University of Minnesota, Weisman Art Museum, November 17, 2012
The Generic Orientation of Non-Standard Aesthetics
The Problem to Be Solved
Aesthetics, in particular since Hegel, has been philosophy’s acknowledged domination of art. Philosophy claims to disengage the sense, the truth and the destination of art—and all of this after the event of art’s supposed death. In a less authoritarian and less legislative mode, philosophy describes the figures of art, its epochs, it styles, and the system of its forms in accordance with art’s own norms. Art, for its part, resists this enterprise and rebels.
I propose another solution which, without abandoning aesthetics, no longer grants it this domination of the work by philosophical categories, but which limits aesthetics by transforming it. It is a matter of substituting for the conflict between art and philosophy, a conjugation of their methods on the basis of a scientific model. We will thus attempt to explore the following matrix: non-aesthetics, or non-standard aesthetics, is the reciprocal determination of art and philosophy, but indexed to a universal algebraic coefficient present in (quantum) physics—the “imaginary number”—thus demanding the interpretation of their conjugation not in terms of concepts or macroscopic objects, but in terms of vectors. This onto-vectorialization of aesthetics deprives aesthetics of its sufficiency with respect to art, but, at the same time, transforms it into a fiction which is itself artistic. It is what is called a “generic” extension of art to aesthetics, the moment at which thought becomes itself a form of art. It is a new use of their mimetic rivalry, suspending, finally, their traditional conflictuality for a common work, a new “genre.” This reciprocal liberation of art and thought (via the under-determination of their specific techniques) has already been tested on the concept of photography, and from there, on the concept of photo-fiction, ultimately, perhaps, leading to the creation of a music-fiction. Extending the first investigations of The Concept of Non-Photography (bilingual edition published by Urbanomic/Sequence, New York 2011), these experiments propose something of a new design for thought.
Standard and Non-Standard
I call “standard” those aesthetics whose principles (1) are recognized and accepted, across a number of variations, by institutional and academic communities and which thus constitute the object of confirmed knowledges; (2) whose principles define either a foundation for art or a philosophical description of art or, more generally, a normality and a normativity; which is to say (3) a determinism of the reciprocal causality of art and of philosophy . It poses well known questions of the type “What is art?,” “What is the essence of art?,” “What can art do?,” and it believes it can answer these questions with certainty. In accordance with these questions, standard aesthetics describes the styles, forms and historical epochs of art in a broadly realist manner, for it believes it is possible to define both art and philosophy. A central and founding principle of aesthetics remains unnoticed in these questions and gathers them together, what I call the Principle of Aesthetic Sufficiency—This principle grants the sufficiency, the relevance and the validity of philosophy, of its classical principles and the tasks it sets itself in relation to art and which it sets for art itself. It will be said that this proposition of non-standard aesthetics is useless and that it goes without saying. However, one needs only to recall Socrates’ decree that philosophy is the most beautiful of musics or that it is the best reader of the poets thanks to those philosophers who reduce poems to their skeletal sense, in order to concern oneself with the deep intentions of philosophy with regard to poets and artists—an intention which is perhaps only in the “back of their minds.” What is at stake here is not merely a matter of description, but an historical and theoretical normality more or less disguised. It is a question of the capacity of art to reach the real and to access the achievement of a human life across its works, of a telos which exceeds the detail of a work in order to determine human destination of art. In reality, the philosopher intends, in a certain way, to take the place of the artist, to think in his or her place—not, of course, in order to create a work of art, but to fulfill the highest end which carries each work and which constitutes the philosopher’s fantasy. This attempt at substitution is played out on the plane of art’s purposiveness (finalité), but not on that of its methods or techniques. There the philosopher is at a loss, even if he hides this fact from himself, imagining an art-without-art, a work-without-technique, thinking as the artist acts.
Personally, I would not reproach the philosopher for this ambition, the philosopher who wants or dreams of being a scientist, artist, priest, etc. Rather, as philosopher, he simply does not have the technical means, in the broad sense, of achieving this ambition. He thus under-estimates the work of the artist and what the artist can do. As for the artist, for his part, one could obviously reproach him for being steeped in philosophical notions and prejudices that he does not always know; what is essential for him, is knowing how to use it in the work itself. Their aesthetic relations are founded on a well-distributed lack. If the philosopher lacks technique and know-how; the artist lacks ends, or he accepts them readymade and from the outside, subject to the market to which he binds his fate. If the philosopher overestimates himself ontologically and phantasmatically, the artist underestimates himself—not psychologically, for he can become political, revolutionary, etc.—but ontologically, in the sense that he does not know what he could really do if he worked with the philosopher to define a certain mode as higher rather than fixing ends which are too limited or under-valued (fame, money, market).
The philosopher and the artist must, in effect, work according to their own separate logics, avoiding hybridity at any cost, acknowledging this division of labor. Too often, however, they put this division to bad use precisely on the basis of the Principle of Aesthetic Sufficiency. Between them, there is a mimetic rivalry (R. Girard), creating conflicts and which is generally harmful. It is necessary to conserve and transform this rivalry, conjugating each by distinguishing their respective techniques and ends. I do not speak of a hybridization—I hesitate to employ this biologico-colonial concept—but of another operation of scientific origin: what is called a conjugation of variables, a concept which gives this rivalry an entirely different sense or another use, not as a dialectical “overcoming”—in other words, according to the ends of philosophy—but as a liberation of the subject of this conjugation. This rivalry is as philosophical as it is artistic. Founded on a certain mimeticism which multiplies echoes and mixtures, not permitting the thorough exploitation of the techniques of art and those of philosophy, it signifies that each desires the desire of the other, to be or to have what the other desires, its object and its affects. That this dialectic may be philosophical or psychoanalytic is of little importance. It returns to these individual subjects in their state of concurrence and lacking universality. What is in question here is this: who is this subject of non-standard aesthetics, and what truth can they attain when they conjugate art and philosophy.
In the Spirit of Quantum Thought
The task then consists in finding a theoretical apparatus or montage inclusive of and conjoining the two opposite sides so as to force them to cooperate in spite of themselves. Cooperating against one’s will amounts to a kind of forcing in two ways: transforming mimetic rivalry or resistance which are fuzzy and indefinite concepts by way of constraining conditions of knowledge that, by the same token, represent a universal expansion of aesthetics. There are two theoretical couples we have to combine: art and philosophy (or aesthetics), a rather philosophical couple, and the couple philosophy and science, a more scientific than philosophical couple. There are obviously two separate operations or effects to conjugate, so we need what is called a matrix—a matrix-based processing of aesthetics.
What are the operations to be effected upon these two couples via the matrix? The first one is a kind of compulsory scientific forcing. For us, this is merely the initial move whereas it is the complete operation for Badiou, for whom forcing consists in reducing truth, (which is by definition infinite if it is that of an Idea) to a finite and classifying knowledge so as to render it adequate for a subject that can use it and transform himself with it. Our problem is slightly different. It is still a matter of reducing aesthetic relations of rivalry, which are indefinite and reflexive in their own way, hence standard, to scientific relations whose model is provided by quantum physics. Still, these relations are not simply classificatory nor of the order of physical quantities (such as position and impulsion) since they are, as quasi-scientific relations, partially co-determined by philosophy in its engagement with art.
We will then approach philosophical concepts or acts and artistic acts as two kinds of variables or even properties supported by a subject=X to which we have decided to apply them, but without yet knowing what justifies this operation: it is an in-itself without a for-itself. Even if, originally, these are not forms of knowledge or properties, the quantic or scientific matrix requires that they be considered as such. These acts are not forms of knowledge but the matrix obliges us to treat them as forms of knowledge, acting as variables or properties to this subject-object=X. The matrix then forces us to multiply the one by the other as to increase the total power of aesthetics, so we obtain two inverted mathematical products. It is an operation of scientific translation on both sides of non-standard aesthetics. What we get is the reduction of standard esthetic Idea or truth, always difficult to conceptualize, into the conditions of a knowledge at last accessible and susceptible to being mastered. From unnamable truth to veridical nomination, it nevertheless remains an exterior and unintelligible operation.
The second operation is stranger and yet it retroactively justifies the first one and gives it its generic or universal character, no longer within the limits of philosophy but within those of science. The question now is how to combine, not art and philosophy, but aesthetics and science, in order to complete the integration of these complex aesthetic properties within science—within the immanence it is capable of. Properties that were scientific in-itself must become so for-itself. Clearly, the recourse to Hegel here is not to his philosophy since the for-itself is realized on a scientific mode not a dialectical one. The main point is the identity of art and philosophy, which were considered scientific only from an exterior purview (as presupposed properties), as an identity of a scientific type, a scientific for-itself in a way, affirming in an immanent manner the identity of art and philosophy that we will qualify as “in-the-last-instance.”
So what can such a scientific identity be, especially a quantic identity? Precisely, in quantum physics there is no identity in the metaphysical sense. In the same manner that Kantor sets in mathematics imply for Badiou the neutering of The One, the wave-and-particle framework of quantum physics that we use as model for non-standard aesthetics implies the suspension of its proper One, that is to say, the corpuscular form of concepts and philosophemes, and its comprehension or reduction to the state of particle, in other words as wave-form. While mathematics remains at the level of multiple multiplicities with the void as underpinning, the physics I invoke as model concerns the multiplicities of particles and their underpinning as wave-form rather than as void. It is the only way to render philosophy intelligible: by stopping to celebrate it as a species of speculative mathematics.
Indeed, in my opinion philosophers have a truncated view of philosophy’s unity as a simple and excessively isotropic environment, so that Badiou for instance thinks he is activating it by activating The One on behalf of the count-as-one, or again, it’s the same thing, he believes he can sever ontology from philosophy. My thesis is that philosophy counts as a structure of the two and the one, not as a simple unity. His critique or deconstruction is thus not simple, it is an operation that proves to be complex. Concretely, this scientific idea bears another name and another process, it’s a superposition of vectors, an onto-vectorial property rather than a macroscopic property, and which can only be said of the addition of vectors. The suspension of identity or the metaphysical One lets transpire an onto-vectorial superposition that is an under-determined identity, and non-complete. It is the task of the imaginary number characterizing onto-vectoriality to explain this superposition.
The Generic Orientation
Now, why is this superposition not only said to be quantic but also generic? We already get from the quantic translation a large part of the conditions for obtaining the generic. This term has several philosophical origins: at least two, one from logic and mathematics (Paul-J. Cohen and Badiou), the other philosophical and anthropological (Feuerbach). The one I am attempting to develop is philosophical, close to that of Feuerbach and early Marx, yet quantic and algebraic.
There are constants in the generic style. The first is a form of an average universal or middle-ground between the One-All and singularity or individuality: the generic is restricted, it excludes the extremes of the All and of the individual to which the All applies. The second is that the generic is capable of supporting a multiplicity of heterogeneous acts or predicates, among other things the thoughts of science and philosophy: the generic is endowed with extension but without totality or singularity, thus under-determined, non-absolute. The third is that it possesses a genealogical or critical power of [giving the] illusion or the appearance of the All. The fourth is to create truth from knowledge, that is to say, a form of hesitant and probable knowing [connaissance] out of supposedly confirmed facts of knowledge [savoirs]. In the end, it is a process of knowing: it is neither a philosophical act nor an act of posited knowledge. But the real question about the generic boils down to knowing what is the subject or who is the subject of non-standard aesthetics and what type of knowing can it generate? Here we must return to the second operation.
Non-standard aesthetics, as we have said, takes for its object not art or philosophy separately or hybridized, but an object=X, likely human and a subject in one of its aspects. It is capable of doing heterogeneous acts each of which has its specificity, but it is also capable of being determined by them. I indicated that a last act was required to move from the inverted products of variables or facts of knowledge [savoirs] to the truth to be produced, or else from the actual subject to knowing that subject. This operation consists in indexing each of the products of the variables on the specifics of the quantic, the imaginary or complex number which allows for an onto-vectorial translation of facts of knowledge. Non-standard aesthetics is no longer a discourse on molar or molecular objects, it must give way to an ontologically double reading. It is not structured like a discourse with signifiers and signifieds apt to give rise to a psychoanalytical interpretation or semiotic description, but rather like a game or a field of linked vectors or forces that is at the same time a field of particle-like objects.
Such an operation deserves to be examined further. The imaginary number is thereby redoubled or superposed with itself and creates a quasi interiority or onto-vectorial immanence that succeeds in integrating art and philosophy within the same set. This last operation completes the “quantification” (albeit qualitative and symbolic) of non-standard aesthetics. In fact, the imaginary number superposed upon itself replaces originary metaphysics. Of course, the metaphysical One from which variables or properties free themselves is itself, in turn, counted as or within the philosophical variable as vector. The One as synthetic principle or quasi totality is thus reduced to the field of vectors and loses its synthetic and dominating feature. What emerges is a symbolically quantified or objectified field characterized by its immanence or its onto-vectorial infrastructure. And the One, which was putting in relations the heterogeneous data of art and philosophy, becomes with all its properties and functions a superstructure belonging to the infrastructure of vectors—but a superstructure, as I have said, which loses its authority and its double dimension about which philosophers keep silent. It has now become a simple and particle-like transcendence hosted within onto-vectorial immanence.
Under-determination and Indetermination
There is a strange proximity here between the generic style in its generality and standard aesthetics. We recognize if we take as our guide the Kantian model and the four forms of causality of Aristotle that Kant follows in his critique of the judgment of taste. In general the effect of the generic is to under-determine these four forms of causality that exist between art and philosophy. What does under-determine mean here? To determine is to be as specific and precise as possible, namely to give a thing its expected, normal, or complete identity, it’s reality equal to…1. To over-determine a notion is to add to it a supplementary determination or precision. To under-determine a notion is to refuse to give everything that it expected in normal or precisely standard manner, namely it’s to withdraw or subtract it from its power of reality or of determination. The generic is a subtraction in relation to mixtures of representation, whether philosophical or scientifically positive.
And yet, this is also what its aesthetic side does as well. For example, Kant defines philosophy by this usage of the four causes, and art by the removal of a part of its means. For example, from the concept that determines or from the form that informs the phenomenon or experience, Kant says that art, itself, determines or is universal without a theoretical concept, art is not a form of knowledge. Similarly, art uses purposiveness but without a precise end. Art is efficient without being a technical cause. Finally art gives pleasure but pure and not mixed with other interests. Thus art is way of determining and subtracting within philosophy the theoretical means of its power. The subtraction or onto-vectorializing reduction manifests in a particularly visible way in the suspense of any logic of synthesis and analysis. It is more like an algebra for a physics fiction adapted to the philosophical body and which thus does not go all the way to the pure multiple nor to the pure void both of which are adapted to mathematics and infinity or at the worst to a transcendental logic. Or we could say that it is a “materialism” without a materialist position but with a materiality.
Hence, we find ourselves wondering which possesses the greatest power of under-determination: art understood by ordinary aesthetics or the generic understood theoretically? And we could perhaps add to this that the non-standard is not necessary since, once we are dealing with art, the non-standard is quite close to art’s standard from.
From where then does this problem arise? Ordinary aesthetics of a philosophical origin manipulates too general of a concept of philosophy and its four causes. It is considered as a simple element and not as a complex structures that is spontaneously over-determinate and over-determining. To such an extent that any subtraction by which we believe ourselves capable of defining art in its turn is presented as a simple effect that partially eliminates the power of the universal, of purposiveness deprived of its end, of sensory pleasure linked to the interest for the material substance. The philosopher or aesthetician left to him or herself, does not see the complex totality of the field where he or she works partially blinded, he or she represses or ignores the philosophical potency that is in reality restrained and to which he or she can only be a victim in its return.
Non-standard aesthetics is without a doubt the equal fusion of art and philosophy, but it is a fusion indexed to the quantic or operated under the imaginary number and not under the authority of philosophy. Philosophy is not completely under-determined by standard aesthetics. Which is to say that if aesthetics wants to stop being dominated by the ruse of philosophy, it must complicate its standard form by a supplement of the imaginary number which has as a property the weakening of the power of domination, or the power of philosophical sufficiency over art, or of rebalancing the generic matrix, which alone is capable of under-determining as completely as possible philosophy and does this of course without renouncing philosophy. Art brings to philosophy the primary form of its under-determination but science or quantum physics brings to philosophy its most general and strongest form. We add quantum indeterminacy to aesthetic under-determination. Its final product is truth but this time as indetermination. The being of truth hesitates between the state of the still undulatory (wave) particle and that of the well defined, closed off particle and in itself. This hesistation or this oscillation is the essence of objective appearance by which the being of truth passes which thus distinguishes itself from positive knowledge as much as the philosophical concept. Truth has neither the consistency of the former nor the inconsistency of the mixed-being of the latter. It is without a doubt the being of fiction.
A Fiction At The Edge Of Art And Philosophy
What is the regime of thought and writing of non-standard aesthetics which, without being a form of knowledge, uses a form of knowledge, that without being philosophy, uses concepts? It is neither pure philosophy nor pure art, (if that even exists) nor is it their mixture. It is a form of fiction proper to the multiplicity of heterogenous regimes of thought which are assembled without being synthetically composed, and which come from a final cause without being analytically decomposing it. This being of truth, we can also call it a Last Instance. The Last Instance is this under-determinate and even indeterminate causality, the conjugation of the four causes having a part of their power become diminished. The Last Instance is split between being a real object which is the generic matrix as it is constructed and a veritative knowledge of this produced object upon completion of the experience/experiment.
An experience of thought that is not completely an artistic experience in the classic sense of the term, nor a philosophical experience, or the assembling of a system. It is a kind of fiction “in a vacuum” if we can at least symbolically put it this way. Because it does not construct itself via the void. The partial void of determination is filled up or effectuated by fiction. Non-Standard Aesthetics is in its way an “installation” made up of multiple thought materials which are made at the edge of art and philosophy.
translated by Drew S. Burk, Joe Hughes, Christophe Wall-Romana
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