PART III: Becoming an Existential Aesthetician: Integrating Imaginative Emotional Expression Into Daily Life
4. The Technical Theory of Politics: David Harvey on the ‘Aestheticization’ of Politics
Time to expound the main claim of this whole series of essays. I intend to argue that we can turn our lives into a work of art. Seeing as how I spent a little more than a hundred pages explicating Collingwood’s definition of art and the pragmatics of art, I now think I’m in a good position to explain how this possible. First, just to fill you in, Collingwood defines art as the conscious and imaginative expression of our emotions. Again, I gave this definition extended treatment, so if you really care, then check out Part I. But now I’m going to explain how it is that we can turn our lives into a work of art. I’m going to do this in three sections. First, I’m going to give a brief analysis of the two key terms that this section will be built around, art on the one hand, and craft on the other. Then I’m going to do what Collingwood did, I’m going to present a negative statement about what an artistic life is not. In The Principles Of Art Collingwood spends a bit of time refuting what he calls ‘the technical theory of art’, by which art is identified with craft. Similarly, I want to explain how I think there might be something like a ‘technical theory of existence’, in which life is identified as a craft of sorts. I’ll be identifying three technical theories of existence: that of life, that of politics, and that of society. In each case I’ll be exploring the question of whether these things should be identified simply as a craft, or if we would benefit more from defining them as an art, as a process of expression. That will be Part III.1, ‘Identifying Technical Theories Of Existence’. After the negative component I’ll begin a positive defense of this idea. I’ll be trying to explain how life can become an art form by talking about my inspirations for this idea, about the role of consciousness, language, minds, and choice. That will be Part III.2, ‘Defining The Aesthetic Theory Of Existence’. Lastly, I’ll be making some tentative statement about how we could potentially implement the aesthetic theory of existence. I’ll be discussing status functions, zen, and other ideas about the transformation of the self. That will be Part III.3, ‘Implementing The Aesthetic Theory Of Existence’. After that I’ll be introducing militaristic metaphors in Parts IV and V. That will be the insurrection component.
I think that the main issue I’m trying to tackle by writing about this is one that Collingwood thought incredibly important: the unification of moral philosophy and moral behavior, the unification of thought and action. He rejected the notion that moral philosophy has nothing to do with moral behavior. This was, evidently, the explicit claim of Collingwood’s contemporaries, and I fear that it is the implicit attitude of twenty-first century philosophy. In short, I hate the idea that moral philosophy would say: “I’ll tell you what moral living is. But don’t expect me to tell you how to do it.” Seems like pretty lame philosophy if you ask me. Adorno was also concerned that philosophy was losing its function as a guide to the good life. I’m trying to use philosophy to find a way to live well, as a way to becoming who I want to be. I think that conceptualizing life as an art is helpful, and that it might actually be a defensible idea. But in either case, that is the goal: to use philosophy to live a better life by explaining its potential affinity with art. But first, I want to explain how in our particular historical moment existence seems to be identified more so with craft.
Before I launch into the three subsections of this section, I would like to make a more general statement about the relationship between art and craft in the social world.
Disclaimer that applies to much of my writing: Please forgive my hyperbole. This is a mental exercise, and I don’t know if I believe what I’m about to write. What I do want is to find out what I’m capable of writing.
2. Art And Craft In The Social World
Now, in The Principles Of Art one of Collingwood’s main goals, perhaps his most important goal, is to clarify the distinction between art proper and craft. Craft is defined as the deliberate process of turning a raw material into a finished product based on a preconceived plan. There should be no real changing of the plan during the process of construction, so the finished product should turn out precisely as planned. Collingwood thought that art had become too heavily identified as a form of craft, so much so that the terms were becoming interchangeable. And just to note quickly, that representation, as in the deliberate creation of mental states in other people, is a form of craft. Art, for Collingwood, however, is not simply a craft or a matter of representation, but rather a process by which we imaginatively express our emotions. Art undoubtedly contains elements of craft, but they are not the same thing. In fact, craft is something that is used in service of art. Craft is only useful so long as it allows us to imaginatively express our emotions. As I said, I gave this definition of art an extended look in Part I.2 and I.3. But to rehash quickly, to imaginatively express our emotions means to use consciousness to extend the life of a particular experience or emotions. By focusing our consciousness on a raw emotional experience we are able to change it into something else, we elevate that experience to the level of imagination or idea. We are converting a raw emotions into something that is expressible through language (using the word language in the broadest sense). This is one way that art differs from craft: the process of expression changes the thing that is expressed, and therefore does not fit the definition of craft as the execution of a definite plan. So that is the distinction to grasp, art and craft. What is art, what is craft, how are they related, and why does it matter. It seems undeniable to me that there is a difference between art and craft, and that art has become largely identified as simply a matter of craft. But that can’t be the case. Again, this was what Part I grappled with.
Now the matter is to apply this distinction between art and craft to the concrete realities of the social world. How much does craft have to play a role in our social lives? How much can we make our social interactions become the imaginative expression of our emotions? What would that look like? What are the necessary forms of social craft that we need to engage with?How could social craft be used to make life an art? These are terms, these are the questions, this is what I want to figure out in Part III.
I will now begin parsing these questions by giving a closer look at the issue of craft in different aspects of existence.
III.1 Identifying Technical Theories Of Existence
Now, as I sad, in this section I’m going to be doing what Collingwood did in The Principles Of Art: I’ll be explaining how life, much like art, is incorrectly identified as a craft. The purpose of this is to provide a negative analysis that will lead into my positive analysis of what it would mean for life to be identified with art proper. So this section will be divided into four subsections. In the first three subsections I’ll be identifying three different ‘technical theories of existence’, i.e. three parts of contemporary American life that are thought of as crafts and should perhaps be thought of as arts. After that I’ll be talking about how these technical theories function below the radar, eluding people’s awareness. I’ll go through a process of comparing them to tacit mental theories, to status functions, and to ideology. So first the three technical theories, and then a closer look at how they might function in both micro and macro ways. As for the technical theories themselves, the first will be the technical theory of life, by which I mean that individual existences are thought of crafts, as the execution of plans. Second, I’ll be exploring the idea of a technical theory of politics, in which political behavior is identified with craft and representation rather than expression. For my writing on the technical theory of politics I’ll be drawing on David Harvey’s book The Condition Of Postmodernity and his discussion of ‘the aestheticization of politics’ in the 1980s. Thirdly, I’ll be looking at the technical theory of society as a whole, in which all of social organization is thought of in terms of craft. For that section I’ll be working with John Gray’s book Straw Dogs: Thoughts On Humans And Other Animals. In short, I’ll be moving from micro to macro, starting with how individuals lives are structured around the notion of craft, moving outward to the political sphere’s relationship with craft, and then even more macro by looking at society as a whole as it relates to craft. Onward
3. The Technical Theory of Life: Modern Times and Overly Crafted Experience
I have been doing all this reading, thinking, and writing on the role of art and craft in life for about three or four months now. In that time it has become much clearer to me how the notion of craft is present in my life and other people’s lives. When I look around me, when I talk to my peers, when I think about life, I see the notion of craft as an intrusive presence, sometimes as a hindrance. When I look at myself I feel myself grappling with the issue of craft and with one of its specific forms: representation. With both craft and representation we are attempting to create turn a raw material into a finished product based on a preconceived plan. But representation differs in that it is meant to create a certain idea or feeling in someone’s mind. So in this section I’m trying to explain how it is that life itself is conceived of as a form of craft. Sure, I can identify all kinds of little instances around me in which craft plays a role in life. But is it possible that much of life itself is identified with craft? There are two ways that I can see this being the case, two ways in which I see craft as a domineering force in my life. First, I see craft as playing a role in the way relationships are played out. Too often I find myself trying to craft my appearance, to represent my personality in certain ways to people. Second, I see craft as an issue in how we conceptualize life as a whole. I worry that life is thought of as something that must proceed by a plan, that life is thought of as a raw material that has to be converted into a certain preconceived end. Let me talk about these things in turn.
I’ve decided that this section is very personal, and so that I’m going to be speaking in very personal ways. This is something I’m doing for myself, something I’m doing to challenge myself to be more expressive, to be less concerned with social craft. So if I say we, I mean I. So I worry that relationships can proceed too rigidly along the lines of craft. I think this is true both in plutonic and romantic relationships.
When I first transfered from UMBC to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2006 I was living at my parents home and was completely horrified by my social prospects. I was living quite far away from College Park and had no sense of how to meet people, and I was insecure and depressed to boot. Things were not looking good for me. I had no idea how to meet people because I was completely fixated on the question of ‘what would I say? what am I supposed to talk about?’ I would plan out conversations in my head and want them to go that way. I would try to stick to these ideas of how a conversation ‘should go’. In retrospect I would say that I was implicitly expecting my social life to proceed along the lines of craft. I was expecting that I had to craft my image, my personality, and my interactions. It caused me enormous amounts of pain.
And perhaps even more importantly I was deadly afraid of expressing myself honestly. There were things that had happened to me, things that had really upset me, that I wasn’t even capable of expressing to myself. It reminds me of what Collingwood calls ‘the corruption of consciousness’: a state in which individuals are incapable of using consciousness to express the emotions, a state in which they simply avoid them through distraction and amusement. I think that my consciousness was corrupted. Furthermore, I think that my inclination towards social planning, my inclination towards craft, made it harder for me to showdown my emotions and exacerbated my inability to express myself, the corruption of my consciousness. So, in short, I was dominated by the idea that conversations were something that needed to be planned and then executed. I was completely incapable of expressing myself without knowing precisely what the outcome would be. Of course craft in the social world never worked out for me. But that didn’t stop me from trying. I can understand my personal experience in light of these ideas. It makes sense to me that art, as in imaginative expression of emotions, is the antidote to the corruption of consciousness. And frankly, I met a professor who was so good at expressing themselves that they allowed me to express myself. I work hard at expressing myself these days, and I think that I want to have a clear consciousness, a consciousness capable of chasing down the secrets I keep from myself.
My fixation with social craft also bled over into my attempts at romantic relationships. I tried to talk to girls that I thought were cute, I tried to think of what I could say, what I could do. But it never worked. I had countless awkward conversations with girls where I was just completely uncomfortable. I was simply incapable of coming up with social plans that would go further than a few words. Social craft really failed me in my romantic attempts because I was lacking any hint of art, any shred of honest expression. I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know how to simply express myself to someone without wondering why, what was the outcome, what was the plan I was trying to enact. ‘Could you be my next girlfriend? How should I present myself?’ These days I just want to express myself. I don’t want to plan out my relationships, I refuse to craft them. I will be aware of them, I will push myself to be expressive, and I will see what happens. Forget those plans for the world of friends and lovers. Just be honest with yourself, Riley.
I think that craft also plays a role in the planning of life as a whole. I experienced this mainly with college and with the idea of a degree. It seems like the expectation is get a degree that can make you money, go make the money. Life should be a plan. ‘I’m going to get an international law degree so I can tackle issues of shipping in China’ (Holla Miriax). And I’m not trying to be pejorative towards people who do that, to people who execute a life plan. Good for them, I bet there are elements of art in it. But the issue is a little more difficult for those of us who don’t have degrees that immediately translate into a career. I have a history degree. ‘What are you going to do with that?’ someone might ask. I’m going to die some day, I might reply. Or I could tell them about my vague ambitions to become a scholar, but that wouldn’t sound very planned. At Christmas I had a conversation with a family member about someone who had really ‘executed the life plan.’ They had goals and they fulfilled them, straight up, did it all. They described this person, however, as rigid in his worldview despite his success. I wonder how good it is to really have a life plan and to try and execute it. I wonder how easy it is. I suspect it is very hard. It seems like so many people end up doing all kinds of things that they never thought they would. It seems like it might be better to let ourselves drift into the world as expressive people, and not as crafted people. I can’t execute a life plan because my ambitions are too grand and too uncertain.
Now one issue is that It isn’t clear to me where this tacit technical theory of life comes from. Why is it that relationships and life are seen as things that ought to be planned. Collingwood, however, drops a few clues as to how craft plays a larger role in our social existence. He says that in the modern age art is overwhelmingly identified with craft, and that this confusion is exacerbated by modern disciplines like psychology and economics: To confuse art with craft, he says, "is actually the way in which most people nowadays think of art; and especially economists and psychologists, the people to whom we look (sometimes in vain) for special guidance in the problems of modern life" (19). I find it interesting how Collingwood references guidance in modern life, and how these disciplines are supposed to help us with our lives. How much do we still look towards these types of figures for guidance? How much do we think of economists and psychologists as wise individuals who would understand how life should be lived in these confusing times? But how dangerous is it that they are operating under an erroneous definition of art that identifies it as mere craft? Collingwood makes the confusion between art and craft in the modern age even more explicit when he says that “It is an error much encouraged by modern tendencies in psychology, and influentially taught at the present day by persons in a position of academic authority; but after all it is only a new version, tricked out in the borrowed plumage of modern science, of the ancient fallacy that the arts are a kind of craft” (34). Collingwood seems to think there are things going on in the modern world that encourage the confusion of art and craft.
As I’ve been saying, the confusion of art and craft concerns me because I fear it encourages to live a life that is weighed by planning, a life that isn’t quite expressive enough, a life that puts pressure on us to ‘execute a life plan’. Furthermore, I fear that it introduces an unhealthy amount of generalization into our experiences. Psychology and economics make a living off of describing things, describing our patterns, our tendencies. And of course this is all very useful, it gives us a much richer knowledge of things. But it also damages our ability to express ourselves, and therefore makes it more difficult for us to live an artistic life: “The reason why description, so far from helping expression, actually damages it, is that description generalizes. To describe a thing is to call it a thing of such and such a kind: to bring it under a conception, to classify it. Expression, on the contrary, individualizes” (112). An artistic life would be one that regarded its own experiences as individual, as novel, as nuanced, and not as simply general. I don’t want to live a general, archetypical life, I refuse. Just like an artist, I want to get “as far away as possible from merely labeling... emotions as instances of this or that general kind,” and rather go to “enormous pains to individualize them by expressing them in terms which reveal their difference from any other emotion of the same sort” (113). That is what I want from my life. I want to express myself by particularizing my emotions and my experiences. I refuse to believe that I am archetypical or general.
So that is basically the explication of the ‘technical theory of life’ that I want to give. I’m pleased that I made this a personal section, because that is what it is. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I felt that craft was sometimes an intrusive presence in my life. So I talked about some of my experiences where I felt overwhelmed by the task of expressing myself, how I felt hindered by my focus on crafting my relationships. Then I talked about how I felt a similar anxiety or frustration with the way life is structured around ‘life plans’ in which we choose a major and it sets our path. Lastly I presented some of Collingwood’s quotations in order to show that he thought that craft was encouraged by the modern world and that it invaded more aspects of life than just art. Now I”ll discuss the technical theory of politics and of society.
4. The Technical Theory Of Politics: David Harvey On The ‘Aestheticization’ Of Politics
I had this idea about a technical theory of politics while I was reading David Harvey’s book The Condition of Postmodernity. A most fascinating book that makes some compelling claims about how postmodernism is a historical condition that was brought about by a switch from a Fordist-Keynesian economic model to a new model of flexible capital accumulation that is characterized by a less stable permanent working force, the growth of fictitious forms of capital, and more corporate power, among other things. Harvey believes that this switch to more flexible modes of capital accumulation brought about a new round of ‘space-time compression’, meaning that the way we experience space and time has been altered. Because of this wave of technological and economic change we think of the world as a much smaller place, we think of it in more abstract ways, and generally our experience of space and time is very different.
One hallmark of these different changes is what Harvey calls ‘the aestheticization of politics’. The phrase is actually Walter Benjamin’s, who I need to read soon. But the idea is generally that politics is no longer about transparency or honest expression, but is rather about representing things in different ways than they actually are. I believe Benjamin was concerned with the way that the Nazis were representing themselves in certain ways and actually doing other things. Harvey uses this idea of the aestheticization of politics to talk about the Reagan administration and the disparity between their rhetoric and the realities of the country during those years. During the Reagan administration record numbers of people became unemployed, became homeless, went below the poverty, lost their health insurance, and so on. There were all kinds of things that went terribly wrong in that period: “Between 1979 and 1986, the number of poor families with children increased by 35 percent, and in some large metropolitan areas, such as New York, Chicago, Baltimore, and New Orleans, more than half the children were living in families with incomes below the poverty line” (Harvey, 331). Harvey says, however, that the Reagan administration did not receive much criticism for these faults. Rather, they are regarded as one of the last great traditional administrations, lauded as the conservative heros of the 1980s. Harvey says that this is so because aesthetics, as opposed to ethics, is the dominant way that the Reagan administration handled itself. They made an effort to make themselves look good, to have a strong and identifiable rhetoric, and not to enforce moral values. “A rhetoric that justifies homelessness, unemployment, increasing impoverishment, disempowerment, and the like by appeal to supposedly traditional values of self-reliance and entrepreneurialism will just as freely laud the shift from ethics to aesthetics as its dominant value system” (Harvey, 336). The aestheticization of politics is therefore the concealment of bad policy with pleasant rhetoric.
I have issue with this phrase, however. Because I think that when they talk about the ‘aestheticization of politics’ they might be identifying aesthetics primarily with craft. Because to me what Harvey seems to be describing is that politics has been infiltrated craft and representation. It is not an expressive that characterizes the politics that Harvey describes, but rather a crafting and representing. Collingwood is adamant that aesthetics must first and foremost deal with the issue of expression, with the creation of aesthetic objects, with the aesthetic experience, and not with the issue of beauty. Aesthetic theory as the theory of beauty is fully rejected by Collingwood as a vestige of the notion that art is a sort of craft. Harvey, however, seems to be implicitly endorsing the identification of art as a sort of craft. What he describes in the Reagan administration is undoubtedly political craft and representation, not aesthetic expression. Furthermore, Harvey speaks of aesthetics and ethics as if though they are antithetical. Which I certainly do not think is the case. I think Collingwood thought that a proper understand of aesthetics could undoubtedly lead to moral behavior. If we are expressing ourselves in genuine ways, if we are engaging in the aesthetic activity, then we are engaging in a pursuit of truth and morality. If we had a true aestheticization of politics we could unify ethics and aesthetics.
If this is correct, if the notion of ‘the aestheticization of politics’ that Harvey and Benjamin speak of, is founded on an improper definition of the aesthetic as a form of craft, then what we might be dealing with is not an aestheticization of politics, but rather a technical theory of politics in which it is thought of as simply a matter of craft and representation. All this smoke in mirrors and politics, all this rhetorical deception, I refuse to call that aesthetic. That idea is so polluted with the technical theory of art that it is insane. If this is true, then what we might really need is a ‘true aestheticization of politics’, in which politics becomes a matter of an individual genuinely expressing their emotions and thoughts. A true aestheticization of politics would be the antidote to this technical theory of politics in which it is just a matter of representative deception. This is a very interesting idea to me. Because the aestheticization of politics is a very key idea for Harvey, and probably for Benjamin. But to me it seems so obvious that it is functioning under the technical theory of art. I wonder what a true aestheticization of politics would look like, what it would look like for aesthetic expression to enter the political world.
But anyways, that is all I’d like to say about the technical theory of politics. It seems to me that defining aesthetics properly might have some political implications, which I’ll be looking at more in Parts IV and V. But for now I want to say that this seems like another way in which craft has infiltrated the social world and has numbed us to any genuine sense of aesthetic value. To talk about the aestheticization of politics is a false definition of aesthetics, and it is another way that the technical theory of art has become a technical theory of existence. Now I’ll talk quickly about the technical theory of society as a whole.
5. The Technical Theory of Society: John Gray and The Enlightenment’s Over-Reliance on Science and Technology
My main inspiration for this idea of a technical theory of society is John Gray’s work in Straw Dogs, and the little bit that I have read of Enlightenment's Wake. John Gray is a political philosopher at London School of Economics who writes on problems of contemporary society and political philosophy. One of his major criticisms of contemporary work is that few philosophers or politicians are willing to question the values of the Enlightenment. In particular, Gray believes that contemporary thinkers clings to the ideal of “subjecting all human institutions to a rational criticism and of convergence on a universal civilization whose foundation is autonomous human reason” (Gray, 1995, 24). Gray believes that the strict adherence to these abstract ideals of reason and justice prevents political philosophers from having any real impact on the present. Because if we are so concerned with ‘justice’ and ‘man’ in the abstract we will have no way of apprehending the realities of our current political and social situation. Similarly, in Straw Dogs, Gray attacks secular liberal humanists for their over-reliance on science and technology as forces of social good. He says that the Enlightenment projects faith in reason, science, and technology has given people the idea that we can solve all of societies problems, that we can cure all the diseases, that salvation for everyone is possible. Gray sounds awfully nihilistic at times. But that doesn’t mean he is pessimistic. It means that he believes we are operating under erroneous assumptions about the social and political world, and that they need to be destroyed so that we can begin to think freshly about these problems. And for Gray, overcoming the legacy of the Enlightenment is one of the most important tasks. We can’t keep thinking that abstract and rational liberal values will be able to apply to every situation in the world, because clearly they won’t.
To me this has a few things in common with the distinction between art and craft. First and foremost, it sounds to me like the Enlightenment was preoccupied with a technical theory of society: that we needed to come up with a plan and rationally enact it through the raw materials of society. For the Enlightenment the creation of the ideal society is merely a matter of craft. John Gray doesn’t seem to think that this is possible, however. He believes that the adherence to these abstract ideals of the Enlightenment has prevented political philosophers from really reckoning with the concrete problems that face politicians nowadays. This brings me to two further connections between Gray’s work and Collingwood’s work on aesthetic theory. First, the issue of generalization and particularization. Second, the relationship between art and the attitude of modernity. Collingwood is clear that art is all about particularizing things; labeling is to be avoided at all costs. Gray, similarly, is chastising political philosophers for relying too heavily on abstract and general terms like ‘man’, ‘reason’, ‘justice’, and so on. Now if we were to embrace a more aesthetic notion of politics and society then perhaps we would be more able to recognize the nuance of political and social issues, thus making better decisions that weren’t confined by the analytical concepts of the Enlightenment. This leads perfectly into the relationship between art and the attitude of modernity. Collingwood claims that aesthetics is about grappling with the particulars of our time and place, about apprehending our own age and working within it. This is one reason that particularization is so important: it allows us to grapple with the nuances of our own age, it allows us to have a modern perspective on ourselves, and our society. I think that John Gray would agree based on his argument that political philosophy is inert because of the hope “that human begins will shed their traditional allegiances and their local identities and unite in a universal civilization grounded in generic humanity and a rational morality.” And that because of this philosophers “cannot even begin to grapple with the political dilemmas of an age in which political life is dominated by renascent particularisms, militant religions and resurgent ethnicities” (Gray, 1995, 2). In short, if political philosophy is to contribute to the ongoing struggle of society it needs to abandon its adherence to the generic principles of the Enlightenment and learn to grapple with the particular realities of the contemporary world. To me it sounds like social and political philosophy needs to embrace aesthetic values of particularization and grappling with the present.
Thus there seems to be something like a technical theory of society that has come out of the Enlightenment. We still believe that society can be transformed from a raw material into a universal and rationally moral society. But clearly society cannot be crafted like a table. I don’t know precisely what an aesthetic theory of society would look like, except for the emphasis on particularization of the contemporary that I described above. But it seems obvious that the technical theory of society is a thing, and that the Enlightenment gave rise to it. I look forward to reading the rest of Enlightenment’s Wake.
Now that I have run through the three technical theories of existence, that of life, that of politics, and that of society, I now want to explore how they would function in individual minds.
6. Technical Theories Of Existence As Tacit Mental Theories/Models As Status Functions As Ideology
Now that I have identified these three technical theories of existence I have to ask myself how they function, how they are disseminated among individual minds, through what mechanisms they work, how they function both on the micro and macro levels. So I’ll be vaguely examining these categories in terms of three different ideas: that of tacit mental theories/models, that of status functions, and that of ideology. Here I go.
So one thing I am fairly concerned with is how these things would function in individual lives, how they would work in individual minds. And I am fairly convinced that individual minds engage with the world in terms of tacit mental theories and mental models of reality. This idea of tacit mental theories is a current vein of analysis in contemporary philosophy of mind. While the notion of mental modeling is an idea from neuropsychology. In both cases the idea is that there is a structure to our thoughts and perceptions, that we have certain unconscious theories that we rely on to understand ourselves and other people, or that our brain models reality in certain ways. So that what we experience in the world is not necessarily the actual world, but our perception of the world as filtered by our tacit theories and mental models. This is why Chris Frith claims that ‘perception is a fiction that coincides with reality’. These technical theories of existence, therefore, would have to exist in some way in our tacit theories and mental models. David Harvey actually hints at this idea. I think he is drawing on Frederick Jameson’s idea of ‘cognitive mapping’, which sounds similar to mental modeling to me: “The transition from Fordism to flexible accumulation, such as it has been, ought to imply a transition in our mental maps, political attitudes, and politics institutions.... There is an omni-present danger that our mental maps will not match current realities” (Harvey, 305). So we have to think about how our individual experiences are structured by these technical theories of existence. I think it would be useful to think in these terms just so that we can analyze our own perceptions and thoughts more carefully. How often does craft inform your model of reality?
So the next question is this: if my mental models are what influence me to perceive the relationship between life and craft in this way then what constitutes my mental models? Where do they come from? One answer I have is that they are constituted by the sea of status functions that regulate our social life. I was at work the other day talking to a friend about this. A box had been moved from a shelf. The box had been on this shelf the entire time i have worked there, so to see this shelf without the box was a startling thing. I was like whoa, I have always expected that box to be there, and now it isn’t. I told my friend that my model of reality had been broken a little, and that I had to reconfigure it. He then pointed out that it had been a status function: all of us at the cafe had implicitly decided that that shelf was designated for that particular box. So I began to perceive the relationship between status functions and mental models. Our models of reality are constituted by the status functions that constitute our social reality. Change the status functions and we change our mental models. So then don’t these technical theories of existence probably have status functions that constitute them? And so therefore they exist in our mental models because they exist as status functions? Probably. Sounds abstract, don’t know how to clarify this right now.
Now what about ideology? What is ideology? How does it work? Well recently I have been keen on Slavoj Zizek’s definition of ideology as a sort of unspoken structure to the world. He says that ideology is politeness, it is habit, it is all of the things that we do without realizing that we do it, or it is all the things that we notice but pretend we don’t notice. Ideology is above all a structure to our experiences. This sounds an awful lot like how status functions, and how mental models work. I think that there is a relationship between all these things, between our mental models, between status functions, and between ideology: they are different manifestations of the same social structure. Mental models are the individual manifestation, status functions are their linguistic constituents, and ideology is the manifold collection of status functions and mental models.
So then, the technical theory of existence must therefore operate on all of these levels, it must in some ways be ideological, it must exist in terms of status functions, and it must exist in our minds as mental models.
7. Concluding Part III.1
So, then this is all I will write for Part III.1. I’ve tried here to clarify the tension between art and craft in the social world. I’m trying to explain how it is that our lives can become an aesthetic project, a project or imaginatively expressing ourselves. But before I explain that positively I had to undertake this negative component of explaining how it is that existence is largely identified with craft. So I explained how there is such a thing as a technical theory of life, of politics, and of society. I tried to argue that our lives and our relationships can sometimes be thought of as crafts, as something that needs to be planned and executed, thus moving it further away from simply emotional expression, removing it from an aesthetic life. I tried to explain how politics, too, had become a matter of craft and representation, and how it too was distanced from aesthetic expression by this emphasis on craft. Finally I tried to explain how society itself had fallen victim to craft, how the Enlightenment project made us believe that society can be transformed from a raw material into a preconceived plan based on generalities. Finally I explained how these technical theories of existence would function in terms of mental models, status functions, and ideology. In all three of these areas I believe that we would benefit from introducing a proper conception of aesthetics into the picture. Perhaps then we could regard our lives as a process of expression, and not a process of enacting a plan. We could regard politics as something that would be about expressing beliefs, about expressing ethic, rather than simply representing things. And we could perhaps think of society as something to be founded on expression and not on crafting. Let me now undertake a positive defense of this idea that our life can become a process of expression, a work of art. I want to explain how life itself can become an art form.