Ralph Paine – 19 June, 2019
In an attempt to problematise Crofskey's article, I here offer two brief theory lessons. Both venture into the field of philosophy. Yet in addition, both, I believe, point back to the field of art.
EyeContact Essay #31
Vanessa Crofskey‘s recent The Pantograph Punch article “There’s Something Wrong With Art Writing” is a policing operation; a sad clustering of order-words and clichés; a reductive plea for the collective taking up of a revised Standard Operating Procedure; an exacting yet dismal request that art writing become communicational and informational. In other words, Crokskey wants to normalise art writing, a procedure always involving the simultaneous adoption of a will to pathologise and scapegoat. (1)
However, early on in the article there is mention of Deleuze and Guattari, of how Crofskey once sat at their table, “rigid with desire.” Rigid with desire? What might it be to be rigid with desire? Unyielding by way of flow? Severe amid yearning? Firm in the company of longing? Whatever the case, there’s poetry here, a strange juxtaposition of sense that sets us adrift in puzzlement and wonder. Indeed, Crofskey’s entire account of art school theory class need not be read as reactive and negative: once again, the wistful poetics of her writing (e.g. mouths pressed into the jargon … Edmund Burke’s hovering ghost … concepts stapled to a silhouette) seem firm in the company of longing. She retains, then, a poetico-theoretical experimentation in style and method, yet all the while sets this to use as ideology: the banality of the Like.
In theory class everything seems to change. The initiation into synaesthesia of the studio — along with its singular blends of agency, sensual technique, project — have been swapped for a pared down asceticism and a more contemplative modus operandi. With theory our entire way of proceeding and producing is different: different in intent, different in the form and content of its expression. The initial task of a theory lesson is always the attempted tracking down of these differences, of the digressions they provoke, their myriad byways and paradoxical detours, their twists and turns. But accompanying this, and of equal importance to it, is the related task of suggesting how this enquiry might lead us back into the studio; of showing how — step by step and in all possibility — a theory lesson remains isomorphic to the studio context.
By combining these two spaces or modes of learning we create automatically the field of our adventure — that is to say, the field which accommodates, augments, and composes our thinking and doing. Yet also thereby we create a desire to study the nature of our filigreed relation with practices and theories from outside this field, from other fields (fields of otherness). As artisan-theorists of art we perceive instinctively that by venturing out into these fields — and thus extending our own — we will enrich our artistic lives. And conversely, we are at the same time compelled to ask, for instance, whether geo-engineering websites, philosophical concepts, politico-economic investigation, religious studies texts, or psychoanalytic readings are adequate to the concerns, tasks, and desires of artists. Or do we, and perhaps should we, continue to search for and construct skills, language functions, techniques, styles, and tools distinct from those of other fields? A theory lesson, then, is an effort to think difference: the difference between theory and studio; the difference between the ways of art and other ways. But the lesson is also a vital attempt to think the in-between of these differences, and of how best to travel the intricate and often difficult paths which connect them.
Thus, in an attempt to problematise Crofskey’s article, I here offer two brief theory lessons. Both venture into the field of philosophy. Yet in addition, both, I believe, point back to the field of art.
Field Notes on Deleuze & Guattari‘s A Thousand Plateaus, “Chapter 4. November 20, 1923 - Postulates of Linguistics”
Postulate (noun) “thing claimed or assumed as basis of reasoning, fundamental condition; prerequisite” … (verb) “demand” - Concise Oxford Dictionary
The four standard postulates of linguistics:
I. “Language is Informational and Communicational”
II. “There Is an Abstract Machine of Language That Does Not Appeal to Any ‘Extrinsic’ Factor”
III. “There Are Constants or Universals of Language That Enable Us to Define It as a Homogenous System”
IV. “Language Can Be Scientifically Studied Only Under the Conditions of a Standard or Major Language”
Each of the four postulates is critiqued. A new theory of language is constructed. Or better, a “politics of language” is offered: PRAGMATICS.
The first postulate is critiqued via the concept of the order-word: “Language is made not to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience.” The order-word is presented as a “language-function, a function coextensive with language.” Order-words are expressions of obedience, assertions, “very short phrases that command life and are inseparable from enterprises and large scale projects: ‘Ready?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Go ahead.’” The critique then tracks a series of investigations into: 1. Indirect discourse (“indirect discourse is the presence of a reported statement in the reporting statement”). 2. The performative nature of speech acts (J.L. Austin‘s famous theses). 3. Redundancy, a technical term derived from information theory: “Newspapers, news, proceed by redundancy, in that they tell us what we ‘must’ think, retain, expect, etc.” 4. The social character of enunciation. 5. The “instantaneousness” of the incorporeal transformations that the order-word or the language-function carries out.
Towards the end of the critique a line of flight away from all this is conducted via the notion of direct discourse: “Direct discourse is a detached fragment of a mass and is born of the dismemberment of the collective assemblage; but the collective assemblage is always like a murmur from which I take my proper name, the constellation of voices, concordant or not, from which I draw my voice … Speaking in tongues. To write is perhaps to bring this assemblage of the unconscious to the light of day, to select the whispering voices, to gather the tribes and secret idioms from which I extract something I call my Self (Moi).”
The second postulate is critiqued using an adaptation of Hjelmslev‘s form of expression/form of content schema (as introduced in ATP, “Chapter 3. 10, 000 B.C.: Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?)”). Given any social field, on the horizontal axis there are two “formalizations,” two poles: the “hand-tool pole, or the lesson of things” (content) and the “face-language pole, or the lesson of signs” (expression). The two forms-poles-lessons are independent, heterogeneous yet interpenetrating, that is to say, between the two “a continual passage from one to the other” is occurring, an “interweaving” — the “warp of expressed” and the “woof of bodies,” each with its own form. “When knife cuts flesh, when food or poison spreads through the body, when a drop of wine falls into water, there is an intermingling of bodies; but the statements, ‘The knife is cutting flesh,’ ‘I am eating,’ ‘The water is turning red,’ express incorporeal transformations of an entirely different nature (events).” The genius of the Stoics is cited regarding their theory of language; for an extended analysis of which see: Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense.
“Some general conclusions on the nature of Assemblages” are then drawn, conclusions involving, importantly, the addition of a vertical axis to the above schema, that is to say, the addition of a deterritorializing/reterritorializing functionality (matter/substance). Hence the “tetravalence” of the schema, the between-four-ness of the social field: everything is played out between forms of content, forms of expression, deterritorialized movement, and reterritorialized movement. In conclusion, and contra the second postulate, the abstract machine as it pertains to Assemblages is posited as diagrammatic not linguistic. Hence, the abstract machine is extrinsic to language: “It is language that depends on the abstract machine, not the reverse.”
The third postulate is critiqued using Labov‘s notion of continual variation, which is also named “placing-in-variation.” Variation is inherent to all languages. An analysis of musical variation is then conducted, starting with the mutual presuppositions found operating between “the tonal system” and both atonal and modal music. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is cited positively regarding his proposed Voice-Music relation. On a sound plane that it shares with music, we hear the voice placed-in-variation: “It is perhaps characteristic of secret languages, slangs, jargons, professional languages, nursery rhymes, merchants’ cries, etc. to stand out less for their lexical inventions or rhetorical figures than for the way they effect continuous variations of the common elements of language.” A “generalised chromaticism” is proposed.
Brief accounts of style, stammering, the “AND … AND … AND …” (described as a new form of redundancy), and the “atypical expression” as linguistic tensor follow. In conclusion: “There is therefore no basis for a distinction between a constant and collective language, and variable and individual speech acts. The abstract machine is always singular, designated by the proper name of a group or individual, while the assemblage of enunciation is always collective, in the individual as in the group.”
The fourth postulate is critiqued via an analysis of politics and power: “the scientific model taking language as an object of study is one with the politicized model by which language is homogenized, centralised, standardised, becoming a language of power, a major or dominant language.” The notion of dialect is questioned using a series of contrasting examples: Québecois & Standard French; Bantu, Afrikaans & Standard English; and Black English & Standard English. A theory of major and minor languages as treatments of language is posited: “Major and minor do not qualify as two different languages but rather as two usages or functions of language.”
Positivity now falls to the side of the minor function, that is to say, to the task of making minor treatments. To aid this, a brief account of the notion of minority is presented, culminating with the amazingly productive statement: “In erecting the figure of a universal minoritarian consciousness one addresses powers (puissances) of becoming that belong to a different realm from that of Power (Pouvoir) and Domination.” All this returns with force in ATP, “Chapter 10. 1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible …”
Next, Elias Canetti‘s Crowds and Power offers a way of rethinking the order-word, that is to say, of discovering its dual aspect: on the one hand, the order-word is a “death sentence,” yet on the other, it also contains warnings and messages to take flight. This duality is then related back to incorporeal transformations and the intermingling of bodies, that is to say, to the notions of expression and content. Flight away from the standard death sentence is posited as a positivity of becoming, a pushing of language and bodies to their own limits. In order to present the geometrical example of “the smallest difference” in relation to metamorphosis and becoming, an opposition between minor sciences and major sciences is introduced, this reappearing in ATP, “Chapter 12. 1227: Treatise on Nomadology — The War Machine” as nomadic science and Royal Science, respectively. Finally, everything is swept away, synthesized, transformed, caught up once again in the same opera — matter liberated from judgement, the “pass-word” discovered beneath the order-word: “To the answer already contained in a question … one should respond with the questions from another answer.”
Towards Philosophy X
On the whiteboard: X marks this place; a wound
Word playing on the notion of an ownership of place, in Who’s Afraid of Philosophy Jacques Derrida enquires after philosophy as title and deed: “Where is the deed done?” he asks, consequently discovering both ownership and right-action in schools and universities, forums and seminars, lectures, essays, examinations, etc. and thus confirming philosophy as discourse, that is to say, as a practice composed of writing and speech acts, evaluations and judgments, etc., these conducted via the administration of authorized institutional power, including the ongoing power of archives and finance in constructing systematic fields of knowledge. Philosophy-as-discourse is philosophical praxis, a discursive zone of politico-pedagogical action, of often intense participation in intellectual and labour struggles concerning capitalist-state pedagogy and the production and circulation of contemporary forms of knowledge: “Questions of title and right always have a topological dimension. No institution does without a symbolic place of legitimation, even if assigning this place can be overdetermined at the intersection of empirical and symbolic, physico-geographic and ideal givens within a homogenous or heterogeneous space.”(2)
Meanwhile, and without wishing to underdetermine philosophy’s topos-logos connections, there’s always the local hall, park, field, abandoned lot, street, square, plaza, wall, independent media platform (newspaper, journal, website, ‘zine, etc.) and thus philosophy’s institution-seed is quite capable of escape and dispersal. Indeed, philosophy is especially practiced and proficient in leaving and spreading out from academies, schools, and universities in order to transform radically via an occupation/activation of common space. Does, then, philosophy have fundamental requirement of a city? Perhaps, but at best it certainly thinks a city into existence, an Open City, one in which all are free to dwell and pass, to come and go sans papier, free to get it together around problems = X. Around political, economic, artistic, and conceptual problems such as: “Today, what are the best ways-manners-styles of living and dying together?” & “How might we reuse/retool the current assemblages, machines, waste and ruins, language-functions, etc. so as to create and preserve openings for these ways?” In fact, sometimes philosophy seems nothing if not the live figuring-forth of these two intimately entwined questions and their potential answers, a figuring-forth that assigns — and constantly reassigns — its legitimation in a place held unreservedly in-common.
Yet doubtless there exists a third and profoundly different image of philosophy — “image of thought” (3) — one way more esoteric, less inclined toward a “respectable, rational, or reasonable” community. (4) Let’s recall Nietzsche’s outbound journey, his wayward flight from family, Germanic culture, the university, various friendships. On that path we encounter an obscure wanderer (and his shadow), kin of vagabonds and drifters, refugees and vānaprastha, friend of the anomalous ones, the itinerant sages, shamans and witches, of those who shun the commonplace and take to the road, setting vague and solitary courses leading out of the settled (consensual) ground of the city, to its wild edge, fringes of suburbia, to shorelines elsewhere and otherwise, on tracks high and low, twisted, difficult, risky, through hills and tranquil forests, deserts and high plains, down rivers and across vast oceans. And along the way whilst travelling, whilst swept down rivers and alien pathways into regions = X, through xeno-milieus and dreamscapes in the order of heresy, thought itself becomes ungrounded, excessive, dangerous… Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy?: “To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.” (5) Thus rendered hodological, psychological, and affective, now philosophy streams its adventure outside, en plein air, out into the Unlimited, there forming answers to questions never consented to, ways-out never before encountered and endured.
And the return? As the artist Robert Smithson once remarked, “It seems that no matter how far out you go, you are always thrown back on your point of origin.” (6) Yet always this being-thrown-back alters the origin… Dogs barking early one morning, from out of her distant journeying a philosopher returns to the city (any-city-whatever) as the Stranger, with beautifully bloodshot eyes and a head full of magic, smiling, odd clothing, a satchel on her back stuffed with rusty old photographs, ragged notebooks and papers, memory sticks, and this changes everything. Thus philosophy conjures an absolute to-ing and fro-ing, an in-between but also transversal way of figuring questions and answers. Between the foundational and legitimately enclosed spaces of the city, and the smoother trajectories of errant journeying lies philosophy’s ethical concern: if every settled community of thought is haunted by solitary, itinerant thinkers, and every solitary, itinerant thinker dreams the insomniac vision of a just and Open City to return to, how best to make our way (ethos)?
Martin Heidegger compares philosophy to holzwege, forest paths on which we are certain to lose our way. Lao-Tzu speaks of “the Nameless Way” — Dao — an invisible yet non-transcendent life force, self caused and self sustaining. Nietzsche has his Zarathustra say, “I came to my truth in many ways, by many ways … for the way does not exist.” Hegel speaks of philosophy as “a path that makes its own way” and Joseph Dietzgen as “the way of ways that lead nowhere.” Yamamoto Tsunetomo teaches that “if by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though her body were already dead, she gains freedom in the Way.” In line with a series of etymological interweaves and remarks on alterity, Luce Irigaray addresses philosophy as “the Way of Love,” a calm and blissful itinerary shaped via the formation of new manners of saying, listening, othering. Edmond Jabès has a character ask, “Where is the way?” “The way is always to be found,” replies his interlocutor. “A white sheet of paper is full of ways.”
⟡ And so it was that the braided ways of philosophy passed through and impelled her everyday life, cresting and falling, swirling, sparkling micro-prospects of composure and composition, variations on habit and routine, sometimes terrifying vortexes of difference held in an awareness of X, poisonous ideas or radical cures, quietly drifting in the Open, in workshops and offices, in classrooms and shaded gardens, on porches and on dense and difficult pages, in bed with a lover, vibrantly alive around dinner tables, in secret reading groups, at desks aquiver in screen-light and the almost imperceptible hum of computers, when and where once again, suddenly an intensely charged current of fresh thought entered her world and resonated.
(2) Jacques Derrida, Who’s Afraid of Philosophy?: Right to Philosophy 1, trans. Jan Plug (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002) p. 9.
(3) “We can divide philosophers into the kind that are involved in expelling images from thought, and those who believe that thought as such is dependent on images, metaphors, and figures … It is easy to forget that the foundation of the general concept of the image, whether as icon or eidos, belongs to the field of early philosophy.” Peter Sloterdijk, “Image and Perspective: An Experiment in Atmospheric Seeing-Interview with Tim Otto Roth” in Selected Exaggerations: Conversations and Interviews 1993 - 2011, ed. Bernhard Klein, trans. Karen Margolis (Cambridge UK and Malden MA: Polity, 2016) p. 152. The term “image of thought” appears throughout Deleuze’s oeuvre.
(4) Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? (London & New York: Verso, 1994) p. 41.
(6) Robert Smithson, The Writings of Robert Smithson, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996) p. 192.