INFLeXions No. 6 – Arakawa + Gins special issue of Inflexions
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This talk was written for the AG3 Conference in the spring of 2010. There were daily online discussions of their work (March 12-26) and a culminating face-to-face celebration and visit to the Bioscleave house in New York (April 30-May 2). We knew Arakawa was ill, and he did not appear at the Conference. We did not know how ill. I sat next to Madeline at the April 30 session at Barnard, and she grasped my forearm, during several of the presentations, squeezing as if she were in pain. It was clear that things were not well. Arakawa died on May 18.
These notes are for Madeline. In memory of Arakawa. The work of AG and the community continues, as long as any of us are standing.
* * *
Some Notes in December
Arakawa was never violated by an idea and never saw anything that was other than itself. He related to the data site not with symbols of things but with operators on things – machines, procedures. He was himself such an operator.
Attention gives way to intention. Arakawa and Gins speak of "informing intention." We inform the Earth, and it is our purpose. Earth is composed not of things but of purposes. Otherwise, creatures who feed on knowing can only debilitate and die. Data and the machines that we construct for its use are nutrition. We are not contained in sack of our skins. The city and the planetary system are organs of our bodies.
The last time I saw Arakawa, shortly before the onset of his illness, he was making a complicated point about reversible destiny, and suddenly, without it being clear where the effort came from, he was on the floor, moving nimbly – like a two-dimensional snake. It happened so easily and slowly that I had time to think briefly that it wasn't clear whether it was he or space and time that were being changing. The floor was unusually far away and weirdly configured. I was strange in my body in the space he made.
Whatever happened was right there. He made his body, as he made paintings and buildings, into a mechanism of meaning. He thought that, if we could make cities into mechanisms of the right kind, death would not be required of us. The buildings and what happened in the buildings had to be right. Everything had to be right. We build cities as we might open our bodies and work on our inner-organs.
In his presence the metaphysical detritus of every day life disappeared. He was the eye of the paradox, where the rabbit and duck were both a rabbit and duck and neither a rabbit nor a duck. He called it "the blank." With Arakawa one went into and out of the blank. It was the space of no dimensions. Whatever was, was already something else. Everything was that near nothing.
Attention and all that goes with it – consciousness, representation, language, history, culture, the object – are inherently deficient. There is nothing to attend to. We tell the child "Pay attention to that object. Pay attention to your mind." It's a death sentence. Sooner or later, they will understand, at least in some vague sense, that the thing and their minds are formally the same thing, the one thing, which is self-cancelling, blank.
Life is not given to be spied on. We know things not by paying attention but by taking them in hand and operating, not only on the things themselves, but also on the abstract system to which they belong.
Life is taken, enjoined. Let x = y, and so forth. Injunctions can be issued only from the eye of the paradox, where the choice of abstract machines is unconstrained.
The given cannot be enjoined. Injunctions of given-ness are cartoons, beliefs, politics, religions – deathly things.
The mechanisms of meaning are not symmetrical or stable. Meaning is created from nothing, and it is lost.
Jan Kåhre: "…a real system which cannot forget is beyond theory. Biological evolution proceeds by the elimination of history: by random variation (divergence) and by selection (convergence)."
There was always too much information, even before the data flood. The unfiltered flow of perception will fill the buffers of the brain in about 15 minutes.
The humans – we are something else now (I have been saying "neoplasms") – dealt, or tried to deal, with information overload by generalizing. The generalized concept, however, was both lousy, which could have been managed, and fatally imprecise. The concept was so imprecise that finally everything was the same as everything else – all was one, unified, cosmological. The generalization made the thing – whatever, justice, a hammer, a stone, the constitution of a state – into conceptual mush, dangerously powerful and recklessly inclusive: the many were generalized until all became one. This unified conceptual surface was beautiful but brittle and empty. The nested and progressive imprecisions, shearing off the ambiguity of the thing for the crystalline sharpness of the concept, arrived at an inner-most core so finally general and vague that the trump concept itself – generalized difference is the same – was false. It was so imprecise that finally life could not be distinguished from death. All of the fundamental oppositions flickered. The final picture was flat-out wrong.
Generalized abstraction was more satisfying as a system of thinking and knowing than any system based on patent absurdity should have been. It worked after a fashion for twenty-five centuries, perhaps because its processing was slow – its parts did not communicate – and the philosopher's garden was far from the work-a-day human world. The meditation on the absurdity belonged mostly to the Church and the University, which appeared as the secular replacement for the Church in the nineteenth century.
Data, even much valuable data, is lost, but the redundancy is immense. The data site is rich in second chances, and data is chosen for its precise value and its use in a particular form, not for its potential for disappearance into generalized, absolute, and dead form.
Let me say this differently. The new abstraction is not in the direction of inescapable generality but in the direction of decision and intent. "We have decided not to die." The data site does not exist apart from the use of it.
Let me say this differently (it is difficult). Life on the data site is not symmetrical. It does not require death. Life is not the symmetry of its theory; it is the asymmetry of the events its unique, unrepeatable event makes possible.
Let me say this differently. Disinterest is the methodological prescription of the concept of life. Its form arises from the symmetry of life and death, which negate and cancel one another. Life, however, changes; death does not. Tekhn? – art, engineering, architecure – is the name of the discipline of intent. Life is not the exercise of the media; it is not a filling in of the coloring book of form; it is the intentional making of meaning.
Life as given is symmetrical. Space-time is symmetrical. Matter and energy are conserved, and their conversions are symmetrical. Grammar and logic are symmetrical. Aesthetics conceives beauty in terms of symmetry. These are all forms of life as given (death as given). It is when we take life, enjoin life, that things begin to happen.
The epic was a mechanism of memory. The Mechanism of Meaning is an anti-epic – a mechanism of forgetting and the fashioning of cognitive holes through which the data of symmetrical systems disappears. It is among the big works of the post-World War II era, along with Pollock's drip paintings, the Maximus Poems, Free Jazz, Gravity's Rainbow, the ¼ Mile Piece, and the Spiral Jetty.
The macrocosm is understood in terms of relativity theory; the microcosm is understood in terms of quantum physics. These mechanisms of Pollock, Olson, Coleman, Pynchon, Rauschenberg, and Smithson are works that absorb and saturate the mesocosm – the data site of creatures that are neither entirely mechanistic, like the cosmos, nor entirely random, like the binding forces of the atom. The data site comes into existence with questions of intent. It is the forms of non-statistical, asymmetrical intent that are to be explored in the present century.
All of these works, including the drip paintings, are put forth as mechanisms – more or less nihilistic – for the neutralization of the subject. We are the dark spot that nearly obliterates the thing that we are trying to see. The more common assumption is that neutralization is enough: if the ego is dispensed with, the 'reality' or 'truth' or some unnamed good will flow through.
Olson and Arakawa thought the trashing of the subject was a necessary preliminary to a constructive process. Olson's epic has a single, controlling device: the assembly of the future in terms of the present memory of the past ("My memory is the history of time"). He trashed the historical self in the first volume of the Maximus, and the mythological self in the second volume. He revealed these as "fully physical" processes. At the outset of the third volume, he declared, "I believe in God / as fully physical." Olson's mechanism of meaning, however, was never completed, and the evidence of it is still for the most part in the Archive. The physical god was probably impossible.
At the outset, conceptualization and theorization as machines of knowing dissociated generalized structures from meaning. It was possible, thus, to create powerful, generalized formal systems, such as the group theory and set theory, but it was then necessary to reinterpret their content for meaning. The purity that made them possible wrecked them in their use.
The frontispiece of the 1988 edition of The Mechanism of Meaning is the painting, Presentation of the Ambiguous Zones of the A Lemon, which poses a series of questions, the last of which is, "How not to think in terms of estimation but to deal with ambiguous zones as basic units?"
The question is neither what is, nor what can be believed. Now we inquire about the making of meaning. What can be done? On the data site we find not concepts, grammars, and logics; we find mechanisms, procedures, specific objects, archives of random data, samples (measures), mixes, and re-mixes.
The lonely, isolated researcher, in the sweat of ignorance and the nearness of death, knows by acting not on the thing – there is no thing – but upon by acting upon the possibility of acting.
The Single Intelligence, contemplating itself in its object and its object in itself, came to its limit with Einstein, Bohr, Whitehead, and Russell. In Process and Reality Whitehead set forth the last cosmology.
If we are to get any further we must coordinate our efforts. No one is going to get to see it all. For the community all of the operations are local; it is not the city that is real; it is all of the operators and their operations coordinating and keeping company.
 This talk was presented on May 20, 2010, in the closing session of the Third International Arakawa and Gins Architecture and Philosophy Conference, in the Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York City.
 See, for example, Keane 2003, where coordinology is proposed to be as the practice of (rather than the study of) the coordination of perception and action.
Bell, Eric Temple. Mathematics: Queen and Servant of Science. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951.
Foucault, Michel. "Preface." In Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. xi-xiv.
Gins, Madeline and Shusaku Arakawa. The Mechanism of Meaning. New York: Abbeville, 1988.
Gins, Madeline and Shusaku Arakawa. Reversible Destiny. New York: Abrams, 1997.
Gorenstein, Daniel. "The Enormous Theorem." Scientific American 253.6 (1985): 104–115.
Hillis, W. Daniel. The Pattern on the Stone: The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work. New York: Basic Books, 1999.
Keane, Jondi. "The Multimodal Consequences of Coordinology." Interfaces: Architecture Against Death/Architecture contre la mort 21-22.2 (2003): 407-434.
Kåhre, Jan. The Mathematical Theory of Information. New York: Springer, 2002.
Piaget, Jean. Structuralism. Ed. and trans. Chaninah Maschler. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
|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