Thursday, July 10, 2008


Now i have created a game that is intended to be a translation of the Olmec Rubber Ball Game which I can only make judgements about assuming the same evidence for a Mayan Ball Game (See The Popol Vuh or Stacy Doris' Cheerleaders Guide to the Universe). This Game is called Council. Here are the rules of the Game:

12 players are seated in a circle and each is given a red card with 6 words on it. The players pass the ball from one player to the next in an aleatoric fashion (each player may throw the ball to any other player in the room). Each time a player catches the ball he is to read a word from his card. No word can be used twice from the same card. The objective is to use every word on the card. If at any point in the game a player is unable to take his turn, he is "out" and the other players continue playing until there is only one player remaining or until one player has used every word on his card.

Rules of Play: When a player uses a word from his card he must use a word that does not disobey the list or RESTRICTED LIASONS. There are 12 RESTRICTED LIASONS and each RESTRICTED LIASON represents a combination of two parts of speech that cannot be used in conjunction at any time during the game (types of words that may not follow one another).


1. Noun-Verb
2. Verb-Preposition
3. Article-Noun
4. Adjective-Noun
5. Preposition-Article
6. Preposition-Noun
7. Adjective-Preposition
8. Noun-Conjunction
9. Conjunction-Noun
10. Adverb-Verb
11. Adverb-Preposition
12. Verb-Adverb

For example, if player 1 uses a Noun, then whoever player he throws the ball to may not use a Verb or Conjunction because that would invoke one of the RESTRICTED LIASONS. Likewise if that player used an Adverb, the next player may not employ a Verb or a Preposition. And so on. You may use to the same part of speech twice, but you may not use it more than twice. So if the player before you used a Noun, you may use one as well, but the player after you would not be able to.

The following is the result of a session of The Council Game that was played under the umbrella of The Red Rover Reading Series in Chicago on June 7th, 2008:

We later administration of until the provisional the of shall night as elected in drawn fifteenth provisional national constituent elected the setting constitution 1948 14th from shall state by constitute this as up and the accordance.

The text is based on the 3rd paragraph of the Declaration of Independence of Israel.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"What is a Machine?" Sarah asked.

Introduction to Machines

A friend asked me, “What does that mean?” And I told her. And by doing so, I invoked an entire corpus of presuppositions about language. The first of which is the dream that meaning is not somehow on the surface of language, but that it is hidden deep within it like a soul, or a structure. In answering her, I could not bring meaning out, but only cloak it again in new robes, translate it, give it new form, and that in the passage from one instatiation of a given meaning to another, meaning would burst forth, invisible, clear, perfect, uncontaminated by the complicated bodies of sound, ink marks, or digital imprints. But yet somehow meaning exists, or we belive it does.

A glyphmachine is an example of a machine (there are many others). A machine is not a piece of literature. It is not poetry and it is not philosophy or literary criticism. It is a method of reading, a tool for conducting an empirical study of language. It is a way of studying language that is not enfeebled by the strictures of traditional linguistics, or ill-perceived theories of meaning. It is a new branch of science.

As such it adopts a formula for cognition that is unfamiliar to culture. As the inventor of machines, I understand that it is not kind to ask a reader to try to understand something that is incomprehensible by its very intention. So I invite you, if you choose to engage with these machines to practice a different type of reading: one that does not aim to understand, but that merely watches, follows, notices, reads without purpose, without even the assumption that marks, drawings or signs may yield meaning.

Thursday, February 7, 2008



The game takes place on a giant board that is a representation of the Cascajal block—big enough for players to physically stand ON the board. It can have no more than 63 players. Each player chooses a glyph on which to begin, (“home”) and is given a rubber ball. The goal of the game is to have control of the largest contiguous arrangement of glyphs on the board. A player’s turn consists of a ball toss to a glyph anywhere on the board. Wherever the ball lands, the player takes possession of that glyph, and likewise he relocates himself to the glyph where the ball landed, leaving behind a token of his possession of the glyph he just threw from. If the ball does not land on a glyph, the player forfeits his turn and remains on the glyph from which he threw until his next turn.

When a player throws the ball onto a glyph that is already occupied by another player, the player possessing the largest number of glyphs contiguous to that glyph takes possession of it. However, the player with the fewer number of contiguous glyphs in this situation is not ousted from the glyph (unless it is a “floating” glyph—a glyph attached to no contiguous glyphs)—but his right to occupy the glyph is now in an indentured position to the player who owns the glyph.

Position of indenture: A player who is indentured must pay for his continued right to occupy the glyph, since the glyph still forms part of any of his arrangement of contiguous glyphs (and occupation of any glyph implies a contract of possession)—as well as forming part of the possessor-player’s arrangement. This means the indentured player must work off his debt to the possessor or buy his freedom. The possessor player has the right to claim one of the indentured-player’s ball tosses at any point during the remainder of the game. The indentured-player can also attempt to buy his freedom in place of the exchange of his labor by offering the possessor player possession of one of his glyphs. The possessor-player may refuse or accept this offer. After the debt has been repaid, the two players maintain co-possession of the glyph. In this way it is possible for different players to establish “teams” in order to increase the power of their respective arrangements of contiguity. Players may choose to establish co-possession of glyphs freely of their own accord at any time if both players agree. There is no limit to the number of players who can co-possess a single glyph.

In addition, an indentured player may continue to offer his glyphs in exchange for his indentured labor (his ball toss) long after indenture has been established, and a player is also free to trade glyphs in exchange for the regaining of sole-possession of any particular glyph.

Once the board is “established” (i.e. all the spaces are either possessed or co-possessed), players may also work off indenture by trading the indenture of other players who are indentured to them. For example, player A succeeds in throwing the ball onto a glyph which player B currently possesses, and Player A has contiguity claim to the glyph. Player B may choose to trade a claim he previously won for Player C’s indenture in place of his own indenture or offer of glyph. In this case, Player A now has claim to Player C’s indenture instead of Player B.

In the event that a certain player owes more ball tosses to a certain other player than he has possession of glyphs on the board, he automatically becomes permanently indentured to that player. This means that he is now a member of the possessor-player’s “team”, although he works only to serve the enlargement of the possessor-player’s network of contiguity and has no glyphs of his own. If the possessor-player feels that his permanently indentured player is trying to sabotage him, he may oust him from the game completely, although this indentured player may not himself decide to leave the game without the possessor-player’s consent.

The game is won when one player controls every other player on the board.

* if there is a contest over the nature of contiguity—if the contiguous condition of two related glyphs is called into question, the determination of its contiguity can be put to a vote, and the players will vote to determine whether the two glyphs are in fact contiguous or not. The vote only occurs when the condition of contiguity is at issue—that is if the contiguity will determine the outcome of the possession of a glyph. If there are an equal number of votes on both sides, the player with the least number of glyphs/indentures’s vote will not count.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Through the continuation of my research it has come to my attention that the best way to finally build automachine.0.42—which has taken to task the entire Olmec problem—is to translate it into a game. First let me start off by documenting automachine.0.42:


“lily needs to know: its syntax, and how to tweak things. the syntax part must be required reading. …”

tweak the syntax, syntax tweak, syntax tweaks, ( ) tweak syntax, permutation abound, esses delivered nowhere delivered esses here lies deliverance. read without syntax, syntax beyond, other syntax, the kind of syntax hits you over the head reads reads head meaning the head readings or you hits syntax hits you the iron fist of syntax is obscene, fascistic, little subject tweakers, tweaker subjects, the illusion of choice, grammar is traffic, traffic geared is geared like clock work, or there have been an accident will.

Why a game? This automachine deals more directly with the question, what is the structure of language? than any of the others. Of course, every automachine asks the question, what is the structure of language? But they always ask this question under the disguise of asking a different question. Why? Why is it so difficult for language to ask and answer its own question? It may be because: to ask a question using the medium the question is asking about is to invent a circle. It is also because language requires an other. Because a) language is empty without a referent, without an elsewhere and because b) language is social, it necessitates two people (at least), a sender and a receiver. The question of language is ethical.

A game also (in a single player game, a player discourses with the game itself, or with himself as an other). Two or multiple subjects send out, respond, respond, respond, respond, with some kind of meaning in mind, keeping on responding. These responses are translations of each other, of the response and responses that came before. This is why a game.

This game will also serve as an answer (mark: “an”) to the Olmec problem. It is a translation of the Cascajal block. At Complex A at San Lorenzo, one of the major sites of Olmec archaeology are remnants of a rubber ball court, the same type the Mayans used to play the ancient ball game that marks the trajectory of the Popul Vuh and the story of Mayan rulership. A game is a struggle for power over resources (the accumulation of points), the subsequent power over other subjects, and for privileged location within a hierarchy (winner/losers). It is difficult to know the way power was organized and distributed in Olmec society. Archaeological inquiry, if it is to draw conclusions, must rely on presuming certain essential relationships between qualities of the evidence it possesses and features of a culture, its lifestyle, its society, its ideologies. The game I am inventing, which will also be a kind of ball game, means to model the way that geographical and geological features (and also the features of Olmec relics—or their interpretation, since in archaeology, the remains invent the society and not the other way around), may determine the rhythm and patterns of the distribution of materials and resources, and that distribution in turn may determine the flow of wealth. These patterns or the relationship between them then create the shape and organization of a network of power: a bureaucratic and governmental structure and therefore also a social one. (Pool, Christopher A. Olmec Archaeology and Early Mesoamerica. Cambridge University Press 2007.)

How will this game function? What will be the rules of the game? I am not quite sure yet. I know that I would like it to invoke the elements I mentioned above. It is also my dream to someday create (this may not be the moment) a game that would serve as an exercise of self-reflection within the context of a group, of reflection on the archetypes, patterns and narratives of ones own life and of the lives of the other players. I am not sure how to begin laying out the guidelines for a game that would incorporate all of these elements together, and that one could play on a translation of an Olmec ball court. I will first start by examining some of the games that are already familiar to me, so I might be more aware of the legacies I am indebted to:

Catch. Each move is a response and imitation of the previous move of the opponent. In this game there is no score, and winner and loser can only be provisionally determined, or if they are determined beyond that it is by an overall impression garnered from the accumulation of indeterminate moments, the results of a montage. And the criteria is scattered and mobile, it’s humiliation, how much you “suck”. You throw the ball way off the mark or fail to catch an “easy” throw. Catch is one of the few games—perhaps because of the absence of a third (a judge or a set of rules)—where the motives are altruistic. A player wants his opponent to catch the ball, and he wants to receive his opponents throw as well, and the more he resists his opponents failures (catches a bad throw, aims a throw directly into the hands of his opponent) therein are his virtuosity and success demonstrated.

Shoots and Ladders. Board games imply the presence of a third. The board judges, tallies, its surface is the flat face of authority upon where power can radiate like trains circling out of a depot. In this way Shoots and Ladders is more involved than Catch since the players aren’t solely playing with or against each other, but are playing with the enlisted aid of an unseen god: a set of identifiable rules attached to unpredictable outcomes which may or may not obey reason. There are, for all of us, two different classes of games: those based on chance and those based on skill (and all other games are hybrids of these two classes). Those games where an invisible other arbitrates over us all and renders every player equal, and those games of conquest and merit where each player invokes the contents of his soul, and battles to have dominion over all others.

Scrabble. A game of scrabble is the intersection of two very different kinds of structures. The first of which is the open fields of lexicography and orthography, the basic unit of which is the letter. The second is the graph of squares embodying a spread of point values. Through play, the point values will get transferred to the arrangements of letters into words and each word thereby acquires a nearly monetary significance. The moment at which the letters actualize a point value is simultaneous with the activation of a lexical signification. Prior to that moment each letter holds only a dormant value. Inscribed in this relationship of simultaneity is the connection between the raw materiality of physical resources and linguistic units with no meaning, or more simply said, between economy and language. In the context of the Olmec question, it may be possible to draw a parallel between this and the way in which items may sometimes become symbolic because of the economic value of the substance they are made from, like a diamond ring.

Monopoly. This game falls into the category of the “allegorical game”. Games that adopt pre-fab structures that players act out in a truncated, rudimentary form. This engenders abstraction—the reduction of a complex system into its pure and fundamental elements. Here, it is the exchange market. Money is exchanged for property, property for money, money for more property, property for more money, to teach us that capital breeds capital. This is the principal that exchange can also be a medium of translation. It also enacts the tenet that control of space is the moniker of both wealth and power, and that space can be imbued with differentiated, unequal values. The rule that capitalism is self perpetuating prompts each players’ position in the hierarchy of winners and losers to directly influence their ability to incur points (here, money). In scrabble or catch, for example, each round is an opportunity for a player to “turn it around”, invert the power imbalance, or “come back”. In Monopoly the players are characters, entrenched in a history of class struggle Generations may be preserved, stories may cross rounds, there is status quo.

Chinese Roulette. Is a word game, which means there is no embodied locus representing play, but it makes no difference. In this game, player are divided into two teams. Each team picks another player, and the opposing team asks questions to try to divine the other team’s secret selection. Here, the material for play is literally one of the player’s beings—their being as it is perceived by his team mates. A ghost of a figure is drawn, given more shape at each round. The golem is a group invention based on two dialectically creative coasts, kneading and modeling the person’s soul, a real group of sculptors or Gods. The asking side suggests a response, offers up substance, the other selects, carves—this is the way a symbolic relic is given value. And does the secret person become rejoined with their prior being when they are revealed? The system of exchange is a capitalist one, since one side holds the power (the knowledge, or possibility of giving the answer) while the other does not—although in games of make-believe like this one, each side is constantly trading power. Each side takes turns playing both roles. But we always have to be inching closer to a resolution of authority. Why is it that there must be a winner and a loser for a game to have meaning, or even to be amusing?

Diplomacy. This is another allegorical game, like Monopoly where each player fights for greatest control over the board, which thereby increases his power and his capacity to win more control over the board (not without the possibilities of power inversions of course). What intrigues me about this game is the presence of an intermediate phase in the game called the “Negotiation” phase. Before every move on the board the players must convene separately with one another, either privately or in public to establish bonds of alliance, and plan the trajectory of their attacks. One cannot win this game without combining forces with other players. The materiality of this game in this sense becomes the hands and mud of human relationships. There is no set of rules guiding the negotiation phase, each player is as free to sell, lie, love, believe, mistrust and despise as he is in his own life. Any alliance that is invented can be broken at any moment. The differentiating between truth and lie is a matter of interpretation. A player cannot trust the face in front of him, but only the board and the essential desire of every opponent to win the game.

Quintet. This is a rare breed of game played completely off the board, with no rules, no pieces and the judge is death itself. This game is taken from a movie starring Paul Newman in a frozen apocalyptic world where no child has been born for 35 years. Paul Newman’s character arrives in a city and finds himself implicated in a strange game, in which the only objective is to murder all the other players. This is because, as the arbiter explains to him at the end, in this society since there is no offspring and therefore no future, the only thing the players have left to gamble is their own death. What interests me in this game is the implication that we are all involved in a set of complex, rotating, intersecting games with those around us, and that often when we play games of the marketable, boxable type what we are playing at is make-believing our own death. That we may see life and death as a game.

The Glass Bead Game. I know as much about this game as I know about the game I am currently inventing. It may BE the game I am trying to invent for all I know. More on this game later.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


These are all of the constellations formed into constellations formed into a constellation.


Or a maze.


glypmachines 3.x

These are based on the resulting translations created out of glyphmachine.2.0. Each glyph now contains a constellation of a fragment of 1cm boxes, or fragments; a view of a deeper structure. You can see at the top of the page the resulting individual glyphs, their constellations. These constellations were then recombined in groups to form webs or armatures or what we might call sentences, in some universe not here.











This machine was made with an exacto knife, splicing out all of the glyphs from a xeroxed copy of my reproduction of the cascajal block and imposing it on to a sheet of 130 1cm boxes.