Monday, May 29, 2006

Creation dilemma and the role of design

The understanding of modernity was almost always presented through an initial war between myth and logos or, in other words, between the teo-semiotic interpretation of the world and the rational abduction combined with technological reproductibility (let us imagine that the original “punctum”[1] of modern history was like Blumenberg’spectator[2], when observing a naval battle from a quite distant place).
This almost cosmogonic fight that resulted in the aparent victory of reason was, in turn, folloied for the emergency of the idea of subjectivity (that went back at least to the 1600s). Since the Enlightment era, the self-enunciating of subjectivity has increased through a slow metamorphosis of the original representation – where everything was still considered as manifestation of a holy expression - to the ideia of a complex and constructed net of effects. Hume’ s definition of man (1739-40/1985) as a mere sum of perceptions and Kant´schema theory (1787/1988) integrate this kind of ‘desconstruction’.
All of a sudden - as Foucault wrote (1966) - in the 19th century, the man and the languages emerged to the surface of real existence and became both epistemic objects par excelence. Since then, man and languages were never again seen as something that God would have distributed calmly to the world, in the context of an unquestionable and innominable order and harmony. Since then, the representation started to be seen as a construction, or a designed and formed product moved by the creative effort of man. The modern subjectivity fulfilled thus the mission of a somewhat spartan initiation, but apparently full of beneficial results (above all in the field of material culture).
Little and little, the autonomous affirmation of subjectivity dissociated itself from the idea of being a simple part of a holy flock that would move towards eschatological salvation (Carmelo, 1995-1999). One of the most important impacts of this subjective affirmation was the new concept that defined culture as all that man does or has ever done (Herder´s “Kultur”[3]). Nevertheless, this emerging society (based on the construction) readopted a specialised metaphor: the creation. As a sign of this new age, Gropius started his known 1919 manifest underlying this normative trend: "the last end of all the creativity is to construct"[4].
During the 19th century, reflecting this modern cosmogony, the creativity was about to be understood in two major and distinct ways: or as a dynamic based in the experience that would culminate with Peirce´s pragmatic abduction (1996), or as a peculiar process that found in the artistic creation the reappropriating of the divine production, although dependent on the individual sphere of the "genius" (the term is Kant´s concept - 1787/1988).
In the former, the creativity was understood as a participated and guided movement around “inquiry”, “doubt” and the provisoriety of “belief”[5] (Steiner underlyed, instead of “creation”, the term of reference “discovery” for scientists and “invention” for technology – 1990/2000, p. 369).
In the last, after the romantic advent, the creation was understood as a revelation that tended to separate itself from the dominant technological and rational convoy that seemed to control the ordered landscape of modernity.
In the former, the creation was above all defined as a logical process of investigation. Its key element was the “interpretant”, a mental self-reproductive sign that translates the deepening of a previous sign creating therefore an addition of knowledge and experience. However, if the interpretant was refered by an argument, then semiosis, or the signic self-reproduction, changed into a permanent significafion and discovery process, in which “abduction”[6] formulated conjectures, after induction having tried them and before deduction necessary conclusion have taken place (“signs conduce to learning from experience by mediating between reality and our cognitions, and by storing learned material for subsequent interpretations and use”; Hookway, 1992, p.127). On the logic of abduction, the most efficient tool of human knowledge and creation, Peirce affirmed in his Sixth Conference of Harvard (1903): "the abduction is the process of formation of an explicative hypothesis. It is the only type of logical operation that introduces a new ideia” (1996, p. 324). Or, in other words: “Reasoning is of three kinds. The first is necessary, but it only professes to give us information concerning the matter of our own hypotheses” (...) “The second depends upon probabilities.” (...) “The third kind of reasoning tries what il lume naturale”, (...) “can do. It is really an appeal to instinct.” (Peirce, 1978, p. 98 - 1.630).
In the last, the creation is defined as an expression that refers different semiotic contents but always in the presupposition that, in its deep subliminarity, it is populated by a transcendent, intransitive and ineffable nature (Majewski wrote: “In his study of Balzac’s philosophy Henry Evans concluded that even Balzac, the self-appointed social analyst, had adopted the belief in art as “la véritable religion du monde moderne’” – 1989, p.1). This self-vision of the art seems to identify itself with the nietzschian definition of truth – “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions; they are metaphors that have”(...) “been drained of sensuous force” (Dayton, 1998, p. 119.). Such sacralised truths, as Shelley wrote, participate in the apostolate of the almost holy and creative poet:
“§30 Not that I assert poets to be prophets in the gross sense of the word, or that they can fortell the form as surely as they foreknow the spirit of events: such is the pretence of superstition which would make poetry an attribute of prophecy, rather than prophecy an attribute of poetry. §31 A Poet participates in the eternal, the infinite and the one; as far as relates to his conceptions time and place and number are not.”(1840/1986, pp.37-8).
Gasset (1925/1998) also redescovered this new intrinsic art content, when commenting Teodoro Lipps concept of “Einfuhlung” (or “affection”):
“Y aquello que acaso era un montón inerte de pidras, puestas las unas sobre las otras, se levanta ante nosotros como dotado de una vitalidad propia”(...)”En realidad somos nosotros mismos quienes gozamos de nuestra actividad, de sentirnos poseedores de poderes vitales triunfantes, pero lo atribuimos al objeto”[7] (1998, p. 112.)
In other words: besides the labyrinth of interpretative curiosity (the refered “montón of piedras”), emerges the almost expressionist recognition of a creative illumination. This art “value of cult” (completed with the value of its proper public "exposition") is also, for Benjamin (1936/1992, p. 84), its great ‘isotopia’ and over all the way of ressacralising a time that seemed to have been defently separated from a mythologic and theocentric pathos.
Have this initial modern “war” - or this generally characterized shock between “myth” and “logos” - been exactly real?
Blumenberg (1981/2000, 1984/1985-2) preferred to understand myth as something that always survived through the times. Far from being silent in a remote origin, the myth would have been sedimented in the galaxy of the reason and, like the romantic and nietzschian flavors, it would have lead us to the temptation of the aesthetic judgment that surpasses - or skirtes - a necessary and analytical definition of values:
“The antithesis between myth and reason is a late and a poor invention” (…) which “forgoes seeing the function of myth, in the overcoming of that archaic unfamiliarity of the world, as itself a rational function” (…) “the boundary line between myth and logos is imaginary” (1985-2, p.48).
Design will probably appear before us today as one of the achievements of this theory of Blumenberg.
That´s why creation is not the same thing for artists and for designers.
Following this logic, art would continue to pursuit the ideia of creation that has its roots in the original opposition between myth and logos, assuming clearly the plan of the former against the rationality of the last.
On the other hand, design would be the clear evidence that such opposition never really existed, being its own forms the meeting point for myth and logos (getting thus together the pure creation’ tradition and the pragmatic effectiveness’ tradition).
More concretely: the speech on art, in the last two and half centuries, would have developed a creation pattern based on mistery and immanence, which can be reflected above all in “expressive” trends (expressionism, informalism, body art, etc.), in “oniric” trends (surrealism, etc.) and in “the reducionist” trends (minimal art, conceptual art, etc.), but also – although mostly less - in “formative” trends (cubism, stijl, op art, etc.), “social” trends, (expressive realisms: some Picasso, some pop art, etc.) and “useful art” trends (bauhaus, Malevich’ s constructivism, etc.)[8].
However, as far as design is concerned, the historic and inherited idea of creation seems to have its roots in the conceptual assumption formulated by Blumenberg: On one hand, sharing the same dimension of the creative poeisis that art demands, and, on the other hand, sharing abduction‘s rationality and effectiveness applied to the expression of material culture. When congregating the two aparent dichotomic terms - myth and logos -, design would be not only the full achievement of a metaphysical prophecy (going back to romanticism) but also the achievement of a logical and conjectural system. Besides that, design would be a kind of climax in our current and aestheticised world.
In such vision, design would find in nowadays’ technology its full accomplishment. Not only because it congregates what always was thought to be opposed (reason and myth), but also because it can help art to free itself from modern sacralising paths, mixing therefore their pieces with artefacts, objects, urban furniture and, in a word, with all material culture. The “hyperreality” (Merrel, 1995) would thus be, in such accomplishment, the product of the overcoming of exaust modern antinomies (fiction vs. real, public vs. private, emission vs. audiences, truth vs. sense and - of course - reason vs. myth) and would have its main visibility in visual global simulacra where design fulfills a prominent role (media, cyberworld, advertising speech, objects, hightech products, environment, material culture in general – Carmelo, 2005-2).
In the current hyperreality is emerging a new hibridism that integrates, without central or referencial orders, what was enunciated in the beginning of modernity as fixed and agregated identities. In design, this “rhyzomatic” (Deleuze/ Guattari, 1980) spreaded movement is taking place through the emergency of new materials, which are presenting themselves to the new global emotions and functionalies as the real prothesis of our material culture. They are like tactile simulacra that we can enjoy with the body and the perceptions (flexible ceramic, metallic foam, plastic conductors, Solid-state light sources, carbon staple fibres, etc.). The case of the synthetic polymers is quite interesting, since it refers directly to mimesis of natural properties, preserving the tactile attributes and modifying if necessary the potential shapes of the products. Therefore, the products become more and more a kind of changeable features that are far beyond the form and function to which they would have been previously drawn (light vs. resistant, deformable vs. flexible, transparent vs. cloudy, etc.).
The essays of Blumenberg, Work on Myth (1984/1985-2) and Imitation of Nature… (1981/2000), seem to be essential for the apprehension of this interface between underlying myth reality and the logos dayly life reality. The study of this encounter, applied to the complexity of roles and functions that design plays today in the technological and contemporary world, can be of major importance. This subject is part of a post-doctoral research that we are initiating and which also concerns the neurobiologic data that explains mental patterns of creativity, this are being made after previous researches[9] on this theme, more specifically on Damásio[10] mental semiosis.
Hans Blumenberg myth conception, instead of barthesian conotative ideology (1957) or anthropology perscriptions, is based in historical processual patterns. Far from being a distant and unknown entity, the myth is seen by the author as a product that acts and reacts, or that implements itself always throughout the times, coexisting with all kind of live expressions. The myth is thus a deep imaginary product, invisible memory and evidence, but always concerned to the facts, to the questions and to all concrete states of thinks of all eras. "Reocupation" (Umbesetzung) is the concept name for this permanent adaptation that characterises Blumenberg´s myth, which is also seen as an acting inheritance of western culture.
The "mithologic reocupation" - in the case of design - would place the radical inventivity side by side: that of creative poiesis (when Romanticism hast mobilised all forces against Aufklärung) and that of material efficiency of creation.
C. and P. Fiell wrote in the recent Designing The 21st 4 Century [ ] : " Design must answer to technical, funcional and cultural needs and create solutions to communicate emotion and meaning in order to transcend his forms, structure and production." (2005, pp.11-21). We believe, however, that design is already breathing this transcendence a long time ago. It will not be either a coincidence that W. Gropius has written in 1919 manifest: "There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman. The artist is an exalted craftsman. By the grace of Heaven and in rare moments of inspiration which transcend the will, art may unconsciously blossom from the labour of his hand, but a base in handicrafts is essential to every artist. It is there that the original source of creativity lies" (2004/1919).
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[1]Barthes, R., 1980, La Chambre Claire, Gallimard, Paris.
[2]Blumenberg, H., (1979) 1990, (Schiffruch Mit Zuschauer Paradigma einer Daseinsmetapher) Naufrágio com espectador, Vega, Lisboa.
[3]“The definition of culture as that which both unites and differentiates humans into cultures in the plural became influencial especially throught the work of the german philosopher Johan Gottfried Herder (Ideas for a Philosophy of the History of Mankind, 1784)” (K.Jensen, 1995 (p.5), The Social Semiotics of Mass Comunication, Safe Publ., London/Thousand Oaks/New Delhi).
[4]Gropius, W., 2004 (p.28) in Bauhaus Archive Berlin, Museum of Design - The Collection, Berlin.
[5] Pragmatic peircian concepts (“The Fixation of Belief”, 1877; 1996, p. 125).
[6]Peirce compares "Retroduction (or abduction)", i.e.," the First Stage of Inquiry", with the instinct of the birds: "if we knew that the impulse you prefer one hypothesis you another really were analogous you the instincts of birds and wasps, it would be foolish not you give it play, within the bounds of reason"(...)"But is it fact that man possesses this magical faculty? Not, I reply, you the extent of guessing right the first teams, nor perhaps the second; but that the well-prepared mind has wonderfully soon guessed each secret of nature is historical truth."(1996, pp. 369-371).
[7]O. Y Gasset, La desumanización del arte y otors ensayos de estética, Editorial Optima, Barcelona,1987:112.
[8]Conceptual references from De Fusco, R. (1983) 1988, História da arte contemporânea, Presença, Lisboa.
[9]Carmelo L., 2002, Músicas da Consciência, Publicações Europa-América, Mem Martins.Lisboa
[10]About (1994) 1995, O Erro de Descartes-Emoção, razão e cérebro humano, Publicações Europa-América, Mem Martins, and (1999) 2000, O Sentimento de Si- O corpo, a emoção e a neurobiologia da consciência, Publicações Europa-América, Mem Martins.