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Virtual reality. History refers to both the events themselves and to the telling of those events (Hegel); the term equivocates events and their representation. This equivocation is sometimes the most cunning and sometimes the most delusive ruse of (variously) nature, psyche and society. ‘Being is unrecognisable unless it succeeds in seeming, and seeming is weak unless it succeeds in being (Gorgias of Leontini, the earliest Greek theorist of the media).’ Think of those virtual realities that, having been made up, have taken on a life of their own: genes, symbols, selves. And history. Narrative art, the modern forms of which are small screen, cinematic, novelistic and dramatic fiction, has always been history’s gadfly, reminding it that it is a mere shadow of its would be self.
‘Life consists of propositions about life’ (Wallace Stevens). History is about history. The empirical subject matter of history, the main historical events of history, are accounts or images of history. The main events are media events. By empirical subject matter I mean that its observation is observable (von Foerster, Luhmann). Sure, something happened, there once was the past ‘as it actually was’, but after the gun has stopped smoking all that is left of what happened are the selected words about it and the selected images, which are usually only images of the aftermath. Images and words are things that happen too. They are acts⎯communicative acts; they actually were, and some actually endure as things. What survives and replicates matters. Persistence is a value for narrative animals in a temporal world. History is what persists, that which prevails. Like gossip, myth, legend and rumour, the news⎯that topical history of the just past⎯is about the news. That is, it is about media events. Gay and melancholy science? ‘Every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably (Walter Benjamin).’ History must pass through the selection bottleneck of the present. The news is a gatekeeper of history. History is what prevails and ‘parades its own arrogance (Cormac McCarthy); and, like Samuel Fuller’s Big Red One, it is dedicated to the survivors. Action, Disaster, War, Sci-fi, Drama, Romantic Comedy, Teen, Family, Art House Whether historical events occur as tragedy or farce, their telling occurs as romance or satire: the romance of telling the past ‘as it actually was’; the satire of showing it as it has been told so that it may thereby convict itself of its untruth. Warning: can of worms. Sometimes the media refers as a plural to more than one communication medium. Sometimes clarity is served by saying the mediums. Often the media is used as a collective singular term to refer to the narrative industry generally, or in a more limited sense, to the commercial and state owned news industry, and sometimes it refers to the system of communications transmitted by this industry⎯a system of much replicated, much disseminated histories of the most recent past. Like the term history, the term media is equivocal because that makes it useful. Ambiguity is useful in cobbling together a consistent argument, particular one designed to hide certain aspects of the media from itself Navel gazing.
The media has an unconscious for the same reason psyche does: to differentiate itself from what’s ‘out there’. It tries to escape from itself (the scene of the crime) by not acknowledging its inescapable self-descriptive predicament. This is a kind of self-analysis by default, like the tiptoeing child who covers her ears so she won’t be heard sneaking away. Any report on the topic of the news that claimed to be news itself would be condemned as navel gazing. As this confusing, recursive way of putting it should immediately demonstrate, the story will never get up. Journalists just report it. Media commentary and analysis rarely deliberates on the media⎯unless someone blames the media, and ‘the media’ is misinterpreted by journalists to mean ‘journalists’. People are always happy to go to the trouble of misinterpretation just for the gratification of being offended. Journalists are only human. They put their foot in it by using the poo-poo defence: journalists don’t make the news, they just report it. The ‘media’ is not ‘journalists’. The first principle of media analysis is: The media is social; journalists are only human. The second coming Don’t watch or read the news to find out historical background or significant analytical detail! Driven by our obsessive teleological nous, most news commentary, most media analysis, most social commentary, is about the news of the future. The fact notwithstanding, wisdom is the seeming wise before it. Interpretation of events means what are the consequences. The meaning is out there in the future at the end of the day where everything must be going to end up happening. Nevertheless, it always sounds like the same thing again, a secular second coming. It is just an allegory of the latest news, used as an advertisement for itself and sold as an advertisement for that archaic rapidly changing world that other people are afraid of. Selection or drift? Just as history is about history, politics is about political communications: the accusation; the declaration; the vote; the act (of parliament); the decree; the impeachment; the inquiry; the resignation; the interview; etc. It is mainly when communication becomes non symbolic⎯we might say non communicative⎯when it becomes war, violence, torture, that history finds itself concerned with a past-as-it-actually-was that is no longer empirical. Violence is about the destruction of ‘the past as it actually was’. In the selection of media events, violence is like sampling error. Kindness must live on, so it must speak. Speech of course left no empirically observable documents. It was so fleeting that first prosody and later writing were acts of technological innovation against the violence of the past⎯‘the nightmare of the past’ which ‘weighs on the brains of the living’ (Marx). Herein lies the Utopian character of those technologies that employ adaptations to society that are designed to make communicative acts survive. The real world vs what they teach students. In the everyday self description of society, particularly in media analysis and commentary, the selected concepts⎯the terms, propositions and arguments, whether linguistic or visual⎯are readily communicable (easy to generate and interpret), are adapted to their social environment of other terms, propositions and arguments, and they are ambiguous enough to be cobbled into consistency at the first hint of any contradiction. They have to be, because otherwise they would not find a suitable environment for their replication and selection and they would become extinct. (Note: in film and video, shots are propositions, montage or editing is argument). These concepts and what they refer to are not, to use the old Platonic term, ‘natural kinds’. They do not carve social nature ‘at its joints’. Even in instrumentalist terms, their adequacy is questionable.
However, they do become reified, and then, failure to discourse in them is immediately inadequate, because in the ‘real world’ no-one listens. In the self-descriptions of society⎯in politics, in media analysis, in everyday sociology⎯inability to engage in discourse and inability to be heard is death. It is said that what they teach students of communications and journalism is not about the real world. The real world has already been selected over at the main game. All the disciplines of everyday sociology make up a discourse that is about itself. Archaeology of virtual reality. Sociology has long had a name for the way society’s self-descriptions conjure up their own reality: reification. Reification is a natural consequence of the reflexive predicament of social evolution. Reified things are virtually (i.e. effectively) real⎯and no less real for that. Virtual reality has been around since humans have been describing themselves⎯since nature invented the animal technology of language and humans ran with it. Like ‘Australians’, humans have long been keen to take up new information technologies. Invasion of the body snatchers. What if we reported events as media events? We would report the mountain coming to the media; otherwise it would disappear. We would report its use of vision, celebrity, issues, conflict, and violence to replicate itself in stories and images. We would report the plots, terms and images using the brains of journalists, editors, producers and the people out there as nests for their reproduction. We would televise the same question stalking every interview: ‘How do you feel?’ How do you feel? ‘The distinctions of feeling are wholly abstract…they are not distinctions which apply to the subject matter itself (Hegel)’. Feeling is supposed to be about concrete experience, and the hallmark of authentic individuality⎯hence its value as a way of hiding individuality from psyche and society. Its use as a term is a sign of the pernicious and unacknowledged reductionism of our everyday sciences of self-understanding. Strange that what makes news is smarmy questioning about such an abstraction, reducing everyone to ciphers so that they can be parasitised and humiliated by the same response. Who would have thought that popular culture (in this case the news) was more abstract than metaphysics. Like the cinema-going public, I prefer fiction to documentary. This is mainly because too much documentary is biography⎯especially on TV. Everyone’s got an Australian story. Truth is not as strange as fiction. Truth is true⎯that is its strange fascination. The fictive predicament of biography, and worse, the delusive misuse of fiction’s licence are the chronic problems of biography. Biographers, screen or literary, cannot avoid this fictivity. We might call it the narrativity of biography, the fact that events have to be selected and an argument (story) constructed. We have the art of fiction to make a virtue of this narrativity. One way it does this is by inducing wonderful orgies of feeling to ruthlessly scrutinise them. As for true biography, there may never have been such a thing. The epitome of bad biography is the schmalzy answer already selected for subjects by the question: How do you feel? The more guarded among us have always suspected that, like its congeners in sport and reality TV, a news appearance was humiliating, fictive and 15 seconds to be avoided if possible. Devil’s dictionary Examples of some handy terms that use us in society’s self descriptions: the media, the community, society, culture, image, issues, real issues, deal with issues, public opinion, voter feeling, in touch with, ordinary Australians, take offence, out there, low socio-economic, generation, young people, listen to, send the wrong message, sell, take on board, look ahead, what we need, leadership, work towards, manage change, at the end of the day, etc. Francis Bacon
(Novum Organum) complained about the ill-defined reference of the terms of physical science, terms (if I remember rightly) like density, friction, weight, mass etc. He complained? Making up. Mistakes, misapprehensions, inadequate concepts are all parleyed into ruses of reason, selfidentities, self-delusions, received wisdoms. Human psyche does this in its self construction (Lacan). Society does it in its self construction (Luhmann). The reified misapprehensions of psychic and societal self description⎯the makeshift fabrications whereby we make up our psychic and social world, the ‘fictions’ that serve as our only purchase on these things⎯are a good reason for fiction in the artistic sense to make a virtue of the necessity of this process of reflexive reification of consciousness. Absolutely! Language, in order to be symbolic and linguistic, has always had to be able to be about itself. Hegel appreciated the inescapable and defining reflexivity of consciousness, experience, philosophy and modernity. Sociologists (Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens) have insisted that reflexivity is what characterises modernity, and particularly postmodernity⎯or ‘radical modernity’ as Giddens called it. But doesn’t it characterise society (and psyche)⎯even in societies (and psyches) that seem utterly unconscious of themselves? In fact, what characterises postmodernity is the reflexivity of reflexivity. At last reflexivity has become a topic about itself. There is now even a developing mathematical description of reflexive phenomena: e.g. the mathematics of non well-founded sets (Barwise and Moss 1996). Does this portend adequate reflexive sciences⎯adequate sociology, and adequate psychology? Absolute philosophy? Absolutely! Prophecy and mind reading. Can a reflexive science that carves social nature at its reflexively generated, reified joints be said to use categories that are natural kinds. No. Objects will always end up killing it off. But while it lives it grows Self-description and self-representation of a self, from the evolution of organisms to the self-description of linguistically (socially) mediated human psyche is a powerful force. For example, one of the measures of a science’s success at describing the world in natural kinds is prediction. Humans are very predictable⎯up to a point. They have to be⎯for themselves. And for others. They are teleological animals and they are social animals. ‘To breed an animal with the right to make promises⎯is not this the paradoxical problem nature has set itself with regard to humans? and is it not the true problem of humans (Nietzsche)?’ Humans have been working at an instrumental reflexive science of themselves for a long time. In doing so they have also been using a technology for mind reading called language. Non well-founded science of non well-founded objects. Psyche describes itself using terms given to it by society⎯terms selected for their communicability and for their adequacy for a working, everyday phenomenological description of self and others, child and adult. As in the case of grammar (according to Deacon), the selection of these self-descriptive terms involves their going through the selection bottleneck of children’s minds. Everyone talks about believing, desiring, hoping, thinking, knowing, and feeling⎯using terms from the devil’s dictionary of psychology⎯as if they know what they are talking about. Is there really such a thing as belief? Or do we just believe there is? Or believe we believe there is? Is the reference of the term belief just a kind fixed point in an endless recursion, a psychic reality socially generated and selected throughout the history of an ongoing dialogue? Such terms ‘rescue’ and reify the phenomena they refer to, at the same time. By and large, society describes itself using terms that have evolved in a similar fashion. These terms too refer to objects that are
fixed points in the recursive toing and froing of dialogue. Many sociological terms have been coined according to analogy with psychological terms and then taken on a life of their own. Sociology supervenes on psychology; misapprehension is thereby multiplied by misapprehension. It is said that… To narrative art, the recursive function of symbolic communication has always been manifest. Communication can, and in order to be symbolic and dialogue must, be about itself, and embed its story in its story. This is not just some contrivance to enervate readers of ludic, postmodern texts. It was the essence of narrative poetics right from the start. Narrative poetics consists in showing images of language (Bakhtin), more generally fiction shows narratives of narrative⎯the mimesis of narrative life (Aristotle). Every story, including the news, begins ‘The story goes that…’ Originality No science of psyche or society could predict an original work. Originality is what we cannot predict. Whatever the mysterious workings of psyche in producing something original, originality is only revealed after the fact, when it can look so obvious we wonder why we didn’t think of it before. In this, originality is like many social phenomena⎯promises, an artistic canon, friendship, memorability⎯phenomena whose actual natures are only confirmable by the future, and never irrevocable. Origins Darwin answered the question of the origin of species by ignoring it. The title of his book was ironic; he dispensed with the concept of origin altogether and replaced it with the description of a peculiarly algorithmic narrative: evolution by repeated variation, transmission and selection. In terms of social selection, all sorts of things are dreamed up, designed, and produced or made up; and then they await what in the artistic sphere is called the judgement of history. This is why a canon, however deserving of critique and revision, however it ‘parades its arrogance’, is simply what survives. Soap and grace. Soap is a degenerated, unoriginal form of comedy. For want of originality and self-reflection, it is comedy written down as drama. Long watching, insider jokes, shared and knowing affection for its failings can redeem soap as cult. Viewers redeem its lost comic element. A lot of television culture is like this: reality TV, bad sci-fi, sit com, etc. Such cults have a generationalist pertinence⎯for example, when a ‘generation’ reminisces about shared experience of a film like Star Wars. Such works suffer for not having recursively embedded their meanings in their own monadic forms. They boast their formula but it’s the wrong formula. Occasionally, hopeless artworks are redeemed by the grace of a kind of social selection that is greater than their works. The films Ed Wood and American Movie are about this grace. More typically artworks use recursion to objectify their own in imperfection and redeem themselves by their own grace. Witness the comedic elements in modern tragedy, whether Hamlet’s wit and pretension, or the vision in The Bad Lieutenant. All artworks have to anticipate more readings than they can possibly imagine. Even so, even the best works must survive by the graceless grace of history. Selection for quality is no more assured than the cruel fate of random drift through the vast aesthetic landscape to artistic extinction. Consider the 90 lost plays by Sophocles. Poetics of progress Even if originality is only apprehended in retrospect, it describes a kind of historical moment that has long been appreciated by narrative poetics. Aristotle said that poetic amazement was greatest
when a plot went against expectation yet, in doing so, revealed a new kind of consequentiality. Originality refers to just such a turn of plot in the history of art or science or some other social system. Such plots are themselves given to us by social selection operating on endlessly generated and transmitted variations. In the self-narrations of society, modernity is characterised by highly self-conscious self-narrations with plots that go by names such as ‘progress’. Reflexivity does not stop there: even ‘progress’ is recursively conceived, criticised and revised by the modernity it plots. The evolution of the word ‘modern’ by selection of variational use of the meaning of ‘mode’ indicates (as has often been noted) its affinity to fashion with its restless process of self-differentiation from the most recent past (Benjamin). The origin of originality Did Aristotle really say something original here, something for the first time and so long ago? Scrutiny of the originality of Aristotle’s formula for amazement reveals how originality, as a characteristic of communications recognised after the fact, is generated in and by dialogue. As Socrates said of writing: its inventor could not have foreseen all its uses. Nature could not have foreseen the uses of the bones in a reptiles jaw: as the hammer, anvil and stirrup of the human ear. Edison could not have foreseen the future of cinema in his action film about The Life the American Fireman. What Aristotle said acquires meaning, and its originality, in a dialogue with the future. Original works are not only indebted to the past; they are indebted to the future. Like property, individual property and individual claims to creativity, and therefore to abstract individuality, are kinds of theft. The greatest writers are the most indebted (Emerson). Selection is selection for a function or meaning that might not have worked at the first appearance of the work. Think of the evolving meaning of Oedipus, or all the interpretations of Hamlet! Attribution of genius or creativity is a kind of uncomprehending bewitchment by this peculiar historical process in which communication⎯unlike action films, but like Kubrick’s 2001, and like biological evolution⎯dazzles us with its amazing slowness. What we go to the cinema for is time (Andrei Tarkovsky). Meaning cannot mean all at once (Luhmann). Getting through the long slow line of the text⎯be it on film or video or in print⎯takes time. The meaning of an enduring (and therefore original) narrative is a dialogue with the distant future. The desire to have every meaning link to every meaning all at once is just that old animal desire that the philosophers inherited from wild nature, the desire to see everything under the gaze of eternity, the same as the desire for speed⎯to escape from time and narrative and history. Hence the static effect of action films and the awesome motion of a circle of condensation that evaporates from a table in Tarkovsky’s Mirror. Gratification To gratify the desire for speed is one thing. But it is a harsh form of self-denial, a severe limitation of the cinematic senses. Gratification is a name for the repression of sensuous experience, for its limitation to just one sense⎯an assault on pleasure. Hence it is adapted for the psychic and social functions of habit and self-deception. Originality and freedom In the experience of freedom we see the way that psyche experiences itself according to the narratives selected for it by society. The predicament of individuals self-narrated according to the plot of freedom is cognate with that of society as narrated according to the plots of originality and progress. When someone (like Kant’s subject, or one of Beckett’s characters) self observes the experience of freedom by sitting on a chair and deciding whether to stand up or remain seated it is little wonder that the sense of absurdity is overwhelming. There seems to be nothing real to observe⎯that good old existential nothingness. Who is telling this experience to whom using
whose terms? What are the tense and aspect of the tale. Of course, the past tense is the classic tense of narratives, and like originality, the true tale of a free act must be told after the fact. As something in the present, as a condition of action, freedom seems to be a kind of baseless pretence, a mere illusion, a fiction under which we cannot help but act. Hamlet experiences his freedom as the alienation of all the available symbolic forms of personal agency, until, unable to seize upon a symbolic form as his own, he himself is seized by the meanest of forms and thinks he, as avenger, can just angrily and blindly stab a ‘rat’ lurking behind a curtain in his mother’s chamber. After this fateful deed all hell breaks loose. Creating freedom In order for freedom to be a fact we have to make it up. Kant (1785) put the fictive, performative character of freedom thus; ‘Every being that cannot act except under the idea of freedom is just for that reason in a practical point of view really free.’ Freedom as such is something socially convened by the long selection process of reflexive reification, something virtually, counterfactually real. While it might pretend to occupy the obscure areas, the accidentality that defies the principles that map out empirical causation, in fact, like fiction, it occupies the performative, semantic opportunities that the temporality of reflexive meaning opens in the fabric of history. Freedom only arises from the possible worlds our narrative arguments or teleology can make for ourselves in nature. So freedom is the sublime telling of oneself and keeping on of telling oneself for oneself and for others, the emotional and intellectual task of facing and risking a narrative struggle imposed by the words and deeds one makes one’s own. Virtual freedom The immense cognitive labour and cunning taken to produce the virtually observerless descriptions of the non-reflexive, predictive, empirical sciences also ended up producing the notion that human freedom was inconsistent with the determinations of natural causation. Freedom, which is always of and for self-describing psyche, only becomes antinomical if the psychic self could actually be eliminated from situations of description rather than being merely dealt with by its as if elimination at the hands of the powerful makeshifts of empirical scientific methodology; or if psyche and society did not lack the immense computational power needed for that merely imaginable, thorough-going determinate description of themselves. The possibility of freedom arises from the aporetic predicament of reflexive descriptions. Freedom appeared antinomical most poignantly at a time when it had, by social evolution, developed from its phylogenetic origins in the history of individual, organismic, teleological self-determination, into an affective and socially consequential concept with both a factual and a normative life. The so called ‘bourgeois age’ was riven by this contradiction, dividing its spiritual project so that, while the sciences ground out more and more ingenious predictive descriptions, art forms like the novel churned out more and more affective counter examples to the all too thoroughly determined life. Freedom and others In my likeness with the other there lies, and I am struck by, that other attribute of the other⎯its difference, its freedom⎯which reminds me of my own freedom, and my own difference from myself. Something similar happens when we are struck by the arbitrary imposition of unfreedom⎯the classic condition of the normative declaration of freedom. Useful non sequitur: deriving a norm from a fact Originality is not, as Malcolm McLaren tried to sell it, the art of concealing your sources. It is the art of revealing, retrospectively, functions and meanings your sources never dreamed of. Likewise, reality or nature is the retrospective revelation of possible realities that were accessible by processes of mere copying⎯a kind of cosmic reification. The autopoiesis of nature⎯what
Aristotle saw as its self-generating make-up⎯is a function of the poetics of copying. Such are the cybernetics of replication. What is a new phenomenon is that the realisation has been transformed from a fact of natural history into a norm of modernity. And that is a case of making a likeness too: making a norm in the image of a fact. Observing creation People like to ask scientists about their experience of creativity, as if, when the light went on these expert observers would have been expertly observe it. As with everyone who works something out or makes something up, the answers reported from the frontier of creation are empty and unsatisfying. Creators report having arrived at a destination that they did not know about until their arrival, after journey that they have forgotten already. Creators are busy observing their works not themselves. Indeed, in self-observation, the self is the work, and if not made up, it is conspicuous by its absence. The cutting room floor. Forget the psychic mysteries and the neurological imponderables. Answer mystery with the mundane. Creativity is a selection process. It emulates in the psychic sphere what originality is in the social sphere. The creator tries something and observes whether it works: the algorithm of ‘generate and test’. Human creations seem to be created rather than merely selected because they can look like they have made great leaps of originality, but this is because the incremental selection process goes largely unseen in the creator’s mind or studio. Witness the notebooks of composers, the draughts of writers, the sketches of artists, the cutting room floor. The acts of generation are deliberate variations. Too much variation from accepted truths, recognizable symbols, or expected norms may result in extinction of the product⎯either in the creator or the society. On the other hand, witness those works that fall on deaf ears until they eventually find their times. Or those unexhibited sketches that now look like anticipations of the future of art, and their artist’s best works. Making up making up. Technologies that make enduring, persistently observable works⎯prosody, writing, graphics, video⎯allow an individual creator the generation of, and considered selection from, a great many variations. Computation can rapidly simulate and enhance the whole or parts of this process, although adequate simulation of a work’s selection environment requires, among other imponderables, the simulation of consciousness. Of course such an inadequacy would just be another stage in the reification of consciousness. Technologies that enable rapid replication and dissemination⎯print, tape, telecommunications⎯link communications into the vast, functionally differentiated systems that characterise modernity and postmodernity. These societies are known to have induced their own forms of melancholia and elation in individual consciousness, at once dwarfed by their alien might and elated at the sublime vista. Ever since nature selected the technology that could make up that externalised representation of consciousness we call language, separately, and as they have been successively combined through history, the information technologies have selected and been selected by successive stages of society, according to a narrative that reached the point where it told about itself under the category ‘modernity’, and told its self-differentiation-in-self-emulation under the category ‘postmodern’. ‘The whole race is a poet that writes down the eccentric propositions of its fate (Wallace Stevens).’ White bread; or setting the VCR. Children, weened on silicon, now play with ideas that taxed the creativity of Aristotle or Archimedes. Childhood development recapitulates the history of science and technology. Sort of.
Selection for infantile gratification preforms both adult consciousness, and society as a constellation of infantile forms. The preponderance of white sliced bread, relieved only by the adolescent afterthought of ‘multi-grain’ epitomises the infantilisation of society. But so too does language. Social forms that can survive in the selection bottleneck of childish consciousness are likely to be well-adapted to adult consciousness as well. Terrence Deacon has argued that linguistic syntax and symbols are just such forms. Their seemingly makeshift ‘logic’ is eminently selectable in the environment of the developing infant brain. Between these extremes of selection⎯the former a social selection of infantile social forms, the latter a social and probably also biological selection of a linguistic animal⎯lie selected social phenomena that might be seen as adolescent forms of life. These include certain artistic and ethical forms (romance and comedy) and scientific endeavours (mathematics). Generationalism Only recently the development of new information technologies began to proceed at a rate that was commensurate with human generation. The biological fact of societal differentiation by generations was reflexively fed back into society’s self-descriptions as social norms of generational self-differentiation and allegiance, market differentiation, and stratification of competence in information technology. Witness the invention of the teenager, the degeneration of aesthetic Modernism into sixties pop culture, the developing taxonomy of generationalism, cyberculture, and so on. Norms made up from facts⎯and falsehoods. People say: ‘That’s not a real word. It’s not in the dictionary.’ Lexicographers still blithely insist that they are describing, not prescribing usage. But people don’t use their dictionaries that way. Perhaps lexicographers should acknowledge this, and compile accordingly. ‘Any philosopher who wants to keep his contact with mankind should pervert his system in advance to see how it will look … after adoption (Moses Herzog).’ Knowing artworks do this within themselves. Despite what lexicographers (and philosophers) say, people will derive an ought from an is. Better still⎯or worse⎯they will derive an ought from what’s not. Not on their own though. Others have to run with it. We are talking about society here. Not about Humpty-Dumpties making words mean whatever they like. Artistic norms are caught up in this kind of thing. They make virtues of necessity. Think of what narrative art makes out of the temporal predicament of narrative meaning. Or out of the necessary fictivity of a report’s selection of events. And think of reification. Fiction makes a virtue out of this⎯making a spectacle of all this making up. The eye of the beholder Art is always accused of being merely subjective. Different people respond differently. In fact one person can experience the same work differently, depending on such trifles as mood, occasion, company, drug, etc. We are never the self same person twice. There are works we see and suspect; and see again and begin to admire. (Much the same happens with our dawning appreciation of a scientific work, or with the functions of a technology.) These experiences reflect in the subjective realm what unfolds in social history. They are signs of originality’s indebtedness to the future. So don’t they really indicate something about the objective character of artworks? Those astonishing objects that we can barely begin to admire. Listing favourites. Beware! People seem taken by listing and comparing their lists of favourite films (or books, plays, music etc). To think that we are good at observing ourselves and that we are hardly likely to make a mistake is sheer complacency. We are fooled by the fact that no one else can say we are wrong⎯and for just this reason we are likely to fib⎯and by the notion that we are one self. And then we will have to live with that one self that made that list and therein misrepresented itself.
Doesn’t this just go to show what a careless trick an ego can be? Undertaken in indolence, characterised mendaciously, and made up to come back to haunt us. Skilled workers. In the observation of artworks, the makers, like the audience, observe their own their own experience of the work emotionally. The emotions are more or less skilled workers when it comes to unconscious self-observation. Artworks themselves go further. They stimulate emotions in order that they too may be observed doing their work of observation. No wonder artworks have a reputation for piling emotion on emotion. An orgy of self scrutiny. Meanwhile, gratification is a harsh form of self-denial, a severe limitation of the senses. Gratification is a name for the repression of sensuous experience, for its limitation to just one sense⎯an assault on pleasure. Gratification is used for the psychic and social functions of habit and self-deception. Artworks are only merely gratifying when they want us to bring our senses to bear on gratification. Making up freedom Freedom is like originality, only in the ethical or political sphere: we can’t predict it either. Yet afterwards, we see that an action was free and (like a promise) that we must sometimes keep its freedom up. And we also see thawt it wqas merely random and that it reveals its own logic. These considerations should remind us that, by virtue of its generation through time and society, freedom is coupled with responsibility. Freedom and originality are made up by narratives that have evolved in the same social environment. Just as an individual must make up and keep up its own freedom, society must make up and keep up freedom in the lo9ng selection process of reflexive reification⎯in order for freedom to be a fact. This has happened at the same time that as society has been making up its instrumental reflexive sciences of itself and ourselves. Sure, the possibility of freedom arises from the aporetic condition of any human science that wants to be empirical and predictive. Sure, freedom seems to be a baseless pretence that is only thinkable in the void of accidentality and causal indetermination that arises from our epistemological shortcomings. But happily making a virtue of this, we just do it. Natureculture Nature is the great creator⎯the self-generating is how Aristotle put it. Even human creation is human nature and social nature. Yet now, what we once invoked as nature⎯but monotonously refer to as ‘the environment’⎯ is cultural: all the bits selected and managed as national parks; the bits restored, reconstructed and reconnected; not to mention those vast oceans that we are still managing by neglect and ruination. We are making it all up in nature’s image, according to norms derived from ecology’s facts like biodiversity; and norms derived from technocratic melancholy like the pristine, the indigenous, and wilderness. Though still more or less unconscious of it, we have a poetics of nature, a society of nature. Mighty nature’s self-generation is mediated by wild social nature.
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