Theory and Philosophy

Obscurity of Purpose, Immediacy of Experience

Obscurity of Purpose, Immediacy of Experience

On documenta 14

Obscurity of purpose; immediacy of experience; the foregrounding of a nameless parallel space, shorn of concrete social orientation: these qualities enveloped huge swathes of the exhibition. In a paradoxical turn, the greater the formal emphasis on participation, egalitarian engagement, and the banishment of hierarchy, the less political commitment, or the articulation of a clearly defined viewpoint, appeared possible. It’s a turn that has been noted before, most magisterially by Claire Bishop in Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012). One foregrounds a “symmetrical situation of the encounter of equals,” only to wind up with incoherence and a teleology of open-endedness. Social relations were skated over, as projects like Social Dissonance melded more or less anonymous participants into spontaneous collectives. Artists tacked on political motives as loose premises or ex post facto revelations, unintegrated into any aesthetic whole.

Cankerworms

Cankerworms

Mothering is not only gathering together; it is also letting go, dropping one’s grasp—accidentally, ideally, but dropping it nevertheless.

“Here I was, enjoying a continuity of being.” The big sphere of my baby’s head was very much like a circle, and when he felt like he was falling, his little arms and legs jerked upwards, like their propulsion could push him back to his starting point. Because I was not a not-good-enough mother, this didn’t happen very often, but I winced every time it did, nevertheless. The difficulty of maternal gathering is that it is always going to fail. To grow—to become a person—the baby must get past his earliest, balloon-like self. He must separate himself into a head and a body, then a head, a body, and arms. The project is not solely separating the baby from his mother; it is separating the baby from himself. Building a version of self that can acknowledge its hands and feet. Its mind, within, and its skin, without.

Old Ship

Old Ship

What did you think, that joy was some slight thing?

You asked for philosophy and I am bringing it, late-night dorm-basement style. But I’m not just splitting hairs. This variety in our actual experience suggests — I think — that Camus got the question wrong, or that the question itself is the problem. The only important philosophical question isn’t why we each, individually, might choose to live. It’s how to live with each other, given that the facts of our lives are contingent on the facts of others’.

Emptiness

Emptiness

Narcissists are imitators par excellence. And they do not copy the small, boring parts of selves.

The narcissist is, according to the internet, empty. Normal, healthy people are full of self, a kind of substance like a soul or personhood that, if you have it, emanates warmly from inside of you toward the outside of you. No one knows what it is, but everyone agrees that narcissists do not have it. Disturbingly, however, they are often better than anyone else at seeming to have it. Because what they have inside is empty space, they have had to make a study of the selves of others in order to invent something that looks and sounds like one. Narcissists are imitators par excellence. And they do not copy the small, boring parts of selves. They take what they think are the biggest, most impressive parts of other selves, and devise a hologram of self that seems superpowered.

Endangered Speakers

Endangered Speakers

Catching disappearing languages

It’s three miles to South Williamsburg, one of the last Yiddish-speaking neighborhoods in the world, where a whole new dialect, some say a separate language, is coming into being. Farther out in East Bushwick, James Lovell is teaching Garifuna, an Afro-Indigenous language of the Caribbean. The Garifuna are descendants of African slaves who escaped a shipwreck off the island of St. Vincent in 1635 and intermarried with the Arawak and Carib natives.

Tarnac, General Store

Tarnac, General Store

Anarchist farmers vs. Inspector Clouseau

The offices themselves were in perfect opposition to Alain Bauer’s clean-cut image. They were small and untidy, cluttered with crates of books and disordered folders. Every inch of the walls was covered in letters of mission, distinctions, diplomas, and, finally, a photo of Bauer and Nicolas Sarkozy, then minister of the interior. Sarkozy appears as small and nervous as Bauer does strong and cold. The snapshot had the best spot in the office, the most valuable location, where the whole team could admire it several times a day: above the photocopier.

Sadomodernism

Sadomodernism

Haneke in furs

Haneke has often said, referring to the unhappy ending of The Piano Teacher, that he aims “to rape the spectator into autonomy.” He abuses his audience in order to make us self-aware and liberate us from bad habits. Critics have mostly taken him at his word, repeating the sleight of rhetoric that conflates the act of analyzing and violating movie conventions with bashing in the skull of an animal.

Obscurity of Purpose, Immediacy of Experience

Obscurity of Purpose, Immediacy of Experience

On documenta 14

Obscurity of purpose; immediacy of experience; the foregrounding of a nameless parallel space, shorn of concrete social orientation: these qualities enveloped huge swathes of the exhibition. In a paradoxical turn, the greater the formal emphasis on participation, egalitarian engagement, and the banishment of hierarchy, the less political commitment, or the articulation of a clearly defined viewpoint, appeared possible. It’s a turn that has been noted before, most magisterially by Claire Bishop in Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012). One foregrounds a “symmetrical situation of the encounter of equals,” only to wind up with incoherence and a teleology of open-endedness. Social relations were skated over, as projects like Social Dissonance melded more or less anonymous participants into spontaneous collectives. Artists tacked on political motives as loose premises or ex post facto revelations, unintegrated into any aesthetic whole.

Cankerworms

Cankerworms

Mothering is not only gathering together; it is also letting go, dropping one’s grasp—accidentally, ideally, but dropping it nevertheless.

“Here I was, enjoying a continuity of being.” The big sphere of my baby’s head was very much like a circle, and when he felt like he was falling, his little arms and legs jerked upwards, like their propulsion could push him back to his starting point. Because I was not a not-good-enough mother, this didn’t happen very often, but I winced every time it did, nevertheless. The difficulty of maternal gathering is that it is always going to fail. To grow—to become a person—the baby must get past his earliest, balloon-like self. He must separate himself into a head and a body, then a head, a body, and arms. The project is not solely separating the baby from his mother; it is separating the baby from himself. Building a version of self that can acknowledge its hands and feet. Its mind, within, and its skin, without.

Old Ship

Old Ship

What did you think, that joy was some slight thing?

You asked for philosophy and I am bringing it, late-night dorm-basement style. But I’m not just splitting hairs. This variety in our actual experience suggests — I think — that Camus got the question wrong, or that the question itself is the problem. The only important philosophical question isn’t why we each, individually, might choose to live. It’s how to live with each other, given that the facts of our lives are contingent on the facts of others’.

Emptiness

Emptiness

Narcissists are imitators par excellence. And they do not copy the small, boring parts of selves.

The narcissist is, according to the internet, empty. Normal, healthy people are full of self, a kind of substance like a soul or personhood that, if you have it, emanates warmly from inside of you toward the outside of you. No one knows what it is, but everyone agrees that narcissists do not have it. Disturbingly, however, they are often better than anyone else at seeming to have it. Because what they have inside is empty space, they have had to make a study of the selves of others in order to invent something that looks and sounds like one. Narcissists are imitators par excellence. And they do not copy the small, boring parts of selves. They take what they think are the biggest, most impressive parts of other selves, and devise a hologram of self that seems superpowered.