Reverberations – On Memory, Imagination, Agency
It is not a song.
Images by Levent Kara
Paul Robinson’s work is exquisite in its carefully calibrated iterations, and philosophical on the verge of the most curious existential questions in the way it invades its sites, in its worldliness. Yet an ordinary ontology of presences, beings, past and present will not do justice to the revelatory character of his work.
Aletheia is about a wholeness. An instance of phronesis, something shows itself in its somethingness, a poetic participation in an order of things. In front of Robinson’s work, with it, my interest is in the experience, that which happens to me, the invention of my gestures; thus, it is disinterestedness to the objects, meanings, that maintains the distinct perception suspended right before the autopsy for any worldly significances. When I am with the work, I have a glimpse of a field of brute meaning; not through the things it orders, but in the way it orders them. This is the prime moment of worldliness for his work, its worldliness belongs to the moment of utterance rather than what it may say. What I see in the work is an architecture that fascinates me: an architecture that intervenes deep in the texture of life by its own event structures above and beyond its contents. The work occupies me in its performative space as it carefully transforms a contingency [its site] into a true possibility without yet affirming any necessity.
In “After Cubism”, Le Corbuiser and Ozenfant wrote: “What is the difference between the aesthetic of a carpet and that of a cubist painting? There is no difference between the aesthetic of a carpet and a cubist painting.” (in Eliel 2001, 135) After discussing how cubist painting is “ornamental” as they see it in its constructional principles, they write this:
“In any case, it must be admitted that this return to the elements of art, to simple sensation – in the guise of pure form, pure color – was necessary. There was too much literature in painting; but let’s not mistake the means for the end. The tool is ready: using the raw elements, we must construct works that make the intellect respond; it is this response that matters.
Having demonstrated that pure, raw sensation is but a means to great art, we allow that there is an artistic hierarchy:
Pure sensation: ornamental art.
Organization of raw sensations – pure colors and forms: superior art.” (139)
To make “the mortal silence of the sign” speak. (Tafuri 1974, 146)
“In any field of human inquiry, a crucial question is that of translation. How do you translate something into something else? How do you substitute a signifier with another signifier for the same signified?” (Frascari 1991, 112) “Tropes: Buildings are passive structures in which the quotidian art of living well finds infinite expression. In them lineaments of construction and the harmony of building elements trace the tropes of human habits that are elicited by a figurative imagination. This is based on topical thinking, an interactive procedure that produces a knowledge based on images and figures, an eidetic process… A powerful conceptual tool, a trope is a playful interpretation that relates forms (eidos) that would otherwise never be associated.” (Frascari 1991, 119-120)
Grassi, in reference to Cicero, underlines ‘topics’ as points of departure, as “the places where the arguments can be found” and that they are a matter of invention, places for invention (1980, 42). If these are acts of productive imagination, then there is newness involved, an imaginative leap through which a new take on reality emerges. This is also what must underlie Kunze’s idea of rhetoric place (1987, 90). If topics are a matter of invention, then the linguistic account runs into the problem of the ‘sign’: modify the sign, but how far, in what direction? The qualitative dimension of phenomenal consciousness cannot be accounted for within the linguistic scheme where every particular is understood in terms of a general. When we see something, we apprehend the qualities directly (all the aspects most of which are not in my language), linguistic expression is a second event on this, metaphor happens here, to delineate an aspect from another known and translate it here, to say what indeed you see before saying it. Grassi quotes Vico: “Topics is the theory of original vision, which is the source of ‘ingenious’, i.e., rationally non-deducible forms of teaching and learning. Topics finds and collects…” (1980, 44-45) The first assertions that are known without further inquiry and reflection are in need of ‘imaginative / rhetorical language’ to be communicated, from the thing, from the phenomenal awareness to language. Thus “every fundamental speech must be pictorial” (Grassi 1980, 60).
A cerebral diagram that sets an overall gesture (a Duchampian / linguistic gesture) cannot yet make architecture. Architecture needs a qualitative resolution at the level of experience: the diagram needs to descend on to the world of lived phenomena, rippling the spatio-temporal texture with its own powers. We cannot rely on memory, an order of things, the memory of photography, cinema, or any sort of phenomena in the event space of life to make architecture beyond architecture’s own possibilities to materialize space in its own systemicness.
If structuralism liquefies the subject in the systems of signification, phenomenology liquefies it in the life form as a binding condition. The former makes the subject a function of the sign, the latter makes it an effect of tradition, hence in both the individual intentionality is bypassed via structures of meaning beyond subject. In both agency is dropped. Both accounts are beacon models of agency.
In reference to Hegel who defined beauty as “the sensuous showing of the idea”, Gadamer writes that “the idea, which normally can only be glimpsed from afar, presents itself in the sensuous appearance of the beautiful; nevertheless, this seems to me to be an idealistic temptation that fails to do justice to the fact that the work speaks to us as a work and not as the bearer of a message” (1986, 33).
The following conversation takes place between Nick Cave and Warren Ellis when they are recording “Jesus Alone” (Dominik 2016, 0:10:50):
Warren Ellis: “This is the vocal that you didn’t do at La Frite”.
Nick Cave: “Yeah but, I just patched up this… So, um, is this before it is being… Before it’s being… put in time?”
Twenty nine seconds into the recording, Warren Ellis: “It is better there”.
Nick Cave: “And, I am playing the piano at the same time. Yeah”.
Warren Ellis: “And, because it’s just opened up a bit more there. This feels like…”
Nick cave: “It does need the piano right?”
Nick Cave: “This has a, I mean a… I have to listen to the other one, but this definitely has a sort of intensity about it”.
Warren Ellis: “Yeah. There’s something… the vibe just builds in it and it becomes hypnotic and stuff… and the other one feels like a song. It feels…”
Nick cave: “Yeah…”
Understanding the notion of significance of an experience beyond linguistic terms is a difficult path, and Wittgenstein has a point, we do not have access to other’s experiences: “Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle”. No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. -Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might imagine such a thing constantly changing. -But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people’s language? -If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as something: for the box might even be empty. -No, one can ‘divide through’ by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is”. (Wittgenstein 1958, 100)
However, we also want to acknowledge that we share experiences: the non-linguistic achievement of language as bringing forth experiences as we talk about them, as we do something together according to our common experiences even beyond contexts of meaning. For example, looking at a doodle, and you say ‘make this line thicker’, ‘see that?’ Even if there is nothing nameable here, there is something in the constellation of lines that becomes more clear perhaps by making that line thicker, and we both see it, we share an aesthetic nuance as we are minded in a certain way through the way we experience the relations of the lines in the doodle. The mapping between the poetic metaphor and the reality it speaks of is similar to this: beyond the learned rules of language–games, there is something shared as we talk.
Evident rightness of things in the way we order them in our experience, or rather the way they order our experience. What kind of experience? Erlebnis of here and now or Erfahrung of a life world? The question of this kind of an experience is the question of getting hold of a singularity in its own existence, a moment of intensity that is far too large for recognition. Empirical apparitions. “But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good, I am happy and I say: ‘This is beautiful.’ That is architecture. Art enters in”. (Le Corbusier 1923, 153) “Observe the play of shadows, learn the game… Precise shadows, clear cut or dissolving. Projected shadows, sharp. Projected shadows, precisely delineated, but what enchanting arabesques and frets. Counterpoint and fugue. Try to look at the picture upside-down or sideways. You will discover the game”. (Le Corbusier 1957, 38-39) ‘Suddenly you touch my heart’. Without being able to find a description, the experience is registered in a metaphor by the self, in the familiarity of language. This is why the first language is of metaphor, and there is no further proof: ‘you will discover the game’, or you simply won’t.
The meaningfulness of everyday life lies not in everyday events, but in rare deeds (Arendt’s point). There is an intensity, a sheer presence of such experiences. But real is real, everyday is everyday. Whence comes the difference of certain experiences that are more real and more meaningful than the rest? How do we know that appearance and reality correspond in certain experiences? Recall Plato: “the shining of the idea”, his conception of knowledge as recollection and beauty as that ‘glimpse’ of the Idea that shows itself in phenomenal experience. The ‘soul’ remembers in certain experiences that come close to the Idea. Plato sees reality not in the flux of lived phenomena as it is, not in the contingent nature, but somewhere else beyond this. Even if we do not agree with Plato on the existence of a world of Essences set once and for all beyond this world we live in its concreteness and contingency, see how his account fits into this picture where we see the meaningfulness of everyday life in rare deeds or where some experiences are more real than the others. There is nothing behind the appearances, but how is it then some experiences are ‘more real’ than the others? It is our own intentionality that is at work in such experiences. Suppose that the Platonic Essences are what we make in our effort of making sense of world and life, and that they are always under construction through new experiences. Suppose that imagination not only remembers but makes new images, new constellations, in spontaneous acts projected as conjectures, as future possibilities on some regulative background of lived experiences. Meaning as such is something we bring upon things. When Aristotle underlined poetry as truer than history, it is the same take on life as something we confer on to a contingent flux of things and events: the way things and events are meaningful for us, the way we relate to world.
“The poet, in the novelty of his images, is always the origin of language.” (Bachelard, xx)
Live creature “instead of trying to live upon whatever may be achieved in the past, it uses the past successes to inform the present. Every living being owes its richness to what Santayana calls ‘hushed reverberations’… In life, that is truly life, everything overlaps and merges”. (Dewey 1934, 18, my italics) “Memory is the same as imagination… Imagination also connotes ingenuity and invention… Thus memory has three distinct aspects: memory when it recalls things, imagination when it alters or recreates them, and ingenuity or invention when it gives them a new turn or puts them into proper arrangement and relationship.” (Vico 1744, S819) Memory is the living temporality of the individual self and the background of self-consciousness, where the mind has its substance in the accumulation of past experiences as they are retained in a developing network of meaning which is not always consciously available to the self. This background is always actively there in our interactions with the world and one another. It is memory that unifies the consciousness as self-consciousness beyond the empirical identity of the self.
The idea of memory as a condition of temporality not only connects past and present, but also registers the spontaneity of human intentionality in the new acts of imagination which cannot be explained through discursive continuity of meaning through received history; it registers the immediacy of our relation to the world and the possibility of original acts of new seeings. The meaningful act is here and now. It requires an original synthesis, an immediate significance in the concrete situation at hand and it is as such a product of spontaneity of mind, imagination. Being in touch with things is the result of such spontaneity in the concreteness of here and now and our prior meanings can only be a regulative background of possibilities rather than determinants of actuality.
The principle of the individual subject is not the Cartesian self that precedes the world, contemplating the world and others from an interior distance. Such an understanding of self is in categorical opposition to the idea of the unity of the thought and made, where thought only becomes what it is, even for the maker, in the exteriority of the work, in the common space of dialogue. However, embeddedness of self in the world, in culture, in the languages and traditions, cannot mean that there is no such self that is unique, individual, has ability to think and relate to world from a specific viewpoint.
Dewey writes: “But the experience is human and conscious as that which is given here and now is extended by meanings and values drawn from what is absent in fact and present only in the imagination”, for him there is always this ‘gap’ between present and past in the experience that passes what he calls the threshold of consciousness, hence, “all conscious perception involves a risk; it is a venture into the unknown” (1934, 272).
“It is only because I can combine a manifold of given representations in one consciousness that it is possible for me to represent the identity of the consciousness in these representations itself, i.e., the analytical unity of apperception is only possible under the presupposition of some synthetic one” (Kant B234).
My self-consciousness requires the unity of my intuitions.
The subject is conscious of his own apprehension before he is conscious of the objective state of affairs represented by them: “The apprehension of the manifold of appearances is always successive…Whether they also succeed in the object is a second point for reflection, which is not contained in the first” (A189). Both of these cases relate to Kant’s statement that “through mere perception, the objective relation of appearances is not determined yet” (B233). And, in both cases the subject is conscious of some intuitive representations before recognizing their objective determination. The difference between the two seems to be that in the case of ‘unruly perception’, the recognition of objective determination cannot be achieved, hence the perception is to be registered as a merely subjective representation.
Both cases hint that the subject is conscious of the representation of apprehension before recognizing its unity under categories. And, from the argument of Deductions, we know that the representation of apprehension is already unified under categories through the synthesis of imagination and that this determination is the condition of subject’s consciousness of his representations. Hence, in both cases, conscious perceptions of the subject are produced by the imagination as determined under categories before the subject is reflectively conscious of this determination. Only, in one case this determination is complete, in the other it is partial. That one is an objective perception whereas the other is only a merely subjective representation can only come to consciousness by the subject’s attending to this determination. And, the latter recognition would lack the complete unity of categorical determination required for the recognition of an objective perception, and would hence be registered as ‘unruly’. Kant underlines that “apprehension is only a juxtaposition of the manifold of empirical intuition, in it there is no representation of the necessity of the combined existence of the appearances juxtaposed in space and time” (B219). For the ‘unruly’ case, because there is consciousness of the representation of apprehension, there would at least be some spatio-temporal determination of the perceptions, but the recognition of this determination would not achieve any consciousness of their necessity in this or that order.
A true possibility without any necessity.
“The self understanding of Greek poetry begins with Hesiod’s poem in which the muses appear before the poet and make their promises to him: they are capable of telling both much that is false and much that is true.” (Gadamer 1986, 143)
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Dewey, J. 1934. Art as Experience. New York: Minton, Balch and Company.
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