From "The Epistemoogy of cutting and the metaphysics of continuities, Meredith Root-Bernstein"


Forecasting the Future and Perceiving the Present

When we base our knowledge of the world on models, and not on our experience of the materiality of a current situation or environment—its tendencies and desires—we think that we can predict the future (Petryna 2018). Our cultural obsession with the now and the future can be seen as an effort to radically disturb our ideas of the present sufficiently to provoke a new trajectory, and to expand our ideas of these futures to render them possible (Coccia 2020). Thus, all of our forecasts of the future are statements about the present. Consequently, such forecasts are forecasts of non-events. As Zizek puts it, “In an Event, things not only change, what changes is the very parameter by which we measure the facts of change, i.e., a turning point changes the entire field within which facts appear” (2014: 159). Where do these new parameters emerge from? New agential cuts, by dividing the world differently into facts and fields, objects and environments, imply and create new parameters by which to measure and observe. A collapse is always an event, since the system ceases to function, and cannot reform itself, and thus afterwards everything must be made new and will probably be cut along new lines. A catastrophe is different because it occurs in a system that maintains its continuity. A catastrophe that is not accompanied by a new set of agential cuts is not an event.

Confined to our houses, we are all forced to experience a gap between the immediacy of daily life and the inexorable life outside in hospitals and logistics centers. We are forced into the position of the contemporary, that discontinuity that allows us to examine the present (Agamben 2008). Agamben writes that the present is a kind of large mass of unexperienced things, inaccessible because it is what we are not living—although we usually fail to notice all of these non-experiences and naively believe ourselves to be in the present. Our physical cutting-off, in confinement, gives us the discontinuity necessary to observe the present, and arrive at the critical position that Agamben calls the contemporary. We are better able to perceive the world as different from our model of it, to attend to other possible configurations suggested by the world itself.


With this example I hope to show that trapped as we are in the attitude of the contemporary, we can see more clearly how we cut before we sort, and what difference it makes to our understanding of the world. Decontextualization, reframing and resorting are all common artistic and critical moves today. Anna Ridler also cut out the photographs from their encyclopedic legends and texts when she scanned them. Her point was to cut and sort in the same manner as an AI model—a logic of cutting that we might want to reject. Today, we need especially to ask whether we are cutting according to what a model wants, or cutting according to what the world wants, or indeed what we want.

We might start by noting that among all the things currently cut along the outlines of apartment walls and houses, many things have also been cut along lines of sympathy and according to the leaps of desire. Inside my apartment is not just me, a socio-economic unit in charge of not spreading coronavirus—there are also three plants, approximately 600 books, a mouse (sometimes), a rising pizza dough, podcasts from far away, films from other times, the text messages and voices and tiny screen images of the people I care about—and 39 small photographic cut-out beings. Our houses are rich mini-cosmos of influence and animacy, references and prostheses. We should certainly not restrict ourselves to tidying and rearranging our households. Neither the responsible housekeepers, nor the decluttering experts of the world, the colonial bureaucrats or the AI algorithms should be our models for how to re-imagine the future. We can begin to cut and fold our homes along that lines that suit us, the lines with which we live intimately, or wish to: we can equip ourselves with a new set of facts and fields and parameters. What we newly see and understand when we emerge, but also what we newly refuse to see and refuse to understand, will form the new conditions of life.

From "Line and Surface, Vilém Flusser"


To begin, we might put the following question: What is the difference between reading written lines and reading a picture? The answer is apparently quite simple: we follow the text of a line from left to right; we jump from line to line from above to below; we turn the pages from left to right. We look at a picture, instead, by passing our eyes over its surface in pathways vaguely suggested by the structure of the picture. The difference seems to be that in reading lines we follow a structure imposed upon us, whereas in reading pictures we move rather freely within a structure that has been proposed to us.


How does fiction relate to fact in our present situation?

One thing is obvious: fiction pretends, very often, to represent facts by substituting for them or pointing at them. (This is the case of the stone, its photograph and its explanation.) How can fiction do this? Through symbols. Symbols are things that have by convention been appointed as representatives of other things (be that convention implicit and unconscious, or explicit and conscious). The things which symbols represent are their meaning. We must therefore ask how the various symbols of the world of fiction relate to their meanings. This shifts our problem to the structure of the media. If we take advantage of what was said in the first paragraph, we may answer the question as follows: Written lines relate their symbols to their meanings point by point (they “conceive” the facts they mean), while surfaces relate their symbols to their meanings by two-dimensional contexts (they “imagine” the facts they mean — if they truly mean facts and are not empty symbols). Thus our situation provides us with two sorts of fiction: the conceptual and the imaginal; their relation to fact depends on the structure of the medium.


Fundamentally, this means that imaginal thought is becoming capable of thinking about concepts. It can transform a concept into its “object” and can therefore become a meta-thought of conceptual thinking. So far, concepts have been thinkable only in terms of other concepts, by reflection. Reflective thought was the meta-thought of conceptual thinking, and was itself conceptual. Now, imaginal thought can begin thinking about concepts in the form of surface models.


Let us, then, recapitulate our argument, in order to try to suggest what form the new civilization might take. We have two alternatives before us. First, there is the possibility that imaginal thinking will not succeed in incorporating conceptual thinking. This could lead to a generalized de-politization, de-activation, and alienation of mankind, to the victory of the consumer society, and to the totalitarianism of the mass media. Such a development would look very much like the present mass culture, but in more exaggerated or gross form. The culture of the élite would disappear for good, thus bringing history to an end in any meaningful sense of that term. The second possibility is that imaginal thinking will succeed in incorporating conceptual thinking. This would lead to new types of communication in which man consciously assumes the structural position. Science would then be no longer merely discursive and conceptual, but would have recourse to imaginal models. Art would no longer work at things (“oeuvres”’), but would propose models. Politics would no longer fight for the realizations of values, but would elaborate manipulable hierarchies of models of behavior. All this would mean, in short, that a new sense of reality would articulate itself, within the existential climate of a new religiosity.

All this is utopic. But it is not fantastic. He who looks at the scene can find everything already there, in the form of lines and surfaces already working. It depends very much on each one of us which sort of post-historical future there will be.

The textility of making, Tim Ingold


My aim is to restore things to life and, in so doing, to celebrate the creativity of what Klee (1973, p. 269) called ‘form-giving’. This means putting the hylomorphic model into reverse. More specifically, it means reversing a tendency, evident in much of the literature on art and material culture, to read creativity ‘backwards’, starting from an outcome in the form of a novel object and tracing it, through a sequence of antecedent conditions, to an unprecedented idea in the mind of an agent. This backwards reading is equivalent to what anthropologist Alfred Gell has called the abduction of agency. Every work of art, for Gell, is an ‘object’ that can be ‘related to a social agent in a distinctive, ‘‘art-like’’ way’ (Gell, 1998, p. 13). By ‘art-like’, Gell means a situation in which it is possible to trace a chain of causal connections running from the object to the agent, whereby the former may be said to index the latter. To trace these connections—to look through the work to the agency behind it (see Knappett, 2005, p. 128)—is to perform the cognitive operation of abduction. From the argument set out in the previous paragraphs it should be clear why I believe this view to be fundamentally mistaken. A work of art, I insist, is not an object but a thing and, as Klee argued, the role of the artist—as that of any skilled practitioner—is not to give effect to a preconceived idea, novel or not, but to join with and follow the forces and flows of material that bring the form of the work into being. The work invites the viewer to join the artist as a fellow traveller, to look with it as it unfolds in the world, rather than behind it to an originating intention of which it is the final product.
Following, Deleuze and Guattari observe, is a matter not of iteration but of itineration (Deleuze and Guattari, 2004, p. 410). Artists — as also artisans — are itinerant wayfarers. They make their way through the taskscape (Ingold, 2000B, pp. 194–200) as do walkers through the landscape, bringing forth their work as they press on with their own lives. [1] It is in this very forward movement that the creativity of the work is to be found. To read creativity ‘forwards’ entails a focus not on abduction but on improvisation (Ingold and Hallam, 2007, p. 3). To improvise is to follow the ways of the world, as they open up, rather than to recover a chain of connections, from an end-point to a starting-point, on a route already travelled.


[1] I emphasise that this is so even if they are following directions laid down in a plan, score or recipe. In practice, planned action and itineration are not alternative procedures. The practitioner does not have to choose between one and the other, or to find some way to combine them. This is because directions do not, in themselves, tell practitioners what to do. A signpost means nothing until it is placed somewhere in the terrain. Likewise, every direction draws its meaning from its placement in a taskscape that is already familiar thanks to previous experience. Only when so placed does it indicate a trail that can practicably be followed. And to proceed from one direction marker to the next, practitioners have to find their way, attentively and responsively, but without further recourse to explicit instruction (Ingold, 2001, pp. 137–8).