How We Do “Art” Now: Facebooking etc. as Art

Via Boris Groys, “The Weak Universalism,” e-flux 15 (Apr. 2010) [and as a pdf].

What role is left for artists when strong universal gestures are perceived as bankrupt? We’re left with weak gestures—available only to small or semi-closed participant communities. The premises: if

  1. everybody is an artist (Beuys) and . . .
  2. the avant-garde artist is a secularized apostle repeating weak gestures (à la Agamben/Benjamin); and, further, . . .
  3. the avant-garde artist is part of a group in which participants and spectators coincide, making weak signs with low visibility (e.g., a social network “circle,” a small public, perhaps)—against the strong signs with high visibility of 20C mass culture (the big Public); then

. . . art is recycling with your friends (a Zero Waste approach).

This art need not look like art as we knew it:

Today . . . everyday life begins to exhibit itself—to communicate itself as such—through design or through contemporary participatory networks of communication, and it becomes impossible to distinguish the presentation of the everyday from the everyday itself. The everyday becomes a work of art—there is no more bare life, or, rather, bare life exhibits itself as artifact. Artistic activity is now something that the artist shares with his or her public on the most common level of everyday experience.

So this art, nonetheless, tells us about our world, as we normally take art to do:

art still has something to say about the modern world: it can demonstrate its transitory character, its lack of time; and to transcend this lack of time through a weak, minimal gesture requires very little time—or even no time at all.

Where Have You Been, My Darling?

Thumbnail Profile Picture Snapshot 16 May 2010

FB can be art (I always thought so).

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Noo Politics

Maurizio Lazzarato, “Life and the Living in the Societies of Control,” in Martin Fuglsang and Bent Meier Sorensen, eds., Deleuze and the Social (Edinburgh: EUP, 2006):

In the societies of control, power relations come to be expressed through the action at a distance of one mind [nous Gk mind, thus nöopolitics] on another, through the brain’s power to affect and become affected, which is mediated and enriched by technology. . . . The institutions of the societies of control are thus characterised by the use of technologies acting at a distance, rather than of mechanical technologies (societies of sovereignty) or thermodynamic technologies (disciplinary societies). (186)

Lazzarato takes these three dispositifs (instruments) of power from Michel Foucault (see The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality: With Two Lectures by and an Interview with Michel Foucault [U Chicago P, 1991] 102), viz.

  1. societies of sovereignty (command) that use mechanical technologies, e.g., levers/pulleys, apparatuses, and practise the spectacular manipulation of the body (the body politic, peoples, castes; the fief; summary justice);
  2. societies of discipline (punishment) that use thermodynamic technologies, e.g., electrical motors, appliances, and practise the panoptic molding of life (biopolitics, populations, classes; the factory; apparent acquittal); and
  3. societies of control (governmentality) that use telematic technologies, e.g., interfaces/networks, applications, and practise the virtual modulation of memory (nöopolitics, publics, positions; the corporation; limitless postponement).

The body politic: Leviathan

Biopolitics: Discipline and Punish

Nöopolitics: The Emergence of Noopolitik

Broadly speaking, we have moved from the society of discipline to the society of control, although the dispositifs overlap—and recur atavistically or nostalgically (that is to say, some of us haven’t realised yet or can’t help but re-enact an earlier dispositif). Sovereign society recurs when, say, we reenact rituals of divine command and propitiation like the worship of authority figures (for example, priests and politicians) and their substitutes (for example, fathers, mothers and teachers—or, less anthropomorphically, fate or nature). Disciplinary society is still our habitual frame of reference, which we enact by default: atavistically, in national politics, economic and social policy, etc.; nostalgically, in the welfare state, talk of class, etc.

Nöopolitics—the politics of the embrained, embodied and embedded mind (“mind” for want of a better word)—is the new politics.

(Of course, we’re only talking the supposedly secular, humanist “West” here: old Europe, the British settler colonies, and liberal America and parts of the Americas. There’s no telling what happens to the model when we throw in the so-called new Europe, the “developing world,” and the rest of America and the Americas. Then this new politics becomes by dint of institutional inertia or change no politics.)

N.B. When we’re thinking technologies of domination (regulation) and of the self (i.e., of control, viz, self-regulation — or self-control), the crossover point is the key. See Michel Foucault’s “About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self” (1980):

I think that if one wants to analyze the genealogy of the subject in Western civilization, he has to take into account not only techniques of domination but also techniques of the self. Let’s say: he has to take into account the interaction between those two types of techniques — techniques of domination and techniques of the self. He has to take into account the points where the technologies of domination of individuals over one another have recourse to processes by which the individual acts upon himself. And conversely, he has to take into account the points where the techniques of the self are integrated into structures of coercion and domination. The contact point, where the individuals are driven by others is tied to the way they conduct themselves, is what we can call, I think, government. Governing people, in the broad meaning of the word, governing people is not a way to force people to do what the governor wants; it is always a versatile equilibrium, with complementarity and conflicts between techniques which assure coercion and processes through which the self is constructed or modified by himself. (“About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self,” transcription of two lectures in Dartmouth on 17 and 24 Nov. 1980, ed. Mark Blasius, Political Theory 21.2 [1993]: 203-04 [198-227])

———

See

  • Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” orig. from L’Autre 1 (May 1990), trans. October 59 (Winter 1992): 3-7; and
  • Michael Hardt, “The Withering of Civil Society,” Deleuze & Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture, ed. Eleanor Kaufman and Kevin Jon Heller (1995; U Minnesota P, 1998) 20-39.

Heinrich von Kleist: not the Marquis of the O, but of the Arrow

On the Marionette Theatre” by Heinrich von Kleist [1777-1811] (translated by Idris Parry) [pdf; alternative translation by Thomas G. Neumiller]

[“Über das Marionetten Theater,” Berliner Abendblätter (12-15 Dec. 1810)]

Michelangelo, The Fall and Expulsion from Garden of Eden (1509-10)

Kleist suggests that the Garden of Eden could have a second gate: when we return to innocence via experience.

“[I]n the organic world, as thought grows dimmer and weaker, grace emerges more brilliantly and decisively. But just as a section drawn through two lines suddenly reappears on the other side after passing through infinity, or as the image in a concave mirror turns up again right in front of us after dwindling into the distance, so grace itself returns when knowledge has as it were gone through an infinity. Grace appears most purely in that human form which either has no consciousness or an infinite consciousness. That is, in the puppet or in the god.”

“Does that mean,” I said in some bewilderment, “that we must eat again of the tree of knowledge in order to return to the state of innocence?”

“Of course,” he said, “but that’s the final chapter in the history of the world.”

William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794)

Interestingly, Philip Pullman made the same connection between Kleist and Blake in his Preface to the Folio Society edition of The Northern Lights (2008):

Where Kleist’s essay differed from [the “sickly nostalgia” of most children’s stories] was in its bracing optimism. We can’t go back, he says; as with the original Paradise, an angel with a flaming sword guards the way; if we want to return we have to go all the way around the world, and re-enter Paradise through the back gate, as it were. In other words, since we cannot dwell forever in the paradise of childhood, we have to go forward, through the disappointments and compromises and betrayals of experience, towards the fully conscious kind of grace that we call wisdom. Innocence is not wise, and wisdom cannot be innocent.

But the dialogue can also be read as an ironic play on the dichotomy of classicism and romanticism, one in which a moral problem—the problem of knowledge of good and evil—is recast as an epistemological problem (as it always is by Kantians—and all those ethico-epistemologists who take knowledge as value-laden, from Socrates on). It becomes about what we know/can know and how we come to know it, and the whys and wherefores of both.

Kleist sides with neither classical idealism (Ideas are absolute: Idea-lism) nor romantic imagination (the I is Absolute: I-magination). For him, like Fichte, human beings desire an Absolute without ever being able to identify with It; individual existence hangs on this difference. Thus, consciousness is not grounded in anything outside of itself: we cannot know noumena, or things-in-themselves; the phenomenal world, or the world of things, arises from self-consciousness (I am conscious of myself . . .), the activity of the ego (. . . as an I . . .) and moral awareness (. . . because I am called to limit my freedom out of respect for the freedom of the other). The subject is intersubjective: I know I’m someone because I know I’m not someone else.

We might say: human beings are transcendent beings, not infinitely “transhuman,” i.e., in part divine (beyond-the-world), but finitely transhuman, i.e., always projecting (in-the-world), whether we take them to be always already embedded cognitively and socially, or desiring, or evolving by self-modifying or –versioning [transcendent, “climbing beyond,” from L. transcendere, from trans- “across” + scandere “climb”] (. . . hence Duchamps’ stroboscopic self). We are, to misread Heidegger’s ethico-epistemological axiom, “ecstatic beings in the world.

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 (1912)

Thus, consciousness is the golden arrow of desire (or rather, desire [other-direction] precedes repulsion [self-protection]), always directed and dialogic.

———

See the new edition of Kleist: Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist, ed. Peter Wortsman (Archipelago, 2009).

Deixis: How Big Is Your Head

deixis = context dependence (δεῖξις Gk “reference, demonstration, display” from deiknynai “to show”)

From wikipedia: “the phenomenon wherein understanding the meaning of certain words and phrases in an utterance requires contextual information.”

Image from What Sorts of People

The most common categories of contextual information are those of

  1. person: the grammatical persons involved in an utterance, usually signalled by pronouns;
  2. place/space: the spatial locations relevant to an utterance, signalled, for example, by the adverbs “here” and “there,” and by the demonstratives “this” and “that” (defined relative to the speaker as proximal [near the speaker: “here”], medial [near the addressee] and distal [far from both: “there”]); and
  3. time: the various times involved in and referred to in an utterance, signalled by adverbs like “now,” “then,” “soon,” etc. (defined relative to the time when an utterance is made: the “encoding time,” or when it is heard: the “decoding time” [Fillmore 1971]) and tenses.

There is also discourse/text deixis (the use of expressions within an utterance to refer to parts of the discourse that contain the utterance, e.g., “This is a great story”), and social deixis (the use of expressions that signal relative social status and level of familiarity, in particular, tu-vos distinctions and honorifics).

Deixis can be gestural (i.e., requiring audio-visual information to be understood) or symbolic (i.e., not so).

Cf. anaphora: exophoric (i.e., referring to something outside the discourse, homophoric when that thing makes a generic expression specific, e.g., “the Queen,” the thing being the country in which she reigns) and endophoric (i.e., referring to something inside the discourse, anaphoric when the thing was previously identified, cataphoric when it is yet to be).

N.B. The deictic centre or origo is “a set of theoretical points that a deictic expression is ‘anchored’ to,” usually the speaker at the time and place of the utterance (wikipedia). Maturana wrestles with an originary kind of deixis, namely , in his ontological diagram that illustrates the relationships between the explanatory paths of objectivity-in-parenthesis (observer- and observation-dependence—go the origo) and objectivity-without-parenthesis (observer- and observation-independence—no origo):

Randall Whitaker explains at Encyclopaedia Autopoetica:

This diagram divides the possible explanatory paths with respect to the dichotomy between objectivity-in-parenthesis (the right half) and objectivity-without-parenthesis (the left half). In all cases, an observer is explaining phenomena she engages in her experience (praxis of living). The two explanatory paths are differentiated according to whether or not the observer/explainer ascribes “objectivity” (independence from observer and observation; i.e., “without parenthesis”) or “(objectivity)” (dependence upon observer and observation; i.e., “in parenthesis”). In the case of objectivity-without-parenthesis (the prevailing worldview of the Enlightenment and, hence, modern enquiry), there is assumed to be one all-subsuming reality (a universum). This universum is explained in terms of discrete (presumably objective) elements (e.g., “matter,” “energy,” “mind,” “God”), and the criterion of acceptability for an explanation is one of “truth” (i.e., adherence to the presumed model/element[s]). In the case of objectivity-in-parenthesis, observer-dependency of explanation opens up a realm of multiple explanations and, hence, multiple “realities” (a multiversum) explained in terms of operations of distinction, and the criterion of acceptability for an explanation is one of “operational coherence.”

The Smart World of Ogle

Richard Ogle, Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas (Harvard Business School P, 2007)

See Smart World at Amazon.com and Ogle’s blog (with some excerpts).

Creativity is an emergent process in networks, not a property or product of individual actors or their actions.

The mind is embodied (Andy Clark, Francisco Varela et alii): we cannot understand it if we confine it to what happens inside a skull but have to understand it as inextricably woven into the environments in which it exists. In fact, the mind is extended—it stretches out to network with other minds. (Clark calls this “outing the mind” [9].)

We don’t create with our brains (the mind-inside-the-head or MITH model of conscious human agency—what Clark calls “pure thought” [xii]).

We create an environment, i.e., a world of technological artefacts and systems (tools)—or, indeed, “myths, cultural or social practices, scientific paradigms, business models, and . . . art forms” (Ogle 12)—that thinks for us (the embedded intelligence or EI model—what Clark calls “embodied thought” with the “mind as controller” (Clark xii, 7).

“Idea spaces” are the hubs or “hotspots” in the network. These are like the “attractors” of complex systems, for example, websites that all of a sudden attract huge numbers of visitors and links. These hotspots can generate tipping points, like the “bifurcators” of complex systems, where the systems undergo a “phase transition” into a new state (see Bob Leckridge’s blog).

Creative people let the environment or system think for them.

Thus,

[W]e constantly have recourse to a vast array of culturally and socially embodied idea-spaces that populate the extended mind. These spaces . . . are rich with embedded intelligence that we have progressively offloaded into our physical, social, and cultural environment for the sake of simplifying the burden on our minds of rendering the world intelligible. Sometimes the space of ideas thinks for us. We live in a smart world. (Ogle 2, plagiarising, alas, Daniel Dennett’s Kinds of Minds [NY, NY: Basic Books, 1996] 134)

How?

[T]he creative mind shifts culturally or technologically embedded intelligence from one idea-space to another.

(This is essentially Arthur Koestler’s “bisociative act [that] connects previously unconnected matrices of experience” [The Act of Creation (1964; Penguin, 1990) 47], i.e., the recontextualization, usually wilful, playful or mistaken, of an idea, image, etc., but turning the artist or thinker into a catalyst, rather than a genius. Creativity is paratactic, then.)

The creative “revolution” of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) exemplifies this process:

[-] Picasso didn’t make a sudden “leap” on his own,
i.e., it wasn’t genius + inspiration → leap;
[+] “the leap he made over what preceded it is due primarily to the powerful effect of African sculpture,”
i.e., it was genius surrendering to an inspiring world → leap.
[H]e surrendered his genius to a strangely exotic world, that, with the shock of the new, radically reorganized and reshaped his art. Picasso invented neither the nonrepresentational, fractured plains nor the exorcist function that would leave such a searing mark on twentieth-century art. African art possessed its own aesthetic and logic, and this became a space to think with. Almost immediately, its energy, forms, and purposes began to drive his own. Encountering a powerful new idea-space, he entered it fully and let its strange but compelling logic think for him. (9)
Debbie A. Foster visualizes the book in her excellent blog, My Mind on Books:

Creatures of habit(us): bundle theories of the self

All my hopes vanish, when I come to explain the principles, that unite our successive perceptions in our thought or consciousness. I cannot discover any theory, which gives me satisfaction on this head. —David Who-me, A Treatise on Who-man Nature

Allan Ramsay, “the Younger.” Detail. [David Hume.] 1754. [Herr Hume has something less than satisfying on his head: “a scholar’s cap of rich but well-worn crimson velvet,” according to Mossner’s Life of David Hume (1954; OUP, 2001) 280.]

According to David Hume, we tend to think that we are the selfsame person we were five years ago, however our features might have changed. But he denies that there is a distinction between our features and the mysterious self that supposedly bears them: when we—aside from the metaphysicians among us—introspect, we must conclude that we are bundles of perceptions: “a bundle or collection of different perceptions which succeed one another with an inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement” (“Of Personal Identity,” A Treatise of Human Nature [1739-40; Courier Dover, 2003] 180 [1.4.6]).

Hume on the Self as Bundle

If each if us is a bundle of perceptions that do not belong to anything—a commonwealth, or a cosmos, no less—then the question of personal identity becomes a matter of characterizing the loose cohesion of our personal experience in terms of the relations of causation, contiguity, and resemblances, i.e. the connexions of various ilks, that hold among the perceptions.

Most often we assume that experience tells us something about the world and is organized in orderly ways because we tend to generalize on the basis of past experience (“habit”) or tradition (“custom”). (Most famous is Hume’s critique of our traditional understanding of causality in his Enquiry [“Of the Idea of Necessary Connexion,” An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Stephen Buckle (1748; Cambridge UP, 2007) 69 (orig. 75-76)]). We are creatures of habit.

francis-bacon-selfportrait

Francis Bacon. Self-Portrait (1973).

“For me, realism is an attempt to capture the appearance with the cluster of sensations that the appearance [here his self] arouses in me” (letter to Michel Leiris, 20 Nov. 1981).

For more on Bacon, see “Bacon’s Skin.”

For the good Bishop Paley, even moral action is interpretable likewise: it is merely habitual, making us bundles of habits:

There are habits, not only of drinking, swearing, and lying, . . . but of every modification of action, speech, and thought: Man is a bundle of habits. . . . [I]n a word, there is not a quality or function either of body or mind, which does not feel the influence of this great law of animated nature. (William Paley, “Virtue,” The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, ed. John Frost [1785; B. B. Mussey, 1852] 47-48 [1.7])

We are creatures of habitus.

For (the better) Emerson—reading nature in a seemingly less anthropomorphic way—our selves are “intertwined with the whole chain of organic and inorganic being,” making us bundles of relations of a different ilk than those that Hume suggests might hold “us” together:

[O]ut of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of Man. Man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world [and] he cannot live without a world. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “History,” Essays & Lectures, ed. Joel Porte [1836; Library of America, 1983] 254)

We inhabit creation.

Or, conversely, I might say, it inhabits us, for better or for worse (pace Novalis):

“Whose heart does not leap with joy,” cried the youth with glittering eye, “when the innermost life of nature invades him in all its fullness! When the overpowering emotion for which language has no other name than love expands within him like an ever-dissolving vapour and, trembling with sweet fear, he sinks into the dar alluring heart of nature, consumes his poor personality in the crashing waves of lust, and nothing remains but a focus of infinite procreative force, a yawning vortex in an immense ocean?” (Novalis, The Novices of Sais, trans. Ralph Manheim, illus. Paul Klee [Archipelago Books, 2005] 103)

Whose doesn’t? The heart of those for whom nature is an invader that nests tombs in their breast and dusts their pillow with ash. It leaps—with sorrow—as if into an abyss.

I Am Not a Brain in a Bottle—Though My Brain Might Well Be a Klein Bottle

The subtext of the film:

  1. We are not telepathic; if we were, we would want to die (presumably because others’ thoughts are unsurvivable).
  2. Those who believe they are telepathic want others to die (because they’re psychopaths)—or want them to think themselves to death (because they’re psychologists).

Cognition is embodied (and embedded)—which means it is also “embrained,” but only partly so—body and mind meshing like the endless surface of a Klein bottle without inside or outside (which is exposed at all points to the world around us, i.e. we and our world are interpenetrated).

I like Michel Serres’s description of the self as Klein bottle, the involute—enfolding and enfolded—nature of our skin embodying identity, its touching itself, consciousness (Five Senses: A Philosophy of MIngled Bodies, trans. Margaret Sankey and Peter Cowley [1985; London; New York: Continuum, 2008] 22):

I touch one of my lips with my middle finger. Consciousness resides in this contact. [. . .] [It] increases in size and swells at these automorphic points, when the skin tissue folds in on itself. Skin on skin becomes conscious. . . . Without this folding, without the contact of the self on itself, there would truly be no internal sense, no body properly speaking, cœnesthesia even less so, no real image of the body; we would live without consciousness, slippery smooth and on the point of fading away. Klein bottles are a model of identity. We are the bearers of skewed, not quite flat, unreplicated surfaces, deserts over which consciousness passes fleetingly, leaving no memory.