Walk the Walk

Match the speed of ‘solution thinking’

8/22/20233 min read

Walk the Walk

This blog is not merely an entertaining exercise; its ethico-political aspirations are far greater. It is the questioning of human exceptionalism itself that is provoked by continually repeating this same question. This is not an attempt to change what we think, but how we think. Philosopher Gianni Vattimo’s concept of pensiero debole (weak thought) necessitates that the primary certainties of modernity be renounced for a more varied conception, closer to that of the arts.[i] Weak thought lays emphasis on the notion that truth is founded in a rational unitary subject, while the primary aim of ‘weak thought’ is to constitute an ethic of ‘weakness’. It is in the ‘weak thought’ that we find perhaps a kindred ethical appeal against the evidently unsustainable effects of anthropocentric modes of thought. Vattimo notes that increased global mobility and the ubiquity of media exposure is accompanied by the global rise of a plurality of interpretations, which means that it is not possible to maintain a single, dominant view about the world. In order to match the speed of ‘solution thinking’ with the urgency of the problems that burden our planet, it is not enough to engage in detached discourses. As both a philosopher and politician, Vattimo would appear to ‘walk the walk’ of his own discourse. Thought and action need to be combined and effectuated with urgency, and this is where the arts can play an important part.

Arts and design operate on the level of problematising: in the interplay between the artist and the medium, both work to render visible what is otherwise not manifestly there. There are no preconceived objective criteria; all perception needs to be produced. Perception is not dependent on representation; rather, perception is something in its own right. Therefore reality as we perceive it should not be limited to what is actualised: the potential of a situation always exceeds its actuality.[ii] This requires the acceptance of a non-hierarchical, flat ontology, based on the equality of all parties (human and nonhuman, actualised and incorporeal).

Rendering visible rather than rendering the visible, is the prerogative of the artist, yet this is also a burden. Who can render the different modes of perception that provoke different ways of thinking if not the artist? ‘Better’ works of art create ‘better’ problems, which in turn lead to better solutions. Art is not instrumental in domains other than its own; it is not the task of art to make a translation. The separation makes both ‘partners’ stronger: the problem should not try to solve itself and the solution should not create its own problems.

Under the lead banner of posthuman practice, hylomorphic dominance by the artist over the created work can be overcome. This requires artists to be prepared to place themselves on the same ontological plane as the matter and medium they are dealing with (a flat ontology). The mind is a thought of the body, and the mind has the body as its object, therefore the mind cannot produce anything that is not part of this relation, it cannot ‘make’ something outside its assemblage. Relationality is lost in any representation of a body, since no ‘body’ can substitute another. A ‘body’ has no meaning or authenticity prior to its actualisation in external networks, contacts and affects. For this reason Deleuze claimed that the true minimum real unit is the assemblage and not any concept that depends on representation, such as the word and the signifier.[i] In contrast to hylomorphic and representational thinking, working with assemblages demands an acceptance of the actively varying relations of the multiplicities that constitute the assemblage as the only starting point for assemblage thinking. The mind is not separable from matter; it has no dominance over matter.

[i] See Deleuze, ‘On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature’, p. 51.

[i] Gianteresio Vattimo, Weak Thought, trans. Peter Carravetta (New York: State University of New York Press, 2012). Original title, Il pensiero debole (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1983).

[ii] Massumi, ‘Sensing the Virtual, Building the Insensible’, in Hypersurface Architecture, pp. 16-24.

Photo-credit: Carol M. Highsmith, photographer, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. No known restrictions on publication.

Title: Train platform, 30th Street station, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. USA. Approximately 1994