Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Deflating Modernity (Part 5) Against hyper-objects

Modernity posturing as bundle of (bundles of (bundles))

aLfreDo tRifF

Modernity's (M) mounting troubles tell a persistent problem with the methodologies used by M-theorists.

These theories are propagated and legitimized without proper immanent critiques appealing to standards of reference, explanatory power and future predictability. In the last four posts we've presented theoretical conclusions that are not viable, such as M-normativity, Hegel's axiomatics, presentism, etc. We confront the same problem with M's main methodology: hermeneutics.

The basic tenet of the discipline is that of interpretation, understanding, etc. And here is the problem: interpretation, understanding, etc, are not enough to anchor truth. Theorists overlook that many of these inherited constructs are structurally epiphenomenal, which redundantly relate back to its material base. Heidegger has no choice but to recognize hermeneutics' raison d' ĂȘtre and re-frame it as structural:
The "circle" in understanding belongs to the structure of meaning, and the latter phenomenon is rooted in the existential constitution of Dasein—that is, in the understanding which interprets. An entity for which, as Being-in-the-world, its Being is itself an issue, has, ontologically, a circular structure.1
We get it: Dasein has the ability to understand, and this ability is already —as it were— wired into Dasein. So, any understanding is bound to be Daseins' own! That Heidegger accepts that understanding is structural shows that circularity is an intractable problem for Hermeneutics. There's no way to validate one's understanding of the world beyond one's (own) understanding of the world.

Nothing against redundancy per se.

Once we pass hermeneutics' structural redundancy, we find that it's possible to build hermeneutic validity if we keep close attention to immanent standards of critique to rule out poor, or substandard interpretations. Admittedly, Heidegger's thesis in Being and Time opened up new avenues in the field of phenomenological research.

Here is a text by Umberto Eco, an expert in the history of hermeneutics. While in his early years Eco defended "open ended" interpretations, late Eco became more suspicious of what he saw as eroding standards of interpretation:  
One can object that in order to define a bad interpretation one needs the criteria for defining a good interpretation. I think on the contrary that we can accept a sort of Popper-like principle according to which if there are no rules that help to ascertain which interpretations are the "best" ones, there is at least a rule for ascertaining which ones are "bad." (169)
How to spot over-interpretation? Eco conceives of a model reader who would be able to discard some over-interpretations as ridiculous. We come back to the hermeneutic circle: understanding is a part-to-whole-to-part exercise. The model reader is capable to ask the right questions about the parts vs-a-vs the whole based on what she determines are the intentions of the text.


In our previous posts, we've hinted at hyper-objects as extremely large metaphysical entities, feeding on other entities.

Let's come back to M's paradigmatic definition:
... a bundle of processes that are cumulative and mutually reinforcing: to the (a) formation of capital and the mobilization of resources, to the (b) development of forces of production and the increase in the productivity of labor, to the establishment of (c) centralized political power and the formation of national identities, to the proliferation of rights of political participation, (e) of urban forms of life and of formal schooling, to the secularization of norms and so on (letters are mine).2
A bundle of processes which makes for a ((bigger)) process.

the hyper-object as if justifies itself

Some stubborn questions

* If a "bundle of processes," why not a bundleofabundleofabundle, and so on? (let's call this the infinite regress problem) 

* How does bundleofabundleofabundle remain the same through its changes? (let's call this change-over-persistence question)

* If a bundleofabundleofabundle is a sort of process activity, how does it supervenes over its parts? (let's call this the activity-over-substance question).

(A hyper-object can give one the creeps)

* How can M define itself as a "bundle of processes," while ultimately referring back to the processes constituting the processes? (let's call this the constitution paradox)

We're not being difficult. No question is of little value:

Categories relate to questions, not to answers!

The individuality of bundleofabundleofabundle cannot be explained out by invoking the very thing one needs to explain. We need to understand why all these bundles coalesce together through time, when they change.

Here is a schematic story of the making of M:

The theorist uses ad hoc methods with diverse  received theories to describe his (our) socioeconomic present; the assembled "bundle of processes" so presented as the explanation of his present condition. Then as part of the received theory, the postulated M will not submit to a critique outside M. 3  Is this a good start for a reliable methodology? Is this the best M-theory can do ?

the gradual decay of M-theory 

A brief history of M

a. At some point during early Nineteenth Century, German Romantics come up with the idea of "modern,"
b. Hegel brilliantly introduces axiomatics! 
c. The effort to legitimize Hegel determines two opposing currents: Right and Young Hegelians struggle to give an account of M anchored in, what else, the present!
d. Marx/Engels develop political economy and dialectical materialism as eminent presentist disciplines.
e.  Due to the contributions of Weber, Durkheim, Mead, etc, M-theory comes of age during the first fifty years of the Twentieth Century.

At each step of a. through e. we have a real shuffling of ideas: Given the early M-theory, anchored in metaphysics, history, teleology and Romantic literature, M-theorists proceed now to justify socio-historic and economic patterns in terms of bigger socio-economic and political processes, and in so doing they use more generalizations to ground previous ones. But bigger isn't better. In the end M becomes a rundown Paper Tiger, paralyzed by its inner unexplored peripheries and contradictions.     

Revising M 

In PDM Habermas defends human rationality. What's interesting about his program is that it makes rationality an inherent capacity within language acquisition and expression. In other words, rationality expresses itself in our capacity for argumentation. And argumentation is grounded on validity claims which are vindicated by a process of inter-subjectivity.4 This communicative (argumentative) interaction of participants becomes a promising social cohesive force. Postmodernity appears and subverts these tenets with a discourse that is vitiated by self-contradiction. Reason has its flip side: the "other" of Reason, which, in the end, is actually, Reason. The problem is that Habermas makes M a cardboard model for rationality.

But M is, at bottom, a motley crew.

To make up for this aporia, M-theorists turn M into a hyper-object in the company of other hyper-objects, such as Capitalism, etc. (The hyper-object gang provides much needed esprit de corps).

Our approach is that hyper-objects should metaphysically answer to objects. An object, a thing, is a primitive. A required first step. Surely, objects get together with other objects to become big, sometimes very big. But we should talk about stuff that is actually at our empirical (or conceptual) level, instead of up above at some epiphenomenal level. We suggest to come back to a simple differentiation between what the object (thing) "is" and what we "make" of it. Of course, this is not the place to go into such detailed discussion of object/metaphysics.

A deflated idea of M:

* Like with any other historic period, let's deflate M to finite future bounds.

* M's self-imposed teleology is metaphysically redundant.4

* Self-normativity and M-normativity are goldbricks! From a normative standpoint, M has to be necessarily connected with previous historic periods. Normativity has to be trans-epochal.

* Instead of dwelling high and above at hyper-object level, the theorist should come down to earth and look at things. Don't rule by fiat.

* Make M less hyper-symptomatic and more predictive.5

* To avoid hyper-objects' recurrent redundancy, make them subordinate to objects (things).   

Indeed, the present is real but it can be presented as a counterfactual to hyper-objects' redundant influence. For instance, one can conceive of a world without Modernity in it.6

What if Modernity is a fluke?

1 M. Heidegger's Being and Time (New York: Harper and Row, 1962) p.195. .  2 PDM, p. 2, Habermas enumerates the different influences of what we could call "the received theory of M": Baudelaire, Weber, Mead, Benjamin, Durkheim, Blumenberg,  Koselleck, etc. See Hegel's axiomatics.  3 Suppose a theorist comes up with a theory in defense of "aura analysis." Suppose furthermore that there are many people don't fit the predicted patterns of "aura analysis." Rather than accept this fact as refuting evidence of the theory, the theorist presents a new category: the non-aureatic. Now, whenever the theory does not seem to work, the contrary evidence is systematically discounted! 4 Grounding validity claims intersubjectively grounds truth as coherence. Again, theoretical coherence alone is not enough to ground truth claims (whether as pseudo science or social consensus, as in here, here and here). 5 True, the future is unpredictable, but we have this and this to entertain comparative forecasts. 6 As well as other well known socio-economic hyper-objects, such as Capitalism, Terrorism, Globalization, etc.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Art Hypnosis: Cultural spectacle has a potential for aesthetic mass-brainwashing

Art Spectacle is Cultural Spectacle  

Whatever emotions their actual existence as political agents of evolution provokes, it is impossible to ignore the force that situates them above men, parties, and even laws: a force that disrupts the regular course of things, the peaceful but fastidious homogeneity powerless to maintain itself ... considered not with regard to its external action but with regard to its source, the force of a leader is analogous to that exerted in hypnosis.
Georges Bataille and Carl R. Lovitt, The Psychological Structure of Fascism. New German Critique, No. 16 (Winter, 1979), p. 71. Republished by Duke University Press.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Walter Crane Dictionary

(The) Arts: If I may have succeeded in making out a case for the arts now called Decorative and Applied —though "there is but one art." (CDA, Preface)
(...) to follow the clue for themselves, and especially to think out further the relation of art to labour and to social life (Ibid.)
(...) Art is not the mere toy of wealth, or the superficial bedizen- ment of fashion, not a revolving kaleidoscope of dead styles, but in its true sense, in a vital and healthy condition, the spontaneous expression of the life and aspirations of a free people. ( CDA, The Architecture of Art, p. 15)
(...) The higher, the richer, the fuller the life, the happier and more harmonious its conditions, the higher and more varied and beautiful will be the forms of its expression in art. (CDA, Ibid, p. 17)

Arts and materials: (...) to realize that that art is not necessarily the highest which is always in the clouds, but, indeed, that all kinds of art gain in character and beauty in proportion as the ideas they express are incarnate as it were—inseparable from the particular materials in which they are embodied. (WM, On the Study and Practice of Art, p. 114)

Beauty: I know no better definition of beauty than that it is "the most varied unity, the most united variety." (CDA, The Architecture of Art, p. 6)
(...) The sense of beauty may be stunted, but Nature cannot be altogether suppressed under the most perverse social conditions. (Ibid.)

Cheap art: The advocates of cheap art, of art for the homes of the people, are apt to forget that the price of cheap art, like the price of all cheap labour, means the cheapening of human lives. (CDA, Art and Social Democracy p. 141)
(...) The advocates of cheap art, of art for the homes of the people, are apt to forget that the price of cheap art, like the price of all cheap labour, means the cheapening of human lives. (Ibid. p. 142)

Commercialism: But commercialism, which seems now so triumphant, carries the seeds of destruction in its own bosom. (CDAArt & Commercialism, p. 139)
(...) This will seem a hard saying to such as are accustomed to believe that the accumulation of riches and the welfare of art go hand in hand. But let us look around us. Of course the spirit of commercialism does produce startling results upon art, if not in it ; and it is a wolf quite capable of seeing the advantage of sheep's clothing. (CDAThe Architecture of Art, p. 9)
(...) But again it is in danger from a new tyranny in that unscrupulous commercialism, which is not less dangerous because less tangible, and not less despotic because it is masked under the form of political liberty. (Ibid. p. 12)

Losing beauty to commercialism: It is a strange commentary upon that industrial commercial progress which has been the subject of so much congratulation ... we are losing our sense of beauty, our artistic feeling, and capacity for imaginative design ; that our daily work is losing, or has lost, its interest and romance... (CDAArt & Labor, p. 59)
(...) that we are paying a heavy price for this lob-sided progress of ours in the loss of beauty without and happiness within; and that that very cheapening of commodities, which is often regarded as such a blessing, means the cheapening of human life and labour; and we are apt to forget that the cheapest necessity of life may be dear enough if one has not even the cheap symbol of exchange for it (CDAArt & Labor, p. 63).
(...) Even in the art-world, and among the very cultivators of beauty we detect the canker of commercialism. The compulsion of the market rules supply and demand, and the dealer becomes more and more dominant. (WM, Modern Aspects of Life,  p. 217

Commercial pressure: (...) but I am inclined to think commercial pressure and hurry is heavier upon him. Thought is all-powerful, but there is no time to think ; fancy and imagination might play about the humblest accessory, but there is no time to play ; and all work, or rather uncertainty of work, and no play makes Jack a dull boy. (CDAThe Architecture of Art, p. 19)

Common life: (...) We should aim at a condition of things which would not keep beauty at a distance from common life ... no artist should be satisfied with such a cold relationship. (CDA, The Architecture of Art, p. 14)
(...) it is necessary that there should be something like a common life. We have no common life, because we have no life in common. Art is split up into cliques, as society into classes. Art should know neither. (Ibid. p. 15)
(...) Indeed, art itself is essentially a social product, intimately associated with common life. (CDA, Art Under Socialism, p. 75).
(...) as for art, like the wrestler, it always gains new vigour every time it touches the ground —the ground of nature and common life. (Ibid, p. 81)

DesignImitation only requires industry, but design demands inventive power. Design might be defined as the constructive sense controlled by the sense of beauty. (Ibid. 33)

Division of labor in art: (...) but with all our industrial organisation, subdivision of labour, and machine production, we have destroyed the art of the people, the art of common things and common life, and are even now awakening to the fact. (CDA, Applied Arts and their relation to Common Life p. 108)
(...) the art of the people, hand in hand with everyday handicraft, inseparable from life and use — that spontaneous art of the potter, the weaver, the carver, the mason, which our economical, commercial, industrial, competitive, capitalistic system has crushed out of existence by division of labour. (CDA, Art and Commercialism, p. 127)

Drawing: The best test of power or accuracy of observation is drawing, and power of drawing is the basis of all art, which might in all its varieties be described as different kinds or degrees of drawing; what is painting but drawing in colour and tone? -- Walter Crane, (CDAArt and the Commonwealth)

Imitation (the danger of): At the present day, when, speaking generally, all forms of graphic art seem to owe their existence to the primary object of imitation of the more superficial, temporary, and accidental aspects of nature ; there would seem to be some danger of forgetting that art has properly any other or loftier function. (CDAThe Architecture of Art, p. 20)
(...) Imitation only requires industry, but design demands inventive power. (Ibid. p. 33)
(...) Much ability certainly, much energy, much industry, but wasted for the most part upon objects and subjects either unrewarding or repulsive, and squandered in aimless, and therefore inartistic imitation. (Ibid. p. 37)
(...) Again it may be objected, is not the business of painting then to imitate ? I answer, only a part of the business, and only in so far as imitation contributes to expression, whether of beauty, or thought, or story, or phase of nature, in which it ceases to be merely imitation. (CDA, Imitation and Expression in the Arts, p. 159)
(...) the narrowing of his interest to the imitation of facts — tends, as we have seen, to the limitation of his dramatic or poetic interest. (Ibid. p. 167)

Merging of the arts: Now the severance of the artist and the workman — the craftsman — and the dismemberment, and absorption of the latter to a large extent by machinery, have had results incalculably injurious to art. (CDA, The Prospects of Art under Socialism, p. 75)

Quality: The spirit of art, imagination, romance, and the sense of beauty may inspire the smaller accessories of life as they may the larger. It is not a question of size or quantity, it is a question of quality. (Ibid)

The poster: I mean the pictorial poster, which might be said to be the most original flourishing and vigorous type of popular art existing, and the only popular form of mural painting. (WM, Art and the Commonwealth, p. 253)

The strength of art associations: All the crafts which they specially address themselves to teach and cultivate are, after all, entirely dependent for their interest and value upon vigour of design and vital expression, and this cannot suddenly be forced into existence by artificial heat. It is a power of slow development and is nourished from all sorts of sources, and is as many sided as life itself, being in fact only another form of life. You can lead a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink. (WM, English Revival in Decorative Arts, p. 68)
(...) Let a band of artists and craftsmen associate together, and, working quietly, make to themselves and all whom it may concern things of beauty and utility ... there is a growing desire for these things as a relief from the dreary monotony of ugliness... (CDAArt & Commercialism, p. 136)
(...) The perception of the essentially social character of the arts that minister to daily life, and the dependence of design and handicraft upon effective cooperation among groups of workers have drawn craftsmen together, and has led in some sort to a revival of guilds. (WM, The Socialist Ideal, p. 93)

List of Walter Crane texts

CDA, Archive Org.  The Claims of Decorative Arts
WM,  Gutenberg Org. From William Morris to Whistler, Papers and Addresses on Art