Wednesday, December 14


From George Steiner's "Errata: An Examined Life", page 5:

I have conducted my emotional, intellectual and professional affairs in distrust of theory. So far as I am able, I can attach meaning to the concept of theory in the exact and, to some degere, applied sciences. These theoretical constructs demand crucial experiments for their verification or falsification. If refuted, they will be superseded. They can be mathematically or logically formalised. The invocation of 'theory' in the humanities, in historical and social studies, in the evaluation of literature and the arts, seems to me mendacious. The humanities are susceptible neither to crucial experiments nor to verification (except on a material, documentary level). Our responses to them are narratives of intuition. In the unbounded dynamics of the semantic, in the flux of the meaningful, in the uncircumscribed interplay of interpretations, the only propositions are those of personal choice, of taste, of echoing affinity or deafness. There can be no refutations or disproofs in any theoretical sense. Coleridge does not refute Samuel Johnson; Picasso does not advance on Raphael. In humane letters, 'theory' is nothing but intuition grown impatient.

Yes, but...
A scientific theory is an attempt to generalize and then to predict; a "humane" theory is an attempt to generalize and identify...

Although I have not read anything by him, I've been told that the German philosopher Hegel supposed that for every thesis there exists an antithesis, and that these come together to form a synthesis, which in turn would have it's own antithesis which again would be combined with it's opposite to form a new synthesis, and the process would repeat ad infinitum. I think that this is an important process, fundamental to artistic creation, and I think it is linked to the idea of theory as applied to the humanities.

I believe a theory is intended not to prescribe but
to describe. A theory evaluates a body of knowledge, discerns and identifies common characteristics, and separates anything that is a part of another theory. A theory unites commonalities into a single concept or identity, equivalent to Hegel's "thesis". A theory of literature will be synthesized with its "anti-theory" and thus will lead to the development of new literature. I think theorization is necessary for creative development. Do you believe me?

Picture a number line, from zero to any positive number, that represents some kind of spectrum or gradation. It could be the amount of sexuality in science fiction, the amount of blue in Renoir's paintings, or something as simple as the steepness of a hill, whatever. So you have this line and you order your items along it accordingly, from least to greatest. But at one end of your line you have the number zero, which means there is NO sexuality in scifi, NO blue in the painting, NO steepness etc. What you have is something else, something different from what you started with: a non-sexual scifi book, a painting without any blue, a flat plain. It other systems you might read NOT(x), where x is your area of interest. But as soon as you say x, you can say NOT(x). In other words, as soon as you say thesis, you can say antithesis.

Suppose further that the spectrum you have chosen to plot on your number line is something that is cutting edge, something that is not yet entirely understood, say, the amount of violence in a videogame (hey that's as cutting edge as I get, alright?). At the bottom of the number line at zero, what you have is something new, a non-violent video game, something that, barring racing games, is difficult to come by. Creation through negation, starting from a theory: an identification of a common characteristic in a body of work.

Perhaps the word "theory" is inadequate. It seems clear that a theory in the realm of the humanities is a very different animal than a theory of the sciences, perhaps different enough to warrant a more accurate term. An artistic theory is in a sense meant to be destroyed or negated, while a scientific theory is meant to predict and solidify. They both rely on the identification of patterns, but they are used for different ends. What do you think? What would Jesus do?


At 10:26 PM, Blogger Zosja said...

woah... 'intuition' is such a diffuse concept. whereas there is no 'theory' to produce the right or wrong answer in humanities, 'intuition' is too much on the emotional side, opposing rational...

I believe, realistically, we base our choices on empirical evidence, i.e. on our personal experiences, our knowledge of some precedent

my friend had told me seventeen times since the snow storm: "Zos', you cannot drive like a maniac on these snowy paths the same way you drive when it is all clear. With all your passion and loathing you have to remember to break five blocks before the stop sign"

now, what a benign piece of advocacy...

nevertheless, earlier this evening, Zosja ibn Haphazard, utilizing all her skill and intelligence, manages to create a nuisance situation on the road, slamming the breaks into some other guy's truck. (Everybody is okay), (the guy was established previously to be a jerk anyway), no police, no big scene

But the actual experience was the necessary factor for me to finally make the choice (a very difficult for a Russian soul to make) to abandon my DRIVE-LIKE-A-MANIAC style.

empirical experience, felt by my own skin.
not 'theory'. and not intutition.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Sam said...

Oh no! The most empirical kind of evidence is the red kind splattered across the dashboard! Easy does it, Zos. Though I can hardly rebuke, being a maniac behind the wheel myself. It would be a case of pot calling kettle black. Though I've been given numerous speeding tickets, one for nearly $400, I've only been in one accident and I was going less than 5km at the time. I was pulling up to a red light behind a car when a CD fell on the floor in front of the passenger seat (I think it was Sloan's One Chord to Another) and I bent over to pick it up. When I looked up again I was inches away from the car in front and I was drifting toward it. I slammed on the BRAKES, but it did no good. I was in a huge van and they were packed into a little Toyota or something, so I gave them quite a bump. I don't really know if anything came of it, insurance-wise, but I was pretty shaken up. They rubbed their necks as if they had whiplash, but I don't believe in whiplash. So anyway, driving fast is fun.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Zosja said...

so he writes and then he rewrites. sabotage!
I know you've planned this for years!

Okay, Jesus, the way he is protrayed in the book written by the church officials, must conform to a scientific theory. he generalizes and violates various freedoms. And if you told him there is an antithesis to his thesis he would probably just roll his eyes and commence conversation to this other character, the father (again, as depicted by the church officials)

yeah... don't ask me about Jesus. Jesus is sexual - is what my premise is

check this out:

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Zosja said...

oh and this:

At 5:07 PM, Blogger Sam said...

Those sites are good. I'll spend more time on Random Body... when I get the chance. I read the first few paragraphs about PT Barnum and General Thumb, and knew that I would be on there all day if I read any more. I also liked The Lotus Eater, and wish I could explore that at my own leisure. I love flash art like that, and I am very excited to see someone create a true work of art with it. What I've seen so far only hints at the possibilities... Keep those interesting links coming if you got 'em.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger Sam said...

Um, where are you going with the church thing? Jesus wants to do his father, what?


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