Chimera and Habitus: On the familiar and unfamiliar.

In her work ‘A fish can’t judge the water’, Femke Snelting declares software as a new form of ‘our natural habitat’ in that it becomes a ‘seamless’ background experience. This metaphor really emphasises the inhabitability of digital processes, and how one comes to learn the distinct procedures and textures of particular computational habitats. This reminds me of Bourdieu’s habitus, in which specific cultural norms and conventions are embodied and become flexible in different social contexts. In particular I am drawn to his distinctly mimetic form of social transmission in which a symbiosis of individual agency with social structure act to reinforce and sustain certain rules and norms. Think of the unspoken rules in expensive restaurants vs. rough and ready pubs and how these are then sustained and transmitted through extremely complex procedures. This harks back to Snelting’s assertion that learning software is like a choreography that we mimic, practise and repeat before it becomes that so called ‘natural habitat’. Software becomes embodied it into our habits, the digital becomes incorporated into processes of subjectification and practice.
The disaster snail is obsessed with the fusing together of form and content, I summon Wittgenstein’s later obsession with rule based language games when I imagine how we play our computational software games. The mimetic way we learn to inhabit the form of a software becomes inextricably linked to how we come to use its content. We then come bounding towards an apex of conflict as we must learn to constantly learn and inhabit other and forever updating software choreographies. Suddenly there is an upheaval as the space we imagined as natural suddenly becomes unfamiliar again, the form and the content no longer exist as a perfectly constructed unified structure. The conflict of language begins, we are always torn apart by being comfortable in the familiar and challenged by the unfamiliar.
The printed documentation of Florian Hecker’s ‘Chimerization’ works include many images digitally altered by his own software. They are a double entendre of presentation in that they are still images from his exhibitions and artistic demonstrations of his chimeric softwares at work on those same images - works that combine and fuse different often opposite forms together. In the book philosopher Reza Negarestani takes you on a rambling exercise in describing the chimera, through the childs game snakes and ladders. The game then begins to include the goat, who combined with any other form in the game becomes the mythical chimera itself. This is a brilliant act of theoretical world building full of his own fictions and cosmologies. The essay is, I feel, purposefully obscurantist in that it serves the form of the pieces themselves. As the pages continue in the book the font itself become so obscured so that even though we recognise them as some kind of typeface, the great game of meaning is lost and our understanding is obscured. It would be absurd to say that this book is formless, it is an artefact with agency and a weight all itself. It takes time and repetition to understand the way it exists as a physical object relates to the habit and norms it preaches within its pages. The formlessness of software makes it no less of an artefact, it is wet with the norms and ‘choreographies’ which bring our habits and contexts into being.

A fish can’t judge the water, Femke Snelting, 2006,
Outline of a Theory of Practise, Pierre Bourdieu, 1972
Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1953
Chimerizations, Florian Hecker, Reza Negarestani et al, 2013
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