempt to eliminate noise by filtering it through a new medium, however, in turn generates new kinds of noise. In other words, each new innovation in media promises to minimize noise. But because it has to instate a new kind of medium, it ends up generating a new kind of noise. This battle with the medium is never fully successful because we can never eliminate the space of transmission. There is always a context of communication, an environment and so there is always a noisy third term."


"Michel Serre's book 'The Parasite' has as its generative centre the proposition that there is no message or communication possible without a context or channel. In any dialogue between apparently free and distinct parties, there must be some apparatus, some frame, form of contact which enables the communication to take place; this can be material – a meeting-place, a postal service, or a network of wires – or immaterial - a discourse with rules of functioning. There is never, in other words, what we nowadays so lightly call an ‘interface’, an immediate encounter between communicating parties, nor is there ever passage of what is communicated across a neutral space. Something always happens in the space of traversal to slow, deflect or deform the message; there is always noise on the line, a spanner in the works."


"In The Parasite, Serres asks whether system is a prior set of constraints, or whether, on the other hand, system is the regularity manifest in the various attempts to constitute a system. 'Do these attempts themselves constitute the system?' Serres asks. Noise, we have seen is the system. 'In the system, noise and message exchange roles according to the position of the observer and the action of the actor.' Noise is a joker necessary to the system. It can take on any value, and is thus unpredictable so that the system is never stable. Instead, it is non-knowledge. Systems work because they do not work. Dysfunctioning remains essential for functioning. The model, then, is free of parasites, free of static (as in mathematics), while the system is always infected with parasites which give it its irreversible character. The system is a Turner painting. With his representation of the chance effects of clouds, rain, sea, and fog, Turner interprets the second law of thermodynamics - the law made possible by Carnot. Turner translates Carnot. Such is Serres's poetic insight.

Two figures, then, inform Serres's oeuvre: Hermes and the Harlequin. Hermes the traveller and the medium allows for the movement in and between diverse regions of social life. The Harlequin is a multicolored clown standing in the place of the chaos of life. Two regions of particular interest to the voyager in knowledge are those of the natural sciences and the humanities. Should science really be opened up to poetry and art, or is this simply an idiosyncrasy on Serres's part? Is this his gimmick? The answer is that Serres firmly believes that the very viability and vitality of science depends on the degree to which it is open to its poetical other. Science only moves on if it receives an infusion of something out of the blue, something unpredictable and miraculous. The poetic impulse is the life-blood of natural science, not its nemesis. Poetry is the way of the voyager open to the unexpected and always prepared to make unexpected links between places and things. The form that these links take is of course influenced by technological developments; information technology transforms the senses, for example."

1 comment:

  1. I've just bought the book. Looking forward to reading it...



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