Concerning the Annotations
by Mel Ramsden
[previously unpublished and untitled typescript,
written in 1974, and circulated internally within Art & Language in New
A number of us seem to be considerably
in the dark concerning the handbook. As I see the Handbook it is closely related
to the Annotations, in various ways to Ian [Burn], Terry [Smith] and Preston
[Heller]´s work, the Schema material 1 and so on. There
were some problems with the work before the Annotations. I don´t want
to go into what was wrong with the essay-writing again, but I do see the handbook
as a necessary catalyst, pushing beyond and really transforming a lot of the
old weltanschauung. A bit about this then.
feature of the old situation is still disturbingly present in some of the current
conversations. It is the overbearing spectre of reductionism. What is reductionism?
It is the belief that you can somehow `explain´ something by reducing
it to more basic simples. Look at Carnap´s `The Logical Structure of the
World´. 2 I´m willing, going along with Ian, to
admit that you must not confuse reductionism with what he calls `aspectualism´.
3 The latter means, presumably, that you emphasise details,
or select important aspects of a situation (this presumably includes constructing
meta-languages). But I don´t feel entirely convinced that the work of
Ian, Terry and Preston has got around the reductionist pitfalls. Maybe I am
over reacting. I find it quite difficult to pin down my discomforts. Do I find
it oddly scholastic. Perhaps a key to this might be found in Ian´short
remark quoted in Terry´s article in Artforum . 4 That
the work is involved in a kind of self description trying. 5
Maybe to call it reductionist is extreme, but the description penchant might
be closer to a characterization of my complaints.
I´m tying to characterize my notion of praxis. I find
the above work (at least as I am able to understand it) to contravene my notion
of praxis. I find it embedded in Ian´s notion of trying numerous descriptions
which I could contrast with my rubric pandemonium. (More about this
in a bit.) But my real aversion to the spectre of reductionism depends, I think,
on clarifying my goals concerning the handbook, and also, to what I think the
history of our conversations over the past two years really commit us.
A remark like `the art
world world is embedded in Capitalism´ is not free of reductionism and
foundationism. It leads to imagine that you are actually saying something about
the art world. Teleological/ideological concepts are not reducible to mechanistic
ones. When Preston was speaking of the need to scrutinize our conversations
in order to better discover what was `really going on´, this to me smacked
of reductionism. And anyway, Preston´s remarks seemed to contain more
than a few vestiges of essentialism. The concept of action is not reducible
to the concept of movement. Reductionism links with foundationism, two pillars
of early Logical Atomism. 6 Both of these omit man as agent.
[Charles Sanders] Peirce pointed this out, and haven´t we learnt enough
from [Paul Karl] Feyerabend 7 and learnt from the potentially
demonic rationalism of the pre 1972 work (demonic, that is, in that you play
the dogmatist, protecting your views by retreating to a weaker though less
Here some very important
ideological issues are lurking in the background. There is a battle over the
ideological nature of our going-on. It is important to see the historical dimensions
of this point which is one reason for talking about the Annotations and
the earlier work. One thing that we might all agree on is that ALNY
has, the same as ALUK, `imploded´. This means, for one thing,
that what we project out to the so-called public is no longer according to neat
rationalist `learning´ criteria for `them´. The `public´ dimensions
are newly frail ones. This was clearly manifest, for us, in the internal pandemonium
of the Annotations 8, though it maybe can be traced to the
Documenta index. 9 What is the difference between the `implosion´
and the earlier, suppose we call it `explosion´? The point with both would
seem to be that we deal with our institutions. This doesn´t mean that
we undertake empirical studies of that institution (AL itself is one of our
institutions), though such studies may not be entirely useless. I should have
thought that the `group encounter´, unlike `individual´ work, forced
you to define your proceeding through conduct and, as Andrew [Menard]
pointed out, that´s the point in using proceedings, you get su[r]prises.
At the end of this summer, I seemed to continually irritate everybody, by stressing
that proceeding by reflecting upon our own hoped [hopes?] for profundities
was bunk and that we had to constitute going-on. (This is not, obviously, a
rigid de facto division, it´s a heuristic.)
It is obvious now that a lot of the earlier work was partly
within the realm of some sort of reductionist model. This is certainly true
of Ian and my own early writings, less true later. What does it mean to rid
ourselves of the reductionist/rationalist model? We don´t use the proven
rationalist method of retreating to a weaker but less refutable position, we
live with the `anomalies´ and proceed to a stronger but more refutable
position. I don´t think this distinction is glib. The internal pandemonium/
contradictions of the Annotations were one way of ridding ourselves of the objectivist/
atomist model of discovery. The annotations were, and I see this as a positive
feature, a kind of dogfight. To remove the anomalies and contradictions would
be to miss the point. There seems to me a danger of the rationalist ideology
lingering on. For instance, one can be lead to see the `implosion´ notion
as responsible for a shift from dispelling the `confusions´ of others,
to analysis of our own confusions. So as I say, the ideology lingers on: it´s
a minor change now to see our praxis as analysing our own confusions, instead
of others. But the mistake is, I think, in believeing this is to be the sole
definition of our praxis, though it may be useful for developing praxis. Obviously
I´m not saying anything so silly as reflection is useless, or description
is useless. Nor do I want to uphold the easy distinction between theoria and
praxis. We don[´]t have a straight-forward object-language. What I am
suggesting is that the vortex of our activities are characterizable as part
of our moral and ideological life. That this is the measure of our going-on.
This may all be part of the `myth of the given´, the tendency to regard
the group as a priori given and possibly profound, instead of something constituted
t[h]rough praxis. This is rarely explicit, but it comes out in the way some
of us talk about AL.
In the Annotations, the pandemonium, replacing the earlier
analytic `insights´, was most important because it was constituted through
conduct. It wasn¥t existentially alien to the NYAL situation, which is
what I felt by this time the essay writing had become. We replaced refinement,
improvement, the warding off anomalies, with praxis, the strong possibility
of confusion, contradiction, living with the difficulties, it became a `classroom
situation´ we directed our activities toward a community of enquirers
in which all share and all participate. We constitute going-on through praxis
The possible internal `lived´ relations constituted
in the Annotations and subsequent work (the Schema stuff) constituted a problematic.
You can´t remove things from that problematic and still expect to `understand´
them (pragmatics). Thus ALNY had `imploded´. I´m obviously
leaving a lot unsaid here, but I think we know most of this, it´s part
of the history, and the history over the past two years is crucial. As I see
it, going-on for us can be continuous or discontinuous but must be dialectically
related to this `history´.
Perhaps you might look upon all this as developing a learning
environment for ourselves. Our conduct is not directly and logically constructed
out of a set of neat ideological parameters, it is also occupied in reflexive
determination or re-construction of those parameters. Our `message´ lies
in encountering the kind of enquiry we are generating, not in our authoritarian
imputing to others some solid party-line static teacher/learner relationships.
But as a matter of fact, there may be times when we do both. The thing is that
I see our whole situation as so thoroughly pragmatized that it depends on going
the whole hog, being almost wilfully problematic. This `pandemonium´ also
holds as an external projection. That is, it´s an apt characterization
of the way we seem to interact (match) with the `culture at large´. I
see this as positive. Here, every recommendation, ought to be taken as
a bit over-robust, a heuristic, not a static demarcation.
To say that what we have is an idiolect shouldn´t be
confused with seeing ourselves as a discrete model. This means that the `public´
relationships are not resolved by just having others learn/contemplate our language;
we are not a discipline. Conduct, praxis, the whole implosion/pandemonium notion,
makes our contact with a reader (etc.) much more frail.
A reader should approach the Handbook by creating it for himself
anew. Hence he encounters it through his conduct, praxis. One is here setting
up an encounter/confrontation, parametrized by a reader´s own action,
with our proceedings/ideology. Is one hopeful of talking here of a dialectic?
There is no point in bridging up the traditional teacher/learner dualism because
the reader is himself choosing/performing going-on. The reader is executing
or parametrizing the work. It´s not [...] at all a matter of finding your
way about in a foreign situation because there is no `way about´ until
you constitute it.
The best way to describe what the Handbook is about
is by analogy to the role of the reader in Kierkegaard´s Either/Or.
This is just how frail I find the relation involved in Us/Them, how `wilfully
problematic´ I look upon the encounter. Anyway, the title either/or only
makes sense when you realize that there is a `third term´ implicated in
the disjunction, namely, the existing individual who reads the book (follows
a pathway in our case). It´s not solely limited to a realm of `abstract
thought´, you are dead wrong if you read the handbook like this as confined
to `learned´ subject-matter. In so-called abstract-thought there is no
either/or because there is no existing subject. This is, obviously, heavily
Kierkegaardian. I don´t want to give the impression/that I find all of
his philosophy acceptable. I don´t. But I do, however, find this explicit
`orientation for readers´ to be of interest.
The handbook presents a reader with `live´ existential
possibilities, calling forth his decision. The material is parametrized
by his kind of praxis, conduct. It isn´t scholastic anymore (my kind of
pragmatics has deliberation not opinion as its focus this was brought out,
in a different way, with the Schema stuff. The difference between this and the
handbook is that we chose the pathways this time. The resulting display
differs from the `game´ that the reader plays with the handbook in that
it is a kind of object for scrutiny this doesn´t matter of course).
So it is useful to see the handbook in this `existential´
light. It´s more than 8 months now since it was finally formalized: the
instrumentalities are a bit impoverished I can´t argue with that, they
could have been improved. But as I see it, this doesn´t matter so long
as the pragmatic/existential point of deliberating can be grasped.
Maybe you could look at this in the light
of the Wittgensteinian sharp gap between what can be said and what can be shown.
What can be shown cannot, strictly speaking, be said. 10 The
handbook isn´t restricted to `abstract thought´ (if it were, it
would be an appalling failure) it doesn´t `say´ things, it can
only be directly and intimately `encountered´.
Anyway, my notion of going-on is presently embedded within
the broad cover of pandemonium. There is no question of trying to formalize
this pandemonium since you then remove one crucial ingredient: the interest.
And anyway, the pandemonium is in essence a question of praxis. Pandemonium
in the way we internally abrasively interact, and pandemonium in the relation
between us and the culture.
(added 2001, T. D., with the help of M. R.):
1 "The Handbook": Art
& LanguageNY: Blurting
in A & L. New York/Halifax 1973.
"The Annotations": see Art & LanguageNY: Blurting in
A & L. New York/Halifax 1973, introduction, p.1:
"This project involved eight of us here in New York. It was based on a
notion of annotating: a set of short statements or remarks were written and
a series of commentaries or annotations derived from these. This procedure continued
and the resulting bulk of collected `annotations´ exhibited a variety
of branchings, contradictory sequences, learning chains and the whole project
producing a shared topography of the interaction of the eight participants over
a limited period January-July, 1973)." Compare Burn,Ian/Ramsden, Mel/Smith,
Terry: Draft for an Anti-Textbook. In: Art-Language. September 1974, p.15ss.;
Harrison, Charles: Essays on Art & Language. Oxford 1991, p.99; Harrison,
Charles/Orton, Fred: A Provisional History of Art & Language. Paris 1982,
"The Schema material": This was titled "77 Sentences", and
shown at Galleria Schema, Firenze in 1974. Reproductions of this work can be
found in: Schlatter, Christian: Art Conceptuel Formes Conceptuelles. Galerie
1900-2000 and Galerie de Poche, Paris 1990, p.130-135. The 77 sentences were
numbered 1-77 and accompanied by a type of graph which showed how each individual
participant embedded a selected sentence within other sentences. Those who participated
were (from "A&L1" to "A&L6"):
Ian Burn, Michael Corris, Preston Heller, Andrew Menard, Mel Ramsden, Terry
Smith [=ALNY] and (from "P1" to "P5"):
Karl Beveridge, Carole Condé, Paula Eck, Kathleen Mooney, John Ruff.
The graph allows notations/inscriptions with brackets and numbers. The numbers
were indices of the sentences and the brackets show contextual embeddings of
indices/sentences (Ian Burn: "`indexical/contextual´ features"),
f. e.: "A&L1" (see first horizontal line) combines
sentence no."10" (see vertical line on the left) with "(6(21(50)))".
The inscriptions with brackets demonstrate a limited range of possibilities
of a notation system (only "recursions"), which can be found in Arthur
C. Danto´s "Analytical Philosophy of History" (Cambridge 1965,
chapter XI). back
2 Carnap, Rudolf: Der logische
Aufbau der Welt. Berlin 1928/2nd edition Hamburg 1961. back
3 Carnap, Rudolf, s. ann.2, §124,128.
4 Smith, Terry: Art and Art and
Language. In: Artforum. February 1974, p.49-52. back
5 Ian Burn, quoted in: Smith,
Terry, s. ann.4, p.50: "Much of the activity has been involved in self-description;
indeed, a form of `self-description-trying´." back
6 Russell, Bertrand: The Philosophy
of Logical Atomism. In: The Monist 28/1918 and 29/1919. back
7 Compare Dreher, Thomas: Blurting
in A & L: Art & Language and contextual investigation, chapter II.1
with ann.32s. back
8 Art & LanguageNY:
A & L. New York/Halifax 1973, p.4:
"The `classroom situation´ is possibly a metaphor for a kind of pandemonium.
So, in the end, the handbook is concerned with developing a learner environment;
there has to be that sort of elbow room as is implied in pandemonium...What
is striking on a basic level is that the 400-odd blurts have been approached
textually, as a self-defining/containing `imploded´ `world´."
& Language: Index 01, 1972, 8 file cabinets with six drawers, files with texts
of members of Art & Language, photostats for wall installation, private collection
Z¸rich (Conception: Michael Baldwin). Illustrations in: Dreher, Thomas: Art
& Language. Bildchronologie 1966-1999 (2001, URL: http://members.tripod.de/ThomasDreher/3_Konzeptkunst_Art_Lang4.html),
Ludwig: Tractatus logico-philosophicus (1921). Frankfurt am Main 15th
edition 1980, p.43, §4.1212: "Was gezeigt werden kann, kann
nicht gesagt werden." back