Sunday, September 26, 2010

Against Explanation

This was a talk given this past week at the Imagining America conference, as part of a panel with Jeanne Heuving, Ted Hiebert and Doug Jarvis on “Art Within and Without the University: Affirmation and Negation.”

I’ve written a little rant rather than something about my own work.  As a poet friend of mine says: “I am the least interesting thing about me.” 

So I’ll keep these introductory remarks brief & will only introduce a new project I’m involved with called Autonomous University, which unlike its iteration in Mexico City, is almost certainly destined for failure.  The idea is to empower a situation to force participants to think and invent.

I’ll spare you the full “draft statement of purpose,” but I will read the last paragraph to give a flavor – this is part of a litany of what Autonomous University promotes.
Autonomous University promotes: Affirmation rather than endless negativity: enough of the impossible, the unpresentable, the lack, the end, the nothing, death. Enough sad scholars. We want a knowledge that speaks to the power of life.

While I’m very interested in affirmation and the notion of errant singularity, I’m trying not to be concerned with its apparent contradiction with critical negation.  That is, I think it’s okay to hold both positions.  So after Whitehead – the task at hand – might be to work to convert contradictions into contrasts.

There will be a number of unreferenced citations and/or paraphrases.  I am greatly in debt here and need to thank: Isabelle Stengers, Steven Shaviro, Jacques Ranciere, Alfred Whitehead, Immanuel Kant, Stefan Mallarme, Samuel Beckett, Gottfried Leibniz, Georges Bataille, Donato Mancini, Joel Felix and untold others.

Against Explanation

Imagine what then?  Not this consumptive choice of words.  Please don’t “buy in” – that is, not to these words, nor to a lack of imagination in the audience or in yourself.

Imagine if it were easier to learn by positive rather than negative example. 

Imagine an unfortunate noun (e.g., America) that merely mis-pronounces the news - until we're all stuck.

Rather than a Manifest Destiny which puts faith in its own presumed superior power of intelligence and will, imagine an occluded destiny. 

Imagine an adventure where you follow only what makes you think, rather what what you merely recognize.

That is, imagine giving power to the situation, to that which makes you think.

Imagine "how it is that something new happens" – which is Whitehead's question -- which Steve Shaviro in Without Criteria counterposes to Heidegger’s question: "why is there something rather than nothing.”

After Shaviro, imagine what contemporary critical thought might be like if Whitehead, rather than Heidegger, had set the agenda.

Imagine creating rather than rectifying.

Imagine discourse no longer trapped in contradictions, for example: in the irreconcilability of the affirmation of difference (or pluralism) versus critical negativity (or the dialectic).

Imagine the truths we take to be self-evident and how these have changed over time.  And how these malleable pre-supposed truths are a kind of grammar for our empirical experience – that is, the living form in or thru which experience occurs.

Imagine a grammar that has its own empirical genesis within time.  Imagine how this grammar interacts with (or blurs) the empirical, or that which can be called true or false.

Imagine how the facts of capitalism have become “so central to our understanding” that they “come to take on the form of pre-assumed grammatical statements.”  For example, a statement like: “the market is a force of nature, and will make things right in the end.”

Imagine that this blurring of the border between the grammatical and the empirical is where innovation and creation occurs, i.e., where the empirical and transcendental interact.

Imagine "truth is what is felt and not spoken."  Imagine that as Ranciere writes: truth “furnishes a rule [which] govern[s] a speaker's content, but will never be manifested in his [or her] sentences.”

Imagine seeking “the art of raving as reasonably as possible.”

Imagine how a blur of aesthetics might reclaim a place in our grammar.

Imagine "social critique as the core of any significant poetics ever."  For me this is grammatical -- a  presupposition that poetics cannot be usefully sequestered in an environment severed or protected from politics and economics.

Imagine an autonomous university -- two seemingly contradictory (or bad) ideas that together might – like aesthetic judgement – provide a tenuous place where the singular can communicate with the universal, that is, without institutionalizing itself.

Imagine as Mallarme said in 1895 that "it all comes down to Aesthetics and political economy."

Imagine education not based on a presupposition of inequality (that is, on the inequality of intelligence).

Imagine the poem – or work of art – as an affective machine. 

Imagine all the people – perhaps in an alternative Leninist [sic] moment – willing to give peace a chance.

Imagine aesthetics as prior to ethics, prior to epistemology.  An aesthetics that isn't merely anthropocentric.  A flat ontology or a democracy of objects.

Imagine safety in mumbling, not in numbers.

Imagine my disgust at this litany of imagining.

Imagine collective intelligence rather than solitary genius; immanence rather than transcendence; the beautiful rather than the sublime.

Imagine a beautiful spam poem, for example: "Undeliverable: nefarious blithe spirit"

Imagine embracing critical negativity for its exaggerations – which provoke us to think – without worrying about the dangers of totalization, since it’s impossible.

Imagine experience – or rather how we conceive of experience – as a constructive function, a real interaction that makes something new.

Imagine “negativity that cannot be put to work.”

Imagine that “there are limits to the pretension of thought.”

Imagine embracing an assemblage of moments – too complex for any simple dialectic analysis.

Imagine, with Isabelle Stengers, how you belong and are obligated and attached – to what you do and how you do it. 

Imagine decision as something that happens to you – a decision without a decision maker.

After Stengers, imagine thinking without reference to a progress linked to any (capital T) Truth; without reference to a progress that justifies its past.  “Thinking thru the middle without grounding definitions or an ideal horizon, and thinking with the surroundings.  No theory gives you the power to disentangle something from its surroundings.”

Imagine “approaching practices not as they are – but as they may become…  Imagine thinking for the world and not against it.”

Again after Stengers, imagine taking poetry (or insert your branch of the humanities here) as a practice seriously – even though it is in the process of being destroyed by Capitalism.

Imagine a three-ring circus without a center stage. 

Imagine ethics in a minor key – that refuses the center stage – not tied to any critical or deconstructive notion of enlightenment. 

Imagine the difference between Charlie Brown’s good versus bad grief.

Imagine following Leibniz’ advice ‘dic cur hic’ – to say why you chose to say this, or to do that, on this precise occasion.  

Imagine not being responsible for the limitations of your imagination.

Imagine being “responsible only for paying attention as best you can” – not abiding the power of some general (that is, illustrative, and mobilizing or unifying) reason. 

Imagine Dead Imagine – “Till all white in the whiteness the rotunda.”