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Mark Waugh

A Slight Return

Part 1

What returns can be expected on speculations in Philosophy?

This is a question phrased rhetorically. Rhetoric being at least one of the returns philosophers might cultivate. The performative type of speaking, a style even, which can be without substance or rooted in post dialectical embrace of disruption and untimely feedback loops - noises that can occur when the amplified source is too close to the waves of its dissemination. Not entirely sincere and paced so as to deploy ruses and gestures which accumulate as the speaking continues. The truth and her feelings are not to be mixed with illusions and artistry. The circle of philosophy and her suiters if she were gendered and adored not to be mistaken merely for a ‘me and others’ who find slogans more legible, immediate or urgent.  She could speak publicly on concepts or ideas which may be of interest and correspond to the exceptions of  philosophy- an untimely mood or sulky disposition - in which sleight of hand is deployed as a sign language, signifying what may not have been spoken aloud or heard on various occasions when the subject of philosophy was raised as they say of stakes, or bids at card tables, auctions or other degraded markets. In the aftermath of revolutions and wars for example when nobody wants to know which side is good and which is evil - such binary logic being the role of historians not philosophers who claim to operate more like legal council and move the  discourse in scored lexicons, playing with other cards such as  aesthetics, in serious games;  truth or dare…what can be said to the dead without mediums?

Between bushes and brushes; so much could be swept away in the determination of a question and its returns. Quickly then to strike a pose in a philosophical and performative manner - in front or before  mirrors, paintings and audiences, whilst simultaneously ignoring what is there- in the work of art.

What is the accumulated stake in philosophy - who would choose to invest in the unlikely dividend of an education in Philosophy? Indeed “What is that— Philosophy?” written either by Martin Heidegger for a lecture in 1955, or with ’that’ extracted and published as “What is Philosophy?” by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in 1991?

How I got hooked on Philosophy in the first place? That is a question and  conceptual mode of confession. Needless to say or to address this head on - I chose to study philosophy over history but I did not know what to expect - so it was reckless like jumping on stage with the Neo Naturists, becoming nude amongst other nudes whose painted bodies where used to the gaze and knew that Ives Klein had already dragged the female body, bush and brush, across canvas to make a performative painting.

And that is how these addictions begin. These wilful dictations of tone and shade. It was by chance before I removed my clothes in a seaside club that I found Immanuel Kant. An encounter in a library on the first floor of a Victorian school for boys built of Cornish granite. I was not dancing at the time nor quoting Andre Gide; “It is with beautiful feelings that bad literature is made.”  But I could have been a bit stoned. There were no soft drugs like Plato or Aristotle…speaking in Greek of its origins. I found the Second Critique or The Critique of Pure Reason. As Philosophy was not taught there, It was not a public school (although I did ‘study’ Latin), it is a mystery why ‘that’ was there?  I borrowed it and lost myself in its Rococo forms of language.

At University my curriculum was centred on Aesthetics and naturally alongside other readings arrived at the pages of  Kant’s The Critique of Judgement or The Critique of the Power of Judgment as it is also known.

This is the history of a philosophy, a refrain in that moody spirit of the enlightenment to improvise on notes which to their author are barely intelligible; such is the situated sense of  touching words inscribed in ink and barely landing on the plain of the paper. In this slight return I found numerous thoughts suspended like chords. In the transposition of that text into a contemporary time signature I uncovered readings which attend to the world view of Kant; for example his theory of volcanic eruptions, the composition of the Milky Way; alongside views on race and slavery. That Kant, the Philosopher of ‘Freedom' could not displace racist tropes is no surprise. They were the predominant view of Europeans and secreted throughout literatures on which he based numerous assumptions. Kant was - we should not forget a person who lived through literature and philosophy.

It is easy to describe philosophy as dead or in a coma but surprisingly it remains alluring, as corpses or zombies can be when taken as entities with special powers of seduction and resurrection. This text is another type of reading and writing, replaying sounds which speak of ecstasies that obliterate all thought - a little delirious and possibly suffused with voices heard through the medium of Datura or other sorbefacient fruits. Such flowers as exist in the world are rare but can be cultivated like a taste for art, theatre, dance or music, the objects of most aesthetic contemplation. Such flowers invert majority logics and the feelings of the beautiful as they transform differently as perfumes and drugs. The perfume is a sweet and intoxicating olfactory delight  but the leaves are bitter and must be chewed and spat out. The origin of that absorbing adjective is Latin ‘sorbēre’ to suck up or swallow as they say also of cocaine, cocks or cunts which can be slipped into like a ‘pantoufle de vair’or its texts to remind ourselves that out of sight are other philosophers raging in the margins: such as George Bataille who sits at the centre of a luxurious magazine called Minotaure. There would presumably be a difference between being absorbed in sex and philosophy, being with a thing such as another person and a thing which is a text, each discourse a ‘Lovers Discourse’ but not to be confused, especially in public. Although we should agree that what is private about sex or text is equivocal —-this labyrinth might get you back to a more Heideggerian path before you lose interest or let your mind wander or buy some Labia Labyrinth wallpaper from Filthy Home.

You are coming with me not in search of the Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music but instead an earlier German philosopher whose writings were analysed or interpreted by the French Philosopher Gilles Deleuze whilst he was teaching Philosophy but is quoted by innumerable others.

Deleuze like Theodore Adorno before him was hopeless on the dance floor. but came to understand with the help of his friend Felix Guattari that as an aesthetic experience "Music seems to have a much stronger deterritorialising force, at once more intense and much more collective.” Adorno refused to locate himself in a beat or the noise of pop - he theorised in favour of a fragile trend in modernist composition which prioritised abstraction and formal rules; in particular the serialism of Arnold Schoenberg which operated against the performative autonomy of virtuoso individuals in favour of the rationalised  conceptual composition.  Adorno lost it when it came to Jazz and had nothing to say about radical black classical composers like, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Nina Simone or Sun Ra and was dead by the time Julius Eastman embodied furious negation and melancholic rage in post minimalist works such as  Gay Guerrillaor  Evil N//gger. In short Adorno maintained a certain position which was a racial and sedentary reception of sound imagined as a radical anti capitalist head-game, alas Deleuze in his opposition to pop was trapped in that double negation and repetition of its faded refrain.

We arrive here after the writings of Jacques Attali who better understood the radical rupture between noise and composition. Composition in music like philosophy itself was systemised through technologies of recording. Ancient ledgers of cuneiform inscriptions instructed players, whom we must assume were typical humans and did not lack memory but valued techniques of translation that turned musical concepts into recorded culture. Ancient recorded cultures are more diverse and distributed than was imagined at the time of the Enlightenment.

Philosophy which Heidegger encouraged us to imagine had a Mistress in ‘ratio’ might also have had a chorus in stereo? Let us not forget that the technology of music does not stand still - nothing does. So perhaps we might ask when is a singer not a Philosopher or ‘What is that —Music?”

Unlike Plato or Aristotle some aesthetics are audible pleasures and Greek philosophies we can even hear; Séikilos is remembered in song:

”While you live, shine

have no grief at all

life exists only for a short while

and Time demands his due ’

The tomb on which that song is etched also includes another inscription in ancient Greek: it roughly translates to ‘I am a tombstone, an image. Séikilos placed me here as a long-lasting sign of deathless remembrance.’

There are older fragments too at Delphi which would have been hymns performed by the guild of Dionysus. Their rites following ways not routed solely in Greece but coming from cultures in geographies that flow into the mediterranean.

The ways or procession towards places of study and rituals, tombs for example which demand an oral and even secret wisdom. The dead accumulate speculative ideas mapped outside of philosophy- they arrive without permission on its periphery and on that edge to disturb its borders and languages. The dead, their prayers, their stars, their gods, their sublime tombs and technologies of recording time. The time of procession and the sunrise and sunset. Kant in his early studies followed Issac Newton and a fascination with lunar orbits and their gravitational impacts. What did they know of Thoth?

At ancient sites often hidden beneath earth and sand beyond European borders; pre historic peoples made objects of aesthetic quality; things with utility beyond practical need but also simultaneously scientific tools. Nietzsche understood Greek tragedy was profound as a site of etymological archeology, its unconscious roots, a genealogy specific to Greece but extending beyond the limits of its language into Egyptian and Persian mythology.

Our Classical roots are deeper than philosophy imagined.  Philosophy in the mouth of Heidegger dances with a shadow it forgets. It should not be allowed to forget that in the ruins of Alexandria Greeks like Aristotle came to plunder and copy.

The eighteenth century is an epoch of late modernity and evolved colonialism. Although reading was accessible on the streets, this did not immediately create a spontaneous desire for liberty across the globe. In cities like Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam and London, knowledge was hierarchically distributed and great debates on God, reason, anthropology and race conducted slowly through public correspondences. Servants and slaves; differently entitled to reading and writing.

European sovereigns sought to maintain their crowns through leading and contesting the control of international investments in systems of distribution, economies of circulation including slavery. This prejudiced the social and ethical speculations of that era. In Kant’s philosophy when he mentions slavery it is mostly with reference to ancient history and Roman and Greek society. He is known to have read about the colonial abuses of slavery on the Sugar Islands but is unconcerned for their freedom of imagination, his concern is that all humans are humans and there is only one species. Others like David Hume had argued there were multiple species rather than differences of culture and geography. Kant appears to  assume his readers are not slaves and therefore shall not judge his theories or racism from that perspective but indeed perhaps consider that he showed, ‘good taste’ through omission. The problem with good taste like ethics, it can lead to a sour impression of prejudice.

This ‘sensibility’ is not unique and indeed artists and musicians of the period in England are known to have invested in the slave trade. 1n 1720 whilst living in London, George Frideric Handel for example had various bank accounts whose records survive. One with the Bank of England and another for his wages from the Crown which were investments into the Royal African Company whose business was in the transatlantic slave trade. The Royal connection reminds us Zadock the Priest, composed for the coronation of George II in 1727, continues to be played  at every coronation in Britain. The logo of that company was the Elephant and Castle and was indeed stamped on the sovereign, the preeminent coin of that period.  At Handel’s House which is now a museum he shares with Hendrix staff were candid about the forensic accountancy which has been undertaken more recently. They noted that not only had he sold out of the South Sea Bubble in 1719 but had also almost gone bankrupt before The Messiah turned his fortune around with the Bank of England keeping a special window open for the deposits  from his new English Operas. Handel is not remembered  for his bonds but he is well known for his bequests to his servants and the Foundling Hospital.

There has been a general propensity to ignore slavery as industrial genocide. In part this is because it was marginalised in philosophical and economic theory not least those of Karl Marx who like Kant circumnavigated the slave trade throughout his writings.  ’Black aesthetics’ as explored at the International Curators Forum symposium at the Venice Biennial in 2007, remains a question not of apartheid but is instead one of political liberation. In asking;‘Is there a Black Aesthetic?’ the symposium acknowledged the Pavilions of the Giardini in Venice are haunted by colonial histories and aesthetics; but Black Aesthetics pre date this merely European mirage. However even esteemed philosophers such as our guest, Jacques Rancieire who understands how racism is propagated by leftist horticulturalists enjoyed the champagne and canapés which fooled everyone into thinking they were in the right place to see the end of Apartheid.  In 2024 the curator Adriano Pedrosa announced; “I am honoured and humbled by this prestigious appointment, especially as the first Latin American to curate the International Art Exhibition, and in fact the first one based in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Art exhibitions have become points of convergence for discourses of political protest. The art world being characterised by an excess of assets and a deficit of ethics —- artists and curators move in its economy carefully -  the Pavilions of Russian and Israel will reflect the current conferences of aesthetic warfare; where artists cannot be trusted to escape the violence of their states.

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