Of Chronotopology: at long last an update of a previous post

update of the following which is hot link, so click on it and it will take you there:

the supra-theory of pearodox: chronotopology: relativity – the least visual of posts so far, and the least helpful – but this shortcoming will be amended soon

DRAFT: what follows can be reversed engineered through examination of previous posts: and well, post-engineered through posts to come:

Of Chronotopology: to be up- and post-dated.


To begin, a simple “image” will suffice. The spacing between two bridges over the same river: the older, heavy green iron, close to the water upstream; the other, modern concrete, three-times higher, downstream. A few details: a pedestrian can see one from the other. Boats of average weight and height pass beneath both. But only from the lower could one physically hear and see the extraordinary breaking up of ice in the spring. For centuries, the state was stripped of its forests, floated in massive log-rafts down the river to a mill just north of these twin crossings. The Kennebec River was one of the first to be revitalized after so much industrial and bark pollution – the salmon and the sardines are running again, along with colonialist re-enactments of one species of original occupation. In the state’s capital, Fort Kent has been renovated in honor of Benedict Arnold. The forests, however, have not been reclaimed and 90% of the state belongs still to the paper industry, the state’s level of poverty vies with that of Appalachia, the coast is almost entirely a gated community for the rich, including the Bush dynasty, for their vacation homes where the locals serve, clean, and mow, and Native Americans are confined to poverty on reservations; these social conditions are clear indicators of Maine’s status as a third world country. As a “kid,” a term my grandmother resented because in her “peasant” upbringing, a kid was a baby goat, I was taken in the spring to admire the enormous, three-story high machinery which clear-cut entire counties, filled inaccessible lakes with miles-long log-rafts pulled by air-lifted tug boats through lakes with names like Chesunkuk, only to stack the systematically branch-stripped, full-length trunks, 30-40 feet high, for miles along corporate-owned riverbanks, which, finally, were bulldozed into the river soon after the moment when, as a “kid”, waiting on the lower bridge, I saw and heard the yearly monumental event of the ice breaking. If it weren’t for the sounds of modern mechanical life, it could have been heard for miles. M.D. D’Anjou


I begin with a memoir of an obscure author to honor the harsh and typical environmental disasters that in their local specificities go largely unknown, to honor the disenfranchised inhabitants of all such Maines, and to Gaston Bachelard, whose Poetics of Space demonstrates how such “phenomenal” events determine not a depth psychoanalytics, but one that extends from the body’s motor sensibilities outward, to the world. In that extension, there lies the concrete, imaginary possibility of an authorship that originates in the objective, articulated calamities of a spring thaw and the torrent of forests that follows. Bachelard in effect places the mind in the world, in relation to it, as an integral part of it, and attempted to think that reciprocity. The “kid” on the bridge, who himself is the transition between complex linguistic texts and dynamic, existential states, is both their witness and their product, and as he owes himself to those events, to those objective conditions which form and inform the transitivity of his consciousness – to those events he is responsible. It is in that space, temporally oriented and scaled, that a chronotopology lies – there lies the conditions of possibility for non-Euclidean imaginaries, and the possibilities of alternative socio-political existences to which they might, possibly, lead. This claim is not utopian; and it does not refuse, entirely, the very real possibility of a perpetual dystopia – as history can so easily demonstrate, auto-genocide is our lot, by one means or another. Under the current global corporate regime, it is difficult to imagine any other consequence. However, both the world and its inhabitants have proved consistently resilient, and the horrifics of our time differ only in scale. Against the threat that the destruction-scale has reached infinite extension, annihilation, a threat renewed in our recent, post-cold war era, being carried out metonymically with such methods as the seeding of the middle east with US nuclear wastes via dirty bombs, and underground arms sales, we require, today, not a reformist attitude, but a radical pragmatics. All “lesser-of-evil” strategies are doomed not just to failure, but to hand maiden status in their facilitation of the growth of insatiable capital controlled by the resurgent, neo-Social Darwinists. Radical challenge is more desperately necessary than ever, but because it has been successfully driven from the US national popular imaginary, and the gains of the social movements of the last 40 years all but eradicated, it is urgent that a new strategy be formulated.

Against this prognosis, chronotopology has little to offer, ahora, toward achieving radical change in fact; [i] however, as a radical, imaginary pragmatics, as a form of criticism, it is not merely a reactionary response to the deplorable conditions of life today. Its strategy is to diagnose a path toward radical change, and to imagine the possibilities of its existential accomplishment, by gathering together the elements of alternative epistemologies under the general heading put forth here: the scientific-aesthetic, in its twin forms of aesthetic-empiricism and the non-Euclidian imaginary, is, in rudimentary form, a multiplex epistemological force that attempts not a blind synthesis of opposites, nor some new form of intelligence ex nihilo, but simply an imagined alternative outcome for history, and offers up, in contradistinction to the utopia/distopia binary, responsive, imaginary chronotopia. Chronotopia, deliberately blind to utopian fantasies, and with distopian realities as audiovisual guides and material conditions, attempt to parse the challenges of significant otherness, situated, oriented, inanimate, animate, organic, mechanical, technological, natural, cultural, biological, and all the possible hybrid variants of these ontological imaginaries. They attempt to take what already is, in distopian form, and outline concrete paths toward alternative, realizable near-futures, as a form of social science fiction with the following conditions. Otherness is not to be eliminated is some harmonistic orgy of humanistic agape; it is to be loved for its unnamable resistance to assimilation to any epistemological regime.[ii] Because pragmatics, no less than idealism, is inevitably driven toward subjectivity, to application “for its own sake,” it must be yoked to the objective epistemological otherness specific to it, that which is able to prevent its dissolve into monotonous absolutism. Only with such programmatically, strategically designed couplings will chronotopia escape subjectivation of objectivity, and, the objectivation of subjectivity. The task of social science fiction, to be social science, is to bring the generalization of the scientific-aesthetic to its pragmatic knees, to humble it in the face of its own objectification in the concrete presence of the distopian real that reigns today. Chronotopia are those concretized imaginaries that determine effective epistemo-pragmatic couples.

This insistence on a hyphenated epistemology is an insistence that coalitional research programs, with well-defined, non-capitalist, socio-political goals, be strategically formed among and between the segregated forces of knowledge production. If “man” as object was the invention of rationalist humanism, then “femaleman,” por ejemplo, as scientific-aesthetic subject must be the invention of a 21st century ethos. “Life” must become its own subject, in the sense sketched in the above paragraph, and to be elaborated, schematically, below. Though I have rejected the Kantian formulations of this dilemma, and acceded to a relativizing of spacetime immanence instead, it is on ethical and amoral grounds that I do so. These grounds are just that – grounds. To retrieve space and time from the realm of transcendent abstractions, to set them upon popular, material courses, and to give these courses alternative forms, directions, influences, objective and subjective contents, is to regroup around earlier and now quaint (though no less powerful) attempts such as Diet for a Small Planet, Small is Beautiful, Spaceship Earth, though I fear, a genuinely armed avant guard may be necessary to challenge the resistance to such attempts, to be expected from today’s global-scale state militant imperialism. Such an armed avant-garde is, in effect, already at work virtually everywhere, except in the US. Nonviolence has never been possible, as an absolute state, because nonviolence often seeks to expose violence by provoking it through its very display of peaceful protest, and state violence rarely allows even a nonprovocative protest to precede nonviolently. Meanwhile, the ascendancy of terrorism to the global agenda has set humanity on its rhetorically “final” journey, toward some unimaginable ascendancy into a US paternalistic state of grace, which far more likely presages a collapse into social terror and instability, ruled by the corporatist elite, with power enough to last for centuries, or as long as resources hold out.[iii] It seems to me that we need to find a path to the “other side of,” beyond, this problematic. Such terms dictate a progressive geopolitics on the same scale as that of the military-industrial complex. That, indeed, is a utopian expectation. But it is an expectation that falls within the imaginary range of chronotopology, not as a whole, but, when taken piece by piece.

Chronotopic subjectivity as the production of non-subjective identity

I know of no other way than through conundrum, to put at least a minimal amount of flesh on these chronotopic bones. The epistemological task of chronotopology, relative to identity politics, is to orient objectivity in the very heart of subjectivity. And, claro, vice versa.

Chronotopic identity is achieved by means of a reversal, the same reversal examined above in the grammatical theory and practice, the genuine praxis, of Stein, in which meaning is a fourth order event derived from the epistemological series passing in reverse through “thinking” and “believing,” to the first order “feeling.” Language is intentionally debased, made the mere substratum upon which the audiovisual world acts in order to objectify subjectivity. It is this reversal that allies chronotopology more closely to logic and mathematics, epistemologically, than to linguistics in any form; for, logic and mathematics share the deep distrust of language that motivated Nietzsche’s ironic totalizing reevaluation, Roussel’s mechanistic approach to composition, Stein’s totalizing logical overhaul of grammar, Bakhtin’s relativistic reaccentuation of heteroglossia, Bachelard’s non-Euclidean, projective scientific-poetic spirit,[iv] Derrida’s grammatology, and Cunningham’s Tayloristic production of a inscribing body. Despite the tradition that allies mathesis with idealism, often well substantiated, that alternative philosophical branch which adheres to application, while not succumbing to it, seeks to call forth the world as dynamic event with as little linguistic mediation as possible. In the words of perhaps the most eloquent of logicians:

Logicians and grammarians are alike in habitually talking about sentences. But we saw the difference. The logician talks of sentences only as a means of achieving generality along a dimension that he cannot sweep out by quantifying over objects. The truth predicate then preserves his contact with the world, where his heart is.[v]

Roussel’s Canterel, the artist-physician, model for Foucault’s physician-artist who invented one form of modern visuality, has accompanied us throughout The Scientific-Aesthetic. I have generalized this subjective force as the artist-logician. From the beginning, the aim of chronotopology and the scientific-aesthetic has been diagnostic, and in that sense, about “health” in the Nietzschean sense. Only through the illnesses of distopia may we arrive in one chronotopia or another, not because of some moral imperative, but because illness is the material condition of our ontology. For none are healthy in our collective, distopic present. Of course, illness is not a totalized state, and islets of health can be found throughout the great wasteland of modernity.

With the “kid” on the bridge, we saw that identity is co-produced between the events and orientations of witnessing and existing, and it is this complex ontology which produces the realism peculiar to chronotopology. There is no singular expression of this form of objectified subjectivity, unlike the humanist subjectivity that cohered in the late 19th and 20th century schools of psychoanalysis, only to codify the subject within the structural apparatus and “psychic” economies and linguistics of a Cartesian solipcism.[vi] Chronotopic identity can be understood linguistically only by means of its projected extensions through prepositional spacetime series, their combinatorial aptitudes, and their contamination of other parts of speech: the space series, for instance – “in,” “into,” “onto,” “among,” “between,” “through,” “with:” and the time series – “at,” “by,” “since,” “then,” “when,” “after,” “over,” “throughout,” “moreover,” etc.[vii] Language is the material field which suffers from the assaults of events that derive from nondiscursive, dynamic audiovisual fields. I use the corporal term, to suffer, both in its contemporary colloquial sense, but also in its ancient Greek sense of aisthemata – a term which refers to anything the senses “suffer,” and from which the term, aesthetics, derives. Language suffers the effects of corporality continuously, and in this suffering lies its ethical potential; ethics, as opposed to morals, derives its social force from differance, which at every moment applies a pressure to destabalize the linguistic tendency toward sameness and transparency. This is a fundamentally ethical process as, even if linguistic dominance cannot be absolutely prohibited, it can at least be continuously challenged, allowing significantly other languages to emerge, and sometimes even to prosper for a time.[viii]

But to return from these circumlocutions more formally to the problem of subjectivation/objectivation.

Language is an objective tensorial field. The three dimensional nodes of its two dimensional representation are verbal actions, and the class of prepositions, essentially verbalized nouns and particles, in the Anglophone context, have condensed (or synthesized) to the point of sublimation, what in previous linguistic eras, were more explicit, worn on the surface of language in the form of case endings like the Greek and Latin dative and genative cases which spun substantives in more dynamic and integrated temporal and spatial orientations, splicing together worldly and intersubjective arrays of relationality with a great variety of connectors. Such analytic languages possess a far greater and more explicit plasticity of relationality and order among the elements of grammar. [ix] The connective capacity of contemporary synthetic languages have devolved to adjectives, including gerunds, and a much narrower fleet of prepositions; the result is a greater passivity of the linguistic subject, and a flattening of the articulated world into an idealized Euclidean plane. In keeping with the strategy of chronotopolgy to begin with the dystopian, material conditions of the present, this situation suggests two central problems.

  1. How might nonlinguistic subjectivity escape the linguistic domination of the subject?
  2. How might this same objectivity of language be deployed against linguistic subjectivity?

Chronotopological realism emerges from the answers to these questions, and with it, an identity capable of a floating center of gravity between the poles of subjectivity and objectivity, and capable of reversing the poles as made necessary by shifting frames of reference.[x] To see this we must first add the following double dilemma.

  1. Space is more objective than time in a culture dominated by visuality: time is subjective.
  2. Time is more objective than space in a culture dominated by aurality: space is subjective.

These propositions do not represent pure states, nor do cultures exist that fit these descriptions exactly; they represent ideal poles in thought only and allow us to speak of the differential ratios with which we experience space and time, sound and sight, seeing and saying, in varying contexts. Spectacle society is clearly, to a very large extent, though less than total, an audiovisual event. But every aspect of this event is mediated by the linguistic imaginary on the one hand, and by the geometric imaginary on the other. It would be a mistake to assume that sound and sight have equal affective impacts on all occasions, or that they are necessarily coordinated. If it is true that Euroamerican cultures are deeply predicated on a Euclidean imaginary, to the same extent that contemporary indoeuropean languages have sublimated space and time, then the geometric imaginary puts pressure on linguistic performance to conform to geometric, imaginary conditions, while the verb and prepositional matrices constrain the geometric imaginary within their socially mediated, linguistic conventions.

The first proposition accounts for the epistemological solutions we have encountered in the work of Stein; she uses spatiality, “landscape,” as the model for her “plays,” in which we expect a serialized, narratological action to dominate. In her efforts to eradicate the syncopation between the affective time of the actors, and affective time of the audience, to place them both simultaneously in the same spatio-temporal reference frame, space dominates and mediates the actor-audience identity in such a way as to make actor-time congruent with audience-time. It is not that time ceases to pass or to matter, but that a singular time is established as a single continuum flowing between both actors and audience; the time of the actors is the time of the audience, and so gives way to spatialized audiovisual events occurring independently in a landscape of actions.[xi] These events exist simultaneously, but are encountered consecutively, associatively, according to each audience member’s frame of reference, producing a spectra of plays with orders as various as the audience members, effectively subordinating the temporal seriality of narration to audience subjectivities.

Proposition one accounts for the epistemological solutions of Bakhtin also, though, his analysis focuses more on the subjectivity of time than on the objectivity of space. Space falls away in his analysis, and one of the shortcomings of his work is his failure to tether space and time in the manner in which his own term, chronotope, demands. His Kantianism prevented him from following through with the Einsteinian consequences of his methodology. On the other hand, his profound concept of the ray-word discussed above[xii], is chronotopic in its allusion to the ray of light, while elevating visuality as a central theme in the analysis of heteroglossia. For Bakhtin, narrative realism is determined by a historical poetics, both dialogic and heterglossic in a very structured way, reliant on time passing reciprocally between the “world in the work,” and “world outside the work.” Poesis is the process by which history negotiates the relationship between these two spheres.[xiii] Words are themselves hybrid actors, comprised in part of the “living rejoinder” contributed by a speaker/writer (chronotope A), and of the “alien” contribution of the “word already in the object,” (chronotope A’). This is best shown diagrammatically:

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The arrows in this diagram are like the points in a spacetime graph; they appear as two dimensional, linear events, when in actuality they represent a three dimensional process of the ray-word, conveyed thus:

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This second diagram makes explicit the latent complexities of dialogism that Bakhtin fails to elaborate. Dialogism consists of several orders: between the first order word and the alien-word, the second order reciprocity between each of them and their respective objects, and the third order reciprocity between the world-in-the-word and the word-in-the-world. First and second order dialogism occur entirely within their respective chronotopes. Only in the third order dialogic event do they find reconciliation.

The first conclusion to be drawn from these schemata of realism is that the chronotopic dimension of the “world in the work” is not the same as the chronotopic dimension of the “world outside the work.” This is the same problem Stein resolved by means of “landscape” used as a structural form. Bakhtin, on the other hand, is driven by what we might call a “narratological imperative.” Chronotope A does not equal chronotope A’ as it does in Stein’s literary and theatrical practices. Chronotope A must pass with a narrative, serial transition, through third order dialogism, to chronotope A’. Here Bakhtin’s analysis forces him to invent the term, “creative chronotope,” in order to produce the reconciliation between the two chronotopic states as a third state governed by the ray-word’s hybrid orientations. Without elaboration, he simply says that “the exchange between work and life is governed by the creative chronotope.”[xv] But he never accounts for how it so governs. The second conclusion to be drawn is that through this second order chronotope, (product of third order dialogism), the difference between chronotopes A and A’ is resolved creatively by the reading subject. As the temporality of the world outside the work increases in distance from the world in the work, time is reaccentuated[xvi] by the relative shifts or heteroglossia inherent to the reader’s words and the reader’s world, and in that sense, subjectified.

The narratological imperative is made more explicit if we substitute the terms event and time in the first of the above diagrams:

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Events 1 and 2 occur in different times (and different spaces), have different durations, and are governed necessarily by different chronotopes. The totality of their spatio-temporal fields is the material given of the work: of its text, the world represented in the text, and of the relationship between author-creator and listener-reader. These dialogical relationships can be generalized as that between author-literature and author-culture. Bakhtin describes this relationship as a “special semantic sphere” that is purely chronotopic, but exceeds the limits of his survey. Chronotopology begins with this insight, while at the same time pursuing another aspect of Bakhtin’s project – to use re-accentuation as a method of translation out of literature and into other cultural forms. It is exactly this translation which requires that the “semantic sphere” be expanded to a more generalized, less semiocentric, audiovisual sphere.[xvii] More on this in a moment.

[note: reaccentuation as governed by prepositionality and geometry imaginaries]

As a transition to the last example that is accounted for by proposition two above, we need once again turn to the juncture between Whitehead and Stein. Bakhtin’s “creative chronotope,” and Whitehead’s concept of “prehension,” are remarkably similar, and yet offer an even more productive difference. Whitehead’s prehension establishes a corporeal, nonlinguistic process of intelligence which precedes language, accounting for Bakhtin’s “alien word already in the object” by modeling the process of a single moment of Jamesian consciousness, in which the “vague” acquires at least a semblance of materiality. This juncture takes an interesting form. Thornton Wilder, while sailing to Europe, writes to Stein that he is reading Process and Reality, and has made a diagram of Whitehead’s concept of “prehension.” The following image, taken from one of Wilder’s notebooks, shows this diagram.[xviii]

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Whitehead, as it were, takes a section (in architectural or medical terms) through a single present moment in the Jamesian stream of thought (consciousness), and isolates the discrete “experience” of Wilder’s diagram. “Prehension” is “one form of an occasion of EXPERIENCE” always preceded by other ANTECEDENT OCCASIONS, which are processed by RE-ENACTMENT, and are ANTICIPATIONS of OBJECTIVE IMMORTALITY, i.e., THE PAST. The passage from ANTECEDENT OCCASIONS to ANTICIPATIONS establishes the fundamental linear passage of time in relation to the stream of thought. Consciousness delivers the imminence of the future to the imminence of the past. Objectivity is governed by this process, and is thus dependent on the processes of subjectivation. At this point, the process is purely corporeal, and it would almost seem that there is no need of a rational subject. But not for long. The OBJECT of the PRESENT is, in fact, a pre-propositional invention of the subject, “provided by creativity.” As Wilder’s paraphrase has it: “The OBJECT, provided by creativity, is passive until creativity gives it this activating potentiality to START OFF this occasion.”

Exactly here do we find the similarity between Bahktin and Whitehead, as well as their differences. Though point one uses Jamesian language not found in Bakhtin – “Conceptual feeling,” the language of the vague[xix] used throughout Principles of Psychology – the similarity between “creative chronotope” and “creative prehension” is obvious. And the vague and the “alien” may be construed as equivalents (and both as forms of significant otherness). In both cases, the process is similar: the subject supplies the object with the “novel” in Wilder’s diagram (MENTALIA), or with a dialogical synthesis to the potential dichotomy between the two sources of the ray-word in Bakhtin’s terms. Whitehead’s term, RESHAPING, i.e., Self-formation, is equivalent to dialogical synthesis; and, his term, SWING, is equivalent to third order dialogism in general in that self-formation is accomplished by the chronotopic alternations between object in the world, and object in the subject. Crucial here, and establishing the difference between Whitehead and Bakhtin, is the fact that prehension does not constitute signification, is not determined by the ray-word, and therefore is not a semiotic form of “thought,” though it is “thought” nonetheless. As we have seen in the case of Stein, propositional thought is a last order event, as Wilder’s point two convey’s: “Finally propositions emerge concerning the present occasion.”

Whitehead’s prehension is the nonsemiotic process that forms the material basis of apprehension and comprehension.[xx] It is a subjective process which emphasizes the “feeling’ of time, which it then forwards to apprehension and comprehension to craft as propositions about FACTS, which, then take their immortal place among all such august members of the PAST. Before this happens, however, between the moment when prehension is operating, and before the articulation of propositions, during the phase of self-formation, the twin forces of language and geometry are already at work. Every prior antecedent occasion has already been shaped by this same process, and therefore has already been predetermined by post-prehensive propositions. And presto!, we’re back in the land of grammatology.[xxi] The point here is that at this very moment, the twin engines of linguistic and geometric conservatism are already at work, and thus both the creativity of prehension and the ray-word, are in danger of reinforcing the very dialogical conventions they had hoped to escape.

If nonlinguistic subjectivity is to escape the linguistic domination of the subject, it must at the very moment of prehension, at the very moment that third order dialogism attempts reconciliation of the ray-word’s dualism, deploy the aesthetic empiricist and non-Euclidean experiments of the chronotopic imaginary. The task of chronotopology, on the linguistic front, is to use the Derridean and Steinian insights as models for deploying the objectivity of language against linguistic subjectivity.

As this talk must come to an end, we must leave these speculative and diagnostic thoughts here, to be pursued in their own, still to be post-prehended near-future. But we still have to treat of proposition two above, and bring our focus around to an author working nondiscursively. To recall:

  1. Time is more objective than space in a culture dominated by aurality: space is subjective.

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We turn then, briefly, and in order to conclude with at least a hint of nonlinguistic chronotopia, to the epistemological solutions of Bernie Lubell, whose work formed part of the parergon of this book. The following image of Etiology of Innocence is a demonstration of proposition 2 in action. His work deliberately suppresses visuality using several methods that may include visualtiy, but distract it though machine movements, sounds, and hidden connectivity. Etiology separates the mechanical components of the work behinds walls, gives each machine a quirky, unstable seeming movement, constructs the machines so that to operate them emphasizes and exaggerates sound, and by adding horns to mechanisms (in this case, mechanical organs) that emit sounds that might be missed if not amplified. The plan drawing accompanying the installation photograph shows the overall structure of the work, and indicates the fragmentation of space from the participants’ frames of reference. Time is the dimension that regulates the experience of the work as participants must circulate among the machine components, and either literally become temporal operators, or temporal witnesses. Even the witnesses are active participants as they must collaborate with the sound elements to manifest them.

Lubell describes one aspect of this work in this way:

Etiology is the study of causes. It’s only common usage seems to be by the medical profession — as in the origins of a disease. The connection to medicine is appropriate to the origins of my piece and the suggestion that innocence is some sort of disease is intentional. Innocence is usually either shunned as unsophisticated or blindly embraced. It doesn’t need to be this way. The possibilities for innocence are much more complex. Looking back from the end of the machine age, my Etiology of Innocence reflects a nostalgia for a more innocent time when it seemed that simple mechanical models might explain everything–when the experts were generalists and the discovery of ultimate truths seemed to be just around the corner.

At the same time, I recognize that any quest for an ideal, like a “truth”, requires numerous little add-ons and fix-its to deliver a resemblance to the real. And all of these fix-its lead away form that very idealism and innocence that was the stance necessary to begin. Ultimately, these add-ons and fix-its become a sort of Truth in themselves and are often considered to be the hallmark of sophistication. So simplicity is how you must start but… [xxii]

All of Lubell’s works are networked systems comprising language, machines, spacetime, and people, at the level of objectivity, and science, philosophy, psychology, and theater (art), at the level of subjectivity. These eight categories establish the two dimensional grid of Lubell’s taxonomy, from which a four dimensional array of epistemological hybrids emerges. His tragic-comic works[xxiii] usually conflate subjective personal and objective historical spacetimes, along four axes simultaneously: the subjective axes of his own encounters with etiology and innocence in this case, and the objective axis along which the reenactments, through the collaborative efforts of others, give life to the network. The third axis is the historical hybridization of the French 19th century science of Marey, with the 21st century art of Lubell. The last axis is that of the actual spacetime enactment of work in the gallery.

Etiology is a psychology machine that produces alternative subjects at the “heart” of the encounters between Lubell and his surrogate actants (the machines), on the one hand, and random encounters with museum subjects, on the other, as they negotiate the nodes within this four dimensional array. One actor is required to set the network in motion by “pumping” the heart, an action that synthesizes organic and mechanical models by setting the vegetal (latex) organ in motion by turning a crank, in order for others to witness and participate at other corporeal nodes of the network as they come to life. The heart operator is producer, and as the objectification of Lubell, is the machine’s empirical demiurgos, creating the action for others to imagine.

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Reciprocally, and with the same action, the actual Lubell is subjectivized as museum subject. Etiology is, then, an apparatus that produces objectivity at the heart of the subject, and subjectivity at the heart of the object. Were the event to stop here, the work would be as hierarchical and passive as television or cinema.[xxiv] But Etiology establishes the social necessity of others doing for the first operator, what he or she has done for them. The machine’s circuit requires that producers become consumers, and consumers, producers. Lubell’s work is itself, specifically an etiology machine that produces social subjectivity objectively, literally, as a “third” identity, the resultant of two vectors demanded by the network’s action – the alternations of subject and object, producer and consumer, self and other.

The aspect of aurality, the wheezing of the breathing machine and the rhythmic thumping of the heartbeat machine, the percussive sounds of the gears of the heart simulator, the clacking counterweight tower powering down as it spins the chart recorder, fixes one in this work in aural, subjective innocence. Sound orients us toward visual objects always anew, as sound, as opposed to music, is not necessarily codified. Sounds inevitably do become codified with repetition, and become signs like any other. But this is not their absolute condition, and they can, at least ephemerally, be deployed nondiscursively, as they are in Lubell’s Etiology, as the codified sounds of the heartbeat and breathing are dramatically recontextualized both in their relations to each other, and in the manner in which they are produced. It is this audiovisual complicity that allows Lubell to bring the temporal to the forefront, to distance both visuality and the expected geometries of space. The pneumatic hoses are perhaps the most important, aesthetic-empirical device; they are literally three dimensional singularities, curving fractal dimensional lines, that carry operative force from the expansions and contractions of the heart, to animate the other events of the work. They literally connect components that remain hidden from each other, and establish a sublimated form of spatiality, not accessible to visuality.

Lubell’s theater of epistemology gives to all its collaborators the subjectivity of Canterel, the artist-logician, doctor, whose life is devoted to finding scientific-aesthetic solutions to social problems. Such a subjectivity must hybridize and leap across the well protected borders of disciplinary knowledges. It is exactly a kind of etiology of innocence, as Lubell describes it, one that possesses both a deeply embedded vector of simplicity, retrofit with myriad “fix-its” that adapt it to local conditions and circumstances. It insists that imagination and creation take place in the presence of existence, not in the mere presence, but with active engagement with its significant otherness.

The scientific-aesthetic sets itself apart from other scientific and aesthetic approaches by its chronotopic dimensioning and orienting of the problematics of realism it strategically establishes and transforms. The consequences of this approach are many. To cite but two in order to bracket its spectral extremes, first, its transformations are potentially infinite, though because it proceeds incrementally its chronotopic ranges inevitably appear far more limited then they are. Its transformations are transformations of partial objects, partial concepts, partial events that only asymptotically approach the imaginary final state of the many possible fabrics of spacetime. Though final states are never produced concretely, their imaginary virtuality has material effect on the trajectories that lead to them; paradoxically, such imaginary futures are the initial conditions for all possible transformations of the present, since the past has transformation-potential only as a re-imagined future. This problem can be seen in the conflict between “romantics” and “realists,” if these two sensibilities are generalized thus: The romantic is governed by the past, by memory of origins, the initial conditions of newness and firsts, by nostalgia. In contrast, the realist is governed by the future, whether conceived as dystopic, utopic, or ahistoric, by expectations of what might be, of change and transformative conditions of what will and might be, but cannot be foreordained. The romantic cannot accept the present because the past has been lost; while the realist cannot accept it because the future has yet to arrive.

Chronotopology therefore necessitates a historiographic theory peculiar to its own laws of dimensioning and orienting that would produce histories of the future. All such histories carry very heavy political burdens. While strict adherence to the laws of “hind-sight” histories, as fascinating and rewarding as they often are, generates, in sum, negative political results because it never addresses the immediate conditions of the present, histories of the future, on the other hand, at least carry the potential of transforming immediate conditions in the direction of socio-political and ecological freedoms. Of course there are no guarantees. There is nothing about either chronotopology or the scientific-aesthetic that protects it from leading to undesirable futures. It is this vulnerability that necessitates a carefully crafted theory to steer it effectively through the future’s unknown tensorial fields. In the spirit of these comments, then, the task of chronotopology is to bring about chronotopia realized in the present, however partially, by means of the strategies and tactics of the scientific-aesthetic imaginary in order to extend the present further and further into the pre-conceived and most desirable futures.

Second, it’s aesthetic-empirical tactics preclude a large range of characteristics that appeal to large segments of audiences and practitioners alike. It sets itself a mission often at odds with those practices of imagination in any medium because its strategies and tactics must assume forms alien to those which commonly dominate public perception. Transformation requires work rather than entertainment, for instance, thus desire for and pleasure taken in transformation must contend in an integrated-spectacle environment with the hall-of-mirrors effect – standardization of identity relative to a single dominant class and set of objects – that transformative practices set out to change. As the many species of identity politics have well demonstrated, the paths of all such attempts are strewn with extremely complicated and often unpredictable problematics, the imagined and attempted solutions to which also often lead directly to unexpected and unfortunately negative consequences.

Chronotopology will gain influence only if it is able to yoke specific radical pragmatics to their specific, complementary, epistemological others. Only then might chronotopia use such epistemo-pragmatic couples to effect the near-future.

[i] I have continually to resist autobiographical allusions because imagination is so deeply subjective. But I give in here to offer a personal historical reflection. My reticence to plunge into a tactical pragmatics is founded upon the Nietzschean genealogical premise of “beyond,” by definition only an imaginary state. It is impossible to insure a positive outcome for the most initially positive of intents. And vice versa. Thus one must rise to the metalevel, as poststructuralism has attempted to do. The backlash against its efforts has been devastating at worse, farcical at best, and resistance to it appears largely to have succeeded. In the same vein, the social movements of the 60’s and 70’s lost most of their most directed battles, and won those they never even attempted to fight (day care, organic food, ethics of play and leisure, alternative educations, etc.). And yet, the “hippie” has not been eradicated even if s/he exists only in caricature. It is as though those values await, in pupal form. some new awakening and transformation. Meanwhile the Direct Action Networks run amok in small numbers against the superpowers on occasional bases, making no inroads into the broad base of American socio-politics, expending truly vast and impressive organizational effort in a colossal waste of time. The Green Party, the only minimally effective alternative has and continues to implode from within. The status quo is maintained. In the background, the Professors for Peace listserve, and the Academics of Justice listserve, disseminate vast amounts of very important information, acting essentially like alternative AP’s or Reuters. But as with those news services, without editorial direction, the information rises in heaps to no avail. Perhaps the best models of social change are still unthinkable. Both because we are terrified by them, or simply cannot dredge them from the political unconscious. In this light, chronotopology exists only at an imaginary level, but one that is practical on small social scales, and has its Bachelardian hopes set on broader concrete effects in the future.

[ii] “Pay attention to the animals!” Haraway, 9-02ish, addressed to a class of undergraduate students at UCSC, as part of introduction to a screening of Men In Black.

[iii] While I distrust those historical comparisons which collapse differences over spacetime, it is worth pointing out in order to undermine the overly-optimistic faith in contemporary government and modernity in general, that vast eras have been successfully devoted to the oppression of the greater part of the population by a handful of vicious rulers. Neo-liberalism today has this potential, nor is it anything new under the ozone hole. In order to legitimize this claim, or at least put it in good company, I know of no other source better than Simon Bolivar: “Only democracy, in my opinion, is conducive to absolute freedom. But was there ever a democratic government that succeeded in conjoining power, prosperity, and permanence? And on the contrary, have we not seen aristocracies and monarchies hold together grand and powerful empires that lasted for centuries and centuries?” “The Agnostura Address,” found in, El Liberator: Writings of Simon Bolivar, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 35. Bolivar’s address was written on February 15th, 1819. If Bolivar’s prognosis establishes the historical logic, then Israeli state Zionism established the tactical model for maintaining such a distopia in actual practice.

[iv] Stein’s transitive consciousness, Bachelard’s scientific-poetic spirit, and Bakhtin’s chronotopic heteroglossia, in this view, stand as monuments not to the twentieth century, but to the 21st.

[v] Quine, The Philosophy of Logic, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univerity Press, 1970), [p. 35]

[vi] This codification has taken, for example, such forms as the return of the same, trauma, inescapable psychic mechanisms and complexes.

[vii] I allude here to Stein’s reworking of James’ raising of prepositions to the level of speech-act significance. And it should be recalled that this prepositional elevation implies that “vagueness” is a permanent condition of language, and in complete contradiction to the usual interpretation of this epistemological state, must be given full, positive force. It is exactly through vagueness that the body enters language, and establishes a permanent home for significant otherness. Such concrete “vagueness” goes some way toward insuring us against the hubris of rationalism.

[viii] The HipHop movement, in some versions at least, comes to mind.

[ix] It is this non-Euclidean complexity that requires a major overhaul of what might now be called the classical model of semiotics, which is limited by the two dimensional, Cartesian coordinate system of synchronic and diachronic axes. It is worth noting here that semiotics has been to the study of language what the Oedipus Complex has been to the study of the psyche. Against this, I assert that the linguistic dimension of chronotopology has already been established, in one form, by Stein. She stands out in this regard because of the systematic approach she took to the linguistic problems of spacetime. No other writer, writing in English, as come even close to her profound reconstruction of language along these lines. To enter her “texts” is to enter a chronotopia governed by her epistemological framework in the service of transitive consciousness. Her project, collected in the volume, How to Write, has its theoretical justification in the lecture one of, Lectures in America, where presents her historical analysis of the evolution of the epistemological vector of the English language. A careful reading of this text, in comparison with the other lectures, makes it clear that she sees her work as a condensation and an extension of this evolution, in the direction of the verb. Despite the widespread influence she has had, the influences has been restricted to the types of surface linguistic experimentalism common in 20th century poetic practice, already noted above. The depth of her epistemological invention of transitive consciousness, as analyzed above, have gone largely unrecognized.

[x] It is easy to forget the confusion caused by having to negotiate the variety of subject positions and their relations when learning the “grammatically correct” forms of pronoun-verb conjugations. These forms are deeply naturalized, and the slippages among them, which actually are quite common, remain invisible to consciousness. Yet, in the practice of circulating through the pronominal subject positions lies the germs of a more fluid subjectivity. It is this type of objective linguistic constraint that may be used to objectify the linguistically dominated subject.

[xi] There is much confusion about Stein’s concept of “continuous present,” which many authors erroneously interpret as a static present, as essentially, an elimination of history. Nothing could be further from the truth. History was extraordinarily important to Stein. Her philosophy of history is found in a little work entitled, On History, and her much more epistemologically elaborated, The Geographical History of America, analyzed in some detail above. The first lecture of Lectures in America, sets out the initial conditions of her historiography.

[xii] The “word is born in a dialogue as a living rejoinder within it; the word is shaped in dialogic interaction with an alien word that is already in the object. A word forms a concept of its own object in a dialogic way.” The Dialogic Imagination, p. 279.

[xiii] “Historical Poetics” is the subtitle of “Forms of the Chronotope in the Novel,” and, for Bakhtin, is to literature what historical materialism is to political economy.

[xiv] It is impossible for me to resist the highly speculative observation: wor(l)d, in which “l” is the perhaps vestigal, dialogic intercession, the drawing of a line to represent a once primal sensation of the divide between language and world. At least it makes for good allegory.

[xv] See The Dialogic Imagination, p. 254.

[xvi] Bakhtin defines reaccentuation as the change in the “background animating discourse,” and as the change in the “composition of heteroglossia.” Ibid. p. 420.

[xvii] I do no mean to suggest here that the audiovisual sphere is sufficient to account for all the complexities of corporiality. It could not. I ascribe to the Aristotle’s view that the body has as many as 15 senses, not only the five that have become enshrined in today’s biological models of the body. I intend the audiovisual sphere only as a first attempt at broadening chronotopology in the direction of a subjectivity extended beyond the dominant linguistic subject.

[xviii] Two comments are pertinent here. First, Wilder met Stein in Chicago in 1934, when he was her host during Stein’s lecture tour of the United States in 1934-35. They became very close, life long friends. Aware of Stein’s close friendship with the Whiteheads, and his influence on her. Wilder is reading Whitehead, probably at Stein suggestion, as a way to understand her work. Second, Wilder and James knew each other quite well, and Whitehead spent is latter academic days at Harvard. His work is deeply influenced by James’ concepts of psychology. Note the upper left hand corner of Wilder’s diagram labeled “OMMITTED.’ Point #2 reads: “The Selective action of Consciousness on DATA = which is EMPHASIS.” This is a central concern of James, and one which Stein develops throughout her work. Wilder’s diagram is found in the notebook he wrote at that time, labeled, “Ascania,” after the name of the ship that carried him to Europe on June 28, 1935, pages 148-149, in the Thronton Wilder Papers in the Binecke Library, at Yale. “The Merchant of Yonkers” notebook, Series II Writings, YCAL 74, folder 1985.

[xix] It is this “conceptual feeling” that James goes to great length to substantiate, and which is the source of emphasis, the “selective action of Consciousness on DATA. Point 2 of “OMITTED.” Stein begins with James’ concept of feeling, but gives it a more articulated, and non-dualist, and therefore, non-dialectical role.

[xx] These two terms, apprehension and comprehension represent two different propositional vectors as each derives from a different geometric object. While plane figures, circles, square, the 5 regular solids may be comprehended because they are closed figures, the conic sections, parabola and hyperbola can only be apprehended because they are open, infinitely extensive figures. They thus represent two quite distinct epistemological orientations. Whitehead is obviously quite aware of this, and seeks the prior epistemological moment on which both are based, thus shearing off their prefixes. The result is a privileging of time over space. As many authors have pointed out, including Peirce, Foucault, and Deleuze, the consequences of infinity and finiteness, and the models used to expound them, govern entire systems of thoughts and epochs. If Whitehead moves in the direction of prior conditions, chronotopology moves in the opposite direction, to set along side com- and ap-prehension, not to replace them, a form of post-prehension governed by the non-Euclidean imaginary.

[xxi] This is the moment to point out that the Derridean act of rejecting the law of noncontradiction, is an act of rejecting Euclideanism and scientific rationalism, at the same time. And it is this same sphere that Stein’s work had already generated laws for, which she applied in her voluminous linguistic applications.

[xxii] This remark needs a bit more context, as does the complexity of Etiology, and the best introduction to Lubell’s works is his own words. The first quote speaks of his work in general, and the second, specifically about Etiology.

I make interactive installations that focus on the intersection of science and the arts, but my work is adamantly low -tech. These installations use no computers or video or motors and are entirely powered by visitors to the show. As visitors work together to animate the mechanisms they create a theatre for themselves and each other.   By requiring participation, touch and manipulation I get the audience to engage their bodies as well as their minds. As they play, participants tap into the vast reservoir of knowledge stored in each of their own bodies and they become active partners in constructing an understanding. The way that pieces move and feel and sound as you rock them, pedal, crank, press against and listen applies the kinesthetic comprehension’s of childhood to the tasks of philosophy.


Like Marey’s apparatus this is a simulation of the human heart. Cranking the mechanism on the outside pumps air from these organs to other chambers and at the same time winds this canvas belt. The belt with an appropriate loose end, continues into another chamber where it makes a heartbeat sound….

Very important to this piece is the way it requires assistance and partnership.   You can’t see what you are making happen while you are cranking, you need to take turns with someone else cranking and looking so it takes two people to get the full experience which seems just right for a heart piece.

This piece evolved over an almost 4 year period. It began with my oversized version of a machine depicted in an 1875 engraving of one of Marey’s heart simulations which took several years to get working in a way I liked. Since that part (which is really only half a heart) was pumping air I decided to have it animate another half a heart which needed to be immersed in some fluid to control it’s expansion and it also needed a leak with controllable back pressure. The controllable leak became the gurgling mechanism. The furniture like quality of the various stands was an imitation of the style of 19th century lab equipment. But it also gives each element an essential presence.

The cranking mechanism has a flywheel to smooth its operation and it seemed natural to add a belt that could power something else. A heart beat sound was clearly needed. I modified the design of a piano key mechanism to get the right drum stroke. The membrane presented a problem. Synthetic and even natural drum skins had too hard and sharp a tone. Latex sounded fine but stretched like this would only last a couple of weeks. Urethane has similar properties to latex but I could not find thin enough sheets so I had to pour out my own. The drum sticks are activated by adjustable pins. Interestingly, real heart beat timing was too quick between the Lub and the Dub — I had to extend that interval to have my sound perceived as real.

All quotes are taken from the unpublished, “General Remarks About My Work and How I Work,” a talk given at the Bedford Gallery, Walnut Greek, California, for his show entitled, “Conceptual Contraptions”, which ran from Jan. 26 –

March 9, 2003.

[xxiii] “The kind of clarity and control I seem to gravitate towards is more like the dark interconnections of Kafka and Beckett.” Ibid.

[xxiv] The question is whether this hybrid subject disappears the moment it leaves the museum, crosses the garden at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and enters Sony Metreon to take in a screening of a film. It doesn’t matter what film. At stake is the now century plus old dilemma of passive/active reception. If the cinema is taken as a node in a larger spectacular system, then, its impacts can easily be modified and shaped endlessly by the continuous assault of the latter’s hallucinatory power. The critical subject may of course, potentially, escape its grip, in thought. But in fact, even the critical subject has pragmatically contributed, economically, intellectually, and historically, to its durability. Meanwhile, the uncritical subject is produced in the form the spectacle dictates. At this juncture of high/low, active/passive, or in the Gramci’s terms, of the bourgeois elite vs. national popular, must be aimed the strategies of radical pragmatism. Cinema, placed in the full context of this dilemma, is one instance of a distopic node ready for chronotopic redirection.

Of Chronotopology: at long last an update of a previous post

On the Geometric Imaginary

Since this introduction cannot be a full history, let it be more anecdotal and suggestive of the elements in the field I want to bring into focus, and the problems they entail.

This field includes but is not limited to the “truth and beauty school of aesthetics.” For this school, as for idealistic philosophy, mathematics is the model of truth, grounding its aesthetic approach largely on composition, specifically on geometric order, through which it attempts to achieve perfect proportionality by deploying naturalized criteria like the golden section and dynamic rectangles.[i] Perspective follows the same logic, bringing the “real” into visuality. Most of the work of the European periods from the Renaissance through Modernism actually practiced, or are considered to have practice, these same strategies. Because these artists claim to be imitating natural truth, modeled on a Pythagorean, mathematical essentialism, they practice a variety of Platonic idealism; the truth of any proposition is deduced from a set of “self-evident” definitions and axioms, and the simplest proof is the most “elegant” or beautiful, and as such is a representative of the ideal truth. The epistemological strategy of the geometric imaginary here, is to establish “visual truth” through what might be called “visual deduction” of the “true” arrangement of the artwork’s parts to the ideal, perfectly expressed whole, as derived from already accepted aesthetic-geometric truths – those of the golden mean, dynamic rectangles and perspective. This process, when articulated in this way, does indeed qualify as a form of scientific-aesthetic. This art historical narrative is now hackneyed.

What is not, is to consider this aesthetic-geometric imaginary an epistemological method in practice that governs the invention/interpretation of content, as it’s form. Art historical interpretation speaks primarily in terms of iconography, of form, of the product, of the building or fresco that results from the application. It speaks in terms of the development of the visualization of the “real.” However, it has been pointed out in recent years that perspective is a disciplinary technology comparable to the disciplinary practices revealed by Foucault.[ii] While these accounts have done much to deconstruct the naturalization of perspective as constituting the “real” of visuality, they haven’t gone so far as to claim that this aesthetic-geometrical imaginary has the status of an epistemological strategy; in other words, blinded by the historical conditions that deny thought to artists, they have not interpreted these visual practices as a methods of producing visual form that cannot be reduced to the geometrical principles of perspective formulated by Brunelleschi, Alberti et. al.[iii] Nor can they be reduced solely to the tradition of platonic idealism and its truth and beauty axiom.

Though I must leave it without demonstration here, my claim is that the dominance of philosophical, historical discourses have failed to give this variety of visual epistemology a role sufficient to its impact in the construction of cultural world views; artists represent cultural knowledges, so goes the standard narrative, but not because of knowledge “inherent” to their epistemological practice, but merely because they arise from epistemologies of other practices. Artists are always reduced to illustrators of the principles of other disciplines.

Morris Kline’s description of Leonardo is typical:

Nevertheless, Leonardo did not fully grasp the true method of science. In fact, he had no methodology, nor any underlying philosophy. His work was that of a practical investigator of nature, motivated by aesthetic drives but otherwise undirected. (1972:224)

Coeval with the rise of perspective and its aesthetic-geometric productions, was another “tradition” that to my knowledge remains unacknowledged. One artist worked according to another principle, not reducible to those of the idealist, platonic school. Piero della Francesca is a prominent member of the Renaissance canon, but incorrectly assimilated to the tradition just described. It is true that his works use idealized forms. And though the spatial configurations of his paintings conformed to the laws of perspective, and he wrote one of the most widely used books on the subject for artists, his visualization practices also interfered with it. Flat vertical planes of walls interrupt the depiction of perspectivally ordered spatial volumes. He was not interested in the visualization of coherent wholes that subjected visual logic to a singular visualized perspective of “truth.” His works offered representations of disjunctive spaces and times out of sync with the perfectly constructed wholes of perspective. While not denied in his work, perspective is but one among other options in his aesthetic-geometric imaginary. Hence, his spatial investigations are far more complex than the geometrical reductivism in other work of this period.

This begins to make sense once we know the following fact. Della Francesca was the only Italian of his day to invent a new mathematical concept. He invented a form of mathematics, in anticipation of what would eventually become, with Liebniz and Newton, the integral calculus. It was both a descriptive and constructive method determining the gradient of the curvature of a body. He used it to construct the gradient of curvature of the human head.[iv] The implication here is that his interest in the curvature of bodies, the very particular curvature of very particular bodies, pointed toward a geometric practice not reducible to planar, Euclidean geometric methods of construction of curves based on the circle, and on the assemblages of circular arcs to produced more complex curves. His system was at once constructive, and numerical. To the degree that it was numerical, it moved away from the assumed standards of the geometric imaginary of his day, based as they were on the ideal of ‘self-evidently’ intuited spatial perspectives. Arithmetic techniques retreat from the privileged arena of sight, and from the hegemony of geometry, tending toward the formalisms of algebraic unrepresentability. Francesca’s epistemological practices must be considered in contrast to the strict linear logic of perspective, generated by the grided determinations of vanishing points. He imagined a more complex spatial world then other artists of his time. One that begins to question the very possibility of representation. Hence, his planar interruptions of deep perspectival space is in league with his pursuit of the curve and its methods of constructing them. It is thus to him, that I want to ascribe the historical emergence of an epistemological process uniquely formative of aesthetic knowledge, in its geometric form.

After della Francesca, we skip more than 250 years to the work of the Jesuit priest and mathematics professor at Pavia, Gerolamo Saccheri, whose works fall in with attempts to prove the truth of Euclid’s fifth postulate, the parallel postulate, through the long accepted technique of the reductio ad absurdum (the method of demonstrating the correctness of a proposition by reducing its assumed opposite to contradiction). In his attempt to prove the fifth postulate, Saccheri produced a series of theorems following from a line of thought that did not lead to contradiction. The results, however, were too bizarre for him to accept, and he simply pronounced them false. This account also follows a well-worn historical narrative. Saccheri’s work led to several moments in the history of mathematics that need recapitulation here. These moments illustrate the process by which a radical geometrical imaginary emerged, and was then again repressed. The fact of this repression is interesting by itself, but the reasons are far more compelling.

In 1763, the German mathematician Georg Klugel

made the remarkable observation that the certainty with which men accepted the truth of the Euclidean parallel axiom was based on experience. This observation introduced for the first time the thought that experience rather than self-evidence substantiated the axioms. (Kline 1972: 868)

Klugel’s work was taken up in 1766 (not published until 1786) by Johann Lambert, who realized:

that any body of hypotheses which did not lead to contradictions offered a possible geometry. Such a geometry would be a valid logical structure even though it might have little to do with real figures. (Kline 1972: 868)

We witness here a double epistemological extension of mathematics; extension to “experience” as the ground of “certainty,” and the extension of what was considered properly “logical” beyond “real” figures. But as Kline points out, Lambert’s recognition, while remarkable, doesn’t make the leap from logical consistency as mathematical statements, to applications to physical space. This was achieved by Carl Gauss beginning in 1799 when he reports in a letter to Bolyai that he has begun “to doubt the truth of geometry itself.” But it was not until 1813 that he used the term non-Euclidean geometry. In 1817, in a letter to Olbers, he writes:

I am becoming more and more convinced that the [physical] necessity for our [Euclidean] geometry cannot be proved, at least not by human reason nor for human reason. Perhaps in another life we will be able to obtain insight into the nature of space, which is now unattainable. Until then we must place geometry not in the same class with arithmetic, which is purely a priori, but with mechanics. (Kline 1972: 872)

These three historical moments, when combined, lead to, for this moment in history (the early 19th century), a radical philosophical position; one for which the very premise of logical truth, self-evidence (mathematical reason) is insufficient; for which “experience” is the ground of axioms; for which a multiplicity of geometries based on noncontradictory sets of axioms exists; and for which geometry, no longer founded solely on a priori principles, must be treated physically as a subset of mechanics. The implication is that non-Euclidean geometries are equally applicable to physical space as to abstract, logical space; that Euclidean space is not the only form of geometry that may account for physical space. The transfer to mechanics, and proof of Gauss’s claim, required almost another century.

[note: Gauss is to geometry as Kepler was to astronomy]

In his essay, “General Investigations of Curved Surfaces,” Gauss considered a surface as a space in itself. This is a radical departure from any previous mathematical conceptions of space, still under the Newtonian dominance of absoluteness, homogeneity, coextensivity. Gauss showed that all of the properties of a surface space can be determined by the second derivative, the process by which the rate of curvature is determined. In other words, for mathematical purposes, one can forget that the surface lies in a 3D space. If one takes the “straight lines” of this surface as geodesics, (the shortest line between two points on a surface, not necessarily “straight,” as is the case of the spherical geometry), then the geometry becomes non-Euclidean. If the sphere is considered to be located in 3D space, then its geometry is Euclidean (i.e., the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line not lying on the surface). This is as far as Gauss went. An even more radical step was taken by his student, Bernard Riemann, in a lecture delivered in 1854 entitled: “On the Hypotheses which Lie at the Bases of Geometry.” Riemann clearly realized that spherical geometry implies a geometry unique to the characteristic of its surface conditions. What is of significance to us here is the shift from an absolute hegemony of Euclidean space to a fracturing of space into myriad varieties.

With this concept, we arrive at a mathematical correlate to concept of multiplicity as understood by Nietzsche and Deleuze. We must also recognize that this movement came about through a metonymic process equivalent to Derrida’s concept of differance. The concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic geometries arises in a way analogous to the use of “inside” and “outside” in deconstruction. The intrinsic geometry is the surface geometry of the sphere independent of it’s location in 3D space. Extrinsic geometry would be the 3D space in which spherical geometry exists. But there is no logical necessity which compels us to “zoom out” to a privileged Euclidean container. Euclidean space is one species of space among many. [And it’s not clear that its experiential, corporeal space because this may be a culturally entrained belief] Indeed, in “physical” terms, Euclidean space becomes a special case of non-Euclidean spaces. One main result is: the same surface can have different geometries. A second implication is the reverse of this: the Pythagorean formula is only one functional expression of the second derivative; in other words, da2 + db2 + dc2 could be replaced by other functional expressions, thereby determining within the conventional frame of Cartesian rectangular coordinates, a non-Euclidean geometry. This is what Riemann did. We may see this as a significant, break with mathematical essentialism, one which undermines the Platonic, idealist philosophical schools that predicate “truth” on the model of mathematical certainty. Again, the significance is that the concept of “whole,” or “unity,” is simply eliminated. There is no whole, only parts, which are at most unities only in signification, or under the semiotic dominance of interpretive trajectories. This is a clear alliance with Nietzsche’s “perspectivism.” What has yet to be determined, however, is the impact on aesthetics.

In the service of being brief, I will summarize three further points to illustrate the historical reasons that non-Euclidean concepts have had so little impact. Interestingly, at least according to Kline, the reason lies with mathematicians themselves on the one hand, and on the other with physicists, who are responsible for the erroneous popularization of the legendary difficulty of relativity theory (the cliché, “only three people in the world understood the theory at its inception”).

Kline points out that Helmholtz, in his fundamental paper, “On the Facts Which Underlie Geometry,”

showed that if the motions of rigid bodies are to be possible in a space then Riemann’s expression for ds (the derivative) in a space of constant curvature is the only one possible. (1972: 921)

Helmholtz’s point was that for a mathematical description of observed physical motions of the types of bodies physics specified, then the concept of constant curvature was a necessary condition; and that it was exactly this that Riemannian geometry provided. Hence, of the myriad possible geometries, only this was adequate for physical description of observed phenomena. What happens next is characteristic of the power and hold of the Euclidean imaginary. It is re-naturalized by very influential mathematicians and scientific institutions. Despite Helmholtz’s paper, as Kline points out:

Another reason for the loss of interest in the non-Euclidean geometries was their seeming lack of relevance to the physical world….. Cayley, Klein, and Poincare, though they considered this matter, affirmed that we would not ever need to improve on or abandon Euclidean geometry…. In fact, most mathematicians regarded non-Euclidean geometry as a logical curiosity. (1972: 921)

[If Newton had not synthesized Kepler’s unproven speculations about planetary motion, with Galileo’s terrestrial kinetics, thus unifying the mathematical physics of both earth and heaven, then perhaps Kepler’s mathematics may have remained a curiosity.]

Cayley was the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1883, at about the same time Nietzsche was writing Thus Spake Zarathrustra, claimed in an address to the BAAS:

… that non-Euclidean spaces were a priori a mistaken idea, but non-Euclidean geometries were acceptable because they resulted merely from a change in the distance function in Euclidean space. (1972: 922)

Cayley thereby threw the weight of the prestigious BAAS behind the suppression of the more radical thought, thus re-founding “common sense” on the basis of traditional Euclidean notions. What is compelling here, and can only be briefly indicated, is the role played by institutions, prestigious reputations, models of the physical world, and an ideological commitment to methodological blindness. It is here that a discussion of Kuhn’s turn toward the role of aesthetics in scientific motivations will be useful, independently of whether his position on paradigm shifts is adequate or not. What it is important to note here is that the availability of a non-Euclidean imaginary arose briefly in the mid 19th century, only to be lost because of its demotion to the status of a “logical curiosity,” a position essentially equivalent to Saccheri’s during the Renaissance.

That non-Euclidean geometry, and in particular, its Riemannian version, was retrieved and given renewed credibility by the work of Einstein is well known. However, the language with which he conceptualized this shift deserves to be revisited.

The only justification for our concepts and system of concepts is that they serve to represent the complex of our experiences; beyond this they have no legitimacy. I am convinced that the philosophers have had a harmful effect upon the progress of scientific thinking in removing certain fundamental concepts from the domain of empiricism, where they are under our control, to the intangible heights of the a priori. (1955: 2) [emphasis mine]


In this sense, we cannot speak of space in the abstract, but only of the “space belonging to a body A.” The earth’s crust plays such a dominant role in our daily life in judging the relative positions of bodies that it has led to an abstract conception of space which certainly cannot be defended. In order to free ourselves from this fatal error we shall speak only of “bodies of reference,” or “space of reference.” (1955: 3)

Not only does Einstein retrieve the Gauss-Riemann-Hemholtz non-Euclidiean break with mathematical abstraction, and its embodiment in physics, but his acknowledgement of this historical recovery is significant. It signals an end, scientifically, not only to the dominance of Newtonian conceptions of absolute space and time, but also, in general, to the idealism of the truth and beauty schools of science, mathematics, philosophy and because based on these, to aesthetics as it has been held hostage by philosophy. Einstein’s clear allusion to the damage Kant and his followers have done to science, (though as Kline has pointed out, mathematicians and physicisits share equal blame), while creating an entirely new conception and language for spacetime, has had little impact on the reception of Kant’s aesthetic theories. This is in part because of the legendary, if erroneous, conception that relativity theory is just too difficult for anyone but geniuses to understand. This in turn, as astrophysicist, Chandresekhar points out, has had and equally pernicious effect on scientific thinking. Yet, Einstein’s condemnation of philosophy is consistent with, and “foundational” to, Adorno’s call for the right proportion between practical experience and philosophic contemplation.

Any conception of aesthetic knowledge must thus be consistent with the challenge to Kant’s essentializing of Euclidean space and time. The question I wish to pose is how to develop aesthetic knowledge on the basis of non-Euclidian, experientially and physically determined, geometric grounds? If the requirements of relativity, of speaking only of bodies and spaces of reference, in spacetime frames, is imposed on aesthetic interpretation and aesthetic production, what would be the results?

[note: of course the term, experience, is a wash or sorts, as indefinable. but it is a place holder for something non-ideal, non-conceptual, non-abstract. or, ‘experience’ needs further definition though expanding it beyond the corporeal, beyond ‘sensation’, and therefore, beyond, ‘aesthetics’. bakhtin/whitehead/bachelard/stein, therefore…]

It’s worth pointing out that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason was written in the years 1769-80 and published in 1781 at the same moment as the works of Klugel and Lambert, also published in Germany. The Critique of Judgment was published in Berlin in 1790, after Gauss had come to entertain the fact that non-Euclidean geometries could account for physical space as well as Euclidean spaces. Because Kant’s original training was as a physicist, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he would have been aware of these developments. And yet, he doesn’t take them into consideration, and sets the course for aesthetics through a geometric imaginary that naturalized Euclidean space and time, the two most fundamental concepts of his project of Critique. Thus, we are faced with the chiasmic historical trajectories of a mathematics and physics turning to a non-Euclidean geometric imaginary, briefly, on the one hand, and on the other, with an aesthetics mired in a Cartesian/Newtonian geometric imaginary able to maintain its cultural hegemony firstly, because of the mathematical coup that derailed the non-Euclidean from emerging; and secondly, because the non-Euclidean then became hostage to a relativistic physics accessible only to a tiny elite. [there were no popular books written for women about einstein as there were about newton…] A turn to a non-Euclidean “imaginary” is therefore a turn to something which either does not yet exist, or exists but is not recognized as such, or cannot exist.

Counter-intuitively, the aesthetic component of the aesthetic knowledge must therefore derive from mathematics and physics rather than from art. And the knowledge component must derive from art, because some artists are indeed investigating the non-Euclidean that some domains of math and science still eschew, or perform investigations that might at least lead to what a non-Euclidean-aesthetic might be. This requires a radical break not only from Kant, but from a naturalized privileging of sensory perception as Euclidean. The project is to begin a process by which an “aesthetics” based on a non-Euclidean geometry may begin to be “imagined.” Such an imagined aesthetic knowledge will be quite different than the truth and beauty school of traditional, Kantian aesthetics. It may best arise, I claim, in the gaps opened by the space of differance opened by Mallarme; but entered by Roussel, Artaud and Kafka in a “literary” appropriation based not on narrative, but on a challenge to master narratives, to signification, and to language itself. Roussel used a mechanico-chance method to produce his “novels,” an extra-linguistic process through which language is produced. Similarly, Artuad sought in his Theater of Cruelty, not “psychological states” of identification between audience and actors, but “spiritual states” expressed “between gesture and language,” based on bodies moving in relations that suggest meanings that language prohibits. Kafka sought a writing which mobilized the non-Germanic components of German through mobilizing the non-written elements of Yiddish and the dialectical components of the Chech German dialect, mobilizing systems of extra-semiotic exchange. It is in this work, that a literary representation may diverge into a non-literary art practice situated and oriented with reference to what Derrida, speaking of Artaud, calls the closure of representation.[v] This is a complex term with several meanings; here I will only hint that it refers to the mathematically phrased problem of subtracting unity from multiplicity; to the necessity of limiting theory to a metonymic range. In Einstein’s language, we may speak “only of the space belonging to a body A.” We can only recover the non-Euclidean potential repressed by Kant’s work, however, within a critique of science that begins with the deconstructive project. Still, we must be careful not to privilege the non-Euclidean over the Euclidean. We must recover the non-Euclidean moment of the late 19th century, and use it to re-erase the hegemony of the Euclidean imaginary today.

Methodologically, by stepping “outside” science and into art, we may criticize science; and, by stepping “outside” of art and into mathematics, we may criticize art. Art, in its dominant expression, continues to aid the Euclidean imaginary; one need only look at Modernism’s commitment to pure, positivistic conceptualism in any of its many guises, based in a rigorous reduction to Euclidean elements. The flat plane, more than anything, is the symbol of standardization, the absolute, the rational, embodied in its most ideal form by the grid. (Cubism was one of the few exceptions to the Euclidian rule. This will seem untrue to some, but, my claim can be supported.) What could be more Cartesian? And this commitment has not lessened during the post-modern period, though formalism is not the driving force. It is because art and science are so unconsciously intertwined, that I pursue the pendulous trajectories between both discourses.

[i] There is a large body of work that goes by the general term, sacred geometry, that addresses these issues. Much of it speculative, popular, and often of a new age sensibility, though some of it is scholarly work as well. See Bruno (1967), Dunlap (1997), Ghyka (1946, 1952, 1958) Hambidge (1920, 1924, 1962), Hartel (1988), Huntley (1970), Lesser (1957), Pennick (1980), Vajda (1989).

[ii] Crary (1990), Foster, (1988).

[iii] Baxandall (1988), Panofsky (1990).

[iv] See, Baxandall (1988). Today, his mathematical techniques are still used by the airline industry in the design of airplane bodies.

[v] “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation,” in Derrida (1978: 232).

On the Geometric Imaginary

Aesthetic Knowledge and its Geometric Imaginary: an introduction

After the decline of the idealistic systems there is no point in artificially trying to resuscitate aesthetics as a branch of philosophy. A valid, if difficult, approach for a future aesthetics would be to find the right combination of production-oriented experience and philosophical reflection. Such an aesthetics would transcend the level of a phenomenology of art works, linking it to the medium of conceptualization. Theodore Adorno[i]

Part I: Aesthetic Knowledge: the first break with Kant

  1. Aesthetic Knowledge as Judgement

If improperly understood, the term, aesthetic knowledge, could be assimilated to the Kantian tradition of aesthetics. Kant’s approach was to provide the logical, and therefore scientific, evidence that aesthetics is far more than an act of description, or set of principles that determine the nature of art, beauty, taste, etc. With Kant, aesthetics is a integral to the faculty of the mind responsible for making judgements in general, and as such is constitutive of human experience, of ALL experience, and therefore of all domains of knowledge. For Kant, judgement is an aesthetic faculty grounded in the contest between the noumenal “the-thing-in-itself” and phenomenal substrate of reason and understanding. Judgement, again ALL judgement, is aesthetic, constitutively. Aesthetic knowledge, therefore, could be understood as an attempt to foreground this Kantian drive-toward-proof and facticity, the drive to make of aesthetics a scientific discipline. I in no way intend this reading, and it will be encumbant upon the following to make this distance justifiable. Further, it is an attempt to achieve the right combination Adorno refers to in the above epigram.

  1. a note on asymmetrical syntax

Aesthetic Knowledge in literary practice, or, literary aesthetic knowledge vs the aesthetic knowledge of art practice, or artistic aesthetic knowledge

This pair of subject headings demonstrates a paradigmatic terminological problem that derives from an aporia of grammatical parallelism, which syntax dictates. I will not be considering the aesthetic knowledge of literary practice, (though this could be done), but will address literary aesthetic knowledge. On the other hand, it is the “scientific-aesthetic of art practice” that I’m interested in and wish to avoid the ambiguity of the term “artistic,” with its conotations of being “creative,” “artsy,” “talented,” etc. It is a term that tends toward the colloquial to such a degree that it endangers the more serious epistemological project I pursue here. Hence, the subject heading would read with the following unavoidable lack of parallelism:

Literary aesthetic knowledge vs the aesthetic knowledge of art practice. The reason and signficance of this syntactical problem will be made clear in the following discussion.

  1. a note on the problem of the term “aesthetics”

The lack of parallelism just described is not a trivial problem. It is indicative of a range of similar category problems this book seeks to illuminate, and hopefully, eliminate. As will become obvious below, I will give an account of the use of literature in poststructuralism. I am interested in the “literary,” as opposed to works of literature and their authors per se, as it functions theoretically in the works I will address. This is significant because there has been a long tradition of privileging literature as the model and source for philosophical accounts of the “aesthetic.” If one asks the question, “Is an “aesthetics” derived from literary models adequate to account for non-languaged based forms of art practice?”, a negative answer would find easy support. Astonishingly, this is never done, and accounts shift seamlessly from poems to sonatas to, mostly, paintings, without situating their terms relative to the material dimensions of the art form in question. Some of the worst abuses are to be found in the writing about art by critics, cultural theorists, historians, etc.[ii] My point is that the term “aesthetic” is so naturalized that it is rarely questioned. For example, to my knowledge the following question has never been addressed: is a linguistic model adequate to comprehending an “art work” that takes the form of “language?” I sugggest that the answer is not obvious. In general, we will have to confront the fact that the linguistic turn has done great damage to art with its linguistic reductivism. “Compared with music all communication by words is shameless; words dilute and brutalize, words depersonalize, words make the uncommon common.” (Nietzsche, 428) Keeping in mine Nietzsche’s almost constant irony, this statement is not meant “literally.” If the referent of music is Wagner, then this statement should be taken positively, in that aesthetics should tend toward the cruel, toward de-anthropomorphizing, to revaluing such that what is in a given moment uncommon is brought toward the common. However, if taken in the context of Nietzsche’s criticism of Hugo, it would be read negatively. My point here is that in the context of the linguistic turn, and of the continual hegemony of the literary, music may indeed offer a model for aesthetics more appropriate for some forms of art, even those that might employ linguistic elements. So while locating the following discussion in poststructuralism, we must be continually on guard against linguistic hegemony, even while borrowing from it.

Further, aesthetic theories are largely complicit with the biases deeply embeded in historical, museological, and market practices, rather than calling them into question. Historians, curators, and critics write about artists always pre-approved by some prior mechanism, whether it be art history and studio courses in graduate schools, or Gogosian or Boone stables, or the mainstream market journals like Art in America and Artforum, or the ligitimizing of museum collections. Most journalistic writing is equally complicit in the marketplace and should be considered more a form of PR (or anti-PR) than criticism. Curatorial practices can be seen in the same light. My point is not that one can escape such mechanisms, but that the writing on “aesthetics” in particular often doesn’t address the social/cultural/economic practices that systemically generate the material base of works and practices that an aesthetics is meant to understand. Aesthetic discourse, therefore, tends to be reactionary, rather than investigative and constituting. This is largely due to the persistence of the philosophical tradition based on the Kantian directive of generalization first, application, never. I agree with Adorno that the idealist philosophical tradition of aesthetics from Baumgarten to Kant to Hegel, etc., fails miserably the simple test of application to real works of art and art practice; such an approach should be abandoned. Yet the tenacity of its persistence is remarkable; to overturn it requires a change in the model of knowledge perhaps as dramatic as Kepler’s contributions to overturning Aristotelian physics. While this may appear a hyperbolic and strangely anachronistic claim, I will show that it’s not. How is it that art, its practices and practitioners, have such an embattled and marginalized status in terms of knowledge production? And yet, how can art and artists, be a predominant target/scapegoat in the rise of ultra-conservatism today? Situated between capitalist knowledge production and its formalist/idealist hermeneutics; relegated to a marginal epistemological status; taken as politically threatening and literally excised from the public imaginary; just what does this peculiar contradiction signify? This is a very strange state of affairs.

We still have much to learn from Kepler’s aesthetic-scientific motivations.[iii] It is not only science fiction and the music of the spheres that can be traced to him. That perfect circularity is an impoverished aesthetic criteria by which to judge celestial “appearances” was a crucial lesson. We must get “ugly,” not beautiful, to save them; it is the elliptical that brings “truth” forward.

We must, I think, concur with Adorno that

Philosophy, indeed theoretical thought in general, suffers from an idealistic prejudgment because it deals only with concepts, never directly with what these concepts refer to. One of the labours of the Sisyphus of philosophy, therefore, has to be to reflect upon and perhaps undo the damage it does by being conceptual. Philosophy cannot paste an ontic substratum into its treatises. (1970: 365)

While Adorno is one of art’s great allies, he falls into a trap structured by language itself, that contributes to the further detriment of the artist. Note that Adorno’s call for a corrective to ‘theoretical thought in general’ is identical to his suggestion of how to resuscitate aesthetics in the epigram that began this introduction. General, nonidealistic questions of philosphical relevance, in other words, would seem to be coextensive with aesthetic questions of relevance. Adorno’s claim: “Aesthetic questions always boil down to this: is the objective spirit in a specific art work true?”, is syntactically interchangeable with: Philosophical questions always boil down to this: is the objective spirit in a specific social/natural referent true?

And yet, the conceptual parallelism instantly decays. Leaving aside the obvious problems with the term, objective, we may still ask: Is an art work specific and objective in the same way that theoretical thought in general is specific and objective? The equivocation here obviously lies in the false substitution of an “objectified” art work for the “objectifiction” of theoretical thought. What I wish to point out here is the consequence of a deep and long standing conceptual bias, an unconscious one, in philosophical thought and its practitioners, in making the category mistake of substituting the art work for theoretical thought and obviating the dictates of syntactical parallelism that would lead to a very different conclusion.

Here lies the problem:

“theoretical thought” is categorically accepted as something theorists have; while “aesthetic thought” is also something theorists have. Artists apparently, in philosophic terms, have objects but not thought. While it is generally accepted that scientists have scientific thought, and philosophers have philosophic thought, and in general, theoreticians have theoretical thought, artists do not seem to have an equivalent species of “aesthetic” thought constitutive of their epistemological production.

It is this unfortunate machinery of linguistic parallelism, and the conceptual negation it inevitably generates, that the term aesthetic knowledge seeks to displace. With it, relative to the practice of specific artists and their work, I will consider artists thinking, and will consider the meaning of, “aesthetic thought.” I will, however, avoid any claim to an essential type of thought unique to artists. This is the deep terminological/theoretical problem this book faces. Since “aesthetics” is so thoroughly assimilated by discourses outside of art practice, it has a frought and largely negative value here; at least until it’s put on practical foundation. And to further exascerbate things, artists are, of course, complicit in the use of the term “aesthetics” and its detrimental effects against them. I, therefore, will assume that artists do think, and that that thought has parity with “theoretical thought.” But this “thought” must not be considered “aesthetic.” As Nietzsche said: “At bottom, it has been an aesthetic taste that has hindered mankind the most…” (WP, p. 262) The question is: Can the term “aesthetic” be reclaimed? Or must it be abandoned? Can it be abandoned? Can it usefully be particularized? These are questions that obviously necessitate a deconstructive response.

I have cited Adorno here to illuminate this syntactical problem of parallelism, but also because he recognized the importance of using nominalism[iv] to challenge “aesthetics” and because he recognized the deep alliance of aesthetics with nominalism’s importance to theoretical thought generally. Without universals to appeal to, only particulars may form the basis of an “aesthetics.” But this criterion gets far more stringent when the converse is considered; particulars are not understood as species of higher, universal categories. Nominalism therefore requires a suspension, or severe limiting, of generalization in general. This was one of Nietzsche’s insights: “… between two thoughts all kinds of affects play their game; but their motions are too fast, therefore we fail to recognize them, we deny them…”[v] Characteristically, he says this is another form, “All unity is unity only as organization and co-operation – just as a human community is a unity… as a pattern of domination that signifies a unity but is not a unity.”[vi] Deleuze and Guatrari use the mathematical express, n – 1, to express this: literally subtacting the concept of unity from a multiplicity.[vii] We might take this as a definition of deconstructive method; and it mandates that the term “aesthetic” be displaced from signifying a unitary discourse.

It is by establishing the limits of theory that we may limit theory’s damage. How does one “operate” in an epistemological arena without universals? Strategically. Tactically. Through exemplars. Through “situating,” which is a tactical move, and further, by “orienting”, which is a strategic move. “Orienting knowledge” means adding vectorial force-with-direction to epistemological analysis and production. Both are necessary. By finding the right proportion between them we might arrive at the right proportion between “production-oriented experience and philosophical reflection.” This is the task nominalism demands. I will show aesthetic knowledge to be a variety of this type of “objectivity.” It may be that art practice may offer important lessons, similar in import to those of Kepler, to epistemology and ethics in terms of its relation to the “ontic substratum.” The ellipsis created by the problem of syntactical parallelism may turn out to be inhabited by the yet to be recognized ‘thoughts that artists have.’ In fact, since the historical constitution of theoretical thought as idealist is predicated on the negation, specifically, of the thought of artists, I will cautiously venture the claim that the thought of artists has been negated as systemically as the concept of “woman.” The “feminization” of the artist is the means by which “aesthetic” thought is oriented through situations of gender. It is not accidental that 75% of art students are women. (Nor that 90% of “successful” artists are men.)[viii] Aesthetic knowledge and its challenge intends, therefore, to add a corrective to Adorno’s corrective. Indeed, if two negatives give a positive, then hopefully, two positives will yield a negative and cancel the prejudice that structurally excludes the epistemological relevance of art.

In summary: The entire structure of language, predicated on the syntacal parallelism problem, has led to the systematic exclusion of the epistemological relevance of the thought that artists have. This is a fundamental characteristic of the patrimony of phallogocentrism. The thought that artists have, has been negated as systemically as the category of woman. One may not be born a woman. But with the invention of woman, artists may be born. Therefore, all “unsuccessful” artists are, categorically, women.

The aesthetic component of the s aesthetic knowledge I will put forward must therefore derive from mathematics and physics rather than from art. And the epistemological component must derive from art, because some artists are indeed investigating the non-Euclidean that some domains of math and science still eschew, or perform investigations that might at least lead to what a non-Euclidean-aesthetic might be. This requires a radical break not only from Kant, but from a naturalized privileging of sensory perception as Euclidean. The project is to begin a process by which an “aesthetics” based on a non-Euclidean geometry may begin to be “imagined.” Such an imagined aesthetic knowledge will be quite different than the truth and beauty school of traditional, Kantian aesthetics. It may best arise, I claim, in the gaps opened by the space of differance opened by Mallarme; but entered by Rousell, Artaud and Kafka in a “literary” appropriation based not on narrative, but on a challenge to master narratives, to signification, and to language itself. Rousell used a mechanico-chance method to produce his “novels,” an extra-linguistic process through which language is produced. Similarly, Artuad sought in his Theater of Cruelty, not “psychological states” of identification between audience and actors, but “spiritual states” expressed “between gesture and language,” based on bodies moving in relations that suggest meanings language prohibits. Kafka sought a writing which mobilized the non-Germanic components of German through moblizing the non-written elements of Yiddish and the dialectical components of the Chech German dialect, mobilizing systems of extra-semiotic exchange. It is in this work, that a literary representation may diverge into a non-literary art practice situated and oriented with reference to what Derrida, speaking of Artaud, calls the closure of representation.[ix] This is a complex term with several meanings; here I will only say that it refers to the problem of subtracting unity from multiplicity; to the necessity of limiting theory to a metonymic range. In Einstein’s language, we may speak “only of the space belonging to a body A.” We can only recover the non-Euclidean potential repressed by Kant’s work, however, within a critique of science that begins the deconstructive project. Still, we must be careful not to privilege the non-Euclidean over the Euclidean. We must recover the non-Euclidean moment of the late 19th century, and use it to re-erase the hegemony of the Euclidean imaginary today.

Methodologically, by stepping “outside” science and into art, we may criticize science; and, by stepping “outside” of art and into mathematics, we may criticize art. Art, in its dominant expression, continues to aid the Euclidean imaginary; one need only look at Modernism’s commitment to pure, positivistic expressionism based in a rigorous reduction to Euclidean elements. The flat plane, more than anything, is the symbol of standardization, the absolute, the rational, embodied in its most ideal form by the grid. What could be more cartesian? And this commitment has not lessened during the post-modern period, though formalism is not the driving force. It is because art and science are so unconsiously intertwined, that I pursue the pendulous trajectories between both discourses.

Part III The Art Practice Context

The concept of aesthetic knowledge is not meant to replace the concept of aesthetics in general. My concerns were originally motivated by “aesthetic” questions raised by a specific group of artists: artists who not only use scientific and technological concepts and methods, but whose work is intentionally about epistemological and interpretive problems that lie intersectionally between art and science. This particular group of artists is very sophisticated in their technical, historical and philosophical understanding of science and technology. In some cases these artists are less knowledgeable about their own field. This calls into question the general significance of art historical and art critical discourses to the production of art itself, and the role of other discourses within art and art history. As a result, until recently and with a few exceptions, these artists have been overlooked; or, when discussed,[x] have been assimilated to preexisting art historical, critical discourses that result at best, I claim, in a mis-understanding of these artists and their work. This situation has made it necessary for me to step vertiginously far outside the methods and strategies of traditional art history. This book is, therefore, not a work of art history. Yet it falls in a non-arbitrary and very specific nomansland: one designated by the specific group of artists and their practices on the one hand, and by scientists and mathematicians who have taken up the discourse of aesthetic thought within the production of science. It is the “shape” of this elsewhere that I wish to reveal. Hence, this project lies among of the discourses of science studies, cultural studies, visual studies, and poststructuralism. It is partly a work of history, but more, a work of poststructuralist theory (not to say philosophy). It is a result of what Barthes described as interdisciplinary, not because of some theory-motivated desire to merge disciplines, but because there are practices in the world, “real-world” problems, that demand such an interdisciplinary approach.

Hence, the problem is a double one: art historical/critical discourse has not evolved to accommodate works emerging in the intersections of art, science and technology in epistemological terms; and artists working in this place have meager historical/philosophical discourse resourses specific to their concerns to appeal to for support, critical interpretation, or sustenance. As a result, in increasing numbers, artists themselves are now theorizing their own production at a scholarly level (in some cases after having returned to school to obtain Ph.D’s).[xi] This fact introduces another fascinating wrinkle into the problem of art history and its accompanying discourses. This is not the first time that the artist-theorist has appeared, but this is the first time that they are situating themselves professionally and institutionally on an equal footing with other academics.

It is to this end that I am developing a new language in order to adequately historicize and comprehend the artists I am interested in. Thus, the twin readings of history and philosophy of science and technology on the one hand, and the history and philosophy of art, on the other. Aesthetic knowledge does not intend to be another universalizing category, but one tailored specifically to the conceptual and material interests of the specific group of artists I study. I will use the scientific-aesthetic in order to counter the marginalization, and retrieve from invisibility, the epistemological work that these artists perform. But in so doing, I hope that this might be an example of specifying aesthetic discourse relative to practice, rather than relying on the empty, universalizing category of “aesthetics” in general.

The term, aesthetic knowledge, is generaly descriptive of a type of work; more importantly, as has been stated, it points toward the type of “thought that a specific group of artists have.” In order to orient aesthetic knowledge in a more situated, epistemological direction, I propose that it be founded on another term that I will call “aesthetic empiricism,” a term responsive to the work of Neitzsche and to the history and philosophy of science of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The mid-nineteenth century created the now notorious concept of logical positivism which assumed the role of puritanical judge of scientific validity; it placed a troubled and short-lived concept of “positive” knowledge in the High Inquisitor’s seat. It accepted as ‘scientific’ only that knowledge that could be verified by ‘directly observable phenomena.’ As the well known story goes, the philosophical agenda of logical positivism came under immediate attack, and eventually gave way to less absolute variants. One of these was called ‘logical empiricism’ by Einstein; he meant to give scientific thought not “directly” observed as perceptual data, thought that was more indirect and abstract than ‘sensory thought,’ though physical nonetheless, the place and status of scientific ‘truth’ in its own terms. Analogously, the term, ‘aesthetic empiricism’ is itself a hybrid designation that substitutes the term aesthetic for the term logical, to suggest a type of cognition which “interpenetrates” with that of science. To retain empiricism as the root noun is to insist on the material conditions, which inevitably ground any aesthetic or logical thought. This is not to say that all thought must conform to either the paradigms of art or science. But it does insist on their reciprocally contaminating, cognitive aspects and their contingent epistemologies.

Aesthetic empiricism might then be thought of as the organic logic of a more generalized entity that I call the scientific-aesthetic. Language, in its written form at least, tends toward antinomies even before meaning can be made. I wish the hyphen to forestall this binarism, and to suggest a third epistemelogical process, something that can’t be contained by either category alone. It calls into existence a specific type of cultural object that expands both the concepts of science and of art, though, without eliminating either. I suggest we call this third thing, borrowing from geology, a suspect terrane; a terrane is a large rock unit or land mass or proto-contignent. Continents are formed by acreting terrains. Similarly, elements of this third thing have always been present, but a new discourse formation is acreting in ways more intensely folded than has been historically possible until now. This is not the place to say why. But it must be said of this emergent terrane that it requires, not the crossing of borders, but the gathering together of things that have been unnecessarily isolated and obscured by being too narrowly delimited by them. Thus the chapter descriptions that follow may be considered as examples of these accreted, suspect terranes.

[i] Theodor Adorno. (1970a: 459-60) This translation is distinctly different in style from the newer translation of Aesthetic Theory by Robert Hullot-Kentor, Univeristy of Minasota Press. 1997. While the latter is more consistent with Adorno’s technical philosophical terminology, the subtance is the same. Hullot-Kentor’s translation follows for comparison:

After the demise of idealistic systems, the difficulty of an aesthetics that would be more than a desperately reanimated branch of philosophy is that of bringing the artist’s closeness to the phenomena into conjunction with a conceptual capacity free of any subordinating concept, free of all decreed judgements; committed to the medium of concepts, such an aesthetics would go beyond a mere phenomenology of artworks. (1970b: 334)

The point I wish to emphasize in what follows is the “right combination of production-oriented experience and philosophical reflection,” in Lenhardt’s translation; or, “bringing the artist’s closeness to the phenomena into conjunction with a conceptual capacity free of any subordinating concept” in Hullot-Kentors. The language of my essay uses the earlier tranlsation.

[ii] Herbert Marcuse’s seminal work, The Aesthetic Dimension, cites literary texts almost exclusively. He nods definitively if cursorily in the direction of anti-art, referring only to Andy Warhol by name. He uses the terms expressionism, collage, montage, dislocation, and refers to Tristan, subsuming all art forms to a generalized “aesthetics,” all the while privileging literature as its model. We find a similar totalizing tendency in David Harvey’s comment “something called ‘postmodernism’ emerged from its chrysalis of the anti-modern to establish itself as a cultural aesthetic in its own right.” (1990: 3) This “cultural aesthetic” seems to have a status similar to a weltungshung. He goes on to describe everything from the novel, to architecture, to photography, to cinema as participating in it. His view is consistent with Jameson’s “cultural logic.” (Jameson. 1991) Terry Eagleton’s, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, beyond using a painting by Caspar David Freidrich, and a quote or two from Shakespeare, makes no reference to artists or works at all, showing that his version of a marxist tradition has not escaped the idealist theorizing it critiques. It’s not surprising that “aesthetics” remains “ideology” when an analysis of it eliminates its practice. A few more reference points are necessary in order to indicate the complexity of this deep naturalization of “aesthetics.” Even the landmark work, The Anti-Aesthetic, (Foster, 1983) did no better. The deliberately agonistic term, Foster claims there, “signals that the very notion of the aesthetic, its network of ideas, is in question…. also signals a practice, cross-disciplinary in nature, that is sensitive to cultural forms engaged in a politics (e.g., feminist art) or rooted in a vernacular – that is, to forms that deny the idea of a privileged aesthetic realm.”, we find that it is only the aesthetics of a universalizing, (non-vernacular) modernity, and the philosophy of Adorno, that are to be overturned in favor of ones positively seeking to achieve resistance, without bringing the category itself into critique. In passing, it should be noted that Foster’s reading of Adorno is oversimplified. Similarly, Burgin, in “The End of Art Theory,” simultaneously calls into question the inherited traditions of modernity, and seeks to realign it with “the objectives of theories of representations in general: a critical understanding of the modes and means of symbolic articulation of our critical forms of sociality and subjectivity.” It is unclear, however, whether the deliberate ambiguity of his title intends to call the category itself to an end. (Burgin. 1986: 204) While Foster maintains something of Adorno’s negative in the term anti-aesthetic, and Burgin substitutes a “postmodern” end for a modern one, both maintain the category itself unchallenged. More recent work along these lines fares no better. Even in the midst of important attempts like those of Shohat and Stam (1998: 31), in which great care is taken to look at Third World aesthetics as alternatives to Eurocentrism, we find again the same monolithic tendency: “These (3rd World) movements have also been fecund in neologistic aesthetics, literary, painterly and cinematic:….. the ‘aesthetics of hunger’ (Glauber Rocha)…. ‘cigarette-butt aesthetics’ (Ousmane Sembene)….’diasporic aesthetics’ (Kobena Mercer)…. ‘santeria aesthetics’ (Arturo Lindsay).” While such qualifying modifications are useful, they still whitewash the material difference between literature, painting and cinema. On the other side of these texts, are the Foucauldian inspired theorists working after what W.J.T. Mitchell, following Richard Rorty, dubbed “the pictorial turn.” These authors situate themselves in the field of “visual culture,” or “visual studies.” I speak here only of those in the stricter sense of Mitchell: “Whatever the pictorial turn is, then, it should be clear that it is not a return to naïve mimesis, copy or correspondence theories of representation, or a renewed metaphysics of pictorial “presence”: it is rather a postlinguistic, postsemiotic rediscovery of the picture as a complex interplay between visuality, apparatus, institutions, discourse, bodies, and figurality.” (Mitchel. 1994:16) Here we encounter the opposite problem. The term “aesthetics” has been universally deleted from the discourse, replaced largely by the term, visuality. Also see Foster (1988), Crary (1990). These theorists attempt to put the “picture” on par with the “sign.” The difficulty here is that by privileging the picture, or the visual, they exclude a great deal of art, as object, as practice, as phenomenal source. For this reason, the terms picture or visuality, have the same idealizing tendencies as “aesthetics”.

[iii] Kepler: 1967,1981,1997. While Copernicus gets the credit for the heliocentric displacement, it should be recalled that Kepler’s Laws, (elliptical orbits, non-uniform planetary motion, i.e. acceleration, period/radius ratio constancy for all planets) together with Galileo telescopic and kinetic discoveries, brought the question of ‘force’ fully to bear, and gave rise to what Bernard Cohen has described as the birth of the new physics.(Cohen, 1985) The shift was from Aristotelian speculative reasoning to materially constituted events that could be mathematically coded. One “aesthetic” moment is embodied in Galileo’s visualisations of a “star gazer”, including the phases of the moon and the “Medici Stars,” both evidence of astronomical bodies rotating around other rotating astronomical bodies. Kepler’s aesthetic motivation was his theory of the music of spheres, in which, after overturning Plato’s Axioms (orbital circularity, uniform motion, geocentrism) that had reigned for 2000 years, attempted a kind of safe face reinscription of Platonism in using the Platonic solids, as the geometry explaining the relationships of the orbits in a unified planetary system, based on the premise that the five regular solids can all be comprehended within a sphere. The mathematical proof is to be found in the last book of the Thirteen Books of Euclid’s Elements. But Kepler didn’t stop there. He assumed that the planetary motions would emit sounds that obeyed musical ratios discovered by Pythagorous. Galilean “aesthetics” is a form observational realism in keeping with both the southern and northern Renaissance, while, Kepler’s “aesthetics” is simply science fiction.

[iv] Belief that only particular things exist, as opposed to realism.Nominalists hold that a general term or name {Lat. nomine} is applied to individuals that resemble each other, without the need of any reference to an independently existing universal.

[v] Nietzsche. 1968: 264

[vi] Nietzsche. 1968: 303

[vii] Deleuze and Guattari. 1980: 17-25

[viii] I recognize that his discucssion is still very inadequate. I plan to develop it at a later point. But thought it important to state here, in its abreviated form, to make the comparison work in the service of the artist.

[ix] “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation,” in Derrida (1978: 232).

[x] The fact is, the artists I refer to have been written about very little, if at all. Paul Demarinas is one them, and we may take his situation as representative. Beyond a few catalog essays, journalistic articles, there is one essay I know of that, if it goes a step further, does so only because of where it is published, in the larger discussions of technoculture represented by other essays in Penley and Ross (1991), which, to give an indication of context, began with an interview of Donna Haraway and its “Postscript” written by her. This essay is by artist Jim Pomeroy, one of the Bay Area figures who like Demarinas, was at the forefront of art, science and technology experiments since Frank Oppenheimer opened the doors of the Exploratorium in 1972, creating a base of operation for artists interested in science and technology. Pomeroy’s essay, “Black Box S-Thetix: Labor, Research, and Survival in the He[Art] of the Beast,” (Penley and Ross. 1991: 271-294) was written shortly before he tragically died. He gives a brief account of Alan Rath, Ed Tannenbaum, Julia Sher, Survival Research Laboratory, in addition to DeMarinas. The extent of his theoretical comments are contained in two paragraphs in the “Coda” of that article. Techno-art, Pomeroy claims, “basks in the narrow window of aesthetic permission sanctioned by an art market that recognizes the principle of aggressive innovation, in a culture of illusory permissiveness that respects the posibility of profit from inventive play. In this respect, the dynamics of techno-art presents a lucid example of how cultural production is obliged to emulate the high legitimacy given to technological R&D…” This is on the one hand. Pomeroy continues, “In its more constructive aspects, however, techno-art is a powerful and appropriate vehicle of cultural confrontation and discursive commentary upon the technological religion of our times. Because it embraces the contradictions of our technically advanced society, and amplifies those very tendencies that expose the contradictions, it raises the specter of our extreme hopes and fears regarding technology.” (Penley and Ross.1991:293). My point here is not that Pomeroy’s comments are wrong; they are in fact quite true. My point is that Pomeroy can appeal only to social critique, because there simply is no other reference point to allow for his politics, while these discourses assimilate techno-art to its epistemological, political and methodological point of view, from “outside” what contributions such work might make, independently, of the discourses from which it borrows. There is no frame of reference from which to query either its negatively complicit of positively challenging engagements from a critical perspective sensitive to art practices, that in fact, are motivated by unique sets of concerns, conditions of possibility and existence, by “practices” that such social critique is inadequate to address.

[xi] See the issue of AI and Society, edited by Victoria Vesna that can be found at, http://time.arts.ucla.edu/AI_Society/contents.html. Essays by Sharon Daniel, Eduardo Kac, Lev Manovich, Robert Nideffer, Victoria Vesna and Fabian Wagmeister all represent this trend. Vesna, along with Margot Lovejoy (SUNY, Purchase) and Christiane Paul (assitant curator of new media, Whitney Museum of American Art) are co-editing a book entitled, Context Providers, MIT Press, forthcoming, with essays by Sharon Daniel, Katherine Hayles, Maggie Morris, Christine Styles, Ed Shanken, Sara Daimond. Artists such as Joseph Nechvetal (School of Visual Arts, NYC), Bill Seaman (UCLA), Jill Scott (unaffiliated), Eduardo Kac (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Victoria Vesna (UCLA) and others have all recently taken, or in the process of obtaining, Ph.D’s at CAIIA-STAR, Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts, at the University of Wales College, Newport, and STAR, the Centre for Science, Technology and Art Research, in the School of Computing, University of Plymouth. CAIIA-STAR was founded and currently directed by Roy Ascott, an artist and theorist whose writings were quite influential in the 60’s and 70’s. See, http://caiia-star.newport.plymouth.ac.uk/ for a full description. Ascott’s writings are forthcoming in a collection edited by Ed Shanken. To give just a few examples: Nechvetal’s dissertation was entitled, Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances:A Study of the Affinity Between Artistic Ideologies Based in Virtual Reality and Previous Immersive Idioms, Seaman’s, Recombinant Poetics: Emergent Meaning as Examined and Explored Within a Specific Generative Virtual Environment, and Vesna’s, Networked Public Spaces:An Investigation into Virtual Embodiment. Robert Nideffer (UCI) holds both an MFA in new media/digital arts, and a Ph.D in Sociology, both from UCSB; his dissertation was entitled, The Fine Art of Appropriation. Lev Manovich (UCSD) attained a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester, one of the few Ph.D level programs open to practicing artists. He has just published, The Language of New Media, MIT Press, 2001.


Aesthetic Knowledge and its Geometric Imaginary: an introduction

A Brief Pre-History of Aesthetics

Aesthetics, in philosophical terms, has largely been a sub-genre of phenomenlogy, which is the analytic enquiry into appearances, in the conditions that make the appearances of things possible, and into the characteristics of appearances in general. One of phenomenology’s historical origins is found in the astronomy of ancient Greece and the Hellenistic Period. Mathematical models, in that era, were driven by several interlocking principles.

First, because ‘God’ was considered the paragon of all perfection, all his creations must be designed according to principles that are in themselves also perfect. The cosmos, then, must manifest such perfect principles, according to the most perfect of geometric forms and mathematical logic, as enshrined in Euclid’s treatise, The Thirteen Books of the Elements of Geometry, (circa 350 BCE). Since, according to Euclid and testified to by Pythagoras and his school, and later by Plato, the most perfect of geometric forms is the circle and it’s three dimensional form, the sphere, then, it was inconceivable that planetary orbits would conform to any other form than the circle, or that heavenly bodies be anything other than spherical.

Second, all heavenly movements must be harmonious, that is regular, uniform, and constant. The motion, of the heavenly bodies thought to move, the planets, must rotate around the earth with constant, uniform, unchanging velocity. They could not speed up or slow down. In other words, to attribute acceleration (and de-acceleration) to planetary motion would offend the principle of divine perfection. This principle was so strongly held that even to entertain exceptions to it was anathema and anyone who attempted to deviate from it would be burned at the stake. [add a bit about Copernicus and Galileo here]

The third principle of course is that the Earth was the center of the cosmos.

All of these principles must be met simultaneously by any ‘scientifically’ acceptable astronomical model. But such models were required to account not merely for the shape and structure of the cosmos, but also had to account for the enormous body of observation data handed down since at least the time of the early Egyptians. To understand the relation of this early concept of astronomy to aesthetics, it is necessary to understand the specific language that arose at that time in this context. Astronomical data, as a record of centuries of acquired observations, constituted ‘the way things appear’, or, measurements of the ‘phenomena’ of the locations in time and space and the movements in time and space of the heavenly bodies in some cases over enormous intervals of time. [give the examples of the zodiac and ecliptic] Therefore, arithmetical and geometrical astronomical models had to give an account of the ‘way things appear’ as supported by extensively recorded astronomical data.

The requirement of any acceptable model of the cosmos was that it ‘save the appearances’. In Greek the phrase was, ‘sozain ta phenomena’. Implicit in this task was that the model had to obey all 3 principles with an accuracy determined by the recorded astronomical data. The considerable difficult of this was that the principles were so constraining that they often conflicted with the data. Thus as over time as the data became more precise and complete, the models became more and more complex to the point where they became so absurd they were difficult to believe. God was in danger of becoming a mad, scientific designer wholly in contradiction with another implicit, ‘aesthetic’ scientific principle – the expectation that nature and it’s laws would operate according to the simplist rules and forms. The geometric models of planetary motions of the Alexandrian astronomer, Ptolemy, published in his Almagest (circa…), became arcane systems of epicycles upon epicycles in order to the save the appearances of their observed positions in their orbits as the specific times as recorded in the data. [give the example of Mars]

This brief history of ancient Greek astronomy is the origin of ‘aesthetics’ conceived as the science of saving appearances. At it’s heart was the conflict between the three ‘ideological’, absolute principles and the observed data. The three principles are essentially proto-religious and non-scientific, based as they are on assumptions about ‘god’s’ engineering standards and the assumed ‘ideology of perfection’. Thus aesthetics as the saving of phenomena, or the way things appear, was established on an analytic and interpretive system which subordinated the hard scientific observational data to unproven ideological assumptions based on a cosmological theophany itself premised on and rooted in the proto-religious, mystical conceptions of Pythagorean geometry that equated perfection with truth and beauty. The comprehension of mathematical truth was tantamount to the religious, mystical experience of contemplating the mind of God as manifested in his creation.

Aesthetics, in this early incarnation, was a fascinating synthesis of mathematics, empirical observation, and theophany. It should be noted here that the term, theophany, contains the root of the term, phenomenology – theo = god + phainein = to show or to appear. Aesthetics is then a theophany the purpose of which is to save the appearances through the application of mathematical truth to empirically observed data, as a form of mystical encounter with and devout contemplation of God. This theophantic aesthetics persisted largely in the form, depending on how one slices the historical timeline, until the emergence of the scientific revolution in the 15th century. It certainly began to shift with the revolutionary work of Kepler and Galileo. Kepler, relative to theophantic aesthetics, was more revolutionary than Galielo because he single-handedly overturned all three of the ideological principles in one fell swoop, while saving the centuries of recorded, empirical data. How he accomplished this I’ll take up later, but in brief, with a lot of inspired guesswork and going very far out on a theoretical limb, he mathematically demonstrated that the astronomical data could be squared with an geometric model if, and only if, the principles of theophantic aesthetics were abandoned wholesale and replaced with ‘imperfect’ geometric forms, particularly the ellipse; and if planetary motion were allowed to be non-uniform and non-constant (in other words allowed to accelerate and de-accelerate); and if the cosmos was not geocentric but heliocentric. Kepler essentially risked becoming a heretic by shredding all of the ancient Greek, theophantic principles, by demonstrating that if orbits were elliptical, if the planets could speed up when closer to the sun and slow down when further away, then this new structure of the universe based on his new geometric principles, the astronomical date could be far better accounted for, while abandoning the absurdity of both Ptolemy’s and Copernicus’ mad systems of epicycles. Kepler saved the appearances as recorded with far greater accuracy by his mentor, Tacho Brahe, but only by positing an imperfect God, and by abandoning two thousand years ideological assumptions.

A Brief Pre-History of Aesthetics

guest contributor: scholar, candacy taylor

I’m a huge fan of Candacy’s work. She’s exploring aspects of specifically ‘black ‘america’, that is central to American culture, that is as American as ‘white america’ is, that has never been written about before. Her work contributes, in equal ways, to the reclaiming of the erased history of black americans, as do the new museum of black american history in Washington D.C., and, the new museum/monument newly opened in Alabama: The Legacy Museum:  From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. Her work is equally important to both of those efforts because she’s exploring the non-sensational aspects of black oppression, that which occurs in ‘everyday life;’ which is a powerful and justified condemnation of the racism at the heart of American white privilege: the right and pleasure of travel across america. the simple right of mobility every white american assumes is their libertarian right.

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 2.30.58 AMTHE OVERGROUND RAILROAD




The American road trip is the essence of the American dream. Hitting the open road on a desolate highway symbolizes a pathway to opportunity and easier times. Take Route 66 for example, it was one of the few U.S. highways laid out diagonally, and it cut across the country like a shortcut to freedom.

Although the message of freedom went out to all Americans, it was really only meant for white Americans. Not only were they shut out of pools, parks and beaches, blacks couldn’t eat, sleep, or even get gas at most white-owned businesses. To avoid the humiliation of being turned away, they often traveled with portable toilets, bedding, gas cans, and ice coolers. Even Coca-Cola machines had “White Customers Only” printed on them. In 1930, 44 out of the 89 counties that lined Route 66 were all-white communities also known as “Sundown Towns,” which were places that banned blacks from entering city limits after dark. Some posted signs that read, “N*gger, Don’t Let the Sun Set on You Here, Understand?”




Despite the dangers, millions of black vacationers hit the road and relied on a travel guide called, The Negro Motorist Green Book. Victor H. Green, a black postal worker from Harlem, New York, created this guide and it was published from 1936 until 1967. The “Green Book” featured barbershops, beauty salons, tailors, department stores, taverns, gas stations, garages, and even real-estate offices that were willing to serve blacks. A page inside boasted, “Just What You Have Been Looking For!! NOW WE CAN TRAVEL WITHOUT EMBARRASSMENT.”

Green modeled his guide after Jewish travel guides created for the Borsht Belt in the 1930s. Other black travelers’ guides existed—Hackley and Harrison’s Hotel and Apartment Guide for Colored Travelers (1930-1931), Travel Guide(1947-1963), and Grayson’s Guide: The Go Guide to Pleasant Motoring (1953-1959)—but the Green Book was published for the longest period of time and had the widest readership. It was promoted by word of mouth, and a national network of postal workers led by Green who solicited advertisers. By 1962, the Green Book reached a circulation of two million people.

The Green Book covered the entire United States and later editions stretched to Canada, Bermuda and the Congo. During the time it was published automobile travel symbolized freedom in America, and the Green Book was a resourceful and innovative solution to a horrific problem. People called it the “Bible of black travel” and a “AAA for blacks,” but it was so much more. It was a powerful tool for blacks to persevere and literally move forward in the face of racism.

During the Great Migration six million blacks hit the road to escape the Jim Crow South, but they quickly learned that Jim Crow had no borders. Segregation was in full force throughout the country. Route 66 was easily the most popular road in America, and out of the eight states along it (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California), six had official segregation laws as far west as Arizona—and all of these places had unofficial rules about race that changed from county to county. Even once black travelers reached a multiracial city, such as Albuquerque, New Mexico, only six percent of the more than 100 motels along Albuquerque’s slice of Route 66 admitted them. And although there were no formal segregation laws on the books in California, Glendale and Culver City were sundown towns and the sun-kissed beaches of Santa Monica were segregated.

this from the introduction to her new book:


Don’t you dare say a word.” Ron sat in the back seat as his father pulled the car to a stop at the side of the road.  His father had told him to be quiet before, but this was the first time Ron felt the words reverberate all the way to the pit of his stomach. Moments later, the Sheriff stood over the well-appointed 1953 Chevy sedan complete with all the modern features you read about in the magazines. “Where did you get this vehicle? What are you doing here? And who are these people with you?” Ron’s father answered, “It’s my employer’s car, officer.” He pointed to his wife, sitting upright and expressionless in the passenger seat. He pretended not to know her and said, “This is my employer’s maid and that is her son in the back. I’m taking them home.” The Sheriff took a long look at Ron’s mother and then angled his eyes to the back seat. A young Ronald sat tight-lipped, too afraid to turn his head, or even take a breath. “Where’s your hat?” the Sheriff barked. “Hanging up. It’s right behind me in the back seat, officer.” The Sheriff waved. “Alright. Move on.”

As they drove north across the Tennessee border a sad, eerie silence hung in the air. The jovial conversation they were having right before the Sheriff pulled them over had stopped. Dead. And although there was no discussion about what had just happened, the gravity of the situation was clear. Ron watched Daddy and Mama exchange knowing glances and Ron turned his head and looked at the black, unassuming hat that had been hanging there ever since he could remember, but it wasn’t until that moment that he realized why he had never seen his father wearing it. Mama wasn’t a maid, and daddy wasn’t a driver. He had a good job with the railroad, and this was their family car. Until that day, Ron never paid attention to that hat, but now he realized that it wasn’t just any hat. This was a chauffeur’s hat. A ruse, a prop — a lifesaver.

During the Jim Crow era, the chauffeur’s hat was the perfect cover for every middle-class black man who was pulled over and harassed by the police. If Ron’s father had told the Sheriff the truth — that he was driving his own car and that they were on vacation — the Sheriff wouldn’t have believed him. He would have assumed that the car was stolen. In the event that the Sheriff did believe it was his car, the rage and jealousy of a black man owning a nicer car than a police officer could afford might trigger a beating, torture or even death. From that day on, Ron saw these hats strategically placed, like unarmed weapons, in the back seat of nearly every black man’s car.

Standing in the kitchen between the sage-speckled countertop and the wall-mounted oven, I listened to Ron’s story, stone-faced. He continued, “Everybody had one, and you always kept it in the car.” And then without any provocation, other stories about growing up in Tennessee tumbled out. Ron talked about his cousin being run out of town in the middle of the night because the Ku Klux Klan was set to lynch him. I listened with a knot in my stomach, trying to swallow my rage and sadness before tears filled my eyes. I didn’t want my emotions to distract him from telling me his story. You see, Ron was my stepfather. I had known this man for over 30 years and this was the first time he shared anything about the pain of growing up in the Jim Crow South. And it’s not that Ron was a quiet man; he loved to talk and he could talk for hours. My mom and my sister and I would try to scoot out of the kitchen before he started in on another one of his long Southern yarns — ones that we had heard before. But it wasn’t until I started this project that he shared these stories with me. It was in that moment, at the age of 46, that I realized I had earned his trust. This was a huge accomplishment, because after what he and most black men of his generation lived through in this country, he felt he couldn’t trust anyone.

I think Ron started to trust me around 2014, soon after I called home asking about the Green Book. I had just seen it for the first time. It was tucked away under glass at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles. I never knew such a thing existed. Right after leaving the Autry, I called my parents in Columbus, Ohio and asked Ron if he had used the Green Book. He said, “I’m not sure, probably. There were a few black guides back then.”

He was right. There were at least six other black travel guides, but the Green Book was published for the longest period of time and had the widest readership. From 1937 to 1967, [FN- Although the Green Book was published over a 30-year period, the guide took a hiatus from 1942-1946 due to the second world war, so it was published for a total of 25 years.] Green Book listings blanketed the United States and later editions stretched to Canada, Bermuda, England and the Congo. It grew by word-of-mouth, mail order, black-owned businesses, a savvy media campaign created by Esso gas stations (which operate as Exxon today), and an ambitious grassroots operation of a national network of mailmen led by its creator, a fellow postal worker in Harlem named Victor Hugo Green. This multi-pronged marketing tactic was so successful, by 1962 the Green Book had a circulation of nearly 2 million people.

The Green Book was also in high demand because it was published during a time when car travel symbolized freedom in America. But since racial segregation was in full force throughout the country, the open road wasn’t open to black Americans. “Just What You Have Been Looking For!! NOW WE CAN TRAVEL WITHOUT EMBARRASSMENT,” is what people saw when they opened the Green Book. It was called the AAA guide for black people but it was so much more. The businesses listed in the Green Book were critical sources of refuge placed between America’s long, lonely stretches of perilously empty roads. To stay safe, black folks never left home without a plan, a cover story, and a Green Book.

Given the violence that black folks encountered on the road, the Green Book was an ingenious solution to a horrific problem. It represented the fundamental optimism of a race of people who were facing utter tyranny and terrorism. I was struck that something so simple, and so practical, could be so powerful. It not only showed black travelers where they could go, it was also an effective marketing tool that supported black-owned businesses and celebrated black self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship.

In the early 1930s, right before the Green Book was published, black Americans banned together and created the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign. Once they understood the reach of their collective economic power, the campaign galvanized black communities to picket and boycott businesses that wouldn’t hire them. So when the Green Book came along it was the perfect vehicle to carry this effort because it was practically a Yellow Pages of black-owned businesses.

By 1930, blacks owned approximately 70,000 small businesses, and over the Green Book’s nearly 30-year reign it listed over 9,300 of these businesses, including hotels, restaurants, gas stations, department stores, tailors, nightclubs, drug stores, hair salons, haberdashers, sanitariums, funeral homes, real estate offices, and even a dude ranch. They weren’t randomly scattered across the country; more than 80% were clustered in traditional African-American neighborhoods such as Harlem, South Central and Bronzeville in Chicago. Although most of the businesses in the Green Book were black-owned, white-owned establishments such as Macy’s, Brooks Brothers, the Drake Hotel in Chicago, the Bel Aire Hotel in Los Angeles, and even Disneyland were included.

Although the Green Book was effective in providing safe accommodations for black travelers, this only solved half the problem. Getting to these places could be a dangerous, life-threatening trip. Not only did black motorists navigate a country with thousands of “sundown towns” — which were all-white communities that banned them from entering city limits after dark — blacks couldn’t eat, sleep, or get gas at many white-owned businesses. Even Coca-Cola vending machines had “White Customers Only” printed on them. To avoid the humiliation of being denied basic services, many were forced to travel with ice coolers, bedding, portable toilets and gas cans.

guest contributor: scholar, candacy taylor