Trigger’s Broom Paradox

Today, I had only just realised that a bizarrely large number of visits to this blog come from this wikipedia article on the Ship of Theseus. Apparently someone cited my post (alongside THIS link) for ‘modern day’ versions of the well known logical mereological paradox – namely, the Trigger’s Broom paradox. I didn’t realise that Trigger’s Broom is actually a studied ‘thing’ now – or at least a humorous method of teaching the Ship of Theseus paradox anyway.


I’ll be writing more about this paradox very soon for an extended journal article taken from this years AAH talk (in particular how it is utterly relevant to the work of Florian Slotawa and the question of novelty and ‘making nothing’) But more on that when it’s confirmed.

A quick litmus test for Demonstration and Description: The Experience of Children

I’ve had a few emails come through about my recent Speculations article The Anxiousness of Objects and Artworks 2: (Iso)Morphism, Anti-Literalism and Presentness – wanting me to elaborate on this core axis that separates thinkers within Speculative Realism. Two emails in particular did the usual trick of bringing up one particular thinker (in this case, Iain Hamilton Grant and Eugene Thacker) and suggesting that neither of them fit on either side of the split.

So, there are those who fall into Demonstration and those of Description, and I defined it thus (not that I enjoy quoting myself at length);

“It follows then that speculative realism simply is this incompatible splintering, this fracture, and its existence emerges from this schism. Demonstration argues that thought itself can fruitfully prove or deduce knowledge of itself and thus reality, whilst Description argues that thought never fully deduces any in-itself and has little ontological significance or achievement in doing so, since its ontological significance is not superior to any other kind of possible relation between entities. Once correlationism is rejected, there is no middle way to stake a claim apart from these two broad orientations of “what is”: either reality must be epistemologically demonstrated or reality must be described in terms of real ontological variance. Once one side is chosen, the other recedes from view.”

Now, I don’t have any time right now to flesh out all of the consequences of this schism, less all of the productive frictions that continue to prosper from it. The article’s pretty long and deliberates on how, I believe, the schism operates in Fried’s art criticism. What I can suggest is one possible litmus test for thinkers who perhaps might be confused about which strain/history of philosophy might fall onto either side of the divide. Others are welcome to offer alternative litmus tests.

This has only come to my mind very recently, and off the back of two events: 1.) Last Saturday, my wife gave birth to a little baby girl, whom has honestly and surreally changed pretty much everything (and, hence, explains the lack of time), and 2.) I’d like to expand on one single Cavellian point I made a few weeks ago, which I introduced for my talk on para-academia at the Governing Academic Life conference at the LSE: what Cavell famously called the Education of Grown-ups.

The litmus test operates as follows: how would philosophy (whether metaphysically, empirically, pragmatically, rationally) approach a child’s or baby’s experience? Now by that, I do not mean a philosopher’s experience of children, or a general philosophy of experience. but a child’s experience of the world and of themselves. How might a metaphysics, or some Kantian/Hegelian variant approach such a thing?

A child’s experience is quite a suitable test here, because we might in the most vulgar way possible suggest that their experience is not – well not ‘pure’ as such: certainly not indicative (or subject to) a higher level of deductive rational experience. And yet, it would be stupid to admit that a child’s intelligence is identical to a pet’s, as if all they are is a set collection of undeveloped rational tools. A child’s experience must be a form of life, an ordinary one. Children aren’t stupid anyway. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes is often assumed to be subject to naivety, yet the schism in accounting for that experience remains: and is perhaps best articulated by the following;

It makes sense to me that Demonstration, as I’ve defined it, would establish and deduce an objective insight into a child’s experience: that is to say, how one might explain – just as with all human experience – how a child’s experience comes to be the way it is, evolutionally, functionally, linguistically and so forth. Anyone who partakes onto the side of Demonstration might understand how a child experiences, and would set up a functional theory to objectively explain how their experience is transformed into an adult’s experience, which would accomplish its own rational explanation, and the demonstration of itself. If am to know what my daughter needs when she is wailing at 3.00.a.m, I have to rationally explain their behaviour on the evidence that is presented to a third-person objective criteria (no feed or nappy change for several hours: or they simply need to experience certain conditions of being in the womb, where it is proven that they feel the safest).

Mathematics is a classic discourse in this sense: educating oneself, as one does, from a child’s limited point of view, to the full-on adult (or child prodigy) self mastery of pure mathematics and endless expansion of deductive truth. A child starts with natural numbers, and progresses until they reach, I don’t know, category theory or something. So too would, linguistic competence be subject to logic and other demonstrative capabilities: the social understanding for how a child’s experience is transformed by linguistic understanding.

Yet, Description as I’ve also defined it, would provide an opposing understanding of a child’s experience. A child’s experience under the Description view is irreducible. Their experience is never capable of deducing their surroundings, but neither can we say the same for adults, and neither is anything that exists capable of absolute deductive truth either. My baby daughter is only capable of doing a finite number of objectives, feed, sleep, grimace, pass wind, poo, wee, and all the rest: yet what right have we, to demonstrate away an explanation for what she directly experiences, as experience? My baby daughter abstracts a great number of things, as do I, as does my remote control and smart phone. Our naivety is a shared common feature, not a level of rational competence and my ability to rationally comprehend more abstractions does not trump her own. She is only capable of a certain number of capabilities, which will no doubt increase, yet that does not explain what she experiences, as an abstract description of what she is and what she can currently do.

It is for the latter reason (less you think that I subscribe the former side) that I am beginning to appreciate more and more Cavell’s witty quip that philosophy is the education of grown-ups. It’s a quip which sounds, at first, obscure and naive but seems to reveal a deeper intuition about what we do when we ‘do’ philosophy. Here’s Cavell;

“In the face of the questions posed in Augustine, Luther, Rousseau, Thoreau… we are children; we do not know how to go on with them, what ground we may occupy. In this light, philosophy becomes the education of grownups. It is as thought it must seek perspective upon a natural fact which is all but inevitably misinterpreted – that at an early point in a life the normal body reaches its full strength and height. Why do we take it that because we then must put away childish things, we must put away the prospect of growth and the memory of childhood? The anxiety in teaching, in serious communication, is that I myself require education. And for grownups this is not natural growth but change.”

Effortlessly earnest, yet tongue in cheek, he aims it squarely at analytic philosophers who at worst believe that the efficacy of philosophy lies in solving problems, or in logical deduction, and at best believe that education ceases when one becomes a professional scholar. He is one of the few philosophers to single out philosophy as an education (taking place either within or without an institution), rather than sketching out what an educational theory should be (Putnam of all people highlighted this).

This is where a child’s experience comes into play, because to articulate an idea that philosophy is an education of grown-ups will suggest that the authentic philosopher is one who must admit to themselves that they need an education in adult life to ‘do’ philosophy. But such an education is not carried out for accreditation purposes, but one that requires an honest accreditation of oneself. In Sandra Laugier’s words “[t]o admit that I need an education is to admit that I don’t really know what I know, and in order to know this, I need a radical transformation.” And not just that, but that such an education in a child’s experience expresses change and surprising phenomena, not a steady path that matches the insights of an established set of educational norms and standards.

This, I think, harks back to what Graham as said a few times on what philosophy (philosophia) actually denotes: a love of wisdom, a love of what lies outside of oneself, without ever having access to it. Can’t we just admit that we’re all children, and relinquish the means to endlessly critique one another on who has access to the ‘best’ wisdom. This is why, for me at least, teaching is the most rewarding not when students ‘get’ the material, but when they happen to stumble across something the group hadn’t thought of before: something surprising that insinuates a collective education, where I realise that my knowledge is just as finite as theirs.

The Nintendo Gateway System

UpN1HpUBit of Nintendo fan-boy post this – but how many people know that in the mid-1990s, Nintendo build and installed an Hotel and in-flight console called The Nintendo Gateway System, which could play numerous SNES games, watch movies, phone people and shop? (see a captured article from 1994, left).

The original website is archived here with the blurb below;

“Unlike a traditional Nintendo video game console that one buys in a store and takes home, the Nintendo Gateway Systems is a proprietary hardware /software system available on commercial aircraft and hotel properties. Nintendo does not supply the host system, but instead integrates its technology into a service provider’s entertainment delivery system.

Currently the Nintendo Gateway system has five different versions: the Super NES, N64, and GameCube configurations are offered for the hotel industry; and the Super NES, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance versions are available for the airlines. The Nintendo Gateway System allows the lodging and airline industry worldwide to offer their customers the same fun and entertainment that millions of travelers already enjoy at home.

The Nintendo Gateway System was first launched for the airline industry in July 1993 and in the lodging industry in December 1993. The Nintendo Gateway System is presently in over 40,000 airline seats and more than 955,000 hotel rooms worldwide.”

The whole system was proprietary, and depending on the flight company / class cabin, cost roughly $5 – $10 an hour to play – so it isn’t surprising that it didn’t “take off” (groan!). It’s all very fascinating,  but there are two-media-oriented things to consider here.GatewaySystem1

1.) Clearly the architectural-industrial structure of the Appstore was already operational within air flight entertainment technology – albeit on a local distributed level. Isn’t Appstore entertainment basically the same structure, plus network protocols? Reportedly, the Gateway system was not instant access, as most systems are today, and you had to wait to download each game directly into the machine in order to play it.

2.) Nintendo extensively remediate their own ideas in-house. Look at the Gateway controller (right): hard not to imagine that retroactively, it emerged as a prototype for the original Wii controller (or perhaps the micro Game Boy console at least).


Response to Shaviro: Rethinking Intentionality

I’ve finally managed to wrestle an hour away from thesis writing, in order to respond to Shaviro’s wonderful comments on my latest article “The Anxiousness of Objects and Artworks 2”, recently published in Speculations V.

It’s a great, accurate summary, first and foremost: and there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing someone else, (above all someone extraordinarily distinguished as Shaviro) who “gets” those weird intuitions one harbours when writing a long article. What’s fun about this, is that neither of us have any answers to such questions and nor should we. So that’s the first thing.

Secondly – since that article was edited, I’ve broadened the artistic strategy of Demonstration, as I call it, towards a number of different movements that took place alongside Minimalism. Indeed, Joseph Kosuth’s writings on the formal, tautological capabilities for defining ‘art’ are perhaps even more exemplary here: insofar as Kosuth suggests (more strongly than Minimalism) that art’s form guarantees its very truth – and moreover, it demonstrates and establishes the very nature of art as a conceptual system. Art is no longer self-evident in the aesthetic experience of an object, but of its own conceptual logic. Kosuth’s strategy is, self-evidently, anti-aesthetic. Even though some of these ideas might intuitively be associated with Description, i.e. Kosuth’s connection to Systems art, they actually have inherent tendencies evident in Demonstration (especially in the writings of Roy Ascott who effectively merged conceptual systems and methodological cybernetic systems as one and the same). For me, Fried articulates the clearest anti-anthropocentric division between the two, yet it never remains as simple when applied elsewhere.

Thirdly, there’s an unaddressed question: what theoretical aesthetic principles might be revived from the modernist account, if any? What might be left after such a revision? And if these are worthwhile questions, how might speculative realism add, or further, establish affinities to such principles? For me, it is self-evident that Harman’s philosophy has picked out an underdeveloped Greenberg-ian strategy which, if gently coerced, might retrieve dormant ontological insights into how conventions change in art – that is, how novelty emerges in media-specific forms or in works that recede from our efforts to comprehend them. Depth in form, rather than depth in material.

However, one of the problems in discussing high modernist theories such as Greenberg’s or Fried’s is their consequential acceptance of intentionality: the point (altogether separate from its typical philosophical usage) that artists intend to determine meaning in the work, or that the work itself is saturated with a rightness that establishes its autonomy.

Everything that is central to Fried and Greenberg’s arguments on aesthetics and art praxis tends to be justified in intentionality: that the critic or historian can establish arguments for how the artist has made the right decisions, to make that work in that way at that time. Moreover, there is the paradoxical assertion that everything put into the work, every interpretation and reading was intended from the start within that work (this for Fried is what makes the work discrete and subject to presentness, which, as Shaviro alludes, is why such works are partly condemned to be viewed in galleries, or why one work and medium is privileged over another).

It’s immediately clear that if the modernist trajectory continues to be predominantly understood through varying conceptual methods of grasping intentionality, then speculative realist affinities can never work, neither in Description or Demonstration as I’ve defined it. How can speculation be fruitful if every fragment of the work is wholly determined by human deliberation? What might be left of such practices once intentionality is ‘rethought out’, in this way?

This is why I have tended to focus on the ontological consequences of high modernist works vs. minimalist works, which Fried described better than anyone else. Yet intentionality plays a missing part here – because the very reason as to why Greenberg endorses flatness and purity, and Fried with absorption, is that they believe they know what these aesthetic values are, and how they were right at a particular historical moment.

With the later Greenberg lectures (particularly “Taste” from 1983), intentionality starts to become less clear: particularly as he admits a number of times that he regrets writing Modernist Painting as if it was some sort of manifesto for purity, which it was never meant to be. Having understood that the modern aesthetic becomes evident in video, Fried tries to uphold intentionality in new, albeit diluted ways – and part of my pleasure in seeing Fried work through these difficulties, is that even he has to belatedly revise these ontological foundations, crafting modernism into something else, something new.

And fourthly, this is where my interests in modernism come full circle with respect to work which is not typically “high art”. Here’s Shaviro;

“What I would like to think about is, how the tradition of aesthetics traced by Jackson through the theorizations of modernist (and even postmodernist) art historians relates to other forms of visual (and audiovisual) production? I am thinking here of cinema and post-cinema, but also of things like comic books[…]

[…]This is part of a larger question — can we give an account of mid-20th century visual production that takes, say, Jackson Pollack and Jack Kirby equally seriously? What would it look like to theorize art in a way that had as much room for comic-book pictorialism as it had for abstract expressionism? What would happen if we then extended this history, and this theorization, to the present day?”

And inadvertedly, Shaviro puts his finger on the very essence of my dissertation and how these traditions dip in and out of computational art: a form of visual production which has never been associated with high modernism. Here’s what I think: modernist principles missed out on an alternate ontological history that could and should have democratised different modes of visual production (comics, photography, video games), without altogether sacrificing autonomy, radical novelty, discreteness and, ultimately, the art object itself. Whether it remains ‘as’ modernism or formalism is of no concern to me, less it remain an alternative account that isn’t theatrical, in Fried’s pejorative use of the term.

This is not a question which can be answered here: this is, as Shaviro notes, incomplete and it shall remain so, until we experiment with history.

Happy Families

DartmouthHappyFamilies5Not sure why i’m posting this; mostly hometown nostalgia. Many of you who still read this blog, know I come from a bizarre little town in Devon called Dartmouth. It’s very nice, local etc. Very romantic when you’re away from there and very boring when you arrive back.

One of the decidedly fascinating things that Dartmouth is known for, is having its own special version of Happy Families. It was made in 1987, by one of the said happy families, The Drews: namely Simon Drew the famous illustrator.

Some of the businesses are still working there. And bare in mind these were/are real names and real businesses all existing in one small place: and there’s so many!

The Drews (artists)
The Hairs (vets)
The Crews (boatsmen)
The Pillars (builders)
The Sleeps (Bread & Breakfast Guest House)
The Nashes (Dentists)
The Carrs (car hire)
The Measures (Pharmacists)
The Crisps (Greengrocers)
The Rains (fruit growers)
The Legges (athletes)
The Cutmores (Butchers)
The Swindells (Bankers)
The Prices (Bank Managers)

Žižek wrote an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue

He really did. Back in 2003, HERE. This might be one of those common knowledge things, that has escaped me for the last 11 years, but knowing it now, you couldn’t have imagined a better collaboration. Žižek is just on the verge of being propelled into intellectual stardom: why not pen a soft-core catalog?

I can see it now: The Pervert’s Guide To Lifestyle Periodicals.