[Response of Philip Pilkington]
A Vogon Guard Speaks to Arthur Dent
The following dilates on some of the discussions in Blurting in AL, questions 6 and 7.
This is not a playful response. A call for Reform of some sort seems to be in the ether from Corris. It’s suggested that a reform of aesthetic practices may be connected to the reform of institutional hegemonies. That in some way, an aesthetic practice should be in an appropriate critical phase to hegemony; and appropriateness is somehow effective with respect to ‘outcomes’. And that connection is what? Pragmatically appropriate, grown up, adult, competent and responsible. There are many covert or perhaps unself-conscious assumptions in a polarity of aesthetic to hegemonic practices: psychologisms of meaning, plus a mechanistic view of meaning as a closed, transparent system and linked to actions, alienation as psychological choice (or at least amenable to therapy) rather than a determinism, and the privilege (special case) of the aesthetic over other practices, and much, much more.
Where to begin?
The somewhat confused analogies to juvenile anomie, industrial action and aesthetic quietism (malingering, sit down strikes, etc) first appears in question 6 where Corris says something about the NY annotations and ‘we didn’t want the art world to join us’. This is fantasy and heroic missing the point. Perhaps that is Corris’ mea culpa. Let me explain (again) - the difference between the annotations and the indexing projects were on the surface and in a restricted behaviourist’s sense rather minor; but in their logic, practice and drang there were profound differences. This is not a matter of degree; there was a fundamental (and final) disagreement. It’s not an error of comparing apples to pears in the rather self-serving blurting about NY annotations and the indexes – it’s an error of several orders of category mistake of (say) comparing gestalt therapy to super strings. This is not boasting…they were that different. Perhaps the disagreement continues over comparability. That the disagreement continues may also be related to why the comments about power seem either silly or incomprehensible or possibly both.
Let me explain (again) – the relationship the (any) annotations could have to other practices could be stable, stipulated beforehand on any criteria to anyone’s (or nobody’s) benefit. It was ‘constitutional’ in a Rawlsian sense, parasitic on other social conditions. The pathways from one to the other practices could be indicative, a bit like a power point presentation (sic) to a performative act such as a sales talk. Indexing is recursive functioning whereby (a) relations between practices are unstable and changing and (b) membership of the sets (that is, the set of meanings, the set of production, of people, of historical conditions, et al) change. Indexing is non-foundational, formally. It’s therefore funny that others in NY got wound up about ‘membership’ qua individuals as contributors with futures at stake – that was partly the point of indexing. (Did you notice the authorship ascribed in the Handbook(s) for Going On was at best schematic, if not fuzzy.) The annotations seemed like a conceptual art conceit, indexing seemed like vanishing into natural languages. However, the NY fantasy was everyone was troubled not to be tainted with the art world in NY. Pardon? It was the very air they breathed, with the sales of The Fox in art bookshops keenly followed (shelved, presumably, in the Resolutely Not Art section). It is this purblindness that is at one with the startling non-sequitors of power, artistic agency, ability, etc. that follows in the responses about aesthetic practice and power.
Now, perhaps Corris was compressing a great deal into his reply on ‘artistic agency’ and its responsibilities. It seems that committing travesties (sic) is either an adolescent response or avoidance (or both) of the dominant ‘absolutist power’.
I can see the lineaments of travesties and malapropisms in the radical upshots of the indexical projects. That is, there was a flight from reification in the mapping of meaning in and as practice and in the radical changes in meaning. Tracing back the meanings (and the history) is problematic; the heir-lines are unclear or at best incomplete. Hegemonic history – that which ramifies the representation of cultural productions as managed consumption – reifies the practice. It does not just ‘freeze’ practice in time, it distorts, warps, guesses and lies. The dialectical relations which are perhaps alluded to in the claim for engaging, between the practice and its hegemonised representations is (yes) negation. But the negation does not entail a pair of views within a well-formed set of views. Negation here is a logically incommensurable pairing. An irony of indexing and of purposive travesties is that there is an asymmetric relation between the hegemonic and its paired historical practices. The disturbing thought is that the historical synthesis (with the devoutly to be wished responsible adult commitments that would follow) will never occur – on the logical grounds that (a) the aufgehoben is an hegemonic formalist’s wet dream and (b) there is already a form of synthesis in the recursiveness of the historical practice over the hegemonic history- we speak to ourselves of the world. This is not to say there is the End of History, just that history in practice is not a three act Hegelian melodrama with happy outcomes; it is perpetual improv in survival.
If an outcome of management consumption of aesthetic (and other) practices is absurdity then what logical tools are available to deal with that absurdity? This is meant in a classical sense: absurdity includes all possible propositions within it, including any possible aesthetic practices. This is not a new situation – it’s a variation on industrialist portraiture but this time it is without virtue. Turning towards, away, sideways, under or a double axel around power is besides the point about responsibility within absurdity.
As a footnote: consider the limits of representing absurdity within what we still hold on to – a failed picture theory of meaning. I mean this in (again) the classical reference to overcoming Russellian paradoxes – meaning can only be shown and in the literal sense of the showing. As for an epistemology of AL, I would suggest at best an instrumental stoicism – competences within limits of absurdity. Philip Pilkington(firstname.lastname@example.org)