Against the obstacles

Against obstacles to truth

I couldn’t sleep last night. There are paradoxes in any position I try to take. Sometimes, my position seems to sink deep, complex, just out of reach. Other times, my position seems open, obvious, and irreconcilable. When I stand in a crowd, I realize I do not see the same world that other people do, or notice the same problems, or feel the same gravity. The only truth I know is individual, and locked in the paradox of my own perception.

My perception of the world is not an acentered system, proposed as some sort of postmodern ideal by Deluze and Guattari, “finite networks of automata in which communication runs from any neighbor to any other, the stems or channels do not preexist, and all individuals are interchangeable, defined only by their state at a given moment — such that the local operations are coordinated and the final, global result synchronized without a central agency” (TP 17). The number of obstacles to truth in this position is just staggering to me. Stems and channels do preexist. We all want. We all need. We all die. Eat, sleep, drink, dream. Individuals are not interchangeable; they are not defined by momentary states. To call this utopian is to deny everyone possession of their own world, their own perceptions. To say that the resulting system without hierarchy can somehow be synchronized into a unified result celebrates the end of individuality by substituting an amorphous blob of sociality. Some future. You can keep it.

My perception of the world is not a centered system either. A single center, at best, implies hierarchy, and at worst, implies predestination. I suppose my perception has evolved in my head into multiple centers, drifting together and breaking apart. Crowds are collections of universes, each one unto itself; unique, irreplaceable, and awash in the river of other people. It doesn’t matter so much where the river began, or where it is going, so much as it matters that we develop strong oars if we are to hold our place in the current. It’s a sophistic view, of course, and while I like Deluze and Guattari’s thoughts on nomadism, I suspect that rivers provide faster transport than wandering overland.

I suppose I like the river metaphor best of all. I’ve always been drawn to them, physically and mentally. With a strange flash of insight last night, I realized that the sole thing that bothered me about the “links as expression” question is not the linking, but the expression part. I realized that I had created great possibilities for misreading, because of my criteria for what constitutes “expression.”

It’s a nagging thought, and a problem which is deeply connected with all branches of what I’ve been writing about for the past month or so. In speech-act theory, expressives are utterances that are contingent solely on the knowledge of the speaker; they cannot be evaluated for “truth value” because they are the direct reflection of inner states, and are thus unverifiable. If a person says “I am happy” you can’t say “No, you’re not” because you aren’t them, and do not have access to their mind. Expressives cannot be weighed, measured, or evaluated except by the speaker. This is of course the spiritual high ground of expressivist art, and the reason for the multiple reactions against it in the modern period. Its aesthetic resists any larger utility, it is truly “art for arts sake,” unless the goal is shifted to that of persuasion. By this, I mean, crossing the border into the speech-act theory of commissive. Commissives are acts which invite sympathy, participation, a melding of that internal state into another to promote implied action, as in “I promise,” or “I empathize.” It’s a thin line, but a firm one.

Exposition is a different act. Exposition is not explained well by speech-act theory. There are categories which are close, such as “representatives,” or “declaratives,” but it gets murky quickly. A representative utterance is one which declares that some condition in the external world is true, and a declarative is one which acts to move the hearer to action in reaction to an external state. I think that link behaviors are probably best traced to this side of the speech-act taxonomy. They do not “express” so much as they represent or declare. The knowledge conveyed is not inside the speaker, but outside, therefore they may be more easily categorized as expository acts.

Representation is the toughest of the speech-acts to pin down. If something is true in the world, and verifiable by anyone (being outside the speaker), why say it? There is always the suspicion that the information should be taken as directive, or that the information has been pointed to as a reflection of an internal state and thus commissive. Representative acts are always problematic. But representative acts are the core of disinterested documentary work, a genre perhaps born from Walker Evans.

There’s much more I want to say here. But I want to make it clear that I was not in any way stating that link oriented blogs were not participating in communicative acts, just that it was problematic to read them as expressive. It’s a simple matter of internally revelatory (expressive) modes of communication vs. externally revelatory (directive, commissive, representative) modes of communication. The gap seems to be quite broad to me, and a river runs through it.

If you accept the Deluze and Guattari way of thinking, that individuals are not defined by their totality, but only in their states, then I suppose that all communicative acts are revelatory. But I don’t believe that people are interchangeable sets of states. I think there are universes in there, universes that are only revealed in glimpses, through expressive discourse.

But I could be wrong. All I know is what I see through my eyelid movies.

1 thought on “Against the obstacles”

  1. Man…a) I think you misread Deleuze & Guattari (& misspelled Deleuze) but I can’t prove it because I don’t really understand them (and I’m glad for that).b) I *only* like “link-centric” blogs. I can read people’s personal thoughts on blah-blah-blah only a couple times a year then I get tired of it. Guess we’re pretty different. On my site, I rarely do much commenting (almost none about my personal life). Mostly links. This is because I *have* an ideal audience in mind: people who don’t know about the stuff that I really like and am moved by. So I link&link&link to things that I think have powers to help us (things I know have helped me).c) b) is a lie. I like yr blog but don’t read it very often.Of course, I’m a poverty-stricken (income = $6k in 2001) single 30-year old living a fairly (okay *very*) bohemian lifestyle in Po(r)tland Oregon and I update my blog illicitly at work or the library (I don’t own a computer) and I tour around playing free music in bars, galleries, streets…and you are different, I’m quite sure. Of course2, I refuse to recognize the legitimacy of demographics… (or any “map of the mind” per Artaud)Of course, you make sense & I don’t, so I give people links. There *is* a logic system. There are an infinite # of logic systems…Much love.

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