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<nettime> NMF: TEXT: The Return of the Author by Avi Rosen
eduardo on Tue, 23 May 2006 06:48:52 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> NMF: TEXT: The Return of the Author by Avi Rosen

TEXT: The Return of the Author by Avi Rosen, Feb. 2006, English translation --
Sonia Dantziger


This article can also be read at http://siglab.technion.ac.il/~avi

The article transposes the text of Roland Barthes' "Death of the Author,"  (La
Mort de L'auteur (1968, 1977, 2005), to the arena of happenings in cyberspace,
and examines the implications from the point of view of author-reader-text,
active in the electronic environment.

"The Death of the Author" was written in a transition period between the epoch
of the written word and that of the electronic word. A transition period is
usually characterized by hybrid works, inspired by new ideas, but realized by
old means Gentner, D.R., & Grudin, J. (1996). The claim is that over and above
the use of the electronic medium for the needs of creating, distribution, and
the consumers of the text, a dramatic change is effected in the whole, beyond
the death of the author and the birth of a new reader. Ozenfant (1952) gives an
example of this process in his description of a modern radio from the early
decades of the last century. It was installed in the pulpit of a Gothic-style
made of carved wood, with a heavy base, and at the top, a candlestick for a
candle to illuminate the reading book. The book rests on a support that
contains the loudspeaker of the radio. This ornate installation was an attempt
to dignify new technology and its message,  by giving it a classical
appearance, and by adapting the manner of use to the old and familiar form. The
pulpit "vocalized" the text written in the book that lay above the pulpit,
instead of the reader standing in front of the illuminated book, concentrating
on reading the text.

These reading conditions were essential for conveying the meaning of the
author's immutable  text to the reader in the Newtonian world of fixed linear
givens.  This is actually an arrangement for conducting an experiment as in a
physical laboratory, where rigid environmental conditions are enforced to
ensure that measurement results bear out previous suppositions. Indeed, the
pulpit kept the fixed  relationships between the traditional author, the text,
the reader, and the reading conditions. A change in the components of the
experiment, through including  the radio set, introduces a random variable,
that must undermine the results.

Picture no.1, from Ozenfant, 1952, pp.160-161
On the left, fine wireless Receiving set. On the right. "The Pulpit", pure
Gothic style, containing set complete in every detail. The music book is the
loud speaker.  
Readers of a written text in the media epoch of radio and television are
constantly subject to rapid changes in their understanding of their environment
and the texts they read. The shift creates a gap between electronically fast
changing consciousness and understanding, and the printed texts that remain
"slow" and stable. The authors who make the texts try to introduce changes that
will match the dynamic environment, but the moment the text is printed and
fixed, it becomes separated from its author; the author "dies". The article,
"The Death of the Author" was written in the pre-internet transition period
when the Aristotelian dualistic approach, with its dichotomy between object and
subject, was still appropriate. The text was written, printed, and distributed
by "slow" technology, for a reading public that became "fast" and its reading
subversive. For the new fast reader, the fixated concepts that originated in
the slow world, such as author, God, knowledge, and their derivatives,
disappeared. Carried away in space, the reader lost all points of reference,
and encountered random texts, to which he tried to give meaning, as best he

Barthes describes the "slow" linear world where there is a clear distinction
between different subjects and objects in space, and likewise, between texts
composed of diverse words having clear meanings: "the structure can be
followed; 'run' (like the thread of a stocking)" (ibid. p.16). Barthes then
adds that "We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single
'theological' meaning (the 'message' of the Author-God)".

His intention is that in the new state, the text ceases to be unambivalent, and
causes the death of the traditional author. Barthes describes the process " As
soon as a fact is narrated no longer with a view to acting directly on reality
but intransitively, that is to say, finally outside of any function other than
that of the very practice of the symbol itself, this disconnection occurs, the
voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins."
(ibid. p.8). In the "slow" world of Barthes, that  preceded to cyberspace, the
moment the text or the voice (the object) is detached from its creator (the
subject), it is "launched" into void that separates the various objects from
the  subjects, and becomes detached from the significance  that charged it when
it was first written or spoken by the author. The detached text moved in free
pathways in space, colliding with other texts that were transmitted in similar
fashion by various authors. The resulting total mass of texts became
"multi-dimensional" space in which many diverse writings combined, and
collided, none of which were  original (ibid  p.14). This chaotic state leads
Barthes to the conclusion that writing or creating in his day rejects defined
meaning, and in his words, "In the end, it means to deny God and his
hypostases?reason, science, law" (ibid p.16).

Changes in the consciousness of the experimenter alter the results of the
experiment. For the new reader biased by the electronic media, introduces
"chaotic" variables to the process; reading with a fixed meaning has ceased.
The existing reading arrangement no longer matched reality, and it was
necessary to update it. The Gothic pulpit was used for reading information,
while the reader was settled in front of the page, keeping lighting conditions
dictated by the candle. This was no longer suitable. The reading arrangement
resembling the Thomas Young's  two slits experiment to demonstrate the
properties of light. In Young's experiment a beam of light is directed to a
plane with two slits through which light rays pass, thus creating typical  wave
patterns on a screen. And so too, reading a text from a book and its meaning is

Because the consciousness of the reader becomes dynamic under the influence of
the electronic media, some measurement  components are constantly changed. The
reading has ceased to be unambivalent. Although the projecting beam of light
(the text) is the same beam, the observer (the reader)  has changed, and
reached a different understanding of the "slaw" text. The result is the birth
of a new, adaptive reader, biased by the electronic media, in the world of the
fixed text, and the anonymous author. That was the state of things at the time
of Barthes writing.

The changes in the arrangement of the experiment (the reading) did not stop in
Barthes' time. The printed, fixed text turned into electronic signals and was
transferred to communication networks, that is, cyberspace. The new arrangement
transformed the reading experiment and its results drastically. The reader, the
text, and author abandoned their real, slow surroundings in favor of  new, fast
space containing numerous fast texts. These texts are written and distributed
electronically at the speed of light, and within seconds reach any reader or
author worldwide. This activity equalized the speed  of the author, text, and
the reader.  The volume  of texts in cyberspace is monitored by search engines
such as Google,  involving tens of thousands of computers that store in their
memories the addresses of around ten billion WWW pages from all over the world.
(True as of October, 2004) from:

Picture no. 2. from: http//enwikipedia ong/wik/EPR_paradox
The EPR thought experiment, performed with electrons. A source (center) sends
electrons toward two observers, Alice (left) and Bob (right), who can perform
spin measurements.
The meaning is that a number of atoms in our bodies are connected to an unseen
atomic network on the other side of the universe, and influence the state of
billions of atoms light years away.  The implications of the experiment are
that the universe is a-local, where events at one place on the surface of the
Earth instantaneously influence events on the other side of the Earth and the
universe.  Locality matches the state of dichotomy between object and subject.
Therefore Alice and Bob are two separate subjects, and in a state in which
Alice will immediately know something about Bob who is far away from her, which
is impossible.  Barthes' "slow" reader and author are in this state of one
knowing nothing about the other. Barthes' conclusion, as we said, is that the
author is dead, and the reader and the text remain. As we mentioned , Alice and
Bob and others are now "fast", joined together in cyberspace and their
measurements (their reading) of the two (or many) separate electrons (texts)
discharged by the atom(s) (the author(s)) becomes a single measurement
(reading) carried out by the super-reader-author (SRA), when the wave function
collapses. As in the John A. Wheelers' delayed-choice two slits experiment,
"where single photons following two paths, or one path, according to a choice
made "after" the photon has followed one or both paths. The results indicate
that wave-like or particle-like properties are determined not just by the
status of the two paths. They are also determined by the decision of the
experimenter to make a measurement or observation by changing that status? the
observer and the observed system cannot be separate and distinct in space. They
also show that this distinction does not exist in time. "(Kafatos & Nadeau,
1990, 45-47) The SRA observer, "caused" something (super-meaning) to happen
"after" it has already occurred, at the separate slots ("isolated" readers). A
text of this kind appears impossible to the traditional slow reader, exactly
like in the EPR thought experiment, the "slow" reader located outside the event
horizon ( of cyberspace), feels as though far more time has passed from the
moment the two electrons left the atom, till they are measured by Alice and
Bob. That is because he monitors the two electrons image that is "frozen" on
the event horizon, before it is "swallowed"  up on the way to the cyberspace
Picture no.3. Alice and Bob,  author-reader united in cyberspace.
 The same moment that Barthes describes when "the voice loses its origin, the
author enters into his own death," actually no longer exists! In cyberspace
existence is the experience of eternal self feedback writing and reading.
(Connecting to the cyberspace by a central hub that links all the references in
the network, for example, GPS, Google and cell phone, resemble reading
information stored at the event horizon of a black hole by connecting its
singularity. Every user, reader or author connected to the cyberspace
"downloads" the data stored in its singularity. The act of reading the text
from the network simulates the cyberspace information wave function collapsing
by means of the reader's submitted query. The text that was in a state of
superposition throughout the network, or in Barthes' definition
"multi-dimensional space in which many and varied writings are combined and
meet, and none are foremost."  (Roland Barthes, p.4) becomes a single peak wave
function that appears on the reader's display).  The reader in Barthes' "Death
of the Author" is biased by media propagated at the speed of light, and
dominated by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. According to this principle it
is never possible to know with absolute certainty the position of a particle
and its speed,  at one and the same time. However much one knows about one of
these with greater accuracy, one knows less accurately about the other. (Steven
Hawking, 2003,214) For example a one peak wave function, describes a state in
which the location of the particle (the word and its meaning) is absolutely
defined, but the gradient of the function changes sharply, thus the speed
changes fast, and is not defined. One can compare this state to the action of
reading in the "slow" or static world, in which objects (words) and meanings
are well defined, but if the reader moves fast, the text will disappear
together with the meaning. In our example the reader (and his consciousness)
moving fast is distanced from the  "slow" printed word, and so the meaning is
not clear, or disappears.
Opposite successive peaks wave function, enters uncertainty regarding the
location of a word (meaning), but there is great certainty about its speed.
That is similar to the state of reading a fast text in cyberspace, where the
content is in superposition. The text that becomes a hypertext is "stretched"
widely in meanings and variable links that explain it, but is no longer
understandable as it was when it was read in the traditional "slow" way. As in
cyberspace all the elements, the author, the reader, the text and the space
become "fast", the reader is able synchronizing himself with that text, and to
understand it in relation to the time and place of reading, as we saw
previously in the example of searching for a specific text on WWW with the help
of a search engine.

Picture no.4. The wave function determines the probabilities of particle in
being present in different places at different speeds, in such way that ?x and
?v obey the uncertainty principle. In Steven Hawking, 2003, p.114.
In order to understand the meaning of a text in cyberspace, one must understand
the characteristics  of fast space, which are different from the traditional
slow space in which human beings operated for thousands of years. The
traditional slaw text is converted into electronic particles with high kinetic
potential, in their ability to convert that energy into mass, after colliding
with another particle. The result can be a chain reaction of particles whose
sum of mass is greater than the mass of the original particles (Zvi Yanai,
2005, p.41). In other words, the text that underwent transformation into
electronic particles is introduced into a particle accelerator which is
cyberspace, and collided at high speed with the target which is the reader's
consciousness, also connected to cyberspace, and moves at the speed of light.
The result of the collision is a "chain reaction" that releases energy, or
added hyper-meaning, embedded in a hypertext, something that cannot be
expressed in slow traditional space. The "chain reaction" impacts the
cyberspace inner and outer content.   The traditional low-speed text that
suited Newton's local and deterministic world, in which there was clear
understanding of a separate subject and object, and time was fixed and stable,
is transformed into a text in superposition. The components of the hypertext
moving in cyberspace in every possible trajectory at one and the same time,
collapse into a final state determined by the decision of the reader. The
electronic text, the author and the reader resemble quantum mechanics that
removed the concepts 'certainty' and 'causality' from the dictionary, and
replaced them by probability. The reader in the world of quantum physics has
stopped being an observer or objective reader, and has become an inseparable
part of the subject of his reading, and an active partner in creating the text
and the reality, in contrast to the classical "slow" world in which the
identity of the object and the text were independent of the decisions and
actions of the reader (Zvi Yanai,  2005, p.135).  Niles Bohr wrote, "The lack
of ability to differentiate in the accepted way between physical phenomena and
their observation, which frequently puts us in a position familiar in
psychology, where we often encounter the difficulty of distinguishing between
subject and object" (Zvi Yanai,  p.137).

If we return to Thomas Young's two slits experiment, we will see that an
electron has the character of both, a particle and wave, and every electron has
the wave function diffused throughout entire space. With a light detector
installed on one of the slits in the experiment, and radiating photons instead
of a light beam, according to the uncertainty principle, the resolution
measurement of the detector determines the results. If the detector has a high
enough resolution, its action interferes with the photons and destroys the wave
pattern on the target screen.  If the detector has a resolution sufficiently
low so as not to interfere with the pattern of condensation then its accuracy
is too low to say from which slit the photon enters.
Picture no.5. Human sight, as part of Thomas Young two slits experiment.

The fast reader linked directly to cyberspace is part of the two slits
experiment, and serves as a detector. The text changes into photons projected
on the reader's retina, and are passed on to the optic nerve, reader's brain
and consciousness. The brain and consciousness becomes the experimental target
screen on which the information is projected.  However, unlike the passive
screen in Young' experiment, this is an active screen. Projection of the
photons influences the characteristics of the brain, by changing the electric
pulses, and with it the discharge of chemical materials from it. As a result,
new pathways are created in the brain, memory changes and thus consciousness
also changes. In other words, the characteristics of the detector (the reader)
and the resolution change following the action of measuring, and so the result
is not "objective", and neither is the reading of the electronic text. The
brain and consciousness act as feedback and control the reading of the next
text that will be carried out in cyberspace as would an operator of a Scanning
Electron Microscope, whose gaze onto the examined matter transmits an electrons
beam which alter the location of the particles and the properties of the
observed matter. The similar impact  is accomplished in a reality TV show ,
when the audience voting using remote controller, cell phone, or internet,
determines the participants fate.  Similarly, the reader of a text in
cyberspace creates constant transformation of content and meaning, because
texts connected to him, which explain and expand, change all the time. The
reader in cyberspace becomes reader-author, whereas  the electrons that make up
the text become the consciousness and its body,  in superposition, until the
critical moment when the MIND of the reader interferes and creates a central
meaning in reading the text. (David Bohm, 1987, p.82). At that moment the wave
function of the text collapses to a discrete point and meaning.

Picture no.6. Scheme of creating the Super-Reader-Author in cyberspace.
The fast reader in cyberspace is an "isolated" item among many fast readers,
who together create the Super-Reader-Author (SRA) used in the
"hyper-neo-cortex," a unit that contains the combined power of computation in
cyberspace, to understand the super-text (hyper-text). That text that is read
by every reader separately is channeled by hubs similar to Google and GPS which
serve as an optic nerve and the super-consciousness of the "hyper-neo-cortex"
and are stored within them. According to need and in a short time, the text
undergoes the Bose- Einstein condensate like, in order to obtain a clear
meaning, and is channeled to every "isolated" reader or "cell" that creates the
SRA. The "matter" wavelengths of the reader, text and author "will be of the
same order of magnitude as the distance between them. It is at that point that
the different waves of matter can 'sense' one another and co-ordinate their
state, and this is Bose-Einstein condensation"

Thus Barthes was correct in determining that the traditional author disappeared
from the critical dialogue of contemporaneous literature, and was replaced by
the reader. But since then, the new reader has become the electronic
super-reader in cyberspace. The borders of his body have expanded to cyberspace
size, and have combined with the bodies of other authors that were lying dead
somewhere in Barthes' slow physical space.  The question is, is there still
significance to anti-hegemonic subversive reading of a text?  Indeed the reader
in cyberspace is linked to the network that unites far distances so that they
are equal to the other organs of his body. When he reads a text, he actually
reads himself who is in an everlasting state of becoming. Illustration of such
idea can be found in "MyLifeBits"- Gordon Bell's project, where he has captured
a lifetime's worth of articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers,
photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice
recordings and stored them digitally. He is now paperless, and is beginning to
capture phone calls, IM transcripts, television, and radio
is digital real-time implementation of Georges Perec's novel -'Life, a User's
Manual' , where he created an omni-image of memories, feelings, dreams, desires
that are his life summary. MyLifeBits is the SRA omni-real-time-hyper-summary.
This radical change in the concept of self, the surroundings in which the
"Self" acts, and the text the same "Self" reads reflect the viewpoints of two
photographs taken at an interval of about 70 years, at the beginning and the
end of the 20th century.

Picture no. 7. Listening to the radio at its inception.
From: http://codesign.scu.edu/chad/12/Overview.html
The first photo, it seems, is from the 20s of the 20th century; it pictures two
young women with earphones listening to a small radio set. The room is full of
objects typical of that period (the "slow" world) including a bookcase full of
books, books on the table, a mirror, a solid clock, pictures and photographs on
the wall and on the mantelpiece, a bowl, and little figurines. The books and
objects in the room contain "slow" texts and messages, in which information is
passed on from object to subject  (author-reader) artifacts worthy of regular
reading or attention. The introduction of new electronic technology represented
by the radio set creates a new focus in the forefront and center of the room,
while the past items remain at the background. The listeners are physically
attached to the radio by an electronic umbilical cord ? the wires and the
earphones; they are united in the common experience of listening to electronic
waves. Their consciousness is carried through the instrument to a far
singularity, leaving the slow material objects behind. The women are listening
to rapidly changing information, both by the producers of the program of the
broadcasting station, and by one of the women who controls the volume of
reception, adjusting the stations when occasionally the receiver overlaps two
stations at once, producing an ambivalent message. The information or the text
that populates the electronic space is in superposition, the wave function of
the broadcast content collapses into the state defined by the interference of
the listeners.  The new information joins the reading of the slow familiar
surroundings, in which the wave function of the slow objects, remains defined,
with a clear meaning. The manner of reading changed by the agency of radio is
subversive compared to the previous traditional slow, defined way of reading.
The moment the women began to listen to the electric broadcast, and from then
on, the interpretation of the slow written text exemplified  by the books in
the room, in the pictures, the photographs, the objects, even the clock, and
the mirror that reflect their image, will not return to what was before. These
objects whose purpose was to accurately define meaning, place and time,
relative to themselves and various subjects, lost that ability from the moment
that consciousness of the subject was accelerated by the fast and volatile
electronic medium. Broadcasting and television that succeeded radio only
enhanced the process, by accelerating  the sense of sight and generating
additional detachment of the listener-viewer from the physical environment.

Picture no. 8. A Student with head set,  wandering in VR.
From: http://www.yonago-k.ac.jp/hikona/118/photo/equip/e1.jpg
The second photograph, taken at the end of the 20th century, about 70 years
after the first, shows a text and other data being read in Virtual Reality
surroundings. The reader is equipped with his VR headset including display,
earphones, microphone, and data gloves that connect him via computer to
cyberspace. Similar to someone using a Scanning Electron Microscope, the reader
moves within the electronic hypertext that changes while reading. The reader
while reading becomes an author, thanks to the technical ability to alter the
location of the observed data. The wall video screen, the computer display and
the VR headset display multiple hypertext windows, which the author-reader
reads writes and activates. The room where the reading is taking place looks
'anonymous,' minimalistic, clean of any object from the slow world, and
populated with technical equipment used in cyberspace. The only object similar
to those in the first picture with the women listeners is the analog clock on
the wall, on the right of the picture.  The clock is waning in significance,
because it is only used for moments, when the author-reader "returns" to slow
reality, in which analogical local time is still valid. The cyberspace clock is
subject to the digital global time synchronizing all users and texts. Even the
author-reader in the photograph looks anonymous, with his headset hiding his
identity, ethnic origin, age, and characteristics that are not significant in
cyberspace. The author-reader is wholly detached from the material world by
means of his electronic equipment; his sense detached from the physical
environment, because it no longer has the same meaning. The extensions of his
electronic sense, controlled by his consciousness, recreate his virtual space
where he acts within the "arrangement" of cyberspace data in discrete relative
states. He remains alone, separated from the "real" world, while the rest of
the subjects accompanied him in the real world, become digitally represented
avatars. He has no authors and other readers besides himself; all have "died".
That is in sharp contrast to the room with the two radio listeners, where
according to what is in the picture one can decode: their socio-economic
status, geographical location, fields of interest, the identity of the books in
the bookcase, and so on. Their uniform clothing and hairstyles give a clue as
to their age, education, opinions, religion, etc. The listeners are sitting at
ease, aware to their physical surroundings, time and to each other. For them,
each is a separate and independent subject, occupying space in the defined
room. The separation from the real world is hardly felt, and is accomplished by
the headphones. While sitting, they are attentive to the real world around
them, and to the virtual world of the broadcast on the radio. The two women
symbolize Alice and Bob of the EPR thought experiment, which in short time will
be united, to form the SRA in cyberspace, depicted in the single image of the
cyberflaneur in the later photograph.

The passage from being a reader of a slow text to a fast one is a daily
happening for most of us. For example, take a series of paintings along the
wall of platform in a London Underground station. From a stationary train, the
passenger looking out of the window sees a single frame of the series of
paintings, and reads it as a single, clear peak wave function. When the train
leaves the platform and accelerates, the frames change at speed, creating a
filmstrip with a different meaning from the single frame, and having a wave
function with the width of the number of frames on the platform strip. When the
passenger then looks over the cellular phone display or the PALM computer in
his hand, he accelerates to the speed of light, and watches the data situated
in superposition in cyberspace. His glance and actions bring about a crash in
the wave function of the contents of the super-space text, in the singularity
of his consciousness.  We may say that in this instance the cyberspace and the
subject became aware one to each other.

In conclusion, one can infer that the "Death of the Author," was written in a
similar period to that reflected in the photograph of the two women listeners,
or at the speed of the subway leaving the platform. It was the old, slow world
dominated by  dichotomy between object and subject, and text printed on paper.
The process of acceleration of the reader's consciousness was just beginning,
through radio broadcasts and television. Cyberspace accelerated the reading
process to the speed of light, and led to a dramatic turning point of the
disappearing of the traditional author, text, and reader, and the birth of the
new SRA. The SRA can render the chaotic text of cyberspace  meaningful from his
point of view, while carrying out electronic reading. That ability is similar
to the physical phenomenon of the Bose- Einstein condensate of atoms of a
substance uniting at nearly absolute zero temperature, to one "super atom" that
sustains super-fluidity (he.wikipedia.org).

Picture no. 9. A page from Albert  Einstein's paper "Quantum theory of uni-atom
ideal gas" (1924), describing the Bose- Einstein condensate. From "Ha'aretz"
newspaper, 23.8.2005
In this new state the atoms act in symbiotic harmony, demonstrating the
characteristic of ignoring gravity and friction. For example, gas will become
fluid, and will climb up the sides of the glass it is in, unlike the behavior
of  isolated atoms that constituted the gas at a higher temperature, and moved
in a chaotic manner (Barabasi 2002, 324), similar to the image in Barthes'
"multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original,
blend and clash".   The condensation ability of the SRA, allows turning the
text in cyberspace into  the super -atom, that can be identified and followed;
the hypertext and SRA then embodies "God and his hypostases?reason, science,
law." The existence of the united reader-author-space creates a paradigmatic
shift from dualistic, Aristotelian object-subject thought, to the holistic
thought of being, realized in the singularity of consciousness  and connecting
real space, the spiritual and cyberspace (Rosen, 2005).


Barabasi, Albert-Laszlo.(2002). Linked the New Science of Networks. Hebrew
translation: Blisha Drora. Yediot Aha'ronot Press.
Barthes, Roland. (2005).    La Morte de L'auteur. Hebrew translation: Dror
Mishani. Resling Tel-Aviv.

Barthes, Roland. (1977). The Death of the Author. From - Image, Music, Text -
Bohm, David, and Peat, F. David.(1987). Science, Order and Creativity. Bantam
Books, Toronto & New York.
Gentner, D.R., & Grudin, J. (1996). Design models for computer- human
interfaces. Computer, June, 28-35.
Hawking, Steven. (2003).The Universe in a Nutshell. Hebrew translation: Emanuel
Lotem. Or Yehuda. Ma'ariv Book Guild, p.214.

Kafatos Menas & Robert Nadeau, (1990). The Conscious Universe, Part and Whole
in Modern Physical Theory. Springer-Verlag. Pp. 45-47.
Ozenfant.(1952). Foundations of Modern Art. Translation: John Rodker Dover
Publications, New York. Pp. 160-161.

Rosen, Avi. (2005).  Art at the Event Horizon.
Yanai, Tsvi. (2005).A journey to the Consciousness of Nature,   Am-Oved, p.41.

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