…the greatest point of art consists in the introduction of suitable abstractions. By this I mean such a transformation of our diagrams that characters of one diagram may appear in another as things. A familiar example is where in analysis we treat operations as themselves the subject of operations (Peirce CP 5, 162)1
Introduction: The Work of Art in the Age of Planetary Computation
In their adoption of scientific and technically motivated vectors of abstraction mitigating a formal and conceptual integration of rationality, certain tendencies of artistic modernism and the avant-garde attempted to maximally reactivate the links between art and technē that historical contingencies had separated with the Renaissance invention of the ‘artist as author’.2 Yet the technologies and theories of mind emerging within what today might be called the ‘computational conjuncture’3 are generating a space of problems for art’s relation to technē radically unlike that discoverable by the logics of this previous configuration. In the sense in which the term is being explored in what follows, technē is meant to designate not only the classic reversibility or relay with epistêmê that it often carries in philosophy, but a broader envelope relating social and linguistic practices to the interlacing of a diversity of knowledges, technics, logics, institutions, and technologies that developments in computational research are fundamentally transforming. The acceleration of techno-aesthetic articulations within modernism, now familiarly understood through the cinematic inscription of a shock that mediates the generalized re-design of subjectivity to the deficit of capacities for performing synthetic judgments, no longer seems conceptually adequate to this emerging space.4 In contrast to such Benjaminian descriptions, planetary scale computation precipitates a new set of sociotechnical logics with rules and constraints that, because they are difficult to identify and name, necessarily entail a change of theoretical terrain. The modeling of this terrain inevitably holds consequences for how art can be understood as a form of thought, and what kinds of relations it can establish with these emerging technē. Unquestionably artistic modernism already initiated analogous perspectival shifts to develop new orientations adequate to its time; yet in the more significant critical-theoretic and historical analysis of the avant-garde, art’s cosmic or emancipatory ambitions are often displaced in respect of its failed attempts at integrating with a technē that would soon subsume the utopian visions which it sought to concretize (or conversely, the dystopian traumas of technics that it would register). In the estimation of literary theorist and cultural historian Andreas Huyssen for instance, techniques and inventions developed by the historical avant-garde were inevitably disseminated through the manifestations of a mass mediated culture that proved resilient in its abilities to co-opt them.5
With the algorithmic amplification of cultural mass mediation it is perhaps more appropriate to consider how the primacy of focus on mutations in the “apparatus of apperception” brought on by technology’s manipulations of sense-perception (Benjamin’s dynamic) have for some time been subsumed by the future-oriented development of inhuman intelligence through computational platforms. While both are coextensive sites of possibility, with concomitant forms of risk, modulation, and biopolitical control, it is the former’s affect-driven theoretical inebriation on subjectivization within Deleuzean ‘societies of control’ that terminates in the opacity of a synthetic intelligence Ben Bratton has dubbed the “Stack-to-Come.” Suggesting that this future iteration of computational complexity is a general field of ambiguously distributed tensions within an abstract diagrammatic geopolitical architecture, Bratton claims that the Stack-to-Come “doesn’t offer any messianic historical redemption; it is no one’s ‘coming community’.”6 However dark and unreflective a surface this is, to be obscured from a given and recognizable image of ourselves ought to also designate an imperative to engineer constructive visions in anticipation of what might emerge from this opacity; visions correlated not only to what it means to be human, but to what it means to think or to have a mind in relation to such computational artifacts of cognition. One such possibility is currently being pursued in the work of Reza Negarestani, whose research is expanding this theoretical terrain through an “artifactual elaboration of mind” in an attempt to provide an account of the mind as an artifact of its own history, in such a way that we can understand it to already be an artifact of computation. As a computational-functionalist account of conditions required for the realization of the mind this elaboration entails “a program for the functional realization and construction of cognitive abilities” that also tells of the implementation and realization of intelligence outside of the biological substrate in machines.7
Even if incontestable agreements have been reached on the insufficiency of investing in notions of a contemporary or future avant-garde based on evidence of historical failures, should art have anything to do with this elaboration at all what must still be acknowledged—so as to avoid retreating into an ethics of failure—is the extent to which the perspectival shifts initiated within artistic modernism inform our capacities to deploy these constructive visions as the horizon of possible futures. The tendency of artists to align themselves with speculative-scientific trajectories of thought can in part be attributed to the fact that even the most fundamental activities of cognition involve operations of abstraction. It is the invariance of these operations in connection to a rationalistdrive to determine, design, and construct ever-more alien worlds and forms that allows us to consider how art might still yet establish a non-trivial relation to a technē reconfigured by the computational understanding and transformation of cognition.
As the epitaph to this paper suggests, establishing this relation is a bootstrap process. A basic description of this process as it is understood in computing will suffice to explain what is meant for cognition: the automatic loading of an operating system (cognition’s interface with empirical reality as ‘given to thought’) that will then take care of implementing other more complex processes (manipulation and transformation of the interface and its mode of access to reality through scientific and technical analysis). However, because computationalism in no way implies that the brain is anything like a digital computer, this can only function as a loose metaphor. Its purpose is to illustrate the relation of processes to other processes that maintain empirical and analytical connections determining the interaction between mind and world or that between the ‘natural’ and the artifactual. Another way to look at this is as the revealing and extraction of environmental affordances, which allow for the construction of new evolutionary niches for cognition.
While this process does, with varying degrees of significance, concern what is to be done with aesthetics, it is in travelling backward to Kant’s first Critique that an indispensible component for orienting through these problems can be found in the theory of schematism, initially described by Kant as “the representation of a general procedure [my italics] of the imagination for providing a concept with its image.”8 At the same time, however, this component is also inescapably the origin of almost all major obstacles concerning the intelligibility of art’s relationship to technē. As recent scholarship figuring into the investigation below suggests, in acquiescing to the difficulty of its explanation by insisting that the schematism must be impervious to the understanding, Kant’s reduction of this cognitive operation to ‘a hidden art in the depths of the human soul’9 (itself concealing a conceptual resource in the identification of Kunst with schematism) culminates in the Critique of Judgment as the covering-over of technē by aesthetics, where the technics of artistic production and their transmissibility are inexplicably determined by a “technics of nature” that effectively eliminates the possibility of a philosophy of technics.
The limitations encountered by Kant related to this “problematic of the imagination” have not only affected the philosophical apprehension of art, but the artistic apprehension of philosophy in art’s attempts to determine and define its mode. This has perpetuated confusions derived from Kant’s inability to think art apart from nature which bleed directly into the limitations of art to form an adequate synthetic glue with technē, simultaneously reinforcing ideologies that affirm an ‘authentic’ structure to artistic subjectivity which have been instrumentalized to legitimate art as ‘freedom from constraints.’ Inasmuch as the latter affirmation is effectuated through the former limitations, these ideologies situate the cognitive activities involved in artistic production within the ostensible mysteries of ineffable intuitions and syntheses of the imagination in ways that are essentially isomorphic with what Negarestani has referred to as mind-preservationist attitudes—i.e., attitudes that reject “the possibility of mapping the mind’s function, the possibility of modeling and defining it as an object of a thoroughgoing scrutiny.”10 Such attitudes are moreover sutured to naturalist and empiricist positions reflected socially in dominance. These ideologies (which also carry intrinsic theories of mind and world) have analogous characterizations across the continental-analytic spectrum in philosophy that will be explored in what follows: Wilfrid Sellars’ “Myth of the Given,” Louis Althusser’s “Myth of the State of Nature,” or Gilbert Simondon’s “primitive magical unity.”
In each case, the overcoming of these ideologies or epistemological obstacles is only possible through the integration of a scientific and technical transformation of a given image of the world. If the artifactual elaboration of mind as it is being pursued by Negarestani lays claim primarily to the “stereoscopic vision” of Sellars’ post-Kantian project, the purpose of this investigation will be to examine how these operations of integration and transformation have been refracted through various perspectives that propose alternative but compatible solutions and interpretations to this “problematic of the imagination” inherited from Kant. This will mean focusing neither in extensivity on Kant’s oeuvre nor on the specific intricacies of a computational-functionalist account of cognition. Instead, if what is at stake is the discovery and construction of a new ‘evolutionary niche’ for art, this will mean performing a kind of geological survey of the environment across continental and analytic philosophy while also looking elsewhere to art theory, machine learning, psychology, and the philosophy of mathematics. The claim being put forward here is that attending to these complex interconnections affords descriptive traction on art as implicated in technē and the technical-artifactual activities of cognition. This will in turn also make it possible to consider the potentials of art to produce epistemic effects, and will serve an explanatory purpose for how art might expand its “multi-modal friction on reality”11 in a way that advances beyond these givens and comes to constructively participate in the social and political transformations entailed by an artifactual elaboration effectuating the “systematic destruction of a reified picture of the mind.”12
The Problem of Technē
In looking to Plato’s dialogues using statistical data gathered from Princeton’s Ibycus computer by David Roochnik in the 1980’s, the term technē occurs 675 times “in all its inflections” with an additional occurrence of 187 words derived from it. Roochnik suggests that because the “technē-analogy” as used by Socrates refers neither to productive knowledge in exclusivity nor to any specific kind of knowledge we ought to translate technē as “knowledge” rather than “craft,” however much it seems to invariantly possess multiple meanings or is often identified elsewhere with “art.”13 Going even further back to the meanings of technē in the Homeric poems, Roochnik observes that it also indicates something that must be put into practice and has a rational content, or an intelligibility such as a “plan” “stratagem” or “craftiness” that can be either taught or be related to knowledge of a specific field.14
As even this simplest of etymological excursions makes clear, the logics of technē are sufficiently ambiguous and plastic that it is perhaps no surprise Kant systematically evacuated technē-terms from his philosophy. With Kant, technē are treated in the Third Critique as only “a corollary of theoretical philosophy.”15 Were it to be a problem of establishing a relation not simply between art and these technē-logics, but logic strictu sensu, Kantian philosophy at least on the surface would seem to imply that this relation is an inherent one if we are to agree that, as an abstract mode of thought, art is conditioned by the capacities of the faculty of the imagination—that operation of synthesis ‘without which cognition would not be possible’—wherein the apprehension of the manifold of perception and sense is ‘grounded a priori on rules.’ Yet this cognitive activity, determined as the spontaneous synthesis of the faculty of imagination, is one that Kant would go on in the third Critique to describe as a process in which the synthetic construction of new images and “common standards” based on the perception of a range of diverse objects is “quite incomprehensible to us”16 since there is unfortunately no advancement beyond its description in the Critique of Pure Reason as a “blind but indispensible function.”17
Consider how for example the resulting cognitive mysterium is taken to extreme conclusions with Heidegger’s apprehension of technē such as it appears in “On the Origin of the Work of Art,” where according to him “it never means a kind of practical performance” and “never signifies the action of making,”18 but instead refers to a ‘mode of knowing’ linked to a ‘revealing’ or bringing-forth. As he would also insist in “The Question Concerning Technology,” this revealing of artistic creation in no way represents the kinds of cognitive activities that would implicate the complex association of manipulative procedures involved in technics “nor in the using of means.”19 His position on technē as it relates to logic, technics, and scientific rationality is no more clear than when he says of the perception of color that what is given to sense-perception disappears “when we analyze it in rational terms by measuring its wavelength,” since for Heidegger color “shows itself only when it remains undisclosed and unexplained.”20 Such is the end result of Heidegger’s idiosyncratic interpretation of Kant that leads him to a definition of the “schema-image” wherein pure self-affection is recuperated as the primary source of any possible objectivity or concept, and is the key to his move, by way of a ‘pure image’ of time, to ontologize human finitude.21
In his essay “Technica Speciosa: Some Notes on the Ambivalence of Technics in Kant and Weber,” Peter Fenves has suggested that the appearance of technē-terms in the initial introduction to the third Critique were abandoned for the shorter published introduction due to an ambivalence Kant had towards the terms technisch and Technik.22 As he describes it, after travelling through the “philosophical oddity” of the ‘something happened’ in Heidegger’s Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics: “If one were to suppose that Kant ‘shrank back’ from a disconcerting position he momentarily advanced, considerations of textual evidence alone might very well lead to the conclusion that such a withdrawal occurred in the context of the original introduction to the third Critique and, more precisely, in response to its use—for the first time since the ancient Greeks—of technē-terms as technical terms.”23 Fenves suggests that in the movement from species to technics which takes place between the revised version of the first Critique to the “suppressed” version of the third it is nonetheless still possible to see in the problem of an absent technician that “the published introduction to the third Critique comes close to acknowledging that the act of cognition is inseparable from a transformation of what it means to know.”24 Kant’s “technics of nature” according to Fenves’ reading (and which he quite rightly observes ought to beg the question as to the nature of technics) does not in the end refer to some other, unknown “technician,” or to some unfamiliar form of understanding (“intellectual intuition” as it appears in Kant), but to our own intelligence and cognitive capacities as alien.25 As Samuel Weber indicates in the “Ambivalence” essay that is the partial subject of Fenves’ investigation, Kant’s ambivalence is derived from a perplexity or even embarrassment when there is no given concept that could prove adequate to the understanding. Fenves cites the relevant passage:
What Kant’s notion of reflective judgment suggests, without stating it as such, is a situation in which “given” concepts do not suffice to identify or “subsume” the particular case, and hence in which the latter require a reorganization and reworking of those concepts. If such a reworking is what constitutes the a priori principle of judgment, then its product, whether it is cognitive or aesthetic, will always entail an element of change, or transformation.26
If aesthetics referred originally with Kant to the pure intuition of space and time, and carried with it the possibility of a philosophy of technics that was abandoned so as to leave certain aspects of cognition ‘utterly incomprehensible’ through the identification of a power of judgment with a “technics of nature,” the resulting fact that aesthetics has come to be understood as either a philosophical discourse about art or has become confused with a definition of art (‘aesthetic art’) are problems inherited from the reception and interpretation of Kant’s third Critique that art theorist Peter Osborne sees as its “fatal legacy.”27 It is a fatal legacy because what becomes of aesthetics within modernism follows from an inability—derived from Kant—to think art in terms of a “difference from nature marked by its metaphysical, cognitive, and politico-ideological functions, qua art.”28 This is why the term ‘aesthetics’ becomes that which “seals and legitimates the exclusion of art’s other aspects from the philosophical concept of art.”29
In his High Technē , R.L. Rutsky transposes Huyssen’s dialectical investigations onto an analysis of the modernist ‘myth of functional form,’ where the historical avant-garde plays out the exclusion of “art’s other aspects” by aesthetics from within the tension-spaces between utopian and dystopian apprehensions of technē by culture. In this dramaturgical unfolding where art’s autonomy is both assaulted and affirmed, art proceeds according to an understanding of aesthetics that takes technics to be that which does not by nature belong to either but which can nonetheless transform this nature through the adoption of a formal rationality deployed through art as ‘scientific analysis’ on form and material. For Rutsky, this would only result in a purposeless technē related to a ‘pure intuition’ of the instrumental and functional that merely produced the look of a function30 derived from a “techno-allegorical” conception of technology that, at least for Rutsky, can be defined by “the deferment of technological form from technological function.”31 As Rutsky notes, the aesthetic within artistic modernism then begins to take on the properties with which the “horror of technics” unfolds in the larger apparatus of culture, in that it “comes to be seen as an unsettling, generative process, which continually breaks elements free of their previous context and recombines them in different ways.”32 To wit, technē is sought out as something to incorporate into a conception of aesthetics and art that have no internal recognition as being already a technics.
While this is a divergence from the conclusions reached by Rutsky, it is not unrelated to how Fenves appropriately concludes his essay concerning the absence/rejection of the term technica speciosa in the published version of the third Critique, observing that Kant
does not thereby overcome the ambivalence of this term; he only makes sure that it will not be taken for what it says, namely that the fundamental problem of aesthetics is neither that of “natural beauties” nor that of “fine art” but, rather, of technical appearances. These appearances do not call for aesthetic reflection. Rather, they call for apparatuses in and through which they can take place as such. What can be seen from the perspective of Weber’s analysis of third Critique in conjunction with Benjamin’s “aesthetics” is that this is perhaps what Kant meant by “merely reflective judgment” all along—a merely technical apparatus for the taking-up of technica speciosa.33
What Rutsky sees as the terminal stage of Huyssen’s mass mediated co-opting of artistic techniques in an aesthetic cultural logic of “high-tech” replacing the tecno-allegorical functionalism of avant-garde technē can perhaps also be understood, pace Fenves and Osborne, in the following terms: as the systematic and ideological evacuation from the ambit of artistic production of technical-artifactual and functional-logical operations from the identity of art, since these operations instead become positioned at a higher-order level within the larger apparatus of visual culture. Moreover, this apparatus itself consistently becomes the object of artistic critique and inquiry into its mechanisms through a mode that establishes its natural difference from them, since this apparatus can only be understood as external and artificial to the conditions from which and for which the artistic subject generates its products. The institutional recuperation of art forces art to transition into a modality of critique that Osborne sees as “the one function compatible with art’s functionlessness: the function of functionlessness itself.”34 Art is always ostensibly the opposite of an institutional technē that nonetheless determines it. It provides and manufactures the dominant cultural logic satisfying the identification of art as a system and affirming its singularity as a mode of thought through the reproduction of the ideology of authentic and ineffable creativity. Paradoxically the triumph of this technē is simultaneously the ideological triumph at the level of institutional practice and market determinations of aesthetics understood as the subjective freedom of judgments of taste related to passive mental acts of receptivity. It reflects the degree to which art has become primarily an industry of ‘experience’.
In his essay “On the New” that appears in Art Power, Boris Groys suggests that technological reproduction has destabilized and undermined these constructed fictions related to subjectivity and originality, authorship, or creative authenticity. This leads Groys to claim that the museum is always a simulation in the darkness of an “obscure infinity” guided by the technical manipulation of materials through conservation, description, and a future articulation that makes it “the only possible site of innovation.” 35 At larger scales of technical manipulation this possibility space is matched only by what Bernard Stiegler sees as the rationally articulated navigation of a darkness opened by neoliberal investments in the retentional capacities made available through technoscientific inquiry. With this historical manifestation, it becomes a problem of how to “orient oneself in the darkness of technoscientific possibles systematically investigated by capital.”36 Contrary to the evidence which leads Groys to his conclusions, just because there is nothing new under the sun and there is no sun in the museum, this techno-scientific simulation-space as it manifests in the museum does not guarantee the elimination of the ideological material that it would claim to enjoy; it is just the current state of institutional and disciplinary craft where the possibility of a technical elaboration of art remains constrained by an iteration of neoliberal logics; these logics are themselves sutured to protocols of interface predicated on illusory conceptual frameworks that have been disturbed but not destroyed, precisely because this ‘function of innovation’ serves as “a new reminder that the obscure remains obscure, that the difference between real and simulated remains ambiguous, that the longevity of things is always endangered, that infinite doubt about the inner nature of things is insurmountable.”37 It is necessary to insist that another technical elaboration determining the means of orientation is still possible.
Aleatory Technics and Operational Knowledge
The critical intervention of what Louis Atlhusser refers to as the “complex interdependency” relating know-how (technical procedures and application) to ‘living science’ (science and the production of knowledge) is useful for several reasons. At the very least, the interdependency of theory and practice combined with Althusser’s theory of ideological interpellation provides an additional characterization to the Sellars-Brandom lineage of rules as the evolutionary realization of complex ‘meta-patterns’ which determine the transformation of linguistic-behavioral patterns into an ‘ought’ via cultural reproduction.38 As an encounter between concepts and things, negotiating these rule-based patterns always takes place as a war of positions on the Kantian Kampfplatz of philosophy, which is moreover a constant site of struggle, deception, and manipulation.39 Just as for Fenves, Kant’s Critique of Judgment might have carried the title Critique of Technics, Althusser’s “aleatory materialism” might also be understood as an aleatory technics.
While he does acquiesce “to some extent” that technique represents ‘fallout’ from scientific theory, Althusser also wagers against Kant’s insistence that technique would be reducible to a consequence of scientific practice. To make such a reduction neglects not only the appearance of technical know-hows prior to science but their materiality concerning “the opacity and resistance of their object (which is irreducible to the transparency of ‘pure’ theory).”40 All the same, in his example of scientific education that appears in On the Reproduction of Capital, Althusser claims that within the transmission of knowledge as technical abstraction, what one learns can still not qualify as ‘science’ but rather know-how as “elements of methodology and scientific results that constitute by-products of living science.”41 Living science is understood by Althusser to consist more in the posing of problems rather than the discovery of their solutions (and not without significance, there is a whole lineage here within French rationalism that includes Gilles Deleuze, Gilles Châtelet, and Alain Badiou who make this affirmation regarding the space of problems as such). To this extent, Althusser seems to confirm Kant’s suspicion regarding technē: as a reproduction within the ideological apparatus these ‘byproducts of living science’ assimilated through know-how effectively create rules of technical and social division that extend to class domination; they exist as various instances enabling the further reproduction of social qualifications and forms of subjection to the dominant ideology, or “rules of respect for the social and technical division of labour.”42 This is because for Althusser, the concrete aspects of a practice—i.e., the capacity to perform a combination of concrete elements—are themselves determined by abstract laws that are at once scientific, technical, and historical.43
Yet know-how and ‘knowing-that’ retain an interdependency for the very fact that it is technē which enables the establishment of a relation or ‘relay’ between these abstract laws and concrete aspects. This is because to interface with logics, whether cultural, capitalist, scientific, or artistic, etc., (and ideology is before all else an interface with an ensemble of logics or a ‘complex of ideas’) requires the mediation and manipulation of conceptual material, as well as practical applications and decisions which are themselves the result of a technical abstraction not reducible to an ‘ignorant know-how.’44 This is why Althusser maintains an ambivalence when it comes to technē and technics, since these are primarily filtered through the ideological reproduction of ‘applied knowledge’ that invariably must include pedestrian social practices, and is why for him the only kind of ‘freedom’ available to subjects was, we could say, a ‘technical’ one as the ‘play of maneuver’ afforded by movement across or between the different levels of interpellation which differ in both nature and kind.45 If the complex ‘meta-patterns’ of ideological interpellation represents a kind of snare for self-actualization, for Althusser, it is the “bad subject” who refuses interpellation and thinks they can escape these socially embedded rules who remains trapped worst of all.46
However this is nothing quite like the kinds of conceptual malfunctions Althusser isolates in what he refers to as the “Myth of the State of Nature,” in which empiricism would maintain that knowledge of the world can be acquired by a form of ‘direct contact’ with things that would reveal themselves simply by looking at them. Rather curiously, for Althusser (being appropriately Spinozist at least when he was developing his “aleatory materialism”) there was no faculty of imagination, since imagination was nothing other than the ‘givenness’ of the world in which there is a socially projected and reproduced “system of notions” that manufacture illusions about the world. As G.M. Goshgarian points out in his translation, Spinoza’s tota illa fabrica is taken by Althusser to mean ‘an entire “apparatus”’ that he likens to his own definition of the Ideological State Apparatus.47 If the imagination as ‘fundamental faculty’ of cognition means nothing to Althusser, this is perhaps because it is transformed through the notion of interpellation as the fundamental abstract-concrete operation that reconfigures the Kantian synthesis of apprehension, reproduction, and recognition into the circuitries of ideology. Ineffable Nature-as-given in this sense becomes iterated as the manufactured illusions of an abstract-concrete structure, grasped in and through abstract-concrete practices that are mobilized by way of a linguistic and ideological technē, where what is given implies technique and technical-conceptual mediation by and upon the subject.
In order for there to be something like a ‘process of knowledge’ or ‘process of the production of knowledge’ allowing subjects and collective organizations to supervene on and advance beyond these illusions, there must first be another process at work. If the prior process determining this configuration is what would be called History, this process for Althusser, pace Hegel, is a ‘process without a subject’ that will also go by another name: Logic.48 And there is to be sure a strong correspondence here between the critique of ideology and the “Myth of the State of Nature” in Althusser and Wilfrid Sellars’ “Myth of the Given.” In the case of Sellars, the ‘process of the production of knowledge’ consists in the “progressive prunings of categories” embedded in the manifest image that is “not overwhelmed in the synthesis” with a scientific image. Yet he is at his most Hegelian in his Carus lectures, where what Althusser understood through Hegel to be the ‘process without a subject’ is what for Sellars determines persons as “a bundle of absolute processes.”49 Althusser contends that this dialectical process (if it is not in fact intelligible as the Dialectic) is also discoverable at work or ‘put into play’ in Marx as well as Freud through an iteration that erases the teleology of the dialectic while retaining its process as a philosophical and scientific category. But what does this mean? For Althusser, who is relying on Jean Hyppolite’s interpretations of Hegel, this “is the discourse of an unconscious” for philosophy that represents “a new modality of existence […] a new practice of philosophy: a philosophical discourse that speaks from somewhere else than classical philosophical discourse did.”50 Logic, as the science of the Idea in pursuit of Absolute Knowledge as end is subjected to transformations so as to become a logic of frontiers. As pure means, the operation—psychoanalytically described—introduces a displacement in order “to make something move over in the internal disposition of the philosophical categories.”51
Much like Sellars’ stereoscopy, this displacement is effected by a theoretical and philosophical adjustment of the illusions generated by common sense or given images of mind and world. This helps to explain how for Althusser, the contingent materialism of the encounter as the taking form of a world that is always “experienced in its dispersion”52 results in the philosophical discovery of the void as engine of the possible (or ‘sites in theoretical space’ since philosophy for Althusser has no ‘objects’ other than those it is capable of constructing)53 whereby knowledge is produced through the isolation of problems by ‘living science,’ and leads from the ‘process without a subject’ to an indefinite ‘process of unification’ which Althusser likens to Kant’s regulative idea. Always willing to be seduced by philosophical espionage, this was what Althusser referred to in a 1984 correspondence as his “Top Secret” discovery of an operation that occurs “behind language”—with the caveat that it was “not the only one to come into play.”54 Yet this is only ‘behind language’ to the extent that it designates a field of invisibilities (precisely what is meant by ‘sites in the theoretical field’) that are concealed by the existing visibilities in the linguistic-theoretical terrain. When this logic of frontiers is figured as the process of scientific investigation it opposes itself to a conception of a reality that would reveal itself to the understanding through a passive modality of cognition (the “Myth of the State of Nature” or “Myth of the Given”) and is instead determined by “an active contact with the real.”55 But this contact, precisely because it does not involve a passive synthesis, undoes the primacy of vision and is achieved through procedures of abstraction which themselves produce the concrete reality that is advanced upon as the advance takes place. As Châtelet would have described this kind of diagrammatic operation, thinking grasps itself in its own movement and takes on the character of a demonstration that reveals “a type of concretism which is much more intense than the ‘concrete’ allegedly encountered at street-corners by the naïve empiricist.”56
With the effected dialectical inversion producing structural transformations in the theoretical field—or displacements of arrangements (dispositions)—the operation of this “process of knowledge” also displaces linear causality, since these determinations are retroactive from the perspective of what, within the present, will have been.57 Thus understood, the technics of theoretical practice as influenced by Canguilhem’s notion of performing regulated transformations on a concept in order to give it the function of a form, involving both the transformation and transportation of conceptual material (the epitaph that would appear in every issue of the Cahiers),58 echoes what Gilbert Simondon described as “operational knowledge” almost a decade earlier:
The concept, as the instrument of operational knowledge, is itself the result of an operation of assembly, implying the process of abstraction and generalization […] For operational knowledge, the real does not precede the operation of knowledge; it comes after it. Even if it appears to precede it according to common experience, it succeeds it according to real knowledge, since this knowledge only grasps the real when it has reconstructed it through the manipulation of elements.59
This is already an attempt at the synthesis of engineering with cognition where the role of philosophy is speculatively figured as the activity of performing ‘adjustments’ within culture. For Simondon, thinking can be descriptively enhanced when it is understood as a “technical activity” that “corresponds to an open plurality of techniques.”60 These techniques moreover have the capacity to operate analytically at a remove from the world while simultaneously integrating into the mobile configuration of a ‘technical ensemble’ defined as “a certain coefficient of attention to the technical functioning, maintenance, adjustment, and improvement of the machine.”61 Analogously for Althusser this universalized philosophico-technical activity is realized as the manipulation of conceptual material within theoretical practice in terms of the transformation of ideological systems.62 The philosopher is likened to an artisan or machinist, or “a worker who has to turn out a complex part for use in a machine.”63 In its function as an ideological discipline, the origin of philosophy appears to emerge from the wound inflicted by the advent of rationality and mathematics that gave rise to scientific knowledge, attempting a sort of ‘cultural bandage’ or ‘patching up’ in Althusser’s terms.64 Philosophy then becomes ‘the agent of unification’ of a ‘plan that comes from elsewhere.’ As Alberto Toscano quite nicely puts it, philosophy “is the urgent invention of a form of abstraction capable of using the potentially subversive abstractions of mathematics to restore, or even reinvent, the ideological unity that those very abstractions had shaken.”65 What is important here concerning Althusser’s contribution is that this philosophical mechanology (to use Simondon’s term) must be detoured if it is not to simply reproduce, reconstruct, and maintain the machine of domination. To avoid this reproduction requires establishing a relation with thinking and action not simply on the ideological material or the components of an external apparatus (Institutions, ISA’s, technology and machines) but, as even could be gleaned from Kant as Fenves and Weber’s insights attest, an “active contact” directed towards the subject as technician of transformation capable of re-orienting its own thought and activities. The mode of existence of technical objects is not to be entirely distinguished from the mode(s) of thought that construct the mind as a technical artifact; the amplification of an “open plurality of techniques” designs and discovers, through a displacement of thinking’s internal dispositions, an unfamiliar plan related to an entirely new ‘elsewhere.’
Epistemological Obstacles and the “Apparatus of Theoretical Vision”
For Simondon, technical activity gives rise to inductive thought as a result of the operational mode of cognition encountering obstacles in nature. Yet as far as thinking as such is concerned, these failures occurs not simply because obstacles are only ever encountered in empirical reality but are, as Gaston Bachelard had recognized, at the heart of cognition, where “by some kind of functional necessity, sluggishness and disturbances arise.”66 When Althusser appropriates this notion of the “epistemological obstacle” and directly confronts its problematic in “The Humanist Controversy,” it is to describe the way in which obstacles (such as the concept of “Man”) always conceal certain things which we are seeking. There is in this sense for Althusser an element of opposition, but also one of correspondence—a specific relation between what is being concealed and that which is doing the concealing, and the action of ‘bringing into play’ this unseen element has to do with a specific way of handling these obstacles.
Really this is a problem of how technē or technics can construct a mode of inquiry adequate to surmounting obstacles of the ‘given.’ For Althusser this meant producing an artifact that was not material in the sense of externalized concrete scientific instruments or institutional apparatuses per se (although it is certainly also these things as the “in and through which” inquiry takes place, as Fenves and Weber both suggest), but was an abstract-concrete device or technology engineered within the theoretical field and determining how the theoretical field ‘sees itself.’ Althusser designates this as an “apparatus of theoretical vision,” concerning problems where it is not, as he puts it, “enough to open one’s eyes to identify them.” As part of his anti-empiricism which takes the reality of theoretical problems—the space of possibility that intervenes on and re-articulates the real—to be correlated to an independently existing reality, this apparatus establishes “precisely, the knowledge-effect produced by the process of knowledge”:
This distinction explains what empiricism cannot explain: the transformation in the way problems are posed, and the transformation of the objects of knowledge within the process of knowledge; in other words, the appearance of new objects not seen previously. Empiricism thinks that knowledge is an act of vision: it is incapable of explaining the appearance of new objects in the field of ‘the seen’, and thus the fact that these new objects were not ‘seen’ earlier. It does not ‘see’ that the seeing of what one sees in science depends on the apparatus of theoretical vision, and therefore on the history of the transformations of the theory within the process of knowledge. Thus what are called real problems derive from the reality of the process of knowledge, its apparatus of theoretical vision at a given time, and its theoretical criteria of reality. Reality is, in the precise sense in which we are using it, a category of the process of knowledge itself.67
Understanding the Real as a category of the process of knowledge is in Stiegler’s work the same problem of how the Real has become a modality of the possible in the age of techno-scientific inquiry. We can also establish a link or convergence between the projects of Stiegler and Althusser concerning the division between theory and practice that, as Stiegler suggests, could only be sustained through a negation of invention. This negation of invention is also the negation of technical individuation traceable to Kant’s rejection of technē as ‘fallout’ from scientific theory. In Stiegler’s estimation, the possibility of a technical evolution is mistaken by Kant for a scientific one. Stiegler associates this to Kant’s position, in its minimal difference from Aristotle’s conclusions, that the development of science must produce the elimination or involution of technē as that which “is opposed to science as an ignorant know-how to apodictic knowledge.”68 We might say that for the same reasons an empiricism beholden to a “Myth of the State of Nature” cannot explain these abstract-concrete structural transformations elaborated by Althusser that Kant cannot explain the schematism by any other means than through recourse to an ineffable nature and its ‘hidden art’.
The management of obstacles necessarily involves bringing something that is unseen or hidden into play even if this ‘play’ involves a vision that is a theoretically or technically aided vision, as in the techno-scientific synthesis of vision and engineering. Yet this synthesis of vision is in no way reducible to such productions of external technological devices that manufacture images for a current experience, since visibility, insofar as it takes up residence in the faculty of the imagination and its operations, inhabits a domain in which the projection of futures and possibilities is not by necessity connected to the empirical. It is not a novel assessment to insist that artistic modernism was conditioned by ideologies of vision and sense-perception affixed to the demands of a self-affection thought to be primary. Yet a more contemporary problem is one of a kind of blindness as the inefficacy of empirical apprehension of what is given to the senses when thought and action must confront the space of possibles generated by the obstacles of perception. This is especially the case when sense-perception itself becomes an obstacle, since it is precisely here that the synthesis of the imagination (as the mobile configuration of apprehension, reproduction, and recognition) conceals the technical evolution of cognition that is capable of developing itself as an apparatus adequate to navigating these spaces of invisibility. Concerning the consequences of the field opened by the speculative-scientific trajectories of thought, Stiegler refers to this as a “decision-making game filled with darkness”69 where for technoscientific investigation it “is the question of a rational thought without possible current experience, and which is thus obliged to fictionalize.”70
Schema and Invention
Stiegler claims that we can no longer say, in the era of technoscience, that the imagination’s extension—its “mechanism of projection” into the possible—is ‘purposeless,’ since technics is not for him, as it was for Kant, “only applied science because it is only the analytical development of the concepts of the understanding knowing the data of intution.”71 Instead, in discovering the reason for Kant’s rejection of a possible technical lineage through the project of Critique that is also the negation of invention, it is by overturning this negation that technics emerges from the field of invisibility as that which “enables the constitution of schemas, including practical ones.”72 Stiegler is here relying on the work of Simondon, for whom the “imaginative dynamic” of technics takes place precisely as an effect of the operations of schematism—or rather, as would be characteristic of an informatics feedback loop, it might be said that the schematism (insofar as it is subject to transformations) is also an effect of the relay operations of technics:
invention occurs at this intermediate level between the concrete and the abstract, which is the level of schemas, and presupposes the pre-existence and coherence of representations that cover the object’s technicity with symbols belonging to an imaginative systematic and an imaginative dynamic. The imagination is not simply the faculty of inventing or eliciting representations outside sensation; it is also the capacity of the prediction of qualities that are not practical in certain objects, that are neither directly sensorial nor entirely geometric, that relate neither to pure matter nor to pure form, but are at this intermediate level of schemas.73
What Simondon considers as the “prediction of qualities that are not practical” is precisely what, in Stiegler’s reformulation, indexes the possibility of initiating a project of invention negated in the Kantian project of critique that technoscientific inquiry recuperates through its capacity to transform fictions into knowable realities (biotechnologies in his example). Technoscientific reason is constrained to fictionalize but must also do so rationally, according to the contingent emergence of ‘an invention that carries the possibility of being adopted’ and is precisely what disorients knowledge as a crisis of what is wanted or what should be willed. Yet for Stiegler, the adoption of a tool is not adaptation—since the latter is equivalent to a cynicism that derives what ought to be done from what is done74—but instead, functions as a projection screen for the future that radically destabilizes the world through a “third level” of “epiphylogenetic” memory in “scripts” or other kinds of “technical traces” where the histories of transindividual organization “preserves itself beyond bodies—through the organization of the inorganic.” 75
The technical evolution of this organization that is negated and concealed relates precisely to an aversion—certainly evident in Heidegger to provide only one example already mentioned—toward describing how ‘pure self-affection’ is already manipulative of its environment through procedures that transmit modes of seeing such as isolation, abstraction, and assembly. It is tempting to consider how this is exemplified within artistic modernism in a figure like Gyorgy Kepes who was affected by a world that seemed to have ‘lost its coherence’ and was fundamentally disorienting. Kepes’ ambition of a ‘visual re-education’ or ‘revision of vision’ that motivates his Language of Vision exposes the world of “plastic vision” as the experience that spontaneously partakes in the formation of images through a “process of organization” or “creative act of integration” and “thinking in terms of structure” by claiming, in a rather Kantian fashion, that “to perceive an image is to participate in a forming process.”76
At root, this problem of the spontaneity of the schematism and art’s “creative act of integration” converge through the ‘coming into play’ of conceptual capacities that are not at all a subsequent formation of cognitive abilities (technics as ‘fallout’ from scientific theory). This is key to the Neo-Kantian stereoscopic project of Sellars between “The Myth of the Given” and “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man”: in what John McDowell refers to as “apperceptive spontaneity” we do not just possess conceptual capacities that we would only, later, activate in the synthesis of recognition; it is that these capacities are operative in experience.77 While the term “apperceptive spontaneity” itself appears nowhere in Kant, for McDowell it designates an implicit self-consciousness of intuitions in their relation to the understanding as the “faculty of apperception” that Kant himself describes as ‘spontaneous.’78 As Mcdowell points out through his reading of Sellars’ problematic in his essay “Hegel and the Myth of the Given,” were it to be a matter of properly interpreting Kant, as the isomorphy between intuitions and judgements at the level of their logical structure, “there is no empirical immediacy, no experiential intake without conceptual mediation.”79 McDowell goes on to say that
When we conceive the operations of sensory receptivity as prior to and independent of any involvement of conceptual capacities, we dabar them from intelligibly standing in rational relations to cases of conceptual acitivty. We ensure that they could at best be triggers or promptings to bits of conceptual activity, not justifications for them. In thus excluding the supposed immediate gettings of the given from rational relatedness to a world view, we in fact make it impossible to understand them as cognitions at all.80
Even for strident proponents of non-conceptual content such as Robert Hanna who rejects the Sellars-McDowell interpretations of Kant, acquiescing to the ‘ineffability’ of schema as a non-conscious procedure would still not mean that it cannot be learned, or even implemented.81 Imagination for Hanna is seen as “an all-purpose engine for representational synthesis or mental processing” that is inherently sortal82 where schemata can be defined as “manifolds of content” or a “user-friendly semantic map of reality.”83 As has been established through Fenves’ investigation that uncovers the technics covered-over by Kant’s evasion of technē-terms, it is still possible to insist that the schematism is a number of other things also: apparatus, device, abductive interface of anticipation, and a spatially determined procedural or algorithmic construction of analogies tied to their temporal reconstruction through recursion, iteration, and repetition. In his Schematism Re-Schematized, Harwood Fisher remarks “the schema is both a form of thinking and a process of regenerating and reconfiguring the form. In Kant’s view—a mediator.”84 This also means that its functional role is towards artifactual action by way of generating analogical and representational systems. In attempting to resuscitate the work of psychologist Otto Selz, Fisher focuses on Selz’s terms ‘coordinate space,’ ‘anticipatory schema,’ and ‘knowledge complex’ to emphasize and explain how the schematism, as a kind of device for sorting and isolating the unknown and unrepresented, is what enables the transformation of cognition as it relates to the emergence of possible worlds. As Fisher indicates this capacity of reconstruction and logic of analogy is in part what provides us with the diagrammatic function of schema, and it is the articulation of this mediating function through reasoning that enables cognition to construct models, charts, taxonomies, or even computer logic gates.85
This topos converges with artistic techniques, themselves derived or ‘inspired’ by the antecedent rational synthetic artifacts, and are clearly visible in the technical-industrial modalities of artistic modernism: constructivism, collage, assemblage, photomontage, ‘machine aesthetics’ assimilating principles of form and function in engineering, etc. Were it a matter of affirming that, no matter what its products, art has an inherent relation to the schematism, and therefore to rules, and by extension, logic, this is nowhere articulated more clearly than in what Pierre Francastel, in a passage embedded in the footnotes to Fernando Zalamea’s Synthetic Philosophy of Contemporary Mathematics, refers to as an intervention proceeding from a “problematic of the imagination”:
From the moment we accept the idea that mathematical and artistic signs respond to intellectualized knowledge and not only to simple sense data immersed in matter, we also admit the intervention of a logic, of a system, and notions of order and combination, equivalence, relation, operation and transposition appear before us.86
For Zalamea’s purposes, Francastel’s conclusions are deployed to stress that there is always the problem of a kind of mathematical necessity regarding an amplification of the relay between reason as a faculty and the imagination or intuition and the understanding that is itself a function of the relay between art and science. As a “double circulation” of aesthetic and technical factors in mathematical creativity, the first sense is abductive (Peirce’s ‘firstness’, vague notions, hypothesis), and in the second these technical factors make use of aesthetics for symmetry building and the articulation of equilibriums (a kind of “aesthetic meteorology” in Zalamea’s terms).87 It is not simply specific kinds of material transformation or their scientific extension into genralized conceptual domains which is of significance, but the operational transit back and forth between abstract-concrete or material-immaterial which is worth emphasizing. Or, as Zalamea sees it, transit between diverse perspectives and environments is one of the “fundamental dynamic features of modern mathematics” that is always closely allied to the navigation and survey of obstructions and their residue with movements that are lateral and that transit among different levels of stratification (ideal/real, local/global).88
The possibility of art to have any traction on these epistemic landscapes and to produce consequences within them depends as much as science on a double articulation of detonation and regulation, since it is in the irreversible destabilizations of what is known and what it means to know (detonation) that horizons of possibility come to be established in the first place (regulation). It is the very same double articulation of aesthetic and technical factors in mathematics that allows for art to be grasped through the schematism. Depending on how we are willing to interpret Kant on this point, the description of schematism as a ‘hidden art’ can either be taken at the level of an analogy or that of identity. However much clarity there is in the trajectory from the first to the third Critique, Kant is certainly not clear about this particular point, and is even somewhat evasive. Yet it is in this very ambiguity that Samantha Matherne has found reason to think that Kant’s definition of Kunst can actually provide a resource for understanding the schematism. As she puts it in her “Kant and the Art of Schematism,”
…when we consider what the imagination must do in order to make a concept sensible, we find that it relies on several skills. It must be able to project and anticipate the various marks of the concept in sensible, holistic terms and, at least in the empirical case, to adjust and readjust our schematic representation of a concept on the basis of further sensible experience or increased knowledge. These projections, anticipations and adjustments are the skill that contribute to the know-how of the imagination in its schematizing activities. In which case, schematism does meet the know-how condition of Kunst.89
Here though, in elaborating the identification of Kunst and the Schematism, the relation of a “know-how condition” and ends-adoption terminates, as we have already seen above with the notion of “technics of nature” and “aesthetic freedom” in a “hidden natural endowment” for which Matherne does not consider there to be any requisite explanandum. Her investigation, which does provide a conceptual resource in isolating certain isomorphic features of this movement between schematism and Kunst in Kant, deliberately places an inexplicability over an intelligibility when it ought in fact to be the other way around.
It is only when looking into the development of philosophies seeking to draw consequences from the emergence of leaning machines that the ‘hidden art’ of Kant’s schema allows itself to be cracked open. Peter Krausser, writing in 1976 was very early on attuned to the significance of Kant’s theory of cognition for computer science and systems theory, noting in his investigation that the learning and pattern recognition that occurs in human brains as the ‘free moving manipulation of one’s environment’ is only seemingly hidden given that it can be implemented and therefore understood through a computational system.90 Link R. Swanson has considered the paradigm of Predictive Processing (PP) in computational and cognitive neuroscience, which has ambitions to provide “a unified, hierarchical, probablisitc model of brain function”91 by integrating perspectives from studies of perception, psychology, and computation in terms of “reverse-engineering” cognition in a manner anticipated and elaborated by Kant’s inquiry into the conditions for the possibility of cognition. Here the analogous significance of PP lay in its top-down functional analysis—a shift in perspective he sees as comparable to the trauma inflicted by Kant’s iteration of the reversal initiated with the Copernican revolution:
PP urges that psychology and neuroscience would make better progress on the problems of perception if they would instead assume that brains actively generate percepts in a top-down manner, not by a cumulating and combining input signals, but rather, by issuing predictions or accounts of the current state of the input signals based on hierarchical generative models that rely on prior probabilities and likelihood estimates.92
Perception is viewed as a feedback involving both bottom-up and top-down procedures (similar in this respect to Sellars’ stereoscopy), where the brain is predicting inputs to match a priori schemas, in that “theories of object recognition based on generative models involve both a top-down pass (endogenously generated from upper layers of the neural hierarchy) as well as a bottom-up pass (originating from lower layers of the neural hierarchy and ultimately from transduction at the external sense organ).”93 His investigation defines how the “imagination procedures” in artificial neural networks are nearly isomorphic with Kantian schemata. In his reformulation of Kant, Swanson sees these artifacts of logic being the “third thing” (comparable here to Stiegler’s epiphylogenetic “third memory” of tools, scripts, or other forms of technical traces mentioned above) bridging concepts and images as “generic procedural rules for creating different types of structured sensory patterns.”94 For these reasons, Swanson thinks that PP reveals the “true strategems” of the mysteries of the synthesis of imagination that Kant referred to as a ‘hidden art’—with the caveat that it should be important to recognize that one of Kant’s limitations concerning his ability to explain the schematism may in fact have to do with it being quite evident that he did not develop a theory of learning.
But this does not mean that it is not possible to examine Kant’s work and derive a theory of learning from them, which is arguably what Peirce did by amplifying the Kantian schematism through an interlacing of semiotics, pragmatics, and diagrammatics in a way that Michael H.G. Hoffman considers to be “a paradigmatic model of knowledge acquisition and creativity in general.”95 (It is unsurprising that Peirce’s influence on Zalamea’s philosophy of mathematical creativity is made explicit in Synthetic Philosophy of Contemporary Mathematics). Hoffmann insists that Peirce’s diagrammatic theory of learning has its roots in Kant’s schematism, and that this is nowhere more clear than in Peirce’s accepting the reality of rules that allow for the adjustment and transformation of schema and diagrams. Hoffmann sees this relation as a continuity, built upon recursion, between aesthetics and logic or perception and thought (recalling Zalamea’s “double circulation” factor), which diagrammatics can make external and manipulable. In following Peirce’s definition of logic, diagrammatics is seen to be “a sort of self-controlled management of one’s own thoughts, because the clarity and exactitude that is realized eventually in diagrams, in turn furthers the exactness of cognitive activities.”96
Albeit in constrained circumstances that nonetheless still prove alien, that machines can now learn faster and better than humans (AlphaGo and Creative Adversarial Networks for instance) makes clear that it is no longer true (or at least, no longer true-in-the-same-way) as it was for Krausser that “we are still far from knowing any program(s) for the kind of heuristic used by our brain when it cognizes and recognizes patterns of all sorts and learns from its experiences in doing it to do it even better.”97 Inasmuch as these scripts, programs, algorithms, technical traces, etc., can provide insight into what Kant understood by schematism, then by extension this ought to also provide insight into the creative procedures of art—or, since it would be more germane to the task at hand and for the purposes of clarity to say rather simply art’s cognitive procedures. The work currently being pursued by Peli Grietzer is significant for this very reason, since it looks at artistic procedures (or ‘works’—primarily in literature) through the lens of machine learning by attempting a functional definition of an ‘aesthetic symbol’ as a “lossy apprehension of the world” that can act as a training set for other intelligences to interpellate a “concrete sensate representations of a worldview.”98 This includes information-theoretic and cybernetic accounts of works of art as containing a sequence of data-points that “model the manifold structure of a real-world distribution” which can in turn become diagrams for new ways of seeing.99 Although it is not possible to engage further with Greitzer’s work here, suffice to say it is an ambition project to re-motivate our understanding of creativity as a learning algorithm deserving of further consideration that in many ways can be seen a reactivation within new computational paradigms of the theoretical orientations initiated in the New Tendencies movement which were equally influenced by Shannon and information theory.100
The modeling of intelligence in computational systems is already an extension of the processes of concretization that determine the development of human cognition through the transformations involved in learning. With the advent of artificial neural networks (gaming, medicine, machine vision, etc.) and following Peirce’s description of the Kantian schematism as “a kind of composite photograph,” 101 we might begin to think about this space in terms of composite traumas: Freud, Darwin, and Copernicus to be sure; but add to this “great chain of humiliations”102 the integration of Kant’s insights with computation to form a new synthetic space (and a new relation to time, via Turing in Negarestani’s research, as will be explored below). This is not simply the problem of constructing artificial systems to learn more about how biological brains process information and recognize objects, as Swanson argues, but of seeing that the learning involved in biological brains already involves the construction of artificial systems for itself. Inasmuch as this has bearing on what we call “art,” perhaps by extension the kinds of experimentation involved in artistic practices can be said to engage in constructing prototypes of cognitive modalities (or abstract modes which do not yet have a specified use, recalling Stiegler’s gesture towards a project of invention and its possibility of adoption) as the fabrication of an experimental apparatus for amplifying the relay between reason and the imagination.
Art as a Cognitive Technology
As Pierre Steiner has shown in a wonderful essay, Peirce’s philosophy was one of the first to speculate that by extending cognition through the exploitation of artifacts, there is a natural if not constitutive relationship between human intelligence and the artificial, suggesting that it is pointless to search for non-technological factors when considering the nature and development of human intelligence.103 As Fenves has shown this is what was unthinkable for Kant, since it would have required according technē a role in the transformation of capacities that was distinguishable from the obscurity of a natural endowment provided by the “technics of nature.” But we can also see this artifactual elaboration elsewhere: the ‘apparatus of theoretical vision’ that Althusser considers; the ‘seismographic function’ of philosophy for Badiou; Francois Laruelle’s camera of Non-photography, the collider, or the principle of modelization that makes the non-philosophical modality into a ‘simulation engine,’ etc. Althusser will also speak of an experimental concrete, wherein the theoretical, ostensibly immaterial and abstract is “produced as a function of the problem to be posed, and inserted into an array of instruments.”104 In Etienne Balibar’s estimation, according to his reading of Althusser’s idiosyncratic appropriation of Bachelard’s “epistemologocal rupture” as “epistemological break,” what makes Bachelard’s contribution here so significant is that he was the first to point out that “what characterizes scientific thought is not abstraction as such but on the contrary the realization of abstraction in the concrete, the production of ‘abstract-concrete’ technical objects, concrete in that they incorporate and make objective theoretical abstractions ‘function’.”105 We can further see how this articulation was taken up by Badiou in his first book, The Concept of Model, where he proceeds according to Bachelard’s notion that experimental facts are themselves artifacts (or in Badiou’s phrasing, “a material scansion of the proof”106), and the scientific instrument—which is the means of establishing the artifactual production of an experimental fact—is also the result of scientific inquiry and practice in the same way that a formal system for Badiou is “a mathematical machine, a machine for mathematical production.”107
Following Steiner we could say that art proceeds according to a similar technical lineage since, inasmuch as it inherently involves the use, manipulation, and elaboration of exo-somatic artifacts (including representational and semiotic systems) it has always presented cognition with an engineering problem. In Rutsky’s previously mentioned study of technē and the historical avant-garde, this is manifest at the level of form through the metaphorical remotivation of technology as a non-instrumental artistic technique; the end result of which is that, as he sees it, aesthetic modernism can be thoroughly defined by the dialectical pair of an “aestheticization of technology and the technologization of art.”108 Yet what Rutsky sees as a confusion between function in technology and the form of function in aesthetics does not exactly indicate a conceptual error, because in a certain sense, as the perspective of computational functionalism indicates, aesthetics is already a technology since to think through art is already to have grafted onto cognition a technical apparatus for perceiving and manipulating forms and material in the world so as to supervene on what is given in experience.
As a task, a set of procedures, or a distribution of techniques, the ‘purposelessness’ of art becomes practical when viewed through a technics that intervenes on cognition to “advance beyond the given concept” by implementing a torsion of the rules of synthesis—a synthesis that is no longer ‘spontaneous’ in the strict sense of a non-conscious act because it can be technically grasped. This is not entirely antithetical to the Kantian system, and one possible way to think of art, motivated by the Third Critique, is as the production of images in search of a concept, but which in itself would not make it either non-conceptual or pre-conceptual since this production always takes place from within the space of concepts. As such, the procedures of art cannot therefore be divorced from the manipulation and transformation of conceptual material. As an orientating mode it is able to force mutations of perspective through distorting given images of the world. This destabilization is activated in accordance with how the world ought to be perceived, which is an infinite process of advancing beyond the given image-concept relations.109 Art and the schematism are only ‘mysterious’ to the extent that their operations are not always or necessarily explicit or maximally conscious. Yet what makes or can make art significant and consequential for thought is its capacity to bring these operations into visibility.
As a multi-modal thought form, art utilizes technics and informatics to move across and between abstraction, realization, externalization, expression, and simulation; its implication in technē through its technical activities are consequential precisely for this reason, since these cognitive activities are intrinsic to how thought’s different modes contribute to the realization of schema and their protocols of synthetic conceptual transformation necessary for the revision and construction of models. Kant would have referred to this integral process as the “productive imagination,” which In Sellars’ account can be understood as the feedback between imagining and perceiving. As Sellars put it, “[r]oughly imagining is an intimate blend of imaging and conceptualization, whereas perceiving is an intimate blend of sensing and imaging and conceptualization.”110 Artistic procedures bootstrap cognition to these processes, and there is always a ‘background’ of operative linguistic-conceptual abstractions (Sellars calls it ‘Mentalese’) that are social and subjective synthesized into the determination of a ‘world image’ or a “unified sense-image structure.”111What Sellars understands to be cognition’s “complex of abilities” (and what is elsewhere here being referred to as “manipulative procedures” or “technical activity” or “operational knowledge”) is ‘unified’ in a constructive process that produces what he will call image-models (determined through sequences, patterns, and schema) that result in a ‘point-of-viewish image of oneself’ confronting such-and-such an actual existent as “conformity to recipe.”112 Sellars invites us to ponder A127-8 of the First Critique, where what McDowell refers to as “apperceptive spontaneity” is characterized by Kant as a faculty of rules.
To insist that this operation of the productive imagination contains neither concepts nor logic would be hopelessly naïve, even if this is what Kant himself seems to suggest, especially when it concerns either art or ‘instructive illustrations’—what he will refer to as “monograms” that seem to have no ‘assignable rule’ and are no more than “a wavering sketch.”113 Kant, with the characteristic charm of his philosophical arrogance, admits in the Preface of the first Critique to not knowing how to deal with the disjunction between discursive (logical) clarity through concepts and intuitive (aesthetic) clarity through illustrations and examples.114 It is the latter which are determined to have only a “popular” aim that the project of critique has no demand for, since “real experts in this science do not have so much need for things to be made easy for them.” With the proliferation of information and distribution of fields of knowledge, it has become clear to what extent visualizations have emerged as necessary heuristics to aid cognitive inquiry beyond a purely linguistic exposition. This is because language alone lacks the capacities of information compression to be found in the abstractions that externalize cognitive processes into what today we understand as diagrammatics and schematics (infographics and data visualization being prime examples, although they are also intrinsic to machine learning and AGI). I have attempted elsewhere to consider how art or artistic procedures function as models (figured as “investigative technologies” following the work of Margaret Morrison) and a form of diagrammatics (departing from the work of Peirce).115 It is a wager of this investigation that when synthesized as a ‘logic-aesthetic’ constructive operation, this is able to satisfy a minimal definition of art as a specific multi-modal cognitive platform for the amplification and externalization of these processes. It is precisely in this sense that by aligning art with the construction of models, issuing from a technical evolution and an artifactual elaboration (comparable again to Stiegler’s ‘epiphylogenetic’ inorganic memory) that we might begin to understand how art would come to participate in a non-trivial way towards the “systematic destruction of a reified picture of the mind.”116 This would also be coextensive with an inhuman aesthetics figurable as an apparatus for guiding cognition along what Negarestani describes as “the trajectory of speculative and scientific thought […] as the evolution of perspective, an abstract technology for the systemic deracination of the subject.”117
The Foucauldian description of apparatus as an abstract-concrete ‘system of relations that can be established between elements, also carries with it an array of other associations (which incidentally echo those of the schematism): those of mechanism, device, procedure, disposition, arrangement or tendency denoting something in-between the concrete and the abstract.118Concerning the term apparatus itself as it has been deployed in the field of political theory in particular, Matteo Pasquineli recognizes that the history of this concept runs from its original descriptive valence relating it to a normative potentiality in Kurt Goldstein and Canguillheim to normative power in Foucault that prevents it from culminating in the “secularized technological plan” of Giorgio Agamben, since what gets lost here is its original sematic content indicating an autonomy of the subject, where the term “apparatus” refers instead to the power of self-actualization. In the context of the current investigation as it relates to an artifactual elaboration of mind we could simply provide a modification to Pasquinelli’s conclusion without thereby disfiguring its content: if “the abnormal is first and comes before the power logic of the normal” we might instead read this as the artifactual is first and comes before the power logic of the natural.119
Schemata are inextricably linked to our experience of time and our determinations of and about time; as Kant had put it, schema are “nothing but a priori time-determinations in accordance with rules.”120 Schemata involve not just apprehension of a present in relation to a past, but are fundamentally directed towards the anticipation of a future. That there is more than a mere analogical relation between the Kantian mental schema as an inherently social one and the capitalist monetization of this schema is a claim that has been put forth by theorist Christian Lotz (a more complex and subterranean formulation is to be found in Althusser…). While it is no doubt true that capitalism schematizes and controls horizons by dictating a specific relation to time and to futurity as the “calculative closure of the future,”121 this is nonetheless the same kind of ampliative argument that would identify mathematics with calculation or technics, and critically perceive technē or “techno-culture” as isomorphic with capitalism; all of which provide little more than theoretically embellished fetishizations of a myopic apprehension of technē distorted into an inaccessibly magical abstraction.122 As a non-conscious intelligence capitalism certainly schematizes in ways that, especially in the “age of the algorithm,”123 at least appear to be magical in the sense in which Kant, by way of conceptual difficulties that seemed naturally insurmountable, had been persuaded to lapse into such descriptions. Although the cultural rhetoric of abstraction would also have us believe so, these are not mysterious abstractions, and this is because of the fact that they have a history and a future of implementation.124 For Pasquinelli, who also draws upon the work of Simondon, more than being an investment in futurity, cognitive capitalism is first of all an investment in the intelligence of humans, but one that has taken a wrong turn, where the possibility of a future not controlled or constrained by capitalism’s horizons of expectation would be one where machine intelligence “should become sociomorphic in a good way” through a “metastable collective intelligence.”125
Compare this with what Simondon says in On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects:
Only a thought that is capable of foresight and creative imagination can accomplish such a reverse conditioning in time: the elements that will materially constitute the technical object and which are separate from each other, without an associated milieu prior to the constitution of the technical object, must be organized in relation to each other according to the circular causality that will exist once the object will have been constituted; thus what is at stake here is a conditioning of the present by the future, by that which is not yet. Such a futural function is only rarely the work of chance; it requires putting into play a capacity to organize the elements according to certain requirements which act as an ensemble, as a directive value, and play the role of symbols representing the future ensemble that does not yet exist. The unity of the future associated milieu, within which the causal relations will be deployed that will enable the functioning of the new technical object, is represented, it is played or acted out as much as a role can be played in the absence of the true character, by way of the schemes of the creative imagination. The dynamism of thought is the same as that of technical objects; mental schemas react upon each other during invention in the same way the diverse dynamisms of the technical object will react upon each other in their material functioning.126
In spite of its vitalist inflections (notably with the continuation of a dynamism reminiscent of Bergson’s elan vital), Simondon is still able to provide a complimentary description of the functionalist realization of (collective) mentality that appears in Negarestani’s computational-functionalist account of mind. Yet there is a power of alienation in attaining an awareness of these technical realities that even Simondon did not properly recognize as a positive and generative force.127 Compare this to what Negarestani describes as the mind’s context of realization, where “the meaning of the mind will be changed in the course of its re-implementation in artifacts”128 such that through a weakening of a determination by the human (the biological substrate of intelligence) over the play of its functions technically implemented in machines, “the image of the functional evolution can no longer be seen and recognized in the structure that supports it.”129 That the “expansion of the schema of the mind”130 has an asymmetrical evolution to this determining structure, which will no doubt be accompanied by a catastrophic expansion of the schema of the mind’s humiliations and traumas, is precisely what Negarestani perceives as being the revolutionary import of Turing:
Turing’s program signals a consequential phase in the historical development of the human and defining the project of humanity in the sense of both determining the meaning of being human and updating its definition. Its importance lies in how it grapples with the most fundamental question posed by Kant (1885, 15): “What is Man?” or what does it mean to be human?
Unlike the Copernican, Darwinian, Newtonian, and Einsteinian revolutions in which we witness the consequences of a radical theoretical reorientation immediately manifesting itself in the present, the site of the Turingian revolution is always in the future. Put differently, the Turingian revolution does not happen here and now in that it is, properly speaking, a constructive theory of the mind as implicit in computational functionalism. It incrementally (from the perspective of here and now) and catastrophically (from the perspective of the future) alters both the meaning of the mind and the conditions of its realizability by implementing—step by step, function by function, algorithm by algorithm—the functional picture of the mind in machines. For this reason, the concept of revolution that Turing’s project elaborates fundamentally differs from the trajectory of the Copernican revolution as the harbinger of modern theoretical sciences.131
It is in this sense that the mind and its functions—whether in machines or recalibrated in the biological substrate according to consequences effected through this implementability—are comparable to Simondon’s “concrete technical object” rather than to something artificial strictu sensu. For Simondon, the artificial (rather than the artifactual) was to be distinguished from the concrete technical object, since the former was dependent on human intervention in order to sustain its existence, and the latter, by gradually loosening the relationship between itself and the artificial milieu, “frees itself from the originally associated laboratory and dynamically incorporates the laboratory into itself through the play of its functions.”132 However for Simondon, any identification through analogy or resemblance which would associate the technical being with the living being (as in the case of Cybernetics) ought to be “rigorously banned”133 for the reason that this dynamic incorporation represents a tendency towards concretization for the technical being whereas the living being is “concrete to begin with.”134
As a remedy to such overdeterminations, Simondon suggested that the collective individual or “transindividual” was capable of a synthetic integration with these constructive tendencies, and that “philosophical thought must realize the integration of the reality of technics into culture, which is possible only by revealing the sense of the genesis of technics, through the foundation of a technology.”135 But what is this technology? It is certainly not about the achievement of human power through technics, which Simondon will call an “autocratic philosophy of technics” capable of accomplishing no more than “the acceptance of the schemas of enslavement.”136 That we are currently living through an algorithmic incursion of new forms of modulation and biopolitical control that accept and manufacture these schemas is not what is in question, it is how we should respond to it that is. The operativity at work with the artisan or philosopher-technician is aimed at a mechanology, capable of adjusting and revising the functions through a technical awareness. Of course, this begs asking where one could learn such a technical awareness since it is neither given nor culturally transmitted with any regularity—but it is scalable, and suggests that this kind of technology would (or could be) an institutional one.
Here we return to Althusser’s contribution, since for him philosophy’s future (its appropriate ‘elsewhere’) is not a disciplinary unity determined by dominant ideologies, but is instead the organizational problematic of a ‘non-philosophical’ orientation where the reality of philosophical thought is distributed in Gramscian fashion among the plurality of social and technical practices. Everyone ought to be what they already are: philosopher-technicians engaged in the collective adjustment and orientation of society. Yet as Simondon correctly understands, this can occur only when it is recognized that “the world cannot be entirely incorporated into technics”137 and that instead it is technics that must be incorporated into culture.138 Simondon suggests that culture has so far proved unable to do this, seeing in technics only an instrumentality that results in an unjust relation to the machine, conceived as closed in on itself. This is analogous to the mind-preservationist characterized by Negarestani, who will by default also be a machine-denialist, instead of perceiving the machine in its real concrete existence as something that for Simondon “does not relate to man as a single block, but through the free plurality of its elements, or the open series of its possible relations with other machines within the technical ensemble.”139
For Simondon, the direction of philosophical research is defined by the attempt to overcome these unjust relations by overcoming the distance between theory and practice, inserting itself between them and extending aesthetics alongside the “primitive magical unity” cleaved by technics.140 The trajectory of this elaboration in Simondon through a procedural iteration of scission, insertion, intersection, ‘phase-shift’, etc., is comparable in this regard to the Sellarsian stereoscopic project that integrates a manifest image with a scientific one. In Negarestani’s reformulation, this stereoscopy can be understood as “the ability to bootstrap complex abilities from primitive abilities.”141 Among the primary thought-forms that have come to reinforce this primitive structure to the deficit of an evolution and development of complex abilities that ought to be associated with it is without question that of art. Simondon captures this problematic of art and aesthetic thought perfectly, observing that they are “situated at the neutral point, prolonging the existence of magic.”142 If for Simondon, there is in ‘established art’ a “continuous line going from magical thought to aesthetic thought,” this would be because it is “functionally equivalent to magic if it expresses a real encounter between different modal orders of thought.”143 Art for Simondon is that which ‘”reconstitutes the universe, or rather reconstitutes a universe”; since it neither represents elementary functions (technics) nor the functions of totality (religion/ideology) it operates for Simondon through a “network of analogies.”144 It is by way of this network, which cannot but be a kind of ‘technical ensemble’ that art finds itself “engaged in each mode and with its sights set on finding the other modes through the movement of a mode within itself.”145 Were it not for the diligence with which Simondon explores the field of technics, it might be easily assumed that this is a repetition of the Kantian Handgriffe concerning aesthetics and the schematism. The difficulty lay in surmounting this understanding of art by transposing the elaboration of a “technical activity” onto its cognitive function.
If the investigation here has yielded anything it is that this magical character of art and the schematism (especially when discerned in Kant as an art) is no more than the saturation of a vector for a primitive image of the human based on a trauma inflicted by technics that art and the institution of art as a system historically subsumed in a mystery of the mind in order to satisfy its suture to ideologies of nature and the given. Its established operations are similar to the philosophical unification of ideologies that Althusser described, which carry the risk (often fulfilled) of becoming Statist, through technical adjustments that reproduce the machine of domination, which then become the equivalent of a ‘flight into religion’ through art; a “useless concrete” derived from a necessary abstraction that merely “helps to sustain the existing practices and ideologies.”146 Yet this is only how it appears magical, and, like the schematism from which, in Kant, it takes its defining features in relation to a “technics of nature,” if it is hidden, it is only seemingly so. This is why it has been possible to show that although it is historically an actual occurrence, this separation of art from technē is not a real one, but a simulation of an supposed original divergence, one which gives art in its current identity the ‘power of neutrality’ that Simondon ascribes to it. That art is implicated in technē and logic beyond a mere etymological identification of terms has been part of the reason for this investigation. It carries an essential operativity in its cognitive acts that it is necessary to distinguish from an unintelligibility or ineffability.
Looking again to Kant’s Third Critique, Rudolf A. Makkreel has argued that because there is not a “directing concept” for reflective judgment that “aesthetic schematization is merely orientational”147 and representative of a ‘coordinative process’ wherein “reflective judgments about art are often parasitical on background determinate judgments.”148 As he argues elsewhere in his Imagination and Interpretation in Kant, “the aesthetic imagination is not limited to the preliminary precognitive functions often assigned it, but plays a role in reflective judgment’s systematic concern with knowledge in general.”149 How so? As Makkreel points out, even for Kant, this coordinative and schematic operation is of an aesthetic-technical order of providing a systematic framework and that “the task of systematization is a technical one of adjusting parts to wholes” that is “less about lateral comparison than about the mutual adjustment of the parts of a system.”150 Concerning this parasitical character of reflective judgment, the missing term in considerations of technē would be the Greek concept of mêtis, since it indicated improvisation and ‘cunning intelligence’ rather than production, and does not by any necessity leave a material trace.151 It is the one term that seems most appropriate to the interface layer of planetary computation explored by Bratton because what mêtis ‘reveals’ about the world is not stability but what designer Ben Singleton sees as “a world of snares, and one full of opportunity for action.”152 The only analogous term in the Greek context that does appear in Plato’s dialogues would be kairos as a “time of opportunity,” which gave technē a devious power that could threaten the social order, since as Plato had already recognized it, the technician was capable of devising ways to advance beyond their socially given status. For this very reason technē is what enables the passage from the actual to the possible as it is through the means of technical intervention that we are able to produce transformations in knowledge; technē, like Simondon’s “open plurality of techniques,” is the envelope of an open set of capacities, actions, plans and procedures that have as a vector the “transformation of limits.” 153
This transformation, as it concerns the functional realization of mind or its “multiple realizability of function”154 into new and different substrates (which will also include the possibility of collective social organizations) is not unlike Althusser’s process without a subject, which is not precisely about emancipation but about the processes of intervention and adjustment as bootstrap operations. These are the kinds of interventions and adjustments that ought to lead from one institution to the next, one apparatus to the next, perhaps to a better apparatus in which there would be less debilitating ideologies (and there will always be ideologies, even with the contingent arrival of an intelligible, designable ‘Stack-to-come’ in the age of planetary computation). Althusser’s process without a subject determined by Logic can readily be seen, in an updated and revised understanding, as a computational image of historical development that, pace Negarestani, “develops into the exploration of possibilities of its reconstruction.”155
For Weber, Kant’s ‘merely reflective judgement’ and its search for the “missing, general rule” in the absence of any determinate concept (resistance to subsumption under general or universal concepts) at once suggests the emergence of certain institutions (in his case, literary studies or criticism) and for Fenves, the emergence of an apparatus in and through which it would be possible to explore “technical appearances.” In following Peirce regarding changes in cognition, Weber considers from his reading of the Third Critique that “the notion of transformation, never mentioned by Kant, is nonetheless what might be called the de-regulative idea of the Third Critique.”156 As an orientation towards sociability, the collective iteration of this process of transformation will not come about without a subsequent iteration of crises and their attendant Freudian traumas from which Weber borrows the “Ambivalence” title of his essay. There would no doubt be marks of exclusion and its technical traces—traces or ‘material scansions’ that, if they are unnamable in the sense in which Weber (and Kant) indicate, does not imply that they are ineffable but rather are connected to a non-totalizable and non-deterministic process of unification where they ought to be intelligible through a technē of collective transformation of institutions. This would be a new kind of technics, or a new dimension of our understanding of technics; a re-formatting of the apparatus for ‘merely reflective judgments’ as the transformation and “technical adjustment” of a theoretical field and its space of problems that also, following Simondon, “entails a modification of what one could call the political constellation of the universe.”157
As Althusser had it, “The advent of a science coincides with a mutation in the system of questions […] a mutation in the problematic.”158 With Althusser art could only produce ‘knowledge-effects’ as it was science that produced knowledge “in the strict sense, by way of concepts.”159 Yet there remains a direct relationship in Althusser’s thinking regarding how this knowledge in science is produced and how art and the scientific process of knowledge function; between how he thinks about scientific abstraction where theories are ‘inserted into an array of instruments,’ and artistic practice where art is ‘inserted into ideological circuits.’ The consequentiality of knowledge effects that result from these insertions are not unrelated to Bachelard’s notion of an ‘epistemological rupture.’ We might say that for art it might be a problem not of the capacity to recognize and reproduce patterns (adaptation), but to destabilize—or ‘de-regulate’ in Weber’s sense—our given diagrams through technics (adoption) in order to produce noise in a way that reconfigures the epistemological landscape, so as to elevate what was formerly structurally concealed within its field as ineffable or invisible to intelligibility and visibility (Badiou will incidentally derive his entire philosophy of the event based on the matrix of associations inherited from this lineage).
But we can no longer rely on thinking this reconfiguration through the compositional paradigms for art in which the ‘positive’ aspect of abstraction is supposed to consist in its adding to nature an assemblage of abstracted components that were not there before—as Althusser had it, “it adds something to nature without leaving nature behind.” 160 This paradoxical and chimerical character of abstract composition is exactly what Stiegler sees as the disorientation of the world navigated by capital’s implication of technoscientific fictions. This is, in the end, merely the blind combination of elements in technoscience and capital where the connections and relations can continue indefinitely in an arbitrary fashion as the reproduction of what is and can be without any orientation towards what ought to be. The most difficult task for art today may be in untangling this endless chain of relations, associations, and assemblages of objects and concepts that, while appearing complex, is trivial in that it remains beholden to given images and personal experience that are only an intensification of this (unitary, magical, mythical, authentic, immediate) relation rather than a broadening and deepening of the necessary synthesis of what is merely presented to intuition and perception for there to be consequences to understanding. Contra Heidegger, as Bachelard had put it, “[i]t is not in the full light of day but rather where shadows begin that a beam of light diffracts and tells us its secrets.”161 The elimination of a reified image of the human mind would not be possible without a coextensive elimination of a reified image of artistic creation, as an asymmetrical warfare on the Kantian Kampfplatz. This is why the compositional as art’s defining feature (nature-to put together) must be distinguished from the configurative (artifice-shape after a pattern).162
In Peter Wolfendale’s recent essay “Art and Cognition,” he has attempted to understand the cognitive role of art in terms of the circuitries of an information flow between artist, artwork, and viewer based on a model of brain function as an information processing system. He considers that its minimal condition is to make us think, i.e. that it can be “an invitation to think along certain lines.”163 The questions with which Wolfendale concludes his investation and leaves open (“How does this invitation operate? Does it establish a shared cognitive workspace? Is this a matter of social imagination?”) have hopefully been adequately addressed here, if it can be allowed that their answer consists in a minimal reformulation of art’s minimal condition as an invitation to think about the thinking involved in art along certain lines. It is questionable whether works of fiction or objects of art, insofar as they remain reduced to ‘mere products of the imagination,’ are able to gain traction on epistemic landscapes, but it needs to be asked how art could be linked in the same way as scientific models to explanation and understanding.164 Our diagrams—our schema of the mind and our orientations in time—should not acquiesce to compositional paradigms that would see diagrammatics as only a purely relational field within an ‘infinitely rich computational space.’ If the end result of ‘merely reflective judgment’ is the merely subjective nature of purely compositional arrangements of arbitrary sensations without a concept, art ends up as what Bachelard (whose scientific romanticism is matched only by Zalamea today), in considering the organization of objectivity and the emergence of scientific rationality through a ‘regulation of the constructive process,’ recognized as the error of a pure value:
…movement towards an object is not initially objective. It must therefore be accepted that there is a very real break between sensory knowledge and scientific knowledge. Indeed, we believe that in our critiques here we have shown that the normal tendencies of sensory knowledge, with all their immediate pragmatism and realism, only lead to a false start and to a wrong direction being taken. In particular, immediate adherence to a concrete object, which is held like a possession and used like a value, invlolves sentient beings too greatly: it is inward satisfaction, not rational evidence. As Baldwin’s admirably dense phrase puts it: ‘It is stimulation and not response that is the controlling factor in the construction of objects of sense’. Indeed, it is in the form of stimulation that the first objectivity continues to be understood, even by the sated, thoroughly gratified being who believed the time for thinking freely is at hand, and even when that form is an apparently general one. This need to feel or sense object, this appetite for objects, and this indeterminate curiosity in no way correspond to a scientific state of mind. Just as a landscape is called a romantic emotional state—an inner state of mind and spirit—so in the same way a piece of gold can be called a miser’s emotional or inner state, and light an ecstatic one. When you try to put a pre-scientific mind on the spot by raising objections to its initial realism and its claim to lay hold of its object straightaway, it will always reveal the psychology of that stimulation which is the truly convincing value, without ever coming systematically to the point where there is the psychology of objective control. In fact, as Baldwin sees, this control is initially the result of resistance. Generally speaking, control is understood as ‘the checking, limiting, (and) regulation of the constructive processes’. It is hard to find an equivalent French word for the English concept of checking, but it can be usefully linked to a similar sounding word in French, echec. Echec means failure, not checking, so how can we say they are linked? Failure is in fact a prerequisite of the checking of stimulation. Were there no failure, stimulation would be pure value. It would be thrilling and intoxicating and therefore a huge subjective success, which would make it the most unrectifiable of objective errors.165
That art provides a multi-modal orientative domain for such coordination and adjustment in the regulative process is what makes art transductive as a temporal reconstruction of disparate modes, the reciprocal term for which would be amplification, which is in a sense as synonymous with transduction for Simondon as diagrammatics is for schematism in the work of Peirce. In Kant, this would take on the character of an ‘enlivening’ of cognitive powers establishing a relation between nature and the domain of freedom.166 That the cognitive, epistemic, or institutional transformations thereby effectuated can be described in a non-trivial way via technical operations and understood as a transductive or amplificatory process is what justifies Stiegler’s affirmation that reason is also transformed into a domain at once moral, political, and technical: reason can then be seen as the “practical domain of technics, as the possibility of artifice, which concerns nature as well as freedom.”167 The participation in the process of adjustment and regulation (or figured by way of its effects as rupture, ‘de-regulation’, etc.) might be understood as art’s “epistemic aim.” For Simondon, the technical activity of adjustment “is the one that most naturally continues the function of invention and construction.”168 The distinction outlined by Walter Benjamin between the artist-magician and the cameraman operator-surgeon is catastrophically undermined in the age of planetary computation. An artifactual elaboration of mind allows us to see that we have always already possessed the cameraman’s hidden equipment and the capacity to adjust and improve its functioning—a functional adjustment that signals the emergence of an operator and is also the “singular emergence of a rule.”169 Yet this could best be characterized not as the step-by-step working through of a ‘generic truth-procedure’ (Badiou) but rather as the piecewise approximations of an ignorance-mitigation enabling the construction and deployment of “epistemic mediators” (Magnani).170 Understanding how to become the agent (rather than the individual or the self) of this continuation of function is probably the only worthwhile task left for art—its adequate abstraction—that would also transform, along with our image of the mind that accompanies it, the image of what it is and does, or ought to do, in relation to the images and concepts travelling back from the future towards which it orients itself.
The author would like to thank Joshua Johnson, Jeremy Lecomte, Reza Negarestani, Daniel Sacilotto, and Inigo Wilkins for their comments on an earlier version.