Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Finding the "Aesthetic Line"

The dynamics of human experience are such that there is continual blurring and shifting of focus. There are rare moments when focus brings revelation, insight and emancipation. At such moments, the contrapuntal lines of experience map each human being on each other. These are moments of solidarity. The opposite of this experience is where everyone is in the fog: every individual cannot see their own steps, let alone the steps of others. The feeling is of isolation, loss: anxiety pervades everything. At such times, it is not surprising that people clutch at straws: it's in these moments that the strong man appears, whipping up a collective fervour with tales about how things are, spewing falsehoods and directing hatred in perverse directions.

What it is that comes into focus at moments of revelation is a line: a set of connections between different levels of experience. It connects basic and immediate drives, with deep spiritual needs, the need to be loved, the need to belong. But I think lines may be drawn in two ways: either by excluding things, or by including things. The latter is much more difficult than the former. The former is the beloved technique of dictators.

We can consider two lines: the "Trump" line and the "Aesthetic" line. The Trump line is straight and unvarying. It 'straightens' all that it encounters (or perhaps, flattens it). It asserts the positive identity of itself and it threatens the existence of all which isn’t like it. By contrast, the "Aesthetic line" is sinuous, it bends and curls, whilst always maintaining its direction and purpose. The aesthetic line is like a tree branch or a river. It divides into other branches, or tributaries, always embracing the difference of its tributaries, but always aware of its one-ness. Each bend and curve in the aesthetic line is an inflection: a moment of additional description, which complements the descriptions of the line so far. The aesthetic line is formed of multiple descriptions (the L-System, which produced the picture below, is a set of string 'descriptions'); the "Trump" line is a single description.

In the fog of experience, lines are presented to us in a haze. We can only work out what they are by examining multiple hazy descriptions. The addition of hazy descriptions can gradually bring different levels of the line into focus. It is by accumulating descriptions that we work out what is what. It's a bit like the addition of waveforms which make up a complex wave in Fourier analysis. Each contributing waveform is a kind of "redundant description". But together they bring the concrete reality of a rich sound into focus.

Music and the arts reveal this kind of process. Any piece of music immediately presents multiple descriptions: a rhythm, melody, pitches, timbres, and so on. Each is an inflection on everything else; each inflection depends on everything else. On first presentation of multiple descriptions, we are in the fog. We cannot connect where things are going, where the lines are. Multiple descriptions at the same level clarify the situation. They negatively specify the pulse, direction, trajectory of where things are going. As the trajectory becomes clearer, new layers of description – descriptions about description, description about the ways in which descriptions are revealed, are all added. The deeper inflections become part of the whole. At some point, the "root" description – the description which generates all others - comes into view. There is a moment when the presentation of the root description – usually a harmony – brings a piece of music to a close.

The production of multiple descriptions and the emergence of lines does more to us that affect our own experience. They give us an insight into the experience of others. Finding the line is to find the connections between one another – to see the inner world of others is to discover new ways of organising ourselves and transcending adversity.

I think of the aesthetic line in the context of Nigel Howard's meta-game trees. Howard makes the point that the ascent to a meta-level is the reaction to a process of confusion at the existing level. Howard provides another way of thinking about transcending double-binds: we change the game. So when descriptions are presented they are joined up in ways which might at first appear that they contradict one another: this is the fog. The metagame tree needs to be reorganised in some way. New descriptions bring deeper reflection and articulation of more complete aesthetic lines. In this way, decisions are felt emotionally. 

At an analytical level, what concerns us is the redundancy of description on the one hand, and the inflections between different descriptions on the other. This is easy to see in music: various elements, like rhythm, tonality, harmony, pitch can display redundancy. Each represents a different inflection of the line. The need for novelty is inherent in the production of redundancy, and the need to generate new inflections at a deeper level - particularly when redundancy in a number of areas (like a continually repeated melody) is very high (as when things are repeated too much). 

The use of technology also brings very high degrees of redundancy, creating the need for novelty and new forms of inflection. In technocratic environments, new forms of inflection can be prohibited quite easily. This produces a general frustration and depression, with the end result that a more radical "change of the game" is generated. Trump is the result of an inability to vary the inflections of experience which has been produced by a toxic mixture of neoliberalism and technology. Unfortunately, his success means that there is a positive-feedback mechanism which will make the finding of the aesthetic line even harder.

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