Delete Or Die #1 – Why Subtraction Beats Production


Everything that we do is to delete things. We don’t create or add, we subtract and remove. Anyone who reads this text deletes my original intentions. The choice to read this text is a choice that exclude gazillions of other options. So thanks for staying!

Science agrees. In quantum theory, the world is a sea of virtual potentials and whatever happens is not much compared to what did not happen. It is only a drop in the ocean. According to some economists, capitalism thrives on destroying the past. It deletes previous economic orders and the current value of existing products, in order to create new wealth. Among some posthuman philosophers, humans are no longer thought of as creators, but as sculptors or signal filters. We receive signals and filter them according to the taste of our system. If it doesn’t make sense, it gets deleted. I guess cybernetic theorists and cognitive psychologists might agree on that one?

One of the phreshest cyberd00dz, senor Nick Land, once wrote that organization is suppression. Any kind of organization – imposed on anything from cells to humans – deletes more than it produces. This of course includes modern technologies like seach engines and augmented reality – more about that in a minute.

So: the most productive thing you can do is to increase the desire to delete. One easy way of doing that is to use sedatives. These are the drugs o’ the times – a reaction to the cocaine-induced individualism of the 1980s that was caused by the psychedelic ecologism of the 1960s. Nowadays we don’t tune in and turn on, we turn off and drop out. Artists do it like this while most people do it by watching TV or using “smart technologies” that deletes decisions for you. We need censorship, even if we think it’s wrong. Delete or die!


Let’s look at a few very different examples that relates to this. If this all seems very confusing to you, first consider that the only way to be creative today is to be non-creative by e.g stealing & organizing instead of “creating original content”. From plunderphonics in the 80’s to the mainstream copyright infringement known as social media — now the next step is to start removing things.

Nice idea, but how useful would that be? Well, I experimented for a while with filling the memory with crap, loading a music program, and then start to remove the crap. Like a sculptor. And the idea was to make “real music” and not only noise, of course. Both challenging and fun! But anyway, let’s back up a bit:

Subtraction is all around us all the time. It’s how light/colour works, or some forms of sound works. Our own brains are really good at it too. We perceive and process only a fraction of all the input our senses can take in.

Another almost-naturalized form of subtraction, but in the arts, is the removal of content to reveal the form (uh, or was it the other way around?). I guess that’s what a lot of art of the 1900s was about? Abstractionism and minimalism, space and non-space, figure-ground oscillations, and so on. Take things out to reveal something we didn’t know before. Two unexpected examples: Film the Blanks and Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere.

Another rather recent thing is Reverse Graffiti. It doesn’t add paint, but removes e.g dirt & dust instead. Graffiti can also be removed by adding paint over it, which some people jokishly calls art. Or perhaps doing graffiti by carving the walls is more relevant?

Censorship is another topic. Here is a silly one where naked bodies are censored and the black boxes form new shapes and stuff. I suppose censorship could also include net art things such as Facebook Demetricator and Text Free Browsing. Also, Intimidad Romero does art by pixelizing faces

On the more techy side, Diminished Reality is the opposite to augmented reality, and seems to be very controversial to people. More so than augmented reality, probably because we think we’ll “miss out” on stuff instead of getting “more” like augmented reality promises. Whitespace is, I guess, a tongue-in-cheek project: a programming language that ignores normal text and only uses space, tab and newline instead. A favourite of mine is the game Lose/lose where you play for the survival of your hard drive’s files.

Some more examples:


For me these examples show how rich the field of DELETE actually is. And there is plenty of more to say. In fact, there was a rather big plan for this project once. But instead of letting it decay away and be unrealized (?) I decided to undelete it. Oh n0ez, teh paradox! Or maybe a blog post doesn’t count as being realized? Well I think it’s pretty obvious that the ████████ was ████ ███ ████████ ████ because ████████ ███ █ so ████████ ██████████ █ ████████.

Some useful slogans:

Progress = deleting alternatives

Any thing is a reduction of some thing

Understanding = organizing = deleting

Creativity spots the ugly and deletes it

Anything that happens is nothing compared to what could have happened.



11 Responses to “Delete Or Die #1 – Why Subtraction Beats Production”

  1. nätkreatur Says:

    “delete is the default” / snapchat CEO (lol)

  2. iLKke Says:

    I find it fitting that the Nick Land interview link has been deleted

  3. Intimidad Romero Says:


  4. Pavlov Says:

    Great Article Anders! very inspiring! Look at the concept of lack in Lacan’s psychoanalytic Theory. If you find it interesting then you can find about the topology

  5. a Says:

    like a sculptor chipping away at rocks

    i will make a programm to create totall datafull amiga mods

    but i won’t do it right now (!) someone deleted my motivation

    • goto80 Says:

      Yes, that’s a great idea! Release a set of 100%-MODS with different themes. I guess it should fill all the patterns with data, but also the samples perhaps?
      – JPG
      – EXE
      – websites from 2004
      – general midi files
      – live concert with Status Quo on YouTube
      – etc

  6. Rico Says:

    interesting thoughts. my 5 cents to this is: substraction beats production as long as it still implies the components. let me give an example (my attempt of construcitvism): i want to buy a fancy shirt. i want the physical, piece of cotton but beyond the material aspect i want it to look good on me, to others, impliying it in a network of relationships (situations, communication, interaction, etc.)
    in short: if i delete all those components and the only thing remaining is:”i want a fancy shirt”- it has no value at all.
    does that make sense?

  7. goto80 Says:

    Or you could delete the shirt and feel good-looking anyway. :)

    I am not sure I understand what you mean. But it makes me realise something: it’s a lot easier to delete something material (numbers, bytes, colours, objects, whatever) than something semiotic. It’s kind of tricky to delete meaning, even if a lot of people have tried I suppose.

    But when we delete material things, it can increase the amount of meanings. As a ‘text’ it becomes more open-ended. Open for interpretation. Polysemic.

    Chipmusic can be used as an example. The stripped-down soundscape means that a very hard song could be interpreted both as metal (with guitars) and breakcore (with computers). It’s less specific (for a chipliterate person) so it offers more possibilities.

    Hm. This probably deserves some more thinking…

    • Rico Says:

      i knew that example would get me in trouble, haha!
      (it was a quote from Gilles Deleuze’s Abécédaire)
      what you wrote about polysemy- i think everyone who uses trackers can relate 100%

  8. don quij80 Says:

  9. A retrospective on the stories and aesthetics of 8­bit music | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] If the potentials are already present in the technology, and we humans are there to bring it forth, that kind of changes things, doesn’t it? We don’t really produce things by adding more stuff to it. We are more like removing things. Subtraction rather than addition. […]

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