Saturday, November 12, 2016

Online Renaissance — A Rave Review by Peter Lamborn Wilson

Modern myth holds that all knowledge ( in form of "data") is contained in the Aladdin's lamp we call the i-phone ("i" for ego, for "is", for "intelligent"?). You can hold it all in your hand. You can even "talk to the hand" — a phrase that means "don't talk to me") — and be told what you wish to know, as if by a djinn. (No three wishes, however,) Is this myth true?

No. The magic spell, after all, is  limited precisely to that which can be construed as data. Of course nowadays we have philosophes who claim that "everything is data" (the universe is a "computer", or a "hologram", etc.) But this in not true, or so I think, anyway. I think that life itself is not "information", and even "intelligence" will never be attained by a machine, a telephone, a screwdriver or a spaceship. I can tell you things that are not on the Inrternet. But only to you in person. In the flesh.

The computer is a medium, like the book. Media mediate — they cannot be called the thing itself, by definition. The book seems just as "alien" as the computer — only slower & more dignified, perhaps. The illuminated manuscript might be seen as the "first multi-media" artform. The computer strives to attain the synesthetic dimensionality of Alice's "book with pictures". Which brings us to Jake Rabinowitz & his on-line apocalypse, his cyber-purgatorio.

I know old folks (old as me!) who like the Internet because they already know what they want to know. Of course when knowledge comes cheap — w/out "work" or other costs — it may not be deeply valued — or long remembered. But the pleasure of knowing instantly that little fact you crave outweighs the dangers of flaccidity & ennui that lurk, like a miasma, around the machine. But I also know younger people who believe that "we" (humans) "know everything" — but who themselves remain ignorant as shit — because they don't know what they want to know — they don't know what to ask for. Like the fools in the fairytale, they end up with sausages (stuck to their noses) instead of piles of gold, or immortality, or love!

The proof of this sad assertion is that Jake Rabinowitz's beautiful & brilliant "outtake channel" (if that's the right term for it) has been "visited" by only a few idle gawkers. No one knows it's there. No one thinks to ask for Dante, or for the Apocalypse on-line. The Apocalypse has not "gone viral". Snapshots of someone's lunch — ugly cats — Islamic beheadings — yes.Very popular. Art history, genius insights into medieval and Renaissance aesthetics — no.

Jake Rabinowitz has translated texts from French, German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, ancient Egyptian, Chinese — & now from Italian, which he learned in order to read Dante. He's written on Classical literature, Judaism. Christianity, Islam, Canaanite paganism, modern art, high fashion. He's written poetry, fiction, humor, history, metaphysics. My publishing collective, Autonomedia, published some of his great books, but failed to make him famous.

Each segment of "Online Renaissance" lasts about seven minutes, is produced to professional standards, uses interesting music & beautiful art, with Jake's spoken commentary.  The art-history sequences include Dante's Purgatorio (in my opinion the most interesting part of the Divine Comedy) as illustrated by Priamo della Quercia (1442-1450); Botticelli (drawings begun in 1450 and left incomplete at his death in 1510); an early print version, Hermetic in style, published by Alessandro Velutello, engraved by Giovanni Britto (1544); — the Apocalypse by Albrecht Dürer (1498), and the Cloisters Apocalypse (made in Normandy c. 1330); — some extra sequences on Botticelli's painting, and the geometry of Euclid (Jake is also an accomplished mathematician!).

At present there exist nearly a hundred sequences, & more are planned. A complete new translation by Jake of the Purgatorio (with text & pictures from an old illuminated manuscript) in which all "notes" are gracefully integrated into the text — will be followed by the rest of the Comedy in due Course. (Go to

If I were running a university — & had not yet succumbed to the dumbing-down, venality & corruption that currently distorts Anglo-American education under the Orwellian rubric of "excellence" — I would at once assign these little videos to all art & literature students. Hell — I'd appoint Jake dean of the Humanities department. But I fear the Humanities have been dehumanized & degraded beyond salvation. It's up to you to finish your own education. Start with "Online Renaissance."

Peter Lamborn Wilson
Sept., '16

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