Monday, August 18, 2008

Material Language

I rewrite extensively sometimes. If it's anything topical I don't hide anything. Still working on this one. All notes.

What offended me about the original post at Savage Minds was that those for whom a sophisticated understanding of language is supposedly part of their job -for whom language is a tool- would find it necessary to study a minor decorative art to gain an understanding of craft. From the draft of an article linked in the post [PDF]
Through understanding imagination as a generative force in practice, we can reconsider the role it has been scripted in theories of culture. Practice is not that through which we imagine, the cockfight is not a theatre of expression and display of what the Balinese men might imagine themselves to be, as Clifford Geertz argues. Imagination is an imperative of practice itself. The more deeply you imagine, the more deeply you practice – and, conversely, the deeper the practice, the deeper the imagination. Practical imagination, material imagination, the imaginative substance of practice complete with all in which the practice itself is engaged, embedded, intertwined, as a constituent element of practice itself is constitutive, not expressive, of culture- imagination, the lungs of culture. "
The author's mistake is in forgetting that language is material
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Posted elsewhere but rewritten, and expanded (and expanding)
Art and criticism are joined in a fruitful antagonism, and historians and biographers are in a similar relation to those they study. But while artists may hate critics and biographers may dream secretly of supplanting their subjects in authority, only Theory as presently constituted is seen by its adherents as preceding and superior to practice.

What place do arguments from a "naturalized" epistemology have in artmaking? What place have they had in theories of Modernism and of modernist culture-making?
The foundation of theory is in its analogical relation to the sciences. Intellectual design is intellectual engineering, words replacing numbers. Theory reverses the connoisseur's placement of cause and effect, not in defense of a preferred moral truth but of a proposed logical one, and doing so attempts to undermine the role of historical/retrospective knowledge.

Theory has its origin in the prerogatives of Modern criticism, and in a very specific variant of Modernism. My experience, and here I'm publicly treading private ground, is with what I've come to think of as something post-Talmudic. "In the beginning was the word." If the first man was a believer, the second was a critic. The artist was at worst a maker of graven images, at best no more than secondary. Combined with the Modern telos of progress we get the myth of the critic as "social" scientist and not as describer but prescriber.

If art is defined as a free imagination at play, it is defended because that freedom is assumed to perform an important function in society. Action and exegesis are divided not absolutely but unevenly between artist and critic as between history and historian. Theory argues against this division of labor in both cases: history is secondary and a free imagination is unnecessary (often leading to irrationalism.) Art under theory, as culture under neoliberalism, is illustration, advertising, or indulgence.

I want to write something on Yi Yi as pattern making -invention- and observation. Good art as good empiricism always defeats theory.

As a general comment for those who are having trouble following along:
The best art in the romantic tradition, and I'm using this example only because it would otherwise seem to contradict my point, is the art that best describes romantic desire to those who would otherwise have no interest. The art that has come down to us as the most sincerely romantic has also come down to us as minor, at most secondary. That includes bad Beethoven.
Got me?

The last generation has marked the ascendency of technics in the social sciences. In the past few years I've run into a lot of melancholy if not openly miserable technicians. What am I supposed to say, I told you so?

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