Patterns that Matter

What can we do when we can’t escape ideology? Pluralize use, pervert preconceptions, parody science, and in so doing, lay bare the device. – Katie Price

Knowledge is not intelligence. – Heraklitus (tr. Davenport)

We ended the last seminar with a too-brief discussion of non-linear patterning as it has been applied to poetics. We don't have an full-blown technical vocabulary for the sort of serial ordering of The Philosophical Investigations, though Nesce pointed to Wittgenstein's own concept of "family resemblances." I did post, earlier in the semester, a propos of Emerson and seriality, a quick typology of “seriality” (with special reference to Charles Reznikoff); so we return, inevitably, to this issue again. It is interesting to compare Wittgenstein's hyperlogical ordering system in the Tractautus (which was taken up brilliantly by Samuel Delany in his autobiographical Motion of Light in the Water) with Wittgenstein's nonlinear or associative ordering in PI. Walter Benjamin makes a famous analogy to astronomic constellations. Douglas Hofstadder in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid provides a widely popular account of some of Gödel's mathematical thought can be applied to art works. And more specific to fractals and "chaos theory" is James Gleik's Chaos: The Making of a New Science. While these books were controversial, to a degree, they are thoughtfully grounded in the scientific research. And there have been claims for "chaos theory" that it represents a Kuhnian paradigm shift (following on the Einsteinian one).

I think we can begin next session with a continuation of Nesce's welcome discussion of nonlinear forms of organization with a brief consideration Feyerabend/Einstein (Astrud), but perhaps preface that with the citation about the aesthetic that Joseph was about to read ...

I appreciate Gabriel's bringing up (in his last two posts) what I had in mind as central topics for discussion in this segment of the seminar. I don't though condemn Rothenberg's work on the "Horse Songs" (which I think is a great work) or ethnopoetics more generally and don't dismiss it as appropriation in a negative sense (or as violence against indigenous people), but I did welcome and wish we had had more time for the discussion of the controversies on this matter. I didn't perceive that we left this topic with such a negative conclusion, though I did hear voices on all sides of the issue in our valuable discussion.

The Gramsci readings come up this next week: key terms hegemony and subaltern, so with that reading in mind, I will employ these terms here. When I evoked Gramsci's "organic intellectual" or later "syncretic," I was noting that -- in vernacular, in ordinary language -- terms from one discourse are often applied to another. Certainly this is subject to abuse and serious disputes arise by those both well informed and ill informed, with and across fields. However, making an analogy between disputes such as the one surrounding ethnopoetics or more broadly gender/race/colonial (appropriation of the language/culture of the subaltern) and a criticism of metaphoric (poetic?) use of scientific terms (or scientific appropriation of poetic/metaphoric terms of our shared language) may be seen as itself an appropriation and one that some might find quite troubling (along with the metaphorical use of the word "violence"). This is the value of thinking along the lines suggested by Gramsci (see Raymond Williams useful summary). If one holds to a very strict moral view against such appropriations (I take the term "strict" from Lakoff's Moral Politics,) one consequence is that you may fall afoul of your own principal (which is, after all, a double edged sword). Be careful what you wish for, like they say.

The fault lines of the Sokal affair are, it seems to me, different (I write about Sokal in the essay that is excerpted in the Poetry and Cultural Studies Reader); but it could also be argued that this is a slippery slope, and so it is, as you can see me slipping just ahead … Scientific discourse has assumed a hegemonic role in our [Western] culture (and I particularly interested in the  specific Cold War aspect to this, of the atomic age, the Oppenheimer trials, etc. to make the link to Filreis study more explicit): scientific discourse play the hegemonic [normative] “other” to poetry’s fool (if not to say counter-hegemonic). (I am pointedly saying “scientific discourse” not “science.”) Or to come closer to Habermas (with an inflection from Burroughs): positivism and scientism are a kind of viral presence within hermeneutic discourses (philosophy/poetics/theory), especially when they mis-conceptualize the basis of their knowledge (and the form of its authority or foundation of their claims to legitimacy) on the model of the sciences (something Gabriel brought out with great wit in his initial post on this topic). Habermas’s work immediately before Knowledge and Human Interest was called Technology and Science as Ideology (both works, significantly for the timeline of the seminar, from 1968), Habermas specifically characterizes scientific discourse (a.k.a. technorationality) as “ideology.”

Crucial background to Habermas’s critique of scientific discourse is Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Englightenment, where the critique of technorationality follows the catastrophe for aspects of Enlightenment teleology, especially the intrinsic values of technologies in the “dark” of the Systematic Extermination Process and Atom Bomb during the Second War. Note though that Habermas has been at pains in his post-1968 to resist the temptation to conflate the crisis of technorationality which culminated in the Second War with the Enlightenment (as Jonathan usefully points to in his post). Famously, Habermas runs afoul of so-called postmodernism, as in his famous dispute with Gadamer; and indeed he was very much against the 1968 student revolts in Germany.

It is in these historical and ideological contexts, present already but given more urgency after the Second War, that the importance of the counter-hegemonic emerges for aesthetic and art practice, not just in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (with its commitment to radical modernist work), but also in Brecht or Dada, or Jarry (more on which soon); debates over the role of the political in art that manifest in the 30s-50 in the documents in  Aesthetics and Politics: Debates between Adorno, Benjmain, Block, Brcht, Lukacs, afterword by Jameson (Verso), which was one possible precursor for such as collection as The Politics of Poetic Form.  At the same time “subaltern” “appropriation” of hegemonic terms has to read within a social context as asymmetric with the hegemonic insistence on the stability/veracity/honesty/irrefutability of its terms: narrative/realism/economic truths/ realpolitic/grammars/orthography/accent, etc. (Note I am here shifting Gramsci’s use of “subaltern” from groups or class to modes of discourse, so let the buyer beware, this is just the sort of flimflam bait and switch Goffman loves to talk about in Frame Analysis.)

One thing at stake in these discussions has to do with how language operates in relation to the world. Lakoff, a scientist, like Wittgenstein, a philosopher of mathematics and aesthetics (among other things) suggest our verbal language is fundamentally metaphorical and it is through this metaphoric veil (not necessarily Rev. Hooper's in the The Minister’s Black Veil) through which we perceive the "things" of the world  (see Lakoff's Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things for example). In this sense, the discussion of Beauty (thanks to Alan's very elucidating presentation) is no less fraught than the discussion of Chaos (with echoes of Hesiod’s use of the term c. 775 BCE in his Theogany, evoking the unorganized or unordered) or Fracture ("fractal" is after all very self-consciously forged from fractus, broken). "Chaos theory," "fractals," and "recombinant" have entered into a general usage and also into poetics; like relativity or evolution, or quantum/wave-particle theory, or atomic theory.

Consider, especially, Lucretius's poem De rerum natura if only to be reminded of the cosmologies that give metaphoric resonance to our ideas of voids, atoms, and combinations, and of the possibility of a swerve (clinamen) from the apparently fixed determinants of the natural world (and metaphorically the swerve from the determinants of social, class, cultural, or grammatical determinants). The metaphoric concepts fabricated by Lucretius (or Heraklitus or Hesiod or Xeno or Sappho) go deep into Western poetics; they also form a (not the) basis for key scientific terms that developed in their wake. As Lucretius famously remarks, nothing comes from nothing (“Nil fieri ex nihilo, in nihilum nil posse reverti”), or, as we say in New York, nuthin’ comes first.

Making an argument for the metaphoric or contingent meaning of abstract nouns is not the same as arguing for fact that such words have no histories, etymologies, or conventional applications; just as arguing that there are other grammars or dialectics than the ones mandated in grammar books (or expository writing classes) does not mean that one has given up on communication (one might, as with Basil Bernstein, note that language codes are intimately tied to class, that what the school master labels incorrect may be more a class (or racial or … ) bias than an objective assessment of coherence). Making an argument that someone misuses a term (whether sestina or sunset, ochirina or occidentblack hole or totality, proletariat or poltergeist) can be an opening for a conversation, and/or a place to draw line, and/or give rise to the disconcerting feeling that we are out of tune with one another, that our words are not held in common (my blues are not your blue). Call it skepticism or the problem of other minds.

The connection (or should I say break, fractus) between science, cosmology and poetics is by no means a closed issue. Descartes didn't "invent" mind-body dualism any more than Marx invented "alienation" (which was a metaphor Marx used to offer a critique to very real violence done to workers, the product of whose labor was appropriated from them). Wittgenstein in PI addresses both form of alienation from language and also the mind-body dualism. He offers a kind "therapy" from the impasses after critique evoked by Caroline (or that's one way to read him). The terms used by science have historically forged by poetics (poesis, the making of things) and perhaps the difference between late and early Wittgenstein is that the later Wittgenstein recognizes that you can't strip language of these associations by creating new "stipulative definitions" of philosophical terms (mind, body; he has other things to say about Cantor, set theory etc. in his Remarks on the Foundation of Mathematics).

"The human body is the best picture of the human soul."

Issues that we argue about in philosophy, poetry, and aesthetics might well be consonant with scientific research in linguistics, cognitive science, sociology, physics. I'd assume there would be a connection even if we slip and slide and trip in articulating it (but then perhaps I am too much take by Benjaimin's “Doctrine of the Similar”).

Habermas's Knowledge and Human Interest is very useful in distinguishing the kinds of activity involved in scientific discourse and what he calls "hermeneutic" discourse. Habermas articulates the different interest values in science (prediction and control of phenomenon) and hermeneutics (interpretation, the dialologic). There is, that is, an unconscious to science as much as to art or politics.

Some say a mathematical proof, others a cosmology, others
our technology, is the most beautiful thing on the dark
earth—but I say it is
a conversation with those we love …

We are gathered at a site of dialog. As Chaotic as our discussions may seem, we make patterns with them.

Most of those patterns are lost in the dark matter of the mystic writing pad.

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