form vs content: or how i learned to love the binary

[ATTENTION READERS! This is a ramble and it’s far from finished, so like, don’t get ANTS IN YOUR PANTS if it doesn’t MOVE you in some way. if i’m WASTING YOUR TIME, you may want to go HERE because it is A LOT MORE INTERESTING than being HERE.]

like everyone else, i engage in activities that are based in BUILDING FORM  and activities that are based in BUILDING CONTENT. for example, as i design this site, i am obsessed with the FORM OF THE THING, wanting it to be the PERFECT VESSEL for holding space for the CONTENT OF THE STUFF that i plan to put within in.

in this way, i’m living TOTALLY LIVING IN THE BINARY (and loving it) where THE FORM and THE CONTENT are TWO DISTINCT THINGS and NOT INTEGRATED, NOT COMPLICATED, NOT TRANSITIONING, NOT MELDING, NOT BLEEDING into each other. things are NOT MESSY in this BINARY SPACE. there is the FORM and then there is the CONTENT and they are separate and that is that.

but, alas, MY BODY IS HAVING NONE OF THAT freshman, naive sort of thinking that there’s even a possibility of being able to separate form and content.


ode to the binary
oh binary! how i love thee!
how i long to actually embody the space where you are
to be there, like, in practice, and not just in theory
ya know what i mean?
what would that space look like?
that binary space?
maybe i only need to search for it



6 replies to “form vs content: or how i learned to love the binary

  1. Oh yeah. I get this one. I grappled with the exact same thing when I was creating that website for my innovation of the year application! Messy. Complicated. Bleeding.


  2. There is a whole poetic to the symbiosis form/content, a sweetness of wrapping, a chemistry of encapsulation. A form/content binary world cannot be one of language for instance, or, I want to say, anything created by a human being. It would have to exist by itself. I feel it would be absurd, nonsense, and we would recognize schyzophrenia in its creation. Or else I think it’s about forgetting, or pretending to. We will forget one to focus on the other, as an exercise or game. Or else it’s stupidity, like what we are taught in school, that there is no form in Maths, and no content inside Nature or History. There was a french philosopher, , who used conceptual oppositions all the time. The titles of several of his books are in “The… and the …” shape.
    Someone must have said intelligently that the form/content duality was the key to intelligence, or the key to psychoanalysis, it is the one duality above all others. Too much to say.


  3. thanks, pierre, for your smart, poetic response. it is totally THE ONE duality above all others. i like playing with it and always have. right now it’s coming up a lot for me with the development of this blog space. i think any creative endeavor brings forth the opportunity to play with the duality. although i wonder if only “western” artists play with this? as we know, it’s a western construct. i like your idea that the binary would have to exist through “forgetting.” that’s a very powerful thought as is the idea that we would recognize schizophrenia in its creation. but i’m not sure i agree with you on that point. well, i think that western people still labor on trying to separate the two, even while knowing (intellectually or intuitively or both) that it is impossible. in a way, the fact that this construct is still so pervasive in our culture brings forth questions about our sanity or our ability to remember. we do have short memories. maybe that is what it is. we have to re/member over and over that we cannot achieve it.

    i’m reading a book called “the information” and was really struck by how the author talks about claude shannon, the guy that coined the phrase information theory. in his attempt to find a technical solution to a variety of communication problems, shannon repeatedly said that the “message” and “structure” of communication could be distinct and separate. in fact, he argued that was the only way to break language down into a binary fashion which could be used to communicate information digitally.

    anyway, yes, so much to say. i could go on, but i won’t. thanks again for your comment. love the feedback.


  4. Hi Linda,
    I wouldn’t say it’s a western construct but a focus of western thought, aided by certain factors of our cuture. I think of letters: asian “letters” can be whole words, in the shape of their content. I remember that being named the “double articulation of language”, first meaningless letters combined into meaningful words, then words combined into sentences. I doubt asian languages entirely lack the first articulation, for instance there are many subtleties and variations to the way they draw the same symbol, if I’m correct. In arts, do you mean then that Asian cultures are stuck in a constant figurative mode and incapable of conceptual art ? While it’s true for the SF Chinatown (and what I’ve seen of Chinese art), I esteem Japanese civilization too highly to think they wouldn’t have absorbed or synthetized the duality in some way, and at this point is it clear I know really not much of asian culture.
    I remember being taught some of Shannon discoveries in engineering school, I think his difficulty was to find new ways to format a message that worked for the transmission, new formats other than Morse code (telegraphy codes). The digital era is so much the consequence of how content can be represented in numerous ways that it’s not even funny. Next step is to discover how the brain models knowledge, and I wish I would live in 2150 now.


  5. hi pierre – looking back and what i wrote and your response and realizing that i didn’t communicate very well around my thinking. i mentioned “western artists” as if “eastern artists” are somehow exempt from any entry into the idea of the binary and i doubt that that is accurate. my reference to the binary in “the west” is pretty specific to what i’ve learned along the way about the greeks and “western civilization” in relation to “eastern thought” – really, i’m mostly repeating what i have heard in academic or yoga and meditation settings rather than what i know from direct experience. so i shouldn’t say much more about it. what i can say is that i know that i have (deeply) internalized the binary and do like to play with it in all sorts of ways, pretty much every day of my life. so it really informs my exploration into consciousness and art and my body.

    as for the digital era, technology and modeling the brain, whoa, i know there is so much there, it blows me away. interesting that there’s this deep desire that’s arising for me these days that i have had ever since i was a child. that is the wish to be able to record everything. and i do mean everything – thoughts as well as actions. of course the digital area and the internet have made it possible to record everyday occurances so easily and sharing them with others is, well, we’re obsessed with that now. but how about actually recording our thoughts? all of our thoughts? i can’t wait for the day when we figure out how to do that, although it may not happen in my lifetime.

    thanks again for writing. maybe we should figure out a way to collaborate on something.


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