Uncertain Spectator(s)

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.

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?

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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.)


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"[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)

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Homus Erectus, 2006, Fiona Banner

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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.”

from Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp

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The following is from a web site called Frontier Psychiatrist:

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.

Perseveration is 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.

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Robbe-Grillet Cleansing Every Object in Sight, 1981, Mark Tansey

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"The sky is above and there is the sea below and in between is the carnival."
—Paul Noble



Ye Olde Ruin, 2003-4, Paul Noble

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The Giver of Names, 2000-, David Rokeby

"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.” 


- Marina Zurkow

Posted at 10:55am and tagged with: anxiety, one column, Synesthesia, neuropsychology, words, politics, duchamp, psychology, naming, David Rokeby, submission,.