Notes on Philosophy of Praxis

The Western philosophical tradition after Descartes firmly separates object and subject and in so doing ties these to the antinomy of necessity and freedom. Objects have nothing to do with subjectivity and are indifferent to its gaze, indeed impose necessary limits upon it; subjects meanwhile are not completely determined by limiting objective factors and therefore enjoy a degree of freedom / indeterminacy. However, these paradigms are far from aligning. There can be, and are, circumstances and phenomena better described by a subjective necessity or by an objective freedom. An example of the former would be the psychic limitations posed by primary repression or the Lacanian sujet barré, while examples of the latter are found in all those phenomena in which incompleteness, indeterminacy and ambiguity of form are ontological and irreducible to epistemological limitations (spin ice, quantum tunnelling, and so on). As such the sundering of subject and object, insofar as these represent the loci of freedom and necessity, is far from absolute.

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Tabloid Newsstands, or the futur antérieur Museum of Racism

One of the critical skills a historian of art, or indeed historian of anything, acquires is the ability to think cumulatively. This means assessing media and sources for their quotidian ongoing drip-feed effect, which, from the amnesiac day-to-day perspective of a precariously-employed member of the public pre-occupied with performance and meeting targets, comes to appear furniture-like, ‘given’ and unremarkable. Only when viewed from a considerable historical or critical distance is it possible to see that what has been normalised, regularised, and routinised within a given period in the name of ‘representation’ is very far from being a true presentation of its social content.

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What is called ‘joking’?

The_Court_Jester

Rowan Atkinson, whose portrayal of Blackadder in my youth gave me a lot of simple pleasure, is dead wrong to support Boris Johnson. The distinction between a joke and a non-joke is an important one and can only be defined from the standpoint of reception.

A joke is something said by a comedian, or one assuming the role of comedian, to an audience, who, anticipating an ironic register, will find humour and wit in the imagery of the said and then laugh it away.

A joke is not a statement confected by a politician in front of a media poised for political statements, and then widely reproduced as a newsworthy and actionable incitement for constituents to base their political behaviour upon, or to reproduce as if it were an attitudinal model intended for adoption. The word for that is propaganda.

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The bridge broken, the city faint from fear

It is well-known that minister for propaganda Josef Goebbels used lines from the sixteenth century Propheties of Michel de Notre Dame (Nostradamus) to bolster Nazi belief in a coming victory; also that the British reciprocated by plucking their own prophetic writings out of the air. The game of using any suitably elastic corpus of words, phrases or images in order to organize a field of emotional investments is as old as time.

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