Saturday, September 03, 2011

note taking, various. posted elsewhere. sloppy, on the fly, etc. nothing new.

This post takes us back to the relation of philosophy, the language of concepts, to narrative, and to and art itself, the language of description.
To philosophers narrative is parasitic, in a sense even that the theory of narrative is not. This blog is mostly an attempt to theorize the opposition into subservience, like the biographer tries to conquer his subject. Between Chaplin and Deleuze et al., Chaplin wins. Deleuze is the parasite.

"For Deleuze Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane is, as he puts it, 'the first great film of a cinema of time' ”
All cinema is the cinema of time. Film is the greatest argument against modernism (as distinct from the modernity it describes so well).
JW: [Referring to Delacroix] Violence is only a theme in this kind of art; the art itself isn’t violent. That makes it very different from, even opposed to, the art of the avant-garde, which expresses aggression against the idea of art itself. This aggression is no longer viable. I don’t think its necessary or possible to go beyond the idea of bourgeois art -that is of autonomous art- towards a fusion of art and its context. Or if its possible it isn’t very desirable. We have learned how the aggression against autonomous art was consistent with aspects of totalitarianism, from the Stalinist period for example, and how state violence could benefit from that kind of aesthetic. The concept of art as autonomous, and therefore less amenable to that kind of instrumentalization, is a central concern of the modern, and I’m most sympathetic to that.
A-MB/RM: Modernity and avant-garde, to you, are two separate things?

JW: We can’t confuse them anymore.

"A Democratic, a Bourgeois Tradition of Art: a Conversation with Jeff Wall", in Selected Essays and Interviews
Mannerism describes the aristocratic sensibility in an age of incipient democracy. The baroque is the same model of (describes) conservatism in the age of a fully ascendant democracy: the age of theater.
History shows that In art as in democracy (as in all culture whether wise men approve or not) practice precedes theory.

I wish I'd done a better job in the comment above, but I doubt anyone here would get it even if I had.

You're engaged in the attempted reform of the language of concepts, an attempt made in response to larger cultural/historical shifts. The best term to describe your work and of Deleuze etc. in relation to "classical" Modernism is "Mannerism". As Wall reminds us, the arts begin in practice. Attempts to work from theory were catastrophic, for the arts as for society, yet you continue to argue from the primacy of concepts, even the concept of something other than modernism.

As much as you might like to pretend, concepts are not discoveries. Rationalism is not empiricism. Conceptualism is no more than reactionary late modernism. The politics of rationalism have proved monstrous.

"Modernity and avant-garde, to you, are two separate things?"
"We can’t confuse them anymore."

Your arguments continue in the manner of the conceptualizing, prescriptive, and failed, avant-garde.

That's a little more clear at least.

"The point, in other words, is precisely to criticize the classical understanding of concepts, which seems to be the understanding of concepts you presuppose."

And according to this, what replaces concepts? What forms of action and reflection and description are we left with?

"Philosophy is neither film making nor art, nor is it science."

I read all the time here and elsewhere that it's closer to science than to anything else. Concepts are objects almost in a material sense and the goal of philosophy is the development and direct use of objective knowledge. philosophy "invents concepts" and "makes futures possible." That's like saying that our greatest literature predicts the future. it hasn't, not even dystopia (yet).

Philosophy is a branch of literature that posits itself as superior to all other forms of art. The modernist model of philosophy as logic and of logicians as philosophers is the most extreme version of that superiority but that's gone nowhere. It clings to power with the same tenacity as neoclassical economics as a description of the world. It clings on in the arguments of Eric Schliesser, Alex Rosenberg and others. And if clings on in more general ways other ways. I'll give examples I've used before.

"Rationalism and empiricism are not the abstract categories that neatly house philosophers to the exclusion of one another."

Empiricism involves observation of the world, of materials and history.
If feminism were a branch of objective knowledge, than male and female feminists would be interchangeable. They aren't.
Every major change in the moral culture over the past century has been marked first not by concepts but people and actions. American blacks not intellectuals led the civil rights movement. Women not college professors led the feminist movement. Anti-colonialism was powered by the anger of the colonized, not the understanding of the enlightened. In packaging these things after the fact, in conceptualizing them, intellectuals pretend still to have mastered the process of change. They haven't The Palestinians right now are in the position other outsiders have been in the past: they are making themselves heard. Without their own voices there would be no change. The politics of "objective understanding" is void or worse. Intellectuals intellectualize after the fact, not before.

The difference between philosophy and art as practice (including Deleuze and Chaplin) is the difference between players in the the inquisitorial and adversarial systems of justice. A philosopher is like an investigating magistrate. The model is of intellectual superman, these days of the sort to claim to be able to "find the other in myself." The attempt to expand or rewrite the notion of concepts ends up in a fantasy of a sort of hypertrophied self. That's why I make fun of the language of the extended mind hypothesis as fitting for neoliberalism and neocolonialism. As an aside I'll add that if you google the "extended self" you'll get mostly discussions of marketing theory and branding.

Schliesser's model is different in the sense that his model is reduce philosophy to a something like a "linguistic chemistry", when even mediocre minds can push the great process along in small ways. The tensions between these two models, of superman and petty bureaucrat, make for interesting subtext but they don't resolve any of the problems of philosophy as a practice about or in the world.

Art as a model is open ended and descriptive. It's parasitic on language no more or less than the language of a trial lawyer paid to defend a client whether he believes in him or not (lawyers are like actors in that). Literature qua literature is a reflective description of the sensibility of the author in the form of a language shared by writer and audience. It is explicitly a document of its time, in a form that others in a different time and place may be able to recognize things in the form that they may not in the representation itself. To adapt a quote Wilson uses elsewhere the practice of art is to look at the spectacles we're wearing by aid of the spectacles themselves. The model is of intellectual as trial lawyer not as judge. That's a huge difference. Art functions is the explicit and honest description of and from bias. It's either anti-instrumentalist or ironically instrumentalist, as again the irony of the instrumentalism of a lawyer or an actor.

Anglo-American philosophers seem to prize sincerity, when its meaningless. The Other is other and the others judge you. No amount of self-aggrandizing can change that. Calling yourself a nice guy is meaningless. That's for others to decide. Descriptive literature as opposed to the conceptual subgenre acknowledges that separation between writer and reader. It's the same separation liberal legal scholars defend in regards to the Constitution. Conservatives collapse that separation, claiming that there's only one text. There have been many, and there will be more, just as there have been many Hegels. That's the nature of language. And as I say again and again, liberal philosophers track conservative legal scholars.

The other is other and others judge you. How do you engage others? That's a question for philosophy. It's interesting to learn that mathematicians cannot yet model all the actions of water, but I'm not clear why that should have mattered for philosophy, unless philosophers were under the delusion that philosophical language is capable of modeling the world outside of experience. People can't even agree on the meanings of words, so no, language is not like numbers in it's relation to the world.
"Doing these cases I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate. I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying. I was no longer entirely what my professional duties demanded, the old taxi on the rank waiting for the client to open the door and give his instruction, prepared to drive off in any direction, with the disbelief suspended."
Those sentences describe the core of our justice system. They're philosophically as profound as it gets. And yet philosophers seem unable to understand or accept their importance.
Naturalism presupposes only that "the world" is structured in logically consistent mechanisms (though few people are willing to follow that to the logical conclusions.) It says nothing about how we go about modeling those mechanisms.

"but doesn’t the Church-Turing thesis affirm successful characterization of rigor in mathematical reasoning?"

What is the relation of mathematical reasoning to lived experience? Can your description of the Arab Spring match that of an Egyptian? Can Steven Weinberg's description of Zionism [chapter 15] match that of a Palestinian? Weinberg claims to defend the scientific "spirit", but power corrupts. "Curiosity, honesty, precision, and rigor" But who watches the watchmen?

Naturalism must therefore model the world first as political and the model must be one of consultation at every level.
That's problematic but less so than "scientific" authoritarianism.

"and this was actually the subject of Catarina's post from earlier today on system imprisonment. The problem in this case is that formalist systems may generate problems that are only significant relative to the formal system itself and not to the real systems being described and modeled."

The central error of Modernism was an assumed (utopian) relation of formalism to representation. The necessity of interpretation implies the plural: interpretations and the multiplicity of "perspectives". The logical consequence of accepting the indeterminacy of translation would seem to be an opening out to a worldly curiosity and an increasing democratization of discourse: a reciprocal, civil, social, "political" world. You're pulling yourselves towards an understanding of this.

"A better approach for naturalists might be to engage with the arguments of scientifically spirited theists,"
“But the Solar System!” I protested.
“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work.”
Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes quoted by Lewontin in the NYRB, Billions and Billions of Demons
Sagan and I drew different conclusions from our experience. For me the confrontation between creationism and the science of evolution was an example of historical, regional, and class differences in culture that could only be understood in the context of American social history. For Carl it was a struggle between ignorance and knowledge, although it is not clear to me what he made of the unimpeachable scientific credentials of our opponent, except perhaps to see him as an example of the Devil quoting scripture.
Lewontin is a naturalist.
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

No comments: