All 3 entries tagged Mangrove Effect
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March 06, 2006
Writing about The artwork as monument, active memory, time of the artist from Art
Painters and sculptors go to extraordinary lengths in order to create the "monuments" to their struggles, their works. In creating, capturing and preserving the "time of the artist" they carve out a slice of their chaosmos, cut from their plane of immanance, relative to a virtuality. This may all cease to exist at any time, and may even be destroyed by the artistic act itself – a painful surgery or self-mutilation (Van Gogh). The surgical method is this: reduce the world and its vast circuits to a small repetitive loop. In the case of Cezanne, the loop circulates and re-circulates between Mont Saint Victoire, the palette and its oils (themselves reduced to a few greens and blues), the hand, the brush or knife, and the canvas. In this way the artwork is built up over time through a kind of mangrove effect not disimilar to that described by Andy Clark.
Everything is invested – "the artist is already in the canvas" (Deleuze, Logic of Sensation). Then make each run of the circuit entirely dependent upon the last, each time applying a filter modulated by the results of the previous passage (Cezanne, Van Gogh, Bacon and others replace an optical filter with a haptic filter). The circuit carves out an escape route within the imprisonment of actuality. The loops are repetitions, movements between points, but across different virtualities or the infinite and irreducible but necessary slices of reality. This opening up of new degrees of movement is the experiment of the diagram. It is a high risk operation. With so much vested in a small and critical set of functions, catastrophe is always near at hand. In his treatment of Francis Bacon, Deleuze quite rightly argues that painting is the artform that takes this risk to its most extreme. This is true. The consequences of architecture, for example, are too great. Few architects are prepared to go there (Libeskind?). Perhaps only in improvisational jazz does music reduce everything to catastrophe or the sublime. Otherwise there are too many chances of a second take. Bacon happily destroyed botched canvases, but it was almost too much for him both artistically and financially.
What then drives artists to the edge of disaster or beyond?
1) There is the attraction of the unknown and unknowable, the promise of a critical passage across some absolute threshold. Beyond this pure event, the world would be transformed. Something impossible would come to pass (surrealism). Behind this drive is the knowledge that this passage must have already happened at least once: the artist and the world as it is having come alive. But also the belief that it can happen again. The creation of substance, the irreducibly different, sharing no attributes. The impossible as possible. The artist thus seeks to create something new and substantial for themselves and the world. Joan Miro, for example, explored a rarifying seriality in order to create art as new substance: As Andre Breton commented on Miro's Constellations:
"They belong together and differ from one another like the aromatic or cyclic series of elements in chemistry. If one considers them both in their development and as a whole, each of them assumes necessity and value like a constituent in a mathematical series. And finally, they give the word 'series' that special meaning by their uninterupted and exemplary sequence." Miro by Janis Mink, Taschen 2000.
Felix Guattari described this creation of artistic discovery, and the mutant subjectivities that it makes possible, as akin to the rarifying seriality of chemistry, creating something substantial and necessary:
"In this conception of analysis, time is not something to be endured; it is activated, oriented, the object of qualitative change… A singualrity, a rupture of sense, a cut, a fragmentation, the detachment of a semiotic content – in a dadaist or surrealist manner – can originate mutant nuclei of subjectivation. Just as chemistry has to purify complex mixtures to extract atomic and homogeneous molecular matter, thus creating an infinite scale of chemical entities that have no prior existence, the same is true in the 'extraction' and 'seperation' of aesthetic subjectivities or partial objects…that make an immense complexification of subjectivity possibile – harmonies, polyphonies, counterpoints, rhythms and existential orchestrations, until know unheard and unknown." Chaosmosis (page 19)
Seriality and rarefaction is similarly employed by other painters, inlcuding Cezanne and Bacon. Also common to these artists is the prevailing terror of plunging into one of these cycles only to find no way out, that the filter or diagram no longer applies to the product of the cycle: the catastrophe.
2) And more commonly, there is an incremental investigation of objects partially apprehended at the limit. An often shy and nervous peering into things. But sometimes a full-on and clinical dissection of orders and lineages (abstraction). This investigation is often undertaken with a degree of altruism. Whether the aim is to reveal more clearly some necessary aspect of Being, or simply to help us to see objects with greater clarity, the artist may act in the interests of our perceptual powers and faculty of judgement.
Kant gives us these two modes of art in the Critique of Judgement. The artistic event as trans-liminal, as a virtuality (the sublime) eventualizing actuality (the time of the transcendental subject or artist). And the event as a series of dispatches, taken from a view of the edge, passing freely over infinite modulations of intensity, but always staying firmly this side of reason – communication, a sense in comunis, a beautiful passage.
Questions for Deleuze and Guattari's aesthetics:
- is it underpinned by this distinction?
- do they consider the creation of new substance to be the role of art? – if so, what does this mean, is it feasible, how does it work?
Also, see the essay by Isobelle Stengers for Deleuze's discussion of the difference between the limit and the threshold.
This paper can be discussed on the What Is Philosophy web site.
October 22, 2005
As I descibe in a previous entry , Clark uses the lifecyle of a mangrove island as a metaphor for how we sometimes use public language to speculatively play with ideas and see how they grow. I summarise metaphor as follows:
a mangrove seeds itself in shallow water, grows roots, traps other roots and particles, forms a network of roots with other mangroves that seed nearby (helped by the first mangrove), and eventually forms a more solid island within the sea.
Clark's argument is that by stating words publicly using an external cognitive apparatus (a web log would be a good example), even when they do not represent well formed ideas, thoughts and sense can be encouraged to form. We can easily play with the publicy stated words, manipulating them and seeing what emerges as they connect with other words. As a social process, involving other minds, this technique can lead in unexpected and successful directions.
It seems to me that "mangrove" style social thinking could be a core activity of the localized cliques that are probably the context for most blog entries. The clique tends to select phrases to be repeated locally, and provides opportunities for social thinking in a controlled space. But the small world network of Warwick Blogs offers two other possibilities:
- ideas that become well-formed can be transmitted to other localized networks through 'hubs' (people or pages that are authoritative in presenting selections of worthwhile content);
- ideas can also just free-float from one clique to another, for example via the "show all" page, where they may take root, or at least make the transmission through a hub more likely (hearing a message through several channels makes it more likely to be trusted and valued).
I have commented previously on how cognitive science has been dominated, and possibly limited, by a conception of the nature of cognitive tasks that reduced them to being classical problem solving activities. This 'problem solving' ranges from trivial pattern matching to complex strategy formation. In every case, the problem is well stated, along with the conditions that demonstrate the achievement of a solution. Cognitive science has of course existed to a great extent to support development in artificial intelligence, which has itself been skewed towards industrial and military applications (see De Landa's War in the Age of Intelligent Machines for an account of this relationship).
Coming as I do from a very different philosophical background, one that is more interested in artistic and literary creativity, it would be easy for me to dismiss cognitive science for its obsession with such trivia (even considering that the actual problem solving isn't that simple). However, Clark's extended cognition thesis fits neatly with accounts of artistic and literary creativity given by the likes of Deleuze and Guattari. Indeed I plan to explore these links in much more depth. I can see occassions in which it finds a line of escape from the 'cognitive task as problem solving' trap.
In chapter 10 of Being There, Clark describes a recognizable form of 'extended cognition', which he calls the "mangrove effect". The metaphor is this: a mangrove seeds itself in a shallow water, grows roots, traps other roots and particles, forms a network of roots with other mangroves that seed nearby (helped by the first mangrove), and eventually forms a more solid island within the sea. Clark argues that in some cases linguistic elements (both publicly spoken and internally contained) can work in this way. A word is uttered, not to fill a definite space or necessarily solve a well–defined problem, but rather to probe the cognitive and social environment, to see what connections form around it, or even to change the cognitive and social environment. This sounds much closer to the activities of musical and painterly composition described by Deleuze.
That is what Deleuze and Guattari would call "rhizomatic".
Most importantly, we should consider how this model of cognitive task frees us from a theoretical dependency upon a well integrated goal oriented super–subject. During the discussion following Clark's paper, the practical question of how to differentiate cognitive apparatus properly belonging to an agent from those belonging to the environment. I think he responded with an answer that relied upon the existence of such a super–subject (and its plans and goals). My alternative argument (which I think comes from Deleuze) would be that it isn't so much a well–integrated well organised super–subject that provides the drive for the cognitive task, but rather a dissonance producing chaotic attractor, speculatively dispersing fragments of sense into the world in order to simple make things happen. As Deleuze and Guattari say "the machine only works when it breaks down" (spot the double meaning).
So in fact, I argue, the cognitive tasks that drive the "mangrove effect" are closer to artistic creativity – composition, especially poetry. But this is not alien to Clark's thesis. In fact on page 208 he brilliantly identifies poetic composition as a form of thinking that exploits the "mangrove effect".
This leads onto Clark's more recent thoughts on other way in which thought is dependent upon an extended apparatus in a non–trivial way (that is to say, more than just as a means of cognitive off–loading, as in the case of simple note taking and note reading). Gestures and other rhythmic, haptic techniques were discussed. Someone asked if an exercise machine could ever form part of the extended cognitive apparatus (a musician would certainly say yes). Clark did talk briefly about non–linear couplings between mental and extended apparatus. A consideration of rhythmic apparatus could be drawn from there, leading into time and complexity.
At this point I remembered Cezanne's description of how his hands and the paintbrush and the canvas would merge together in the act of painting – what Deleuze called the "diagram" (see my entry on Cezanne Unlocking Sensation ). The act of painting for Cezanne, this merge between mental and external apparatus, rhymthically moving together, is a "mangrove effect". Cezanne:
Our art must shock nature into permanence, together with all the components and manifestations of change. Art must make nature eternal in our imagination.