Node Thinking

Node thinking is the visualization of the world as diagram, graph or bullet list. It is the physical manifestation and the shape of data, an act of self-fulfilling prophecy that presents itself as proof of itself. The popularity of the world as data and the packaging of the world as data belies a desire to believe that the world is and can be represented as a simple object. This diagrammatic gestalt, perhaps a defensive reaction to the over-abundance of information, choice, desire, frustration and satisfaction, represents the desire for mastery. Data filth becomes data flesh.

Node thinking is endemic because it is a powerful and useful paradigm – paradigm in the way Kuhn uses it: once acquired there is no turning back. In technological terms, data is grouped in parent and child elements. Groups of servers combine to become networks. Networks combine to create more networks. The problem with this model of information is that Node thinking rapidly becomes conflated with its own structure: desire and understanding are simplified to binary choice.

Nodes are attractive and repellent to me because they are the modern version of Barthes’s Eiffel tower effect. Barthes believed that the reason the Eiffel tower was so popular was not because it was an engineering feat but because a person looking out over Paris felt they could master the city’s complexity by mastering its layout. In gridded cities this desire is even more easily fulfilled. The illusion and desire to believe that we master the chaos that we have created, and from which many feel utterly alienated, is node thinking. The desperation and pathos is that we use the very technologies that created this abyss to try and solve it. This is where I insert my work.

Graphs, charts and data diagrams are the new rhetoric of rationalization. PowerPoint is the means of amplifying it. We care about data because it is our god of objectivity; it is the forces of chaos converted. Perhaps part of my curiosity about Node thinking is that it intersects with my long-standing interest in the Gnostic gospels. The Gnostics (2nd CE) believed the world was irrational, a mistake and salvation was the rationalization of it. There were lords of chaos and they represented heavens and death; androgyny was the figure for the divine because it resolved the difference between the sexes. My Node diagrams represent the interplay between structure (code) and the random (words, shapes, data) as a figure for chaos rationalized. Data is the Yaldaboath – the parent creator – reconciled with Sophia (wisdom) through the forces of life – the rationalization of the world as mistake. The hope for artists is to be the saprophytes – the fungus – of data, eating the data filth and creating new life there. To achieve the release from bitterness we must embrace the lords of chaos to combat defensive reductive patterning and rolling amnesia.