Posts Tagged ‘Mikhail Bakhtin’

Observation, Fact And Opinion

March 20, 2012

Over the weekend there was a “Going Commercial” beekeeping class/workshop held in Medina Ohio, put on by the Medina Country Beekeepers. It wasn’t hands-on in the bee yard but lectures, slides and discussion. It featured Dr. Larry Connor covering spring management and expansion through various queen/split strategies, Dr. Dewey Caron on pathology and prevention, mostly varoa, and Kim Flottum on winter management and marketing. That same weekend I happened on one of those panel discussions moderated by Gwen Ifill featuring a NY Times reporter, corporate media attorneys, etc. It concerned itself with the Citizens United ruling, freedom of speech and the role of money in all this. Surprisingly, the two events spoke to each other, informed each other and were quite complimentary. They were even located in adjacent cities; Ifill’s having been televised in Cleveland, right next door to Medina.

One of the remarkable insights/conclusions coming out of the Medina event (well, remarkable from the point of view of someone trying to post a blog essay every week) was the “wholistic” approach to Varoa management, prevention and control. It was noted clearly that the immediate “scientific” remediation after the 1987 infestation bought time for study but solved nothing. It was even described as counter productive. The chemical, etc. miticide treatments are still employed today (25 years later) though statistically yearly losses keep increasing. This is recognized as not sustainable. The situation is mirrored in the present day quandary re: antibiotics, with antibiotic resistant diseases appearing, like TB. To stretch the reflection out even further, analogous scenarios could be had with regard to nuclear development since 1950. At its inception, atomic “power” was to be the end all be all solution for mankind’s ills, from supplying light and heat in cities, to powering ships, to curing every form of illness, to preserving foods indefinitely and sending man to the stars. As Steve Kurtz once pointed out in a lecture at Vermont College, the framework, the paradigm, the approach of science is shifting from the classical modernistic cause/effect model based on facts and experimentation to one of observation, imagination and the quirkiness of the entirety, the system, the whole. At the conference, Q&A usually ended up with statements of “don’t have the data to say anything about that”,  “that was an astute observation” or “in my opinion”.

Amazingly enough, the Citizens United panel discussion travelled down a parallel set of tracks. The pros and cons of money involvement in free speech came out through the person of the panelists, from the basic utilitarian need of requiring money to produce any kind of widely disseminated text, to the shrinking resources of journalistic outlets to “cover the news”. What previously had been the very marketable journalism of some facts and a reporter’s observations (which implicates opinion) has gravitated, for economic reasons, to fact finding/data mining and little observation, even less opinion. One reason given is the preponderance of opinion through the easy access and availability of blogs. The irony (not noted by the moderator or panel) is that the same economics that dictates the fact based journalism (news outlets need to market their products and generate revenue) likewise precludes the dissemination of any observations that may be politically or economically discomfiting. That is, speech can likewise be suppressed by the Citizens United ruling since fewer and fewer “media” of dissemination become available (prioritizing what’s good for business and not for journalism). The value of observation, once the mainstay of traditional journalism and so necessary in current science, is undermined and devalued for purely capitalistic determinations. These implications are much more far reaching than merely who can run for political office. It is more about how we see the world; full of the quick fixes that can be purchased over the counter, or sustainable and life enhancing over generations?

And then there is blogging. Is it merely opinion? Does being able to distinguish fact from opinion give market journalism its “professional” credibility? Lacking the resources to mine data, does that leave everything else to being “opinion”? If we were all fact checkers, then none of us could or would be philosophers. And philosophy, good philosophy, is definitely NOT opinion. Observations are made, whether re: societies of bees or people. Observations are worthwhile, not only for the reasons given by Bakhtin (each of us has something we are blind to requiring others to see for us) but because it is all we have to begin deciphering the mystery of our world and our lives.

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Amy Winehouse Sings Fado

November 12, 2009

          Recently I encountered an acquaintance who instructs art students in the special mixed media lab at a local college. I asked about how his art is going. He spoke of a new machine he just purchased and his fascination with creating a production that had never been done using that process, something “new.” He was challenged by the prospect of utilizing the machine for the production of art in a way that had not been anticipated by the machine’s design. Later reflection left me considering how my interests lie more with narrative. To appreciate his artwork, one would need some grasp or understanding of the process he employs, the technology. Otherwise, the man on the street (unaware of this) would only notice “another neat thing.” Yet, that same viewer would enter into a story, a narrative, without any of the prerequisite assumptions of sharing a knowledge of technical processes or innovation.
          Technical virtuosity has one leg in the eternal. It shares the time and space of mathematics, theory, and theology/philosophy. This is a space/time unaffected by the mundane. 2+2=4 is unaffected by budget cuts or states of war. When some truth of physics is concretely instantiated, there is a fascination with this phenomenon. The feat must share billing with the “truths that are eternal.”
          Bakhtin wrote about carnival and literary approaches that subverted the eternal truths through immersion in the everyday, the mundane, the necessary sustainable reality faced by a social entity. His reference to the sources of these modes of presentation centered on the middle ages and the ancient Hellenic Roman cultures. These were not capitalist societies (cultures) in the modern sense. One term he used to describe this mode was “slum naturalism.”

“Julie Britton, vice president of development for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Florida, said officials may have to skew away from avant-garde art designed to push
boundaries in favor of things more certain to sell tickets.
“Part of our mission is to bring people things that are new,” said Britton. “That’s very
difficult to do when you have to be risk-averse in this situation.””
From an AP on line article dated August 29, 2009

          I don’t see where “new” has to be part of the mission of any arts organization (or individual producer). “New,” and newness, is a totally capitalist concept of advertising and marketing (phenomena). Before capitalism, and in cultures that were not capitalist, art was being produced. Its importance and relevance had nothing to do with “new.” It had everything to do with the interface between what is eternal, but unsustainable, and what is sustainable, but not eternal. Where is the “new” in an analysis of Amy Winehouse singing Fado? Would it be with the singer? The song? Or the singing? Should Ms. Winehouse ever take up the study of Fado, the fascination would be with the interface of “slum naturalism” and eternal truth, not with a “production that had never been done using that process.” There is nothing “new” with singers, songs, or singing.

Addendum to “Last night I had a dream about reality”

October 28, 2009

Is everything described in waking, myth or history? Some say science is myth/history, that is, that it is subjective (myth and history are by definition subjective). Scientists claim they are objective; that the functions and interactions they describe are so regardless of any subject, like mathematics, they just are so (like the functions and interactions in my dream). What Lec wrote becomes relevant when one realizes the incredible effort being made to digitalize all description, so as to “marry” it to the objectivity of science in “real time” (since the digital code is a mathematical one and therefore is simply considered an extension of the objectivity of science). We all prefer a “scientific” doctor to treat us when we are ill; one who is not subjective but can deal with the objective “reality” of the physical body and whatever sickens it. My dream was of just such an objective, everyday, social reality. My feeling upon waking was as Lec described it. It all becomes interesting when one asks “why do we need myths and history to interact socially?” Why can’t we simply interact objectively, like psychopaths without a social conscience, purely on empirical reasoning? For me, the answer to the last question is where my art interest lies- other artists who are dealing with this in their art, as well as my own. In what way does myth and history make social interaction possible; that without it, social existence becomes unbearable (why psychopaths are described as having no social conscience, no subjective connection to the “reality” of others)? I keep returning to Bakhtin and carnival and the circus and magic, where the focus and emphasis is on the subjective, NOT on the objective (Bakhtin’s dialogic where another perspective is necessary in order to understand something, to know something, to experience something). Today the emphasis is gradually shifting, like the melting of the polar ice caps, to a more and more objective description, an objective reality.

This invites a strange combination for making art, almost in the binary sense. In making a drawing, the white and black interact to create the drawing. With this strange, meta-combination (of objective and subjective perspective), the objective is not eschewed. It is acknowledged, has the focus or priority. Yet at the same time, the subjective is not disavowed. It is allowed to play, to run riot. It is roughly parallel to Ranciere’s emancipated art where the art object taps or unlocks capacities. With magic, the magicians focus the attention on one area, one thing, while something else occurs. With carnival, there is a thumbing of the nose at the rules or hierarchy of the preordained, legitimate reality. There is the (in)famous Bush “So what?” Objectivity, with its rules and hierarchy is not changed, but simply disregarded for what it is; the rules and hierarchy do not apply here, have no reach, are without power. With circus, there is a total and complete celebration of the subjective. There is a complete overturning of priorities. The objective plays a secondary, subliminal role. Yes, there is gravity. Yes, there is weight and volume, etc. What is central and overriding are the skill, daring-do, and the subjective ability to subordinate the body, nature, etc. (note that it isn’t to subordinate the “laws” of nature but nature as a subjective entity). I’m thinking of a small bronze. It is entitled Three Figures with a Planar Surface. Three figures appear to be seated at a table, only the table has no legs, the figures have no chairs to support them. Acknowledgement of the objectivity of the material, the piece itself as an object, is given by there being no “table legs or chairs.” That in itself says it is a bronze casting, an art object. The material (and the very process of production) is what holds this composition together. But the more one focuses on that, the more the subjective aspects of the arrangement of these figurative bodies in space, their juxtaposition with the flat surface, their gestures, comes into play. Yet there is nothing that references the subjective as primary, as origin, as focal point. The subjective is allowed to run riot, to play out as the viewer intends, much as Ranciere suggests.

3 figures with a planar surface