I begin to craft and draft a spell called “TO BUILD A FENCE.” I watch videos, I weigh methods, I note down a list of required tools and materials. Even as I do this, though, I remain on the fence: “To fence or not to fence?” Must we commit to enclosure? The garden also needs an irrigation system, I tell myself: some combination, perhaps, of water harvester and drip. With drip, I can attach a timer, allowing us to water the garden when out of town. As for what to plant, I refer myself to Eric Toensmeier’s Perennial Vegetables. Part of me, though, still wants to pay attention to Silicon Valley and is easily distracted. “Attention being,” as a friend notes, “the one hero that might take us through the web, the webs, and leave us semi-intact at the end of the day” (Forms of Poetic Attention, p. 2).
Dear Muses, friends, and fellow members of the hive, I ask this kindly of thee:
“Wherein lies the difference, if any, between an algorithm and a spell?“
[…] “Both consist of textual operations, written procedures to be followed,” texts a friend.
“Yes, yes, y’all,” we reply: “In the beginning was the word.”
[…] “Correct me if I’m wrong, but what is a code if not a kind of spell?” adds another. “The command line works as does a wand.”
Let us begin there. Let our partner in this beginning be Freud’s Unconscious, or what French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call “the body without organs” and its many “desiring-machines.”
Having established these initial similarities between codes and spells, let us attend as well to ways in which they differ.
“Spells enliven,” we venture; “whereas programming produces robots and drones.”
Twenty years ago, I and others assembled and performed under the name i,apparatus. Our approach involved spontaneous group play akin to Kerouac’s “Spontaneous Prose” and (tho perhaps without fully knowing so at the time) Mekas’s “Spontaneous Cinema”: egos seeking fusion on the fly through low-tech, sonic squall.
“Might we gather today, or in the days ahead?” asks wonderingly one who types, longing again for union with others. “Under what name, or by way of what method, and for what purpose?”
“For purposes of spontaneity in the realization of desire!” sings a chorus in reply. Spontaneity is the crux of the matter, even as we allow ourselves room to correct.
Tasks arise, so I attend to them. One sees to the things one has to do. Grooming, cleaning, parenting. “So be it! See to it!” as Octavia E. Butler would say. The phrase was Butler’s mantra, one she wrote to herself in her journal years ago, before she was a published author. The words on that page of her journal are a spell. She decides what she wants and she proclaims it. Forget the excuses, she tells herself. “See to it!” Spells of this sort combine imperatives and future tense declarations of what will be. What were Butler’s thoughts on magic and the occult? What would she have called this if not magic? Psy-ops? An experiment in self-programming? Either way, it’s a power related to journaling. One becomes one’s own storyteller, writing dialogically day by day. Lauren’s journal functions this way. (Lauren is the main character in Butler’s Parable novels.) Lauren’s spells are the sections of the Parable novels written in verse. And here I am journaling about Butler‘s journals. Texts arrive bearing word about the process of initiation, like Butler’s 1988 novel Adulthood Rites, the second book in her Xenogenesis trilogy. (The three works in this trilogy — Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago — have also been gathered under the title Lilith’s Brood.) Initiation requires a teacher, though, does it not? Perhaps I can just learn from my friends.