Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tragicomic Empiricism and the Mystical-Rational Age


The challenge today, as it may be expressed, the challenge for subjective experience, for any humanistic philosophy is the unprecedented difficulty in establishing individualized existence in what is a more rationalistic and mystical society than history has known. Moreover, this is compounded by the fact that it is not some clandestine group of Cartesians or Swedenborgians* (or say, "the Man") that perpetuates this fact, but indeed the relative lack of human subjects, and the increase in technological and object-oriented means of organization. Both the ultralogical forms of analytic philosophies and the poetically abstract forms of continental versions address this and are symptomatic of it.

This then, the age of abstraction becomes conversely the age of immersion. The rational and mystic demands to which one is subject are not cases for debate - there is nothing to debate - there is instead an a priori assumption of what simply is - that is, for the lawful and rule-abiding societal member. The subjective experience is in this sense non-existent in the assumed parameters of existence - the immersion is present, and the subject-less abstraction as well. If there is no agency or speaking subject, then there is none of the properly fallible, contestable science that I mentioned earlier, nor is there the open space for the aleatoric, germinating and messy (so inimical to aesthetic categorizations which are a mystical analogue) forms of art. The base empiricist idea then is (in these described contexts, which I argue are increasingly definitory) totally unpracticed and, while materially it is the epitomy of naturalistic conservatism, in the context of mystical alienation the concept becomes an inversion or revolution. That is, its essence is more provocational than explanatory and its simple empirical means contrary to the effective consistency of rationalism.

The chief problematic of communication theories of social justice, of acts of speech and societies with open forums, is that there simply is no such Arthurian Round Table in our midst. As noble as these ideas may sound, we are simply not born into their idyllic world, but instead into one where we are immersed in a system which is more and more about figuring out the means to get something done (who to call or talk to, what papers to fill out) than in voicing our ideas in an equivalent platform. It is more about the technical processes to achieve an end, the bureaucratic engagement that enables and accords power, in which no human opinion is generally involved (of course there is the desk clerk which sends you the forms, but they are entirely subject to certain predetermined procedures) - it is more about these processes than about a person to person discussion**. The communication theory assumes a space (an agora or public sphere if you like) where such communication can take place. An age of abstractive immersion assumes a relative lack of human subjects and their (to borrow from Levinas) "face-to-face" interaction which thus requires different forms of response for the subject immersed in it.

Basic empiricism attempts to describe a fundamental (and alternately pragmatic) epistemology and underlying ontology, however its problematic lies in having its "base embeddedness" if you will, entirely ignored. This is a case where Popperian critical rationality is hopeless since there is nothing falsifiable to critique (what's the phone number for the Man?). Instead we have a case of instantiated holism (different from the hypothetical holism discussed in relation to art), of theory-ladenness and underdetermination, where the overlying rationality easily incorporates anomalies into its sphere. This Kuhnian and post-Kuhnian (or para-Kuhnian) epistemic description correlates with his opposition of the paradigm with the revolution***. It is the Kuhnian model which gives us a more powerful framework to juxtapose with a system described as abstractively unfalsifiable and paradigmatically immersive. The experience or experiment in this case inevitably becomes - through the simple sensing and expressing of its content - what Bacon called an instancia crucis (later taken up by Newton through Hooke as an "experimentum crucis"). It becomes an instance or experiment that violates a theoretical paradigm - that this is a fixed or categorical possibility is not of interest to me, nor is it staked as a science philosophy claim; rather it is situated along a continuum of speculative empirical events that parallels the basic empiricist experience with the instancia crucis which is socially and paradigmatically upsetting, versus the classical empiricist event which is argued to be - due to its more abstracted rational quality - easier to tidy up into a normalized setting.

The expression of the basic experience in a space that allows for no dissent that is not revolutionary is no longer permitted the critical literalism that an easily referent language affords (such as in the pared down descriptions of the copepodal experiment). With the literal eschewed, an equal dialogue is refused the base experience, which is forced into more metaphorical and indirect forms of communication. The paradigmatic discourse and its normal procedures do not make place for the acts of speech of the subject (the assumed position of the base, or the crucis, which does not fit the paradigm, nor its dialogic language) which is then forced into the only kind of speech which remains honest, that which plays the lie in order to say the truth. The hypothetical agent is situated in an immersive space without recourse to counterdialogue (an abstraction without its lived foundation) and instead must use that immersion (as it is the only narrative or structure to use) against itself, with itself. This language is consigned to the fictional or aesthetic (reincorporating the discourse as a fiction in-itself, making of it what the Socratic Plato denigrated as the copy of a copy) the which takes the literal and turns it inside out. This, in full fictive description, is the tragic, in inadequate description, the comic, and in a direct failure at description, the silent. The latter apathetic non-action may be further styled as the tragicomic insofar as the tragicomic fails at either tragedy or comedy. It goes without saying that these words could be others, or that the scope of these could be different from the scope proposed. Nonetheless, as in the common practice of use as it pertains to practice, the scope is chosen to be extended a certain amount and further the terms used are useful for their literary pedigree - for what comparative and traditional ideas it may offer. So the tragic may speak of what others term the grotesque, comedy may as such speak of satire, and tragicomedy of the indecipherable. The replacement of these terms with others is always a possibility****, yet still, despite this, they are used in the aim that such reduction focuses referents (and indeed other terms that may compare) so far as to elucidate not the language so much, but what that language forms around, and what will be recurrent in presence in a given culture, regardless of one's actions. Under these terms then, or others, such an encounter pretends to style appropriately according to what is called an immersive time, and offer such terms as might validate sense and hypothetical reflection in that time.

So it is that the forms of expression of the base empiricist in a period of rational-mystic pomo submersion is one that takes the classical forms of theatre and re-representation in a realm of fictive mimicry: the brutal tragedy, the satirical comedy and the hybridization interform of muteness and lacked articulation. These too, distilled to their language, inform methods that similarly work to dismantle a paradigmatic normality from within its own normality - the literal is eschewed for the consciously fictive, whose real excluded reference is expressed through the fictional particularizing of what performs such exclusion. Language is infused with its experiential content to the point where it becomes entirely aesthetic and performative - that is, proliferative with nothing consistent to offer logic - yet it brims with that kind of empirical content, those experimenta cruces which fail to meet with a normalized criteria, yet to meet and disrupt that criteria, it is an aesthetic language that science needs to properly accommodate and express itself. The language of theatre here, turning a Chymical Theatre to a physiological one, is the language of science, most properly the most experimentally intense thereof, which is human biology. Its mimicry and multi-representation serves as the ultimate aesthetic foil, it presents everything but in play and thus obliterates everything real by making nothing at all real. As the complete aesthetic art it also generates that which properly is the abductive core of science, germinating its hypothetical postures, and naively disregarding all normative realities for an explosion of alternatives and ignorantly transgressive possibilities. It is entirely fitting in this way, that in an undifferentiated oral-cultural state, that the chief actor or artist of the village is also the medicine man who is the chief scientist, a reflection that situates this intimate interrelation of the fictive and the real, the aesthetically propounded and the actually present. It is this same interrelation which needs to be called upon again, in an age that presents a literalized reflection that no longer contains its actual lived referent, the mysticism of pseudo-science, that it is precisely art that is needed to re-establish the empirical grounds of science (and not say some "harder look" at facts and such since there is no longer any reference point, dialogue space or forum in which to perform such an action). The horrible language of tragedy, the satirical streak of comedy, and the refusal and silence of incompleted language, these are the formulae to dismantle pseudobabble and clear the ground for a more veritable empirically-based engagement of the subject with his or her societal space.

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* note, in my estimation, rationalism is to scientistic empiricism, what mysticism is to aesthetics, as capable parallels

** An exemplary instance is the encounter with a cop. You do not discuss or argue the basis for his or her claim for pulling you over - you in no way expect to be convinced that he or she is right and debate until you both reach a consensus. You accede as much as possible (lest you exacerbate the charges) and work through the due bureaucratic process before entering a domain where your speech may be completely naive to legal processes, whereas for the cop it is integral to the job and experience abounds. This isn't even a critique per se of the system in itself, but merely a description of its preemptive rationality - it is not even to say that it is in any way wrong (insofar as it is laid out here), but rather an attempt to effectively describe aspects thereof so the proper object of consideration is at hand when considering whether one agrees or not.

*** this does not here comment or engage with the ideas as accurate or inaccurate depictions of historical science, but rather as differing models which can be applied to reveal different aspects of different epistemic systems.

**** And is, it should be said, held to always be the case in such specified and reductive language, as its technical particularity inevitably dissolves into an uncontainable use. Yet the reductive and illusorily "clear" is useful as that linguistic ladder that Wittgenstein both used and discarded.