But Is It Art?

6bd67e94[1]Last week, a group of people scaled the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge and replaced the American flags with bleached out white ones.  Many people have many theories about who did this and why.  Certainly, some kind of terrorist explanation comes to mind – a dry run to expose security protocols perhaps.  But also among the many speculative explanations was that this was in some way art.

Deputy Police Commissioner John Miller said the incident had “no particular nexus” to terrorism or politics.

“This may be somebody’s art project or an attempt to make some sort of statement, but at this time it’s not clear what that statement is,” Miller told a packed news briefing at police headquarters.  NYPD Sees Art, Not Terror, in Brooklyn Bridge Flag Swap Bloomberg 7-25-14

Of course this would be of the Conceptual or Post-Conceptual variety that I discussed in my previous post.

Even so, how can art be indistinguishable from terrorism?  Even in the throes of Dada, the avant-garde, the Theater of Cruelty starting almost 100 years ago, the audience knew it was an audience and the artist knew she was an artist.  Certainly the creators of these productions meant to break down the barriers between audience and artist, but the barriers were there to be broken down.

By the time we get to 1966, John Cage says to Stanely Kauffmann,

What is happening in this century, whether you accept it or not, is that more and more there is no gap between art and life.

Art is famously impossible to define.  It is the institutions of art that clue viewers, listeners, smellers, tasters, touchers that the experience before them should be understood as art.  Heidegger describes the function of both art and technology  as the revealing of Being. But just as technology is “nothing technological”, art is nothing artistic.  Both are a function of the revealing Heidegger discussed, each dependent on a different understanding of Being.

This increasing invisibility of art recalls for me, in this context, the projects Stranger Vision and Invisible by Heather Dewey-Hagborg I discussed in my last post.  In the first she constructs “family resemblance” sculptures from DNA she acquired in random places.  In the second, she developed a pair of aerosol sprays to eliminate and mask any remaining DNA from a surface.

Indeed, news reports indicate that DNA Evidence Found At Scene Of Brooklyn Bridge White Flag Stunt Gothamist 7-25.

Perhaps the NYPD could find Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Vision technology useful.  Perhaps the artists/perpetrators could have benefited from her Invisible technology.

There is no Luminol spray to show trace evidence of art.  Perhaps that could be Dewey-Hagborg’s next project.

The Findable Cyborg Part 3

It [Buddhist logic]  admitted nothing but the transient flow of evanescent events and their final eternal quiescence in Nirvana.  Reality according to Buddhists is kinetic, not static, but logic, on the other hand, imagines a reality stabilized in concept and names.  The ultimate aim of Buddhist logic is to explain the relation between a moving reality and the static constructions of thought.

Buddhist Logic T.H. Stcherbatsky*

In The Findable Cyborg, I suggested that findability is the quality uniting staticness and movement  in Heidegger’s Standing Reserve/Enframing.  This findability might perhaps be thought of not as a framed photograph, but rather as the movies or videos Cyborgs view on framed screens, silver or electronic.   Screens though are needed only as the framing device.  The kineograh (flip book) embodies the principle.

We can view the  pages or frames either as a series of discrete images or as fluid unified experience.  In both cases, the image(s) are a set, a Standing Reserve, placed in a perceptual frame.  The frame though is only a device to facilitate perception.   Every time a Cyborg views the kineograph, the order of the pages is different.

An important feature of this static movement, this findability, is the flexibility, dynamism of the assessment of objects, persons and process. Their relative importance changes over time with no particular assessment definative.  What is found changes.  What was previously found is not lost or forgotten, but rather no longer selected, viewed, or spoken.

It is as if the order of the pages of the kineograph had no importance at all.  Pages can be reordered, eliminated, added, or replaced by something different.  Any narrative of the images viewed in motion arises only as an epiphenonoma of this constant updating.  Only the findability of each element is important.

The technological understanding of Being encounters the revealing of Being as a challenge.  Responding to this, it seeks to make everything findable, available to, in Harraway’s phrase, the “unhindered instrumental power” of the Cyborg.

*T.H. Stcherbatsky (1866-1942), a Russian Indologist, is important in the development of Buddhist Studies in the West.

The Unfindable Cyborg

Identifying an object, person or process requires some kind of framework, classification system, however intuitive or basic.   In The Findable Cyborg , I suggested that this, in the context of a pervasively coded world, means that everything is findable.  At the same time, this radical findability depends on dynamic, permeable, evolving classification systems.  While the objects, persons and processes become pervasively findable, they also manifest a lack of essential identity.

That is to say, what makes the Cyborg (the aggregation of object, person and process) findable as a functional commodity, part of the Heidegger’s Standing Reserve, also makes the Cyborg unfindable as a specific, essentially determined phenomena.

The Seventh Century Buddhist scholar and reputed bodhisattva, Chandrakirti*, deconstructed a chariot in various ways in his Sevenfold Reasoning..  He showed that no matter how one regards the relationship of parts to the whole, in the end, no inherently existing thing “chariot” is to be found.  He summaries his extensive analysis with the following and extends it past a critique of technology to how the self exists.

A chariot is neither asserted to be other than its parts
Nor non-other; it is not asserted to possess them.
It is not in the parts nor are the parts in it.
It is not the mere collection [of the parts] nor is it [their] shape.

Just so [should a yogi understand a person and its aggregates].
It is like a cart, which is not other than its parts,
Not non-other, and does not possess them.
It is not within its parts, and its parts are not within it
It is not the mere collection, and it is not the shape..

For Chandrakirti, the unfindability of the essentially determined chariot  is the same as the unfindability of the essentially determined self-aware self.  For my purposes, this is the same as the unfindability of technology, of the self-aware self and of the Cyborg (the combination of the two), as anything other than objects, persons and processes defined by their function.

This is at the heart, dare I say, the essence, of my continued use of the word Cyborg.  It is to stress the functional nature of an always changing collection of techno-bio aggregates experienced as wholeness.

*Chandrakirti (600-650 CE) was Indian Buddhist scholar whose works are central to the development of the  Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka view of Emptiness.  Hagiographies of Chandrakirti relate instances of him walking thorough walls to “demonstrate in a concrete and dramatic form the Madhyamaka position that things have no immutable nature of their own.”   Four Illusions Karen C. Lang

The Findable Cyborg

Heidegger’s terms Enframing and Standing Reserve, taken uncritically seem to imply a static state – a picture taken, or the stock in a warehouse.  Certainly, this is part of Heidegger’s meaning, but it is insufficient.  A quality of movement,of dynamism is also present.

The revealing that rules throughout modern technology has the character of a setting-upon, in the sense of a challenging-forth. That challenging happens in that the energy concealed in nature is unlocked, what is unlocked is transformed, what is transformed is stored up, what is stored up is, in turn, distributed, and what is distributed is switched about ever anew. Unlocking, transforming, storing, distributing, and switching about are ways of revealing. But the revealing never simply comes to an end. Neither does it run off into the indeterminate.

The revealing reveals to itself its own manifoldly interlocking paths, through regulating their course. This regulating itself is, for its part, everywhere secured. Regulating and securing even become the chief characteristics of the challenging revealing.

What kind of unconcealment is it, then, that is peculiar to that which comes to stand forth through this setting-upon that challenges? Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering. Whatever is ordered about in this way has its own standing. We call it the standing-reserve.

The Question Concerning Technology, Martin Heidegger

So there is a sense of a kind of standing by and perpetual motion.  Haraway’s phrase “unhindered instrumental power” is relevant here..

Furthermore, communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move — the translation of the world into a problem of coding, a search for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment, and exchange…

The world is subdivided by boundaries differentially permeable to information. Information is just that kind of quantifiable element (unit, basis of unity) which allows universal translation, and so unhindered instrumental power

The Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway

Coding provides the concept we need to unify this combined sense of staticness and dynamism.  Code, especially algorithmic code, allows objects, people and processes to go about their business while being instantly findable.  Indeed, from the perspective of code, the evolving coded shadow of something continually modifies the thing’s boundaries, and therefore the thing itself.

Computer coding and search technology produces a state in which things are not sorted, put into pre-determined categories, as much as found. This findability is what unites the static and dynamic aspects of Heidegger’s Enframing/Standing Reserve.

Perhaps the unease many feel about code enabled surveillance or souveillance is that it never comes to an end, that the regulating and securing code enables is always out there, that the Cyborg is always findable.


The Technological Horizon – The Cyborg Terrain System

An experiential horizon structures one’s gaze into the world.  Jodi Dean expressed this well in a talk on the Communist Horizon, which she asserts is the political horizon of our age.

The term “horizon” marks a division.

Understood spatially, the horizon is the line dividing the visible, separating earth from sky. Understood temporally, the horizon converges with loss in a metaphor for privation and depletion. The “lost horizon” suggests abandoned projects, prior hopes that have now passed away. Astrophysics offers a thrilling, even uncanny, horizon: the “event horizon” surrounding a black hole. The event horizon is the boundary beyond which events cannot escape. Although “event horizon” denotes the curvature in space/time effected by a singularity, it’s not much different from the spatial horizon. Both evoke a fundamental division, that we experience as impossible to reach, and that we can neither escape nor cross.

I use “horizon” not to recall a forgotten future but to designate a dimension of experience that we can never lose, even if, lost in a fog or focused on our feet, we fail to see it.

The horizon is Real in the sense of impossible—we can never reach it—and in the sense of actual. The horizon shapes our setting. We can lose our bearings, but the horizon is a necessary dimension of our actuality. Whether the effect of a singularity or the meeting of earth and sky, the horizon is the fundamental division establishing where we are.
The Communist Horizon by Jodi Dean

As much as anyting, the horizon is a boundry, but like all boundaries, it seems definite but turns out to be queer.

Standing on a shore perhaps, another shoreline about 2.9 miles across a lake exactly defines the horizon.  Boarding a suitable vessel, we set off and land on that beach, only to turn around and see the shore from which we left a short while ago defining exactly the horizon.

Whatever beach we see in the distance is the technological horizon.  Both beaches, the intervening water, sky, the boat and we, with our vivid perceptions, are all the cyborg terrain.

I take this phrase from the US military’s Human Terrain System which sets out to describe “the human population in the operational environment”.  The Technological Horizon creates the cyborg, not technological artifacts.  That is to say that Heidegger’s technological understanding of Being, the Enframing of the counted and measured components of the world [1] is also the Technological Horizon.

It is the Technological Horizon, not the cell phones, tablets etc, that converts the Human to the Cyborg.

It is the Technological Horizon that converts the military operational Human Terrain System to the planetary Cyborg Terrain System.

It is the Technological Horizon that evokes in Cyborgs Dean’s sense of loss of “the forgotten future” .

A horizon perhaps is not so much a division as an expression of the relationship among perceiver, figure and ground.   We can never reach the horizon but at the same time the horizon is where we live.  A version perhaps of Heidegger’s “splendor of radiant appearing.”

[1] The Question Concerning Technology, Heiddeger,

Scientific Brains Letting It Go

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche translated today’s  Lojong slogan as “Abandon Any Hope of Fruition.”[1]   Most other Lojong commentaries translate this slogan with simpler language such as “Give Up Hoping for Results”.[2]   I don’t know if Trunga Rinpoche meant to recall the Divine Comedy, but this translation seems to allude to the inscription at the entrance to Hell:  “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”. Perhaps he was intending to give the slogan a greater resonance for his Western audience.

The Lojong slogan itself comes in the sixth (of seven) section of the slogans.  These specify a variety of commitments on how generally to comport oneself in the world with self-control and moderation.

The sense of this slogan is first, don’t hope for results/fruition from one’s Lojong practice, but also from one’s efforts in general.  Lojong is a set of mind training techniques to develop one’s’ understanding of, and living of, Emptiness.   It is in fact a technology, but one that short circuits instrumentality.

As  discussed in my previous post, Heidegger points out that the move from craft based technology to modern technology involves a move from Revealing to Enframing.  The mental technology of Lojong preserves the Revealing function, but adds what we might call a Deframing function.  Modern technology Enframes even its makers, Humans, into its Standing Reserve. Lojong however is a technology that deconstructs, Deframes instrumentality itself freeing us from the hope and fear of results/fruition.

Lojong is a piece of Tibetan Buddhism.  Robert Thurman has called the synthesis that is Tibetan Buddhism an “Inner Modernity” that created a rationalized “technology of life, death and reincarnation”.[3]

That is to say, the science of letting it go.

[1] Trungpa, Chogyam Training the Mind, Shambhala Publications

[2] Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Enlightened Courage Snow Lion Publications (translated by Padmakara Tranlation Group)

[3] Thurman, Robert Essential Tibetan Buddhism Castle Books (p.37-40),

 ←    Scientific Brains Binging It Forth

Scientific Brains Bringing It Forth

At the end of President Truman’s announcement that “an American plane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima” he says that the event’s greatest marvel was “the achievement of scientific minds making it work”.  This peculiar atta Little Boy recalled for me, on hearing it ,both the movie/book Donovan’s Brain and Heidegger’s essay The Question Concerning Technology.

In this essay, Heidegger points out that thinking of technology as instrumentality is correct but not true, that this evades the nature of instrumentality.  He then posits a series of attributes to technology.

Technology in the broad historic sense is a way of revealing of brining forth the world.  Modern technology though goes beyond both instrumentality and revealing to become a challenging to nature, a demand that it stand always at the ready as energy and raw materials. To do this, every thing must be regulated and secured.  Heidegger calls this standing reserve.

However, this process has no end point.  Humans are drawn into it and disappear into the general standing reserve.  He calls this process Enframing.

Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve. Enframing means that way of revealing which holds sway in the essence of modern technology and which is itself nothing technological.

This is a dangerous situation.  But the danger is not so much the demonic machines this technology makes possible, as the situation in which humanity thinks that it always and everywhere only encounters itself denying us “a more original revealing”.

The danger carries within it the possibility of escape.  Human reflection can return us to the earlier meaning of technology-as-revealing, as “revealing that brings forth truth into the splendor of radiant appearing.”

←  Scientific Brains Making It Work                              Scientific Brains Letting It Go  →