originally posted September 16, 2015
My new book Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century is finally loose in the UK – being sold in shops, downloaded as ebooks onto Kindles and as audiobooks onto phones. It will be published in Canada on October 6th and America on November 10th, with Spanish, German, Dutch, Greek, Turkish and Romanian translations on their way. There are, I’d like to think, versions for everyone.
Everyone, that is, except those who don’t want to read an entire book. What about those people?
Now, my friend the artist Shardcore had been playing around with automatic text compression software. If you have a long document to plough through, you can run it through this software and it will create a shorter version which, in theory, will retain the most important information. And the results are pretty impressive, so long as you set it to shorten the text by no more than about 40%. If nothing else, it highlights the differing levels of redundancy in the prose styles of different writers.
If you try to shorten the text further, the results aren’t quite so good. Information, nuance, insight and meaning are all lost. If you try to shorten the text by 99.5%, all you get is a bunch of unrelated random sentences.
This is, clearly, a dumb and pointless exercise that only a fool would inflict on their hard-crafted work.
Here, then, for those who have no desire to read an entire book, is Stranger Than We Can Imagine algorithmically compressed by 99.5% into about 400 words of near-gibberish:
What the hell happened to the human psyche? An omphalos is the centre of the world or, more accurately, what was culturally thought to be the centre of the world, or, perhaps more accurately, was the idea that an artist challenged the art establishment by presenting a found object sufficiently interesting for that idea to be considered a work of art? The wars that did occur after the defeat of Napoleon were brief. Do what thou wilt. In April 1904 the British poet, mountaineer and occultist Aleister Crowley dictated a book which, he believed, was transmitted to him by a non-human intelligence called Aiwass. Naturally, they dispensed with the restraints of customary morality and of reason.
Buñuel told Dalí of a dream in which ‘a long tapering cloud sliced the moon in half, like a razor slicing through an eye’, but there is a big difference between the world at the sub-atomic level and the human scale world we live in. I wanted to make something sacred. The English maverick theatre director Ken Campbell also recognised that this level of ambition could arise from science fiction. When Clov says that the world is going out, but he has never seen it lit up, I could say ‘Well I have.’ Antoine Roquentin initially suspects that the repulsion he has begun to feel towards existence may not be a product of the objective world, but rather something internal that he projects outwards, and Parsons would pioneer the solid fuel rocketry that would take America into space.
For real liberation to be enjoyed by men and women, neither can be reduced to a passive role. Greer argued that the way forward for women was to recognise their innate self-worth and become fully sexual creatures, but Rees-Mogg and The Rolling Stones were not, perhaps, as politically different as they might first appear. Seeing how systems flipped from one state to another brought home just how fragile and uncontrollable complex systems were. The idea that a Western democratic politician from a mainstream political party could gain office with a platform that aimed to reduce corporate power became increasingly implausible, and I happen to have Mr McLuhan right here. If you want to understand postmodernism you should spend a few hours playing Super Mario Bros, a 1985 video game designed by Japan’s Shigeru Miyamoto. It would not be properly investigated, not least because of his charity work.