Suspicion on Consciousness as an Immanent Derivative

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The category of the subject (like that of the object) has no place in an immanent world. There can be no transcendent, subjective essence. What, then, is the ontological status of a body and its attendant instance of consciousness? In what would it exist? Sanford Kwinter (conjuncted here) here offers:

It would exist precisely in the ever-shifting pattern of mixtures or composites: both internal ones – the body as a site marked and traversed by forces that converge upon it in continuous variation; and external ones – the capacity of any individuated substance to combine and recombine with other bodies or elements (ensembles), both influencing their actions and undergoing influence by them. The ‘subject’ … is but a synthetic unit falling at the midpoint or interface of two more fundamental systems of articulation: the first composed of the fluctuating microscopic relations and mixtures of which the subject is made up, the second of the macro-blocs of relations or ensembles into which it enters. The image produced at the interface of these two systems – that which replaces, yet is too often mistaken for, subjective essence – may in turn have its own individuality characterized with a certain rigor. For each mixture at this level introduces into the bloc a certain number of defining capacities that determine both what the ‘subject’ is capable of bringing to pass outside of itself and what it is capable of receiving (undergoing) in terms of effects.

This description is sufficient to explain the immanent nature of the subjective bloc as something entirely embedded in and conditioned by its surroundings. What it does not offer – and what is not offered in any detail in the entirety of the work – is an in-depth account of what, exactly, these “defining capacities” are. To be sure, it would be unfair to demand a complete description of these capacities. Kwinter himself has elsewhere referred to the states of the nervous system as “magically complex”. Regardless of the specificity with which these capacities can presently be defined, we must nonetheless agree that it is at this interface, as he calls it, at this location where so many systems are densely overlaid, that consciousness is produced. We may be convinced that this consciousness, this apparent internal space of thought, is derived entirely from immanent conditions and can only be granted the ontological status of an effect, but this effect still manages to produce certain difficulties when attempting to define modes of behavior appropriate to an immanent world.

There is a palpable suspicion of the role of consciousness throughout Kwinter’s work, at least insofar as it is equated with some kind of internal, subjective space. (In one text he optimistically awaits the day when this space will “be left utterly in shreds.”) The basis of this suspicion is multiple and obvious. Among the capacities of consciousness is the ability to attribute to itself the (false) image of a stable and transcendent essence. The workings of consciousness are precisely what allow the subjective bloc to orient itself in a sequence of time, separating itself from an absolute experience of the moment. It is within consciousness that limiting and arbitrary moral categories seem to most stubbornly lodge themselves. (To be sure this is the location of all critical thought.) And, above all, consciousness may serve as the repository for conditioned behaviors which believe themselves to be free of external determination. Consciousness, in short, contains within itself an enormous number of limiting factors which would retard the production of novelty. Insofar as it appears to possess the capacity for self-determination, this capacity would seem most productively applied by turning on itself – that is, precisely by making the choice not to make conscious decisions and instead to permit oneself to be seized by extra-subjective forces.

Viral Art: Consciousness in Concurrency with Mutation

Would it be unsafe to say that every epoch (Zeitgeist) is defined by the kind of technology that determines the consciousness on the social and the individual level? I don’t think so.

Post 1980, roughly speaking, we have been living in a world that is accompanied by a fellow traveler as a parallel world, a world that could be called the virtual world and the world we inhabit could be termed the actual world or the real world. Rather than getting into the realm of psychoanalytic vocabulary, let me be clear enough to denote the virtual and the actual/real as the one based on computations and the other as based on non-computational respectively. What we get on the merger of these two worlds is the carving out of new topography. The merger needs to presently map out only the cognitive vision in a space that gets defined when the two interact heavily, the case today. This merger has been called by Nechvatal “Viractual”. Joseph Nechvatal has been the pioneer in this study that he undertook as a research topic in virtual reality at the Center for Advanced Inquiry at the Interactive Arts, UK.

The major issue of contention here is the trapping and unleashing of the power of digitization over its counterpart ‘the analog’. To quote Roy Ascott in his essay titled “The Architecture of Cyberception”,

“Inhabiting both the real and virtual worlds at one and the same time, and to be both here and potentially everywhere else at the same time is giving us a new sense of self, new ways of thinking and perceiving which extend what we have believed to be our natural, genetic capabilities”.

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A new sense to self could be what Michel Henry called the “ipseity” or a presence in what was hitherto never imagined, what had always disturbed the notions of imagination. A new sense to self could be what Michel Henry called the “ipseity” or a presence in what was hitherto never imagined, what had always disturbed the notions of imagination, a sense of aporia never thought of in overcoming. But, this is what is precisely what the inhabited world is facing upto. One can easily sense the parallel in the way Deleuze read Spinoza in his practical philosophy, wherein, Desires always propelled us to move to states of higher or lesser exaltations depending on whether the object encountered is in harmony with us or sets out to decompose. Viractual is this sense of existence in a double bind and a sense through which the notion of the exalted-ness gets defined as a flux of moving back and forth, a dynamism that abhors ossification. A sense of novelty in looking at life and art in compartmentalizing the two is the order of the Viractual. Viractual is often called cybism. Nechvatal states that cybism can be used to characterize a certain group of researchers and their understanding of where cultural space is developing today. Cybists reflect on system dynamics with a hybrid blending (cybridization) of the computational supplied virtual with the analog. This blending of the computational virtual with the analog indicates the subsequent emergence of a new cybrid topological cognitive-vision that Nechvatal has called viractuality: the space of connection betwixt the computed virtual and the uncomputed corporeal (actual) world which merge in cybism. He further states that co-extensive notions found in cybism have sharp ramifications for art as product in that the cybists are actively exploring the frontiers of science/technology research so as to become culturally aware of the biases of consciousness in order to amend those biases through the monumentality and permanency which can be found in powerful art. He begins with the realization that every new technology disrupts the previous rhythms of consciousness. In this sense cybist art research begins where hard science/technology ends. Cybists reflect on system dynamics with a hybrid blending (cybridization) of the computational supplied virtual with the analog. Digitization is a key metaphor for the cybists only in the sense that it is the fundamental translating system today.

This blending of the computational virtual with the analog indicates the subsequent emergence of a new cybrid topological cognitive-vision: the space of connection betwixt the computed virtual and the uncomputed corporeal (actual) world which merge in cybism. This cybrid space of cybism can be further inscribed as a span of liminality, which according to the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (based on his anthropological studies of social rites of passage) is the condition of being on a threshold between spaces.

Concerning this cybrid topological cognitive-vision, I am reminded here of two very different, yet complimentary, concepts: entrainment and égréore. Entrainment, in electro-physics, is the coupling of two or more oscillators as they lock into a commonly sensed interacting frequency. In alchemical terms an égréore (an old form of the word agréger) is a third concept or phenomenon that is established from conjoining two different elements together. I suggest that the term (concept) cybrid (and cybism) may be a concordant entrainment/égréore conception helpful in defining this third fused inter-spatiality that is forged from the meeting of the virtual and the actual.

Co-extensive notions found in cybism have piquant ramifications for art as product in that the cybists are actively exploring the frontiers of science/technology research so as to become culturally aware of the biases of consciousness in order to amend those biases through the monumentality and permanency which can be found in powerful art. They begin with the realization that every [new] technology disrupts the previous rhythms of consciousness. Then, generally speaking, they pursue their work in an effort to contradict the dominant clichés of our time, as they tend to move in their regimented grooves of sensibility. In this sense their art research begins where the hard science/technology ends.

Most certainly cybists understand that in every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. Hence the role of the cybist is that of the explorer/researcher. The function of such an explorationaly inclined artist however is not to only find, but to participate in and foster a constant instability of consciousness, to mitigate against self-stabilizing formations so as to encourage internal ‘cybomatic’ connections to sprout and expand. This integration goes far towards exemplifying an aesthetic that has a problematic relationship to material science-based reality.

Today, with the emergence and continual growth of cyberspace, it seems that no sense of closure will ever be able to contain the deterritorialization articulated and monumentalized by cybism.

Consequently, cybism has begun articulating a new techno-digital sense of life. By looking at the complex social and technological changes already occurring within the 21st century, cybists seem to perceive the world now as a kaleidoscopic environment in which every tradition has some valid residual form as information and sensation. A world of perpetual transformation has emerged and established a seemingly unrestricted area of abundant options.

What is being targeted here is an effort to bridge the two cultures of electronic activity with the traditional painting. The electronic activity could be the tailored virus and the traditional painting could be the panoply of images, stacked ones for that instance. Dromologically, the image is a blessing and a problem, so is the traditional image and therefore, the fusion of the two is defined as the problematic. This problematic is essentially treated as a purgatory of the psyche, and according to Nechvatal, conceptualized as a bringing forth to the surface the repressed ideas or the memories. A kind of sublimation is at work here as the dialectics of the bringing forth and repression is exercising the purge, the cleansation of the psyche.

One way of looking at the Viractual is the way consciousness operates, that is, if it is ever thought in terms of as an emerging property. Rather, it would be safe to say, the way the Viractual operates would facilitate in mapping the emerging of consciousness. Nechvatal undertook the study of viractual images and initially toyed with the idea of complex images with increasing mixture of drawing, digital photography, written language and external computerized codes. Once done, he subjected the deliberations to computerized manipulations including the viral attacks. The tailor made virus is behavioristically modeled as an active loop that swings into action in the manner of artificially intelligent. The viral conditions are built in keeping in mind the way the environment impacts the existential status of the virus. The environment dictates the way the virus starts or stops to process. This way is nothing short of openness for the system, an interactive one, a one where the processual dialectic is continuously at work, where the structurality and the functionality are always dialectically negotiating. Or in the words of Maturana and Valera, an autopoietic machine:

“An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network.” 1

Nechvatal actually identifies the Viractual with the autopoietic machine, but the difference is the way in which he relates the same in a more Deleuzean manner of a rhizomatic web, wherein all is connected all at once in a globular communicative network. But, why rhizomatic? As Nechvatal has himself pointed out in a talk, his perseverance to detect in art a fertile attraction towards the abstractions of advanced scientific discovery-discovery now stripped of its fundamentally reductive logical methodology. This attraction has the property of emerging out or exiting out, entering into or an intercourse into the fold at multitudinous points or rather topologically defined co-[planarity]. Cleansing the psyche is a new way of looking the consciousness, a presence of the carrier of the dialectics, sublimation is wrought out. Therefore, viractual art may not be satisfied with the regurgitation of standardized analog repertoires for art. Rather, a fertile attraction towards the abstractions of advanced scientific discovery – discovery now stripped of its fundamentally reductive logical methodology is detected in viractual art.

Into the unfamiliar (but evolving familiarity) chaosmos, the turbulence defined by the dromological technology in all its auto-superlative-prerogative over the ‘techne’ is indeed fracturing the very consciousness that once was taken to be the very cradle of comprehensibility. It dislocates the very hypostasis, dethrones it and opens up the space of mutation, a space of extreme plethora, of experimentation, empiricism constantly pregnant with abstraction called the ‘viractual’.

1 …with F.G. Varela. De máquinas y seres vivos, Santiago, Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1972; English version: “Autopoiesis: the organization of the living,” in Maturana, H. R., and Varela, F. G, Autopoiesis and Cognition. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Reidel, 1980.