The topic, ‘The Other Way Round’ might speculate how simple transversals in rethinking art and design disrupt the ordered universe of causes and effects.
We see how the move from the accepted way to get to understand something, could be enhanced by thinking the relation of internal movement to the orbit of thought, the other way round. An idea, if unstable, moving chaotically in space and time may change its direction. Or more acutely, to change position, as in a mirror, what cannot be captured is the thing that sees you. What appears accustomed through habit reappears in the lens to alert to a distortion of consciousness, to take a foreign view. Mind does not control matter in this case. We live in a glass-house, contained safely inside to distance what we see outside before our eyes as real, yet with reasonable clarity we make up stories to disaffirm what is true or false despite or precisely because of the undeniable evidence. Are we to believe what we see with our own eyes, or not? Where does the truth ‘lie’? Is it not precisely ‘the other way round’, in the very lie of truth, the illusion that we project outwardly, whilst we gaze in the self-affirming mirror? Through this conceptual window, what do we see?
Jokes themselves surprise us on the basis of offering an unexpected reversal, yet recounted within the logic of a story told in reverse, making sense only when arriving at its destination the other way round, in the punch-line. “No-one expects”, as it was once announced by the camp inquisitors of Monty Python, “the Spanish Inquisition!” Yet they always turn up unexpectedly. Or upon that unexpected knock on the door, what do we imagine lies in wait, but anticipation itself in whatever unknowable new form? Whether angel or devil, as David Bowie sings in “My Death’, behind that door, there’s nothing much he can do. In front of that door, there is arguably something to be done. Can we, in these uncertain times, afford to drop our guard, when the house is burning down, in the fear of being caught being ourselves, (or not), still face the urgency of the question as to who, or what we are, behind the door?
But whatever lies behind the door
There is nothing much to do
Angel or devil, I don't care
For in front of that door there is you
David Bowie, My Death
Credit (Songwriters: Brel, Jacques Roman / Blau, Eric / Shuman, Mort , published by
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, inc.)
I ask myself, if, in the title 'The Other Way Round' we might test all kinds of problems raised in the questions of art, science, politics and culture, entailing further design issues, such as (in no particular order), the arts of war, play, education and identity. Each testing of conditions opens up debates around the question, what if it was the other way round? For example, what if something appears 'new' it is the other way round? What if in accepting the 'modern' it is in fact, 'old', really just a disguise for a traditional and conservative idea? Cinema often betrays this gloss on the old dressed in ‘new’ clothes. It's a philosophical question that collapses the very act of questioning. Our question arrives at an impasse, what we can no longer automatically assume to be the right and wrong of questioning. What if, in fact, it's 'the other way round'? That the question might be a clever deceit? We need to reach a point of meeting these radical dead-ends of reason head-on.
Jacques Lacan, the psychoanalyst, refers to such as the subjective condition of laughter. We laugh in recognition of something that greets the subject [ourselves] off-guard. The laugh itself provides a vivid image from which erupts the sudden reversal of logic [laughter] to donate a truer picture of our shared experience. Confronted anew, the twist provides immediacy in understanding in the breaks of logic. To be caught ‘off guard’ is to see the situation as if for the first time ‘the other way round’, as the remainder of something forgotten from over-familiarity or in blind faith. There it is! We see the whole object, in time; hear the song long since buried in our memory as if for the first time. Memory haunts the living and revives the dead as if once more alive in our presence. Memory, in other words awakens, in the suddenness of an unexpected encounter. Proust would have it named as an involuntary memory, in that it surprises us from our half-asleep daily grind. Our routine is momentarily disrupted in the generosity of a remembrance. This can be a pleasurable assault on the senses – the smells of baking ‘Madeleine’ cakes revives pleasure in the habits of lost times, or something painful, hidden for the sake of maintaining our fragile sense of order and stability. We most often seek conformity, the tribal support of belonging to its higher authority, to guarantee security of our being, in the dread of subjective destitution. Yet the very discomfort set upon subjectivity can be productive of a release of freedom from the need for security and assurances.
And suddenly the memory returns.
…The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the interval, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the forms of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness.
Excerpt from Remembrance of Things Past
by Marcel Proust
Take the aphorism "It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round" posed by Ernest Gellner, the philosopher and intellectual, to get the 'idea', conceptually dormant until activated by a movement from assumption to the test of its reasoning. If we write, "It is nations that engender nationalism...and not the other way round", we disaffirm thinking with a reactionary statement that has changed our opinion and yet will change nothing. In fact it cements and converges on the rigid normalisation of our constituted thought, i.e. it appears reasonable, yet supports and ‘respects’ unthinking conformity to universal injunctions. It appears to be true and strong for all situations. It satisfies more readily by confirming our baser instincts. There is a fallacy in all universals if tested only by empirical science, or in assuming ‘fact’ by converging opinion on a self-falsifying basis, not fully examined from alternative, other, ways of seeing. ‘Wisdom’ works equally well stated the other way round, as Kant recognised in the antimonies of reason. Statements, in opposition, can be equally argued for. Suspicion of interpretation is here needed to uncover the shadow contradictions and alliances upheld in ‘self’ and ‘nation’.
We are ‘post-critical’ only when inclusive of our bodies, the world, and its everyday experiences, no matter how banal they at first appear, they count for that something we have overlooked. These visionary faculties emanate precisely from the ordinary, and repetitive details at their surface of experience. They might be lost in the details, or forgotten as instances. Romantic, melodramatic, lyrical, ‘kitsch’, they never the less present a pure surface. You see what you get and vice versa, imagining you see more than is there. Then in a moment, nothing is there, just matter. The power of fiction lies, not in posing a claim to directly reflect reality, but in composing its very fabric, to tell a truth in the recital itself, whatever it is, to be encountered in the allegory, the libretto, song, or poem. The recital is a siren song, “a way of figuring the way in which the récit leads itself back to the question of its own possibility, but also the impossibility of ever accounting for that event in the present of tasks, projects and intact subjects.” Lars Iyer, Wittgenstein Jr.
Subjectivity is captivated, literally by the question of its continuity of existence in the story.
Gellner simply exchanged the subject and the object in the sentence to assert the suspicion of what might be fictional in the name, ‘nation’. Surely this rule or law may test the verifiability of any axiom, locate the problem, to disengage the ‘geared’ relation of causes to their effects? We put the vehicle of thought in reverse gear. The opinionated subject takes things for granted. Opinion produces and confirms a generally agreed reality, yet is at base flawed, or worse still a fraudulent simplification, black against white. But we start with opinion, essential in all cases. The grey area of the law hides the fictive operation of opinion itself; how sleep is to be interrupted by dreams, how we interpret, and discover laws that produce these displacements and condensations of images, and their repressed meanings to anticipate what dreams may come, what laws we trespass. After Freud opened up this can of hysterical worms, we understood we need a ‘third’ pill.
The other way round, like the reverse image in the mirror, is not enough. The ‘either/or’ matrix is insufficient. Thought is inoperative until it opens the impossibility of thinking beyond itself. A third condition is necessary, to make something happen from uncertainty. Thought itself sees the ‘you’, from this other dimension, as vivid, unique and unknown. We have to jump through a multiplicity of parallel universes, set sail into the maelstrom, spiralling slowly outward, and rapidly drawn into a black hole.
The 'perpetually ambiguous figure' is an oscillation of an individual, whose self-same image projects two contradictory forms in one, but which can only be seen one at a time, either this way or that, in turn. By turning the image round 360 degrees in our mind’s eye [as exemplary in W.E Hill's drawing] the ambiguity discovered by the psychologist Edwin Garrigues Boring, aligns conscious stability with an unconscious shock to be registered in the unstable appearance.
What Freud staked in the encounter with the double or mirrored self is experienced in the other’s eye, not ours, the other way round, whose upside-down proximity threatens the stability of the self/other border, the right way up. Unfamiliarity beckons as already familiar, in seeing our other self, the other way round, conscious that we no longer trust our perception to register the continuity of the universe. ‘I’ve been here before’ in the return, but the ‘other way round’. We remain the same, but irreversibly changed. “I is the other” [Je est un autre, Arthur Rimbaud], the universe remains the same, yet all is unsettled in ‘me’.
Kojin Karatani, the Japanese philosopher, applies the term ‘parallax’ as a more vivid way to conceive Kant’s constant shifting between perspectives that can never match up. They were ‘antimonies of Reason’ since they contradicted that which seemed true as a proposition from their single perspective, but not true if another position was in a relation. The two propositions could be equally argued as true but when placed together were contradictory. They alternate and oppose each other. Karatani establishes a ‘parallax’ between them, that isn’t negative in any sense. The parallel doesn’t negate its negativity; rather it affirms the positive of both positions as a part of the structure of negation. Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian philosopher, further argues that in the parallax view, the observed difference is not simply subjective. The viewer’s altered position and perspective reflects a shift in the object’s existence itself: “[…] the subject's gaze is always-already inscribed into the perceived object itself, in the guise of its ‘blind spot’, that which is ‘in the object more than the object itself’, the point from which the object itself returns the gaze” (Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View, 2006).
“Sure, the picture is in my eye, but me, I am also in the picture” (Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1979).
The parallax concept was applied as an underlying concept for the film event curated by Zata Banks at ICA London PoetryFilm. Film as artworks, chosen for their alignment with poetic structures and experiences, affirmed the negative power of the visual, verbal and aural languages of poetry from their other, ‘parallax’ views). https://www.ica.org.uk/whats-on/poetryfilm-parallax
Walter Hopps, the curator, epitomises how we can, as artists and designers, always look at things round the other way, by arriving the other way round. Both return us to the same point in tandem but changed. Our artistic compass is dizzy. Hopp’s, whose first curated show was in fact on a merry-go-round, 'discovered’ Marcel Duchamp in America, and introduced the infamous Campbell’s soup cans of Andy Warhol well in anticipation of Pop Art.
In its perception of ordinary life, art donates a kind of shock to the aesthetic regime. The range of influences within modernity work upon our sense of self, simply freed of value, to make subjective, new values of negation. Hopps later curated work of artists on the edge of our perception of what is unacceptable or of negative value, the failed, self-taught artist or ‘outsider’ subject, which inevitably also was to be inclusive of just about anybody, thus changing the viewpoint of everything around him that he loved.
His most celebrated exhibition was the 1963 Marcel Duchamp retrospective, held at the Pasadena Art Museum, in its original home on Los Robles Avenue. Duchamp stands at the crossroads, presenting perpetual ambiguity in objects, since the work resides neither there nor there, in speculative relations to a constantly shifting perspective. Art as we know it has long since had nothing to do with the branded value of the ‘ready-made’. The normative value of ‘Duchamp’ now resides elsewhere, perhaps no longer as art, but as pointing to the ‘abnormal’ within the norm. Yet capital exploits this ‘weakness’ as its strength, [watch any American movie about the heroism of the underdog]. Its internal contradiction is the dynamic of self-production of winners and losers. Duchamp capitulates the weak sign into the system and empowers the mainstream of capital in which art and design are commodities for neo-liberal ideology.
However, in 1977, in the introduction to his exhibition ‘Visions’, Hopps wrote, “I was seeing a kind of art evolving out of a way of life, an art totally apart from the mainstream of the modernist art theory and practice, in which so many of us have been schooled. I was seeing the contemporary art not so much immersed in itself as ‘art’, as one engaged in an on-going dialogue with life, accessible by virtue of its shared humanity, rather than by an academic indoctrination”. Hopps was himself also abnormal, and unpredictable, a stranger to himself. He would show up out of the shadows, or disappear at times on his own, self-absorbed, and re-appear again seemingly without cause or reason, and with no explanation. Can Art be its own exception?
What is the happier state? To be at home and find everything suddenly unfamiliar, or the other way round, when not at home, to find something strangely familiar in a new encounter? Fantasy, once carried into reality, will seriously disappoint expectation, since it is the product of social relations that pre-exist and produce its wishes and abstractions. Neither perhaps can decidedly ‘settle’ the account between the wish for a new self, and its coming true. Nothing can be fulfilled except in confronting the obstacle to fulfilment in the certainty of its doubtful success. I believe in nothing, yet am free. ‘Failure’ is uncoupled from the moralism of ‘success’. Ray Brassier, the philosopher, sets an argument for a truth in a transcendent form of realism as a strange paradox, precisely because there is no meaning. One plus one will sometimes equal zero, not always. It is contingent, not necessary.
The feeling of ‘deja-vu’ brings with it sensations of disappointment and excitement simultaneously. The pleasure one wishes for in a new experience is complicated by its event having happened, if only to be glimpsed in the lucidity of the fleeting moment, when the virtual past catches up with the actual present. Nietzsche identified the perpetual circularity in life experience the ‘eternal return’. What if, he asks, we always return to our lives and have to repeat each experience again? Falling in love obeys this law to some extent. A kind of melancholy arises in desire. It is as if the two had always known each other as one, but were destined as strangers who eventually must part and be two again.
They meet, the other way round, only to begin at the end. Will the lovers not be forced to allegorise and beautify their tragic sense, for enjoyment to ensue?
We can try it out ourselves, for the sake of having some fun with the idea of the reversal. What if a chair’s body replaces a mannequin? What happens to the ‘couture’ in the case of the negative space of the chair, already forming the negative space of a human being? These are antimonies of reason. The chair has a ‘life ‘of its own. It looks back at the human for whom it is a slave form, yet its purpose now exceeds its lifeless negation. Or what if we can cut away everything but the barest structures from a chair, a dress, a painting, or a musical composition, how do we imagine form’s new function? What rituals would the reformulation initiate? How does such reformulation change perception? If we cut away a corner of a rectangle, and show it to be separated, what thoughts arise from the act of cutting and separating, if not the metaphor of the cut itself?
EITHER / OR
What if an animal becomes conscious of inflicted pain? Does the hunter [who in turn becomes the hunted] disestablish the order of categories of being? Does nature re-absorb the culture that once dominated it, destroyed it, in the devolution of civilisation? Does the ostrich, no longer hiding its head in the sand learn to think through prosthetic reconstruction of the ‘animal’? Is it for the human animal ‘too late’ to think, and hide his head in the sand? Ethics apply here, if the border that defines the animal and the machine starts to interfere with the definition of ‘human’, as Stephen Hawking predicts, disappearing on the edge of the ‘singularity’.
If bullets are no longer bullets, bones are no longer bones. Everything can be reassembled and remade from its detritus. The whole ecology (of found things) can be welded to new forms. All that glitters is not gold, but glitter still turns out to carry value. I think of ‘diamond dust’ and the colour of its artifice, its digital glow and allure, its ‘sex’. This is a possibility engendered of the imagination, whose narratives assemble around the impossible thinking of a changed universal dimension where technology is writing its own scripts, and whether we are included becomes a problem. The footprints in the sand are washed away, yet what can be imagined redrawn in the sand and by what or whom? The process is incomplete, and cannot be compromised by resolved endings. These are fragile evidences of multiple causes and their irresolution.
Other strategies of knowledge are equally impossible yet drive the capacity for theoretical invention and subversion. Knowledge [in its other ways] knows how to excavate the stubborn conformism in the Duchampian ‘ready-made’. We see, for example, in notes, and the hand-written digressions, of diaries and notebooks, or story and mood boards, how a thought is being constructed, how the theoretical montage is to take the place of the book, becoming a field of visualised possibilities, or making a series of folds in the road where the ‘text’, which is in general more narrative and oriented, refuses to lead us. The unfolded text can be a book destroyed, moulded, equally as an object, whose gelded words are sawn from the branches of trees, hung with prosthetic limbs, covered in feathers, honey and gold, glued sofa-foam, rotting carpets and melted polystyrene.
There might be more than one personality living in such a hybridised body without internal organs. The body is as such an atlas to determine one’s sexual, spiritual, and political multiplication into a world whose surface is decomposed and recomposed. If Fernando Pessoa, the poet, realised that Fernando Pessoa invented ‘Pessoa’ among his other fragmentary selves, each of his writings contingent, contradictory, and incomplete, yet forming a ‘whole’ from the fissures, or cracks of its authorship.
On Pessoa’s The Book Of Disquiet George Steiner writes:
“The fragmentary, the incomplete is of the essence of Pessoa's spirit. The very kaleidoscope of voices within him, the breadth of his culture […] inhibited the monumentalities, the self-satisfaction of completion. Hence the fragmentary condition of The Book of Disquiet which contains material that predates 1913 and which Pessoa left open-ended at his death. As Adorno famously said, the finished work is, in our times and climate of anguish, a lie.
It resides, Steiner continues, in an astute state of melancholy. “What is this Livro do Desassossego? Neither 'commonplace book', nor 'sketchbook', nor 'florilegium' will do…yet even such a hybrid does not correspond to the singularity of Pessoa's chronicle.”
What if we are in the process of our becoming, always without settlement, constantly reinventing the same in another way, will we perforce imagine ourselves differently, crossbreeding ideas of ourselves at each turn? The ‘genus’ is at root, an apparition, to be moulded in each individual. There are other origins to be discovered amid the archipelagos of thought. We see children, as the educationalist Maria Montessori did at the turn of the 20th Century, as profound individuals, whose communities, cities, organisations, and nation-states are indices of an assemblage of micro-individuations. These will subsist as entities, in parallax, the ‘other way round’, since nothing can ever be imagined the same again.