CASH: IX Shiryaevo Biennale of Contemporary Art



Last update07:54:46 AM GMT

Back 2001: Tangibility participants

Виталий Лехциер | Vitaly Lekhtsier

discourse conflicts of sensuality in commonplace and philosophical knowledge.

First of all I would like to emphasize that I'm going to speak not about the conflicts of sensual abilities as such, but about the interrelation of their linguistic equivalents in the course of the development of knowledge. The problem of conflict, unity and diversity of senses and of different types of perceptive synthesis has already become traditional in philosophy, mainly in connection with phenomenology of a human body. One can name outstanding works by Gusserl, Merlo-Ponti, Podorogi- in all of them we find the difference of perceptive fields: purely tactile field, visual field, acoustic field; the problem of the primary layer of perception and of the correlation (whether they are interchangeable or, on the contrary, irreplaceable) of sensual abilities, of general bodily synthesis and so on. All the abovementioned problems belong to the very specific field of phenomenology and I am not going to discuss them in this report.

I would like to look at the concept of tangibility from a different angle. The thing is that sensuality is not only actual current experience, but also a specific discourse, that is all the conceptions, metaphors, cliches, idioms which are used when discussing sensuality. Besides, the sensuality discourse penetrates through speech and forms certain semantic fields in the language, both for philosophical and everyday use. If we look at the latter, we'll see that here the discourse conflict of sensuality is quite obvious. Let us take as an example some proverbs: "Seeing is believing", "Trust your eyes, not ears", " To know… as the palm of one's hand". These proverbs show the hierarchy of senses depending on their cognitive efficiency, showing either presence or absence of trust to them, exposing their finite character. Senses are not equally valuable for everyday consciousness, priority is given depending on the situation and the power of this or that sense. Despite the reliability of the sense of touch, the leadership undoubtedly belongs to visual experience, at least in discourse. That's why we call somebody we love "the apple of the eye", to make our lives easier we try to foresee possible problems. Foresight, visual running ahead of some events, routine and automatic visionary efforts are the basis of everyday consciousness. The main point here is to trust the Evident and to rely on it. The Evident does really exist, and all the rest just seems. It is not by chance that many introductory phrases are connected with the visual discourse: like evidently, at first sight, from this point of view- these are the words, which in a way confer or award a certain ontological status to all the things, mentioned in the sentence, they may be called "umpires of reality".

Maybe, it was this commonplace conception of the dominance of visual experience as compared to other types , that caused the hegemony of visual metaphor in philosophy. It should be noted, that the conflict of senses , both in discourse and in phenomenology, is mainly the argument of sight and touch, as these two senses are the main pretenders for the leading part in perception and in bodily synthesis in general. Until recently the tangibility discourse had bad luck. Of course, we mean the hegemony of eyes as an organ of sight, as eyes as a part of the surface of a human body can also be considered a tactile organ. So, the European philosophy from its early stages was under the supervision of visual discourse. I mean here the Greek concept of eidos, the idea of appearance or look. The idea or the essence of a thing is what our "mind's eyes" see in it, as if penetrating inside an object. A famous Plato's myth portrays a philosopher as man, using special optics. Cognition now is a process in broad daylight, in the light of the sun, which makes it possible to see the originals of things, not copies. Hence a recent conception of the "light of reason", knowledge is compared to light, ignorance-to darkness. The metaphor of light has become an important condition of the visibility of the world. On his way a vigilant person should only differenciate transparent things from illusory ones, real existence from what seems to be existence , reality from dreams and hallucinations, which can also be seen. Thus ideal optics, aimed at observing evident things, was formed . The conception of " evident" formed the basis of the classical European rationalism, beginning from Decartes. Evident is what is placed before the observer, to put into somebody's sight, for somebody to see-it means to divide the world into the subject and the object. The visual ( for instance, the discovering of direct perspective) took part in forming the subject. In the XX-th century visual discourse is often used in connection with the problem of the observer. So, to see and to know from the discourse point of view is the same in the European culture.

But recently this hegemony of the visual in connection with knowledge has aroused serious doubts. Jack Derrida pointed out that an idea is not what we see with our mind, but what we hear. The meaning or the sense is pure hearing, our consciousness hears its own inner speech, its phenomenological voice. The history of the European thought is connected with the history of what in Greek sounds like "phone".

"Logos" is understood as a synonym for "voice". Consequently," to know "means " to hear". Or, as Heidegger put it, to know is to be able to listen very hard, listen to existence and to language. Still, the acoustic discourse can't completely replace the visual one, as initially it was also within the framework of the classical conception of knowledge and its connection with reality. That's why Darrida said:" We need unheard -of thoughts! " But can thoughts be invisible and inaudible? Yes, they can, if these thoughts are tangible, tactile, if they are thoughts-touches. In contemporary philosophy the discourse of the tactile has acquired a privileged position. There has already been a precedent, when tactile experience had a chance of becoming very influential. If we recall Doubting Thomas, putting his fingers into the stigmata of Jesus Christ, whose motto could have been " Touching is believing!"- that was the person, who had a chance to influence the discourse of the knowledge. But it didn't happen. In the commonplace pragmatic consciousness, which hasn't been insured against optical and acoustic illusions and hallucinations, the sense of touch, of course, hasn't been forgotten. A Russian proverb says: even if your eyes are afraid, your hands still do it. It is better to feel, to bite, to try on, to get to know as the palm of one's hand.

But philosophy hasn't acquired it then. Only nowadays is the tactile becoming a real discourse, being in conflict with the discourse of the visual. The conflict of the tactile and the visual is mostly the conflict of the internal and the external, the depth and the surface. In the European culture depth has always been treated well, whereas surface-badly. Superficial has always been the synonym for "silly", "useless", "none too clever" - that was the verdict of the language. The supremacy of depth over surface has even acquired its institutionalized form: we are not allowed to touch exhibits in a museum. You should not be misled by pragmatic explanations, as every institution conceals its true motives : touching canvasses is forbidden because it may ruin the illusion of depth( either direct or reverse perspective). The surface of pictures and sculptures is open only for sight, it counts on sight, not on touch. Touch only has to work secretly, hiding inside sight, having no rights of its own. By the way, it is not by chance that touch is the only human sense that hasn't got an art of its own. Why have surface and touch suddenly become objects of special interest recently? One can find the key in the works of Jack Delez and Podorogi, where the concept of surface has been developed. I think that the reason is as follows: tactile experience contains a possibility of non-classical discourse of knowledge and understanding its interrelation with reality. Classical visual discourse oriented knowledge towards power. To see in one's mind meant to perceive a thing, to go inside a thing, to get to its roots , its origin, it meant a wish to rule. " Let's look for roots!" - that was the motto of the classical discourse. To see through means to own a thing completely. Of course, it is not purely visual. But historically the discourses of knowledge, power and of the visual have merged together to make a Gordian Knot. It takes much effort to single out the visual from it. Looks like someone has put an evil eye on the eye- the instrument of the visual.

At the present moment the only solution to the problem is a competition. Touch is a rejection of knowledge, it is striving for power, discovering the world of pure superficial events. Though rejecting power, touch at the same time practically goes beyond its limits. Sight, hearing and even taste of a human are much more socially and culturally determined. Touch is not completely socialized. It is positioned somewhere on the borderline between the Social and the Natural, the Individual and the Common, one's own and somebody else's. It can still be an event, be live as if for the first time, it can continue in the eternal present, which is not divided into the past and the future.

This is the picture of the world, as portrayed, for example, in Michel Turnye's "Friday, or Pacific limb". This novel models the situation, when a man gradually loses the a priori structure of the other ( to be more precise, of the other's-Dazman- the term used by Heidegger), the structure, which makes any human experience social and impersonal. Desperately trying first to retain the structure, reproducing all the social institutions, trying to be a usual part of the human society, Robinson eventually chooses anthropological principle. It is not just being close to nature, it is nearness or proximity per se( as such). It is in fact a tactile world. All senses turn into the agents of touch: an eye doesn't see, but touches objects, the objects are not reflected in the eye , but touch it, they are evident and visible, they even cause retinal burns and calluses. The distance between an individual and an object doesn't exist any more, as well as the past and the future, the depth and the height and the dilemma of the internal and the external. Everything transforms into surface, having nothing behind it. Everything takes place on the surface, only here and now. That is why there is no a priori structure of the other, no look from the other side or from a different angle, no ancestors, contemporaries and descendants, no social time and space. A man turns into a skin, which directly touches the world, the sky and the earth. The novel contains rather many images, possessing, alongside with other things, tactile meanings. They all symbolize Robinson's progress to the world of surfaces. Robinson, sinking into a wild boar swamp, feels with every bit of his skin, that he is becoming an animal. A kite, made of skin of a wild goat named Andoar, touches the sky. A harp made of the goat's sinews and scull, can perform a symphony after wind touches it. Trees, touching the air with billions of their fingers. Robinson, lying like an embryo in the womb of Mother-cave, who has lost all of his senses except touch. Robinson, who has turned into a hand, touching Friday's body, into a mountain, into a tree. Finally we see Robinson copulating with Mother-cave, the earth and plants.

The world of surfaces is permeated with erotic. Surface becomes one big erogenous zone. The world without a subject or an object makes it possible for libido to realize in its pure form. If a man is an erogenous zone, making a direct contact with the world, his desire doesn't need a separate or limited object. All things, as J. Deleuze put it, experience common erection. Robinson's new sexuality, after having undergone stages of various substitutions, turns eventually to the Sun, to its energy - that is Robinson's absolute gain, the achievement of his tactile experience. Having lost the a priori structure of the other (Dazman) together with the social dimension of experience, Robinson hasn't become just a fragment of nature. He has consciously chosen total proximity, the world of absolute touch "in search of himself", as he wrote in his diary. Modern philosophy is too busy exploring the surface. Physics and metaphysics of superficial events have given birth to new discourse facilities. Classical discourse, according to Bordrillard, has finally been seduced by the sacred horison of exclusively superficial semblance. The discourse of knowledge is not anymore willing to break through semblances to absolute truth.From the start it contained a possibility of its own failure, as Bordrillard wrote in his book "Temptation". "But it's quite possible, that any type of discourse is secretely tempted by this failure and by the dispersion of its own goals, its effects of truth - in effects of surface, playing the part of a mirror, which absorbs and devours a meaning. Such a superficial, not in-depth semblance is namely a tactile semblance. Topologically it is determined as '' space between". Philosophy, after having tried to determine the nature of meaning for thousands of years, searching for a suitable "accommodation" for it, having used up all of its resources, has eventually understood, that meaning is homeless. It doesn't belong either to the material world (as Plato thought), nor to the language (as Witgenstein thought). It is always between the language and the world, between a thing and its name. A meaning is in itself touching, a clash of a thing and its name - purely superficial existence.