Ambient Notes #4 (Graham Harman at UCL)

This lecture was given by Graham Harman, an Object-Oriented philosopher, to architecture students at UCL. It was called Objects in Art and Architecture.

The notes are in three sections. First Graham Harman's introduction to Object Oriented Ontology. Then his links to architectural theory (or, how Object-Oriented Ontology [OOO] 'brushes up against architecture' as he put it). Then the Q&A.

--

-On the desk in front of every auditorium seat there is a numeric keypad with "Turing Technologies Response Card RF" on it. I have only vague ideas about what it might be used for but its presence suggests that UCL is a very wealthy university.

-The auditorium is hot. Properly hot.

-Graham Harman (GH) has been fitted with a good quality, well positioned microphone. Someone's job is to position that microphone.

-Objects and Relations.

-Philosophy is not a master discipline.

-Objects cannot be reduced to what they're made of, or how they appear.

-GH has coined the term "overmining". I would suggest that neologisms are how you know you are a proper philosopher.

-(Scientism: What if everything was made of tiny Graham Harmans?)

-GH is dwarfed by: The projector screen, the multiple whiteboards, a huge periodic table up on the wall (we're in the chemistry building), the sound of his own voice (which can be heard in multiple: 1stly - in full tonal depth emitting from the four high quality speakers positioned evenly around the auditorium, 2ndly - a split second later, tinny and distant, emitting from his mouth.

-Humans are gullible, are objects gullible?

-You cannot define a thing simply by the effect it is having on other things right now.

-Tristan Garcia - up and coming French philosopher, first book about to be translated.

-Philosophy is dominated by two forms of reduction (under and overmining - reduction to 'real' distinct particles, or reduction to single homogeneous mass).

-Bruno Latour - Actor Network Theory -> He invokes "plasma" as the stuff between networks that allows change to happen - a sort of ether!

-Non-reductive ontologies:
+Aristotle - primary substances (though it has artificial, imposed limits on what those are)
+Phenomenology - Husserl, despite Idealism, writes about objects of consciousness, and Heidegger, objects are real but withdrawn.
+Whitehead/Latour, entities/actors. No transcendence or reducability, everything is an entity/actor.

-Even the bin in the auditorium is massive. It's bright yellow too, the brightest thing in the room.

-Critique of OOO: a poetic of objects. Response: philosophy is not a search for knowledge but a love of knowledge (he comes back to this later in the Qs and explains that he doesn't mean some lyrical, blurry idea of philosophy as love of knowledge, but that philosophy must use metaphor to aim at deeper knowledge - e.g., ontology is a study of being not beings).

-Everyone's clothes are very dull. Architects dress very conservatively.

-Zizek, Badiou, Meillassoux: All indebted to Heidegger, but never assimilate his philosophy.

-Hegel: you can't interact with the thing in-itself outside of your interaction with it.

-Heidegger: Hegel's phenomenology is a reduction to "presence".

-Some objects are not present until the malfunction, e.g. if this chair broke now, it would be the first time I noticed it. Not phenomena, just a tool. Objects that we don't conceive of even as we use them.

-The chair is not reducible to my use of it. Withdrawl, objects are dark.

-"Fire burns cotton" is a commonly used example in Islamic philosophy - a bit like like billiard balls in western philosophy.

-A student in here is so well off that she is successfully unironically wearing a Burberry print scarf.

-Meillassoux - After Finitude: GH thinks that finitude is still valid. Objects cannot be exhausted, in practical or any other terms. As in, there is no way of totally knowing an object, but GH thinks this should be expanded to include object to object relations, not just human subject to object relations.
+Is there a psychological dimension to this? Is it more that only "subjects", (or human objects or whatever we call our/my experience of being in the world) are bothered by not being able to completely comprehend an object? Our not knowing the world is a source of anguish for us, possibly the source of anguish for us.

-Husserl: Objects are unified in experience (and in the world).

-GH's 4 categories - Real Objects, Real Qualities, Sensual Objects, Sensual Qualities.
OOO tries to work out the interactions between these categories.

-Fourfold structures are common in history of philosophy: Four elements, Plato's divided line, Aristotle'sfour causes.

-The walls of the auditorium are thickly coated with heavily textured rendering.

-The girl in front of me smells very much like a girl I was seeing over summer of 2012. We would walk around London, drink lager in terrible pubs, eat McDonalds and then go back to her flat and fuck. Then usually we'd have a massive argument and I'd leave and get the bus home in the middle of the night.

-Meillassoux: Contingency is chaos <-- I've been working with this for ages but thought it was a (purposeful) misreading of After Finitude. Maybe re-buy the book...

--

-Networks and Fields vs Architectural Objects.

-Perception: in architectural theory, OOO is a reaction to the success of relational theories.

-Communications: Flat Ontology and Relational Ontology. Patrick Schumacher's theory or architecture as communication

- Attempts at Flat Ontology almost always have exceptions, e.g., contradictory/imaginary objects. The problem with making exceptions is that you then tend to privilege relational objects, which creeps towards privileging humans.

-Space is a site of relation and no-relation - a site of potential for partial relation. (I thought objects had space-time, objects are prior or creators of space-time [via Einstein and shit]).

-(What I thought was a German student starts asking a very long non-question about the status of philosophy. I later found out that this was Patrick Schumacher, who GH had referenced directly in his lecture.)

-Basically, at this point, Scumacher uses philosophy, or relies on it to write and think, but he doesn't like it. The question is going on for ages. He hasn't even made the pretence of going up at the end of a non-question sentence to make it sound questiony. Makes an interesting point about art, philosophy and maths being 'free floating disciplines.'

-He has been talking for seven minutes. Claims that philosophyis an 'agent provocateur'.Claims he is in the 'real world' (not making this up, after a whole hour long lecture about reality and the problems we face describing it). He means market reality: 'big projects', clients, money, buildings. He finds a universal ontology problematic (duh).

-Looking to my right, the side of the auditorium where the big yellow bin resides, I see a student with a jumper and another student with a notebook in the same shade of yellow as the bin.

-The professor who introduced GH is telling Patrick Schumacher to stop talking.

-Patrick turns around to acknowledge the professor with a frightening, masochistic face and says 'I was just finishing off'.

-GH keeps his cool. Total pro, very coherent responses to the Qs that he has picked out from the long rant.

-Ahh, shame, he lost his mojo because he accidentally knocked the desk lamp with his hand.

-Heidegger's tool theory points towards objects being in the world, even as he insists on their unknowability.

-Change might not occur within objects, but through symbiosis with another object.

-A student asks a question about tool theory and then has to say tool about seven times. Three times he says something like 'I consider myself a tool'.

-GH uses the term "object" because he comes from a phenomenological tradition where that term has specific meaning. "Object" as a term has different resonances in different traditions.

-The professor who introduced GH is super hot.

-A student asks about post-human feminism. I feel a bit guilty for finding the (female) professor hot. For the record, GH is an average looking man in his mid 40s, not particularly attractive/unattractive.

-GH describes a post-human feminist philosopher as 'Fesity'.

-Approaching an object on its own terms.

-Student in front of me is fingering an apple, turning it over and over in his hands. Touching and rubbing it.

-People have started coughing, not one person with a recurrent cough, but the audience in general.

-GH: real = not replaceable by a description.

-Scientistic philosophers have a problem because they have to posit a level at which reality exists.

-The Bourgeois, Neo-Liberal subject "making decisions".

-Joke about Aristotle: he was a great philosopher of mid-sized, everyday objects.

-GH thinks that all objects might be mid-sized in a non anthropocentric ontology.

-Q: the birth of an object

-The idea of an object can be false. (Thought: could this be reversed into a description or technique of the creative act: Could art begin as a "False Object"?)

-Patrick Schumacher jumped in again.

-OOO doesn't promise criteria  for what an object might be, or what might be real or not real.

-Patrick Schumacher goes on and on with no reason as to why he might be talking ,like an English person talking about American politics.

-Q: Objects and discreteness.

-You cannot only have continuum if there are to be real objects.

-GH thinks there is discreteness in real objects, and individual continuums (discrete continuums?) in sensual objects.

-Lacan's "real" is only their as a traumatic event for humans.

-The lecture theatre is colder now.

-My mouth tastes bad and I need a shit. I wonder if they're related sensations?

-The guy who was fingering his apple has eaten around the whole rough sphere of the apple, carefully removing all of the skin before replacing it back on the desk in front of him.

-The girl next to him is drinking German rhubarb water.

-An infinite regress of objects (ahh, ok - because to have a prime mover, first cause ultimate reality would be a metaphysics).

-Islamic Occasionalists: God should cause all things, or causality is through God.

-GH: Speculative Realism privileges maths as having access to reality.

-Patrick Schumacher gets the last Q, is asked to keep it short. People start talking, people get up to leave. Patrick Schumacher does not hear the people talking, he does not see the people leave.

-Apple guy puts on a snood.

The Irony of Objects (first try)

1 Language is always ironic.
  1.1 Language always refers to something outside of itself.
  1.2 This referent is a different thing to the word.

-Apologies for the numbered, bullet pointed, Wittgenstein (via Tolstoy) style listing. It felt like the easiest way to do it.
-My keyboard's space bar is partially broken, if I don't push down hard enough I get huge run-on words with no gaps as though I were making a compundGermannoun.
-In the coffee shop (a new franchise in the town where my parents live. Bad coffee, good cakes, staff who are happy to have a job), I explained all this, and she said, 'Maybe that's why language is ironic, because objects are.' and that is a better explanation than everything else you'll read here.

2 Language is essentially ironic.
  2.1 Its essence is to have no meaning in itself.
    2.1.1  Or, its in itself meaning is veiled behind its referential meaning, which exists outside of language, in the things it refers to.
      2.1.2 Also, it does not mean anything to itself. Its referential meaning, that which we (as its users) regard as it's real or functional meaning is lost to the words themselves. They do not experience themselves as ironic.

-But writing this stuff down is hard, I feel fuzzy today. When do I not feel fuzzy? Apparently mathematicians peak in their late twenties. I'm not a mathematician, but I'm in my late twenties! Am I peaking? Is this what peaking feels like?
-That's why I am writing in these stupid bullet points, like I can somehow enforce order on my thoughts.
-My thoughts, which move faster than I can write, thoughts which move faster than I can put them together, thoughts which move faster than I can think.
-Thoughts which by their nature don't let me me think, are muddled between thoughts and thoughts about those thoughts; thoughts about things here and things away from here; things real and unreal; things concrete and infinite.

3 Language is hidden from itself
  3.1 To talk about language's meaning is to already assume that language has meaning.
  3.2 Language doesn't have the tools to analyse itself.
  (3.3 In fact, everyday language often doesn't have the tools to analyse lots of things.
    3.1.1 Which is why technical languages spring up where everyday language fails.
      3.1.2 We could say here that when everyday language fails, it falls back and becomes only itself, its meaning fails to refer to the thing we wish to describe.)

-I told you it was easier if we just left it with what she said in the overpriced coffee shop in the town where my parents live.
-All I really wanted to write is that I have been thinking about how language is always ironic, and how Object Oriented Ontology talks about objects as being removed from one other, and their essential characteristic as being more than the characteristics that can be experienced by other objects, and then I said this to her and she said, 'Maybe that's why language is ironic, because objects are.'


An Ontic Appreciation


I'm going to be doing a project with Emma Cummins about the "Ghost Estates"of Ireland. Emma asked me if I'd like to be involved in writing a two handed publication: an essay by her, and an essay by me. It will be published as an e-book. Though actually, as it's a new series, and it hasn't been launched on their website, I better not mention who's publishing it.


--

I'm trying to think of a different way to approach the subject. Urban development, politics, and the fallout from the recession were topics that I came back to again and again in 2012. I guess I've been writing seriously about this stuff since 2010, with my residency at The Royal Standard.

Actually, the "Ghost Estates" (I'm putting that in quotation marks because Emma and I aren't really happy with the term) are in rural areas, and most of my writing has been about cities, but the underlying social and political narratives are the same. Or rather, they could be the same if I allowed myself to focus on them.

Emma's essay will be a thorough critique of the failings of planning and finance at a local and government level through an exploration of what she has termed Pathological Geographies. Emma knows her shit, and she has been thinking about this stuff for a long time.

The fact that she'll be taking on the social and political aspects of the situation frees me up a little. We can do the same physical research - visiting these barely populated, often unfinished housing estates - but I can focus on other things, take a different angle.


--

I've been reading bits of Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO [how cool is OOO for an acronym?]) for a few years, but only recently has it come to feel practically applicable. It suddenly feels very relevant to how I write and make artwork. In the essay I'm not going to foreground the technical philosophy of this stuff, because the publication is meant to be accessible to non-specialists. Its influence on the text will be more like a shift of perspective, or emphasis.

I'm going to take elements of OOO and use them as inspiration for literary techniques that allow me to read the architecture of the "Ghost Estates" as objects, rather than signifiers of human-to-human relations. My essay will be worked from the outside-in. I will begin with the sheer, objecthood of the "Ghost Estates" as my starting point. My first question will no longer be 'What can I see?', but 'What is there?'. I want to make the switch from epistemology to ontology: from a study of what we can know, to a study of what is.


--

This is not to say that my writing is going to become more empirical. Philosophy doesn't help you access the physical world in a more direct way. It's more like a shift in the way I approach the subject. By the end of last year I felt pretty drained by walking around cities and talking about the recession. The same conversations about the failings of the political and financial system could be had in whatever city/country you happened to be in.

If before the crash of 2008 we suffered a delusion that we had learnt enough from previous recessions to stop the boom-bust cycle, we are currently in the process of imagining ourselves into a new, but similar position of knowledge: that somehow, now, we must be in possession of "the facts" because we failed to prevent the boom-bust cycle.

I'm just starting again, from what is there, which are the ruins, these architectures without function. I'm working from a basic assumption that I won't know anything about these estates until I get there. What I hope to do is strip away what I would normally bring to a text, and instead focus on an ontic appreciation of the "Ghost Estates".


--

Ambient Notes (Goldsmiths #3)

This lecture was given by Eileen Simpson and Ben White of the Open Music Archive.

-Arrive in the room, electronic music is playing, it sounds like mics gently feeding back.

-Lecturers are multiple (2), young.

-"Flashy" opening AV introduction w/ fast paced images + spoken word.

-Feedback on both mics, feels like the lecturers know this and are making "the best of a bad job"

-Lecturer cringes as she says 'Problematise'.

-Copyright creates the conditions for open access.

-Lecturer says 'Piped'.

-Lecturer says 'We are surrounded by death'.

-On the screen: 'Who's died in Blues, Jazz'.

-A student types incredibly fast on a Macbook pro 13".

-Lecturer references Derrida. Maybe not as young as I thought.

-It becomes clear that the introductory AV spectacular was necessary to offset the rest of the slideshow, which mainly consists of screen-grabs from websites or digital images of old technology.

-Free 'libre' vs free 'gratis'
  -As in, Free as in freedom vs free as in free beer.

-Lecturer says, 'Cover the cover' 'Plug'

-At the moment it is very fashionable to do live broadcasting in art - but the quality (as in, quality of content and technical quality) is low. When it becomes ubiquitous, artists will stop engaging with it, just at the point where the quality could be higher.

-On the screen: a digital image of a url of a website printed on paper.

-On the screen: a digital image of a DVD.

-On the screen: a digital image of a vinyl record with "CDR" printed on it.

-Lecturer says 'DJs'

-Lecturer's microphone fades down to silence then fades back in again.

-Lecturer says 'Flipped and reversed'

-There's something lovely about redacted manuscripts - as though you can just sigh and say 'oh well, can't read that!'

-On the screen: a digital image of a VHS tape.

-A man in his 40s w/ black beanie hat and the look of a "working man" opens the door, looks in, is startled by what he sees, realises his mistake, and backs away, letting the door swing shut.

-A student has a collection of objects on his desk, covered with a towel.

-The lecturers' use of AV is accomplished. They know how to operate the auditorium lights, they're showing videos and images, and playing sound, all as part of one slide show. Most lecturers (most people, actually) can barely work their laptops.

--

-In the break before the Q&A soft jazz plays, people chat. The vibe is that of a pre-Christmas "get together" at a neighbour's house.

-On the desk beside me, a student has left a pen, a notebook, a glasses case, a pair of glasses and a single mini-egg (purple).

-A student wears headphones and watches the screen of another student's Macbook pro.

-Professor and Lecturers chat. No one is in a hurry to get on with the Q&A.

--

-In front of the Professor there is an empty mid-sized bottle of Copella Pressed Apple Juice.

-Two students who arrived in the break are now sitting a few rows down ignoring the Q&A and talking to each other in a Chinese language.

-Lecturer says 'QR code'.

-Professor says 'What's a QR code?'

-Cliff Richard is a subtly malevolent force for several reasons.
1. His role as a "friendly face" in lobbying the government for the extension of copyright on music.
2. His part in the funding, creation, and upkeep of an abominable piece of public art in Birmingham. And, also, his subsequent retraction of that funding for upkeep, forcing the local council to pay for its removal and storage.
3. His horrifying and skin-crawl-inducing relationship with Tony and Cherie Blair.

-The Chinese students in front of me have huge phones that they have to hold with two hands. It occurs to me that at one point, the assumption was that phones would get smaller and smaller. They haven't.

-Retain control, or, perhaps retain integrity.

-A student has a neatly folded satsuma skin on the desk in front of her.

-Lecturer says 'We're all pirates, to an extent'.

-A student has a "sports" bottle of water but the "sports cap" has broken off. He'll have to throw it away, or perhaps, carry it upright in his hands all the way home.

-The false ceiling of the auditorium is very beautiful in an institutional way. The arrangement of lights, spotlights, speakers, air vents and fire alarms is symmetrical. Near the back of the auditorium some ceiling tiles have been replaced. They have a slightly different colour/texture to their neighbours.

-The sound of a student typing on their keyboard is similar to the sound of someone shaking their wrist whilst wearing multiple plastic bracelets.

-The inter-dependant relationship of the professional and the pirate market.

-Next to the student with the folded satsuma skin sits a student on whose desk is an uneaten satsuma.

-A student's question includes the word 'Schtick'.

More Quotes from Herr C.

In yesterday's post about Heinrich von Kleist's On the Marionette Theatre I didn't get to include my favourite quotes from the essay, especially from the character of Herr C., who I find fascinating. So here they are.

'But viewed in another way, this line is something very mysterious. For it is nothing other than the path to the soul of the dancer, and Herr C. doubted that it could be proven otherwise that through this line the puppeteer placed himself in the center of gravity of the marionette; that is to say, in other words, that the puppeteer danced.'

'The movement of his fingers has a somewhat artificial relationship to those of the attached puppets, somewhat like the relationship of numbers to logarithms or the asymptote to the hyperbola.'

'Affectation appears, as you know, when the soul (vis motrix) locates itself at any point other than the center of gravity of the movement. Because the puppeteer absolutely controls the wire or string, he controls and has power over no other point than this one: therefore all the other limbs are what they should be dead, pure pendulums following the simple law of gravity, an outstanding quality'

'When he dances Paris and stands among the three goddesses and hands the apple to Venus, his soul is located precisely in his elbow, and it is a frightful thing to behold.'

'And Paradise is bolted, with the cherub behind us; we must journey around the world and determine if perhaps at the end somewhere there is an opening to be discovered again.'

'I laughed. Indeed, I thought, the spirit cannot err where it does not exist'

'Without a doubt I would have struck the chest of a man. The bear made a slight movement of his paw and parried the blow.'

'Eye to eye, as if he could see into my very soul, he stood there, his paw raised ready for combat'

'Just as the intersection of two lines from the same side of a point after passing through the infinite suddenly finds itself again on the other side-or as the image from a concave mirror, after having gone off into the infinite, suddenly appears before us again-so grace returns after knowledge has gone through the world of the infinite, in that it appears to best advantage in that human bodily structure that has no consciousness at all-or has infinite consciousness-that is, in the mechanical puppet, or in the God.

Therefore, I replied, somewhat at loose ends, we would have to eat again of the tree of knowledge to fall back again into a state of innocence?

Most certainly, he replied: That is the last chapter of the history of the world.'

On the Marionette Theatre

After I wrote a short story for Internet's theatre performance, Acting, Si├ón Robinson Davies (who is one half of Internet) sent me a link to an essay called On the Marionette Theatre by Heinrich von Kleist.

You can find the full text in English here.


Oh Heinrich! That's what I think when I look at this picture. Oh Heinrich!

He was a North-German Romantic playwright and poet. He killed himself at the age of 34, after 10 years of published work. He first shot the woman he loved, Henriette Vogel, and then he turned the gun on himself as part of a suicide pact. Oh Henriette! Oh Heinrich!

As well as plays and poems, he wrote a few essays, including On the Marionette Theatre. Though, it isn't an essay in the traditional sense.


--


On the Marionette Theatre is a essay supposedly about dancers and marionettes. It takes the form of a dialogue between the narrator (who we assume to be Heinrich von Kleist) and a dancer by the name of Herr C. in a public gardens in the winter of 1801.

The narrator comments that he has seen Herr C. captivated by the puppet shows in the local market.

Herr C. says that the puppets are exceedingly graceful and then goes on to tell the narrator about his theory,

'that a marionette constructed by a craftsman according to [Herr C.'s] requirements could perform a dance that neither he nor any other outstanding dancer of his time [...] could equal.'

Through a strange and convoluted dialogue, the narrator and Herr C. swap stories in order for Herr C. to convince the narrator of his theory that his hypothetical puppet would be more graceful, and its movements less affected than a human dancer.

--


But the essay isn't really about puppets. Or, more like, it is about puppets and dancers, but as a synecdoche of all human behaviour.

And it's no coincidence that I use the word synecdoche, which is the title of a film by Charlie Kaufmann, because whilst reading the essay, I got the same feeling that I get when I watch a Charlie Kaufmann film. Which is also maybe the feeling I'm going for when I write stories (but, obviously, mostly fail to achieve). That feeling is of reading one story that tells many - perhaps infinitely many- stories.

It also is no coincidence that Charlie Kaufmann's film Being John Malkovich is about a puppeteer, or that Synecdoche, New York is about a theatre director, or that Adaptation is about a screenwriter.

That makes it all sound crassly post-modern. Like, durrrr life is a bit like a film right? But if you have seen the films you'll know that it's not a direct metaphor, and he doesn't constantly play it for dramatic irony. The feeling I get while I'm watching Kaufmann's films is the feeling I used to get at school in maths where, just for a moment, I could conceive not just of the answer of an algorithm, or trigonometric function, or quadratic equation or whatever, but of the abstract essence of it. An essence that existed beyond numbers and maths and school and exams, in some other realm of knowledge, on the other side of the languages which we employ to speak of such things.

That makes it sound a bit religious, which I guess it is, in a Tractatus-era Wittgenstein way. But what's important (in what I'm writing, right now) is not the feeling, but the language and the techniques used to induce that feeling.

--

On the Marionette Theatre is so brilliant not just because it says wonderful things about the relationship between what Heinrich calls The Fall and grace, or what we might call consciousness and behaviour, but also because of the excessive quality of the stories told and examples given by the characters in their unfolding dialogue.

By excessive here I mean that the content of the stories is sometimes so strange or told in such narrative detail that far from simply supporting the argument of the writer (and here is where the narrator of the story and the writer of the essay could be split in a metaphorical and yet also at the same time somehow very real sense: like we could see two people arguing and fighting and then we run over to break up the fight and we see that the two people have the same face and they are struggling over a pen), they actually serve to distract you from it, to complicate it in unnecessary ways.



At one point, Herr C. starts talking about a fencing bear, I'll quote it in full. Trust me, it's worth it.

'While travelling in Russia, I came upon the country estate of Herr von G., a Livonian nobleman, whose sons were at that time seriously engaged in learning to fence. The oldest boy, who had just returned from the university, in particular regarded himself as somewhat of a virtuoso and one morning while in his room he offered me a foil. We fenced, but as it turned out I was superior to him. The heat of anger further added to his confusion. Almost every blow I struck was successful and finally his foil was knocked into a corner of the room. As he picked up the foil he admitted, half jokingly, half angrily, that he had met his master; but everything in this world meets its master and thereupon he proposed to conduct me to mine. The brothers laughed loudly and cried: Let's be off! Let's go! Down to the lumber yard! And with that they led the way to a bear that their father, Herr von G., was having trained in the open yard.

The bear stood, to my amazement, on his hind legs, his back leaning against a stake to which he was chained, with his right paw raised ready for combat, and looked me in the eye: this was his fencing position. It seemed to me that I was dreaming when I first faced this adversary; but-strike! strike!-cried Herr von G., and see if you can score a hit. Having recovered somewhat from my amazement, I went at him with my foil; the bear made a slight movement of his paw and parried the blow. I tried to throw him off guard by feints-the bear did not stir. I went at him again with a renewed burst of energy; without a doubt I would have struck the chest of a man. The bear made a slight movement of his paw and parried the blow. Now I found myself in almost the same circumstance as the young Herr von G. The single-mindedness of the bear served to reduce my self-assurance; as thrusts and feints followed each other, I was dripping with perspiration. But all was in vain! Not only was the bear able to parry all my blows like some world champion fencer, but all the feints I attempted-and this no fencer in the world could duplicate-went unnoticed by the bear. Eye to eye, as if he could see into my very soul, he stood there, his paw raised ready for combat, and whenever my thrusts were not intended as strikes, he simply did not move.

Do you believe this story, he asked?'

The point of the story (in the narrative of the essay) is that skilful, graceful behaviour is more easily achieved by not thinking - that a well trained animal could be better at fencing than a human. Consciousness leads us to over-think our physical actions.

The story is surreal and the way in which it is told is jarringly uncertain. At two points Herr C. questions the likelihood of it having happened at all. First, 'It seemed to me that I was dreaming' and then, at the end of the story, he directly asks the narrator(/writer/reader), 'Do you believe this story'?

That's even more distracting than the surreality of the story, I kept thinking - of course I don't believe it but why would that be the point? That's where the layering happens.

Herr C.'s story is only implausible outside of the fictional context in which it is told. There is no narrative need for this meta-fictional questioning within the essay. By engaging in it, Herr C. gestures to the narrator, writer and reader and asks them to consider the bear story not just as evidence for his theory about puppets and dancers, but as a parable about the performative act of creating something or experiencing a created thing, and then this as a parable for the wider performative act of being, of living as human.

But at no point does any of the text suggest this directly, Heinrich has enclosed the story within a framework where it can be explained totally, in order to allow it to remain totally unexplained.

--


I'm interested in this type of creative act, where the world you've made is pushing up against its edges; and the objects and characters in that world are gesturing at what's outside without ever describing what's there.

--

Here's the last few lines of the essay, which retain this telling strangeness, this knowing uncertainty.

'Therefore, I replied, somewhat at loose ends, we would have to eat again of the tree of knowledge to fall back again into a state of innocence

Most certainly, he replied: That is the last chapter of the history of the world.'

Inadequacy

Recently I've been thinking about failure. I've written about it and used it as the basis for a short residency in Liverpool in November of last year.

I just came back from Retreat, which is a residential workshop that took place in Wales. 19 people - including artists, writers, dancers, choreographers and curators - stayed in a huge house for a week.We ate together, went on walks, drank a lot of wine and gave presentations.

My presentation was called Embarcing Failure (sic). It described three failures, one of which was the story of the problems surrounding the installation of a piece of public art by Anthony Mccall called Column. Because my presentation was quite early in the week, the topic of failure came up again and again in group discussions.

Matthew Breen did a presentation about his parents' hobby (musical theatre, if you're wondering) and whilst trying to define amateurism, Cian Donnelly said a perceptive thing. I'm paraphrasing here, but he said something like,

"There's no difference between what we do (as professional artists) and what they (amateur dramatists) do. The reason we're all sitting around trying to find a difference is because we're scared we're inadequate."

I'm not sure it's the only reason that we were trying to find a difference between professionals and amateurs, but I'm very sure that I'm scared that I'm inadequate.

--

All this talk of failure comes with a sticky residue you can't get off your hands. People don't like to be associated with it. Dealing with failure whilst you try to succeed is hard work. It's like how depressed people are often really annoying and to be nice to them takes way more effort than it takes to be nice to a person who isn't depressed. It doesn't matter if it's not their fault.

Failure's the same. If you live in London and you're trying to make a life out of art or music or whatever, then you haven't really got time for people who aren't succeeding at what they do. This sounds harsher than it is, but it is harsh.

At the same time, I guess everyone has things that have failed in their life, and most failure comes about through a mixture of things. But inadequacy is the ultimate failure - failure that comes about through not being good enough.

Own up to failure and people will take a step back. Own up to the possibility of inadequacy and people will run a mile.

--

On the train home I was thinking about an application I'm writing for The Lombard Method's Summer Residency. I was wondering whether I might be able to do an exhibition about or of or through inadequacy. At the same time I was thinking about objects; how little time I now spend making them and how I suddenly yearned to make them.

The two things are connected.

Human neuro-psychology creates the conditions for its own feelings of incompleteness - the contradiction of yearning to know things as they truly are and yet being a thinking thing who can never truly know anything but their own thoughts.

My art practice is almost completely de-materialised. I mostly work with writing and performance. When I make films I use pre-existing footage. When I work as part of the ARKA group, my focus is the writing and the sound, whilst Ben creates all the imagery or plans the installations.

I want to make objects that negate my fear of inadequacy. I want to re-materialise my art practice for reasons which are psychologically suspect and socially embarrassing. Can this be done 'well'? Is self-awareness enough to create a rigorous approach to investigating inadequacy? What might that investigation look like? What are the objects created as part of that inquiry?


Ambient Notes (Goldsmiths #2)

I went to another lecture at Goldsmiths. I won't name the lecturer, because these notes seem quite negative, and it wasn't a bad lecture, just a little dry.

--

-On screen: information about a student newspaper (they're having a meeting after the lecture). It seems equally pathetic and absurd, but also cute and optimistic. "Have you got "crazy" idea for a newspaper?"

-On the whiteboard from some previous lecture (recently cleaned):
STATUS
SOURCES
                    SPIRITS
SUBJECT <
                    LETTERS
TRAGEDY??
LANGUAGE

Naturalism E. Zola

-European student w/ baggy, woolen hat + snood casually "vaults" over a row of seats. Looks/appears "comfortable" performing physical actions in front of other people.

-I shaved my beard and head earlier, and even though I had a shower, I have hair all over my back and it's really itchy.

-Also, I'm wearing new underwear, and though not uncomfortable, I am v. aware of their "presence".

-Professor introduces Lecturer. Lecturer has asked professor to talk about when they first met. Professor gets story totally wrong.

-Professor says 'Metonyms, if you will' 'This will be an informal talk, not a lecture'

-Lecturer says 'As you probably know' 'In its own right' 'Very central, in many ways' ' Bring your attention' 'How I thought of myself' 'Creating a platform' ' Activating'

-On screen: huge "serious" photo (B&W portrait, subject looking at camera w/ relaxed, intelligent face)

-Lecturer says 'It is important to think that there are themes in my work' 'Most of my work' 'Used, exploited and explored' 'Distributive practice' 'Agency of the artist' 'Activated that attention' 'Questions of ownership' 'Open source meeting' 'My relation to ownership'

-Also, as well as the hair on my back, I have an eyelash in my eye that I can't get out.

-There are no external windows in the lecture theatre, but there is a clock. The face of the clock is a yellow beige that clearly began its life as white.

-Girl in front of me has "posh" or "dirty" blonde hair and the brown and highlighted blonde strands of hair are interacting in complex and fascinating ways via a roughly arranged ponytail.

-Lecturer says 'I asked myself'

-(Even when Lecturer says you, she means I)

-Student in front row is holding on to his ears (both, one with each hand).

-I'm using a cheap ink pen. The ink is going all over my hands.

-Become aware that I don't know what the Lecturer does, or what the lecture is about, even though I'm certain that the lecture must be about what the Lecturer does.

-Lecturer says 'Inspiration' 'We began with soup'

-Tartan wheely-bag next to lecture theatre door.

-On screen: pic of man sitting w/ macbook + bottled water in front of projection that reads "Imaginary property"

-Lecturer says 'That is what of'

-Got it. The Lecturer and her collaborators are publishing a book. The book is about publishing, or perhaps a series of events that they organised that were/are about publishing. The book will then be the focus of a series of events about publishing.

-Lecturer says 'Publishing is complex' 'Social media'

-Lecturer says 'Tweeting' and looks up at the students as she does so.

-Lecturer says 'Hard drive' 'Memory stick' 'Kindle' 'Quite literally'

-On screen: Lecture event w/ v uncomfortable seats.

-Suddenly occurs to me how out of fashion it is to use just lower case. Upper case is still in though right?

-Lecturer says 'It only exists as a pdf' 'Aggressively neutral'

--

-Professor and Lecturer sit down at a table for Q&A but far away from each other as 'That is what causes the feedback' (it isn't). Neither of them clip their clip mics on, they just hold them up in front of their face in a really unergonomic way.

-Professor looks accusingly at a bottle of water on t he table, says, 'I don't know whose this is'

-Lecturer says 'As you probably know'

-Feedback on mics. The room is set up w/ the speakers right at the back of the room, meaning that the lecturers/professors are doomed to have feedback and never know why.

-Fleeting thought that I might have broken my little finger (I haven't).

-Through the window in the lecture theatre door, I watch a student trying to open an external door but failing. She bounces off it several times, like a bird off glass.

-The ultimate statement of power is giving up agency to someone else.

-All Q&As revolve around the question of who is more progressive/radical.

-Lecturer says 'Viral environment'

-When will the last person die who uses classical literature as their main reference points? Will there be a parade? Like veterans of the Great War? What will happen to cryptic crosswords?

-Lecturer wonders whether '[Books] are really different [to the internet]?'

-Professor says 'I'm thinking of facebook'

-Lecturer says 'That is the key' and holds up big metal key that until now no one realised she was wearing round her neck.

-The internet is not about public and private space. It could be about different speeds, or levels of awareness or ignorance or involvement. It is about closed and open communities. Public and private are not quite right words.

-Feedback rises and falls as a student asks long statement/question about the internet - like the room is groaning as it listens.

-Identifying friction vs proposing liberated space.

-Wonder what percentage of questioners in Q&As "hear" or "listen" to the answers that are given?

-Types of drinks in lecture theatre are as follows: bottled water (mainly still, one sparkling I can see), "sports bottles" (i.e., fancy water bottles), cherry Diet Coke, Lucozade (seems like an embarrassing choice for an MFA student), Costa coffee (from on-campus franchise, presumably), other "non-brand/franchise" coffee, can of "full fat" coke, San Pellegrino fizzy orange. Also, at this point in Q&A, phones are openly out/regularly being checked, next to me a student is chewing gum v loudly, I've eaten a banana and the skin is on the desk.  I'm the only person in the room still taking notes.

-On a student's laptop screen: a google image search page but from where I am I cannot identify the images or see the search term.

-Student raises hand, says 'I don't have a question'