Monday, May 30, 2011

Dasein in Ami's garden

Photo: RI

Last night we went for a barbecue at Amida's. It was a nice Memorial Day party, with a laid-back group of Anglos, Africans and Latinos. Imagine an exuberant subtropical garden with dashes of reddish lights coming from behind the vegetation. Uttered words linger in Babelian, fused with the beats of late-60's rock music. There is a curated selection of imported beers with vegetarian hamburgers and other tidbits. The main attraction? Ami's garden.

A garden is a garden

Ami was kind to give us a "mini-tour". Flashlight in hand, he walked us through the winding straights of his garden -more like an urban forest amidst Miami's Little Havana, as it appears from the outside. At each stop of the way he would nimbly lean over and introduce the given specimen. He'd explain its Latin root and go over provenance, care, growth process, local climate conditions, aesthetic preferences, etc. Meanwhile he compared the banal, the exotic and the endangered. You could tell that he knew his plants. Suddenly, the garden had become a wonderful, rich-in-detail, reservoir of pure "in-itself" beingness.

As I enjoyed the moment, I couldn't help but think of Heidegger's Being and Time and his explanation of how to get a garden. Not really, Heidegger uses hammers and nails as examples, but it works just the same. For starters, what distinguishes Ami and I is that he is IN the garden, I'm not.

"Being-in" is thus the formal existential expression for the Being of Dasein, which has Being-in-the-world as its essential state. 'Being alongside' the world in the sense of being absorbed in the world. (80)
Forgive Heidegger's convoluted prose. He is saying that as a gardener, Ami is in a mode of being-in. I don't have that privilege. The world of things is divided into two: ontic (for entities and their categories) and ontological (for Being and its existentials).

What's "out there" depends of how we (Dasein) cut the world. The garden would not be the same for a child, a blind person or an entomologist who looks for a dangerous bug. Not even for an apathetic gardener, who finally comes to terms with the fact that his real vocation is hairdressing. 
If its kind of Being as ready-to-hand is disregarded, this 'Nature' itself can be discovered and defined simply in its pure presence-at-hand. But when this happens, the Nature which 'stirs and strives', which assails us and enthralls us as landscape, remains hidden. The botanist's plants are not the flowers of the hedgerow; the 'source' which the geographer establishes for a river is not the 'springhead in the dale'. (100)
There are two modalities: one, ready-to-hand, is involved & unobtrusive (this is Ami's mode). The other mode is derivative, metaphysical, quasi-scientific. The botanist's mode is present-at-hand. I -a neophyte- am in what mode?

Not as ready-to-hand: For me, at least until yesterday, a garden was a bunch of plants being-presented to my attention. Ami however, was neither ready-to-hand nor present-to-hand. He was a bit detached from his usual immersion but not completely alien to it. According to Heidegger, the mere fact that I enjoyed his tour as present-to-hand, is ontologically suspect. Why? My garden is foreign, differentiated, disconnected. My sense of wonderment a sort of ontic epiphenomena. Only when the garden becomes invisible one can feel its true ontological import. For the sake of complicating things a bit further, these are different ways of seeing. When one looks at the world as environment one looks differently than when one looks at oneself. Sort of,
To the everydayness of Being-in-the-world there belong certain modes of concern. These permit the entities with which we concern ourselves to be encountered in such a way that the worldly character of what is within the-world comes to the fore. (102)
Gradually we discover that at every step of the way, Ami is guilty of showing, re-presenting, discovering -as if the garden was damaged (or not working properly). In fact, we should conclude that his mini-tour made the garden conspicuous:
When we concern ourselves with something, the entities which are most closely ready-to-hand may be met as something unusable, not properly adapted for the use we have decided upon. The tool (garden) turns out to be damaged, or the material unsuitable. We discover its unusability, however, not by looking at it and establishing its properties, but rather by the circumspection of the dealings in which we use it. When its unusability is thus discovered, equipment becomes conspicuous. (Idem)
A Heideggerian in the crowd will retort that plants (life) should not be equated with hammers (objects). But the fact is that when it comes to plants, there's not much to chew on from the pages of Being and Time. Plants are not Dasein.1 When it comes to Nature, Heidegger does not provide a way of seeing that is not "circumspect." 2

In fact, for Heidegger, there is no Nature independent of Dasein. 3
Here, however, "Nature" is not to be understood as that which is just present-at-hand, nor as the power of Nature. The wood is a forest of timber, the mountain a quarry of rock; the river is water-power, the wind is wind 'in the sails'. As the 'environment' is discovered, the 'Nature' thus discovered is encountered too. (100)
The question we have to ask now is how meaningful was the world before Dasein.4 And someone will say that the question doesn't make any sense. But it does! There is definitely something "there" right now, in that garden, besides Ami, I, or any other Dasein.
All excerpts taken from Being and Time, (Harper & Row: 1962) 1 "Because animals and plants are lodged in their respective environments, but are never placed freely into the clearing of being, which alone is world, they lack language." (Letter on Humanism, 248).  2For Heidegger there's a difference between facts and history. So, whereas we know that there is a geological pre-Dasein history, that period is not really significant without Dasein being in the picture. 3 Plant (Pflanzen) appears only 4 times in Being & Time. 4 This is a revealing paragraph:
In its projective character, understanding goes to make up existentially what we call Dasein's "sight" (...) as the circumspection of concern, as the considerateness of solicitude, and as that sight which is directed upon Being as such, for the sake of which any Dasein is as it is. The sight which is related primarily and on the whole to existence we call "transparency." We choose this term to designate 'knowledge of the Self'  in a sense which is well understood. (186)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Love is not uncontentiously universalizable


You love S in virtue of the fact that S manifestly has properties F1... Fn.Suppose J also exhibit properties F1... Fn.

Are you under any rational constraint to love J too?

Stipulation: In the case of you and J, (where J shares those properties in virtue of which you love S), then you will already have an understandable inclination to love J.

Does universalizability overrides commitment?
Illustrations by Christopher Kline, via Juxtapoz. Expanding on an argument by Roger E. Lamb.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

awareness is knowledge is liking is preference is purchase


most organisms have two eyes

a form of inquiry to which people can turn in their efforts to answer questions which invariably spring up in their lives 

the greater the exposure, the greater the influence. the nature of the influence will in some measure be determined by content. still, exposure alone influences viewers, regardless of content
whatever drama or uncertainty is introduced must be resolved and satisfied by the end of the program
 society's values are reflected, and distorted, in the creation of non-existent values
 passivity, receptiveness, being fed, taking in and absorbing what is offered
the same physical stimulus will make you see it in a different way
truth is a form of repetition

Monday, May 23, 2011

Workshop the Sweatshop: how to organize chaos

The blind spot of knowlegde

Joe Asmussen, I Want to Believe, 2008.
Is a false belief accepted as true because of our lack of awareness, or is our lack of awareness a deliberate way to deal with the truth?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Art pitch: How to elevate pseudo-graffiti to sublime?

Rudolf Stingel, Untitled (2002).

Art-writing is loaded with so much shit that it takes over political babbling. What is it? Tropes of banality are displayed along with descriptive bits to conflate fact and fiction. Soon rhetorical inflation grows to the point of fatuous, pathological farce. Take a look at this blurb from the Saatchi Website featuring the work of Rudolf Stingel:
The painting above Rudolf Stingel's Untitled is comprised of two panels taken from a previous installation. In a monumental architectural intervention, Stingel lined a museum’s walls, floor, and ceiling with pre-fab insulation panels; the silver surfaces recontextualising the gallery as an environment of reflection and super-futurism. Viewers were invited to participate in the piece by carving into the foam panels, with the resulting graffiti creating an intricately etched pattern which constantly evolved throughout the exhibition. In Untitled, the names, messages, and drawings of these viewers are exhibited as a separate piece in its own right, elevating the artwork of everyday people as a field of sublime contemplation.
See how words work: The blue marks describe "what is," whereas the light-red marks evaluate. At times they intersect (the blurb's ending in deep-red adds the cherry to the cake).

Whether art or politics, in the end it's all about selling your pitch -whatever it takes.*
*Stingel's Untitled mimics history in a post-Fordist way (literally!), not as the markings of anonymity trough time, but as art-friendly interactivity. In the manner of Victorian art, it banalizes what it reveres. Pseudos deflate!: The old wall becomes foam, the anonymous and random markings become the useful and purposeful tags, the street becomes the museum, i.e., at the snap of a finger, the historic multitude turns into Stingel's Untitled.   

Friday, May 20, 2011

What's the matter? Evidence doesn't matter


The country is going through a massive apocalyptic fever: Judgement Day is on Saturday!

Blame it on Lehman Brothers, Bin Laden, or the derivatives. God has simply decided to take his children out of this mess. In the true spirit of Baroque ceiling frescoes, this will be a massive rapture of thousands. The Bible makes it clear in a tight prophetic argument uttered tenths of centuries ago.*

The time has come and the chosen families get ready for the moment of ecstasy: What do I wear to the Olympus? Are there naked people in heaven? To whom I leave the house and the beamer? Should I take my cell phone just in case I can make one last call to my stubbornly sinful girlfriend on earth?

What's the matter?

The evidence doesn't matter. Faith is blind & blissed & they need out. The only solution is to wait for Saturday, when around 11:58 pm, the chosen will confront their certainty with the diamantine hardness of the facts. That should be a moment of incredible disbelief.

In the meantime, the rest of us, the non-chosen, will report on Sunday.
*Reportedly this is our fate on Saturday: "A great earthquake will occur. The Bible describes it as 'such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.' This earthquake will be so powerful it will throw open all graves. The remains of the all the believers who have ever lived will be instantly transformed into glorified spiritual bodies to be forever with God."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Geandy Pavon's Vanitas


Geandy Pavón's Vanitas points to the emergence of beings from ground. One may say that there is no particular ground here: brush and hand and wine are extrinsic factors. So, Medusa's "appearance" is epiphenomenal, a distant cause with no direct effect. What if all the elements subsist as potential and are triggered by their being-together?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fountain is, and is not, a urinal


I've been reading Robert Hopkins' essay "Speaking Through Silence," on conceptual art.* I take issue with this paragraph:
While I might appreciate, say the audacity of Fountain on seeing it, my experience is not altered by my awareness of that feature. The urinal looks the same whether I'm engaging with audacity or not (...) The idea is that for other art, sense experience plays the role of medium of appreciation; whereas for conceptual art it provides nothing more than means of access to the work.
So, according to Hopkins, whereas my sense of horror is the medium of appreciation to Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes,

 the same feeling cannot apply in the case of Puto (2007), by Michael Rees.

Why is the "means to access(ing)" my horror NOT a sort of "medium of appreciation"?

Hopkins obsesses too much with the urinal and overlooks Fountain. He takes them to be exactly the same. They are not: Fountain is, and is not, a urinal.

My red sentence is not a logical proposition. Take it as aesthetic license. Ready-making automatically turns something into something else.** This act of investing instant "artness" (on urinals, or anything for that matter) is described in this letter sent to the Blind Man by Duchamp himself:
Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under a new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.
For Hopkins Caravaggio makes you feel more, instead of just, differently than Duchamp.*** For example, in A Propos of Readymades, Duchamp's goes for elimination of the experience (i.e., the dissolving of aesthetic sense):
(...) I want very much to establish is that the choice of these "readymades" was never dictated by aesthetic delectation.This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste – in fact a complete anesthesia.
I don't know about Hopkins, but I when see Fountain I don't see a urinal. I see instant coffee. 
*"Speaking Through Silence," in Philosophy and Conceptual Art, by Peter Goldie, Elisabeth Schellekens (Oxford University Press: 2007). p. 56-58. **Remember Russell's famous 5 Minutes Hypothesis?  ***Keep in mind that different sytyles may demand different analyses. The ways in which we apprehend objects though conceptual cerebration is different from that of more traditional forms of representation. Piero Manzoni's Merda d'artista is not apprehended in the same way than Monet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Willis Jackson: Don't Misunderstand

To claim that Cygnus-X exists independently of our minds is not to claim that Cygnus-X exists beyond the reach of our minds


Today, I was reading Ray Brassier's essay "Concepts and Objects"* and bumped into this odd passage:
It is true that we cannot conceive of concept-independent things without conceiving them, but it by no means follow from this that we cannot conceive of things existing independently of concepts.
The second part of the sentence undoes the first. Here's why: Concepts are sort of baptismal acts. They mentally clothe the (bare) stuff -whatever that means. Although one can conceive of stuff existing without concepts, one doesn't quite get it. Try it. The second you conceive of it already clothed, you are doing exactly what Brassier says you can't do.

To make things worse, he brings the following example: "To claim that Cygnus-X exists independently of our minds is not to claim that Cygnus-X exists beyond the reach of our minds. Independence is not inaccessibility."

I don't know what Brassier means by "inaccessibility." All I know is that Cygnus-X is already conceptualized. When I imagine it, I imagine a micro-quasar in the constellation Cygnus, about 37,000 light years away. And the reason it cannot exist "beyond the reach of our minds" is that it is Cygnus-X!**

Rule for mental cocktails? Don't mix stuff with concepts.
*In The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, Edited by Levi Bryant, Mick Srnicek and Graham Harman, Re.Press (Melbourne, 2011). p. 58. **If someone in a pre-scientific age pointed by chance to the quaint light coming from _______, on a starry night, which thousands of years later became Cygnus-X, s/he would not had been pointing exactly to the same thing.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Žižek's crap


Guernica, the magazine of arts and politics publishes Žižek's The Un-Shock Doctrine. Take a paragraph that seems to define the topic at hand:
Why, then, the Idea of communism? For three reasons, which echo the Lacanian triad of the I-S-R: at the Imaginary level, because it is necessary to maintain continuity with the long tradition of radical millenarian and egalitarian rebellions; at the Symbolic level, because we need to determine the precise conditions under which, in each historical epoch, the space for communism may be opened up; finally, at the level of the Real, because we must assume the harshness of what Badiou calls the eternal communist invariants (egalitarian justice, voluntarism, terror, "trust in the people").
Lacan is to Žižek what mosquitoes are to smooth plumply flesh. As in today's advertising, one wouldn't expect a Žižekian paragraph without a Lacanian tag attached to it. It's de rigueur. Let's give it to him, Žižek knows how to impress naïve readers with appeals to authority and without establishing demonstrations. In this case, the need for communism is axiomatic, almost theological. Isn't faith blind? Of course, he will invoke the new St. Paul: Badiou, Badiou, enlighten us!

Žižek's constant invocations of terror and tough-guy clownish rhetoric reminds me of some stubborn symptom one desperately tries to hide as it sorely sticks out. There is terror everywhere. So, we need more of it! As per "communist invariant," I'd like to introduce the flatulent and idle bureaucracy known as the Vanguard of the People, Class of Classes: The Communist Party.

Egalitarian communism? My hairy ass.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

an increase in the value of an asset through a rise in market price as compared to an earlier period


Today in the New York Times:
Since 1988, when Jeff Koons made this outrageous porcelain figure of a bare-breasted blond hugging the Pink Panther, it has become one of his most popular works, along with "Balloon Dog" and "Rabbit." The sculpture is one of three, along with an artist's proof. One of these appeared in a gilded chamber at the Château de Versailles near Paris in 2008. The owner is the publisher Benedikt Taschen, who has collected and sold Koons sculptures before. In 2007 he sold Mr. Koons' "Blue Diamond," a giant blue diamond fashioned from shiny steel, at Christie's for $11.8 million.

Pink Panther has appreciated more than 25% value in a little more than a decade. How come?

One can only marvel at the market's ability to work wonders. The artwork becomes an intrinsic value-attractor. Meanwhile market forces act from behind saturating these objects with magic properties. The artwork's "essence" will show itself to the world automatically attracting value to it. People react to these intrinsic properties by responding with purchasing power. In other words, it's all about the buzz.

Art investment is a matter of perception:
Exhibitions of Koons' works in the past five years have often coincided with the appearance of high-profile works at auction. Most of the art in the C&M Arts show last May—the same month as Christie's well-publicized sale of Jim Beam J. B. Turner Train—was on loan from Brant, Edlis, Sonnabend, and other public and private lenders. Few of the works were for sale, but the exhibition set new price levels for those that were available. Mnuchin, according to sources, sold Wall Relief with Bird (1991) for about $2 million, three times the price it sold for at Sotheby's five years ago.
Then, there are the shows, like Figures in the Field (2006), which take pride in blurbs like this: 
Today, figurative art has re-emerged with a very strong presence while non-representational abstract painting is less emphasized in the discourse of contemporary art. Figures in the Field is an exhibition that aims to reinvigorate the dialogue between these two different genres and traditional modes of creative production while questioning how they create meaning today (my italics).
See that the question is not how genres of creative production produce value. Instead, the curators go for the smoke screen of "meaning."

Why not look at the circulation of art objects for what they really are?

Take a "critic" like Kevin Nance. His excuse for this sales pitch is to present it as "reporting":
Jeff Koons is the Energizer Bunny of contemporary art. He just keeps going and going, banging the drum of mass iconography, self-acceptance and, above all, a uniquely American optimism about the affirming and transcendent properties of art. His sunny central message -that the banality of modern life is, after all, the life we have, and that we should make the most of it- is amplified into a cumulative, all-embracing whoop of joy in a new retrospective at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.
For this Sotheby's auction there's already plenty of excitement: Here, here and here.

Is the art market NOT a well-greased operation?