2.22.2012

Philosophy is an Image of the World

Since I was young, I've had a vision of the world. I see impossible swirls, intricate marbling, curving planes intersecting, winding, assembling and washing out with varying intensity; I see ricochet, harmony, dissonance, indifference, a wash of colors and moods and ideas and bodies that don't necessarily correspond with the bodies my eyes see everyday.  The way I see the world is as if my eyes were closed and the images and effects that play on my eyelids are, in fact, what I deem reality.


This was made all the more visceral, palpable, when listening to music. In high school, then college, it was music that literally gave my vision voice. Even the name of the band that most excited me— Throwing Muses — articulated what I saw.


 Academically, I was bored for most of college.  Eventually, I read Foucault and Derrida and Gadamer and got excited — mostly by Foucault for he seemed to understand the infinite complexity of the archaeology of knowledge. 

But it wasn't until late grad school, on the verge of writing my dissertation — I thought it was going to be on irony and Kierkegaard —, that I read Deleuze's The Fold and Merleau-Ponty's Sense and Nonsense. And, suddenly, all those images I'd had since I was young came to the fore, found voice like never before.

There's a great moment in Bergson where he says the key to understanding a philosopher is seeing, in an intuitive flash, that philosopher's image of the world.  All the words — the thousands of pages, the elaborate argumentation — are spent trying to articulate that image.

There is something almost Platonic about this — the idea that can't be spoken. But it's in fact fundamentally different from Plato: the philosopher does not have an idea of the world but, rather, intuits how the world goes: he has an image, not an idea.  But what he sees is not just visual — it is operational, aural, affective, incorporating invisible as well as visible elements.

And the philosopher's failure to articulate his image once and for all is not because it exceeds language per se but because the image is infinitely complex and, well, we're not very adept at operating with words (we make them finite when they need to be infinite). Deleuze and Guattari, in many ways, are the most thorough in trying to articulate the mad images they see.


This is what is so arresting about a certain experience of art: sometimes, you see an image and it's shocking: It literally sees what you see, more or less.  For me, it was Miro, Klee, Pollock and then Matthew Ritchie, Julie Mehretu, Sarah Sze.


A philosophy, then, is not a set of beliefs.  It is not what we consider true. Philosophy — or at least this image of philosophy — is before truth: it is the image we see when we close our eyes and open them again. 

8 comments:

ayşegül said...

Yes! I would go as far as to say that enlightening philosophical moments are the very condition of the world with so many layers and rythms as are works of art, and philosophical planes opened before us through these moments enables us to explore all these different universes. Real traveling happens...
I am really confused about the limit between art and philosophy. Most of the time it is as if there is none. They are so intertwined. Both are encounters with this world's multiplicity. Both are reconfiguring and creating sense. And they are doing it by way of a thoroughly felt bodily contemplation.

Daniel Coffeen said...

But their materials are quite different — and that matters. As D&G claim in What is Philosophy, artists really lead with percepts and affects; they have concepts and functions but it's not what they use first and foremost. Philosophers use concepts — affects and percepts, too, but first and foremost concepts.

Both are thinkers.

Will Conley said...

Nicely done post. My reaction: An image allows for instantaneous wholesale understanding. It lets you see the whole thing at once, or you can zoom in and examine a single, specific magnification.

ayşegül said...

Of course! Materials are quite different. What I aimed at was that momentary flash in which a different layer of the world is created, whether by concepts or by affects and percepts. If we are to consider that moment without its before and after where different material processes are going on and constructing different worlds, what we see - or rather what I see - is a wholesome change. That moment could not be defined by a change of the perspective because it is a totally new world we are gazing at now in light speed. We don't yet have a perspective in that moment since we are totally ungrounded, "deterritorialised" at the very foundation of our being. That "now" of course finds its way of being, functioning once it is perceived but only after the shock or through the shock of its absolute newness. "Reterritorialisation" comes into the play here.

I guess what I wanted to say was they are both creations as glimpses of the world and only through that glimpse they structure themselves with different materials. The momentary movement to an unknown land remains the same. Am I making any sense?

umpolung said...

ayşegül: I think this is a lovely idea — something like the kairos of discovery: the moment when one's theories and ideas and data and efforts all converge to a point, and then, pursuing that point just a tiny bit farther, they bloom into a field of unrealized possibility — furrows fresh for the planting.

One of my favourite parts of _What is Philosophy_ (actually, Daniel, I only found out about Deleuze after reading one of your blog posts!) is when he talks about the "Plane of Immanence" or the "planomenon" and draws those wonderful and crazy pictures of conceptual schema. The discussion brought to mind those images of rickety rope-bridges you see in pictures of the rain forest. That would be where I see the "moment of discovery" coming into play: one's put all of one's efforts toward bridge construction, using everything one can conceive of to ensure its mechanical stability and its congruence with both sides (no missing boards in the middle, no frayed ropes, and so on): yet the moment one crosses it to see where it leads, to that unconnected land where no one has ventured — that's the moment that I see Deleuze discussing: when one is halfway across, hanging over this eerie and dark abyss of treetops, making one's way to the neighboring cliff-face.

What is there, on the other side? It could be something so compelling that one severs the bridge entirely, "burning the ships" to prevent retreat as it were. Or it could be something horrifying, some conclusion one cannot bear to accept but, also, that seems absolutely unavoidable given the premises and reasoning one's followed. That moment of discovery, the limbo at which one could turn back, go home, and abandon the thing altogether — that's the exciting moment for me, as you say: the "momentary movement to an unknown land."

Now of course, this is all just metaphor.

Yet another idea I've always been turned on by is that of the fractal: http://curvebank.calstatela.edu/sierpinski/1deposit2sierp.gif ... of the discovery that one's patterns repeat: the higher level to the lower level, they permeate throughout and resonate, though they might not be seen. An infinite complexity, a field of infinite possibility and inexhaustible comprehension, all borne from simple, finite rules — premises — that, when followed to their logical end, yield this beautiful ecosystem of thought that is constantly evolving and reforming and re-contextualizing itself to accommodate new information, new premises, new territory that one has come across.

So, the philosopher becomes the cartographer of the infinite world of thought, of play with concepts; the artist becomes the documentary filmmaker, the sea-side painter, the Ansel Adams of a primordial landscape of mental involution. Or something like that.

Daniel Coffeen said...

I love this discussion.

So, Aysegul, I was too brief in my reply to your thoughtful comment because I knew you'd thought about materials.

My point, I think, is that material is a starting point, not a vehicle. There is no before the material, no moment or intuition before the material. Or at least I don't think there is. I think there is an intuition of materials, with materials.

And this matters, I think, because of how we ask art and philosophy to interact. When I taught art students, I taught theory the same way I taught artists; we read texts the same way we looked at images: here is so much stuff, licks, spins, ways of engaging. Use what you can, I'd tell them. Neither a theory nor an artist should be "used" to explain one's creations.

But there was a significant gap in how we could talk about these things and the relevance. These visual artists wrestled concepts in odd ways and spoke about them in even odder ways. I had to adjust how I spoke with them and what I asked of them. Artists and philosophers go very differently.

Not sure I'm saying much...I'm thinking as I'm writing...perhaps y'all will extend it.

ayşegül said...

Thank you umpolung, "kairos of discovery" is one of the perfect ways to describe what I was trying to say. I love it when somebody gives voice to my confusion and make it transparent so that we can go on tracing bits of thoughts. Thinking together, that is. Thank you very much.

What makes me confused in this matter, Daniel, is closely related to my assumption about the effect and the cause I guess. The effect never resembles its cause, the conditioned is not of the same kind with that which conditions it. So, I - being your enthusiastic student - also think that material is in no way a vehicle. Material is always already there and makes things happen together with all the other materials which we call the world. We are in the lava lamp and there is no outside of it.

But about this particular matter, art and philosophy, I am inclined to think that they share a different kind of affect which you described in a beautiful way by saying "it is the image we see when we close our eyes and open them again." This is before all thinking - well, let's say analytical thinking because I don't really know what thinking is. It is so complex and so hard to pin down that probably it is impossible to define as a whole but only as bits and pieces. When I read this statement of yours, I had a flash in which I thought I understood what you mean completely. I always thought about philosophy as the ground I walk on and the atmosphere I breath. When I read Merleau-Ponty, thanks to you, my vision has changed literally. I was seeing buildings vibrating not because of some problem in my eyes but because the very image of the world he drew and I was living in that image. This kind of experience is no strange in the field of art. It literally changes the vision you have of the world. But I was thinking of literary arts and music when I thought of a comparison.

That change initiated by different materials, in its own moment, doesn't resemble the material and it is, as brilliantly put by umpolung, within kairos of discovery. So it has a particular time, a particular way of being that exceeds the material which conditions it.

It is as if the change always happens in the same plane - or maybe same kind of time - when art and philosophy are concerned. The glimpse becomes your whole being whether it is a glimpse of Bergson's world or Philip K. Dick's world. So dangerously beautiful... Dangerous because it is limbo where you stand while all this happens in a flash and you cease to exist, you dissolve only to be reconfigured by concepts or affects and percepts later with nomadic distributions.

What difference does it make for philosophy to talk about that limbo? I don't know. It just inspires me greatly.

li'l girl blue said...

This is sort of only peripherally relevant to philosophy, but the following cherry-picked statement from this post made me think of the surgically-carved bookwork of Brian Dettmer:

"All the words — the thousands of pages, the elaborate argumentation — are spent trying to articulate that image."

http://briandettmer.com/

Scroll down 3/4 of the way for a feast of visually articulated arguments carved from the books themselves; it's so meta I can barely take it! All this talk of layers and rhythms and images standing for the whole thing at once and evolving and reforming and recontextualising...

Loveitloveitloveit!