Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Stranger Than We Can Imagine algorithmically compressed into 400 words

My new book Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century is finally loose in the UK - being sold in shops, downloaded as ebooks onto Kindles and as audiobooks onto phones. It will be published in Canada on October 6th and America on November 10th, with Spanish, German, Dutch, Greek, Turkish and Romanian translations on their way. There are, I'd like to think, versions for everyone.

Everyone, that is, except those who don't want to read an entire book. What about those people?

Now, my friend the artist Shardcore had been playing around with automatic text compression software. If you have a long document to plough through, you can run it through this software and it will create a shorter version which, in theory, will retain the most important information. And the results are pretty impressive, so long as you set it to shorten the text by no more than about 40%. If nothing else, it highlights the differing levels of redundancy in the prose styles of different writers.

If you try to shorten the text further, the results aren't quite so good. Information, nuance, insight and meaning are all lost. If you try to shorten the text by 99.5%, all you get is a bunch of unrelated random sentences.

This is, clearly, a dumb and pointless exercise that only a fool would inflict on their hard-crafted work.

Here, then, for those who have no desire to read an entire book, is Stranger Than We Can Imagine algorithmically compressed by 99.5% into about 400 words of near-gibberish:

What the hell happened to the human psyche? An omphalos is the centre of the world or, more accurately, what was culturally thought to be the centre of the world, or, perhaps more accurately, was the idea that an artist challenged the art establishment by presenting a found object sufficiently interesting for that idea to be considered a work of art? The wars that did occur after the defeat of Napoleon were brief. Do what thou wilt. In April 1904 the British poet, mountaineer and occultist Aleister Crowley dictated a book which, he believed, was transmitted to him by a non-human intelligence called Aiwass. Naturally, they dispensed with the restraints of customary morality and of reason.

Buñuel told Dalí of a dream in which ‘a long tapering cloud sliced the moon in half, like a razor slicing through an eye’, but there is a big difference between the world at the sub-atomic level and the human scale world we live in. I wanted to make something sacred. The English maverick theatre director Ken Campbell also recognised that this level of ambition could arise from science fiction. When Clov says that the world is going out, but he has never seen it lit up, I could say ‘Well I have.’ Antoine Roquentin initially suspects that the repulsion he has begun to feel towards existence may not be a product of the objective world, but rather something internal that he projects outwards, and Parsons would pioneer the solid fuel rocketry that would take America into space.

For real liberation to be enjoyed by men and women, neither can be reduced to a passive role. Greer argued that the way forward for women was to recognise their innate self-worth and become fully sexual creatures, but Rees-Mogg and The Rolling Stones were not, perhaps, as politically different as they might first appear.  Seeing how systems flipped from one state to another brought home just how fragile and uncontrollable complex systems were. The idea that a Western democratic politician from a mainstream political party could gain office with a platform that aimed to reduce corporate power became increasingly implausible, and I happen to have Mr McLuhan right here. If you want to understand postmodernism you should spend a few hours playing Super Mario Bros, a 1985 video game designed by Japan’s Shigeru Miyamoto. It would not be properly investigated, not least because of his charity work.

The full text, I should add, is possibly the only book to have been lauded by both Alan Moore and the Daily Mail, which means it must make more sense than the above.

Monday, 13 April 2015

2015 Tour

Time to emerge from hibernation and go out and face people - here's a list of all the talks I'll be doing in 2015:

Thurs 16th April - London
A Campfire Storytelling event, accompanied by art by Shardcore. Free entry, but please RSVP. Details are here.

Thurs 23rd April - Harrogate
I'll be talking about the twentieth century, and there's a couple more really interesting speakers on the bill, it should be a good night. Details.

Thurs 21st May - Brighton 
The Catalyst Club present The Lost Worlds of Albion in the Spiegeltent Bosco tent, as part of the Brighton Fringe. I'll be talking about Watling Street.

Sat June 20th - Also Festival, Warwickshire
I'll be talking about The KLF, more details here

July 30th - Aug 2nd - Port Eliot Literary Festival, Cornwall
Like last year we'll be in the mysterious, enigmatic tent at the back of the woods that no-one could find.

Aug 6th - Aug 9th - Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire
Which I agreed to do the moment I realised that both Bjork and George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic are playing... I'll be doing a talk entitled The Urinal and the Baroness.

Thursday August 13th - Brighton
Another appearance at the always-great Catalyst Club.

Sat Aug 15th - Whitstable
The history of magical thinking from Tim Leary to The KLF, at CJ Stone's Psychedelic Salon.

Fri August 21st - Dorkbot Bristol
Me and Shardcore talking at Bristol Mini- Maker Faire Dorkbot Special

Fri Aug 28th - London
A night at Heavenly Social to celebrate the new book, with talks from me, Daisy Eris Campbell, Alistair Fruish and a DJ set from Flinton Chalk of TC Lethbridge. Plus Heavenly Jukebox - come along, all welcome!

Sep 3rd - Sep 6th - Festival No6, Portmeirion.
I'll be doing a talk about Timothy Leary on the Friday and... something else on the Saturday as part of the Super Weird Happening. Really looking forward to this.

Thurs Sept 10th - Northampton
At the NN Cafe with Robin Ince, Alan Moore and Grace Petrie for Another Blooming Buzzing Confusion Night (recording for Robin's podcast)

Sept 30th - Wigtown, Scotland
Speaking about the 20th Century at the Wigtown Book Festival.

Oct 14th - 16th - Amsterdam
Talking about The KLF at the mighty Amsterdam Dance Event

Friday Oct 30th - Hotel de las Letras, Madrid, Spain
In conversation with Jordi Costa, 8pm

Thurs Nov 5th - Salon London
In conversation with Helen Bagnall

Friday Nov 13th - Lavenham Literary Festival
I'll be speaking in a medieval National Trust guildhall, should be fun. Details. 

Sunday Nov 22nd - Bristol Cube KLF night
"Tickets £5 on the door, £10 in advance..."

Monday Nov 23rd - London Fortean Society, Conway Hall
A Talk entitled The Strange Person Theory of History 

Tuesday Nov 24th - UKC Psychedelics Society, Cambridge
7pm - 9pm in KLT3, Keynes College

Sat Nov 28th - Under The Austerity, The Beach - Northampton
Alan Moore's day of counterculture, with Robin Ince, Josie Long et al - more details here

That's all for 2015 - 2016 should see me speaking at Hebden Bridge, Hawarden and... who knows? Hope to see you somewhere along the way.