Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Imagination beyond Representation, Bonjana Piskur

Everything in the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. How does one start at the beginning, if things happen before they actually happen? (Clarice Lispector)

For some time now we have been considering the questions about the political potential of a work of art, or, put somewhat differently, about freeing the revolutionary potential of art from its social and political forms of representation and from the limitations of its communicative medium. Jacques Ranciere, for example, talks about emancipation of art from its representative regime.

But what does this actually mean? When we consider the political potential of an artwork, we are usually attentive to the possible changes in the social field that this work can stimulate or evoke. We think about the devices in an artwork (such as the motives, the narratives, or “meaningful spectacle” as Ranciere put it) that contribute towards raising the political awareness in a social and economic order. We can even say that it is all about certain political pedagogy. But what we are actually talking about are the ways politics condition art and not about art’s emancipation from the representational regime.

What we are interested in, then, is something else: the unmediated experiences, acts of creation, operations of desire or even insights, which are not yet formalized knowledge but thoughts in their purest formation, passing the field which has been liberated from the institutionalized rationality. Translations of these operations into the so called representative regime of art are never unproblematic, since they stimulate anxiety, incite new reactions and interruptions of the already-known and if not, they remain hidden until they reach their “extractive conditions”. But how does one recognize the moment of moving beyond the subjective territory of the “not yet” into the plane of transversal linkage? How can radical imagination contribute towards crossing that threshold in question, bridging the gap between subjectivity and the representative regime of art?

In order to attempt to answer these questions we should not only reconsider the meaning of imagination and creativity but also the long tradition of conformity to forms of expression and content which resulted in representation dominating our way of thinking. It has been suggested (Simon O’Sullivan) that under different circumstances the art history practice as it is known now might disappear, that is, the kind of practice which positions an artwork as a representation, as a hermeneutic activity.
Imagination is traditionally understood as one’s ability to form mental images, concepts and sensations, which subsequently become defined by images they create of themselves. Images created by imagination are then overwhelmed by a “schema”, a classificatory system that hierarchically organizes knowledge about the world. This is the representation Deleuze called “organic representation” and it is opposite to the “rhizome”. For Deleuze and Guattari thinking non-representational involved thinking difference in itself. And this difference necessarily involves movement and desire; desire in a sense of being a mode of production and constructing of something (for example: a will to live, to create, to love, to invent another society, another value system).

David Bohm, a physicist and theorist, has written about creative and constructive imagination: the former involves perception before a mental vision, a certain insight, and only in the unfolding of this insight in the form of an image is the mind ready to pass the content of the insight into the domain of constructive imagination. Constructive imagination involves reasoning and taking images from memory and from other contexts, as well as already available structures and concepts that come from memory; for scientists it is a hypothesis, for artists the finalization of the perceptive process into an artwork and for writers a translation of thoughts into language. But as Bohm suggests, the creative and constructive are never completely separated, therefore the relationship between imagination and reason must also be taken into account.

Niklas Luhmann attributed to art the function of integrating perception into the communication network of a society. According to him, art only exists within the art system; it is a self-referential system, which interacts with other systems. Once this system recognizes art, the difference between inside and outside cannot disappear again. Luhmann also suggests that if perception and conceptual thought are constructed by the brain, then art should reject the functional concepts of representation, that is, forms that demonstrate the possibility of order and the impossibility of arbitrariness. He notes that only in the form of intuition (or in other words, artistic sensibility) does art acquire the possibility of constructing imaginary worlds within the life-world.

This is where he comes close to DG’s concept of desire and Bohm’s idea of insight. Moreover, what these authors suggest is that these concepts alone are not enough and that some kind of relationship between imagination and reason must be involved (Bohm), intuition and life-world or perception and communicating social system (Luhmann) and desire and stratum (Deleuze) in order to fully realize their revolutionary potential before they get captured by the molar machine or by the state philosophy which is another name for representational thinking. In other words, there needs to be some kind of “situated imagining” in order to point somewhere, there need to be some kind of strata available in order not to fall into the black pit.

It has been said that to invoke imagination as supporting radical politics has become a cliché. But isn’t this kind of statement grounded in another domain of representational thinking as well? And isn’t it our concern, after all, to change the way we make meanings and not just to change the meanings themselves? Or is writing about it already producing another representation?

One way to change the way we make meanings would be to simply do nothing, to avoid the so called “creative imperative” that has been so thoroughly imposed on us by capitalism. I am sure that many of you know the short text by the artist Mladen Stilinović called “In praise of laziness”. In it he talks about the importance of an artist being lazy. What is especially significant in this short text is his noting that laziness is not only the absence of thought, staring at nothing, non-activity, impotence … but that it is really what art is all about, and not some preoccupation with objects and other such matters. In his Fifteen theses on contemporary art Badiou writes that it is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent. Žižek has proposed that one alternative way to oppose the dominant system could be to withdraw from all forms of political representation, to renounce social and political responsibility, resist the compulsion to act, and instead do nothing. Of course, the question is, how can such non-activity, such doing nothing be revolutionary - resistant in any way? It can be easily considered an escape, a utopia without any meaning. But doing nothing is also becoming different, creating conditions for encounters that are not based on some kind of concept of identity, but on something previously unthought. When perception is liberated of mental images it does not only oppose object relations (schemes of power etc) but radically cancels them.
To give an example: surrealists were concerned with the emancipation of thought, and recognized imagination as a powerful weapon using techniques such as automatic writing, drawing, trance narrations … to move away from the conventional significations. But on the other hand, this kind of private fantasy or reverie could not affect or disrupt the social fabric, as they believed it would; it remained on the level of imaginary projections. Similarly, David Bohm invented a “flow language” – Rheomode, based on motion, because, as he said, reality leads to fragmentation of thought and to unending reductionism, therefore thought needs a constant flow to override this confusion.

And yet: could there be other possibilities? Perhaps we should think spatio-temporal planes differently, access that which is normally outside ourselves, to make ourselves a body without organs, as Artaud wrote in 1947:

When you will have made him a body without organs, then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom.
If art is something that we consider an activity as such, it could be that art’s rupture is the event, or, in the words of Lyotard: “To encounter the event is like bordering on nothingness.” What he suggests is that in order to take on the attitude of an event, one needs to clean out his/her mind, reject modes of preestablished encodings and subsequently the fixity of representation. But the problem is that such affects (or intensities) have no vocabulary and are therefore wedded to theories: as Massumi points out, intensities then lose this kind of eventness in favor of a structure.

Examples of these intensities are “moments”, eruptions of spontaneous creativity, flashes of liberation, utopian consciousness that escape the daily programming. Moments are transitory, critical, creative, unpredictable … and they produce fractures in our subjectivity, introduce a sense of freedom from categorical thought, discipline, common structures, restraints and the like, since they have not yet become alienated time. Moments are sensations of powerful emotions such as delight, disgust, surprise, horror, outrage, and intense euphoria, and as such have a revolutionary potential.

But again: is the revolutionary potential hidden in the prolongation and intensification of such moments, or in their reactivation in the process of defixating meanings?

The analogy can be drawn here with Ranciere’s suggestions that “the dream of an art is to transmit meanings in the form of a rupture with the very logic of meaningful situations”. Native Americans, for example, believe that what appears as a material object or image in space is simply the manifestation of a unique combination of energy waves. Occasionally temporary markings appear in the flux, which are then used as reference points. And these points are what constitute reality.

It would be naïve to suppose that only by breaking or ridding the strata (representation), would one be able to set free. After all, if you lose images you lose space. As DG said: staying organized, signified, subjected is not the worst thing that can happen. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight; through connections of desires, con­junctions of flows, a continuum of intensities.

Or, put differently: blowing up the molar machine will get one destroyed – and not the machine itself. Instead of symmetrical opposition to repressive representation, instead of opposing the current reality in an alleged parallel reality “the aim is now the principle that leads the destiny of creation”. Therefore the political potential of art is in unleashing mind’s most creative capacities, moving away from representation into experience, becoming the “power of emergence” into the open field of unknown relations, which traverse all domains of being into unlimited number of connections in every sense and in all directions, of infinite spreading into schools, prisons, factories, art museums and further on towards where “communication is occurring at the edge of impossible crossings, or perhaps in the gap of potential contact.”

Above copied from: http://radical.temp.si/2009/12/imagination-beyond-representation-by-bojana-piskur/

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