A Play of Books

by mr

A Play of Books

Computational Object in a World of Data

>>> click to download pdf




Orthography – Actors – Pre-Specific Objects
Scenography – Stage – The Generic Ground
Ichnography – Play – Articulation

act 1 – Abstraction 1A – Concepts
act 2 – Abstraction 1B – Spectrums
act 3 – Abstraction 2A – Characters


A Play of Books, prologue

The Ordinary World

“Ours is a world in vertigo. It is a world that swarms with technological mediation, interlacing our daily lives with abstraction, virtuality, and complexity.” (Cuboniks 2015)

World, cosmos, universe, Internet, data, divided tensions, expectations, new images, mastery of orientation skills, the jitters, fear of the unknown. A new world, your city, for a couple of hours, a couple of days, infinite, unfathomable, foreign, extensive, dirty, creative, green, relaxed, unique…

“We are all alienated – but have we ever been otherwise? It is through, and not despite, our alienated condition that we can free ourselves from the muck of immediacy. Freedom is not a given—and it’s certainly not given by anything ‘natural’.” (Cuboniks 2015)

What to do? How to abstract, articulate and play in an alienated vertigo? Sounds impossible? But there are many actors already on stage participating in this play. Generic is the ground, information is the game: Google planet, social media, cryptocurrencies, branding, avatars…


This is a drama, a comedy. It is a noisy play without a random function. Like a drama of sounds at the sea. A vessel for exploring this new plateau is composed out of text and images. There are certainly other vessels available (mathematics, music…), but this play has already started, and vessel is on its way. Both text and images are old and abstract formats; they have seen the ancient Greece, made friends with Guttenberg, witnessed the industrial serialization and are the main protagonists of the digital. But how has the digitized environment changed them? What are figures and faces of images and books in the world of data, not seen as data visualization, but as an articulation that challenges mimetic representation and goes beyond it. What is their character, how do they behave and what are they made of? This drama is going to be a play of books in a world of data.

>>> click to explore faces of books and their concepts

A book can have many faces; it can be read in multiple ways, never as only good or bad, but always with an attitude. An image, on the other hand, might be thought of as a dialog between the virtual and the actual, or the imaginary and the real; it can be representational, symbolic and diagrammatical. It is also a map, a pathway, an expression, a condensation… In this play, an image is a reflection and articulation of a specific Body of Thinking, the same as the medieval image was seen as an interplay of symbols: in the Renaissance, an image became a map, while for the 20th century man, it is the mapping between images that produces a new map (sketched swiftly). To capture a book on an image, or to map a book, would be a very strange reductionist gesture in the context of digital literacy and the abundance of data. An image as map-ing is a gesture of power and ownership; it is a didactic diagrammatic representation of objects, processes and systems. This set up might be similar to being locked in Plato’s Cave whilst trying to figure out what is real and then, suddenly, things get complicated. Similar to Neo in Matrix, Kevin Lynch, when placed on the stage, fights for a specific reality – the original one:

“A clear and comprehensive image of the entire metropolitan region is a fundamental requirement for the future. If it can be developed, it will raise the experience of a city to a new level, a level commensurate with the contemporary functional unit.“ (Lynch 1960)

Kevin Lynch, Image of the Jersey City


In the context of cybernetics and systems theory, capturing complex phenomena on an image is not an unusual gesture. In his book The Image Of The City, Lynch is trying to pin down the city on a map by classifying five different elements: paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks, and by using two methods – expert opinion and interviews with local people. Lynch finds stability in explicit features of the city which are described as the most appropriate for the observed kind. It is a hierarchical representational method with a theoretical anchor point in structuralist approaches like Chomskian linguistics (Chomsky 1957). A simple question that one might ask Lynch is how could he have been so sure that precisely these five features and these two methods could produce a valid representation of the city? Why not use more or less parameters and methods? Let now place Foucault on the stage. He challenges both Lynch and Neo in a beautiful way.


“The representation one makes to oneself of things no longer has to deploy, in a sovereign space, the table into which they have been ordered; it is, for that empirical individual who is man, the phenomenon – perhaps even less, the appearance – of an order that now belongs to things themselves and to their interior law. It is no longer their identity that beings manifest in representation, but the external relation they establish with the human being.“ (Foucault 1966)

With Foucault, the representation becomes of a different kind. Relation with the origin becomes just one amongst many. But what would happen if one could play with relations on an algebraic level? Is there a way of looking at things without explicating parameters and categories but letting them play like a fugue plays a certain theme, dependent on the context and the voices of the moment. What if a play of books is conceived as a fugue?

“A fugue is like a canon, in that it is usually based on one theme which gets played in different voices and different keys, and occasionally at different speeds or upside down or backwards. However, the notion of fugue is much less rigid than that of canon, and consequently it allows for more emotional and artistic expression. The tell-tale sign of a fugue is the way it begins: with a single voice singing its theme. When it is done, then a second voice enters, either five scale-notes up, or four down. Meanwhile the first voice goes on, singing the “countersubject”: a secondary theme, chosen to provide rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic contrasts to the subject. Each of the voices enters in turn, singing the theme, often to the accompaniment of the countersubject in some other voice, with the remaining voices doing whatever fanciful things entered the composer’s mind. When all the voices have “arrived”, then there are no rules. There are, to be sure, standard kinds of things to do – but not so standard that one can merely compose a fugue by formula.” (Hofstadter 2000)

Bach: Fugue in D


For Hofstadter, a fugue is clearly not a traditional mode of representation. It is about context, moods, voices and their sampling. It can be played as a spectrum. There is a certain objectivity – a theme, but it is not mimetically tied to its representation. A fugue inhabits the algebraic symbolic space. In a similar manner, it would be challenging to see how a figure of a book in the world of data could be different than a systemic Image of the City. As we have already mentioned, Lynch has abstracted from the physical city. He is representing cities on the level of text, grammars and structures. If we take his exercise seriously, as a theme for a fugue, what do we get? What happens if we want to play with text on the level of information, data, lists and indexes? What are figures and fugues of books? What is their character, mood, how many faces do they have?


A Call to Adventure

This is going to be a play. A fugue is going to be staged almost like an ancient Greek comedy with its actors, a stage and a stage play. Why drama, why comedy? While referring to Serlio and Vitruvius, David Graham Shane discusses architectural articulation of three kinds of setups and scenes; the first is called the tragic, second – the comic, third – the satyric. Their decorations are different and unlike each other in scheme (Vitruvius, n.d.).

“They represent three basic urban settings for theatrical productions, envisioning each within the representational framework of the newly discovered “science” of single-point perspective. […] Serlio’s second image of the city, the Comic scene, is far less orderly. The dynamic give-and-take of the marketplace creates a chaotic setting in which each individual expresses himself or herself from the bottom up, disrupting the overall order. The Comic scene displays diverse building alignments, heights, and styles. […] Each merchant inside the city walls strove for maximum self-expression; each house differed from its neighbors, announcing itself as loudly as possible by its signage.” (Shane 2005)

Sebastian Serlio: The Tragic Scene, The Comic Scene, The Satyric Scene


Precisely this second setup, the Comic scene, is the most adequate to nourish the maximum of self-expression which is needed to perform a play of books in the world of information. It provides a stage on which actors can freely move and express themselves in as many ways and nuances as possible. Michel Serres will help us to tune the stage a little bit more:

“Jules Verne’s cave reverses the Platonic one. The latter sings the glory of one sun, discovered in the daylight, as one emerges from the shadow, while the former is an invitation to penetrate under a vault that is so deep that one’s gaze is as lost as if it stared at a starry sky: here, in this cave, a thousand lights dazzle the thinker.” (Serres 2014)

In order to play many roles, actors need thousand lights emitted through a night sky, and not a platonic glory of only one Sun. This drama does not have a moral. Its actors are computational – their character is algebraic because that is what avatars, brands, social media and information are about. They are exiting Plato’s cave of symbolic representation, and they are moving towards simbolicity of information under an open sky. Although it is ambiguous what a computational drama actually is, its stage script is about engendering potentials and possibilities of articulating abstract objects in the world of data. It looks promising. In this play, books are going to be abstract objects, finite objects in terms of letters and words, but infinite in any other way: interpretation, reading, meaning, translating, discussing… To be precise, books are going to be our Actors. Let’s play with text on the level of information.




Book, actors, libraries.
Books are our actors. They are getting ready for the stage. They are never alone, they are always a part of some collections, libraries, datasets, ensembles; they are moving in the movement of the others.

Actors are not specific – they are of a symbolic kind. One can say that they have an algebraic character which makes them opportunistic to a meaning. Their mood is dependent on the library they inhabit and their face changes when looked at. Like in quantum physics, “when electrons (or light) are measured using one kind of apparatus, they are waves; if they are measured in a complementary way, they are particles” (Barad 2012). Materiality itself becomes undetermined. Double slit experiment challenges the notion of predefined categorizations, which were crucial for the development of Lynch’s Image of the City. New space is opened and we can finally pose the question: How to describe an object with as many indexes as one can? With no predefined categories, no key parameters, no explicit grammars, and no rules, one has to learn how to orient himself within the relative.

“An ‘internal’ accumulation of neighborhoods can indicate an orientation without having to invoke an ‘external’ entity that would represent a supposed ‘end point’ – it has the power to orient ourselves within the relative without needing to have recourse to the absolute. This fact harbors enormous consequences, whose full creative and pedagogical force is just beginning to be appreciated in the contemporary world.” (Zalamea 2012)


In this constellation, each word or letter becomes an index. There are no more exceptions; every singularity can be seen as an appearance rendered through the spectra of indexes. By doing so, we are inverting notions of grammars, rules and parameters. Instead of a specific normality, indexes inhabit a probabilistic universe. In this scenario, notions of neighborhood and context become very important; libraries that our actors populate, shelves that accommodate them, their friends and neighbors, all this becomes a part of their moods and manners. Our actors act differently in different environments. Context, or “good neighborhood”, as Werner Oechslin calls it, actually changes a face of a book. A library that embodies this kind of curating is Werner Oechslin’s library in Einslieden.

“The books are arranged in such a way that they communicate to the reader not only their own presence, as individual publications, but rather – through their order and integration – also the related books of their immediate proximity, their “good neighborhood” (as Aby Warburg called it).” (Oechslin 2016)

This is an animation of a library. Books are alive. A book is not a book without being a part of a library, but the library does not determine the book. The library is the data that informs the faces of our actors. Books are the actors and the library is their “good neighborhood”. There are 148 of them. They are entering the stage.



The actors are entering the stage. Their faces are motionless and without expressions. The play hasn’t started yet. In order to perform a play in a digital environment, they need to get dressed, put on their masks, and learn how to articulate their informational faces. These are the roles of the stage.

The stage is an apparatus, an instrument, a generic machine, a scenography. It is a generic ground that is able to present actors in multiple vector spaces. The stage is equipped with available generic knowledge: Stanford CoreNLP – Natural Language Processing software (Manning et al. 2014), WordNet – lexical database of English language (Princeton University, n.d.), RiTa – toolkit for experiments in natural language and generative literature (Howe 2009), Self-Organizing Map – a data processing algorithm (Kohonen 1982), implemented in Java programming language.

Libraries, books and actors are on one side of the double bind. The stage is its complementary part, the infrastructure for actors; it measures them, curates their behavior, mediates their expressions, provides clothes and lights, sounds and smells. Actors and stage, libraries and the generic machine both serve as a double articulation that presents informational faces of our actors. This is a generic process of populating the stage with differentiated instances of actors. Their faces can express a multiplicity of realities, objectivities and interpretations. They are not scientific, nor humanistic, but computational and symbolic. These informational faces are different from maps and images. A map can be thought of as a static, solid representation based on key features of a specific mood. It fixes the face of an actor – it maps it. An informational face is not a map; it is a spectrum of different expressions of the same face. It does not have specific features, but it is indexed by as many indexes as one can find. An analogy can be found in mathematics:

“As a counterpart to the set-theoretical analytic championed by Cantor’s heirs, category theory no longer dissects objects from within and analyses them in terms of their elements, but goes on to elaborate synthetic approaches by which objects are studied through their external behavior, in correlation with their ambient milieu. Categorical objects cease to be treated analytically and are conceived as ‘black boxes’.” (Zalamea 2012)

What if we project Zalamea’s analogy back to the text and take each word in a library as an index? By doing this, each index relates to the whole library, while each face becomes an expression of a book in a library – a face in its ambient milieu. The subject of the book is never explicitly in the book but in its interplay with other books. Accordingly, a face of the book is never determined, but always a part of a noisy dramatic environment open to negotiations, considerations, talks… A face can be thought as a spectrum, it can have many expressions depending on the way its ambient milieu is curated, mediated and measured. In other words an actor can have different informational faces by indexing the text in different ways. These are the main indexing processes:

1. Curation is a process of normalization.
e.g. tokenization, extraction of words, extraction of letters…
2. Mediation is a process of indexing the curated text in multiple measurable ways.
e.g. letter frequency, word frequency, bigram frequency, trigram frequency, synonym frequency, antonyms frequency…
3. Measuring is a process of counting and relating of mediated indexes.
e.g. frequency of a word in a book in relation to all the books in the library…

Here are some extracts taken from the examples of informational faces. They measure how many times a specific index appears in each book. The index is at the same time a reflection of the whole library and a measure of a specific book:

Informational Face


Word frequency vector:

image 10 24 0 45 82 39 0 609 18 15 21 50 29 60 1 0 85 11 249 40 33 49 16 233 72 53 31 2 0 26 1 75 179 121 1 10 1 53 22 50 8 10 1 93 128 28 381 2 4 10 37 31 0 26…

Letter frequency vector:

c 64758 86137 23964 10744 33271 26169 41685 32659 32708 27677 49217 18427 57030 21832 6937 6964 38033 27758 13197 18867 17496 11067 47065 34521 38442 21329…

Bigram frequency vector:

new_york 0 84 11 4 0 46 0 5 1 2 21 0 62 6 0 1 3 13 5 2 7 120 1 30 34 218 0 13 0 0 0 176 36 36 0 5 81 0 0 51 0 97 3 0 0 19 4 39 19 6 1 4 8 65 93 15 1 1 11 0 30 13 0 0…

Kinds of metrics one can apply to a text depend on the richness of the stage. There are many of these and they don’t have to belong to the same kind. Since informational faces are algebraic, they can be transformed from words and letters, to synonyms and antonyms, to kindle and Google ratings, to taste and moods of any intensity. Here is where a contemporary dilemma emerges. What is primary: function or data, the generic machine or the library, stage or actors, what we look at or the way we look at it? We can stage two theoretical positions to explore this conundrum. The first one is represented by a media archeologist Wolfgang Ernst.

“The real archive on the Internet (in the sense of arché) is its system of technological protocols.” (Ernst 2013)

Double-Slit Experiment: Electron Buildup Over Time


Ernst assumes that the digital is not about the narrative memory but that it is expressed in structural functionalism, and he focuses his aspirations in what he calls systems of technological protocols. So, he is betting on functions, the generic machine and the stage. With Peter Norvig from Google we have the opposite approach. He uses George Box’s claim that “all models are wrong but some are useful” and places his hopes in the unreasonable effectiveness of data (Halevy, Norvig, and Pereira 2009). For him, the ‘truth’ is not explicit as a function anymore, like it is for Ernst, but it is implicit in the data. He takes the side of data, libraries and actors. But how to abstract from this discussion? With electricity, computation and information, we are in the quantum realm, in the world of data; we are enabled to think categorically. Our questions are more personal: which data and for which usage do I need them, how to curate and narrate this data and what are the questions that I want to ask? Our probability space is relative to that. It changes according to the libraries we would like to read from, and according to the way we read them. It is an inversion from knowing to learning, or as Umberto Eco articulates it – a shift from definition by essence to a definition by a list of properties (Eco 2009). A similar fully operational gesture is made explicit with the use of Google search. Instead of a precise encyclopedic answer, our question is opened up by a list and answered by us instead of experts. Knowledge and information become relative to the way we look at them, just like in quantum physics. Contradicting pictures don’t exclude each other anymore. On the contrary, they develop a different picture all together (Barad 2012). We are beyond objective and subjective, practical and poetic. As Eco would say, we are lost in the infinity of lists, but we are ready for our stage play.



Actors are on the stage. A play begins. What is happening on the stage is not straightforward and intuitive. As Serres would put it: “Objects, in the distance, change their skins, they send one another kisses.” (Serres 2000). There is one process that appears consistent even from a distance: similar indexes attract each other; similar indexes group together. The whole library is in motion; concepts are negotiating and being negotiated. Self-Organizing Map is an algorithm that articulates this interplay of indexes. This stage play is a double articulation of actors and the stage, libraries and the generic machine, data and models. It simultaneously operates on several levels of abstraction. Actors and their faces are assuming expressions. They are distinguishing themselves from others. Everything is occurring simultaneously. This drama is a comedy of appearances, and while images that we are taking are snapshots of facial expressions of actors in an intense play.

Snapshots of facial expressions of actors – each cell represents one book


Each actor has many faces at the same time. Depending on how we look, faces change, just like in quantum physics. They don’t exclude one another but are opening up to a different notion of articulation. They are articulating themselves by forming concepts – new abstract letters of an alphabet – a cypher. How many letters this alphabet has, what its resolution ends up to be, is entirely up to us. Its consistency is provided by the stage play. These new synthetic letters have both qualities of letters and numbers. Michel Serres calls them atom-letters. They are a hesitation between numbers [chiffres] and letters.

“Then the atom-letters indeed form a word, a phrase, at the same time as they are conjoined in a body. By no means everywhere and in all places, but now here and now there, nunc hic nunc illic.” (Serres 2000)

The newly formed atom-letters are temporal and can express any quality or concept whatsoever. This quality is never explicit and predetermined; it is always a void in a cloud of indexes. On the other hand, each atom-letter has a specific explicit numerical value for a given galaxy. It is a number and a letter, a wave and a particle. So, what are the atom-letters from our library that are concerned with images and text? If we look at the Concept 1160, we will notice that it acquires the same interest. Let’s look at its Indexical cloud:

Explore the Galaxy of Concept >> click on the image


1160e13_image, imagination, intimate, psychologist, commonplace, exaggeration, foreword, underline, boredom, manor, psychologically, smallness

and numerical vector:

0.0, 7.706139246E-4, 2.568714955E-4, 0.00480554420246, 5.137426194991E-4, 0.00256304905, 0.0, 0.0066784348831, 0.0048055024146… (one dimension for each book)

To get a subtle notion of what this concept might be about, one has to get to know its neighboring concepts:

1159e23_poetic, shell, nest, phenomenological, daydream…, 1224e1_poem, 1225e2_greek, poet, 1161e3_memory, immemorial, pedagogical, 1096e6_fragment, geometrical, inflection…, 1097e16_surface, page, translation, vision…

Not far away from poetry but far enough, there is a different mood for the notion of text:

771e13_text, signify, metaphor, articulation, mute, structuralism, semiology… 707e8_origin, trace, criticize, detour, factual, ferdinand, semiological…, 708e7_language, sign, indispensable, rigorous, genealogy…, 834e10_linguistics, script, logo, efface, anthropologist, forgetfulness, anterior…

All this is a mood of a concept where image and poetry mix in a delicate way. It is interesting that there was no predefined explicit grammar, no structure, no rules or parameters, and these indexes grouped together and formed differentiated refined notions of text and images. There are many moods that can be inhabited by text. If we change the instrument of looking, we can get a different spectrum. One example might be a spectrum of synonyms. It opens up concepts and gives actors more space to relate to each other. Relations become broader but less subtle.

Explore the Galaxy of Synonyms >> click on the image


2839e45_text, sheet, edition, page, graphic, artificial, appointment, catalog, compendium, republication, reprinting, catalogue, pamphlet, yearbook, adaptation, facts, folder, leaflet, bestiary, catechism, storybook, copybook, textbook, formulary, schoolbook, booklet, pharmacopeia, workbook, tome…

Images and texts, paintings and poems, maps and linguistics. If one looks at this specific constellation of concepts and tries to find actors or books whose faces are articulated by the same concepts, one finds himself immersed in an amusing discussion. There are four actors that distinguish themselves by their interest in this particular constellation. Each one comes with its own attitude. Let’s give them space and listen to what they have to say:

Blanchot_The Book to Come is opening up the scene with some personal concerns:

Explore Blanchot_The Book to Come >> click on the image


“This first of all: that there is no longer a limit of reference. The world and the book eternally and infinitely send back their reflected images. This indefinite power of mirroring, this sparkling and limitless multiplication – which is the labyrinth of light and nothing else besides – will then be all that we will find, dizzily, at the bottom of our desire to understand.” (Blanchot 1959)

Cache_ Earth Moves The Furnishing Of Territories replies by seeing Blanchot’s concerns of limitless referencing of continuous transformations as a main strength of his Objectile:

Explore Cache_ Earth Moves The Furnishing Of Territories >> click on the image


“Just as Leibniz had conceived it, texts, information, images, and sounds are now all the object of numerical manipulation, so much so that the electronic parts that make up the functional core of the modern object no longer have anything to do with the visual or auditory restitution that realizes their concrete function.” (Cache 1995)

Bachelard_ The Poetics Of Space, intrigued by the first statement, moves closer but, at the same time, keeping his distance from Cache:

Explore Bachelard_ The Poetics Of Space >> click on the image


“On the contrary: through the brilliance of an image, the distant past resounds with echoes, and it is hard to know at what depth these echoes will reverberate and die away. Because of its novelty and its action, the poetic image has an entity and a dynamism of its own; it is referable to a direct ontology. This ontology is what I plan to study.“ (Bachelard 1958)

Deleuze_ Difference And Repetition circles around the stage several times in smaller and greater distances from the three while trying to make sense of Blanchot’s concerns:

Explore Deleuze_ Difference And Repetition >> click on the image


“More profoundly, however, the true Platonic distinction lies elsewhere: it is of another nature, not between the original and the image but between two kinds of images [idoles], of which copies [icones] are only the first kind, the other being simulacra [phantasmes]. The model copy distinction is there only in order to found and apply the copy simulacra distinction, since the copies are selected, justified and saved in the name of the identity of the model and owing to their internal resemblance to this ideal model.” (Deleuze 1968)

Curtain goes down but the discussion continues…

. . .

These are the faces, their expressions, highlights, differences in colors. Each actor wants to distinguish himself by showing his most prominent concepts. Staged in this artificial way, they provide interesting insights in the relation between text and images. But there is a trick. We can easily influence this discussion. If a book is added or removed, the whole galaxy changes. If we change the instrument of looking, or tune our generic machine in a different way, the galaxy finds itself in a new constellation and the actors change their mood. Their faces become different, and we are always taking new and different snapshots of them. We slowly learn how they behave. These kinds of faces in no way claim to be representative. They are not objective in a classical sense, but there is a common universe without being representative in the sense of mimicry. They inhabit a probabilistic symbolic space of information. Our characters did not discuss this algebraic potential at all. Let’s try to develop it some more.


Spectral Library


Alongside with negotiation between concepts, as the other part of the double bind, actors themselves start to gather and form galaxies of discourses. Since each actor presents himself in a multiplicity of ways, he is a part of multiple discourse galaxies. The same process and same algorithm (SOM) are being used, yet in an inverted manner. Mathematicians would say it is a transposed matrix. Instead of indexing words by books (Abstraction 1A), one is indexing books with newly developed concepts (Abstraction 1B).

Abstraction 1A (word; book1, book2, book3…)
book 0.00783492782603, 0.00694168932686, 0.0016858527965093, 8.92502979166E-4, 0.00862752875842195, 0.00426245488002935, 0.003173341463705, 0.00743752449306, 0.01328837762792542…

Abstraction 1B (book; concept1, concept2, concept3…)
Blanchot_The Book to Come 3.18200372535E-4, 3.0866484430293E-4, 4.84841203282E-4, 4.0428618039226E-4, 2.5165714526457E-4, 1.5861276912E-4, 1.726447484E-4, 1.3866652121674147E-4…

Instead of words, books are those who are grouping; they are trying to find their place in the library. This time they are arranged in a line in which the library becomes a spectrum. Since a spectrum always comes with a scale, each book is assigned with a number. Values of this numbers don’t refer to any external system; they are contextual pointers to high dimensional spaces (in this case pointers to vectors of concepts) (Moosavi 2014). Our library becomes a spectral abstraction of concepts:

0_Russel_ Principia Mathematica … 102_Hjelmslev_ Prolegomena To A Theory Of Language … 200_Deleuze_ A Thousand Plateaus … 295_Dolphijn Van der Tuin_ New Materialism … 402_Shane_ Recombinant Urbanism … 497_Carpo_ Architecture in the Age of Printing … 600_Nietzche_ Beyond Good And Evil … 696_Newton_ The Mathematical Principles Of Natural Philosophy … 804_The King James Bible … 900_Stein_ Tender Buttons … 999_Shakespeare_ Hamlet

If one just scans through this list, there is a consistency in the way books inhabit the line. Only by counting the words and using a generic algorithm, we have arranged the library. It is articulated in its own terms. What does it mean to articulate a thing in its own terms (Bühlmann 2014)? It is difficult to say, but one might look at it as a quest to abstract from the natural and the artificial while still being able to speak about it. It can be illustrated with Monod’s thought experiment in which a computer has to distinguish an artifact of an alien culture from a natural object on Mars:

“Wholly ignorant of the nature of such beings and of the projects they might have conceived, our program would have to utilize only very general criteria, solely based upon the examined objects’ structure and form and without any reference to their eventual function. (Monod 1970)

Or as Zalamea put it, we would have to have the power to orient ourselves within the relative, “with respect to a certain realm (‘geography’) and to a moment of that realm’s evolution (‘history’).” It is where the ‘library’ can take the place of ‘geography’ and ‘the generic machine’ of ‘history’.

If we use this contextual technique with different instruments that are provided by the stage (e.g. letter frequency, word frequency, bigram frequency, trigram frequency, synonym frequency, antonyms frequency…) we will be able to render multiple, sometimes even contrasting spectrums of the same library. Since they are of the same scale, they become commensurable. Images become indexes.

Multiple, sometimes even contrasting spectrums of the same library


“Computing turns into an art (again), just like mechanics used to be an art (and not science) before industrialization.” (Bühlmann 2014)

We are entering a new level of abstraction.


Spectrums provided a new ground. This is a new level of abstraction. Actors can now abstract from concepts and frequencies of indexes, given that their new faces are composed out of multiple analyses. Each analysis is a specific view on the library – a spectrum. By relating spectrums, we are composing more abstract informational faces. Instead of describing a book by 15 000 values of word frequencies, we are describing it with a combination of 14 values provided by the analysis. The way we look and how many instruments we use is not arbitrary, it is up to us to decide.

antonymsFrequency, antonymsFrequency, bigramFrequency, holonymsFrequency, hypernymsFrequency, hypernymsFrequency, hyponymsFrequency, letterFrequency, synonymsFrequency, synonymsFrequency, wordFrequency, wordFrequency, wordFrequency, wordFrequency

Books are not vectors of concepts anymore, but vectors of analysis.

Abstraction 2 (book; Analysis1, Analysis2, Analysis3…)
Blanchot_The_Book_to_Come 0.285 0.349 0.243 0.862 0.221 0.194 0.498 0.662 0.248 0.222 0.218 0.441 0.228 0.521

The same process repeats, yet it becomes more abstract. Actors are choosing shelves according to their mood; it is almost comparable to “making friends” while agreeing on finding a specific place in the library – the one that suits them best. Now books, their facial expressions, are indexing shelves. Each shelf contains many books. The shelf is the new actor, the new atom-letter.

So how many shelves do we need for our current library of 148 books? Not too many, not too few. Let’s answer 12 and detect what happens. Who are the new actors?

Library organized in shelves – 12 new actors


The aforementioned 12 actors describe and index themselves according to the books they like to read. It is a spectrum that goes from Swift and Asimov, through Aureli and Cache, to Eco and Zlamea. Nevertheless, we need to keep in mind that this is not a library of all the books. It is the library of personal interests and current preoccupations. Since this paper is about images and text in the context of architecture, we will kindly ask the four literary actors from the library top – shelves 0, 1, 6, 7 to withdraw and take their books with them, but to leave Shakespeare’s books since this is a play and his books might come in handy.

. . .

Four actors have left the stage, but four new ones have entered it. There are 27 books less. The library is challenged each time a book is added or removed from it. The whole vocabulary changes, concepts shift, indexes rearrange. New actors replace the old ones, which results in a more intense and focused atmosphere. This is the appropriate moment to ask questions and set the stage. Here is a simple question:

What would happen if I infuse Lynch with Shakespeare and Koolhaas?

It is a fiction, an avatar, an alien book in the library. The question serves as an index, as a new book. The moment we ask this question, the whole library rearranges according to it. So what is the new milieu? How have our actors arranged themselves? Lynch, Shakespeare and Koolhaas now have a common reason, a posed question, to come closer together, and accompany their friends… Thus, if we would like to explore a generic image of a city in a dramatic setup, we should read the books from the shelf one:

Mutants >> What would happen if I infuse Lynch with Shakespeare and Koolhaas?


1 Alexander A Pattern Language, LeCorbusier Towards A New Architecture, Smith The Welth Of Nations, Mumford The City In History, Semper The Four Elements Of Architecture, Koolhaas SMLXl, Marx Capital Vol1, Generic Image of the City Romeo And Juliet, Lynch The Image Of The City, Sedlacek Economics Of Good And Evil, Voegelin The Ecumenic Age

These kinds of explorations become more like a masterful playing of a violin than an objective analysis.

Let’s pose another question:

Which books from the library should I read if I am writing this text?
What is the place of this text in my library?
Which conceptual persona is indexed by my text?

Or to establish it in different terms:

Which shelf offers a temporary home for this alien text?

The shelf two is its temporary home:

Aliens >> Which shelf offers a temporary home for this alien text?


2 Cache Projectiles, Innis Empire And Communications, Blanchot The Book to Come, Play of Books, McLuhan The Guttenberg Galaxy

This is a self-referential process. Both the persona and its neighbors look familiar. This constellation is by all means a comfortable and challenging one. McLuhan and Innis are pointing to the shifts in literacy while anticipating coding as a new kind of literacy. Blanchot is an enigmatic driver of the discussion:

“But the essence of literature is precisely to escape any essential determination, any assertion that stabilizes it or even realizes it: it is never already there, it always has to be rediscovered or reinvented.” (Blanchot 1959)

and Cache is the one who relates the whole story back to the generic ground:

“And this is how the new digital montages are created: no longer is a given sound coupled to a given image, as in the good old days of cinematography; instead, sounds are visualized or images heard in a chiasmus of perceptions.” (Cache 2011)

The stage play does not provide one objective perspective; its semantics are not explicit, grammars not visible; it is beyond dichotomies such as subjective – objective, nature – culture, art – technology. It is any library and any method. It is up to the one that is using the library and his world-views to choose. It is a symbolic compression to temporary atom-letters, an endless process of articulations, motivated, personal, yet operational. It is an operational stance on Eco’s lists: a double articulation between a process and a system, content and expression, books and instruments. It is a constant rearticulation and exploration inspired by Hjelmslev’s suggestion to abstract from analytical functions and introduce the algebra of language (Hjelmslev 1969). Instead of providing a solution or a generic projection of certain data, one might be closer to a personal algebraic projection of a certain discourse.


Coding as literacy

We are beyond representation; our abstract objects are symbolic; figures, fugues, faces, masks, atoms, elements, characters, avatars, indexes. It is about infusing, narrating, doping, context, information and masterful articulations. Concepts become spectrums; they live like the memory or traces of things that have been; they are not documents — they are animate. They don’t have individual faces — they define zones of probability. It is a multiplicity of ciphering that makes them possible in every sense and direction (Deleuze and Guattari 1980). Similar examples can be found all around our world. Brands inhabit symbolical spaces of myths; simulacra are expressing a different environment populated by differences which are not copies of a model (Massumi 1987). They don’t merely represent, they have lives of their own. Mathematics, especially algebra, does not emphasize representation but rather the symbolization of abstract concepts. It is not natural, but a part of a specific nature. Programing languages show us a nature different from natural languages:

Algebraic World


“[…] we want to listen to and understand what that novel language which has emerged in the past decades can tell us. We want to take seriously that it applies the jargon of theater and drama to the set-ups of computational modeling environments, and we want to take seriously that it refers to the particular codes applied as ‘alphabets’. We want to take seriously that probabilistic analysis analyzes ‘fictions’ and that such fictions are not spelled out between two book covers but are depicted in snapshots of assumed spectra (of light, of flavor, or any kinds of intensities among properties) that can be ‘measured’ only in the circuitous terms of ‘frequencies’ and ‘phases’. By tentatively trying to comprehend code as an abstraction and a generalization of the classical understanding of the phonetic alphabet as a geometry of voiced (articulated) sound, we want to explore the idea of seeing in code a geometry of spectrality. (Bühlmann, Hovestadt, and Moosavi 2015)”


This novel language is a language of noise and entropy. It has left the archive and dwells on the Internet. The question is not anymore how to classify the archive, but how to articulate the generic notion of the web. Noise and entropy are not peripheral any more, they are the generic ground. We have once again inverted the world. Instead of trying to find the basic laws of nature, we are on a quest to discover pockets of life in the entropic, that is, how to articulate out of the white noise when it is observed to have a flat spectrum over the range of probabilities relevant to the context.

“lf increased entropy in a system spells out a commensurate increase of disorder within it, an increase of order corresponds to a diminution of entropy or, as it is sometimes phrased, a heightening of negative entropy (or “negentropy”). However, the degree of order in a system is definable (under certain conditions) in another language: that of information.” (Monod 1970)

We are not comparing or deconstructing in the entropic, since everything is on its way towards achieving a balance. In a world where everything is connected, in which each actor has many roles and can be rendered in many ways, we are left with the question how to find stability… how to make masterful articulations?

Multiple Faces of Rowe, Collage City


“The beautiful noiseuse is not a picture, is not a representation, is not a work, it is the fount, the well, the black box, that includes, implies, surrounds, that is to say buries, all profiles, all appearances, all representations, the work itself.” (Serres 1983)


Bachelard, Gaston. 1958. The Poetics of Space. Penguin.

Barad, Karen. 2012. Karen Barad: What Is the Measure of Nothingness: Infinity, Virtuality, Justice: 100 Notes, 100 Thoughts: Documenta Series 099. Bilingual edition. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

Blanchot, Maurice. 1959. The Book to Come. Stanford University Press.

Bühlmann, Vera. 2014. “Articulating a Thing Entirely in Its Own Terms Or: What Can We Understand by the Notion of «engendering» ?” In Eigenarchitecture, edited by Ludger Hovestadt and Vera Bühlmann, 69–127. Birkhauser Architecture.

Bühlmann, Vera, Ludger Hovestadt, and Vahid Moosavi. 2015. Coding as Literacy: Metalithikum IV. Birkhäuser.

Cache, Bernard. 1995. Earth Moves: The Furnishing of Territories. MIT Press.

———. 2011. Projectiles. Architectural Association.

Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic Structures. Walter de Gruyter.

Cuboniks, Laboria. 2015. “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation.” https://www.laboriacuboniks.net.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1968. Difference and Repetition. A&C Black.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. 1980. A Thousand Plateaus. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Eco, Umberto. 2009. The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay. Translated by Alastair McEwen. New York: Rizzoli.

Ernst, Wolfgang. 2013. Digital Memory and the Archive. University of Minnesota Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1966. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of Human Sciences. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Halevy, Alon, Peter Norvig, and Fernando Pereira. 2009. “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data.” Intelligent Systems, IEEE 24 (2): 8–12.

Hjelmslev, Louis. 1969. Prolegomena to a Theory of Language. University of Wisconsin Press.

Hofstadter, Douglas R. 2000. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Penguin.

Howe, Daniel C. 2009. “RiTa: Creativity Support for Computational Literature.” In , 205. ACM Press. doi:10.1145/1640233.1640265.

Kohonen, Teuvo. 1982. “Self-Organized Formation of Topologically Correct Feature Maps.” Biological Cybernetics 43 (1): 59–69. doi:10.1007/BF00337288.

Lynch, Kevin. 1960. The Image of the City. MIT Press.

Manning, Christopher D., Mihai Surdeanu, John Bauer, Jenny Finkel, Steven J. Bethard, and David McClosky. 2014. “The Stanford CoreNLP Natural Language Processing Toolkit.” In Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) System Demonstrations, 55–60. https://www.aclweb.org/anthology/P/P14/P14-5010.

Massumi, Brian. 1987. “Realer than Real.” Copyright no.1, 90–97.

Monod, Jacques. 1970. Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology. Penguin.

Moosavi, Vahid. 2014. “Computing With Contextual Numbers.” arXiv:1408.0889 [cs], August. https://arxiv.org/abs/1408.0889.

Oechslin, Werner. 2016. “Werner Oechslin Library Foundation.” Accessed October 2. https://www.bibliothek-oechslin.org/library.

Princeton University. n.d. “About WordNet.” https://wordnet.princeton.edu.

Serres, Michel. 1983. “Noise.” SubStance 12 (3): 48–4. doi:10.2307/3684255.

———. 2000. The Birth of Physics. Clinamen Press.

———. 2014. “Information and Thinking.” In. Universiteit Utrecht. https://philosophyafternature.org/michel-serres-2/.

Shane, David Grahame. 2005. Recombinant Urbanism: Conceptual Modeling in Architecture, Urban Design, and City Theory. Wiley.

Vitruvius, Marcus Pollio. n.d. The Ten Books on Architecture. Translated by Morris Hicky Morgan. Adamant Media Corporation.

Zalamea, Fernando. 2012. Synthetic Philosophy of Contemporary Mathematics. Falmouth, U.K.

This project was produced as a part of a research on “Computational Object in a World of Data” at the Chair for Computer Aided Architectural Design, at ETH in Zurich.