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Saturday, June 9, 2007

We need an ontology supple enough to allow us listening, viewing, reading etc. as they emerge from chaos

1. A quick paraphrase of a post by Sinthome. Why do we become open to this or that artist, this or that thinker? Why does the course of one particular oeuvre become fateful for us rather than another? It is not that there is ever the whole body of oeuvres before us, such that we could make a choice between this or that artist as with Malraux's 'imaginary museum' in which all the artworks that ever were are reproduced before us.
A selection has already taken place such that those oeuvres can come into appearance as what they are. The reader, the viewer, the listener makes what Sinthome calls, 'a slice within chaos', and adds 'it must be chaos as it is bubbling with an infinite number of potential qualities'.
Those qualities - to adapt and extend his argument - are themselves constituted by the reader, the listener as she has emerged, to the extent that artworks, oeuvres are never there, present to hand and available, all at once. Her taste has already been formed; artworks and oeuvres have already been organised; a selection has occurred within the chaos.
Does this imply a simple relativism, taste reflecting merely an individual propensity? But the individual is co-formed with what she constitutes; she becomes with what draws her to some qualities and not others. She is constituted as listener, viewer or reader along with those works and oeuvres to which she is drawn; what she listens to, views or reads also determines what she can listen to, view, or read. (Insert here accounts of the cultures and subcultures to which she might belong, of distinction (Bourdieu) and cultural literacy.)
Then taste emerges out of her becoming, the way she is drawn through art, through music, through literature, and draws them together in her passage. And this, in turn, will depend upon those around her - her friends, teachers and those she teaches, that milieu in which influence is bound up with a sense of what is worthwhile, what should be listened to, read, etc.
Emerging out of this context - ever-changing, and ever-present, extending through critical discourse, the media, etc. - is the biography of her experience of works and oeuvres. A life with art, and with others with art - all of that, the whole mess, this chaos out of which she makes a slice.
And I think here of the image Deleuze takes from Lawrence's essays on the novel, where to write is to make an umbrella against chaos. And perhaps to read, too. That umbrella is also made of chaos, but chaos hardened, thickened, doubled up. Such that a shelter can be formed and something made - just as a shelter is also formed by listening this or reading that. A shelter that makes a home in chaos, that allows us to spend time with this and not that. That allows this oeuvre, or this artist to become fateful for us.
Then the cultural space emerges on the basis of those prior selections that organise artworks and oeuvres, and what counts as art and what counts as an oeuvre. Appeals to teleology and simple progressivist accounts of art pass over what Sinthome calls that 'selection and salience' - that continual negotiation through which the cultural space is opened.
2. Remarks that can be extended easily to our relationship to thinkers. Here is the complete text of a short story 'Affinity' by Lydia Davies (collected here):
We feel an affinity with a certain thinker because we agree with him; or because he shows us what we were already thinking; or because he shows us in a more articulate form what we were already thinking; or because he shows us what we were on the point of thinking; or what we would sooner or later have thought; or what we would have thought much later if we hadn't read it now; or what we would have been likely to think but never would have thought if we hadn't read it now; or what we would have liked to think but never would have thought if we hadn't read it now.
Perhaps adjoining our discourses on the thinkers that interest us, we might also provide a bellelettristic narrative of what drew them to us, and of what they allowed us to become. 'Boring stuff about me', as the traditional blog category is named (at I Cite, for example, or Larval Subjects). That secret biography that would trace your own emergence as thinkers (is that what we are?).
An interesting task especially in the context of theory and continental philosophy, which are so strongly marked by the allegiance to particular thinkers. How might this be thought in dialogue with Bloom's account of the anxiety of influence? How, with respect to artists, might it contextualise our notions of the avant-garde?
We need an ontology supple enough to allow us to attend to practices of listening, viewing, reading etc. as they emerge from chaos as it is sliced in various ways. What are the general laws that govern the conditions of emergence of the listener, the viewer, the reader? How can we take account of the larger context of which listening, viewing and reading are a part?
Beyond belletrism ('boring stuff about me'), the necessity of a philosophical investigation into the life of broader structures. But which philosophy will best allow us to understand the relationship between chaos and the umbrella (itself only a perturbation on the surface of chaos)? June 05, 2007 in Culture About Main

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