The (Philoaesthetic) Practice of Concept Synthesis, I

Not fitting into any currently existing institutional or symbolic structure, I need/ed to develop somewhere to hang my proverbial hat, and, perhaps more importantly, design and make my own hat. The phrase “putting on different hats” refers to various roles we take on — mother, teacher, scientist, artist, programmer, activist, etc. — yet there is no current role formation that describes what I actuate, namely the eclectic yet (almost unconsciously) semi-structured looping, weaving, of varied disciplines via expatiation, analysis, and the deriving of personal narratives for philoaesthetic investigations, namely the combination of traditional philosophical methods with aesthetics in a broad, Kantian, sense. Senses themselves alongside the representations created by sense interactions with immanent planes of presentation refers to the process and receptivity via mediation of the body, the logical locus of all aesthetics. I examine, yes, but I do more; I synthesize, or dynamically allow citations, references, memories, interviews, exhibitions, radio, film, television, architecture, the streets, all that arises out of the quotidian mess and order of living to come to a kind of semi-cohesion under a signifier: concept. I then analyze these processes and their effects, in whatever realms. This is the practice of philoaesthetic concept synthesis.

Moving towards the practice of concept synthesis requires a psychosocial rupture within, based on a trauma, which roots the synthesizer into a practice of becoming-through-somatic cognition. Mentally found objects are the (represented) raw materials of this practice, yet the practice of concept synthesis moves beyond sense-data loosely formed into thought, or representation, and upwards towards a zone of collage, bricolage and fleshcognition brio. This next step cannot be reached without a sufficient definition of concept. A concept is a third-order mental function; i) initially all sense-data comes via sound, sight, taste, and touch, etc it is then organized into ii) what I term, following Kant, the field of representations. Nothing is ever given purely over to subjective un/consciousness (although this sentence produces ever more problems when nothing is taken as more than a mere negation, a topic for another time and place); everything is mediated by the senses; therefore all presentations of objects that are in the world, all manner of being-of-objects, encountered by our senses are reproduced out of the immanent plane of presentation, neurologically, as re-presentations. When these presentations are correlated via mental functions, often happening within less than a second, representations are formed. These representations synthesized through concept maxims — door, chair, neighbor, husband, friend, etc — are always already being organized after and in space and time. The organization of these representations, and the process that develop concept maxims, is manifold synthesis, and the organizing, distribution and configuration of these representations is concept synthesis.

Stepping back, let’s take Kant seriously as a grounding point for further investigation, as he enumerated — whether they be ahistorical properties or historical-contingent modulations — a direct interpenetration of subjectivity and objectivity. The subject / object is central to the practice of concept synthesis, and founds the very ground of the figure-that-synthesizes as such. For clarity, the practice of concept synthesis, bridging the subject / object, belongs to the realms of iii) how one orients oneself to the world-of-objects, ii) how oneself arises (transcends) out of the immanent plethora being-of-objects, and finally i) how one is always, at base, a barest living immanence of body-object. Concept synthesis involves analyzing with the way representations organize concepts in the third-order above, based on a rule or set of rules (concept maxims), be they aleatory, systematic or some mixture of the two; concept synthesis must also account for organizations / formations of the transcendent-in-immanent (ii) and bare living (i). For the purposes of my practice of concept synthesis, I center around what I call philoaesthetics, drawing up schemata and connective-lines from bare living to the most abstracted (transcendental) formations in arts, sciences and social criticism.

Returning to Kant, in his General Remarks on The Transcendental Aesthetic, (Critique of Pure Reason, 1781, J.M.D. Meiklejohn’s translation, pp. 35-36), he summarizes, quite dramatically, the inhering, aesthetic (sensuous) relation between subject and object,

“[A]ll our intuition is nothing but the representation of phenomena; that the things which we intuit, are not in themselves the same as our representations of them in intuition, nor are their relations in themselves so constituted as they appear to us; and that if we take away the subject, or even only the subjective constitution of our senses in general, then not only the nature and relations of objects in space and time, but even space and time themselves disappear; and that these, as phenomena, cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the nature of things in themselves and without reference to the receptivity of our sensibility is quite unknown to us. We know nothing more than our own mode of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us, and which, though not of necessity pertaining to every animated being, is so the whole human race. With this alone we have to do. Space and time are pure forms thereof; sensation the matter. The former alone can we recognize as a priori, that is, antecedent to all actual perception; and for this reason such cognition is called pure intuition. The latter [content in space and time] is that in our cognition which is called cognition a posteriori, that is, empirical intuition. The former appertain absolutely and necessarily to our sensibility, of whatsoever kind our sensations may be; the latter may be of a very diversified character. Supposing that we should carry our empirical intuition even to the very highest degree of clearness [as with advancements in technology, Hubble Space Telescope, LIGO, etc.] we should not thereby advance one step nearer to a knowledge of the constitution of objects as things in themselves. For we could only, at best, arrive at a complete cognition of our own mode of intuition, that is, of our sensibility, and this always under conditions originally attaching to the subject, namely, the conditions of space and time;–while the question–“What are objects considered as things in themselves?” remains unanswerable even after the most thorough examination of the phenomenal world.”

Things in themselves, objects, are given to us via our senses, with the precondition of space and time, Kant is here nearly intuiting Einstein’s space-time theorems, whereby each one, space and time, inheres in the other. Phenomena are, for my purposes of philoaesthetics, both immanent and transcendent within the subject who retains itself as an object-among-objects. More than Descartes’ ‘thinking thing,’ this subject’s body-senses are the logical locus of all immanent presentation into the zone of sensation, representation, cogitation, mental / affective mediation, expatiation and eventually creation. It is the body’s fleshcognition that directly facilitates the transcendental ability for the aforementioned capacities, from the most quotidian mediation of living to radical inventions, revelations, etc.

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Barnett Newman, Canto II from 18 Cantos, MoMa

My philoaesthetics is centered on fleshcognition engaging directly and firstly with mediation, sense-data, and its formation into representations, and only later deals with concepts. For the zone of bare living is the senses, and even as these senses have been expanded exponentially because of synthesized concepts, a process whereby the concept works through- and out of- the body empirically, through microscopes, telescopes, satellites, or gravitational wave detectors, etc, all our senses still remain at the level of phenomena. There is nothing, even when the senses are greatly expanded, that gives one access to things in themselves, ergo, the idea of concepts merging with objects, as though bodily mediation could vanish, is as flawed today as it was when Kant refuted it. The concepts must always be mediated and derived from the senses.

Concepts relate to a “conception of,” yes, based on the senses, yet both abstracting / formulating and metabolizing the re-presentations given over to the schemata of our neuro-architecture, or somatic cognition, simply the brain. Concepts are an emergent property arising from the neurochemical / architectural makeup of the brain itself, a sort of fleshcognition in short. The excogitation of concept synthesis, the derivative process of concept maxim creation, bringing something beyond representations into conception, comes out of an almost immediate necessity to predict and generalize. The baby-being and toddler-being must be able begin to perceive, conceive, and predict causal / temporal events, based on representations, which are mental images corresponding to some distinct entity or class of entities. Concepts allow the baby-being and toddler-being to organize not just in time, but in abstracted zones or spaces whereby distinct entities (“kitty”) are grouped into a class of entities (“kitties, cats”). Even at the highest levels of abstraction, as with mathematics or language, concept modification is about testing, which makes it inhere within the empirical imperative, a perpetual return to the senses, for the purposes of again formulating an organization of causality (concept maxim of temporality) and classes of entities (concept maxim of abstracted spaces).

Applying the aforementioned framework towards an analysis of “artistic practices” requires a playful dalliance with neuroscience, the most contemporary investigation of the Kantian aesthetic (sense-perception), alongside a new critique of “pure” concepts. Concepts without content are empty, contents without concepts are blind, to paraphrase Kant. In the digital era “content” seems to be ubiquitous, information floating freely from Nepal to Nebraska, images, feeds, text, etc all dominate the senses, flattened to the screen, out of all proportion to most of homo sapien biological history; the body hardware is 100,000+ years old, yet the social software is constantly upgrading contemporaneously with all the new, varied sense-perceptions. This digital turn has dramatically affected both the way causality is understood, for instance, attention deficit disorder being difficulty with concept synthesis seriatum creating a type of temporal dysphasia, and the way classes of entities (abstracted space) are created. Art must grapple with this by returning to an empirical-in-conceptual model, a sort of empirico-conceptualism, wherein there is a non-nostalgic synthesizing of sensuous with abstraction.

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