Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Metaphysics' faith (a bedside story)


Our story begins with Metaphysics and its cerebrations of Eidos, suspended between Heaven and Earth, delving into the mysteries of "what is".

Only one limit is imposed to Eidos: contradiction (either something is, or is not). Other than that, every other idea is worthy of thought. And reality? Faithful to Eidos, Metaphysics dictates that reality is dull, thus secondary. However, since mortals dwell in the worldly realities of the world, the matter will be addressed. Without any pomp, a lesser discipline is immediately dispatched: epIStemology.

In time, the self-imposed limits on the world set by Metaphysics provokes dissent. A new discipline secedes from epIStemology: physics. Timidly, epIStemology lobbies in physics' favor, only to be checked by Metaphysics' code of honor: LoGic.

Physics proposes a novel method of investigating entities: Observation. Why not going out and exploring the worldly realities of the world instead of proving entities from already-assumed entities? From its watchtower, Metaphysics protests. Why does one need observation when one can have FaITh and gain Heaven? FaITh becomes epIStemology's unlikely ally, crippling the latter's access to reality (and rendering Metaphysics a phobic neurotic). Physics now has splintered into several disciplines known as science.

Johannes Vermeer, The Allegory of Faith (1670-1674).

Metaphysics closes ranks with FaITh: The goal is to prove and legitimate Theism. Preventing a future confrontation with physics, Metaphysics employs the best minds of the Middle Ages to build proofs to assert its hegemonic status as the highest arbiter of "what is." Feeling threatened, it appeals to threats: physicists and dissenters are persecuted by its secret police posing as judges of the FaITh. Bruno is burned, Galileo is humiliated and broken beyond repair.

In spite of the persecution, physics (and the other sciences) make substantial progress, which reveal the universe in surprising new ways. These discoveries inspire a new epoch. Metaphysics falls into oblivion. Note: This fall doesn't stop its practitioners from elaborating even more sophisticated systems.

Only reluctantly, Metaphysics begins to accept some of the sciences' conclusions (deep inside, Metaphysics cannot have any of it, for instance the unbecoming idea of natural laws).

Metaphysics mounts a concerted attack. Physics is not a deepening into the structure of the universe, but a stereotyping of entities. It happens on two fronts: one, ontological, the other, phenomenal. In the first, physics merely "presents" entities as quantifiability (a technology-attention-disorder, which causes a great deal of distress to Mother Earth). In the second case, physics merely renders entities into points of view, distorting their otherly dimension. An aTHEist mathemological FaITh reappears in Metaphysics. As in times past, epIStemology and physics are declared irrelevant.

Who wins? Only time will tell.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The rule is to be observed (except when detected)

Logic is a theory of valid inferences.

Inference is a system of meaningful linguistic terms.

 If the term is meaningful, the inference will be logical.

All illustrations by Gustav Doré (for John Milton's Paradise Lost).

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why do Slavoj Žižek and Glenn Beck agree on global warming?


Living in the U.S. can give you a different perspective on things. Take the oft debated issue of global warming, which has become a punching bag for Republicans like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Co. They -and a large segment of the American public- remain convinced that global warming is just an invention of green socialists, left-wing academics and crazy urban anarchists on a mission to destroy capitalism.

Increasingly, environmental scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists, environmental engineers, etc), feel that ecology has become so politicized that the term should be dropped altogether. Conservatives have succeeded in ridiculing and stigmatizing ecology as a pseudoscience, 70% leftist ideology, 30% green mumbojumbo. Dare to suggest on a radio program that global warming is a threat to the planet and you'll be seen as a fear-monger or a hysteric. But Beck and Hannity are not alone. They get a little help from guess who?

Slavoj Žižek: I was surprised to find the following excerpt in an article by the Slovenian philosopher entitled "Ecology as the New Opium for the Masses." It turns that what worries Žižek is not the urgency of global warming, but capitalism.*
In spite of the infinite adaptability of capitalism which, in the case of an acute ecological catastrophe or crisis, can easily turn ecology into a new field of capitalist investment and competition, the very nature of the risk involved fundamentally precludes a market solution - why? Capitalism only works in precise social conditions: it implies the trust into the objectivized/"reified" mechanism of the market's "invisible hand" which, as a kind of Cunning of Reason, guarantees that the competition of individual egotisms works for the common good.
Žižek's move is to show us he can really one-up capitalism's next move and denounce it. The risk of global warming is a straw-man. Ecology is an empty cipher. The physical evidence: melting ice, rising temperatures and sea levels, the expansion of subtropical deserts means nothing. It all boils down to a fear-of-catastrophe campaign mounted by Capitalism:
No wonder, then, that the by far predominant version of ecology is the ecology of fear, fear of a catastrophe -human-made or natural- that may deeply perturb, destroy even, the human civilization, fear that pushes us to plan measures that would protect our safety. This ecology of fear has all the chances of developing into the predominant form of ideology of global capitalism, a new opium for the masses replacing the declining religion: it takes over the old religion's fundamental function, that of putting on an unquestionable authority which can impose limits.
The Slovenian philosopher is so preoccupied to outsmart his ideological nemesis that he misses the real problem, that is to say, global warming as real ecological disaster. Žižek gets blinded by ideology and misses the facts (surely, he would retort that "facts" are ideological constructions). His reason is that Capitalism, this absolute cunning superstructure has the ability to constantly adapt, thereby assimilating every crisis and micromanaging the planet into subtler, more perfidious mechanisms of control.

What to do then? The only thing left for humanity is to do nothing.

The coup de theatre is that Glenn Beck, the right-wing religious and political activist cannot agree more with Žižek, the communist. The difference is that Beck's boogieman is not "global capitalism" but "global government," i.e., the hidden forces of the international socialist conspiracy and its main representative, the present government of the United States. We've seen it before, radical opposites end up in the same place. 

Žižek may retort with one of his favorite psychoanalytic twists: While Beck believes that ecology is an invention of left-wing scientists and a plot of Obama's socialist government to take capitalism hostage, he really doesn't understand that he is -unknowingly- posing as a puppet of the system, that is to say, trumpeting the very discourse he thinks he fights.

But then why should anyone take Žižek's eco-bashing as a more authentic form than Beck's own brand of eco-bashing?
*This is how Žižek deals with the problem. At the end of his article he drops this paragraph: 
With regard to this inherent instability of nature, the most consequent was the proposal of a German ecological scientist back in 1970s: since nature is changing constantly and the conditions on Earth will render the survival of humanity impossible in a couple of centuries, the collective goal of humanity should be not to adapt itself to nature, but to intervene into the Earth ecology even more forcefully with the aim to freeze the Earth's change, so that its ecology will remain basically the same, thus enabling humanity's survival. This extreme proposal renders visible the truth of ecology.
First, Žižek implodes the idea of change. True, nature is changing constantly, only that global warming is an alarming accretion of a disproportionate misuse of natural resources because of specific historical conditions of modern development. Crisis is a change, the end of humanity is a change, change is a change, only that we should prevent it if we can. Second, contemporary ecology doesn't advocate to adapt to nature (whatever that means in Žižekian). Rather the idea is that disaster can be averted only by a deliberate change of the world's status quo. Third, that survival will be impossible in two hundred years is a witless, sophomoric point: Žižek doesn't have a magic ball. Finally, the German proposal of the 1970's that he refers to, started as Holism, a dominant tendency in biology in the Germany of the 1930's, around the Marxist zoologist Julius Schaxel and his group (which included Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Hans Driesch, Jakob von Uexküll and ecologists Karl Friederichs and August Thienemann). Once Schaxel was demoted by the Nazis for his political views, the group founded Bios a journal with Nazi overtones, as such: 1- Holism redefines ecosystem as a Gestalt. 2- Reductionism of the natural sciences is responsible for the present decline. 3- The enemies are liberal individualism and technology. Actually, the difference between this version of eco-fascism and the Socialist German ecology of the 1970's is that the new reincarnation was not technophobic, though it remained anti-liberal.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Art consists of experiencing abstractions of (double)experience


On point 5 of his well-known 1975 essay, The Artist as Anthropologist, artist and critic Joseph Kosuth writes the following:
Perhaps art consists of experiencing abstractions of experience.(º)
When I read this sentence I could not stop thinking: What's so special about the experience of art that is different from, say, the experience of cooking? Kosuth doesn't help much on this front, though one can find some hints to go by. In the mid 1970's the conceptual artist was interested in anthropology and took classes with Bob Scholte & Stanley Diamond at the New School of Social Research.

Scholte's revisionist anthropology advocates a midway between perspectivism and naive objectivism, what he calls a reflexive, critical anthropology, which is aware of its inherent ideological biases.* Moving beyond perspectivism and ideology will allow anthropology to become emancipatory, more fine-tuned to the negotiations between self-understanding, self reflection and (partial) self-emancipation. Kosuth cites Scholte:  
If scientism also considers itself empirical and problem-oriented, it usually assumes that facts are facts, that objective methods simply select relevant data without affecting them and that these units of analysis can be processed to yield lawful predictions and functional norms. (p. 109).
With his insistence on "praxis" -though he doesn't define what that means-, perhaps what Kosuth has in mind by "experience" is a pragmatic late-Wittgenstein version of sprachspiel.** In other words, our experience is mediated by our interests.

I'd like to point out that reading Kosuth's essays of this period are a refreshing experience. The writing reflects a specific moment and attitude in the history of art in America between 1968-1978, which marks the ideological shift from Modern to Post-Modern. As a bonus, one gets to meet the main protagonists of the conceptual revolt in the New York of the early 1970s. Kosuth's style is the collage: He quotes famous people and their opinions to build a sort of ideological/chronological accretion. Then he interjects with his own comments, as if moving the whole argument along. This essay includes the voices of distinguished anthropologists, such as Edward Sapir, Diamond and Scholte, and other famous characters, such as Goethe, Einstein, Michael Polanyi, William Leiss, Martin Jay, etc: All the disparate echoes reverberate around the basic ART question at hand. 

Now, let's come back to (º): "Perhaps art consists of experiencing abstractions of experience." But so does cooking and playing tennis. When I cook, I'm not only experiencing my mixing of ingredients in the salad bowl, but also measuring, tasting, and reflecting on previous experiences, which have been abstracted as "recipes." What's unique about the experience of art other than its obvious experiencing it? 

In the final section entitled "Epilogue," Kosuth makes this assertion:
Abstraction means a generalization of our experiential world. This superstructural connective is what constitute culture. Culture consists of an abstraction from experience. (p. 122).
I can see why abstractions are generalizations of our experiential world, but then Kosuth turns this set of generalizations onto a proto-marxian "superstructural connective" that he labels "culture." Then, he defines culture as an abstraction from experience (?). But art already consisted in (º) of "experiencing abstractions of experience." If you plug this onto the paragraph in red above, you get the following platitude:

Art consists of experiencing generalizations of experience [of experience].

(Other than the trivial generalization) I don't get it. Do you?

All Kosuth quotes taken from Art after Philosophy and After: Collected writings 1966-1990 (MIT Press, 1991). *See Scholte's important 1972 paper, "Toward a Reflective and Critical Anthropology." **Kosuth is fond of late-Wittgenstein's philosophy.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

happy father's day

Der der, deary didi! Der? I? Da! Deary? da!
Der I, didida; da dada, dididearyda.
Dadareder, didireader. Dare I die
deary da? Da dare die didi. Die derider!
Didiwriter. Dadadididididada.
Aaaaaaaaaaa! Der i da.*
*Terry Eagleton, Walter Benjamin, Or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism ( London: Verso, 1981), epigraph, 131.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The nose of politics

A nose which varies from the ideal of straightness to a hook or snub may still be of good shape and agreeable to the eye; but if the excess is very great, all symmetry is lost, and the nose at last ceases to be a nose at all on account of some excess in one direction or defect in the other; and this is true of every other part of the human body (Aristotle, Politics).

Kokolo: Soul Power

Monday, June 13, 2011

Alain Badiou's logorrhea mathematica


Since time immemorial, philosophy were to speak with the voice of knowledge, but more importantly, with the voice of wisdom. It comes as a shock when a talented philosopher talks like a politician, a religious leader, or a market strategist. I found this quote by the French philosopher Alain Badiou in his essay "Mathematics and Philosophy":
I have assigned philosophy the task of constructing the reception in thought of its own time. of refracting incipient truths, through the unique prism of concepts.*

The essay has its weird moments, as when Badiou includes Kant in the "Grand Style" of philosophy, while taking issue with the German philosopher not setting a good example because of his use of "7+5=12" (in his Critique of Pure Reason, p. 56), which offends Badiou's sensibility.1 Then, he declares a sort of categorical imperative of mathematicism:

 I will say: mathematics is our obligation, our alteration.

For someone who comes to philosophy via mathematics, I find Badiou's exhortation simply overstated. True, Badiou's Being and Event is a serious effort in recent ontology, quite original in its novel application of set theory. But there are many important philosophical contributions in the history of philosophy that don't necessarily intersect with mathematics.2 Why something as multifaceted as philosophy has to become a definite programme, whether mathematical, biological, or whatever?

Here's another example of Badiou's insufferable logorrhea mathematica
For real examples, integrated into the movement of thought, I have already provided hundreds of them. I will mention two of these movements instead, for your excercise: In chapter 4 of Le nombre et les nombres (1990), the presentation of Dedekind's doctrine of number. Or meditation 7 of L'être et l'evénement (1988), meditation to the point of excess. Consult them, read them, using naturally the reminders, the cross-references and the glossary that I have provided. If someone does not understand, they can write to me exactly what they don't understand (otherwise we're simply dealing with the excuses for the readers' laziness).3
Care for one more? 
On all these points, between wintry anti-humanism and the trans-human advent of truth, I believe myself to be the only authentic disciple of Isidore Ducasse.
Is this guy on crack or what?
*All the quotes taken from Alain Badiou's "Mathematics and Philosophy" in Virtual Mathematics: The Logic of Difference, edited by Simon Duffy (Clinamen Press, 2006). pp. 12-29. 1An idea is better if clothed in the language of mathematics? Give me a break. Better, how about reading Badiou's essay as a surrealist mathnifesto? (no, unfortunately; he's too much of a Realist to be a surrealist).  2Something Badiou is aware of: Grand Style includes math-inclined thinkers like Plato, Leibniz and Spinoza. The little style is, well, for the math-challenged (including Wittgenstein followers?).  3My red is just to stress the comical. What would you think of a philosopher who announces that he meditates to the point of excess?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

If you don't repeat it you don't get it

Walker Evans

Modernism gave birth to Postmodernism

A strange weave of space and time: the unique appearance or semblance of distance, no matter how close the object may be.*

Sherrie Levine

Postmodernism gave birth to Post-postmodernism

A stranger weave of space and time: the unique appearance or semblance of distance, no matter how close the object may be.

Michael Mandiberg

What will Post-postmodernism will give birth to?

A strangerer weave of space and time: the unique appearance or semblance of distance, no matter how close the object may be.

*Walter Benjamin's definition of aura. Selected Writings, Volume 2, 1927-34, p. 518.

Friday, June 10, 2011

there's nothing necessarily wrong or fallacious about the assumption that art is getting better

Damien Hirst, St. Sebastian, Exquisite Pain (2007).

It appears that wherever there are found elaborate arts, abstruse knowledge, complex institutions, these are results of gradual development from an earlier, simpler, and ruder state of life."-- Edward B. Taylor, Anthropology, (1891). 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Coagulated self-referential prank

Urs Fischer, Untitled 2011, @ the Venice Biennale (via Design Boom)

Untitled, Urs Fischer's 1:1 life-size candle sculpture above, has apparently caused a stir at the 54th Venice Biennale. I am attracted (if at all) to its unapologetic narcissism -only slightly attenuated by its future slow self-destruction.

Below, a wax copy of Giambologna's 16th Century The Rape of the Sabine Women. (θ)

Us seeing ourselves seeing. One can easily fool oneself at being the outside observer (the wax-statue of the middle aged man), instead of the immanent observer looking at Untitled.

Self-reference in art -as in anything- is the most seductive, as the following review demonstrates:
Gradually this beautiful statue will become a waxy lump, the shapeless stub of time. Facing it is a life-size realistic figure of a man with his glasses raised, looking cool: the model was a fellow artist but he functions here as a contemporary Everyman. He, too, is a candle, melting down by the minute.
Let's follow the reviewer's suggestion and become the contemporary Everyman. This Everyman evokes a phenomenological lead close to Heideggerian phenomenology. Let's explore it and see where it takes us:1 Untitled includes a wax statue of the contemporary Everyman absorbed in (θ). But (θ) + the wax-statue = Untitled.  What is at work in the work?

The Being of beings

For Heidegger, it's not a good idea if the material disappears into the tool (as the wood handle of the hammer). If it does, the material (wax) cannot shine. But the material as form will disappear (as melted wax). One could still retort that the melted wax is never destroyed. After all, there is nothing "in itself" about wax-form, even Untitled, if not for Dasein's unveiling of it.

Which brings us to the "work-being of the work" -or the relation between work and truth. Van Gogh's painting of his shoes (for Heidegger, a paragon of truth in art) incarnates the strife of world and earth (whatever strife is omnipresent in Heidegger). What's earth? What sustains the world where the art is and -more poetically- what resists being exhausted by it.

Is Fischer's sculpture emerging from the "unconcealedness of its being"? If anything, it points to a face-to-face catalysis of Xeroxed presence. Isn't presence (and its cohorts) a form of concealment?

Unless art lies.2 If art lies, it presents itself as that which is not. Not as in a "nothing," which Heidegger is fond of:
Does truth, then, originate out of nothing? In fact it does, if by "nothing" we mean no more than that which is not a being, and if "a being" represents that which is objectively on hand  in the normal way—a [way of conceiving] "being," the merely putative truth of which comes to light and thereby becomes shattered by the standing-there of the work. (PLT, 71).
Who, me?

Untitled makes one think of oneself. In any case, at first, it makes one curious, then, it sinks one's attention onto oneself. Self-presence, the surprise of self-proximity, the proximity of the question of being to itself. With Fischer's Untitled one gets lost in the no, while the -thing remains hidden, like a sort of wood-handle (of the work-being of the work).

If so, Untitled really points to -----> ;__________.. What is it?

A coagulated self-referential prank.
Disclaimer: How can one write about a piece that one has not seen yet? One does it virtually (if the following obtains): 1- This reviewer already saw Giambologna's original @ the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. 2- This reviewer doesn't actually need to see the second statue of the group (the contemporary Everyman). Why? Because this reviewer is the contemporary Everyman! 1As Heidegger asks in The Origin of the Work of Art. 2I'm thinking of O. Wilde's infamous line in De Profundis. I find this excerpt about a different Fischer piece whose pathos may be akin to Untitled
An investigation of space, the work is a continuation of the artist’s exploration of vanitas previously manifest in skeletons and melting bodies of wax (as in his first show for HQ that included What if the phone rings (2003)). Talismanic, the installation possesses a physical presence so audacious that surprises and shocks in equal measure. Spontaneous and unpredictable, Fischer says "My work never ends up looking the way I intended... all that matters is if the artwork takes on a life of its own."
In this piece, Fischer sheds light on his thinking process: "I'm interested in collisions of things," " objects relate to each other." 

victory over the old experiences of the recipient

Photograph of Ben Vautier (wrapped in string from Takehisa Kosgui's Anima).
Vautier is playing a violin piece by George Maciunas (May 23, 1964).
The social, the human process of art does not consist only in a frenzy of direct apprehension. Any such process has a preface and an afterward, and it has been one of the greatest mistakes of most Idealist writers on aesthetics to isolate, on artistic grounds, the immediate artistic process from the whole life of the audience. No person immediately becomes another one in the enjoyment of art or by it. The enrichment by it is, exclusively, of his personality. The latter is, however, formed by considerations of class, nation, history, etc., as well as within these considerations by personal experiences; it is, again, the sheer illusion of the aesthetic to assume that only a person with a tabula rasa for a soul can appreciate a work of art.

What we have called the joyous enrichment in aesthetic pleasure depends specifically on the fact that no one who enjoys it confronts the work of art as a tabula rasa. Understandably, then, a struggle often develops in the process, between older experiences and present artistic impressions. The battlefield is just that correspondence of the two wholes: the details offer an obvious basis for the comparison. The accomplishment of great art is precisely in this -that the new, the original, the significant achieve victory over the old experiences of the recipient. Precisely in this do the broadening and deepening of experiences by the world which is formed in the work proceed.-- Gyorgy Lukacs' Art as Self-Consciousness in Man's Development.*
*Lukacs (1885-1971) was born in Hungary. Early involved in politics, he served in the government of Bela Kun in 1919; when Kun fell from power, he fled to Germany and then, with the rise of Hitler, to the Soviet Union. At the end of World War II, he became Professor of Aesthetics in the University of Budapest, and re-entered the government briefly during the Hungarian Revolution. His major works in English translation include History and Class Consciousness (1923), Studies in European Realism ( 1946), and The Historical Novel (1955). The selection above, "Art as Self-Consciousness in Man's Development," is taken from his major work in aesthetics, Über die Besonderheit als Kategorie der Asthetik.