Writing Machines On Loop

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Sessions Resume on 20/10/2010 with discussion of Part III (and the “money” section of Part II) of Karatani’s Architecture as Metaphor and selections from Kwinter’s Far From Equilibrium.

  1. Wittgenstein, Mathematics, and Commodity Fetishism: The Capital “C” Other

    In part, we can read Wittgenstein’s account of alterity, indebted as it is to mathematics, as a response to the Western Philosophical predisposition for dialectical exchange as it correlates to metaphysical truth. For Wittgenstein, dialectic, understood as the “source of truth,” is ultimately predicated on mathematical “proofs” which exclude the other. To this end, Wittgenstein (and Karatani by proxy) invests himself in rethinking the resources that mathematics actually offers. By redefining mathematics in an attempt to account for systems that “cannot be reduced to any one set of rules,” Wittgenstein radically reshapes alterity politics, effectively re-injecting the other into dialogue. Further, his work complicates conventional notions of exchange and commodity, an issue that Karatani approaches two chapters later.

    Largely, though much of Karatani’s critique centers on these mathematical revisions, we can characterize his project as an attempt to recall the biographical experiences that come to bear on Wittgenstein’s theory of alterity. As he notes in Chapter Fourteen, we cannot simply write-off the various interim experiences that inform Wittgenstein’s work; the period between books where we find W. teaching classes and thinking about architecture (thus, the title of Karatani’s text). Whereas Wittgenstein’s work teaching foreign students encourages him, contra the Hegelian tendency to locate “results,” to focus on the actual conditions of exchange (122), the metaphor of architecture enriches our sense of the complex interchanges that constitute dialogue: “[…] Wittgenstein understood that this building, and architecture in general, was the result of a dialogue between the various participants” (126). Ultimately, these two experiences confirm, seeing that mathematics consists of multiple systems of rules, that proofs are contingent (130). That is, from Wittgenstein, we get a sense of the complex “language games” or exchanges that structure our experience of the other: “Wittgenstein attempted to dismantle this [metaphysical] proof from without by introducing the other, something accomplishable only from the teaching position, from the topos where a common language game (community) can no longer function as a premise” (139). What this means, Karatani offers a moment later, is that the other is not something to be subsumed within the Hegelian “internal monologue” of truth or result, but rather, is “one who is essentially indifferent to me.”

    Ultimately, it is this account of encounter by means of which Karatani approaches Marx’s theory of commodity. Here, he notes that Marx is not demystifying or performing a revealing of money, but rather, speaking of the fetishization of commodity. Marx stipulates that the value of a particular commodity is not inherent, it is not “revealed,” but rather that a product or material becomes money only in that it becomes an “equivalent form.” That is, there is no product that is inherently valuable, waiting for its value to be unveiled, but rather, material substances that become valuable depending on context. In essence, as Karatani notes, Marx identifies the essentially “asymmetrical relationship” of selling-buying.

    Eventually, this is what brings Karatani to argue that the tendency to avoid exchange, avoid selling, actually intensifies desire: “This attempt to avoid the selling position in exchange, after all, functions as a motive force for the further expansion of exchange”; that is, the tendency to avoid exchange or step-outside capitalism doesn’t, as we are wont to think, defer capitalism, but rather, produces more intense desire, thus expanding exchange. Or, as Karatani notes at the beginning of the next chapter, “…the movement of capital is rooted in a certain perversion that compels its movement” (177). Simply put, there is no Hegelian end in sight, because the end is “indefinitely deferred” (183). But, despite that I agree for the most part with Karatani, and I understand how the metaphor of architecture comes to bear on the architecture of economy and desire, I’m still left wondering what it is that ultimately fulfills the role of other in the process of exchange. Is it capital itself, endlessly deferred or does this broad generalization actually mistake what Wittgenstein is calling for in his revisionary mathematics?

  2. Adrienne Jankens
    ENG 7065
    Response: Sanford Kwinter’s Far from Equilibrium
    On wildness and the problem of the single-audience, single-purpose, single-mode journal activity.

    Sanford Kwinter’s Far from Equilibirum offered food for thought as I continue to explore what was inherently flawed in my initial attempt to use tuning-in journals to help students work through the writing process by listening to themselves read their work aloud and then recording their flow of thoughts in response to this listening in a typed journal.

    One problem I identified via Kwinter’s text is the problem of the single audience involved in the activity. In “Leap in the Void: A New Organon?” Kwinter addresses why it is worthwhile to work in a group, and explains the group (his audience) as “a ‘front,’ a line of resistance, a point of catastrophic irruption” (46). This group thrives on “diversity and dissent” and “rich, responsive feedback” (46). This commentary might indicate that the listening that I have deemed to be so useful in the shaping of the text be expanded to peers and teacher as well. That is, if the student is only listening to the words, phrases, and ideas himself, he does not have any dissent beyond what he experiences in that moment. But many moments of listening, done by many ears, may prove more productive.

    Further, this essay addresses the issue of the single-mode journal activity students were working through. While I did not make it imperative that students follow a particular format for their journals, their lack of familiarity with the text or process made them nonetheless beholden to the model they were provided with. Although we did other forms of response to listening while we worked together as a class, most students returned to the labeled model as their guide for how to produce these journals. The problem with this, of course, was that the model was written in response to one moment of listening to one particular text; the mode and trajectory of that one model could not necessarily be transferred to other such journal-writing moments. As Kwinter notes, it does not matter “what one does,” but rather “how one does it” (46). When he describes the problem of process, and says it “does little more than impose arbitrary routines into the logic of formation” (47), I can see this problem translated into some of the less successful, less productive journals produced by students. This is the problem of the journal as designed, or at least as represented to students through the model. A solution? “…let research follow the real, let it be encumbered by no moral and aesthetic preconception, and design will follow as an integrated process” (51).

    Kwinter’s discussion of “wildness” at the end of the book encourages us to look at the space between things, and urges us to work against the “control, management, and now planning of human activity” he cites in an earlier essay (128). The systems he sees working and moving us into the future are those “in which every layer functions and contributes–though in a totally unknown and untrackable way–to the shape, behavior, and stability of the whole” (189). Such “polygenetic structures,” he notes, are complex, open, and unfinished (189). I see a connection to John Muckelbauer’s vision of a new mode of invention here, in which he urges us to look at what is happening in the spaces between things, paying attention to “singular rhythms” in order to move toward a more affirmative orientation for invention. My conclusion for my project is that, quite simply, models can be problematic without attention paid to what is happening between the listening and the recording (in writing or otherwise) of ideas. Further discussion with students abut this in-between space, and an opening of possibilities for accessing this productive moment (be it in writing, conferencing, audio recording, something else), may increase the productivity of such an exercise, and will not limit the student to struggling with in a conceived strict space.

  3. Have some lemonade

    In Architecture as Metaphor, Karatani spends a great deal of time on financial capitalism. At several points, he focuses on the relationship between selling and buying. While in classical and neoclassical economics the selling-buying relationship is equivalent, he asserts that selling and buying are actually “completely distinct affairs” (163). This “asymmetrical” relationship, he contends, can never be sublated but only concealed in the capitalist economy. While reading this, I began to think of the lemonade stand and how it is a kind of introduction to our selling-buying culture. Children often put together a stand with a table or a cardboard box with some duct tape to hold it all together, a permanent marker for the sign, and presumably a “Kool-Aid” pouch and some sugar and Styrofoam cups for the lemonade. The table, cardboard box, duct tape, permanent marker, pouch, sugar, and cups are all produced by one company or another. Selling the lemonade is equivalent to one of the great thrills of childhood, hearing money and “tips” drop into the cup and seeing the satisfied looks of “customers.” On the buying end, do the lemonade drinkers ever feel this way? I am yet to buy lemonade from a stand, but I do not think buying would bring on the same feelings. That may be one of the reasons why Karatani is right to say that buying and selling are “completely distinct affairs.”

    Could it be that the lemonade seller feels this way because he or she is a child and is simply excited about the newness of the event? That probably has something to do with it, but recently I worked at a rummage/garage sale, and when people bought items I felt the thrill of the sale. Do business people feel this every time they sell us something? Though when buying items, don’t many people feel a kind of thrill, like when we take home the latest technological rage—e.g., flat screen TVs, video game consoles, iPhones? There is a certain thrill in it, but also a sense of loss. In selling, there is a sense of success that one does not get from buying. What about the couponers, though? They get a sense of success in buying many items for a small amount of money, like the people who buy a hundred dollars worth of groceries for ten dollars, and have tuna and other canned foods stacked to the ceiling in their houses. Are they almost like misers, in that they are interested more in the discount than in the actual product?

    To return to lemonade stands, what will they look like in the next century? Will they be electronic and digitalized, with the lemonade selling on the Internet? Instead of making cardboard stands, will children build them online out of 1s and 0s? And yet, as Kwinter points out in Far from Equilibrium: “mechanical” and “electronic” are not separate worlds on a collision course with one another. So, even if a lemonade stand does become completely electronic, it still is in some sense “mechanical” and still has matter; for, according to Kwinter, “there can clearly be no shape or order … without matter” (93). He clarifies: “To speak of a mechanical paradigm of material qualities and perceptible functions, and to oppose this to an electronic one of immaterial processes and pure intelligence, is at once absurd and dangerous” (ibid). This reminds me of something Kastan writes in Shakespeare and the Book: “What is perhaps most unnerving about electronic texts…is not merely that they are virtual but that they are no more virtual than any other text we read” (116). Similarly, in a quasi-“debate” with Rick Snyder on Monday, October 18, 2010, Virg Bernero said that he sees Michigan still working with industry, just in different new ways. Perhaps the industrial/post-industrial divide is not a reality after all. For example, Intel is planning on building a microchip facility in Oregon, which will create eight thousand construction jobs. Where does the lemonade stand fit in this? Maybe the next, next, next generation will build it much like generations of the past have. A lemonade stand is at once an introduction to the capitalist’s selling high and a simulation of a street peddler’s “business.” In the end, the street peddler probably gets more of a high from selling than a sales clerk does at a big company like Best Buy, because a sale there does not directly benefit him or her. It may—as Karatani implies—have to do with the fetishism of money, which can only really happen in the one-to-one exchange, which mainly only takes place on the street. Will lemonade stands become part of the architecture of the street, or are they there already?

  4. I really need to start posting these the day of class… Apologies, once again, for being so dismally late!!

    In the introduction to his collection, Far From Equilibrium, Sanford Kwinter proclaims that “Instability, it turns out is the precondition of creativity” (16) and while both instability and invention are rare, they are necessary elements for establishing some sort of real change to highly dynamic systems that structure our society. Through his discussion based on thermodynamically driven terminology, Kwinter surmises that throughout history there have been continuous developments in the form of both machinic and electronic technologies that have been lauded as “revolutionary” or transformative, radically shifting the very happenings of social-systemic operations. Yet these advancements (one can only think of the “new” modes of communications that simply make easier or more frequent the very same venues for communication, i.e. cell phones, facebook, twitter) merely reinscribe the status quo of operations. He notes that while at times it may perhaps take more energy from the system to re-equilibrate its functions, nevertheless, the system repairs itself and persists (16). Thus, in one of his essays, “The Cruelty of Numbers,” Kwinter rejects the epochal transformation from machinic to electronic systems: “We must not believe the narcotizing hype that an emerging electronic world is poised to liberate us from a mechanical one” (97).
    What then can we do to effect some sort of systemic change? What must be done in order to infuse the system with wild, unforeseeable effects? While Kwinter envisions this transformation happening via technique and design based in materialist practices, they are practices that tend to harken back to the complex systems found in nature. He writes: “No computer on earth can match the processing power of even the simplest natural system, be it of water molecules on a warm rock, a rudimentary enzyme system, or the movement of leaves in the wind.” Its fascinating then, in light of Kwinter’s amazement over the complex dynamism of nature, that he privileges technique (or techne). Does then this movement diminish the value of logos, or truth procedures? Or, more interestingly, does Kwinter perform the same method of rejecting the opposition between mechanic and electronic but this time in refusing the opposition or division of logos and techne?
    Leaving this question aside, I wonder about the viability of this true nature of change. Despite its wild and unforeseeable nature, these practices of change, if formed into a static theory or praxis will eventually be consumed and re-absorbed into the system, allowing for eventual equilibrium. How far then do we need to incite radical change? Destruction is perhaps the most political of possibilities for change, one in which has a certain propensity for queer theory as well – a change that bears with it an absence of futurity, only the negation of immanence. Maybe Lee Edelman is right in his analysis of hope for the future when he argues against “forging a more perfect social order” for “such a hope after all would only reproduce the constraining mandate of futurism” (4), which ultimately continues to recycle and push forth the same problems. This destruction, much to Kwinter’s credit, must continuously and forever happen, continue to move, else it be locked down by the laws of thermodynamic equilibrium

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