e-flux Conversations has been closed to new contributions and will remain online as an archive. Check out our new platform for short-form writing, e-flux Notes.

e-flux conversations

Superconversations Day 13: Renata Lemos Morais responds to Douglas Coupland, "Shiny"


Let’s Just Hope We Accidentally Build God

Kim Jong-un and officers from the North Korean Airforce, Photo: EFE, 2014.

North Korea’s shiny is red,
Uncle Sam’s shiny is blue,
sunshine is sweet,
it burns holes through you

The musical equivalent of shine is noise. Like that weird buzzing sound in your ears which can either come out of nowhere, or be created by sustained exposure to extreme loudness, like when you walk out of a club or a party. I can hear this kind of buzzing in my ears right now as I write this, and in this moment it seems to be coming out of silence itself. Extreme silence is loud. Extremes touch each other and become one another. Extreme loudness becomes silence, extreme light makes one go blind, extreme motion becomes stillness.

Extreme size anything and there’s a hyperjump into infinity and anything becomes everything and everything becomes anything. Extreme size communism and it becomes capitalism plus everything else above and in between, the shine plus the weird plus the grungy plus the raw. When we are moving beyond the speed of light, we cannot feel the wind blowing on our face. There is nowhere to go, because anywhere is everywhere, and we’re already everywhere anyway.

The angle of your perception determines the every or the any as it shifts from one to the other, stretching the present in all directions at once. This is the extreme present in its state of absolute acceleration. Reminder: don’t let yourself be fooled by the word acceleration, which usually implies movement towards something. Absolute acceleration is in fact absolute stillness, however its stillness lies at its core, like the eye of a hurricane.

People become dizzy and disoriented with this reality because they are so attached to their maps. All of our ideological systems were built as maps and moral compasses to the vision of a future - some where in the future we were supposed to be moving towards, and those maps gave direction and a sense of purpose to entire generations. Politics became a fight about who had the right set of maps with the best instructions on either how to get there or to avoid going there. Contemporary art as a social system and the linear succession of its avantgardes has also been transformed into an aesthetic guide of cultural footprints which claim to lead us toward the “world to come”.

The not so new news is that there is no world to come, for the world has no future. This is the void lurking behind the shiny surface of an art world which still pretends to contain all the world’s futures. Shininess is a distraction from the absence of any future, both in the world of politics and in the world of contemporary art. Systems which were built with the purpose of creating futures now have little purpose left. Keeping up appearances and tightening their grip on power has become the main game.

Maps do not work anymore, not only because there’s nowhere to go but also because our territory has changed. The earth beneath our feet has become a naked singularity and it is pulling us into the next dimension where there is no left nor right, up and down, outside or inside, and while we’re fading into darkness, people are still desperately holding on to the question: where is the future?

They’re stuck inside the illusion of believing that if there is no future, their whole life has been lived in vain. No future means death right now, but death right now is like a supernova: take a dive and you will explode and turn into not only all the world’s futures but into all the universe’s futures at once. All the world’s futures within the extreme present, which is like a black hole - it absorbs every past and every future until it all collapses into atemporality.

Time-space phasing in and out. How much time is in atemporality? How much space is in infinity? The metaphysics of the extreme present is in fact a pataphysics. In 2012 I did an interview with Bruce Sterling about atemporality in which he said something very interesting about metaphysics:

“We human beings never fully conquered metaphysics with ink on paper. Now we’re losing ink on paper. So, why do we still pretend that our expressions about these things are stable, or timeless? They’re no more stable than the artifacts by which we learn about them and promulgate them.”

Our artifacts are our new nature. New versions of ourselves sprout through our multiple platforms, a swirling kaleidoscope of interactive possibilities, of metamorphing, loops and serendipities. Shininess and the void it tries to hide are still a part of our new nature, but we are present. All the world is present. EXTREMELY SO.

Renata Lemos Morais is a Brazilian scholar who lectures in Media and Communication at Deakin University, Melbourne.




The IMAGE of the FUTURE (is a well known problem from the past) . . .


The original version of this was published in Dutch in 1953. Fred Polak was invited to the 1st convening of the Ford Foundation sponsored Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) in 1954 and he “roomed” with Kenneth and Elise Boulding.

She was so impressed that she learned Dutch and then translated Polak’s book (twice) into English. Based on these concerns, Ken Boulding published his “The Image” in 1956 (and many other treatments of these topics also appeared from others). In his book, Boulding proposed a new “science” of EICONICS – which later morphed into “memes.”

Boulding later became the mentor to Alvin Toffler (among others) and Al’s 1970 “Future Shock” also derives from the same sensibility – much of which expands on the work of H.G. Wells earlier in the 20th century.


what a rich, thought-provoking response. i like the image of a full scale map in relation to this text. it captures very well the breakdown of the utility of maps as guides to a future destination into the present experience of a here that becomes the map. the only possible destination in a 1:1 scale is here, and the only possible future is now. the subtleties which connect the ideas you brought together and the texts of day 13 take me back in time and make me very nostalgic of my baudrillardian phase… somehow baudrillard always comes back to me. it has to be so ingrained in my thinking that i even forget that his influence is there. maybe what this means is that i should go back to his texts once again. thank you very much for making me realise this.


thanks for this reference, i had not read this book. i’ve started reading it (i’m not finished yet) and the first thing that strikes me is how anthropocentric it is. man is at the center of the universe: time exists only in relation to perception, and is therefore reduced to a social construction. it seems to me these ideas are representative of the very paradigm which has created the world of “shine”. it’s quite informative of the framework behind 20th century’s image of the future and its correlationist representation of time. i must finish reading it first before i can respond properly though. i might get back to this later on.

1 Like

I look forward to your thoughts on IMAGES . . . !!

These efforts were indeed part-and-parcel of attempts to “construct” social reality, or, more broadly put, “social engineering.” And yes, this engineering was decidedly focused on the “anthros.”

The concern was that without a FINAL cause to which society oriented itself, such as “heaven on earth” (aka progress) – which had collapsed in the West as a result of what Weber called the “disenchantment of the world” – that there literally would be no future.

When Elise Boulding abridged her translation for wider circulation, she reproduced the entire chapter structure of the original except she dropped the chapter that Polak titled “The Futureless Future,” since, apparently, that was not an acceptable outcome for her.

Another effort that picked up on the “images” theme and its role in social engineering, in which Elise was also involved, is the famous SRI study “The Changing Images of Man” . . .


I think this is a great articulation of what shine shares with depth, these two forms of aesthetic experience that are normally opposed to each other (as the modern vs postmodern debate) but in fact share a correlationist idea: which is that both are measured in relation to an already settled idea of the human. Shining, as an optical quality, implies an observing subject.

I think there is also a non-optical idea of shine, too, though: where we apprehend objects as being capable of reflecting certain rays, not just electro-magnetic ones, perhaps, and we apprehend the world as a set of surfaces. This might be, in an illustrative sense, the difference between Jeff Koons and Monir Farmanfarmaian. That’s unfair: I think Koons’ work is insightful and traditional in very important ways, but I’m citing the way that his work is often perceived, as a kind of emblem of the celebration of consumerism.

I think that Coupland’s inclusion of a series of rules of thumb is great: the object on the left is most valuable in groupings, perhaps because many of us read from left to right, so that’s first. Does anyone else want to share interesting rules of thumb?

@CSDL Thanks so much for sharing Changing Images of Man. I wonder if the kind of shine that Coupland and perhaps @rmorais is describing this kind of an image? This reminds me more of what Wilfred Sellars calls the “Scientific and Manifest Images,” which are really a word for him to substitute for things like worldview or mindframe, which he finds too laden with assumptions. Obviously, in an art-centric context like e-flux “image” is just as laden!

Images also often are useful for the implicit distinction they make between observer and observed, subject and object. As such, they have a certain relation to the idea of “text,” which philosophers like Catherine Malabou have sought to supercede with plasticity. She holds that subjects are not fluid (all shine?) or rigid (all substance?), but rather in between: being plastic, they can mold and shift, but once taking a new form, they cannot return to their earlier form exactly. There are moments and processes of hardening and softening. Now this is figurative, but the function that it serves is to circumvent that matter/form distinction. It has “memory,” which is also the technical term for materials that hold onto their shape, and can’t be fully returned to their original state: for example, a wax tablet (short of melting it down). Memory is transformations: this is neurobiological advances can testify as much.

Also, Mark, marketing is interesting in relation to the futurological experiments you described insofar as it is one of the most active realms of social engineering, and the direct (and rigorous! because of the set goal of profits) applications of knowledge of the anthros. Can marketing change our ways of apprehending the world, our values, as well as manipulating them? And can you speak more on the Futureless Future, and whether or not it relates to what Bruce Sterling calls “early atemporality,” of which contemporary art’s contemporariness may be the defining truth function?

1 Like

@rmorais Maps don’t work because, @julieta has put it, they are now either the same size or larger than the territory they cover, or they dont work because they have replaced the territory (statistical analysis computational modeling etc). They don;t work because AGI may never need a map in order to move because it is both a being and the map. If there is anything left for map makers to do today is help us create roadmaps which help us move &navigate.