State of Unplay – Thoughts from The Bridge

Time is money, space is money-the reality of institutionalism today, whether education, health, et al, all are business. Time is a commodity, space is a commodity and we are commodities-whether this is ‘social alienation’ is debatable. At this time of mass multi-media communication rhetoric and metaphor are as commonplace as ever before.

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Cryptic space, both physical and metaphysical, the bridge that connects the administration and theoretical faculties with the areas of ‘art production’, a space that is, usually, only used as a connection-sometimes the bridge or corridor is used to showcase work in the form of framed/glazed photographs and prints; mostly it is empty except for the transient bodies.

The chance to use this as a performance area and as a means of ongoing  work development, both practical and research, came to light in April/May. For a period of a month I used the space to capture passages of real time traffic-movement across-whilst I produced work that evolved daily over a four week period. This work was captured on small journalist HD cameras mounted at either end of the bridge. The filming occurred twice weekly, each session lasting for 2 hours –the lifespan of the cameras batteries. However I worked/performed daily-the days of filming were arbitrary to avoid any set pattern or predicate.

The film/sound work became research material and also practical work, the discourse between artist (myself) and the passers by initiating further extrapolation of the physical space and the metaphysical-peoples interaction/non-interaction with me and the work. Some people knew they were being filmed others didn’t-even though the cameras were discreet but in plain view.

Thoughts from the bridge/parabiosis was an experiment to encourage discourse with the work in a non-linear reading, that is in a way similar to the nomadic thought concepts denoted in the writings of A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari, discussing how binaries such as molar/molecular are in effect just surface readings or operations of a deeper field of possible exploration with a far more complicated field of multidimensional dynamics.

As with the book that informed, the evolving work on show and the possibility of interactive discourse with the artist (me) the reader is encouraged to engage with the work in any order- this stylistic choice embodied in the term parabiosis. This term, similar to the rhizome concept in the introductory passage of the book-and indeed to the concept and aesthetic of both hypertext and Umberto Eco’s net.

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This explorative concept of data reading or nomadic thought and interaction is the antithesis of the linear mode of dissemination espoused by Shannon-Weaver in The Mathematical Theory of Communication; this text highlighted a ‘model’ of communication that became known as the ‘dominant form’ of information theory. This text was critiqued by Mcluhan in his-posthumous- 1989 The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century were Mcluhan expounds his theory of Acoustic space as distinguishable from the worldview of Visual space-a linear, quantative, classically geometric model-and that of Acoustic space-a holistic, qualitative order with a complex intricate topology, not unlike A thousand Plateaus.

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Reading, writing, and hierarchical ordering are associated with the left brain, as are the linear concept of time and phonetic literacy. The left brain is the locus of analysis, classification, and rationality. The right brain is the locus of the spatial, tactile, and musical. “Comprehensive awareness” results when the two sides of the brain are in true balance. Visual Space is associated with the simplified worldview of Euclidean geometry, the intuitive three dimensions useful for the architecture of buildings and the surveying of land. It is too rational and has no grasp of the acoustic. Acoustic Space is multisensory. “Acoustic Space has the basic character of a sphere whose focus or centre is simultaneously everywhere and whose margin is nowhere.” (The Global Village, p74)

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The Global Village, McLuhan, collaborating with Bruce R. Powers, provided a strong conceptual framework for understanding the cultural implications of the technological advances associated with the rise of a worldwide electronic network, concepts he’d predicted in the Gutenburg Galaxy in 1962.

For me this period of exploration was primarily about cryptic space, the ‘interventions’ on the bridge, and the ongoing research, establishing-or cementing-links between the march of media dissemination from ancient to present time, this underpinning the original concept of the project. The ‘interventions on the bridge’-its locos as stated being a connective channel between the theoretical and physical faculties of the institute-on one level served as an experiment in the dissemination of the research material, giving the theoretical some physical presence in the cryptic space.

This exploration not unlike Mcluhan’s Gutenburg Galaxy could be seen as an episodic historical journey from oral culture, print culture, and cultural studies through media ecology-in some ways a form of geological investigation as say in A Thousand Plateaus as discussed earlier.

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Mcluhan explains how communication technology (alphabetic writing or phonemic orthography, the printing press, and the electronic media) affects cognitive organisation, which in turn has profound social ramifications stating:

‘…If a new technology extends one or more of our senses outside us into the social world, then new ratios among all of our senses will occur in that particular culture. It is comparable to what happens when a new note is added to a melody. And when the sense ratios alter in any culture then what had appeared lucid before may suddenly become opaque, and what had been vague or opaque will become translucent…’ (Mcluhan, 1962, p72)

This ecology of communication can have or adopt a hierarchical approach, say how in visual culture the arrival of the camera ‘heralded the death of painting’, the email the death of writing etc. This could be due to the ‘immediacy’ of the adoption of the new media (um), perhaps the fashion or trend that supports this new form of communication-making it cool-to use a term Mcluhan adopted from popular culture ‘cool media’, this however is a conflate and indeed a paradox to its original usage, when Mcluhan coined the term cool media he was distinguishing it from hot media-a binary contrast, hot media being something that intensifies one single sense, high definition-such as movies, cool media being more intense, low definition and requiring more participation by the viewer-such as comic books, demanding a form of detachment.

 

McLuhan’s stroke of genius was to anchor his theory of history in the realm of the senses, as Anne Middleton Wagner, an art historian at the University of California at Berkeley, suggested last month at a Boston symposium, ”Mediators: Medium and Its Messages.” Because McLuhan saw the media as extensions of the human body — printed books as extensions of eyes, radios as extensions of ears — he believed that each new technological advance would reshape humanity and traumatize it, too. ”We shape our tools and our tools shape us.”

 

I use the term here in a more sociological and culturally based etymological definition, this usage itself being a paradox, cool being a term of both detachment and individualism and a term of collective communal belonging, and attachment-to, say, the in crowd.

This of course brings into question not only the concepts of commodity fetishism, but also that of social prestige, as early as 1899 Thorstein Veblen discussed the concept of ‘conspicuous consumption’ as a function of social-class consumerism in his detailed economic treatise The Theory of the Leisure Class, this was revisited in 2004 by Alain de Botton in his book Status Anxiety.

Another stratum to this topography is commodity narcissism a psychological study by Stephen Dunne and Robert Cluley in 2012 entitled From Commodity Fetishism to Commodity Narcissism: in this study they applied the Marxist theory of commodity fetishism to psychologically analyse the economic behaviour of the contemporary consumer. They suggest that consumers who are professed to be ethically concerned about the manufacturing origins of commodities nonetheless behaved as if ignorant of the exploitative labour conditions of the workers who produced the goods and services bought by the concerned consumer. Furthermore within this culture of consumerism-this zone of apparent ignorance-narcissistic consumers have established buying of these goods-shopping-to be a socially acceptable way, or manner of behaviour.

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This lineage of course continues, Guy Debord in 1967 in his The society of the spectacle, extrapolated on Marxist thought-social alienation were an individual views their own being or self as a commodity that can be bought and sold, because they relate every human relation as a business transaction-Enttfrendung or Theory of Alienation.

Guy Debord interpreted and developed for the 20th century — that in modern society, the psychological intimacies of inter-subjectivity and personal self-relation are commodities that can be commodified into, and thus as discrete ‘experiences’ that can be bought and sold.

Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, recognized the importance of inter-subjectivity, and wrote extensively on the topic. His most well-known text on inter-subjectivity is the Cartesian Meditations. Although Husserlian phenomenology is often charged with methodological solipsism, an inherent ‘I’, in the fifth Cartesian Meditation Husserl attempts to grapple with the problem of inter-subjectivity and puts forward his theory of transcendental, monad logical inter-subjectivity.

The theory or concept of Inter-subjectivity also helps in the constitution of objectivity: in the experience of the world as available not only to oneself, but also to the ‘Other’, there is a bridge between the personal and the shared, the ‘Self and the Others’.

Thoughts from the bridge-parabiosis.

Contemporary Psychologists have three major theories relating to this line of enquiry one of which is interaction theory, suggesting that an important shift has taken place in social cognition research, with a move towards participatory aspects of understanding and away from the individual mind. One such Psychologist Shaun Gallagher uses the example of dog walking to explain interaction theory stating that…’ when walking a dog, both the owners behaviour is regulated by the dog stopping and sniffing, and the dogs behaviour is regulated by the lead and the owners commands.’ (Gallagher, 2010, P441) Gallagher defines the interactive process as two autonomous beings that are engaged in a co-regulated coupling behaviour.

Philosophically in both the analytic and the Continental traditions inter-subjectivity is thought to be fundamental, not only at the relational level, but also the metaphysical and epistemological levels. It is considered that inter-subjectivity is postulated as a key factor in establishing the truth of propositions, and in constituting the so-called ‘objectivity of objects’.

The value of a commodity originates from the human being’s intellectual and perceptual capacity to consciously (subjectively) ascribe a relative value (importance) to a commodity, the goods and services manufactured by the labour of a worker. Therefore, in the course of the economic transactions (buying and selling) that constitute market exchange, people ascribe subjective values to the commodities (goods and services), which the buyers and the sellers then perceive as objective values, the market-exchange prices that people will pay for the commodities.

So what is the price of communication? We live in a time were communication is a rich and vibrant commodity, more so, perhaps, than any other time. Inclusion is dependent on not only correct media device, but also correct price package to enable inclusion. Moreover it is an urban myth and a populous one that the ‘majority’ have the capability for inclusion in the ‘Global Village’ as Mcluhan foretold.

It was, historically, when communication became an ‘object’ that commodification and thus inclusion/exclusion began and furthermore when the integer of ‘speed’ –as in time- came into the equation that the price of communication was raised. When the written word became democratised it was still a hierarchical mode of communication, few could read but most could talk and so storytelling-whether accurate verbalisation of a written text or not-was still revered. When more people could read the book became a commodity and the line of ecology of communication continues through electronic media to the present, each transition of communication bringing a new device(s) and a greater commodity value to communication. Speed of data transferal being integral in the ‘rhetoric’ of commodification.

Time is money, and institutional time is good money.

What Mcluhan foresaw in the Global Village has become reality in many ways, his ‘tetrad’ theory or diagram was developed as a pedagogical tool from which to explore and extrapolate the effects on society of any technology-medium-of communication, or otherwise. This was shown by dividing the effects into four distinct-yet connected-categories which are shown simultaneously. Mcluhan’s theories or laws were examined in the form of questions as seen below:

What does the medium enhance?

What does the medium make obsolete?

What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?

What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

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A conceit of ‘X’ – a crossing over

The tetrad, visually, can be seen as an ‘X’ consisting of four diamonds, the two diamonds on the left are the ‘Enhancement’ and ‘Retrieval’ qualities of the medium (which appears in the centre) these are both ‘Figure qualities’. The two diamonds on the right of the tetrad are the ‘Obsolescence’ and ‘Reversal’ qualities of the medium; these are both ‘Ground’ qualities-McLuhan adapted the Gestalt psychology idea of a figure and a ground, which underpins the meaning of “The medium is the message.” He used this concept to explain how a form of communications technology, the medium or figure, necessarily operates through its context, or ground.

If we use Radio as an example of ‘medium’ in the centre of the tetrad then:

Enhancement (figure): What the medium amplifies or intensifies. Radio amplifies news and music via sound.

Obsolescence (ground): What the medium drives out of prominence. Radio reduces the importance of print and the visual.

Retrieval (figure): What the medium recovers which was previously lost. Radio returns the spoken word to the forefront.

Reversal (ground): What the medium does when pushed to its limits. Acoustic radio flips into audio-visual TV.

As Robert Babe states in his essay on ‘Mcluhan and the Electronic Archives’

‘McLuhan believed that in order to grasp fully the effect of a new technology, one must examine figure (medium) and ground (context) together, since neither is completely intelligible without the other. McLuhan argued that we must study media in their historical context, particularly in relation to the technologies that preceded them. The present environment, itself made up of the effects of previous technologies, gives rise to new technologies, which, in their turn, further affect society and individuals. Marshall McLuhan viewed all human artefacts as constituting media of communication. Artefacts, he maintained, extend or amplify aspects of the human organism. For example, the wheel extends the leg, the axe extends the hand, and microphones extend the ear and spectacles the eye. Artefacts, for McLuhan, are human “outerings,” or prostheses, and people are joined by or meet within their extensions, which, consequently, mediate human interactions.’ (Babe, p1)

If we consider that all  technologies have embedded within them their own assumptions about time and space then  the message which the medium conveys can only be understood if the medium and the environment in which the medium is used—and which, simultaneously, it effectively creates—are analysed together. He (Mcluhan) believed that an examination of the figure-ground relationship can offer a critical commentary on culture and society.

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In the present environment of mass-media communication were dissemination of the ‘overload’ of information proliferated by electronic media can be overwhelming people are, perhaps, returning to ‘mythic’ modes of information processing as a strategy for coping. In many ways Myth is a succinct statement of complex social process. The mythopoeic form of discourse is the ‘chiasmus’ to the logical, linear mode of western science and philosophy. Myth being discourse in narrative form, which illustrates and incorporates timeless truths through particularistic examples, usually in the form of stories or, perhaps, narratives-if we consider the oral tradition of communication from say Greek tragedian theatre to the present day proliferation of modern folk stories through the medium of rap music, and of course, all in between.

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Chiasmus-can be seen as a rhetorical figure of speech, an inversion or reversal, it can also be used as a literary category of critical analysis, as can metaphor coming from the Greek, metapherein, meaning to carry across or transport. Before the age of electricity, communication was closely linked with roads, bridges, sea routes, canals and other modes of carrying across, making the notion of metaphor an apt descriptor of communicatory processes. With electronics, the need to transport physically inscribed messages abated, but, according to McLuhan, the notion of media as metaphor retained cogency as users themselves became grafted into their technological extensions. He wrote, “In this electric era we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness.” (New York, 1989, p64)

As aforementioned the tetrad is a form of crossing over, it is also as much of a model as the Shannon-Weaver exemplar of communication dissemination, the tetrad however scribes deeper into the historical geological strata of ‘communication ecology’, as does A Thousand plateaus, another exploration of this ‘rhizomic’ nature of understanding is the ‘parabiotic’ densely layered writings of Harold Innes. Innes coined the term ‘monopoly of knowledge’ suggesting that when civilizations control the dominant medium of communication, be it writing or printing, they importantly control how knowledge is obtained and disseminated and how this concept of dissemination, is a mode of defining what people think about and what they think with.

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We are in the ‘age of satellite’s’, the moon our nearest ‘natural’ satellite has been mapped, traversed and semi-explored. Our own, man-made, satellites navigate the space between earth and moon and are the ‘new mode’ of technological advancement that disperse the ‘medium of communication’.

The satellite medium, McLuhan states, encloses the Earth in a man-made environment, which “ends ‘Nature’ and turns the globe into a repertory theatre to be programmed” (Mcluhan, 1970, p9). All previous environments (book, newspaper, radio, etc.) and their artefacts are retrieved under these conditions (“past times are pastimes”). McLuhan thereby meshes this into the term global theatre. It serves as an update to his older concept of the global village, which, in its own definitions, can be said to be subsumed into the overall condition described by that of the global theatre.

In McLuhan’s terms, a cliché is a “normal” action, phrase, etc. which becomes so often used that we are “anesthetized” to its effects.

McLuhan relates the cliché-to-archetype process to the Theatre of the Absurd, using as an example Pascal, in the seventeenth century, who tells us that the heart has many reasons of which the head knows nothing. ‘The Theatre of the Absurd is essentially a communication to the head of some of the silent languages of the heart which in two or three hundred years it has tried to forget all about, in the seventeenth century world the languages of the heart were pushed down into the unconscious by the dominant print cliché’ (Mcluhan, 1970, p4).

In 2003, Sarah Boxer wrote-for the ‘Critic’s Notebook’: Mcluhan’s messages, echoing on Iraq.

In this article she relates how on the eve of the war in Iraq Mcluhan’s theories of a ‘global theatre’ and his ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ media become evident some 40 years after they were published:

‘…The McLuhan program included a hot medium; a film about McLuhan by Kevin McMahon titled ”McLuhan’s Wake,” followed up with a cool one, a panel discussion. Then everyone was cast out into the cold night to return to their cool media sets (their televisions) to watch the war begin’.

The war in Iraq had brought out something new, something ‘fresh and bright’ in Mcluhan’s theories, the television coverage of the conflict. One of the last chapters on ‘Understanding Media’ is about weaponry and, ironically this follows on directly from the chapter on television.

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Once upon a time, the city served as ”a collective shield or plate armour,” an extension of our skins, McLuhan wrote in 1964. But with the coming of the electronic age, McLuhan said, ”we put our whole nervous system outside ourselves.” We live in a highly sensitized global village. The world, as Laurie Anderson said in the McLuhan movie, is like ”a buzzing forest, stirring all around you.”

Boxer continues on Mcluhans statements by saying…’the tanks rolling into Iraq from the south were not just tanks but extensions of marching legs and protective skin. The night vision goggles were extensions of eyes. And what about those television cameras attached to the tanks? They were harder to classify.’

She continues…’ So what happens when a cool medium like television is attached to a hot weapon like a tank or a Bradley fighting vehicle? It exerts a powerful effect on the audience. Suddenly everyone watching television is dragged into war. When there is a sandstorm, you, the audience, can’t see ahead any better than the troops. When the fight’s going smoothly, you feel that maybe the war will be quick and easy. When the camera is attached to a smart bomb, you might feel that you have become the bomb.’

This ‘absurd’ global theatre proliferated by satellite broadcasting, sending live newsfeed all over the planet absorbs every participant into a strange vortex of ‘absurd reality’- that is, there is a general confusion as to who is acting and who is watching. And at the crux of the confusion are the traditional eyewitnesses to war, the journalists, and ‘‘embedded’’ with the troops. Are the television cameras the witnesses to war, or are they part of the weaponry? Or both?

Just as the audience feels a part of the army, the army becomes part of the audience. American troops on an aircraft carrier watch CNN to see how the war is playing and progressing. Soldiers are watching other soldiers on television.

Boxer continues by stating…’ In this war, the perception of winning is almost the same as winning. If Saddam Hussein can appear to be in power on television, he is in power. If the United States military can show the world that it is winning, then it is winning.’

She suggests that this, in turn, puts the Iraqi people in a bind and that they themselves have to appear loyal to anyone who might be in power at any given time throughout the conflict. Early in the war, when it looked as if the United States and Britain were going to have an easy victory, an American soldier started tearing down an image of Saddam Hussein, and an Iraqi man took his shoe off and pounded on the picture, then turned and smiled for the camera. This is what I want you to know about me, he seemed to say.

When space is filled with satellites, all the world becomes a proscenium arch, the narrator of the McLuhan movie suggested. The phrase ”theatre of war” becomes literal.

Boxer concludes her article with the suggestion that it was, perhaps, no accident that ‘Mcluhan’s brief chapter on weapons follows his lengthy chapter on television.’ Mcluhan himself proposed that ‘…all technology can plausibly be regarded as weaponry’.

Boxer continues…’and now, in his own muddled way, he seems to be right on target. Television cameras are weapons. The battle in Iraq is being fought with cool weapons mounted onto hot ones. It’s a warm war in the global village.’

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Thoughts from the bridge-between fact and belief supposedly sit knowledge-what are the economics of truth? The Tetrad, with its fourfold Möbius topological structure of enhancement, reversal, retrieval and obsolescence, is mobilized by McLuhan and Powers to illuminate the media or technological inventions of cash money, the compass, the computer, the database, the satellite, and the global media network.

Conceit’s of ‘X’

Rhizomatic

Arborecescent

Chiasmus

Inclusion/exclusion

Commodity

Mutualism

Social alienation

Narcissistic consumerism

Inter subjectivity

Time and space are relative and relatives

Cryptic space is everywhere

State space and nomadic space

Myth and linear logic

The theatre of war is as extreme as one can possibly go, however absurdity has no extremes as such, the rhizome network of connectivity that is embedded in a thousand plateaus in state and nomadic space is as boundless as Mcluhan and Powers ‘acoustic space’. All are interconnected. Cryptic space is an exemplar of all the above and vice versa- they are a chiasmus, metaphorically and rhetorically.

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Thoughts from the bridge was an exploration of all the above, a performance in time and space in all its aforementioned guises. The locos of the bridge-a departmental conduit- acting as chora, site as generator for the discourse or indeed lack of between the two.

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Like ends of a seesaw, ci ca-this and that, the departments are in stasis, the bridge the pimped up deal that connects the two, the institutional rhetoric that is fed down from the bureaucratic economists the fulcrum. The inverted power pyramid of structured finance, percentages and 15:1 ratios demanding stabile balance, the state space-kafkaesque- pro forma sat above and parabiotically linked to the pyramid below, linear progression only, no nomadic space.

Numbers in and numbers out, in a Unit based economy, all commodities. As Fordism, production line mentality of raw material in and cooked product out-with apologies to Levi-Strauss.

Like a portion of road, anywhere, a cryptic space-on one side state space and all its rhetoric, on the other nomad space and all its rhetoric. Waiting between these two- in true Beckettian fashion for answers and for reasons, for… whatever, just waiting: balancing and disseminating the rhetoric and metaphor, in a state of ‘doubleness’- a state of Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

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In a state of bewilderment, trying to decipher the coded language of ‘business based institutionalism’, like the ship of Theseus-a turd in a suit is still a turd.

The model for disallowed playtime, or nomadic space within the state space, became apparent in the cryptic space of a toilet/washroom. SHOW CONTINUES read the sign, and so it does and in running water down the ‘SINK HOLE’ so it has.

Like water down the drain, and paper flushed away, the annual expenditure is metred well: A blueprint for disaster, perhaps? Or, perhaps, just clichés to archetypes?

Thoughts from the bridge began as a naturally evolving process, involving all media possible in non-programmed environs, exploring the concept of on-going processes that emerge in the doing and then merge in the making, concepts explored by Erin Manning and Brian Massumi in Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience, (University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

This non-programmed environs the antithesis to the well-structured modular aspects on either side of the bridge, and to the metaphor and rhetoric one encounters in the ‘time passages’ within and without the two locos.

Considering the concepts of research-creation in a symbiotic process oriented mode or node of exploration, between the ever antagonist binary of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’.

This process led exploration-for after all isn’t ‘thinking’ creation-belays any hierarchical concepts, and in this way attempts to remove the noose of critical theory that can become judge and master and unify in a pro-active way.

In this ‘corridor’ there is much traffic of divergence with little movement from one side; interaction from the theoretical -in a physical sense- is virtually non-existent. And this is one of the very ‘absurd’ paradoxes that inform and have informed my project.

Perhaps thinking outside the box has in itself boxed itself in-has become the box, has clichéd itself into an archetype. Or perhaps the box just exists within a bigger box etc, as Russian dolls do, the biggest box of all being the corporate state space and the parameters it sets.

The foundations of educational institutions are surely the connectivity of interaction, where critical analysis is embedded surely there must be some physical interactive process aside from a PowerPoint and a few pieces of paper-especially if the opportunity exists for ‘physical’ interactive connection.

But this in itself is just rhetoric and metaphor, as aforementioned time and space are money and are commodities, units through is the economics of truth.

 

State of Unplay – Bucharest

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