[NetBehaviour] Sondheim/Szpakowski exchange #2

Michael Szpakowski m at michaelszpakowski.org
Sat Oct 6 21:34:55 CEST 2018

2 of 3

----- Forwarded Message -----
 From: michael szpakowski 
 To: Alan Sondheim 
 Sent: Friday, October 5, 2018 8:58 PM
Hi Alan I very much enjoyed your measured and thoughtful response. I found myself agreeing with a number of the things you said. I think my main difference with you is that I need to emphasise that the piece has its roots in polemic. Rather as I think you suggest, if it was me who was starting I wouldn't necessarily start from the assumption that art needs to be framed as research or even as somehow knowledge producing. That starting point arises out  of the supine (and lazy) acquiescence of many in the academy with the distortions that its funding model and the incursion of the corporate sphere create in it. Rather than confronting that elephant in the room they use their skills to in a sense normalise the situation by spinning webs of confusion around the topic as if there is something somehow inevitable about it and it arises from some sound theoretical basis. Because these folk tend to be deft with words ( and also because even academics need to eat) this often goes unremarked and unchallenged.

I took this problem as my starting point. Though I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the emergence in my thinking of knowledge-with which again I emphasise I believe to be a real thing...
That said I wanted to comment on a few things you say -mostly in agreement.
(1) Your point about Ryle and your recourse to different traditions -I take. I think of it as us maybe speaking  different dialects of a common language. I suppose because I was trying to bring out some fairly basic logical contradictions in the positions of others this led me on a road which favoured someone one might characterise as more from the analytic than continental philosophical tradition. Although, as with Wittgenstein, sometimes also stowed in that box, Ryle is a much richer and flavoursome and earthy thinker than many of the dull logic choppers who form the larger cohort of the analytic tradition.(2) I love your 'discursive formation' onwards. I've written very much to that effect myself elsewhere of art as something embedded into the social, into discourse, where artworks have fuzzy borders spreading over into news, criticism, remixes, parodies and even jokes. I'm not sure that this understanding of the penumbra of the artwork is inimical to what I write in the piece -indeed it seems to me that this social and performative aspect could well form part of the mechanism which generates 'knowledge-with'(3) I'm not sure that your discussion of science/maths really fleshes out any differences between us - I tend to think maths for example is one of the few things that does generate something approaching a pure 'knowledge-that' in the sense of 'true facts about the world'. I think lots of ( but by no means all) knowledge elsewhere *is* problematic. I think I say this in various ways in the piece
(4) Your last paragraph expresses in a lyrical and exuberant way something I have no problem at all with. In my more dour way, I think, it's again the sort of thing ( or at least it sits next door to it, in a non oppositional way) I was trying to get at...
I really grateful to you for responding. The piece was meant as the beginning of a discussion. I hope others might take it up too.
with my warmest wishesMichael
      From: Alan Sondheim <sondheim at gmail.com>
 To: Michael Szpakowski <m at michaelszpakowski.org>; Michael Szpakowski <michael at dvblog.org> 
 Sent: Wednesday, October 3, 2018 5:12 AM
 Subject: your article!, response
Hi Michael,

I read your article, far too quickly; I'm short of time, I do have
some comments about it, and I wonder if there is something about
quoting Ryle, etc. that speaks to British thought; I tend to work more
out of deconstruction, and people like Alphonso Lingis for example.

I'm not sure what research is, what knowledge is, for example. I
wouldn't use those terms. I'd turn more towards Mikel Dufrenne who, in
his phenomenology of the novel, talks about the world of the book,
which relates to diegesis on one hand - that might relate to your
knowledge-with, and I think an irreducible on the other. I've also
used Bourdieu's Distinction, which talks about artworlds and their
relation to the social, and I think of art especially, through
Foucault, as a discursive formation - the object or process or
performance, the focus in a sense or punctum or plateau - is only part
of a discourse which us all over the place, sloppy - for example
imitations and influences on other artists, precedents, reviews, angry
looks, appreciations, idle talk in and out of the gallery if there is
a gallery, etc. I think it deeply resists definition (for example of
_any_ sort of knowledge-x) and instead might be considered in terms of
tendencies, gatherings, plateaus, those discursive formations,
idiolects, and so forth. This to me is where the energy and resistance
and value lies, in its incapacity for fundamental (ontological,
epistemological) focusing, its doing of something, anything, including
indefinable fields, its insistence, in a sense, on a problematic which
at its very core is irreducible. Even art "research" - or maybe
especially art "research" is a trap, just as for me "experimental" is
a trap; art is a doing which may or may not participate in research
one way or another. And art as increasing knowledge? How is this
conceivably defined? Even in mathematics - does coming up with a newer
largest prime really increase knowledge?

I do think on the other hand, the sciences are vastly different, and
that difference lies in the difficult ontology and epistemology of
mathematics, and mathesis in relation to experiment. I think hard
knowledge does result out of this, and on a low level, technology is
the result. Understanding the workings of a neutron star (which are
far more complicated than I thought) is a good example - there is no
way humans can approach one (for that matter, can we approach an atom?
a quark? certainly not a neutrino - you see where this is going), but
we can begin to understand the unbelievaly 'foreign' (to us) dynamics
of the star through a combination of distant observation and
mathematical modeling. For me, I've always felt that science is "that
thing" or process among any others that has an uncanny relationship to
fundamental truths about the world.

Finally, I think that identity politics and their instantiation in
works of art definitely gives background and depth to your deployment
of knowledge-with; this has to do with, among other things, who the
"with" are, what sort of social is implied, and so forth. And here art
supplies a didactic function that is almost uncanny; it relates for me
to mirroring and mirror neurons between one and another body, between
and among bodies, and the problematic, critique, and celebration of

If you think it's useful, please send this on to the netbehaviour
list; I wanted to send it directly to you, of course.

Best, Alan, hope it's a bit useful. -


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