Thursday, December 20, 2007

Crisis in the meaning of meaning

Meaning was the once-natural sequence of being, knowing, interpreting, judging, willing and acting . It is this sequence which no longer operates as it did in earlier times.

The nature of being is de-natured when things are no longer simply themselves but monetary values, signs, status symbols.

Knowing is no longer definite but probabilistic.

Interpretation depends on knowledge, but when knowledge is subsumed into data, it is no longer known but, like data, processed.

True judgement occurs when I take responsibility for my action but that responsibility is removed when my every action has been modelled for its statistical likelihood.

Willing requires individual agency, but that agency dissolves in the mass-modelling of scenarios and the management of lifestyles.

Action is in crisis as a result of the sheer scale of the tasks facing us in a globalised network. And probability and complexity disrupt the foresight on which we can plan the effects of acting.

The immersive spectacle of the early 21st century is a response to these changes. So too is the development of the lo-res solution, in which the illusion of individuality and individual agency is imposed through the isolation of the individualised interface in order to produce a normative and mass replication of noise. Like Reality TV, whose selection of idiosyncratic and eccentric contestants is there to demonstrate that after all we are all individuals, mobile media divide in the interests of maintaining the fictive individual as the basic unit of consumption and social aggregation. Slack-jawed submission to blockbuster effects from Las Vegas to the Sydney Olympics substitutes for having a place in a world. Our fragile, ephemeral communities of contact lists are meant to substitute for the complex networks of kinship and locality that we have lost.

It is ironic that in this new age of biopolitics, we no longer hear the hundred-year old discourse about the crowd, and that, at the moment at which meaning evaporates, we devote ourselves to . . . psychology!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Kant divides philosophy into logic, physics and ethics. Logic is today a mathematical science, and either incorprates or is incorporated by math. Physics and ethics are the empirical sciences, distinguished from logic which can never be dependent on the empirically given, since it's task is to describe the laws of reason. Physics extrapolates the laws of nature from the manifold flux of real events and processes which dictate to it the content it has to address. Ethics is eqally empirical, dealing with what ought to occur and, in Kant's opinion, therefore dealing with freedom.

While contemporary theory and philosophy have a problem with the idea of freedom, the term serves as well as any other to distinguish the activities of the human sciences, that swathe of academic disciplines that amalgamates the arts, humanities and social sciences. When we deal with human activity, if Kant is right, we deal with ethical issues. All rational creatures, he says, must abide by such simple, logically compelling rules as 'Thou shalt not lie'. And yet, at every turn, the world lies – for the Platonist and the Marxist, the Nietzshean and the postcolonial scholar alike. Not only does nature lie through camouflage and stealth; society embraces it. To the extent that society affords its citizens freedom, it lies when it gives them rules. To the extent that it does not, it lies when it pormises to. Kant's truth is founded in dissimulation.

Monday, December 17, 2007

ens quo maius cogitari nequit

" . . so that an angel can proportionate this power to a greater or smaller part of corporeal substance; for if there was no body at all, this power of God or of an angel would not correspond to any extension whatsoever" *

I place this here as a memento: the founder of modern science was still capable of arguing how many angels might dance on the head of a pin.

*Descartes' second letter to Henry More, cited in Koyré, Closed World, 191.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"History was our strong hypothesis"

"History was our strong hypothesis, the hypothesis of maximum intensty" (Baudrillard 2005: 128). History has become an alibi, an explanation for a present which refuses to yield. It has become a synonym for virtue, but a virtue capable of the most refined as well as the most egregious vice. History now names the reasons why perpetual violence, without hope of victory, is not only acceptable but good, indeed The Good, for the USA, for Israel, for every fundamentalist sect from Belfast to bali. History has become the name of its own end, for the lack, loss, foreclosure of the future.

Against Baudrillard, to argue that it is not the end of history but the end of the future that is achieved in Integral Reality, the froth on the daydream of change as 'minimum intensity' (ibid) caught in the feedback loop between happening and information about what happens.

Firstness is not innocence – when it poses as a goal. Secondness is not violence done to innocence when it shakes apart the endless shimmer of perception to release the difference. Identity thinking is not the only way to appropriate the manifold for thought or action. But reducing every perception back to the status of the merely perceived is the politics prior to the commodification of information, the general equivalence. Critical to the possibility of action, and therefore of event, is the tactical task of remaking perception, specifically as regards secondness. Unless there is a better way, ation will not be possible at all; only, as JB has it, terror.

Colour has never been free

When colour management takes over, it is not as if it replaces some imagined freedom of colour. Colour has never been free. The difference lies in the manner of its administration – from a semantic to a mathematical formation. The movement includes a false dawn of freedom at the moment of coal-based aniline dyes: the Impressionists as poster boys. That freedom collapses in the 'little chemists', Grémillon's taunt at the pointillistes, and even more so (genuine) risk of meaninglessness in the fauves and the expressionsts. Art historians have merely recognised, in their adulation of the colourists, the anarchy of colour, in Mattisse or in die Brücke, in whichm at their nadir, the whole language of colour risks collapse. This disaster is articulated by malevich under the sign of the transcendental; another proof that the sublime and despair are next door neighbours.