As a counterpart to the exhibiton Uncertain Spectator opening on November 18, 2010 at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) in Troy, NY, select philosophers, cultural theorists, and artists will blog on the prevalence of anxiety in current events, as well as its expression in philosophy and contemporary art.
A selection of photographs from the Uncertain Spectator opening on November 18, 2010 with a performance by the Troy Chainsaw Ensemble (Jack Magai, Andrew Lynn & Bobby Gibbs, conducted by Sam Sowyrda). Photographs by Travis Cano (November 2010, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Mezzanine at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC)
Tue Greenfort’s Die Dynamik der Autoren (2000)
Graciela Carnevale’s photographs and statement from her contribution to the Experimental Art Cycle in Rosario, Argentina (1968) in the foreground and Susanna Hertrich’s Reality Checking Device (2008) in the background.
Graciela Carnevale’s photographs and statement from her contribution to the Experimental Art Cycle in Rosario, Argentina (1968).
Sam Sowyrda conducting for the Troy Chainsaw Ensemble
Performance by the Troy Chainsaw Ensemble (Andrew Lynn, Jack Magai, & Bobby Gibbs)
A illuminating animation by RSA Animate in which David Harvey, a leading social theorist, traces geographical movement of the financial crisis and asks whether there might be a better system than capitalism.
The French philosopher Jacques Derrida has reflected on the Greek word ‘pharmakon’, which appears in Plato’s dialogues.The pharmakon can be either a poison or a cure.Like our English word ‘drug’, it expresses a fundamental ambivalence: drugs can be life-threatening or life-saving.The hemlock that Socrates drinks when he is put to death exemplifies this dual quality, for it is a poison that kills him but in doing so cures him of life, releasing him from bondage to the body and allowing his soul to return to the eternal truths it loves.
In Kierkegaard’s philosophy, anxiety shares with Plato’s pharmakon this ambivalence.It is both a poisoned chalice and a saving cup.Even more paradoxically, anxiety is the cure for its own suffering.Anxiety can save us from ourselves.When Martin Heidegger quotes Hölderlin in writing – this time of modern technology – that ‘Where the danger lies, there the saving power also grows’, he echoes this Kierkegaardian interpretation of anxiety.
This is why ‘learning to be anxious,’ as Kierkegaard puts it, is such a potent process.The person who confronts his anxiety, perhaps through an encounter with himself, touches a ‘saving power’ within himself:
‘Then the assaults of anxiety, even though they be terrifying, will not be such that he flees from them.For him, anxiety becomes a serving spirit that against its will leads him where he wishes to go.Then, when it announces itself, when it cunningly pretends to have invented a new instrument of torture, far more terrible than anything before, he does not shrink back, and still less does he attempt to hold it off with noise and confusion; but he bids it welcome, greets it festively, and like Socrates who raised the poisoned cup, he shuts himself up with it and says as the patient would say to the surgeon when the painful operation is about to begin: Now I am ready.Then anxiety enters his soul and searches out everything and anxiously torments everything finite and petty out of him, and then it leads him where he wants to go.’
Here, anxiety is depicted as a soul-searching, soul-purifying, soul-saving pharmakon.We might not know whether we have souls, how to find them, or even what it means to speak of the soul.This is part of anxiety’s uncertainty.But it is also part of the search that anxiety carries out.
Derrida thinks that the ambiguity and ambivalence of the pharmakon is always undecidable, essentially uncertain.In anxiety, search and uncertainty correspond to one another.For Kierkegaard, this uncertain search is where faith begins, and probably where it always remains.The adventure of anxiety is the journey of the soul.
On the question of anxiety, as on other questions, Kierkegaard inclines towards the paradoxical.Although anxiety is a problem for us, the solution is not to stop the anxiety, but to be anxious. At the end of The Concept of Anxiety, Kierkegaard writes:
‘In one of Grimm’s fairy tales there is a story of a young man who goes in search of adventure in order to learn what it is to be in anxiety… This is an adventure that every human being must go through—to learn to be anxious in order that he may not perish either by never having been in anxiety or by succumbing in anxiety.Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.’
What is the right way to be anxious?And how can we learn it?
In the state of anxiety, we do not want to be who we are, where we are, how we are.In anxiety, we do not want to be at all.We try to deny or suppress our experience of anxiety, or else we run away from ourselves and from our anxiety.This can be done with the help of alcohol, drugs (legal or illegal), cigarettes, distraction, neurosis, or various illusions of security.
The alternative to this conditioned response of fight or flight is to be anxious: to remain in anxiety, to exist within it, to feel it fully without railing against it or seeking an escape route.In this way, the human being becomes acquainted with herself, perhaps for the first time.It’s like standing outside in a storm, feeling the rain soak through to the skin, listening to the thunder, watching the lightening flash without blinking.
Learning to be anxious in this way requires two things: courage and practice.For Kierkegaard, courage is as important a spiritual virtue as humility – in fact it is probably more important.Practicing courage in the face of anxiety can take many forms.As a Christian, Kierkegaard regarded prayer as the spiritual battlefield on which anxiety is confronted.In prayer, the struggle with anxiety uses the weapons of stillness and silence, and in other religious traditions there are practices, such as meditation, that confront anxiety in similar ways.
Likewise, Uncertain Spectator is a terrain for the confrontation with anxiety.It both stages the artists’ anxious encounters, and invites others to explore their inner experiences of spiritual flight or fight.
In 1844 Søren Kierkegaard wrote a book called The Concept of Anxiety, where he suggests that the experience of anxiety isn’t just a response to external circumstances, but rooted in the very nature of the human being.We exist, therefore we are anxious.Even when there’s nothing to worry about.
Why might this be?According to Kierkegaard, the human being is a spiritual being: not just a mind and a body, but a being who is self-aware and self-desiring.We take up a relationship to ourselves, a relationship of consciousness and desire.This is what Kierkegaard means by spirit.We reflect on ourselves and seek to know ourselves, or we ignore ourselves.We want to be ourselves, or we do not want to be ourselves – we might want to be someone else, or perhaps no-one at all.
In The Concept of Anxiety Kierkegaard also writes that the human being is a synthesis of the finite and the infinite.We are finite, limited by our bodies and other material circumstances.We are limited by space and time: we cannot do or be everything at once.We are limited by our past, which shapes each present moment and cannot be altered.But we are also infinite, unlimited: our minds, and particularly our imaginations, can go anywhere and do anything.We live partly in the dimension of what Kierkegaard calls ‘possibility’.However much the past may shape us, we face an open future, an indefinite space and time of possibilities.
Kierkegaard’s psychology, and in particular his concept of anxiety, is based on this finite/infinite structure of the human spirit.Most of us, for the most part, he claims, do not want to be who we are.(This is an interpretation of the Christian doctrine of sin.)Insofar as we are finite, we rebel against our limitations, refusing to be confined.In tradition theology, this is understood as the sin of pride or self-assertion: St. Augustine saw this as the main sin that conditions all the others.Insofar as we are infinite, however, we shrink back from the open spaces, fleeing in the face of our freedom.This response is anxiety, and in Kierkegaard’s theology it joins pride as the second fundamental form of sin.
Kierkegaard thinks that we are, spiritually speaking, both agoraphobic and claustrophobic.We want boundaries, we want to transgress boundaries.We don’t want to be put in a box, we don’t want to climb out of the box.We do not want to be free, we do not want to be unfree.We do not want to be who we are.
We are please to announce our guest blogger for this week, Clare Carlisle. Clare Carlisle is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Liverpool, UK, where she teaches courses in the philosophy of religion, ethics, and the history of philosophy. She is the author of three books on Kierkegaard, and the co-translator of Felix Ravaisson’s ‘Of Habit.’ She is currently working on her own book on the philosophy of habit, which will be published by Routledge in 2013.
I found an article on lexical > gustatory synesthesia, a rare form in which words conjure up a strong companion taste. Most manifestations of this seem obvious in a Pavlovian way, but James Wannerton states that “Whenever I hear, read, or articulate (inner speech) words or word sounds, I experience an immediate and involuntary taste sensation on my tongue. These very specific taste associations never change and have remained the same for as long as I can remember.”
BBC News reports that he “has a toffee flavoured nephew and used to have a condensed milk granny. His next door neighbours are a mixture of yoghurt, jelly beans and a subtle hint of a waxy substance. James is not mad, nor is he on a taste orientated drug trip - he has a neurological condition called synaesthesia, which mixes up his senses.”
Mr. Wannerton conceals his special crossed wires, as if people will expect him to conjure or produce food when they bark words at him? Who wouldn’t want “safety” to taste like buttered toast?
If I had a full-blown clang association, by now I’d be pretty far gone. (most hardcore internet drifters & seekers generate, participate in, or are party to clang associations, including:
Word salad. A jumble of words that are not apparently linked and may be hard to understand.
Disorganization. Jumping from one idea to another without transition.
Neologism. Making up words that have no meaning to anyone but the speaker.
Echolalia. Repeating others’ words or phrases.)
“[George] Bush’s spontaneous public statements also suggest that he listens to and uses words based on their sound, not on their meaning—a practice known in psychology as ‘clang association.’ This accounts for many of his famous malapropisms: commending American astronauts as ‘courageous spacial entrepreneurs,’ referring to the press as the ‘punditry,’ wondering whether his policies ‘resignate with the people,’ warning Saddam Hussein that he would be ‘persecuted as a war criminal’ after the fall of Iraq.” (Justin Frank, Bush on the Couch. Harper, 2004)
Homus Erectus, 2006, Fiona Banner
The bottle brush emerges from a tromp l’oeil rip in the canvas.
The rip is simulated in paint, but it is “repaired” with actual safety pins.
Below the rip is a hand, painted by a commercial sign painter and signed by him, “A. Klang.”
Disorder of stream of thought: (I’ve split up these into disorder of thought form and stream, but several could be argued both ways)
Flight of ideas is when the content of speech moves quickly from one idea to another so that one train of thought is not carried to completion before another takes its place. The normal logical sequence of ideas is generally preserved although ideas may be linked by distracting cues in the surroundings and from distractions from the words that have been spoken. These verbal distractions may be of three kinds: clang associations, puns and rhymes.
Retardation of thinking is often seen in depression, the train of thought is slowed down, although still goal directed. The opposite is pressure of speech and this is often seen in mania.
Perseverationis the persistent and inappropriate repetition of the same thoughts. In reply to a question a person may give the correct answer to the first but continue to give the same answer inappropriately to subsequent questions. This is especially seen in ‘organic’ brain disorders like dementia.
Disorders of thought form: Overinclusion refers to a widening of the boundaries of concepts such that things are grouped together that are not often closely connected.
Loosening of associations denotes a loss of the normal structure of thinking. The patient’s discourse seems muddled and illogical and does not become clearer with further questioning; there is a lack of general clarity, and the interviewer has the experience that the more he/she tries to clarify the patient’s thinking the less it is understood. Loosening of associations occurs mostly in schizophrenia.
Three kinds of loosening of association have been described:
Knight’s move thinking or derailment where there are odd tangential associations between ideas.
Talking past the point (= vorbeireden) where the patient seems to get close to the point of discussion, but skirts around it and never actually reaches it
Verbigeration (= word salad = schizophasia = paraphrasia) where speech is reduced to a senseless repetition of sounds and phrases (this is more of a disorder of thought form)
Circumstantiality is where thinking proceeds slowly with many unnecessary details and digressions, before returning to the point. This is seen in epilepsy, learning difficulties and obsessional personalities
Neologisms are words and phrases invented by the patient or a new meaning to a known word
Metonyms are word approximations e.g. paperskate for pen
Derailment (aka entgleisen) is where there is a change in the track of thoughts. There is perserved, but misdirected determining of tendency/goal of thought)
With drivelling there is a disordered intermixture of the constituent parts of one complex thought
Fusion is where various thoughts are fused together, leading to a loss of goal direction.
Omission is where a thought or part of a thought it is senselessly omitted
Substitution is where one thought fills the gap for another appropriate more ‘fitting-in’ thought.
Concrete thinking is seen as a literalness of expression and understanding, with failed abstraction. Can be tested by the use of proverbs.
Thought block refers to the sudden arrest in the flow of thoughts. The previous idea may then be taken up again or replaced by another thought.
Robbe-Grillet Cleansing Every Object in Sight, 1981, Mark Tansey
“The sky is above and there is the sea below and in between is the carnival.” —Paul Noble
“The Giver of Names is quite simply, a computer system that gives objects names. The installation includes an empty pedestal, a video camera, a computer system and a small video projection. The camera observes the top of the pedestal. The installation space is full of “stuff”… objects of many sorts. The gallery visitor can choose an object or set of objects from those in the space, or anything they might have with them, and place them on the pedestal. When an object is placed on the pedestal, the computer grabs an image. It then performs many levels of image processing (outline analysis, division into separate objects or parts, colour analysis, texture analysis, etc.) These processes are visible on the life-size video projection above the pedestal. In the projection, the objects make the transition from real to imaged to increasingly abstracted as the system tries
The results of the analytical processes are then ‘radiated’ through a metaphorically-linked associative database of known objects, ideas, sensations, etc. The words and ideas stimulated by the object(s) appear in the background of the computer screen, showing what could very loosely be described as a ‘state of mind’. From the words and ideas that resonate most with the perceptions of the object, a phrase or sentence in correct English is constructed and then spoken aloud by the computer.”
“As a sensory experience, taste operates in multiple modalities—not only by way of the mouth and nose, but also the eye, ear, and skin. How does food perform to the sensory modalities unique to it? A key to this question is a series of dissociations. While we eat to satisfy hunger and nourish our bodies, some of the most radical effects occur precisely when food is dissociated from eating and eating from nourishment. Such dissociations produce eating disorders, religious experiences, culinary feats, sensory epiphanies, and art.” - from Playing to the Senses: Food as a Performance Medium, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Performance Research 4, 1 (1999): 1-30
“In 1993 the theme of the Oxford Symposium was ‘Look & Feel: Studies in Texture, Appearance & Incidental Characteristics of Food.’ In her performance Alicia Rios mashed up a variety of pink and white foods with her hands; strawberries, marshmallows, meringue, cream. Enticing images of food were then accompanied by the amplified sounds of chewing and swallowing. Finally, she rolled about on a transparent mattress filled with potato chips.”
The distinguished food writer for American Vogue, Jeffrey Steingarten hailed it as “a major event in the 50.000 year history of gastronomy… The point” said Mr Steingarten, was that Ms Rios had taken the act of masticating food out of its context by using the external organs, the fingers, instead of the smaller internal ones, teeth, tongue, and palate. She had thus made public an act which is essentially private. -Paul Levy, The Wall Street Journal, 21.7.93
Urbanophagy (Eating the City) (2003-07) Alicia Rios
Lick and Lather (1993) Janine Antoni
“Lick and Lather, self-portrait busts—seven in chocolate, seven in soap—were shown at the Venice Biennale. Halfway into the show, a young woman, a teenager from Czechoslovakia who was there with her parents on vacation, bit three noses off my chocolate heads! One after the other until the guards stopped her.” - from an interview with Antoni, BOMB
Wild Zone 1 (2001) LA Raeven, Video still
“Dutch artists Liesbeth and Angelique Raeven (b. 1971) do not go with the flow. They refuse to consume food thoughtlessly, they refuse to accept womanhood and the feminine roles society assigns to them, and they also refuse to be labeled as anorexic. Both are fascinated by the image of the body as promoted by the fashion world and in advertising, and they subvert this image in their works. The dangerous tightrope walk performed by this set of twins, whose videos and performances are produced under the name of L. A. Raeven, is hotly debated in the art world. They always perform as a duo, celebrating their symbiotic relationship and playing with the notion of “evil twins.” Their performances can be painful, and yet they have to be accepted as valid forms of artistic expression.” –http://www.hatjecantz.de/controller.php?cmd=detail&titzif=00002706&lang=en
Food-related art projects have moved to Being-In-It-Together participatory models that blur the capital A of Art. Comforting, empowering, outrageous or world-expanding, they are antivenin for the anxieties of globalization, isolation, and exclusion.
Take the spate of art dinners including Matthew Stadler’s Back Room at RIPE in Portland; Amsterdam’s Urbanimlism “convivia;” experimental food systems such as Natalie Jeremijenko’s Cross Species Adventure Club suppers or John Cors’ & Morgan Levy’s Alviso’s Medicinal All-Salt, whose “process harvests two popular commodities, sea salt and recycled pharmaceuticals from water treatment plants;” “sustenance artists” Mimi Oka’s and Doug Fitch’s village-sized baguette; or the elevation of suitcase transport of local comestibles in Kate Rich’s Feral Trade Courier.
Cross Species Dinner (2010) at Bronx River Arts Center /AmphibiousArchitecture, Natalie Jeremijenko
For me, the official onset of The Holidays marked by Thanksgiving yields a shimmering metaphysical nervousness. Amidst virtual duck fat, bourbon & pecans, and the confusions about agave syrup, I will (do my tryptamine best to) focus my posts on food, gratitude, and performance in all their merry, mangled forms.
Things to feel anxious about this week:
1. Being Grateful Enough Today I received a lot of thank-you letters, both in snail and e mail: All State thanks me. The Wilderness Society thanks me. Food and Water Watch thanks me. And although I never bought anything from them, James Perse sent me a personal, very Dwell-magazine-style thank you:
I sense that even more pressure to give (uh, thanks— even more than the Democrats inflicted) is a-coming in…
2. Being Mindful (and guilty) Enough
I should buy local, bring my own bags, not take extra individual plastic bags, not overbuy, make sure I compost everything, make stock from my carcasses (whomever they may be), and freeze leftovers or give them away. I shall remain restive that my food waste in landfills will produce methane, a greenhouse gas 20% more damaging than CO2.
B. Friday will signal the onset of the steroidal Christmas carols, coming out of every downtown doorway on Broadway where I work.
There will be a density of packaging crowding the already dense landscape of Manhattan. I can help reduce visible waste by doing most of my shopping online, where, for those who already have too much, I can still find a porcelain I Heart Steroids ornament:
5. Being Too Festive Exuberant binging can apparently bring on “Holiday Heart Syndrome,” described here as “a cute term…an acute problem.”
Maybe I’m just crotchety. Out of guilt for all my cranky blurts which not so deftly mask my anxiety about this impending season, I’d like to mindfully, gratefully, and festively say how happy I am: A. to be spending Thanksgiving with friends in local lovely Brooklyn; B. that I won’t have to get an airport security pat-down feel-up C. in order to suffer the grotesque habits of family I feel no affinity for.