Funes the Crate Digger: AI, Perception, and Recall

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Scott Church


This essay is inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s short story about Funes, a young man with perfect perception and recall. His stunning archival ability allowed Funes to create a shorthand system for creativity, a “rhapsody of unconnected words” to stand in for his archive of memories: “Anything he thought, even once, remained ineradicably with him.” There is similar malady today, a cultural hyperthymesia, a fetish for the archive. Information is recalcitrant and will not disappear, which cheapens the value of information while amplifying the need for human attention. The art of searching through the information rapids, then, depends upon elimination perhaps more than retrieval. Human curators with inclinations toward perception and recall are needed to filter through this influx of information rather than permitting the reliance upon algorithms by default. This essay theorizes the remix artist as a Borgesian Librarian, a curator of archived information fragments. Through the process of “crate digging,” remixers find long-forgotten samples of music and then exploit their allegorical potential. Like Funes, remix artists have an uncanny ability for perception and recall. Unlike Funes, rather than perceiving their talents as a curse, remix artists are model curators, exemplars of how to filter and make meaning from information overabundance. To illustrate these points, I will address the crate digging on display in two essential remix albums, DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing… and J Dilla’s Donuts.

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