Working principle(s) # 5: creative!’experimental, fallible, collective  Thrift supports his view of NRT as ‘a machine for multi- plying questions’ by insisting that ‘the world should be added to not subtracted from’ (Thrift, 2005, p. 474). Creativ- ity, experimentation, fallible (modest theory) and collectivity should all be enfolded into the conduct of ArT practice. This creativity can be found in James’s assertion that; Any idea upon which we can ride, so to speak; any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, simplifying; saving labour; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instrumentally (James, 1981, p. 30). This resonates with the messengers of Serres which bring ‘rapprochement and rapport between categories’ (Bingham and Thrift, 2000, p. 285) and of the ‘movement thoughts’ of Deleuze and Guattari. In NRT there is a call for modest method and theory in so much as limits, and trial and error experiments are recognised. This is embedded in pragmatism, particularly its fallibihsm which was pioneered by Peirce. Doubt is placed at the heart of knowledge, yet it does not disable it, rather, it energises it – ‘where the modernist intellectuals saw doubt as debilitating, Peirce saw it as liberating’ (Dig- gins, 1995, p. 190). Bernstein (1991) terms pragmatism as a tradition of ‘engaged fallibilistic pluralism’ (which means), ‘taking our own fallibility seriously – resolving that however much we are committed to our own styles of thinking, we are willing to listen to others without denying or suppressing the otherness of the other’ (p. 336). Pluralism within prag- matist thought means not only assuming that existence is plural in nature but also that theoretical engagement with it should come in plural forms which are ‘interpretive, ten- tative, always subject to correction’ (ibid, p. 327). This entails replacing established adversarial styles of academic argument with ‘a model of dialogical encounter’ in which one ‘begins with the assumption that the other has some- thing to say to us and to contribute to our understanding. [ ] This requires imagination, sensitivity and perfecting of hermeneutical skills’ (ibid). It is not assumed that this pro- cess will resolve disagreement, but rather that it will pro- duce a mutual reciprocal understanding, which includes understanding of disagreements. This fallibilistic element of pragmatism anticipates Thrift’s notion of NRT as ‘mod- est’, ‘affirmative and therefore collective expression’ which does not seek to play the ‘macho’ stance ‘boy’s game’ of building and defending theoretical ground at the expense of others (Thrift, 2004a, p. 83). Linked to fallibihsm is Peirce’s metaphor of knowledge as a cable, in which the ‘mul- titude and variety’ of ideas and theories are woven intimately together, thus making it collective and ongoing. (Jones 2008)

I am going to take exception to Jones’ conclusion about the stance of the artist.  Rather, I am going to accuse Jones of conflating the artist and the problem-solver.  The artist is part of a project that is concerned with bearing witness and moving from experience to experience.  The problem solver, however, is concerned with being an advocate.  Being a quality advocate involves – or at the least should involve – a dialectic where questions are asked.  The goal however, is never to question but to answer.  The questions are merely a method of obtaining a more accurate (academics) or lasting (judiciary) answer.  In either case though the concern is to obtain the ‘last’ answer.  Problem solvers are not concerned with an endless process of discovery.

I will return to this as lately I have been consumed by the notion of ‘last’ and what it means to my life, my labor path and others.  This new preoccupation is after rereading Chaloupka 1992 where he disclosed a twist to the ‘last’ problem: the search for knowledge is an individual’s attempt to have dying words worth remembering.  Supposedly, we search for knowledge so we can utter some great axiom thus creating our immortality.  An example of this is Shit My Dad Says.  That site is easily the funniest thing on the interwbs these days, and what is really amazing is how much of it rings true.  Shrinking the world into sound bites is therefore not only useful but ultimately a search for our own immortality.  This mechanistic view of dialectics and even debate is turning into a focus of mine.

I am not yet sure if I buy such a cynical reading of the quest for knowledge.  However, like Nietzsche, such a cynical read has infected my other readings and endeavors.

Chaloupka, William.  (1992).  Knowing nukes. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press.

Jones, Owain.  (2008).  Stepping from the wreckage: Geography, pragmatism and anti-representational theory.  Geoforum, 39, 1600-1612.

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On the bus into to downtown this morning I was reading from the Chaloupka book and I came across what I consider to be the kernel of the book: a description of his prescribed politics and a brief theorization of why it works.

The interpretation – the “spin,” to use the Reagan-era term – I want to consider goes like this.  Not presuming to enter into the realm of force-counterforce (and all the other economies of force surrounding military and nuclear matters), the “lifestyle” argument simply intervenes. this intervention produces consequences that are more ironic than representational, more disruptive than analytic.  The lifestyle position works by rubbing against a nuclearist discourse that has tried hard to exclude challenges to its logic.  In its partial, deconstructive mode, that opposition has worked, putting its own “dumbness,” its forced inarticulateness, against the forced coherence of foreign policy discourse.  Arrayed against a thoroughly coded way of speaking, the opposition stripped its own utterances down to a naked minimum – not escaping code (how could anyone presume that?), but forcing the dominant discourse to handle the weight of the codes and substitutions all by itself.

My reading works, then, on language-and-politics turf captured by Foucault.  I am postulating a specific kind of intervention – one that politicizes by noting how language works, wihtout forfeiting the next political response.  Foucault claims this odd and important double move with a distinctive two-part challenge to power.  Starting with the crisis of representation and character of language that sets that crisis off – shifting and turning away from either the self who uses it or the phenomenon it tries to capture – Foucault moved on to a description of rules and the ways those rules constitute a generally unrecognized realm of power in contemporary society.  The two moves resonate, one exacerbating the other until legitimacy is drawn into the whirl of contested territory.  Foucault’s conception of language is what funds the possibility of political response, making it possible that such response is neither an arbitrary imposition, as has been charged, nor a promise of meaning and representation that cannot be fulfilled.  Instead, the political response finds its form exactly at the point where old models of language break down. (94).

The reduction of this intevention Chalouka advocates is to move from persuasion into a realm of Affect.  Leaving aside the debate about who first theorizes affect, Foucault, Spinoza, etc…, I will simply say that I find Affect compelling.  Sometimes.  How Affect works to mobilize mass audiences seems lacking, not only in theory but also in historical examples.  I may learn to value recycling because my mother or friends do it, and those learnings replicate outwards until they collide with someone whose mother or friends did not recycle.  The better example is something I lived through this morning.  I rode the bus.  I never rode a bus until  I moved to the east coast a few years ago and now I am a fan.  Even though I am now a convert I know that if I were to return to Texas I would not ride the bus.  Economics would prevail.  Affect is thus limited as a tool for change.  Why then did I learn to ride the bus.  Economics had some role in it, but so too did seeing people, many people, especially people I looked up to, riding the bus.

I do not feel up to the task of measuring Chaloupka’s claim that Affect removes the communication from the same grid that houses the crisis of representation (that task can wait and will require some long nights of academic sleep-deprivation, see this guy.)  That seems to be the critical portion of Affect’s value.  However, this argument does seem, on first glance, to be cheating:  “if the crisis of representation did not exist then we would not communicate in ways that replicate that crisis.  All we need to do is wish it away.”  Sure.  I’ll get right on that.

At the moment I am in the downtown Panera trying to drink some tea, my preferred caffeine delivery vehicle, that is way too hot.  The man next to me has long wiry gray hair pulled into a ponytail. He has a backpack and a camouflage jacket on.  He strikes me as either homeless or someone practicing the lifestyle politics Chaloupka discusses.  Except this man has a laptop and is looking at what seems to be Russian mail-order brides.  He then switched over to Google Finance and looked at a particular chart, manipulating the graphs and then made a phone call where I heard him order someone to buy.  How does this man intersect with Chaloupka?  He is clearly living a less-than-ordinary life.  My ability to categorize that life, however, is the crisis of representation at work no matter how ‘cool’ I may find him for being less-than-ordinary.  And he is cool: stock broker answering a call at 6:50 AM, looking at Russian mail-order brides and looking like Ian, Tom Robbins’ character, in High Fidelity.  He may seem resistant to his friends or people on the street, but his computer work betrays his actual greasing of the system.

Chaloupka, William.  (1992).  Knowing Nukes.

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No sooner have I written the previous post than I begin chapter two of Chaloupka’s Kowing Nukes. Here is his argument:

…the warrior is now simply and starkly absent.  For several reasons (technological, political, and theoretical), the warrior has ceased to hold any kind of posibility.  Instances where the warrior seems to be present – Panama, Liberia, Grenada, Afghanistan, even the Persian Gulf – quickly present themselves as failures, spectacles, or exercises in nostalgia. (24)

It is precisely the absence of the warrior, also read as the increasing sociality of our civilization, that gives rise to so much literature about warriors.  Some may respond to Chaloupka that 9/11 returned us to a world that had ceased when he wrote the above words in 1992.  However, the remainder of the book pre-empts this argument by claiming nuclear weapons are an example fo the shift away from warriors and that our current world has not seen such a large revision to return us to the simpler times.  Der Derian’s Virtuous War (2001) is a better accounting of this shift than Chaloupka provides, but that is also easily acocunted for by the intended market for the two books.

The crux of my thought for now is that the Western and the espionage thriller are a romantic’s response to the increasing alienation we feel in our world.  I believe this alienation is inevitable and defines the human condition, but some reach out to a past time as a way to bridge the human gap.  Strip away the grocery stores and the deeply troubling give and takes of a long term healthy relationship and the writer is left with a solitary figure marked on the desolate horizon.  It’s the simple protagonist conflicted against a simple environment that best analogically allows the writer to conquer the true foe.

Chaloupka, William.  (1992).  Knowing nukes.

Der Derian, James.  (2001).  Virtuous war: Mapping the military-industrial-media-entertainment network.


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