December 2008
Volume 3, Number 2





114: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 4.5: "The general form of a proposition is: This is how things are."----That is the kind of proposition that one repeats to oneself countless times.  One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the things nature over and over, and one is merely tracing round the frame through which we look at it.





Dorothea' hesitates.  One game is oriented before her: another cuts across.  Perhaps she is unable to determine the implications of a move in one might have in the other.  Perhaps movement in one game is not a move in the other: perhaps movement in one precludes the other altogether.   


Wittgenstein explains language games to develop a previous distinction between meaning and usage.  Meanings, he argues, are metaphysical constructs.  A meaning is a manifold which encompasses all possible instances of a given category: images of all possible hammers, all possible games of chess;  a dictionary, an encyclopedia, lists of lists referring to other lists.  He argues that if communicative interactions unfolded with reference to meanings, they would be mediated by an image of the manifold.  Communication would consist in the delimitation of relevant zones, a reconciliation of the maximum and the minimum.  Situationally, one does not take meanings into account.  Rather usage is central: what is required is read off the actions of an interlocutor. Communication is performative, it's situations are like games.  One must know the rules, but the rules themselves are like meanings.  Situationally, one dilates.


At a remove from the game, it is obvious that chess is shaped by rules which distinguish pieces one from another and which determine permissible moves.  It is also obvious that when you are playing the game and no longer thinking about the game, the rules as such disappear, are transposed as constraints which shape the basic parameters of play.  If all you know are the rules, every state of affairs is like every other: each piece remains discrete, locked into it's particular patterns of movement.  If all you know are the rules, there are no situations. 



The reader stands next to Wittgenstein.  Both of you watch others playing chess.  As they play, Wittgenstein tells you stories about language. 




Dorothea hesitates, her arm hovering, held in place by the surface tension created by the arrangement of arms into a zero horizontally oriented with reference to the dark frame. A photograph of a game collapses acts onto objects. Every object is a collapsed act.[1]




Once again at the beginning.  The central argument in part I of Corenlius Castoriadis's "Marxism and Revolutionary Theory" concerns the status of theory.  In retrospect, this is the pivot text.  It's appearance in Socialisme ou Barbarie coincides with the group's dissolution.  Republished as the first half of The Imaginary Institution of Society, it is positioned as the trajectory out of the Marxist Imaginary and into a different type of politico-philosophical project, in the context of which the theory of praxis is radicalized and made general as an ontology of the social-historical and the revolutionary project gives way to the project of autonomy.  The critique of theory is straightforward: there is no pensée du survol, no position from which the Gaze of Theory can establish itself as separated from the world, on the basis of which it can survey the world as from a remove.  The world is not spectacle.  Theory is itself a practice, not a space of observation from which one watches praxis unfolding amongst others.  Theoretical or critical writing itself unfolds time.  It does not describe the unfolding of temporalities elsewhere.  Each sentence which constitutes a theoretical object is a collapsed act.


In the second part of "Marxism and Revolutionary Theory," Castoriadis pursues the implications of this critique of theory through a recursive movement which unpacks something of the position of the narrator in his texts.  In a remarkable section, he outlines his commitments to and desires for an alternate political arrangement.  Through this movement, Castoriadis dismantles aspects of the social-imaginary signification(s) that shape theoretical work, that constrain or condition the relations to phenomena which is performed as relations between them are generated or created. This dimension of  figuring/patterning is and is not condensed onto the surface of the text.


The critique of the theoretical viewpoint is a critique of form and voice: of a form of writing that integrates everything into the smooth unfolding of an analytic machinery and which, in the process, establishes narrator and reader as spectators.  The critique of theory is that of the written voice of anonymous authority.  The critique of theory undercuts the temporal relation which is built into theoretical texts: time is what one watches unfold.


The critique of theory is a critique of the illusion of transparency of textual surface.  Analytic texts superimpose the time-scale of demonstration over the time-scale of what is demonstrated: if a conceptual machinery is being analyzed, it unfolds within a space that is staged and explained to you, the reader.  There it is.  See?  You are less in a labyrinth than looking at a map of one.


The critique of structuralist and functionalist anthropologies in the third part of “Marxism and Revolutionary Theory” is elaborated from a version of theoretical time-scale. It is as if the critique of theory required a single elaboration and attention could now turn to refiguring the social-historical by beginning the search for an adequate framing device to place over it.


Theory superimposes protocols of description and exegesis on what it analyses.  Any taxonomy and system of procedures is an ontology: regional ontologies lean on those of a more general character.  Determinist ontology is linked to the structure of sentences: allowed to unfold their implications across the production and reproduction of pseudo-transparent textual surfaces, analytic form imposes that ontology. Partial-determinist arguments processed through conventional analytic and/or exegetical procedures are assimilated back into determinism at the level of meta-frame


The production of exegetical texts is a dimension of phronesis, the capacity for training and retraining how one sees (hears), a recursive mode that enables a dismantling of illusory modes of givenness, the isolation of constraints and/or norms, the exploration of possibilities and the ability to proceed.  Theoretical work allows one to take a distance from what is. 


La phronésis ni ne "fonde" l'autonomie, ni ne se laisse "déduire."  Mais sans phronésis, il n'y a pas d'autonomie effective, et pas the praxis au sense que je donne au terme.  Il n'y a du reste meme pas de pensée théorique qui tienne vraiment.  Sans phronésis théorique, le délire est proche (voir Hegel).


L'autonomie n'est pas désinsertion à l'égard de l'effectivité (comme l'autonomie kantienne), mais transformation lucide de l'effectivité (de soi-même et les autres) à partir  de cette meme effectivité.  A partir ne signife pas que l'effectivité fournit des causes ou des norms.  Ici encore, nous avons une relation originale, modèle d'elle-même, impensable dans les categories héritées.  L'autonomie est autoposition d'une norm, à partir d'une contenu de vie effectif, et en relation avec ce contenu.[2]


Not distances are equivalent. Castoriadis' writing typically works through an aggressive form of exegesis, its positive reverse in philosophy which is directed toward breaking up what is analyzed rather than toward repeating it's movement.  At the register of voice, however, what is elucidated appears as simultaneously integrated into existing modes of thinking and visualizing the world as it traces their outer limits.   But when one moves from rehearsal of the descriptions (in the sense of trajectories, of movements-through) in Castoriadis' texts to an operational level, real problems emerge.  For example, if you read enough Castoriadis, you develop a sense of what a social-imaginary signification is, but when you move from that frame to using the device, you encounter a requirement of a frame-shift, which is also a temporal shift, from the space of the instituted to that of the dynamic which links the instituted and instituting.  This entails problems of method and voice, particularly for those shaped by academic protocols which valorize repetition at the level of style.  Castoriadis' work forces one out of these modes if one moves beyond his writing and the secondary circuits which constitute their repetition at the level of commentary.  But he did not himself move in the direction of exploding existing forms and exploring alternatives.  To do that, you are on your own.  


Dorothea hesistates.  Perhaps she is thinking of Jules Renard:

The true artist will write in, as it were, small leaps, on a hundred subjects that surge unawares into his mind. In this way, nothing is forced. Everything has an unwilled, natural charm. One does not provoke: one waits.

A scrupulous inexactness.[3]



The critique of theory requires that one complicate the textual surface: make it immersive by exploring alternate forms of writing.  If we analyze a partial-determinist ontology analysis should be symmetrical with it.  If partial-determinacy entails incompleteness, texts should have gaps or holes, like a Klein bottle.[4]  To the greatest extent possible, sentences should be performative. Interpretation remains fundamental: only its conventions are problematic. 


The delimitation of the ensidique within the more capacious, open-ended frame of partial determinacy does not eliminate the ensidque, nor does situating of the dimension of linguistic code within a broader poeitic frame destroy the code.  What changes are relations to them.


Hybrid texts which integrate or juxtapose interpretive and performance aspects open space for the self-conscious play of the instituted and the instituting.


Partial determinacy enables radical documentary.  It enables reconsideration of information organization, the definition of variables and procedures for inference.  It enables one to recognize the underlying arbitrariness of dominant modes of information organization and plunder their advantages.  It does not require the invention of problems.  It simply allows one to address them differently.  Take for example this basic relationship, which cuts to the question of what is a representation of the world:


Even though we daily navigate through a perceptual world of three dimensions and reason occasionally about higher dimensions with mathematical ease, the world portrayed in our information displays is caught up in the two-dimensionality of the endless flatlands of paper and video screens.  All communication between the reader and image and the maker of an image must now take place on a two-dimensional surface.  Escaping that flatland is the essential task of envisioning information—for all the interesting worlds (physical, biological, imaginary, human) that we seek to understand are inevitably and happily multivariate in nature.  Not flatlands.[5]


If writing and visual representations of information involves translation from a multi-dimensional social-historical world into the 2-dimensional space of paper or a screen, it follows that there is little need to adhere to scale relations that obtain in the social-historical when staging information about it in 2-space.   Relations to the world which document, which generate representations, tend to naturalize the effects of scale and the social-imaginary significations which constrain relations to the world within that scale.  The conceptual staging of zones of social being as comprised of objects repeats the properties of naming.   It effaces the instituting behind the instituted. 


Edward Tufte deals with this by insisting on the separateness of representation and what is represented (the map is not the territory) as a way to force a break with the sense that it is desirable or coherent to replicate in 2-space the way the perceptual world appears.  One can nonetheless produce information that is about the world.  Tufte's is an intermedia project which integrates a vast and lovely array of visual and textual materials.  The project is guided by the aesthetic and ethical imperatives of clarity and precision of design.[6]   Information design does not document the world so much fashion effective maps of information which are constructed with reference to relations within and with respect to fields of data.  This blurs the relation between information design and art.  This blur is echoed within Tufte's writings through the dialogue with Paul Klee that runs through them.  The quotation above is a commentary on this passage from Klee:


It is not easy to arrive at a conception of a whole which is constructed from parts belonging to different dimensions.  And not only in nature, but also art, her transformed image, is such a whole.


It is difficult enough, oneself, to survey this whole, whether nature or art, but still more difficult to help another to such a comprehensive view.


This is due to the consecutive nature of the only methods available to us for conveying a clear three-dimensional concept of an image in space, and results from deficiencies of a temporal nature in the spoken word.


For, with such a medium of expression, we lack the means of discussing in its constituent parts, an image which posses simultaneously a number of dimensions.[7]


What distinguishes the work of someone like Klee from that of Tufte is the operative tense of what is produced.  Tufte organizes information with respect to the world, a procedure which deals with questions of complexity and ordering: the mechanisms which perform that ordering and their relation to what is ordered through them; the desirable balance between them which enables the greatest degree of logical precision, utility and complexity.   Information design applies aesthetic and logical procedures to representations which address phenomena at a remove, but acknowledges that remove as axiomatic.  The map is not the territory.  


Klee's work is in a sense about capturing movement or emergence, so departs from similar assumptions (the need to circumscribe the utility of recapitulating the effects of grammatical mediation of the world as experienced in the interest of capturing something about that world; the hard distinction between the results of capture and representation or repetition).   If one takes Klee's writings as programmatic, his painting is documentary, concerned with a relation to seeing as autofiguration within an environment parallel to that which Merleau-Ponty claims for Cézanne.  Klee's work moves in a more radical direction because of the directions adopted in his formal interrogation of painting, his medium for making maps.  It is documentary in the sense that it is generated through an engagement with and interrogation of the world processed through a strict separation between the "multidimensionality" of that world and the capabilities of 2-dimensional representation.   So the divergences between Tufte and Klee have to do with the orientation of their respective projects: what unites them (beyond the dialogue Tufte initiates) is that for both the space of staging, of re-presentation, is a present itself.  Within this, Tufte argues for a self-effacement at the level of design through a way of the precise use of the tools of organization (grids, lines) such that they function without drawing attention to themselves.  Klee's work can be seen as operating from an improvisational space, which entails a different mode of self-effacement.






Castoriadis' notion of the social-imaginary significations is situated within the dynamic of the instituted and instituting and is a device for formalizing something of the ways in which constraints are performed, how the performance of constraints are situated socially, how performance is situating. 



We therefore have to think of a mode of being belonging to this world—to these worlds—of signification in its specificity and its originality, without 'substantializing' them, even metaphorically, or transforming them into 'subjects' of another order (…).  Likewise, when we speak of the social-historical and of the social imaginary, the difficulty is not to invent new words for what is at issue here, but instead to understand that what these words are aiming at is not categorizable by means of grammatical categories (and behind these logical and ontological categories) in accordance with which we are in the habit of thinking.  The difficulty lies in understanding that when we speak of the social-historical, for instance, we are not intending a substantive, and adjective or even a substantified adjective; in understanding that the social imaginary is not a substance, not a quality, not an action or a passion; that social-imaginary significations are not representations or forms, not concepts.[8]



If social-imaginary significations are not to be understood as substantive, analysis is pushed away from the sequencing and emplacement entailed by conventional grammatical usage into a more present-tense orientation.  This raises problems for analytic writing itself.  Typically, such writing operates at a remove from conceptual machinery, which it puts into motion in such a way as to enable a reader/spectator to understand the machine and watch its characteristics unfolding in a time-frame which is other than that of reading.  The temporal relation of reader to conceptual machinery and the transparency of that machinery from the viewpoint of that reader are, curiously,  markers of the distinction between "philosophical interrogation" and "creative or "experimental writing."   The central distinction between the two can be understood as “where” the conceptual apparatus is “located”----whether it is staged as a machine for the inspection of a detached reader and put into motion with reference to agents/abstractions which operate within the time-space circumscribed by the text, or if it is built into the textual machinery itself. 


More broadly, at issue is whether the text is itself a “present” in any strong sense, or if it operates as a de facto transcendent medium of no particular location which opens onto by staging a “present” that it unfolds. 


Decisions as to “where” the conceptual apparatus is built into a piece are also decisions as to form.









Every phenomenon is an interphenomenon.[9]















The white frame at the rear of the image above the beard of calcite is multistable.  It is impossible to tell whether a landscape appears behind the array of squares or if a landscape is on top of an array of squares.  It oscillates as you do.




























115: A picture held us captive.  And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.[10]









Radical documentary emerges from the internal critique of dominant forms of documentary practice. 


It presupposes partial determinist ontology and extends it's implications to the registers of form (narrative viewpoint, which is doubled in that of the spectator or reader it comes to the same, voice) and content (the definition and organization of information)  It presupposes a distance between map and territory, between the 2-space of paper or screen and the complexity of the world which is the signified of documentary statements.  From the exploration of this distance emerges the centrality of the play of the instituted and the instituting not simply as performed by others, but also as performed by documentary itself and again by the experience of the documentary. 


The exploration of open forms is a way to foreground the performative aspects of this relation called documentary.


The following is a map: a map of a considerable duration, of a personal trajectory, and of a movement through the problem of institution.  The bulk of it is a large fragment that I wrote about 5 years ago and abandoned to the wilderness of my hard drive and forgot about entirely.  When I found it, it occurred to me that it recapitulated the problem that the first section is about in its mode of presentation. 


In Castoriadis, the terms social imaginary and the significations that order it, and which by ordering it shape the continuous collective self-alteration of the social-historical, all pivot on the relation of the instituted and the instituting.  The noun which is entailed by this dynamic, institution, was a central theme in Husserl's later writing, and fundamental for Merleau-Ponty's later work.  Despite it’s centrality for Castoriadis, the notion of institution is not particularly developed as a theme in the published writing. 


I was trying to work my way through this.  I was also trying to figure out how to integrate sound into my writing.


Institution involves motion; it involves temporal subjects constituting the world in historically specific ways as they constitute themselves. So it necessarily engages genetic phenomenology and enacts the complications this raises in Husserl's last works.  The following moves through Husserl's Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness and the "Origin of Geometry," focused mostly on the latter.  It then outlines Merleau-Ponty's trajectory and is then devoted to his 1960 lectures on Husserl's "Origin of Geometry" and elements from The Visible and Invisible.  The idea is to trace Merleau-Ponty's use of the notion of institution as a lever which pushed him up against the limitations of determinist ontology.


The procedure for assembling this was simple. I decided to use the sense in which my self of five years ago was pinned within the problem of form as an advantage.  I retained the fragment character of the original. I cleaned up the sentences, adding very little new material.   I cross-cut this with some newer writing, to make it's surface irregular.  The "pivot" which follows the quotation from Castoriadis' The Imaginary Institution of Society is new and links back to the first section and forward as well.  This and the other cross-cut elements refer to the final section, which outlines a project.  The project is presented her in order to prompt reconsideration of what precedes it, and of the whole of this piece.[11] 


a. Husserl's "Origin of Geometry"


Husserl's phenomenological work can be roughly divided into transcendental and genetic (concerned with genesis) modes of analysis. 


Transcendental phenomenology pursued a goal of certainty or apodicity in relation to concepts through the procedure of the reductions, and through the analysis of intentionality.  Intentional analysis involves generating accounts of features that condition or constrain constitution, the positing of perceptual data.  Both analytic trajectories were set into motion across the suspension of the natural attitude.  The goal of intentional analysis is to provide an account of structural features that impinge upon the ego's relation to phenomena, the verb in a sentence.


Genetic phenomenology is concerned with the question of genesis, of coming-into-being of (perceptual) phenomena as they are shaped by the ego in time.  This trajectory engages with the problems of modeling time consciousness, an analysis of the dynamics particular to this relation, and the outline of the operative processes shaped by these dynamics, the  "active and passive syntheses" that are the precondition for experience that unfolds within time. 


Husserl's later work, which introduces the question of the life world and that of institution, can be seen as a logical consequence of bringing these registers into contact.


The following is a critical outline of PITC and his later essay "Origin of Geometry."  The first text sets up something of the problematic relation between phenomenological interrogation and history.  The second outlines a way that Husserl tried to resolve these problems through the notion of institution.


Boundary Text: The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness


The 2001 publication of the 1920s lectures and related materials in genetic phenomenology as Analyses Concerning Active and Passive Synthesis  re-situate the relation between transcendental and genetic phenomenology.[12]   This rearrangement of Husserl's work has particular implications for reading boundary texts like The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness.[13]  PITC is an attempt to formalize or model the mode of being-in-the-world particular to the ego across the medium of time.  Such a modeling is fundamental to genetic phenomenology:  it provides a heuristic for setting the latter into motion.  Some of the problems within PITC re-emerge in the context of  OG: both are concerned with problems that arise for inherited ontology if time (and by extension the social-historical) are taken as central to thinking being-in-the-world. 


PITC is an analytic unfolding of the effects of conceiving of time as a line as much as it is a descriptive analysis of the operations of the ego within time.[14]   On the basis of figuring time in this Aristotelian mode, Husserl tries characterize how perceptual material is encountered within the temporal flux and the dynamics (retention/pretension) and procedures which are the basis of the emergence of perceptual-level experience.  The analyses are conditioned by the requirements of a "pure" phenomenology—that is of relations staged at a level that precedes their social-historical articulations. 


From this follows the notion that time can be understood as a line comprised of abstract, identical. That is, time is in itself linear prior to any system of social marking and/or co-ordination. Time happens to the ego, the line a ribbon that is pulled through its center, breaking it open.  This open-endedness onto time forces a shift away from a substantive modeling of the ego and toward a schematic understanding: the ego an effect of patterns of self-organization and time consciousness a region.  Intentionality, a  particular relation to…, operates as a pivot: a stabilizing relation that cuts across the co-ordination of a stream of incoming perceptual material. 


How time consciousness works.  Flux is to adumbration as horizon is to object.  Flux is synthesized passively as context.   Intentional phenomena emerge against the background as a sequence of "object-like formations."  Each such partial view of a phenomenon that can be resolved in the direction of an object is held in place, delayed by retention, which is a zone of memory that is not itself memory. Retention is of a piece with protension: the recognition of visually significant aspects of a given adumbration is also the projection of expectations as to what will follow.  These protensions either fit with subsequent adumbrations or they do not.  If they do not, the system feeds back on itself and changes itself.  It modalizes.


The barrage of phenomena is continuous.  The consequence of a temporality that happens to the ego is a continuous streaming-though of material and an ego-schema that is reactive.  A consequence of a temporality that happens to the ego is a continuous streaming of material and traces of acts into the past, every moment further and further into the past along the march of death.[15]


The relation of time to the ego.  The characterization of time as a line emphasizes a single dimension to the exclusion of others.  Husserl's inferential schema compounds these in their assumption that the ego encounters particular phenomena/aspects in isolation and builds up from parts to a (projected) whole on the basis of inferences which depart from features given within each partial view taken in isolation.  This amounts to a mapping of the analytic schema of transcendental phenomenology onto time-consciousness.  This is compounded by the characterizations of time.  Apply these parameters.   It is difficult to imagine any coherent experience. 


It seems more likely that time would be an effect of bio-systemic operations, their movements and phasings and would be experientially variable even as it is amenable to various forms of social marking.  It seems more likely that the operations Husserl outlines as synthesis would involve schemata (patterns, significations) that group or form (and thereby limit) sequences or formations and that the step-by-step process of building-up from isolated, particular partial views is a special case, a type of modalization.  These schemata would have to intertwine modes of visual organization and social criteria, for example edge-recognition and more obviously symbolic-level functionalities. Grouping/limiting schemata also shape the content of experience and the figure of the I (which, following Piera Aulagnier, would be a naming of the causal center of any given visual field).   These schemata would enable a conception of the ego as a emergent imaginary characteristic of the unfolding of dynamics, which are necessarily rule-bound. Once schemata are introduced into analysis, the status of the ego-space particular to time-consciousness shifts to one of play of the instituted and instituting, and the ego itself becomes institution, an effect.  A parallel movement obtains at the register of the ordering of phenomena.  An example will make this more obvious.


The question of grouping mechanisms emerges explicitly through Husserl's central metaphor for temporal phenomena: music or sound.   The main example is a perception of a pure violin pitch.  The staging of reception is not unlike that of Proust's Swann as he takes in the little melody that for him exemplifies love.  Swann processes the "little melody" as a network of associations, the result of which is a refiguring of his sense of himself as one in love.  The description of the perception of sound is recursive, it's main effect is to push a reader's attention onto the music and composition of the sentences that refer to music/composition.  Swann hears the "little phrase" in Vintuel's sonata as an affective and audio whole: individual notes emerge from within that. For Husserl, the experience of a phrase is built up by the ego on the basis of a note-by-note apperception.  The building-block for sound perception is the individual element (pitch) abstracted from it's contexts.  Phrasing and other higher-order groupings are constructed or recognized through the assemblage of sequences, shaped by the dynamic retention-protension.  But we organize sound through patterns which in turn lean on and express particular instituted separations—in this case music as over against sound---the relations to which are functions of immersion, repetition, habit, memory.   The way of understanding and parsing an audio environment is automatic, a performance of ideology through dynamics and the attractors which inflect them.  Prior to 12-tone organizations, European music was constructed around highly conventionalized types of phrasing and a particular understanding of pitch which emphasizes attack, which in turn emplots pitch as location.  These phrase conventions dominate pop music in most of it's forms, and comprise a significant aspect of an audio habitat.   The dominant mode of phrasing groups pitches into units and defines them in relation to that unit and not the other way around.  Single sounds emerge as such through the disruption of these conventions.  So it is that John Cage can argue that it is through the development of serial music that sound begins to emerge as itself.[16]


A "pure" pitch in this context is one that can be duplicated across any number of instruments, played in any number of spaces in more or less the same way.  It presupposes a conception of  pitch that minimizes the role played by the acoustics of the space within which an instrument is being played and in it's assumption of stability emphasizes attack at the expense of decay.  Pitch is an ideality.  Idealities are an effect of institution.  Consider work by La Monte Young in the context of which listeners are enjoined to focus on a single pitch (or very closely grouped pitches) spread out over considerable durations.  The durations involved undercut the centrality of attack and refocus on the acoustic phenomena associated with what James Tenney refers to as their "spread."  This in turn complicates the notion of repetition, which is tied to that of location and the separation of a pitch from its acoustic environment.  This opens onto questions of tuning systems, of the characteristics which are fore-grounded through particular system, and in the process complicates the notion of audition.  For present purposes what is central is that Husserl's account of the perception of sonic phenomena as built up on a note-by-note basis is a modeling effect, one which follows from the attempt to graft a transcendental model onto the analysis of temporal being and which, in the process, forces a separation between the operations of any particular ego and the contexts which enable it to group and limit information.  A second-order consequence of this move is the bracketing of the historically specific definitions of the phenomena which are used as metaphors for the running of the analytic machinery.


It is important to recall that PITC is a heuristic, both in Husserl's work and in this introduction.  For Husserl, it provided the orientations which enabled his shift into the more complex analyses of being-in-time developed in the lectures on active and passive synthesis.  In this context, the separations between the ego and the modalities of patterning which enframe it and its experience comes apart, and the question of grouping mechanisms is broached at length.  It is through the elaboration of these more complex accounts that the questions of the lifeworld and institution emerge as fundamental.  “The Origin of Geometry” is part of his response to this problem.



Origin of Geometry


The project outlined in OG can be situated at the opposite end of the turn to genetic phenomenology, and should be read off the sections in The Crisis [17]that concern the life world.  Both texts attempt to thread a fine line between the concerns of philosophy as Husserl understood them and an acknowledgement of the central role of history in any account of being in the world.  Most of the difficulties Husserl encounters can be attributed to a genre anxiety.  


The question that sets OG into motion is how to account for the social-historical character if philosophical interrogation, which had been framed in most of Husserl's earlier work as a voluntarist undertaking carried out primarily inwardly along lines shaped by a restricted dialogue with other philosophers (restricted in the sense of functioning as negative examples, what not to do).  OG is an interrogation of the conditions of possibility of the intertwining of an inward interrogation (philosophy) with its social-historical conditions of possibility.  More specifically, Husserl tries to account for the conditions of possibility for philosophical interrogation involving intersubjective communities occupied with similar types of knowledge and the historical density of that knowledge as they become operational for a particular subject.  The central bind, then, is how to address this intertwining in a mode that resolves what is thought into discrete, object-like formations.  


The most direct avenue into this intertwining is reading: memory, knowledge of genre rules, the depositories of which are texts organized as tradition, the imaginative projection of the world inflected by what is read, etc.. It follows that Husserl would see the type “institution” as elaborated around a textual core or "tradition."  Institutions are then socio-cognitive environments which enframe and are enframed by particular textual networks.  This should pose questions as to the discreteness of an institution.  Husserl's particular account bypasses such problems in ways that are conditioned by his choice of geometry as the paradigmatic institution.  The geometry that Husserl has in mind begins with Galileo whose Physics initiates ways of imagining physical space through geometrical forms.  The institution of geometry establishes the conditions of possibility for projections of physical space as "pure forms" or "idealities."  This sets up a tight interconnection between the physical world and the domain of Platonic forms.  This in turn enables the notion of institution to operate as a historicizing explanation for the direct apprehension of form, the clarification of which was the main project in transcendental phenomenology.  This relation between physical space and form within the institution of geometry is repeated at the level of the analysis of the institution itself in the rendering of institutions as objects, as discrete or self-contained, and as endowed with a type of essence in tradition.


In this superimposition of physical space and form one can see a distanced staging of an interaction between form and history, but scaled in such a way as to minimize the consequences of this interaction.  Because geometrical forms are understood as transcendental, the possibility that they might be changed through this interaction with imagining physical space presents Husserl with a problem.  He explores this through the metaphor of sedimentation.  The cumulative result of the history of an institution is the elaboration of tradition.  This elaboration is also a refiguring of tradition: the textual networks at its core are reframed (different relations established, different ways of attributing weight to variables, different operations, etc.)  Tradition can also be seen as unfolding in an additive manner.  The problem of agency, of what or who does this reframing, is taken up below. The interaction between these produces sedimentation, which is a way of accounting for the density of experience as inflected by interaction with tradition.  For Husserl, reading is a "re-activation"—one takes over the ways of staging and thinking the world elaborated by another, but with associations in play that inflect of make dense that re-activation in ways that are not a simple repetition.  On the other hand, because the result of geometry as institution is the reprocessing of space in terms of idealities, it follows that, for Husserl, the central rules etc. had to have been posited the beginning.  Commentary, then, would be the revealing of what was always there, rather than a combination of adjustment and reframing of the institution that mirrors (in a variety of possible ways) wider changes in particular historical contexts.[18]  In a sense, this metaphor is a device which enables Husserl to not choose between the alternative conceptions of tradition as textual network outlined above.  Sedimentation is a condensed expression of the experience of tradition (for oneself, for the history of such experiences or commentary).  But because the basic features around which an institution is elaborated are present from its origin, tradition is additive.  An alternate way to think about sedimentation is as the result(s) of feedback loops which connect an institution to its effects in the world. For example, much of this was written while sitting at a café in West Philadelphia.  Like any built environment, the site I occupied was a designed element in a larger design context.  Design in this context is the reprocessing of physical space in terms of a geometrical form: the building that housed the café behind me, a table sitting on a sidewalk separated from the street by a curb: bicycle racks, telephone poles, buildings on two sides densely packed, on a third a Victorian house set back from the street, on the fourth, access to a park.


A second peculiarity of Husserl's account of geometry as institution can be traced to what Natalie Depraz calls the performative character of Husserl's writing, which can in turn be mapped onto normative protocols for attentive reading.[19]  According to Depraz, Husserl's texts are staged across a tight association between thought and visualization: attentive reading renders transparent the surface of the text.   Depraz discusses the reductions in these terms, arguing that they amount to exercises that the reader performs along with Husserl.  The clearest example is that of the epoché, or bracketing, which is the operative notion within the process of reduction in general.  Bracketing the natural attitude is entirely a visual act: one groups the various features that characterize it, mentally draws brackets around them and puts the assemblage out of play.  This conception of reading as visualization of results is echoed in the model of institution in Husserl's emphasis on the taking-up of idealities as the marker of intertwining of subjective and instituted spaces.  In this context, what matters are the results of the genre rules, not the rules themselves.  This way of framing the interaction leaves Husserl nowhere to go except toward activation as repetition—he cannot otherwise explain how the effects he valorizes are produced, what schema they lean on, how and why these schemata might be transposable. Husserl attempts to resolve this by introducing a distinction between types of activation: active and passive.  


Activation designates the opening up of a given intellectual space through interaction with sedimented material.   Looping this back through the notion of tradition, activation refers to a reframing of mental activity through taking up a mode of inquiry. Husserl accounts for the possibility of creation through a distinction between active and passive.   Passivity entails a simple repetition of previous results, those which are deposited in textual form, a repetition that would encompass a range of interactions, from distracted engagement through simple application.  An active relation is predicated on re-assuming an originary relation to the field itself, pushing through repetition to a kind of engaged immediacy.  If the basic features of the institution are all posited at once through an originary act it follows that creative action that could have the ability to transform the institution itself would have to depart from a second originary relation to the institution itself   Behind this is a notion of creation as a function of a demiurge or its secular correlate in genius. 


All the above features combine to explain the ahistorical character of Husserl's notion of institution.  OG stages institution as an  object in the world—we have offered two explanations for this outcome, one that refers to the idealities that result from interaction with the space, and the other from the way in which Husserl's work equates thought and visualization, with the attending assumptions about determination.  Within institution-as-object, tradition functions as essence, and therefore is posited as continuously and simultaneously present within it.  The characterization of activation as repetition (further differentiated into passive/active modes) follows from the status imputed to tradition.  So what we take from Husserl is: a point of departure for considering the intertwining of mental activity and social co-ordinates; a provisional theory of institution, a category to be developed; a stipulation of the level at which institution and mental activity interact in the stylization of retention.  Beyond that, Husserl's conception of institution, and its philosophical underpinnings, operate largely as a foil for subsequent work.


Merleau-Ponty: Husserl at the limits of phenomenology (The 1960 seminars on “The Origin of Geometry”)


This section outlines MP's close reading of OG given as a lecture course at the Collège de France during the 1960 academic year.  This section is not a complete account of MP's thinking on the question of institution[20], but rather focuses on the 1960 lectures because (a) the interpretation outlined there is elaborated at the edge of what appears to have been a shift in MP's work and because (b) the outline of the notion of institution to be found in these lectures points beyond the frame within which MP tried to situate it. His last writings are elaborated almost entirely within the process of reorientation and do not articulate the viewpoint toward which he was moving—though one can see in certain elements how he might have moved.[21] His later work offers surprising resources, even as they at times need to be read against the frames within which they are situated.  MP's reading of Husserl points both forward and backward, toward a break with object-oriented thinking about the social-historical while nonetheless remaining pinned by his determinist ontological framework.



To orient what follows, a brief schematization of MP's work seems in order.  The point of this section is threefold: to  situate the interaction between MP and Husserl's text in the 1960 seminars; to locate aspects of MP's trajectory that could have prompted a harder break with the separation of philosophical inquiry and social analysis; and to frame some of these latter elements as potentially useful in dialogue with Castoriadis.


MP's narrative of his own intellectual paths in The Visible and Invisible (VI) points to the importance of  The Structure of Comportment (SC), his first published work, in setting up the problems that would subsequently occupy him.  He places particular emphasis on the centrality of kinesthetisis—and by extension of the body—in the production of perception.  This is a fundamental break with the assumptions that shaped Husserl's phenomenology.  Here, I focus on a single theme from within that work which dovetails into The Phenomenology of Perception (PhP), and which, in turn, opens onto some of the major the concerns central in his later writing.   The main insight that MP isolates from SC is that, considered from a nervous system level, the body is radically open onto the world.  Linked to this were two other correlates: perception is the result of processes and that these processes are organized in such a way as to make the assumption of a mind/body split incoherent.  Perception is a result and not a state.


If one routes these claims above through MP's dialogue with Piaget, a number of conclusions follow.  I will simply list them for brevity's sake.  The traditional conception of cognition is obviously inadequate, as is the assumption that the processes which shape cognition can be understood on the basis of mechanisms located within the boundaries of the skull.  For Piaget, particularly in works like The Construction of Reality in the Child, the emergence of particular stages of a child's ability to separate itself from a world and develop a socially coherent relationship to the world are functions of the unfolding of particular neural configurations.  Neural patterns then are themselves symbolic functions in the sense that they operate through an internalization not only of language but of the social relations which enframe and are enframed by it.  Language in turn reorders and leans on other forms of organization/differentiation.  These functionalities deploy as constraints and are oriented outward. They appear to bundle and limit at once, shaping in certain respects information prior to their emergence as such within the platform of consciousness.  The development of a sense of self, or an ego, is then a result of complex interactions between neural development and social contexts, which inflect the unfolding of these dynamic parameters. It follows from this that the ego is necessarily a social formation, an effect of temporal patterns which interlace the instituted and instituting, processed through a dimensional shift which is the distinction between being-through language and being as mediated by it.[22]


At the same time as the work outlined in SC points beyond phenomenology, MP's dialogue with Husserl loops back through it.  PhP performs the tensions this generates. In it, perception is staged as the practical result of modes of interaction of the embodied subject with "the world."   While the analysis is quite far ranging, and undermines many of the basic assumptions of inherited ontology, the frame of an account of subjective experience in the context of an abstraction called "the world" generates limitations.  For example, in another paper I develop a critical reading of MP's analysis of the question of depth of field that pointed to the centrality of projection in its production.  MP argues that the subject organizes its visual field around itself, positing itself as its causal center.  The ability to process depth of field is a function of the ability of the subject to project itself into this visual field.  Like space, which for MP is a production rooted in the subject's capacity to move around (so is not an a priori), depth is the result of underlying processes.  Following the logic outlined above, these processes are at once social and particular to the psyche. Perception is made over into a mode of being-in-the world (rather than one of apprehending the world).  Being-in-the-world is in turn analyzed on the basis of the situation of an ego-in-general which finds itself thrown into a world which is not differentiated, which simply is. This is a consequence of retaining a subject-centered framework: to speak in terms of "the world" and not of particular social-historical configurations of "the world" and to take experience as what is to be elucidated places a particular frame over the problèmatique the occupies him and truncates it.  This limitation emerges in the account of the interconnections of broader social-historical patterns and the experience of the pschye, which is restricted to the category of habit, which he reduces largely to a type of learned response acquired through repetition and rooted in muscle memory. 


The category habit is shaped as it is in PhP as a function of MP's attempt to transpose intentionality from a directedness-toward…undertaken by the ego (as for Husserl in the transcendental works) onto a model of the historically situated subject.   Directedness-toward the world is embodied for MP: it is deployed through the complex interweaving of the body-as –schema and the body-as-object.  The body as schema or as organizing nodes for networks of patterns (which can be understood as involving something like a retention/pretension relation, but pushed away from the traditional space for thinking perception) characterizes the body in terms that are at once static and dematerializing.  Put into motion, these schemata operate as constraints that shift the dynamics which underpin the emergence of a visual field in one direction as over against another.  From a viewpoint shaped by the results, by interactions with the world that take a visual field (a result) as a point of departure, bodily schemata would disappear into what they organize.  The field itself then is a form of auto-figuration as it is a figuration of phenomena outside.  Within the results of this process, depth of field is a projection that takes temporal figuring as it is condensed onto the seemingly atemporal zone of perception as it's basis, is a kind of temporalization of what appears as simultaneous, a re-envelopment of that which is enveloped. [23]   What shapes these schemata in their unfolding is repetition, context, habitat.  In MP these are all condensed onto the category of habit.


In his later work, MP pushes apart what remains in PhP condensed onto habit, developing this line of thinking through the themes of the flesh and chiasm or intertwining.  It the process, this theme becomes separated from the close analysis of specific subject positions and shifts into a space of metaphorical exploration of the interpenetration of thought and world.



For a long time I would get out of bed early, before dawn, turn on my shortwave radio and begin hunting on the ocean of static for Indonesia or Greenland. I would sweep the tuner slowly back and forth across the glowing yellow half circle, within the range of a black rectangle labeled "amateur." The dial was not a map: the printed co-ordinates did not correspond to frequency as the mechanism had drifted.  Over time the drift would itself drift. Everything was in motion.


Greenland or Indonesia were in the 60 meter band, somewhere in the spectra of pitches to the side of voices, amongst the snatches of compressed orchestral music punctured then dissolved in morse code and static [ad. mod.L. staticus, a. Gr. {sigma}{tau}{alpha}{tau}{iota}{kappa}{goacu}{fsigma}causing to stand, also pertaining to or skilled in weighing, f. {sigma}{tau}{alpha}-, {iasper}{sigma}{tau}{gaacu}{nu}{alpha}{iota}to cause to stand, to weigh. The n. (= F. statique, It. statica) is ad. mod.L. statica, ad. Gr. {sigma}{tau}{alpha}{tau}{iota}{kappa}{ghacu}(sc. {tau}{geacu}{chi}{nu}{eta}) the art of weighing, ellipt. use of the adj.]  4. a. Atmospherics; radio noise.  1913 Wireless World Nov. 508/2 Communication will also be had with sideband lattices of lonely men exchanging data about the weather that morning and information being relayed along parallel circuits which plotted the trajectories of boats as they moved across a double ocean, the one they could see the one that I heard. 1938 D. CANFIELD Fables for Parents II. 124 That woman who talks about cooking is coming on splendidly. Not a speck of static.   Hiss spreads progressively across the sound image, pushing apart lower pitches as it moves.  It's depth of field results from auto-figuration. Wouldn't you like to bring your sewing over and listen?   The sound would open onto vast distances that teemed with transient sculptural elements which would emerge from and dissipate into fields of tiny black lines.  Listening to the radio, I would search such vibrating spaces for channels 1950 ‘N. SHUTE’ Town like Alice v. 156 He wanted to see a live broadcast of ‘Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh’ which he listened to on short wave from Brisbane when the static permitted.  Listening was a search for markers, sequences of buoys I could follow. 1960 Practical Wireless XXXVI. 413/1 The background noise caused by external static can be troublesome. 1978 R. LUDLUM Holcroft Covenant xvii. 196 There was a sudden burst of static from a radio speaker beneath the dashboard. Sometimes I thought I heard a shimmering maybe Greenland maybe Indonesia buckling and snapping in a hail of teletype and white noise.


Of the many possible avenues that could be isolated from within PhP to demonstrate how it gives way to the later work, I will follow Claude Lefort, for whom movement is a central underlying theme.[24] Lefort isolates movement as an underlying feature of the physiology of vision (eye movement) and points to through the centrality of kinesthesis (body movement) in the practical production of spatial orientation.  Movement poses significant problems for linguistic and/or visual modes of representation, to the extent that both are geared around fixing what is described.  This limit shapes MP's relationship to the textual medium through which his work is deployed, and forms the basis for a kind of meta-level that runs through much of published work after PhP.   I refer to this as a meta-level because of the recursive function MP attributes to it.  At its most general, the problem is that of practice and representation and of the tensions produced within/across bringing the two into relation with each other.  MP breaks quite early with the Marxist framing of the question of practice and reroutes his interrogation through painting—in two major essays, he moves in quite different directions.[25]  In his consideration of Cezanne, the question concerns the relation of Cezanne's painting to a register of what he later calls "wild being".  A broader formulation of the question that propels this essay is to see it as an interrogation of the extent to which someone working within a particular instituted/instituting space which is shapes and is shaped by conventions concerning representation (and the ontological assumptions that underpin it) can push through these conventions to bring into a kind of formalization that which precedes and is to an extent precluded by those very conventions.  The other, later essay addresses the limitations that follow from the visual representation of practice.  These texts function as signposts in the development of his later category of vertical being, that which escapes representation, that which causes the status of visual representation of be dislodged, and which could be argued points to the limitations of an ontological framework built with/on the basis of an unquestioned privileging of the visual.   


MP develops these analyses through the space of philosophy and the medium of writing.  The relations and assumptions that shape his interaction with his chosen medium recapitulate the problems staged through painting.  These levels of interrogation necessarily turns back on themselves and dovetail into MP's extended interrogation of the relation of language to thinking.   It is at this level that MP concludes that inherited ontology was inescapable since its primary features are coterminous with those of language itself.   For example, nouns tend to fix what they denote and substitute for the referent a manifold of meanings delimited by the chain of signifiers within a sentence.  Taken as a whole—as a signification—the relation is atemporal and it is this atemporality that accounts for the problems of verbal (and by extension visual) representation of practice/process.  It is not that process cannot be represented:  to say that would needlessly make practice the object of a kind of negative theology.  Rather the nature of process is fundamentally altered through this representation, shifting from a continuum to a series of states (from Marey to Muybridge).  


MP argues, even in VI, that this particular conception of signification is necessary and its effects inevitable.  Naming is the condition of possibility for generalities.  As a function of the dynamic across which MP understood thought as moving—from text to process back to text—thinking is itself structured and delimited  by these same features.[26] Because his conception of the intertwining of thought and the language that it shapes and is shaped by it is conditioned by explorations of limits conditions (vertical being) which were opened up as a function of his interrogation of being-in-the-world that ties it closely to a version of history, MP was pushed in two directions.  At the level of writing, he tried to develop a style that would slip through these constraints and perform a sense of motion, of historicity.   Analytically, MP counterpoised statements on the order of the following:

Must we maintain the Marxist essence of history and treat the facts that call it into question as empirical and confused variants, or, on the contrary, are we at a turning point where, beneath the Marxist essence of history a more authentic and more complete essence shows through?  The question remains unsettled in scientific terms, because in it truths of facts and truths of reason overlap and because the carving out of the facts, like the elaboration of essences, is there conducted under presuppositions that remain to be interrogated, if we are to fully know what science means. (VI 108)


Essences—"real" essences—emerge in and through history and so are at once specifiable in terms of location and mobile or dynamic. So like Heidegger, MP operates at a register of reversal as a point of departure, substituting metaphors of below or depth for those of transcendence, movement for stasis while nonetheless accepting determinist ontology as an inevitable effect of the medium of writing. History is equated with that which escapes representation almost entirely except as is it carved up by various social systems of marking.  Time is the region of ontogenesis: vertical being indicates the relation of what escapes to modes of bringing into representation which (partially) formalize an otherwise diffuse becoming.  Wild being is a zone of pre- or un-differentiation, a Heraclitan space in which what would be grouped as phenomena occur as singularities.  This amounts to positing of a prior condition into/across which bringing into differentiation and/or generalizability occurs:  the "Being as container: that Castoriadis isolates as one of the central limiting features of MP's work.[27]





The first time I sat on my brother's houseboat moored at the lowest mid-point of a circle that can be superimposed over the Essex River, over the salt marsh, centerpoint on the top of Hog Island, line continuing along the dunes of Crane's Beach.   I sat on the deck of the houseboat captivated by the centerless complexity of multiple registers of sound intertwining dissipating, caught by the wind and pulled across the water always moving, by the architectures of decay. 


When I returned to Philadelphia from that visit, I brought with me a chart of Cape Ann, which I tacked to my wall.  Over the intervening years, I would look at the map, study it, trace the circle I had heard implied, imagine where I might put microphones. 


When my life at a remove came unraveled, I disappeared into the map.  Now, very small, by day I move from a point on that map into a second grid, travel as packets that race through telephone systems and circulate through vast horizontal libraries.  In the evening, I sit on a bench at the edge of the salt marsh.  When the tide is half in or half out, the bank opposite is a giant biscotti.





There are real tensions within this position that MP's sudden death in 1961 left hanging.  I rehearse them to provide a general idea of the framework within which the seminars on Husserl unfolded.  It is to these seminars that we now turn.



The Lectures on Origin of Geometry


The first and perhaps the most striking difference between Husserl and MP on the question of institution is that the latter does not approach institution as discrete formations or objects.  With this, the status of institution becomes problematic.  In the previous section,  I linked Husserl's resolution of institution into a visualizable object to the imputing of an essence to the staging of tradition as essence.  Among the effects of this are the assumption that activation is a kind of repetition.   


For MP, an institution is a social-historical formation that functions in the shaping of regions of social being but is not for that graspable as an object.  A number of consequences follow from this.  I focus on the notion of tradition.  As for EH, the core of an institution is tradition and the core of tradition is textual.  In Husserl, it appears that tradition is simultaneously present within the institution itself.  For MP the mode of being proper to tradition is otherwise:

The essence of tradition is not immediately graspable as in its essence static.  Geometry and its tradition become for is, for our reflection, a fold (creux—hollow) which opens a dimension.  While there is no question of all this, of all its intentional referrals, in principle these are not included in an actual and simultaneous essence.  Overcoming the  opposition: history or philosophy by introducing a familiarity of all human activity to all human activity, of potentials "wissen," pre-traced /possibilities of all human creations, of all culture, which is not an explicit knowledge, not an intellectual possession, but which is knowledge of the ignorance/presence within me of the past as past/which assures communication between me and history, because tradition is forgotten from its origin. in relation to an origin that is not taken up by the present, which operates in us and pushes geometry before us precisely because it is not grasped by thought. 

What enables us to understand the past is a tradition, that is (in fullness) a certain void, a certain "forgetting" a circumscribed negativity which calls for reference from the outside.[28]


The essence of tradition is not immediately graspable as in its essence static. Geometry and its tradition become for us, for our reflection, a fold (creux—hollow) which opens a dimension.


By this point in the seminars, the notion of essence is a metaphor used to account for regularities: structural features, generalities.  The problem around which this revolves is the reversal of the transcendent and historical.  History is a field of scatter or flux, a space of singularities only some of which are captured by being assimilated into a region of marking.  Construed in this way, regularities emerge as a problem.  To explain them, MP retains the structure of objects in their traditional form, but puts them into motion by submersing them in this stream of flux, in the context of which they operate as surface irregularities.  Pushed into this space by remaining within a determinist ontology and by inverting the relation of form and doxa,  MP argues that because there are such ireegularities—folds or hollows---in the surface of this vast field in motion, the category is  a logical necessity.  Without it there is no way to explain regularities.  Regularities are explained with reference to a discrete whole—so it is that explaining the regularities of regions of the instituted presupposes that there are discrete spaces called institutions.  Institution cannot be a byproduct of the dynamic which links the instituting and the instituted.  Within this framework, to argue that is to reduce what it is instituted to scatter.


For Husserl, phenomenological interrogation is a stripping away and clarification of transcendent features of perception.  On the object side, essence is a result of phenomenological investigation, a set of predicates attached to an empty placeholder x which are necessary if the referent is to be itself and not something else.  This set of predicates is a manifold of features which are simultaneously present in the category being clarified.  This register of analysis, and the clarification of the viewpoint of the transcendental ego which is of a piece with it, operates at a register above that of the natural attitude.  For MP, "depth analysis" entails an encounter with history.  Again, history is a field of motion, of scatter as such.  Within this, regularities create zones or folds always specific in space and time.  Understood at across a different time-scale than that of an embedded observer locked in the present (a possibility which presupposes institutions by presupposing written traces of history), essence is mobile or dynamic but nonetheless itself, a system characterized by high levels of redundancy, which is amenable to being fixed analytically at a given moment through inductive procedures. 


This move is tied up with MP's critiques of "la pensée du survol"----history is flux; the Observer is locked within it.  Abstraction becomes a problem to the extent that abstraction traditionally has entailed a bracketing of flux.  The question then becomes one of distance, of viewpoint, of constraints.

…my incontestable power to give myself leeway (prendre du champ), to disengage the possible from the real, does not go so far as to dominate all the implications of the spectacle and to make of the real a simple variant of the possible; on the contrary it is the possible worlds that are variants and are like doubles of the actual world and actual Being.  I have leeway enough to replace such and such moments of my experience with others, to observe that this does not suppress it—therefore to determine the inessential.  But does what remains after these eliminations belong necessarily to the Being in question?  In order to affirm that I should have to soar over my field, suspend or at least reactivate all the sedimented thoughts with which it is surrounded, first of all my time, my body—which is not only impossible for me to do in fact but would deprive me of that very cohesion in depth (en épaisseur, in thickness) of the world and of Being without which the essence is subjective folly and arrogance.  There is therefore for me something inessential, and there is a zone, a hollow, where what is not inessential, not impossible, assembles; there is not positive vision that would definitely give me the essentiality of the essence.[29]


The problem follows from MP's assumption that history is a pathway to posing questions about the Being of beings, so the world is singular as history is singular as the question is singular.  The world and history are singular terms, so there must be unified meta-processes which enable both to be categorized—the problem here is the fact of embeddedness.  MP seems primarily embedded in his own way of framing the questions he is asking, a way that leans on and performs the limitations of determinist ontology.


To be is to be determinate.  If history is a single field of scatter but there are nonetheless observable regularities, it must be possible to link them to the mediation of a particular form.  The paradigmatic form is an object.  So institution must be an object, but an object that is stretched out in time (as an expression of the past in the present) and is itself in motion.  If an institution is a temporal object, it would have to have the defining characteristics of an object.  There is the instituted and the instituting: within this framework the way to explain the specificity of this dynamic is to link it back to a discrete space.  Space, location, thing.




Click this:


Atomic clocks are quite complex. Like all clocks, they are intended to make the same event happen over and over.


Other days I would get home from school early enough to catch the end of the interval signal

Because my radio would drift, I used Official Time as a beacon.

Why must time be measured so precisely?

Precise time synchronization has many uses in everyday life. Synchronization between two or more locations is necessary for high speed communication systems, synchronizing television feeds, calculating bank transfers, and transmitting everything from email to sonar signals in a submarine. Power companies use precise time to regulate power system grids and reduce power losses. Radio and television stations require both precise time-of-day and frequency in order to broadcast programs. Precise time measurements are also essential for accurate navigation and the support of communications on earth and in space. Scientific organizations such as NASA depend on reliable and consistent time measurement for projects such as interplanetary space travel. Fractional disparities in times between a space probe and tracking stations on Earth can dramatically affect the positions of spacecraft. Precise time measurements are also essential to radio navigation systems like the Global Positioning System (GPS). By synchronizing the satellite clocks within nanoseconds of each other, it makes it possible for a receiver to know its position on earth within a few meters.


From the fractured space of Official Time I would tune away. 

Interval signal and sign-on announcement:


Ici Lomé...Radio Togo.
Ici Lomé...Radio Togo.

Every day programming would begin: a few seconds of music, the recitation of news. Every day Togo would turn and disappear into the fog.



…essence is therefore always locatable in space, in time.  In short there is no essence, no idea, that does not adhere to a domain of history and of geography.  Not that it is confined there and inaccessible for the others, but because, like that of nature, the space or time of culture is not surveyable from above, and because communication from one constituted culture to another occurs through the wild region wherein they have all originated.  Where in all this is essence?  Where is the existence?[30]


 This turns onto question of signification/signification of signification:


Say that the things are structures, frameworks, the stars of our life: not before us, laid out as perspective spectacles, but gravitating about us. […]Essence, Wesen: Underlying kinship between the essence and perception: the essence, likewise, is an inner framework, it is not above the sensible world, it is beneath or in its depth, its thickness.  It is the secret bond—the Essences are Etwases at the level of speech, as the things are Essences at the level of Nature.  Generality of the things: why are there several samples of each thing?  This is imposed by the very definition of the things as field beings: how could there be a field without generality?[31]


Generality is the condition of possibility for posing questions about Being:  MP finds himself locked into this formulation because his project is framed as being contingent upon it.  Because determinations can be grouped into patterns, essence can be understood as operational in the work at the level of "inner structure."  But one's embeddedness in specific social-historical situations conditions any "positive vision" of the (potential) register of essences, of forms.  This sequence generates results such as: there are generalizable features to the structure of perception, therefore perception has an essence.  The elimination of the pensée du survol, the transcendent viewpoint,  simply means that essence is not present, is not an immanent or potentially immanent phenomenon (as it might be as a result of the reductions in transcendental phenomenology.)  But that we are asking questions about mode of being presupposes that these regularities are operative and accessible. 


In this lecture series, MP does not disengage language from the world and from history, so if the latter are singular, it follows that the former would be as well.  The world is staged through language in its spaces of regularity and escapes where it is not.  The correspondence between language and world is not here pushed apart.  The notion of institution remains locked in the frame that Husserl made for it.



While there is no question of all its intentional referrals in the above, in principle these are not included in an actual and simultaneous essence. 


An institution is at once discrete and open.  For MP, that it is discrete, that it has (or is) regularities means that an institution has an essence at some level or another, is a kind of object. The emphasis falls on the qualification: an object-like formation that operates in particular ways in the context of a particular register of being.  Institutions are open in that they are basically spaces defined by patterns of referrals—which are themselves articulated in and through ordinary language.   Referrals: signifiers that direct one's attention from…to… mediated by the particular modes of figuring/style.  These are primarily what they do: by being activated, referrals stylize action and reflection, redefine the surroundings,  and open onto the possibility of specific types of interrogation.  So an institution is a pattern and a node in a pattern of patterns which are not "contained" but which are amenable to being invoked.  MP moves through paradoxical character of tradition, its modes of givenness, its historicity, focusing particular attention on the  interwining of reflection in the present with a density that leans on the collective past.


Castoriadis provides another way of thinking this level of institution through the category of the social-imaginary signification.


What is signification?  We can describe it only as an indefinite skein of interminable referrals to something other than(than what would appear to be stated directly).  The other things can be both significations and non-significations—that to which significations relate or refer.  The lexicon of a language does not revolve around itself, is not closed in upon itself, as has flatly been stated.  What is closed upon itself, fictively, is the code, the lexicon of ensemblist-identitary signifieds, each of which can take on one or more sufficient definitions.  But the lexicon of significations is always open: for the full signification of a word is everything that can be socially stated, through, represented or done of the basis of this word. In other words, it can never be assigned determined limits, a peras.  To be sure, this skein of referrals, in which each leads to what, in turn, is the source of new referrals, is far from being an undifferentiated chaos.  In this magma, there are flows that are denser, nodal points, clearer of darker areas, bits of rock caught in the whole.  But the magma never ceases to move, to swell and subside, to liquefy what was solid and solidify what was almost inexistent.  And it is because the magma is such that move himself and create in and through language, that he is not pinned down once and forever by the set of univocal signifieds of the words he uses—in other words, that language is language.  And yet not only the definition but the thing itself would be impossible if the ensemblist-identitary dimension was not present as well.  For this signification must be this skein and not another, and these referrals must be referrals  from…to…, relations that are provisionally posited as between terms posited as fixed. (IIS 243-244)



History in MP is a space of heterogeneity which is itself heterogenous in that it is striated by zones of regularity.  History is flux, is time.  This results from the inversion of the assumptions of determinist ontology.  The zone traced by flux is itself unitary.  Language is a unity within this other unity.  The interactions between these surfaces render each irregular.  The camera-eye of theory planes beneath these surfaces.


Partial determinacy enables a disaggregation of language.  The disaggregation of language opens onto partial determinacy.  There is no experience, including that of the vewipoint of theory, for which all of language is simultaneously present.  Rather, as Wittgenstein put it in the Tractatus:


108: We see that what we call "sentence" and "language" has not the formal unity that I imagined, but is really a family of structures more or less related to one another.


Language is not a thing. The idea that the situation is otherwise follows from a mapping of the effects of the noun form onto the phenomena that it organizes.  One can refer to language as a whole, but that does not provide access to a whole.


Disaggregating language conceptually entails a series of effects.   Recursive operations and ordinary usage alike move through "families of structures."  These structures are not discrete objects, but rather are actions and what constraints them, signification and what shapes particular signifying acts.    Words and groups of words are constraints which direct the act of bringing phenomena into relation in some directions rather than in others.  For Castoriadis, words paradigmatic of a broader operation, that of bringing into relation and this bringing into relation is itself the play of the instituted and the instituting.


Institution collapses down onto the nodes that are these bundles of referrals.  The metaphor of the magma , which is itself a mapping of the schema of partial determinacy onto networks of significations, prevents institution from being rendered as object.  Institution is the pivot that is entailed by performed connections between the instituted and the instituting, between patterns which enable the delimiting and connecting of information and the acts of delimitation and connection which are shaped by them.  What is delimited and/or fashioned through connection or linkage or bringing into relation is other than what constrains that action.  Creation is everywhere, continually.


One moves through the magma, moves through the social-imaginary.  The emphasis on the act of creating meaning within constraints, with constraints, against constraints is an emphasis on motion and on process.  There is neither the determined or flux, but the partially determined and the actions of bringing into determination.  The status and outcomes of these acts are conditioned by normative relations to them which are performed more or less automatically.  Ideology is performed. The relation of the map to the territory is performed: it is not that there is no relation, but rather that one actively makes this relation.  This means that there are multiple possibilities for exploring the space which is made to link them.   In this scenario, the pensée du survol which MP subjected to an internal critique is a recursive operation that is also a moving-through.  It is on this basis that questions of theoretical form emerge.  If ideology is performed, then traces which are produced through that performance regarding, say, the relation of analytic form to what is analyzed, themselves perform ideology.


There are analytic complications which arise from this at the level of scale.  Pushing the theoretical viewpoint into the magma, putting it into motion inclines thinking about signification toward the register of "time consciousness."  At this register, signification is a more capacious term than "category" and could be brought into a potentially fruitful dialogue with recent work in cognitive neurolinguistics, which in general is opening new ways of exploring the processes of translation and ordering which enable perception as an emergent characteristic.   At this register, social-imaginary significations can be understood as thoroughly internalized and as operating at the neurological level as much as at an explicit level in the shaping of sense-data.  They would disappear into what they organize and presumably could be read off from accounts of that which they organize. 


Any given action could be constrained through relations to these significations of varying degrees of articulation and sedimentation.  In principle the notion of the social-imaginary signification alone does not provide a way to generate and debate such differentiations. 


The problem with Castoriadis' work is not that it is not important and interesting, but rather that no-one knows about it.


In Castoriadis' later work, this reading-off of significations from accounts which perform them typically unfolds at a very high level of abstraction, through the category of "master significations" which seems little more than a way to rename the zeitgeist. There is still tremendous work to be done.



Overcoming the  opposition: history or philosophy by introducing a familiarity of all human activity to all human activity, of a potentials "wissen," [of?] pre-traced possibilities of all human creations, of all culture


The core of this is an argument made in OG that is taken up in MP's own voice.  One the one hand, it is a peculiar argument to find wedged in between what precedes and follows it because it seems to make of recognition a justification for a kind of universal viewpoint.  It can only do this by separating the level of essence (whether knowable or not) from that of the mechanisms that characterize how an institution functions (the "intentional referrals").  In Husserl, this characterization of institutions as "spiritual creations" that subject "recognize" as distinct from a natural formation is a way to explain the different relations that each type of formation entails (the former can be assimilated subjectively, while the latter would be and  remain an epistemological relation).  The claim, in Husserl as in MP, is of a piece with claims for/about the genre of philosophy as over against history.  It is also an index of the extent to which both are working from the traditional philosophy of the subject: the re-stylization of thought/action through interaction with history is a problem created by the assumptions which shape this approach. .


[W]hich is not an explicit knowledge, not an intellectual possession, but which is knowledge of the ignorance/presence within me of the past as past/which assures communication between me and history...because tradition is forgotten from its origin. in relation to an origin that is not taken up by the present, which operates in us and pushes geometry before us precisely because it is not grasped by thought.  What enables us to understand the past is a tradition, that is (in fullness) a certain void, a certain "forgetting" a circumscribed negativity which calls for reference from the outside.


MP presents a meta-figure, a figure of possible figures, one that is fashioned to specify a general mode of intertwining of the mental world particular to the subject with history as instituted/instituting.    It collapses sedimentation and activation in Husserl's analysis into a description of a mode of imbrication that emphasizes in its first step the particular combination of structuring and opening that effectively positions institution as a kind of grid or frame that stylizes and renders more complex ideal-typical types of intentional relations.  The meta-figure is effectively a recapitulation of the topology of institution—it makes more specific the character of institutions that were characterized above as a hollow or fold in a Being, which is understood across the metaphors of quantum theory as a field.  The resolution into a way of processing the world—the effect of the "dimension" onto which a given institution opens—is a result of practices specific to that space.  The diversity of practices that can be activated to this end are functions of particular institutional spaces and would be consigned in MP's reading to the "inessential"—that is to a historical problem---following the logic outlined earlier.


What is important in this description is the characterization of the kind of history that MP understands as being available through this type of interaction in the present, and the shifts in the understanding of tradition that make of this interaction not a type of repetition as for Husserl, but creation.  The particular characteristic of the history is that it not be tied directly to its empirical coordinates, that it operate in a kind of curious transcendental register that has a sense of the past as one of its features.  One can see this relation played out across the whole history of the Marxist Imaginary in the particular ways of reading the central texts as if they characterized capitalism once and for all and so referred at once to particular empirical conditions that obtained in the middle decades of the nineteenth century and equally to empirical elements in the twentieth.  There are several devices that enabled this type of reading: the assumption that Marx had isolated in laws of capitalism, the dialectic; the effects of the abstraction and application of the dialectic to the reading off of features in the world in terms shaped by Marx's texts, and so forth..  Another mechanism is central but not particular to Marx: the transformation of what is described through the linguistic medium used to describe it, the capacity for fixing and generalizing words carry with them.  The transcendentalizing capacity of language as medium is a condition of possibility for reading, for the sense a reader can generate for him or herself of entering into a scene that is materially the result of interaction with a series of particles laying flat on a page. 


MP reprocesses the figure of Galileo along lines that parallel the reworking of origin..  Rather than a proper name linked to an originary viewpoint on tradition/institution (as for EH),  for MP Galileo is understood as a signifier constructed in/through the institution of geometry itself. Galileo would be among the central organizing signifiers, constructed in and through his own texts and the layers of socially authorized commentary on those texts.[32]  Claims to closeness to or distance from Galileo become moves in conflicts over legitimacy within that instituted social space. Proximity and distance are types of claims made about a given argument/position usually accompanied by or worked in/through assemblages of texts/references.  The particular modes that shape these conflicts are themselves one of many indices of the extent to which even instituted/instituting spaces that operate in opposition to a dominant order recapitulate features of that order in their mode of operation.  At issue in these conflicts, across the question of position relative to the signifier that stands in for origin, is the positing, rearranging, elaborating tradition, arguing for boundaries to be understood around that space or for the opposite: in short creating the space anew.


This basic phenomenon is accounted for in a general way by the characterization of tradition as "forgotten from its origin" but at the same time operating itself with "in relation to an origin not taken up by the present."    The traces of tradition then can be understood as referring back to an originary context, but this referral is not primary.  To keep with this metaphor for a moment, the convergence of referrals around an originary point can account for something of the contours that shape a sense of engagement with collective modes of thought and their history, but the meanings are not shaped by reference to empirical origin.  Origin becomes figure, the inner-most frame around a space of interrogation the status of which is reinscribed by commentary, which also redefines meanings and rules for interaction.  In this way, tradition is continually refigured.  Meanings are not implicit from an originary moment.  Institutions are their history.


For MP, the abstraction of empirical origin appears to be a lynchpin that enables an "accomplishment" of the past to be swung round in temporal terms as operate as a mode of enframing or stylizing activity in the present.   For Husserl, this "accomplishment" had its source in tradition.  For MP, this may still be the case, but in a strange way: for him. the primary characteristic of tradition is that it is forgotten from the outset, is available only as trace, as "circumscribed negativity."[33]  The problem is not that tradition is forgotten from the outset, that it can be characterized as available as trace, as circumscribed negativity.  The result of this would be the claim that, at any given point, tradition is a configuration fashioned by particular actors for particular ends, shaped both by the sociological situation that regulates questions of legitimacy within that field (who gets to speak, at what register, to whom) and by the content that shapes and is shaped by the fabrication of such a configuration.  What is curious in this is the relation between this claim and the relegation of "intentional referrals" to an "inessential" status, when it is clear tat, if what MP argues is true, access to tradition would be a function of these referrals, and the regularities that obtained at the interzone which connects the instituted to the instituting would be shaped by them.  MP's framework here does not allow him to give relationality a priority.  He is still thinking in terms of objects.  It is at this point that the framework outlined by Castoriadis is more suited to a descriptive analysis of institutions. 


What MP does say is that tradition, because it is forgotten from the outset, "calls for reference from the outside."  MP has shifted thinking about institution well away from the visual paradigm that shaped Husserl's analysis, and in so doing has displaced the question of the determination of institution to another level.  The metaphors MP uses gravitate around problems of determining the character or limits of institutions, which function as such as a result of the grouping of effects more than anything else.  He emphasizes the linguistic dimension of an instituted/instituting social space where Husserl tended to read this textual dimension as transparent, preferring to focus on idealities (the results of textual engagement).  What one is left with then is a formation (institution) rooted in texts that are themselves operative as primarily as trace, as negativity.  This accounts for a materially obvious feature of traditions: the texts which comprise it are nowhere simultaneously "present."  In terms of the type of relation MP is analyzing here, even if these texts were stacked in front of you on a table, they would not be present.  Access is always necessarily partial, and the parts always refer, directly and indirectly, to what is beyond them.  This is a sense of circumscribed negativity.

Institutions are patterns and are that which pattern the production of certain types of meaning.  They are spaces of the instituted which open onto spaces of instituting.  Because the instituted conditions without being able to account for the instituting, the relation in its spatialized form would necessarily be open-ended.  At the register of the instituted, of texts, this open-endedness repeats.  What patterns are genre rules, which lean on and deploy through ordinary language, the multivocity of which cannot be eliminated [34] Were an institution to be thinkable as an object, it's core would not be texts as objects but rather texts as modes of stylization of language and procedures which conditioned them.  These necessarily act upon regions of language that extend well beyond the texts. The distinction inside/outside is impossible to fix at the level of institutions in general.  At the level of particular institutions, arguments can be and are advanced concerning closure or  the relative separation of instituted spaces from their environments, but these are ideological claims commensurate with types of relations to regions of the social-imaginary and not statements about these regions.  Such was the case with the Marxist Imaginary, which operated as the dominant form of opposition within capitalism, and which refracted this oppositional status back onto itself by arguments and modes of practice that functioned to generate a sense of separateness.  One result of this is that recognition of the extent to which, say, Marx's texts recapitulate features of the dominant logic of the dominant order that they set out to radically critique comes as something of a shock.[35]


Roughly in line with EH, MP  takes the notion of institution to provide a kind of "noncausal historicity"---which EH takes up but attributes largely to the effects of "sedimentation."  The register at which this noncausal historicity is deployed is that of retention, in the schema outlined in PITC.  Memory then—the type of memory that enables the onslaught of incoming perceptual material to be resolved into anything like a dense experience—is refigured by interaction with the clusters of trace material characteristic in general of institution.  Within/across this trace material are patterns, which may or may not be formalizable into rule (they would not be from the viewpoint of direct interaction: analytically they might be, but with a certain distortion of what is happening).  The stylization of meaning is a result of the inflecting of retention/protention in a particular manner, the appropriation of materials/rules and the shaping of conceptions of the world through them.[36] 


Given the characterization in MP of the nature of these materials as they are encountered in the world, this appropriation of patterns is also a creation.  For MP, creation involves a particular intertwining of experience in the present with history.  So when MP talks about historicity, he refers to historicity as in a enframing of particular dimensions of experience.  This historicity is noncausal in that the way in which history is brought to bear on experience is a function of assemblages fashioned from within what Castoriadis would call the magma of significations particular to that instituted/instituting social-historical space.   That is, while institution enables one to account for patterns, rules, materials, they do not for that account for particular outcomes, either at the level of social or psychic elements—this is an "intentional historicity" that which conditions relations or "reference to…."[37]Describing the effects of this intentional historicity, as it is performed at any given point, through the metaphor of assemblage assumes a kind of distanced viewpoint: from a more immediate viewpoint, practical movement through an institituted/instituting social space is the production of figures shaped by patterns (definition of variables, patterns for bringing phenomena into relation with each other, rules for combination, etc.).  These operations are only understandable if perception is understood as practice, as a process shaped by certain parameters (biological and social, with no obvious way to separate them).  Perception is not and cannot be an immediate relation, a direct apprehension on the part of a subject of a world wholly external to itself.  This process involves not only the bringing-into-resolution of a particular phenomena (the staging one what one might think of as the platform of consciousness) but also an active reading-off of meanings—a reading-off that is always shaped by the mediation of institutions.


1. MP generalization of notion of institution: time as chiasm (287) time as institution


2. tacit cogito: movement through i-space as refiguring of the I as it is a refiguring of the world. CC.     











The situation made available by these [tape recording] is essentially a total sound-space, the limits of which are ear-determined only, the position of a particular sound in this space being the result of five determinants: frequency or pitch, amplitude or loudness, overtone structure or timbre, duration, and morphology (how the sound begins, goes on, and dies away).  By the alteration of any one of these determinants, the position of the sound in the sound-space changes.  Any sound at any point in this total sound-space can move to become a sound at any other point…musical action or existence can occur at any point or along any line or curve…in total sound-space.  We are…technically equipped to transform our awareness of nature's manner of operation into art.[38]



Tape music, field recordings, phonography open the audio-world as a space of interrogation.  Microphones capture a range of sonic phenomena which ordinary sense hierarchies limit.


The use of a single set of microphones is a centering.  This centering associates soundscape with music, reversing the relation of set to subset.  Music is a subset of sound. 


The dynamics of a recorded sound field acquire a structure through the fixing of duration.  Elements which are do not repeat within the field that is recorded can be made to repeat across multiple listenings.  The route to the audio world is acousmatic.[39] 


There is no separation of sound from acoustic properties in the environment.

Listening to a soundscape is experience of the intertwining of the instituting and instituted. 




Project. Essex is reversible: it is one town if approached from land and another if approached from the water, through the Great Salt Marsh.  One Essex is that of maps and spatial relations, patterns of usage enframed by habit and time.  Time in this dimensioning is duration understood as sequence and accumulation.  Most of our understanding leans on the visual what remains or what appears to be solid, what resists, what changes in time-frames that unfold more slowly than our own. In this context, the present is but a threshold, the future speculation and the past a region of accumulation and so is that which dominates the present.  But most of life unfolds time, unfolds in time, and time you do not see.  Time is more than duration: it is also a region of emergence, of creation in the context of which the present is a variable intensity which dilates and expands.


When you move through the Essex Salt Marsh, typically you focus on what you see: the shifting colors of grass and trees, water and sky; the high contrast juxtaposition of the white sand of Crane's Beach against strips of blue above and below;  the early 20th century colonial-style garden and it's knob of pines on Hog Island. 


When you move through the Essex Marsh, the soundspace is maybe dominated by a boat's engine, waves hitting the hull and the wind. 


When you stop, a soundscape emerges: waves lapping the hull perhaps the insects and birds perhaps bent by the wind perhaps.  You orient yourself by scale and position.


The audio environment of the marsh, reproduced with precision but abstracted from its visual correlates, both is and is not itself.   The audio environment reproduced with precision but displaced is a time sculpture.  The audio sculpture in physical spaces around Essex makes Essex itself and other than itself.  The simultaneous presentation of multiple scales of sound transforms the marsh such that its documentation is a making.  The simultaneous presentation of multiple scales of sound requires intervention or action on the part of a listener.  There is no Marsh: there are versions of the marsh.  So it follows that there should be here no definitive piece and no definitive location.  You could not go out to Hog Island and hear this soundscape.  But it would be there.  But it would not be there.   Everything is a making.  This, like the world, is a form of conceptual art.


Let me explain.  The area around Hog Island are at least 5 intertwined ecological and sonic environments: the marsh/grassland/estuary complex; Hog Island and it's pine forest; the sandbar of Crane's Beach facing the Bay and that faces the open sea; and the water itself.  Each of these environments is quite complex:  each will be of necessity subdivided. Each of these environments can be multiplied at the level of scale: each is amenable to multiple perspectives of scale as a function of microphone type and placement.  We want to put 48 microphones in each of these areas around Hog Island.  We would like to use different types of microphones to make available different scales of audio phenomena simultaneously---microphones which capture ambient sound in a scale roughly that of a standing adult, say, and contact microphones placed low in the grass that amplify the sounds of insects, for example.  At the opposite extreme, the physical proximity of these environments creates 3-dimensional sound events which can be treated as sculptural objects in the context of an adequate sound system. 


All sound will be amplified to the same volume.  Birds passing through the channel between Hog and Deane Island will disappear into insects chewing on grass and sounds which travel underwater. Each microphone will feed real-time audio to a central server, located on a houseboat moored between the Island and the marsh.  The signals will be co-ordinated and sent to a cable server located on-shore and will be streamed as 48 channels of sound over the Internet. 


The interface will contain minimal visual materials for orientation: it will have a map of one kind or another and a coding system that will indicate where and at what scale particular microphones have been placed.   The site's primary feature will be a series of 3 audio mixing panels.  These mixers will vary by degrees of complexity and will afford different types of sound and control.  So for example, an initial mixer may enable a casual user to select 1 of the soundspace options; another may enable separation of scales of sound.  A third mixer another click will enable control over as many channels as there are microphones, enabling the user to compose using the entire audio environment. 


The mixers are conceptually fundamental:  they break down the distinction between composition and reception to the greatest possible extent.  Listening, engineering and composing become a single action.  An optimal experience would be across a sound system with as many channels as there are microphones and as many speakers as there are channels, arranged in different configurations around the floor of a house or building which one would move through, a marsh within your space, an immersive sonic world, itself and Other at once, real-time and displaced, precisely documented and infinitely rearrangable.


All equipment will be self-contained and will be set up for a finite period.  Once removed, no trace will be left behind.  I imagine real-time feeds running for a period of 2-3 weeks.  Thereafter recordings of varying durations, ideally of up to 24 hours, would be available as individual compositions or pieces.  The advantage of recordings in this case would not only be the enabling of a permanent site presence, but also that the recordings can be explored or learned through repeated listenings, which open up possibilities for exploring nuances or further rearrangement of signals.  I imagine fragments of the Marsh turning up in other recordings, the Marsh replicating itself, and the experience of these long recordings to be curiously like the Marsh itself:  a second surface, mutable and enveloping, another spurious landscape.













The island is a quarter mile from the parking lot connected by a straight road that cuts across a lunar salt marsh.  Walking. The wind movements of static, the grass around sculpted into pseudo-spheres, Minkowski manifolds.   The tide pools.  At a distance, amongst the conical formations of grass and the blue glare of the pools, white cranes freeze, watch, return to what they were doing.  Walking up this straight road, the sound closing in behind.  To either side the marsh stretches to the horizon irregular green planes streaked with yellow.  As sound closes around, the distance to the island increases.  The road becomes  ribbon.  The spaces to either side lift and twist.  the irregular planes of marsh now green now pink now glare.  Birds.  Along the surface of the ribbon pools of water.  Beneath the water is teeming: fleeting tracers of movement emerge against a background of hundreds of tiny spheres.  Walking again.  The enveloping sound, a sense of being solitary the road the ribbon slack now.  Rhythm of footsteps push the surface downward.  The island is always the same distance away. The sound stretches to the horizon, irregular planes of marsh now green now pink now glare. The spaces to either side lift and twist.  Along the surface of the road pools of water.  Beneath the water is teeming: fleeting tracers of movement emerge against a background of hundreds of tiny spheres.  Walking again.



The photograph is “Max ERNST and Dorothea TANNING playing Chess” ©2007 Dorothea TANNING (USA) & Max Ernst Museum City of Brühl (GER).
 The quotations that bookend this section are from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

[1] George Mead, "The Process of Mind in Nature" Essay 21 in Charles Morris, John Brewster et. al., eds.: The Philosophy of the Act (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938) p. 363.  Text available at:

[2] Castoriadis, "Fait et à faire" in Fait et à faire p. 57

[3] Excerpted from Jules Renard, Journals  (Berkeley, Ca.: Tin House Books, 2008), September, 1887.  Quotation taken from the pubishler's webpage:  More extensive materials available here: including the original quote (13 and 17 Sept. 1887).

[4]  "Let us have a closer look at the hole in a Klein bottle.  This loss of continuity is necessary.  One certaintly could make a hole in a Moebius strip, torus or any other object in three-dimensional space, but such discontinuities would not be necessary inasmuch as these objects could be properly assembled in space without rupturing them. (…) With the Klein bottle, it is different…" Steven M. Rosen, "Quantum Gravity and Phenomenological Philosophy" in Foundations of Physic (2008) no. 38, p. 570.  See the rest of Rosen's analysis of the Klein bottle.  Sections of this essay were enormously helpful in the construction of this one.

[5] Edward Tufte: Envisioning Information (Cheshire, CT.: Graphics Press, 1990) p. 15.  These are truly fantastic books.  Generally, when one uses a text in an essay, there is an implicit assumption that you will provide the reader an illusion of mastery over the text through the demonstration of your own.  One consequence of this is that it may seem unnecessary to read the texts themselves.  Nowhere is this more wrong than in the case of the work of Edward Tufte.  An idea is available here:

These books have been as fundamental for me as anything that I have read, and are a great pleasure as well. 

[6] The ethical component emerges most clearly in his attacks on PowerPoint as an information display platform, which are elaborated in his analysis of the Challenger accident.  Tufte demonstrates that the information that should have prevented the launch of the Challenger in 50 degree or below weather was available in the mass of data that was accumulated and presented within NASA prior to launch, but that it was buried beneath the pseudo-coherence of PowerPoint—which Tufte argues has more affinity with the accurate presentation of the world as stratified by vertically organized bureaucracy than it does accurate organization and presentation of data. See “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint” at

[7] Paul Klee, On Modern Art cited in Edward Tufte, op. cit.

[8] Cornelius Castoriadis:  The Imaginary Institution of Society, Kathrine Blamey, trans. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988) p. 369.

[9] Castoriadis, “Modern Science and Philosophical Interrogation in Crossroads in the Labyrinth (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984) p. 367. Quoted in Suzi Adams: Castoriadis and the Circle of Physis and Nomos  (LaTrobe University PhD. Dissertation, 2006) p. 51.

[10] Numbered paragraphs in this section are taken from Ludwig Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations G.E. Anscombe, trans. (bibliography)

[11] There is another at least one more writing project which centers on the marsh that is in process.  I am also working on mounting the project itself.

[12] E. Husserl: Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis A. Steinbock, trans.(Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 2001).

[13] The 1910 lectures on time consciousness and later papers devoted to the topic are collected in the Kluwer edition. See the note directly below.

[14] Juxtapose IIS, ch. 5, pp. 200-204.

[15] Husserl, The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness John B. Brough, trans. (Dordecht: Kluwer, 1991) p. 376.

[16] This is a recurrent motif through many of the essays collected  in John Cage: Silence (Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1973).

[17] Edmund Husserl: The Crisis of  European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1970).  References to “Origin of Geometry” in the main text are from the version appended to this edition.

[18] Contrast with Claude Lefort's analysis of the role of commentary on Machiavelli in the creation and elaboration of the category of the political in Le travail de l'oeuvre Machiavel (Paris: Gallimard, 1972).

[19] See Natalie Depraz, Ecrire en phénoménologue: une autre époque de l'écriture (La Versanne: Encre marine, 1999) Chapter 3.

[20] The notes from Merleau-Ponty's seminar on the concept of institution, L'institution dans l'histoire personelle et publique were released in 2003 from Belin, Paris.  I did not have access to these when I wrote this paper.  

[21]  See Lefort's introductory essay to Merleau-Ponty: The Visible and the Invisible (Evanston: Northwester UP, 1973)  Merleau-Ponty's text is hereafter abbreviated as VI.  

[22] See in general Francisco Varela et al.: The Embodied Mind (Cambridge: MIT, 1992).

[23] See Rosen, op. cit. and Ingar Brinck, "Situated Cognition, Dynamic Systems and Art: On Artistic Creativity and Aesthetic Experience" in Janus Head (2007) vol. 9 no. 2, pp. 407-431.

[24] Claude Lefort, "Le Sens de l'orientation" in Notes de cours pp. 221-238.

[25] “Cézanne’s Doubt” in Sense and Non-sense and “Indirect Speech and the Voices of Silence” in Signs See also Eye and Mind in The Primacy of Perception  (Evanston: Northwestern, 1964).

[26] VI 118-119. 

[27] In Castoriadis, Fait et à faire: Les carrefours du labyrinthe 5 (Paris: Ed. du Seuil, 1997)

[28] MPOG, 22

[29] VI 112

[30] VI 113

[31] Working Note November 1959 (VI220). See also 118-120.

[32] See Lefort's Machiavel for the claim that commentary defines variables and refines procedures particular to a given institution, and that the formulation of the question of the political is a creation of the institution of commentary around Machiavelli's work.

[33] [[note re. general definition of "traditionality" given later in the lectures]]

[34] On this, see Derrida's analyses of Husserl in his Introduction to the Origin of Geometry.

[35]  MRT, pt 1, passim. 

[36] Chiasm—VI 266.

[37] MPOG, 22.

[38] John Cage: "Experimental Music" (1957) from Silence, quoted in James Tenney "John Cage and the Theory of Harmony" (1983) (find link)

[39] Acousmatic refers to the separation of sound from source.