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Re: <nettime> Network, Swarm, Microstructure
Brian Holmes on Thu, 20 Apr 2006 17:01:12 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Network, Swarm, Microstructure


Prem Chandavarkar wrote:

>To me, the power of Kaikini's observations lay in:
>
>   1. The transcendent can be found in what is immediately adjacent.
>   2. We inhabit a reality that does not exist only on one level. 
>      Reality is multi-leveled and complex, and our sense of being
>      shifts between mundane, terrestrial and transcendent levels.  All
>      art recognised this, and perhaps this is why art has sat so
>      comfortable next to religion over several centuries.  Polanyi goes
>      so far as to say that the more tacit the knowledge is, the more
>      transcendent it is likely to be.
>   3. We tend to assume that tacit knowledge, because it cannot be
>      verbalised, is not shareable - and is therefore less tangible and
>      real.  But the world that Kaikini (or any other gifted musician)
>      constructs through his music, even though it is purely tacit, is
>      tangible, shareable and real enough to have commercial value,
>      allowing the musician to earn a living through it.
>
>While all this may seem far away from the realm of network theory, I 
>believe it is crucial.  Emergent networks build on close-grained local 
>links, and movement between mundane connections and higher levels of 
>being understood through collectively owned patterns.   When one comes 
>to reflexive networks, those patterns hold a sense of transcendence that 
>binds communities.  A theory of reflexive networks must include a theory 
>of knowledge and the links between epistemic systems and social cohesion.

Your text was very interesting, Prem. Particularly the 
above, which is exactly the point that I was trying to get 
at. I think that the behavior of people, and therefore the 
way they use networks and their specific protocols, is 
greatly influenced by many factors of aeshetic tastes, value 
orientation, cosmology and feeling of community. The 
affective dimension where a musician intervenes is 
fundamental to the kind of orientation I am thinking of. The 
affective dimension is, almost by definition, a realm of the 
proximate, the nearby, closeness.

The orality/literacy distinction that you mention (Ong) is a 
binary that took different forms in the twentieth century. 
One is the distinction by the German sociologist Toennies, 
between community and society (or Gemeinschaft und 
Gesellschaft, which is the name of the book). That 
distinction was subsequently taken up and reworked by the 
French anthropologist Louis Dumont, in his Homo Aequalis 
books (which, interestingly enough, were written after Homo 
Hierarchicus, a study of the Indian caste system). Dumont 
observes that interpersonal relations in most societies 
until around the 16th-17th century in Europe were 
hierarchically structured - where the root "hiero," meaning 
sacred, holy, indicates an orientation to transcendance. In 
Europe this gave the notion of a "great chain of being" in 
which everyone, including both animals and spirits, 
supposedly occupied a rightful place. What we call the 
"symbolic" are all the structures of feeling associated with 
this traditional notion of rightful places. However, Dumont 
also believed that since the Enlightenment and the French 
revolution, "modernity" issynonymous with the domination of 
individualism and the ascendency of equal-to-equal 
relations, as expressed not only in constitutional law 
(human rights), contractual relations, the money economy and 
so on, but also in the symbolic realm. The notion and the 
feeling of right changes. He thought that elements of a 
hierarchically structured society, oriented to 
transcendence, could persist but would be (and must be) 
subordinated to the order of individualism and equality.

Now, my own view is that this subordination, on which the 
modern and modernizing projects have been founded, does not 
sufficiently explain our relations to each other, the earth 
and the stars, to put it briefly. It is too brutally 
simplifying, and so it makes much "tacit knowledge" into 
unconscious, unexpressed and unavowed sentiment or 
resentment. It does dictate the conditions of universal law 
that have achieved the widest distribution across the 
planet, but it is subject to such tremendous stresses that 
it has now produced yet another huge and violent outburst of 
the repressed hierarchical demons, in the form of racism, 
fundamentalism and war.

Another version of the binary mentioned above has been 
rootedness or uprootedness, which is the kind of word that 
mid-twentieth century fascists would use (Dumont saw Fascism 
and Nazism as resistance to the universals of individualism 
and equality). Michael Polanyi's brother, Karl, produced a 
more interesting reading of this with the distinction 
between "embeddedness" and "disembeddedness." Karl Polanyi's 
subject was the market. In his view, a larger set of social 
institutions was broken down by the liberal, laissez-faire 
notion that markets are self-regulating, i.e. that the 
operations of selling for a profit and buying at best price 
can ensure all the social and ecological conditions needed 
for their own functioning and reproduction over time. In 
this way, the specialized domain of the economy was 
disembedded from the larger domain of society, on which it 
ultimately depended. Polanyi too saw Fascism and Nazism as 
desperate and deadly attempts to reconstruct a social 
ecology. He believed this reconstruction of closer social 
ties and ecological balances had to be done, but with a more 
careful understanding of the checks and balances required to 
sustain the individual's "freedom in a complex society."

It's very interesting to learn that Michael Polanyi, the 
epistemologist, developed this binary of the tacit and the 
explicit. It seems to provide a quite different opening than 
the previously stated ones, which all derive from the 
fundamentally tragic idea of tie/broken tie, or 
traditional/modern. The tacit/explicit distinction does not 
seem to be freighted with such dark teleology. The 
complementarity of deterritorialization/ 
reterritorialization has a similar openness. I don't think 
Guattari's point is to oppose a modern, uprooted, 
disembedded, deterritorialized society as superior to an 
archaic, rooted, embedded, territorialized community. Rather 
the question is to see how everything defamiliarizing (such 
as technology, money, networks, mathematics, abstract art, 
universal law, and so forth) will shake up the coordinates 
of our lives, which tend to become oppressive under the 
influence of forms of concentrated power, whatever social 
system we live under. The question is then how to 
reterritorialize again, each time, how to constitute a play 
of discourses and qualities that do not so much reinforce 
the symbolic law of "everyone in their right place" as open 
up a kind of simultaneous affirmation and questioning of the 
places that each one is in, and of the system of places 
through which we relate to each other. The qualities 
developed through the use of "Laya" and "Meend," for 
example, can be ways to touch persons where they are 
(through the experience of the note's duration) and in a 
second moment, accompany them in a process of displacement 
(through the modulated shift to another note).

Networks can be conceived and imposed as structures of 
universalization, where the system of places (including 
supposedly egalitarian systems) is built into the hardware 
and the protocols. But I think such conceptions and 
impositions give an impoverished and often repressive idea 
of what really happens. Social relations within 
microstructural networks are being played out collectively, 
in forms ranging from the poetic to the cooperative to the 
terroristic, but always with the same kind of subtle 
attention to the modulation of aesthetic qualities, 
affective relations and cosmic horizons that Kaikini accords 
to the quality of his musical notes. Perhaps this is why 
Kaikini, a classical musician, feels at home in modernism. 
He knows how to make it into a moving territory.

best, BH




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