INFLeXions No. 6 – Arakawa + Gins special issue of Inflexions
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Improbably enough, the The Mechanism of Meaning was first published unfinished, and in German. Mechanismus der Bedeutung appeared in 1971 with the parenthetical warning "(work in progress: 1963-1971)". When it was published in a second edition, in 1979, it was still a work in progress, but in 1988, when it landed between the hard covers of its pinker third incarnation, it had lost its parenthetical warning. What's going on? Have these two, who have decided not to die, permitted their work in progress to die? It can't be. The preface to the 1979 edition had already announced that "death is old-fashioned," and encouraged its readers to construct "other escape-routes" (Arakawa and Gins 1988: 9).  Now looking back, it is clear that those other escape-routes include the architectural surrounds diagrammed and built by Arakawa and Gins. The Mechanism of Meaning is no longer a work in progress, but not because it has died, it continues otherwise, like everything else. Nothing dies. Becoming new is continuing otherwise.
Just before the Mechanism of Meaning appeared for the third time, Arakawa and Gins published a bilingual ode to Blank called To Not to Die. So it comes as no surprise that the additional pink pages added to the third Mechanism of Meaning invoke Blank as one of three themes woven together in To Not to Die: "the fiction of place, blank or forming blank, and space or forming spacetime" (Arakawa and Gins 1988: 103). They elaborate:
It sounds decisive, and coming at the end of a book called The Mechanism of Meaning, it must be important: No meaning without blank. But what is blank? In the middle of the last quotation, safe between square brackets, our authors have left us a few clues:
Where do these clues lead us? It's a kind of philosophical game show, what texts are these clues invoking? And how shall we follow? Let's begin by taking them in the order they appear.
The gap is Lyotard's differend, the gap that each phrase spans with what Lyotard calls a link. Here is how Lyotard describes his 1983 book:
In an article on Arakawa and Gins, from the same period, Lyotard recited the master argument of The Differend, "you admit the necessity of linking, but you [also] grasp the contingency of the mode of linking. You have access to blank…Blank is what permits these intermittences of non-sense in which meaning is decided by forgetting non-sense" (Lyotard 1984: 13, my emphases).
We link phrase to phrase, making meanings, closing our eyes to non-sense. Instead of catching it and walking off the court, we return the tennis ball, playing tennis. The mode of linking is always contingent, only there always remains the blank necessity of linking.
The next clue, "That about which we must remain silent," was the mystical heart of Wittgenstein's Tractatus, the condition of meaning, the unutterable ground of making sense. The parting shot of that book as a whole: "whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent" (Wittgenstein 1961: 7). To Not To Die had already cited the Tractatus' pronouncement "the sense of the world must lie outside the world." (Wittgenstein 1921: 6.41 in Arakawa and Gins 1987: 32) Like blank it is a condition of meaning anything at all, but it is outside the world and that sounds more like the traditional mode of escaping from death by escaping from life. But does the thought of escaping from life have even the aroma of attraction. Gins and Arakawa have always drawn us the other way, not away from life but plunging into life.
And sure enough, five years later, in Architectural Body this Wittgensteinian phrase about the sense of the world lying outside the world, is corrected. There, under the heading of "we know not what upon which the lived-world is contingent" (Gins and Arakawa 2002: xii-xiii), blank is said to lie not "beyond or beneath the world" but to be a "complexity of within", a complexity of the contingent (Gins and Arakawa 2002: xiii). The contingent was never enough for lovers of necessity like the author of the Tractatus, but for Arakawa and Gins, it is a gift. The contingent is a gift twice over, first because it comes on its own, it is a gift, and second it can be "handled, and reconsidered, and reworked," which is the gift of hope (Gins and Arakawa 2002: xiii). This turn to the contingent, away from the mystical necessity of the Tractatus, will tempt some to describe the prize, reversing destiny, in terms derived from Wittgenstein's mature masterpiece, the Philosophical Investigations, but that would be a dreadful mistake, and showing why we should refuse that temptation is half of the point of my remarks today.
The third clue, ensconced in those same square brackets, is a pair French words: "petites perceptions." Leibniz thought that every soul, or we could say every stream of cleaving (Gins 1994: 279), perceives the entire universe from its singular point of view. It doesn't seem that way, because so many of our perceptions are petites, that is, too tiny to be noticed, or too familiar, too habitual to rise to the level of awareness. Leibniz' famous example involves the sound of waves. Here he is:
If there is no meaning without Blank, then there is no meaning without the roaring noise of the universe echoing in our experience unawares. It is almost as if each organism that persons, each stream of cleaving, was, already, but unbeknownst, a ubiquitous site.
That's more than enough. There's no need to chafe at the other clues, difference whether Saussurean or Derridean will not help with reversing destiny, those two are stuck at the level of the signifier, they will never "break through to the we know not" (Gins and Arakawa 2002: xii), nor will there be any help from Heidegger's or Dreyfus' or Searle's background, anchored as that concept is in practical activity. Those little perceptions, experienced unawares, are the answer, there is no meaning without those ubiquitous tiny perceptions.
The pedagogical work of the Mechanism of Meaning is to bring this ubiquity to our bodies, a sensual semantics. But let's wander back to the mechanism of meaning from the land of landing sites, and the task of generating a site of reversible destiny. Wandering that path will protect us from the wiles of Wittgenstein.
One of the reasons the concept of a landing site is so powerful is that it is tactile. When you take the rattling chestnut out of the little box [masu], your fingers land on the chestnut, your fingers awake to the smooth brown of its sliding surface, and landing on the chestnut, your fingers, too, awake. Serres would say that a mobile cogito had taken up residence in my fingers, but cogito or not, my fingers awaken (Serres 2008: 56). And its not just tactility, the rattling wooden sound of the chestnut draws my hearing into the box, waking there, together. If the sound were louder, the sounding chestnut and my hearing would wake up nearer my ear, on the side of my face. Up close, the darkening discolouring chestnut draws me in.
Sometimes Gins and Arakawa build their notion of a landing site, from what they call an "ordinary room" (Arakawa and Gins 1994: 32, emphasis in original). But be careful with that ordinary, don't think about Wittgenstein and long for return to the ordinary, accepting fate. Don't. It is not about accepting fate, destiny is reversed the other way 'round, away from the ordinary into the roaring sea.
Habituated to the ordinary room, familiarized, we don't notice the ubiquitous petites landing sites, we notice only a few clumsy landing sites, a couch here, a table there, landing sites which, in the first instance, guide our movements. And since they guide our movements, we are told to think of the landing sites as guiding or engaging bars (Arakawa and Gins 1994: 34). In the background, even in the Heideggerian sense, the plan of the room is silently there, habitually there, guiding us through the landing sites we happen to notice. This background of possible but non-actual perceptual landing sites is made of imaging landing sites. Quietly they pre-schematize the schematization of object provided by the guard rails ( see "schematize" in Arakawa and Gins 1994: 34).
This is old terrain for our wanderers. Diagrams have been important to their work ever since Arakawa found those old blueprints behind New York City Hall (Gins 1994: 30). And there is an enormous number of diagrammatic paintings from the mid-60's, including even a few that diagram rooms (like Name's Birthday (a couple) from 1967 (Arakawa 1991: 122). Before the flowering of their architectural interest, it might have been unclear what trajectory these diagrammatic paintings were on, now it is clear.
To generate a site of reversible destiny one must increase the number of landing sites, without limit. One must de-schematize the schemata, undiagram the diagram. Arakawa and Gins describe a computer drawing of this generation this way:
The connection to Leibniz is now plain. Breaking the habitual, the familiar, is a way to bring awareness of more and more landing sites, until, all the ubiquitous tiny landing sites lead us away from our regimented identities, dead to the world, until the ubiquitous tiny perceptions draw us into life. By now Madeline and Arakawa have imagined architectural procedures aplenty for doing this, but in 1994, the list began with two, they are introduced in this striking paragraph, which I will interrupt, just to keep us off balance.
Ordinary landing sites are the landing sites that we have become accustomed to in our practical life with things. We notice what is mostly relevant, image unaware what is mostly reliable, and ignore vast swaths of our perceptual worlds. If we could get all of this together we'd have made a ubiquitous site. They put it this way:
The familiar site of the ordinary is a cutting from this site of ubiquitous tiny perceptions. Continuing on: These two,
We will remain trapped in our identities, our life plans, so long as we do not break these habits, so long as we do not force ourselves onto our stomachs, feeling the smell of the carpet up our noses. But how? The first two architectural procedures show us how:
And just what such a site turns from, the rough ground of our perceptual and linguistic practices, is what the mature Wittgenstein yearns for.
It is easy to see why Wittgenstein's Investigations was felt to be a model for The Mechanism of Meaning. Neither Mechanism nor Wittgenstein's book offer theories of anything. The Investigations gives commands and orders. Imagine this. Do that. Don't think, look. He asks crazy questions like "Can I say 'bububu' and mean 'If it doesn't rain I shall go out for a walk." (Wittgenstein 1976: 18) And the panels of the Mechanism make the same kinds of demands on us. Smell this. (Arakawa and Gins 1988: 35) Say one think two (Arakawa and Gins 1988: 43). Decide which three are extra (Arakawa and Gins 1988: 76). Please think only of the dot not of the x's (Arakawa and Gins 1988: 10). It is true that there are many more funny things, jokes, in Mechanism than there are in the Investigations, but it is also true that, in conversation, Wittgenstein told Norman Malcolm that he could imagine a book on philosophy consisting of nothing but jokes (Malcolm 1962: 28). And he tells us that the depth of philosophy is the same as the depth of what he calls a grammatical joke (Wittgenstein 1976: §111). But there is a world of difference between the enjoyments of Mechanism and the intense struggles of the Investigations.
Wittgenstein gives, as an example of a grammatical joke, Lewis Carroll's: "we called him tortoise because he taught us" (Baker and Hacker 1980: 522-3). The depth of a grammatical joke, Wittgenstein tells us, is lost if we take them to be about the arbitrariness of language (Baker and Haker 1980: 523). He suggests rather that what is deep about grammatical jokes is that they reveal the "limits of language" (Wittgenstein 1979: 68). In a conversation about Heidegger, he is reported to have said:
The limits of language are not revealed by the mere fact that, as Saussure would say, signs are arbitrary. They are revealed when we discover that there are some things we can't think. The articulated structure of our thinking, the articulated division between the contingent and the necessary, is neither simply necessary nor contingent but rather our fate, our irreversible destiny. This comes out in such a remark as: "If someone says 'If our language had not this grammar, it could not express these facts,' it should be asked what 'could' means here" (Wittgenstein 1976: 497). And we are meant to feel that where "could" takes its force from grammar, it is nonsense to think of the there being possibilities from which this grammar excludes us. "We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either" (Wittgenstein 1961: 5.61).
On this account what makes for the comedy of grammatical jokes is roughly what makes for a certain kind of laughter in Kant. Kant writes:
This is as far as possible from the comedy of Mechanism which confronts us not with nothingness but with exuberance. Wittgenstein thinks that a philosophical book could consist entirely of jokes, because he thinks jokes mark the limits of language, the autonomy of grammar, the other side of which is simply gibberish. The laughter induced by the panels of mechanism reveal so much more than nothing: they reveal the energetic life of ubiquitous meaning. For Arakawa and Gins, there is, we could say, no gibberish, at all.
The issue between these two books is confused because there is a sense in which both Wittgenstein and Gins and Arakawa share the same enemy. In his 1884 book on the Foundations of Arithmetic Frege asked the simple question "what is the number one?" Later, in the 1930's, Wittgenstein told his students that questions like Frege's
We don't know what to do. Frege tells us that of course we each associate an overlapping but idiosyncratic cloud of thoughts and ideas with the word "one", but that, in that case, we would never really understand each other. Frege puts it this way:
This sentence embodies the original sin of analytic philosophy of language: from the fact that we seem to understand each other, it concludes that there is some identical content common to you and to me. Of course there is no such common content in the psychological world nor in the material world, so Frege turns to metaphysics: inventing a third realm, a platonic realm for meanings to inhabit.
The denial of that third realm is what the mature Wittgenstein and Arakawa and Gins share, but it stops there. What divides Wittgenstein from Gins and Arakawa is that Wittgenstein still thinks that when we understand each other there is something common that we both share. It is not psychological experience, nor is it Frege's third realm of Platonic meanings, but he still refuses to give up the idea of common content, it is just that what is common is now the grammar of our life with language. 
Gins and Arakawa, on the other hand, want us to face the fact that we can order pizza without sharing something in common. To face the fact that understanding one another doesn't require having something in common. Wittgenstein knows that we can use the word "game" while there is nothing in common to all games, but doesn't realize that two people can communicate more or less successfully without there being something – psychological or platonical or grammatical – that they both possess. Giving up the last vestige of common content is the royal road back from anti-psychologism to sensual semantics.
But Wittgenstein holds back. He wants to return us from metaphysics to the rough ground of the every day. Accepting the grammar of our life with language, and since we find it difficult to believe that accepting the grammar of our lives would be enough, Cavell can describe philosophy as the "education of grownups" (Cavell 1979: 125). The education of grownups is the effort to bring grownups to believe that, as Wallace Stevens said the human alone may suffice.  Mortality itself may suffice.
The difference between Arakawa and Gins and Wittgenstein is this. For Wittgenstein there is nothing holding up the grammar of language and we must be educated to accept the grammar just as it is. For Arakawa and Gins the grammar of language is a cutting from a sensual ubiquitous site, where the word sensual breaths in the fresh sensual power of words, no less than the erotic sensual power of skin.
Listen to Wittgenstein:
This is possible for Wittgenstein, even though ostensive definitions can be misinterpreted in every case, because sometimes they are not. And it is such general facts of nature that scaffold our language. Again: You can direct someone to the store with an arrow, even though, as Wittgenstein puts it, "every explanation of how he should follow the arrow is in the position of another arrow" (Wittgenstein 1958: 97).  This is what the education of grownups is to get us to accept: our life with language. And this is precisely what the mechanism of meaning tries to open up, to break through.
We already have the language for describing this Wittgensteinian phenomenon. In the land of semantic sense, the ordinary leaves out the ubiquitous, and Wittgenstein's return to the ordinary from Frege's third realm is a return to the habitual matrix of meaning, which is precisely the target of Arakawa and Gins' undoing.
Wittgenstein's grammar leaves out so much. A line is just a line, so you think. But Gins and Arakawa laugh in exuberance, from above, when they draw up plans for a panel about 6 feet wide and 10 feet tall. There seem to be 9 lines on the canvas, but the lines, though all lines of the same length and width are not the same: one is a pencil line, the next is a plant line made by a slit in the canvas behind which are plants, the third is a body line, behind a slit there is a nude, the fourth is a mouse or ant line, perhaps a plank with a series of mice or a series of ants walking along it, and there is a water line, and an oil line, and a line of various intensities. In the face of such exuberance, we come to realize that you may call them all lines, and it may be good for some purposes to do so, but they are all different, singular, unique. At another place we come across a single dot and underneath they mark the words: "these are two or more dots which were unable to be separated" (Arakawa and Gins 1988: 17). Amusing demonstrations that the semantic landing sites of Wittgenstein's everyday language (Wittgenstein 1976: §116) are simply habitual hidings of a ubiquitous site of sensual excitement.
The Mechanism of Meaning launches a pedagogy in reverse leading us away from Wittgenstein's habitual every day to the excitement of ubiquitous sites of sensuality.
And the connection to Klee is made by arrows, Klee tells us it is a question of life and death: "This is the question of life and death; and the decision rests with the small arrow." (Klee 1925: 53). Imagine a circle, the purest mobile form, generated by a moving radius. Where the radius shrinks, the arrow pointing inward, the circle "dies suddenly in that static centre" (Klee 1968: 53). Where the radius grows, the arrow pointing outward the circle becomes gradually liberated from the centre. Reversing Destiny.
Now turn to the pink cover of the third edition of Mechanism. It reproduces Beneath Untitled No. 3 from 1986. (Arakawa 1991: 196) On the lower left, a generating series of rectangles. Starting with a seed pair, each pair comes to be included in the lower right of a larger pair of rectangles each precisely twice the size of the original pair. The stacking rectangles head off to the left stopping at the left edge of the canvas. The drama comes from the three quarters of the canvas which is empty, occupied only by arrows pointing off to the right, and two stray curves. When thinking of Klee these arrows point towards life, away from the dead rectilinear center. And at the bottom of the original panel you would have read the words, stencilled in capital letters: THE ENTIRE BODY WAS PERCEPTION. That is the way to enjoy a ubiquitous site of sensuality.
And Klee insinuates that spiralling out is the way to escape tragedy. Tragedy, for Klee, is the contrast between man's physical limitations and his ideological capacity to move through space. This is man's tragic limitation, a limitation to the ordinary room, to the language of everyday life, habitual practical life. Klee finds the solution to kinetic infinity in cosmic curves, freeing themselves more and more from the earth, until finally becoming colour, the spectral colour wheel where all arrows are superfluous (Klee 1968: 59, 61). Klee concludes "the question is no longer 'to move there' but to be 'everywhere' and consequently also 'there' (Klee 1968: 61). The ubiquitous site of kinetic infinity.
The Mechanism of Meaning is a machine for awaking us to the glorious ubiquitous site of sense, ambiguous zones of a lemon (Arakawa and Gins 1988: 21). Try to recall Wallace Stevens' "thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird" with its Wittgensteinian seriousness
and now compare the ambiguous zones of a lemon (Arakawa and Gins 1988: 21)
 MM3 = Arakawa and Madeline Gins, The Mechanism of Meaning, 3rd edition, NY: Abbeville, 1988.
 I discuss and criticize Wittgenstein's commitment to common content in a work in progress called "Feeling Words."
 In "Chocorua to its Neighbor" Wallace Stevens writes:
His "Of Modern Poetry" begins with these words: "The poem of the mind in the act of finding/What will suffice." (Stevens 1967: 174). In his "Sunday Morning" he tells us that "Death is the mother of beauty" (Stevens 1967: 7).
 Tony Ferrizzi reminded me that this remark recalls Lewis Carroll's considerations in "What The Tortoise Said To Achilles" (Carroll 1895). And he induced me to speak of Nietzsche's laughter as coming from above, free of all ressentiment and beyond good and evil: bird wisdom's giddy companion.
Arakawa. Constructing the Perceiver--ARAKAWA: Experimental Works. Eds. Ueki, H. and T. Ogura. Kyoto: National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and National Museum of Modern Art, 1991.
Arakawa, in collaboration with Madeline Gins. Mechanismus der Bedeutung (Werk im Entstehen: 1963-1971). 1st edition. Munich: Bruckmann, 1971.
Arakawa and Madeline Gins. The Mechanism of Meaning: Work in Progress (1963-1971, 1978). Based on the Method of ARAKAWA. 2nd edition. New York: Abrams, 1979.
Arakawa and Madeline Gins. To Not To Die/Pour Ne Pas Mourir. Paris: Éditions de la différence, 1987.
Arakawa and Madeline Gins. The Mechanism of Meaning. 3rd edition. New York: Abbeville Press, 1988.
Arakawa and Madeline Gins. Arakawa and Madeline Gins Architecture: Sites of Reversible Destiny (Architectural Experiments after Auschwitz-Hiroshima). (An Art and Design Monograph). London: The Academy Group, 1994.
Arakawa and Madeline Gins. Reversible Destiny. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1997.
Baker, G.P and Hacker, P.M.S. An Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations: Wittgenstein: Understanding and Meaning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Carroll, Lewis. "What the Tortoise said to Achilles." Mind. New Series 4.14 (April 1895): 278-280.
Cavell, Stanley. The Claim of Reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Frege, Gottlob. "The Foundations of Arithmetic." The Frege Reader. Ed. M. Beaney. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1997.
Gins, Madeleine. Helen Keller or Arakawa. Santa Fe, NM: Burning Books, 1994.
Gins, Madeline and Arakawa. Architectural Body. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2002.
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Trans. Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987.
Klee, Paul. Pedagogical Sketchbook. London: Faber and Faber, 1968.
Leibniz, Gottfried. New Essays on Human Understanding. Eds. P. Remnant and J. Bennett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Lyotard, Jean-François. The Differend. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.
Lyotard, Jean-François. "Longitude 180 W or E." ARAKAWA. Ed. M. Garberi. Milano Padiglione D'Arte Contemporanea, 19 January- 20 February 1984.
Lyotard, Jean-François. Peregrinations: Law, Form, Event. The Wellek Library Lectures, 1986. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
Malcolm, Norman. Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir. With a Biographical Sketch by Georg Henrik von Wright. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.
Serres, Michel. The Five Senses. London: Continuum, 2008.
Stevens, Wallace. The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play by Wallace Stevens. Ed. Holly Stevens. New York: Vintage Books, 1972.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Trans. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, et al. Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle: Conversations Recorded by Friedrich Waismann. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1979.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. "The Blue Book." The Blue and Brown Books. New York: Harper and Row, 1958.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. 3rd edition. Oxford: Blackwell, 1976.
|INFLeXions No. 6
Arakawa + Gins
Edited by Jondi Keane & Trish Glazebrook
Madeline Gins i-viii
Here Where it Lives...Biocleave
Jondi Keane and Trish Glazebrook 1-21
Mapping Reversible Destiny
Trish Glazebrook and Sarah Conrad 22-40
Escaping the Museum
David Kolb 41-71
Jean-Jacques Lecercle 72-79
The Reversible Eschatology of Arakawa and Gins
Russell Hughes 80-102
Chaos, Autopoiesis and/or Leonardo da Vinci/Arakawa
Hideo Kawamoto 103–111
Daddy, Why do Thing have Outlines?: Constructing the Architectural Body
Helene Frichot 112–124
Tentatively Constructing Images: The Dynamism of Piet Mondrian's Paintings
Troy Rhoades 125–153
Evidence: Architectural Body by Accident, Destiny Reversed by Design
Blair Solovy 154-168
Breathing the Walls
James Cunningham 169–188
Technology and the Body Public
Stephen Read 189-213
Bioscleave: Shaping our Biological Niches
Stanley Shostak 214-224
Arakawa and Gins: The Organism-Person-Environment Process
Eugene Gendlin 225-236
An Arakawa and Gins Experimental Teaching Space – A Feasibility Study
Jondi Keane 237–252
KEYNOTES AND CONFERENCE STREAMS:
The Mechanism of Meaning: A Pedagogical Skecthbook
Gordon Bearn 253–269
Wayfinding through Landing Sites and Architectural Bodies: Exploring the Roles of Trajectoriness, Affectivatoriness, and Imaging Along
Reuben Baron 270-285
Trajectory of ARAKAWA Shusaku: from Kan-Oké (Coffin) to the Reversible Destiny Lofts
Fumi Tsukahara 286-297
Tom Conley 298–316
Made/line Gins or Arakawa in
Marie Dominique Garnier 317–339
The Dance of Attention
Erin Manning 340–367
What Counts as Language in a Closely Argued Built-Discourse?
Gregg Lambert 368-380
Constructing Poiesis: Storyboards for an immersive diagramming
Alan Prohm 381–415
Open Wide, Come Inside: Laughter, Composure and Architectural Play
Pia Ednie-Brown 416–427
What Arakawa Did
Don Byrd 428–441
Don Ihde 442-445
For Arakawa, Nin More Lives
Jean-Michel Rabaté 446–448
Approximately Arakawa and Gins
Ken Wark 448-449
A Perspective of the Universe
Erin Manning and Brian Massumi
Axial Lecture on Self-Organisation