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Review: Tan Lin’s HEATH COURSE PAK

2013 January 23
by Jai Arun Ravine

HEATH COURSE PAK by Tan Lin | Counterpath Press 2012 | $17.95

HEATH

you have become a very beautiful thing in some
other version of a thing. or you have become a
very beautiful climbing apparatus in a program
about something,

Riding the GoToBus from Los Angeles to Oakland, I accidentally watched Rush Hour 3 and The Tuxedo from several strategically placed monitors while listening to the Counting Crows, M.I.A. and Meshell Ndegeocello on my headphones. I discovered that Jackie Chan, muted by a randomly generated soundtrack and offset by a variety of backdrops, is still Jackie Chan, in perhaps the same way Heath Ledger is still remembered as Heath in 10 Things I Hate About You (Modern Shakespearean Heath), Brokeback Mountain (Gay Cowboy Heath), or The Dark Knight (Joker-In-Drag Heath). When I wasn’t accidentally watching Jackie Chan fight somebody, I tried to look at the scenery off the 5, which I wanted to believe was more interesting but was in reality less accessible, and ended up accidentally reading incoming and outgoing text messages on the smart phone of a person sitting diagonally across the aisle. This entire experience—me accidentally looking at the mountains, Jackie Chan on mute, someone else’s text messages; you reading this compiled memory as a paragraph on a blog; followers liking, re-blogging, re-posting, sharing and tweeting this review; and then me importing the HTML into Microsoft Word and putting the whole thing through Google Translate a few times—might actually approach the experience of browsing and forgetting that is assembled in Tan Lin’s HEATH COURSE PAK.

What is HEATH?

plagiarism/outsource Ed. Rev., Notes Towards the Definition of Culture,Untilted Heath Ledger Project , a history of the search engine,disco OS annotated or HEATH, as the project is often referred to, is the revised second print edition of a book authored within a social network. Like following Heath Ledger’s death over the internet—through the rapid replication of speculative information, quotations, paraphrased material, tags and images as they unravel, reproduce and become felt by a social network—Lin’s assemblage of HEATH is a kind of muscle memory for feelings that are erased, re-written, read, scanned and searched repeatedly within a complex system of users, readers, commentators, followers, friends and authors.

Flip through the book once, and the ecology of HEATH shows coffee stains, autographed photos of Jackie Chan and Heath Ledger, images for GSM and RSS, handwritten post cards, post-its, SMS, blacked-out text and pencil markup. A closer look shows cut-and-paste traces of HTML imported into Word, extra line breaks created by absent flash advertisements, links and category tags, click here for details, edit/delete, captured image and text from Google searches, footnotes, text encoding/conversion, markup language, <space></space></CT> and other apparitions and pop-ups. In an interview that appears near the end of the book, Lin says, “These are all just various kinds of writing, where writing extends over a broad spectrum of textual matter and includes things with ‘weak’ author functions […] They all have been outsourced but not necessarily plagiarized, except by some sort of corporate branding structure or legal structure. […] Mistakes, formatting problems, copyright issues, unacknowledged sources are part of text. […] Everything is ‘authored,’ it’s just not clear who.”

What is HEATH?

HEATH also mirrors the reading environment of the web, where things aren’t so much “read” as looked at, skimmed, scanned and then shared. In such an environment, the labor and attention of reading is outsourced to a program, feed or search engine, so that the work of reading (as well as the texts generated) become events experienced within a larger social structure. As Lin says, the project “outsources (i.e. mirrors) the ‘labor/work’ of the reader to other parties, who appear to be ‘looking on,’ maybe commenting, maybe reading, maybe writing, maybe somehow just ‘taking part’ in the text, whatever those two words mean” and replicates “our everyday experiences of reading distractedly or unintentionally or by just looking.” (Like me on the bus, or rather, like me on the bus with a smart phone, or even, me on the bus with everyone else’s smart phones). And as someone states within the network of HEATH: “I wanted YOU or me or her to read it like web surfing, or a mash up or something we do all day long . . .”

Lin continues:

“And of course I am interested in writing and language and in emails and SMS and text messages, which constitute an ever increasing proportion of today’s written universe, today’s affective ecology of language, and it feels very ambient to me. I mean, basically, one wants one’s feelings distributed. But only someone who has feelings of their own would know what it means to have a distributed feeling.”

I love this idea of “everyone wants one’s feelings distributed.” This explains the random periodic urges I have to update my status with song lyrics or carefully crafted phrases of cryptic, emotive density addressed to everyone and no one in particular (except to that certain someone). Lin suggests that “people remain stubbornly difficult to white out in a digital culture, as with YouTube or Facebook where social networks become theatre and text reverts to the oldest form of truncated, telegraphic, obscene, and ephemeral forms: lyric poetry and/or interior monologues directed to a ‘chorus’ of social cohorts.” And if you actually post that cryptic internal poem status publicly (instead of deleting it ten minutes later like I do), the feeling is encrypted (or, as in my case, the feeling desires encryption) and is then parsed out as kind of text product set free into a network for distribution.

Does distribution and re-circulation grow the intensity of what we are feeling, or weaken it?

What is HEATH?

Lin wrote much of the book in the time during and after actor Heath Ledger’s death. So while only a small portion of the text actually deals with Heath, he becomes a kind of organizational algorithm for the main nodes of the book. He becomes an “untilted” [sic] search term, command key, absent tilt. Lin reveals that he “followed the death as it unwound that evening and I was interested in how his death was being chronicled, diaristically, on the fly, by a group of anonymous bystanders who were not quite bystanders but were participating in some sort of way, and I was interested in the nature of that participation, and how it contributed to the ‘authoring’ of an event, and to the emotional resonances of that participatory accounting/tabulation: and I feel there is something addictive about such distributed events, which are after all page-ranked.”

Bystanders taking photos with their smart phones and receiving real-time updates gather around an event in the same way reading on the web is outsourced to other parties, followers, commentators and friends. A library is assembled and a search engine sifts through incoming entries—sorting, categorizing and tracking hits. What is felt (what there is to be experienced) is, from the get-go, already in distribution, written about and re-posted. This is the choreography within which HEATH as a work participates.

What is HEATH?

HEATH is an event. A social network. A reading environment. A theater. A program. A system. A performance. HEATH is a distributed feeling.

What I think is most exciting about HEATH is how it proposes text as event, text as theatrical space, and authorship as acting. In our language-saturated moment (email/text/app), everything we see on the web is language—program codes, core codes, scripting languages. As Lin acknowledges, “Heath: he exists as a kind of format-dependent scanning, as does the work itself. So I think it’s useful to think of language here, but perhaps assembly languages, source codes, and/or compiling languages, etc.-something in a dynamic processing environment.” Everyone is constantly engaged in processes of self-description and text making and updating/upgrading. The self turns into an RSS feed, an evolutionary writing/text production (i.e. subjectless process), part of an environment/network. More and more people are experiencing events as a network of emotions and news feeds, citations and recycled, quoted material, where everything is time-stamped and tagged with GPS coordinates, and where our likes are public, shared and distributed.

An event (as it is played out within the networks sampled in HEATH) is distributed across multiple forms of media and hosted on a variety of platforms, somewhat analogous to the way “new media” works (video and web-based forms) can intersect with performance, dance and installation-based art practices. In the absence of body to body interaction between “performer” and “viewer,” this kind of digitized processing environment or data structure poses the following questions: How does feeling, as opposed to data, get parsed and distributed within a network (within space)? Where and how are we feeling these events? Who is doing the feeling? As Lin says, “They, the feelings as well as the other players, seem to be inside some sort of social network. One has experiences as one reads, but what is the nature of those experiences?”

Maybe it is once the feeling is disseminated (once the feeling becomes an event) that it actually becomes felt, by ourselves and by others?

What is HEATH?

Heath: or Samuel: was not ” something inserted into the video: they were watching on You Tube ” ” (i.e. storage) but something taken away or outsourced (dissemination), i.e. the process was more like erasing each other (plagiarism) rather than viewing

HEATH as a book is not really a book, but the print conversion of a network. Heath Ledger performs inside the network, as do other players and pronouns, and is produced by us as we read. Amidst the wealth of other things HEATH could be, do or suggest, it also erases/forgets itself, links out and asks its followers to write within its text, on its text and about its text; it asks to be abridged, annotated and re-published. It absorbs everything and disseminates everything, yet often has difficulty remembering itself. Which is what the event/network of reading and writing is: a “human memory system in a feedback loop (literature), i.e. it was about erasure more than remembering.” Or “writing as a medium for the exchange or dissemination of something else.” Or “a distribution platform, though we like to call it poetry.” And now that Facebook is asking us “How are you feeling?” perhaps we should be asking Facebook the same question. I mean, how does the network feel?

It might compile a list like this:

all my interest in the evening passes on a smart phone
“I believe that whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you . . . stranger.”
our feelings were made by hand inside a very soft index
they were correspondences. they were oceanic with pencils marking them up into feed.
[they] [you] are beautiful pop ups
moreover the things they are texting sound alike
and their eyes were made of search engines like a search engine

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