EIES Teleconference (January - May, 1981)
Re: System and Identity
We begin with practice. With the terminal, its keyboard, attendant software and ancillary systems. The first question: How does a method originating in art engage the full range of possibilities concealed and emergent in this technology? It is now clear, even a commonplace, that art has not confronted this kind of pragmatic pallette in its entire history. The second question: What is the continuous "spindle of necessity" streaming through and connecting art's ways-and- means and the teleconference system, irrespective of discontinuity in technical means?
Tacitly, each player in the teleconference is immediately faced with the task of establishing/developing an identity, or characteristic signature, reflecting his interaction with the terminal and its extensions. To this end I choose to adopt Levi-Strauss' bricoleur, the attitude of mind it represents being somehow oddly suited to the initial conditions of teleconferencing. Levi- Strauss' bricoleur is preliterate, this exercise in bricoleurity is postliterate. This position is introduced in response to the swelling aggregate of perspectives, hypothesis, and sheer data that is infinitely expressed and embodied in various spectrums of dissimilar media across dissimilar times. It implies a new integrative stance towards all "texts" which regards them singularly as mulch, fragments, partial views, specialties, trapped within the contexts that instigated their respective existences and affects.
The bricoleur intuitively seeks out a totemic logic with which to counterstate the world in new terms of description, i.e., the bricolage. He assumes the primitive nature of the teleconference system in a reflexive exchange with its numerous modalities and contents. He perceives the network of players to be a collective "savage mind" evolving a new "science of the concrete." The bricoleur endeavors to precisely order, classify and arrange the peculiar minutiae of the immediate experience of teleconferencing.
The compelling feature of the bricolage, as a distinct way of knowing, is the apparent ease with which it enables a preliterate (or non- computer literate) bricoleur to create and establish satisfactory analogical connections between his personal (emotionally-centered) life and the life of nature (or teleconferencing) instantaneously, without hesitation. A bricoleur's totemic logic weaves its myth in order to move effortlessly from one conceptual territory to another, in order to contain and transvalue the helter-skelter of alternative explanations and an expanding inventory of fuzzy sets.
We begin with testing "concretely" the potential range of metaphor and metonymy the system can bear. . . We move from the "item-centered" (or phonetic) world (in art: the object) into the "relational" (or phonemic) one (in art: the process).
The notion of bricolage from Levi-Strauss is apt here in many ways, and it could be particularly appropriate if we were confining ourselves in this project to the teleconferencing process only. For now we are concerned with a shift from product to process-- the process of arranging into structure the odd minutiae of the immediate experience, but also the process whereby the nature of these expanded media, via their very special interaction with human neurological process, serve as filter and amplifier of our output/input.
Picture this as a primitive but multi- headed Turing machine in which the distinctions between minds creating input are blurred by the manipulations of software. This is akin to the new functionalist school in philosophy, whereby analysis proceeds from a consideration of how the hardware (biological, micro- processor, what have you) is organized and not the nature of the hardware itself. This school attempts analysis of the world on the basis of how information in the world is organized, and attempts equation between similarly organized systems-whether animate or inanimate. This strikes home with the vitalist in any of us, but it also raises the ghost of Turing and even the spectre of Godel, Escher, Bach with its reductionist preferences.
Frank, would you please enter the etymology and genealogy of the word aesthetic? My memory is that it comes from esthetikos meaning "sense perception." Could we break it down further? Another point: it is typical of philosophies of aesthetics to articulate terms and systems considered independent of the brain/mind system. Usually, the mind=brain identity is heavily embedded and then forgotten. I will argue throughout that there are real distinctions of process between variously accessible conscious states, and that these systems induce significant alterations of state, the process nature of which we should attempt to elucidate as we proceed.
I am not certain how the phonetic/phonemic distinction which follows Jakobson et all applies in identifying a conference as a language. Shouldn't we be referring to "discourse" rather than using linguistic and specific semiotic systems references? I am not sure how the process of teleconferencing establishes this high order of "cosmicity" and "ambiguity." Eco's limitation is to have such a rule dominated semiotic system (model) which is unable to deal with ambiguity and "non- narrative" art (read: outside of an established code). I am not certain, to follow your references, how "the rule breaking roles of ambiguity and self reference are organized into an aesthetic ideolect." Since ideolect presumes a language, what's the language, and what do you mean by aesthetic?
As players in the evolution of this medium we are its pre-computer literates. This is a natural setting, however, for the application of art's totemic-logic system of reciprocal connection, which exists in direct opposition to the secular, positivistic and scientific employment of the present technology. The problem introduced to teleconferencing (and its extensions) when it is treated as an aesthetic medium can be located "historically" as the current manifestation of the eternally returning interrelationship between art and techne. The essential question is: What will it take for teleconferencing to evolve its own peculiar vital character and nuance?
Positioned within the aesthetic domain, teleconferencing becomes a medium of extreme potentiality. This is the immediate lex eterna governing a beginning discourse on the subject. Teleconferencing's present technical configuration is exclusively textual. But it is potentially textual, imagistic, and diagrammatic.
The digital aspect of the phonetic and analog aspect of the phonemic: the matrix of players are like points in a pattern. Each point in the pattern is an ever growing/changing assembly of statements, some shared by other points in the matrix and some unique. Phonetic differences between two sounds only become actively meaningful to the native speaker when they coincide with the phonemic structure (points in a pattern) of the language in which it occurs. The players will assemble a shared (common) "language" as points in the pattern intersect. Meaning in this instance stems from the contrasting or oppositional patterns of its phonemes. The potential in teleconferencing is to develop new (regained) meaning from the contrasting or oppositional (totemic) pattern of its players.
Re: Difference and Resemblance
". . .the operative value of the systems of meaning and classifying commonly called totemic derives from their formal character: they are codes suitable for conveying messages which can be transposed into other codes and for expressing messages received by means of different codes in terms of their own system."- Levi-Strauss
No one can observe the difference, say, between a Cimabue and a Massacio and fail to perceive, and to feel, what freedom must have meant to artists in the Cinquecento. Likewise, at some undetermined future point, an observer may perceive and feel the novel freedom resulting from the quantum paradigmatic shift in the balance of forces and dynamics governing the engagement of art and techne. A body-of-work in the domain of art is actually the successful introduction of a class of private objects or processes as archetypes of general laws, i.e., private encoding of the general. The techne of our current epoch complicates the issue of a "class of private objects" and their aesthetic encoding. This new technical complexity is the semiosis, the aesthetic function of the process nominally experienced.
". . .introversive semiosis, a message which signifies itself, is indissolubly linked with the aesthetic function of sign-systems."- Jakobson
As "introversive semiosis," art appears as a means for interconnecting messages in order to produce "texts" (private objects/processes) in which the rule-breaking roles of ambiguity and self-referencing are organized into an aesthetic idiolect. Semiotically, ambiguity is defined as a mode of violating the rules of the code--to paraphrase Eco. Thus the fecund realm of paradox: an aesthetic idiolect peculiar to the work of art, which induces in its audience a sense of cosmicity-- of endlessly moving beyond each established level of meaning the moment it is established, of continuously transforming "its denotations into connotations." (Jakobson) (This also relates to Barthes' account of connotation as a second order system of signification based upon denotation, involution, self-reference, discontinuity, ambiguity, transcendence, paradox: the stuff of art.)
Aesthetics is a loaded term. But none-the-less it is a critical issue in the teleconference discourse. It lost currency when it became exclusively associated with the formalist view of art developed by the students and followers of Croce. I have employed it deliberately with a view to igniting it in its original axiological sense. The origin of the more commonly held (and narrow) conception of aesthetics is Baumgarten's Aesthetica (circa 1750). Here (in Baumgarten and most modern aesthetics) it is defined as a logic of imagination, a science of the "dark ideas" known by the senses, in order to supplement logic, the science of clear and "distinct" ideas known by the mind. From a contemporary (and ancient for that matter) point of view, this distinction (between dark and clear ideas) is quaint and a trifle unworkable; but by limiting the study of aesthetics to art and by defining it in so normatively narrow a fashion, it did succeed in developing a body of criticism of taste.
It is against the inertia of this conception of aesthetics that any re-introduction of the term must compare. Kant was probably the first to object to the emasculation of the term. He protested against Baumgarten's use of the word and applied it in accordance with its Greek etymology (perception by the senses, especially by feeling, seeing, hearing, etc.) to the "science which treats of the conditions of sensuous perception." (Baumgarten's narrow application of the term established itself nevertheless and both meanings have persisted sort of independently. A third independent meaning, at once more narrow and more wide than Baumgarten and Kant, was introduced by Schiller in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (circa 1795-80). It is narrower because it refers not to perception in general but to one distinctive mode of it in particular. It is wider because the field of operation is not confined to art; this mode of perception can assert itself in response to anything whatsoever; art is a special case within the general field, though it is peculiarly and specifically designed "to call forth" this response. Schiller's meaning is wider in another way too. It implies that aesthetic perception involves the whole personality. Sense-activity it certainly is, but its distinctiveness lies in the brief harmony of all the functions of the mind, feeling and thinking both, plus the fusion of both with transition states. Schiller further defined it as a state of precarious but infinitely fruitful equipoise, and as the way things dispose themselves when they are contemplated for their own sake, without reference to purposes, ends, causes, etc. Schopenhauer evolves Schiller's conception further as the aesthetic in the world's will: i.e., the aesthetic is one way among others of being related to things. What results from an aesthetic encounter, so defined, is knowledge, not mere pleasurable sensation. It is at once a detailed and intensely clear grasp of intuitive knowledge of the object/process nexus in its stark uniqueness.
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