PG to KS, 30 October 2005
What might under some circumstances be "impasse" is, in this case, as intriguing and promising a challenge as I could ask for. From this end too, "your response is terrific and just what I needed ... Far too few scholars share ... as generously as you have and I am very grateful." Too. And so I too "keenly look forward to continuing this dialogue" and to the various things we might make of it. Hence, without further ado ....
I really was/am/continue to be very gratified that the "I-function" concept resonates with/seems useful to you. And I think I now have a still better understanding of why. Moreover, you have taught me something useful about my own neologism. I won't give up what is, for my purposes, a needed adjustment/extension of the original idea signalled by my tendency to shift to "story teller", but have already found myself sensitized to the point where I think twice before using "story teller" (and often end up, not particularly elegantly, using "I-function"/"story teller", cf. http://serendipstudio.org/forum/viewforum.php?forum_id=358#16680). Let me try and walk through why this is so, certainly for my benefit and perhaps (hopefully) for yours as well.
If I'm reading your latest correctly, there are three features of proprioception and the "I-function" that are very compelling to you and that link them importantly. One is that "it belongs properly to the body/person", a second is that it "has something to do with survival", and the third is that it is "primitive". The upshot, if I'm understanding, is an argument that Burden's performance and the audience reactions to it constitute a form of art in which the exchange between artist and audience is at least quantitatively and perhaps qualitatively different from the much more mediated/interpretation-dependent exchange characteristic of many other forms of more "traditional" art. Assuming I've got this right, I agree with your conclusion, and am quite happy to have my neologism contribute to your argument.
More than that, I am pleased and grateful to have you point out aspects of the neologism that were implicit in it but are very much worth making more explicit. That the "I-function" has "something to do with survival" is a characteristic that is so assumed by me as a biologist that it would never have occurred to me to flag it as distinctive, but I now recognize the desirability of doing so in contexts where one is talking about things for which that presumption may not be automatic. In such contexts, I can readily see a usefulness in drawing attention to a distinction between things that may have more "to do with survival" and things that have more to do with .... something else (cultural norms? personal display? "aesthetics"? commercial return?).
"belongs properly to the body/person" is even more certainly an intended feature of the "I-function" neologism. In this case, though, I suspect my failure to adequately emphasize this particular feature has the opposite relation to context. Until quite recently, the notion of a meaningful "self" (something to which one might reasonably and productively attribute ownership) was not something within the professional vocabulary of very many neurobiologists/biologists/scientists (and its still probably not for very many). So I was looking for a term that finessed this particular issue. As it happens, one of the things that I have found most useful about the term is that it has given me a new (for me at least) way to think about the meaning of "self" (and ownership). For this reason, I am more than content at this point to have it made clearer that the neologism helps to make distinctions between things that more have the characteristic "belongs properly to the body/person" and things that less have that characteristic.
You may have detected a certain carefulness in the wording of that last sentence. Yes, I'm being deliberate/cautious here, for reasons I'll discuss more fully below. And I want to be even more so with regard to "primitive". The issue is not the question of possible value judgements associated with that word. I assume that you, like I, use "primitive" not as a pejorative term but rather as a neutral (or perhaps even positive) one (cf "'Primitivism' in 20th Century Art") to distinguish things that are in some sense more "basic" or "fundamental" from things that are less so.
Its here where the differences in the contexts within which you and I are working may be most obvious and relevant. In the context in which you are working, I'm more than happy, even pleased, to have attention drawn to the "primitiveness" of the "I-function". It is indeed something on top of which other things that are of interest in the context of art history (as well as many other contexts) are built and so is, in this sense, more "basic" or "foundational". The problem in my context is that the I-function is in turn built of still more "basic" or "foundational" things at a series of successively smaller scales (functionally distinct brain regions, circuits of neurons, neurons themselves), that things at these levels have in general been much better studied and so are better understood, and hence that the "I-function" is, from this perspective, not at all "primitive" but instead a highly organized arrangement of still more primitive elements.
In short, there is a matter of reference perspective here, what is more "primitive" from one location is less so from another. And part of the reason for creating the "I-function" neologism was to assert for people more familiar with more "primitive" things, the existence/significance of a less "primitive" one. That having been said, it has been, and will continue to be useful, even in my context, to emphasize more than I did originally, the "primitiveness" of the "I-function" relative to some other things. Among these, as I'll come to below, is "self".
The upshot, at this point, is that I accept and acknowledge with appreciation your highlighting three features of the "I-function" that I placed less stress on than I perhaps should have: it is more "primitive" than some other things, has more to do "with survival" than some other things, and is more something that "belongs properly to the body/person" than some other things. And I share your sense that we are both "seeking to describe aspects of behavior and cognition that have been far too long unexplained, or left at the edge of explanation". And I like a lot your notion that "what may be happening in the body of viewers, in Burden's body, in the blindsighted people, in proprioceptive aspects of kinesthesia is unknown but related". So where do we see things differently? There is clearly a difference of audience and reference perspective but is there something more? Anything else that we (and our respective audiences) might both learn from? Anything that might account for my inclination to continue transforming "I-function" into "story teller" despite all of the above?
I think there actually is, and that it doesn't actually involve any difference of opinion about whether science is "value free" nor any problem "of the worn out scientific method, which cannot answer anomalies or the unexplained". (I don't believe science is, could be, or should be "value free", and think "anomalies or the unexplained" are in fact the grist without which science wouldn't live; see http://serendipstudio.org/sci_cult/scienceis/ and link from there to http://jrp.icaap.org/content/v1.1/grobstein.html). On the other hand, I do think we are in fact to some extent wrestling with a typical science/humanities difference but, interestingly, with each of us adopting the posture more stereotypically associated with the other's community. "too soft to support the rigorous import", "vulnerable to colonization by the occult or merely considered as extreme anomalies", "I'd rather stay in a more confined (controlled) frame of reference" are the sorts of things one might expect a scientist to say to a humanist (or a more cautious/less expansive scientist to a more less cautious/more expansive one; perhaps the same interaction occurs within the humanities and art history communities? see http://serendipstudio.org/sci_cult/TwoCultures.html). It would be interesting if there was some relation between that and our more specific differences about story telling and how to characterize "what may be happening in the body of viewers, in Burden's body, in the blindsighted people, in proprioceptive aspects of kinesthesia". Let's look more closely at those differences and then see if ...
Yes, it is indeed odd (and another part of our inverted postures) to have you (as a humanist) be resistant to talking about what the "I-function" does as "interpretation". I do though very clearly understand your concern that in doing so, one risks being heard as "dismissive" of the thing being talked about, as in "oh, that's only an interpretation; so I can ignore it in favor of something else". I assure you I don't at all intend to convey with "story teller" a justification for being dismissive in this way (or any other). The point here is not only that what the "I-function" does in this case is "literally" interpretation but, more generally, that EVERYTHING the "I-function" does is interpretation, so saying that a particular thing is interpretation CANNOT be dismissive. There simply isn't anything else to ignore it in favor of. All "experience", things in awareness/consciousness, are indeed "interpretations" in a very important sense: they reflect interactions of neurons/synapses/etc occurring in a way that is "itself invisible" and that could occur in other ways that would yield alternate interpretations/experiences.
I share your notion that it is important to avoid "diminishing the authority one has over describing one's experiences" but think one gets into several kinds of avoidable troubles if one tries to do it by denying that the thing one is interested in shares with other things an important common property of resulting from interpretation. And yes, one would like to avoid the mishmash of "infused with all kinds of extraneous" things but here too I think there are better ways. What one wants, from my perspective (and perhaps yours as well) is not to make a distinction between not interpreted and interpreted but rather to recognize a distinction between self and other that acknowledges some degree of interpretation as an element of both but yields more "authoritativeness" in the case of self .... without getting into a mishmash.
On the route to that (perhaps), let me raise an issue about "what may be happening in the body of viewers, in Burden's body, in the blindsighted people, in proprioceptive aspects of kinesthesia, is unknown but related, which is very different from suggesting that it is unconscious". If you heard/read me as suggesting that the similarity among these things was that they are all unconscious, then, given how well you've made sense of other things,I was not communicating well on that particular point. In fact, the similarity that I was trying to draw attention to (and that I think is quite close to what you are interested in) to is a similarity in consciousness, in experience.
What is common in all these cases is not at all that they are all unconscious. If fact, they all must have aspects of consciousness.. If they didn't, they wouldn't be reportable as experiences and we wouldn't be talking about them, much less intrigued by possible similarities among them. Nor is there any reason to think the similarities relate primarily to what is going on in the unconscious (the neurobiology implies they involve quite different neuronal systems doing quite different things). Hence the similarities among these things must have to do with similarities in the conscious realm. The similarities are not actually similarities "in the body of viewers" and in "Burden's body" nor in the unconscious of viewers and in Burdens' unconscious but rather in the experiences viewers have of (perhaps) their bodies, in the experiences Burden has of his body, the experiences those with phantom limbs have of their bodies, the experiences you have of your body when riding a horse (or having your jaw reset), and the experiences blindsighted people have of the world. To put it differently, the similarities are similarities at the level of the more interpreted thing (conscious experience) that are not present at the less interpreted one (things happening in the unconscious; this is one reason I want to emphasize the interpreted character of the I-function). They are similarities in the "story telling" elements rather than in the materials from which the stories are constructed.
In most of these situations, the story telling element which is relevant is the "body", and in this sense your use of "proprioceptive" to name the common thing is appropriate. Note though that it is not Berthoz "invisible" but rather the sense made of the invisible made by the "I-function"/"story teller" that is similar. The similarity is in what is EXPERIENCED in relation to the "body", and hence in the more interpreted realm (consciousness) rather than in the less interpreted one (the unconscious, with which Berthoz, following common usage, links proprioception). Another way to say the same thing is there is actually no "body" unless/until some significant interpretation has occurred. I think its also relevant that while many of the things on our list clearly involve experiences referred to one's own "body", some are less so and at least one (blindsighted people) may not be at all. What IS common to all of them is some referring of experiences to "self", a slightly broader story telling element that includes but is not entirely restricted to "body". In this case too its important to recognize the interpretive step: "self" doesn't exist either unless/until significant interpretation (of what is in the invisible unconscious) has occurred.
The issue here is not solely technical or "semantic". What I'd like to persuade you of (or have you dissuade me of) is not only that one can accept this particular interpretive step without cost (either to a sense of "authority" or by getting lost in the "mishmash") but that it opens things up a bit in some positive ways. One is NECESSARILY the "authority" with regard to one's sense of one's body or one's sense of one's self precisely BECAUSE it is an interpretation. It derives from things no one else can see and from an act of interpretation that no one else can duplicate. Hence one is the only authentic reporter of what one experiences with regard to body/self.
One is, of course, the only "authentic" reporter of what one experiences oneself with regard to "other", the large additional class of story telling elements that includes things like chairs, tables, paintings, body art, Chris Burden, art historian, neurobiologist, and so forth). These though are consensual story telling elements, aspects of the interpretive activity in going form the unconscious to consciousness that we (most of us, to varying degrees) have collectively agreed relate not to "us" but to commonly observable "others" and so are subject to continual negotiation and renegotiation by interpersonal story comparison. Hence the "mishmash", which actually results not from the interpretive character of story telling elements in general but rather from an additional ingredient of some of them: the potential usefulness of trying to achieve consensus among a group of story tellers. In talking about one's own body/self, the mishmash is (doctors and parents notwithstanding) irrelevant; one is, for these particular story telling elements, the authority. They may also be more primitive or foundational in an additional sense. Antonio Damasio (a neurobiologist who you might be interested in reading if you haven't) has written extensively about the origins of a sense of body/self and makes a strong case that these story telling elements reflect a distinction between a "proto-self" and other that originates in the unconscious.
At the same time, since body/self ARE story telling elements and hence interpretations, they are not fixed and unchallengeable. One's sense of body/self can and does change (with input from other people not being completely irrelevant), and one can conceive of bodies/selves other than the one one has and use one's alternate conceptions to change one's own sense of one's body/self (trans-sexuality is a particularly dramatic case in point; see http://serendipstudio.org/sci_cult/sexgender05/). This might seem to undercut the argument made above for the absence of mishmash and resulting "authority" in the case of body/self as story telling elements. In fact, I don't think it does. These elements are MORE "foundational" and "primitive" than others but not entirely fixed, and it is because of their lability that we have some control over ourselves (which I take as, at least potentially, a good thing). One can have MORE primitive, MORE "belongs properly", MORE "has to do with survival" without having to give up the potential for self-directed change that comes from being an interpretive outcome, a story telling element.
Does this work better? What I'm offering you as a way out of the "impasse" isn't exactly your "broader territory of proprioception" but instead a more nuanced account of "story telling" (and consciousness), one in which it would be possible (indeed necessary) to distinguish multiple levels of "interpretation". A sense of body/self, though an interpretation, has more of those things you want to emphasize (and I am happy to do so as well) than other levels of interpretation/story telling while retaining some desirable (to me at least, maybe to you too?) fluidity. For my part, I've been vaguely aware for some time that the "story telling" neologism was going to need to be elaborated along these lines, and your challenge has clarified this need and begun to move me along a needed path. In these terms, I'm delighted to keep "I-function" in play, with its meaning elaborated by your thoughts/concerns about body/self/proprioception as a "primitive" in a story that is necessarily continuing to develop/evolve.
Whether it works for you is of course your story rather than mine (and I'm very much looking forward to finding out). Let me though return briefly to Burden and "mild psychological disturbances", and my own understanding of them (informed by your article). I fully agree with you that those the to Burden's work are MORE "related to survival mechanisms" than are many of the more traditional responses to many more traditional kinds of art. And that they "ARE the story .... rather demanding, threatening, and necessary". My point is not only that they are indeed "story" (ie experiences of which viewers are aware, and hence interpreted) but fundamentally dependent on story in an interesting way. Viewers would not, I'm suggesting, have had "mild psychological disturbances" UNLESS there was a story that could not be quite squared with the signals coming from the unconscious ("He IS there, but ... Isn't he?). That's what I meant "an instability in the overall story". Not that the story wasn't "demanding/threatening/necessary" but rather that that those characteristics of the experience derived from a difficulty in the viewer's ability to settle on a single coherent
story about the situation. That, in turn, is VERY "demanding, threatening", in much the same way that motion sickness is. Indeed, for humans an inability to be certain of a story may be the most threatening thing there is (even if it isn't actually a threat to "survival" in many cases). And can/does itself trigger new signals from the unconscious that may get added to the story as signals referred to the body (nausea in the case of motion sickness, "tension" and "edginess" in other cases). Did something "take place between Burden's body and the bodies of his blindsighted viewers"? Not directly, so far as I know (as a neurobiologist), but it certainly did via the mediating influence of at least one set of story tellers (those of engaged audience participants) and probably two (Burden himself).
Enough for now? Almost certainly more than. But I can't resist looping self-reflectively back to our differing contexts, to our oddly inverted postures, to "too soft to support ... vulnerable to colonization", and to "rather stay in a more confined (controlled) frame of reference". With perhaps a dose of Pollock as well. Perhaps this might be relevant to something you might do for the Society for Literature, Science, and Art? In any case, I'm intrigued by "reinterpretation of Pollock's painting as body-centered and therefore an action that rendered painting unnecessary altogether". Pollock (and the surrealists before him) were indeed interested in what could be produced by action alone as opposed to deliberation/thought directed action. And I can understand that as "body-centered" though I'd be inclined to emphasize in this case not so much the body as the unconscious. All action is necessarily through the body and both from and via the unconscious; the issue is the extent to which it is or isn't informed as well by passage through the story teller on the way to outward expression. Western culture, and academic culture in particular, tends to put great pressure on people to constrain outward expression to that which has been passed through and edited by the story teller and often through multiple story tellers (reviewers, editors, and the like).
There are, of course, benefits to running things through story tellers so I'm not inclined to feel that action "has rendered painting unnecessary altogether" (a concern of my daughter's, a senior with a combined major in art and philosophy who is herself a painter). Pollack, at least to me, got boring after a while. And its nice to have some winnowing of what would otherwise be an overwhelming amount of acting out. And thought/reflection/story telling/craft skill helps to avoid some of the hazards of being colonized by weird people or even being classified as weird oneself.
On the other hand, there are also downsides to thought/reflection/story telling/craft skill. As Pollock and the surrealists (among others) realized, there is lots of interesting and potentially productive stuff that might not make the various cuts represented by various testing and validating mechanisms and so would never see the light of day. One's own story teller makes some of these cuts; the academic world encourages that kind of cutting and of course does more of it itself. In addition, the academic world tends to restrict the flow of stories, largely channeling them within particular disciplinary communities. Maybe, as per our own exchange, there is something to be said for reducing the domination of the story telling process? Or at least creating avenues for less mediated/interpreted exchange? Yes, it puts one at risk of having to wade through more stuff, discriminating among things oneself rather than having it down for one. And yes, the lessened rigor might make one more challengeable, and perhaps even open the conversation to .... kooks. On the other hand, maybe even kooks have useful stories and perhaps the price overall isn't too high given the potential benefits? We don't seem to me to be doing too badly.