Monday, March 9, 2009

Art as Philosophy

In the Name of Us.

In the Name of God. Would it be ‘silly’ to add this phrase at a beginning of a text by Nietzsche, Derrida or Marx? What does it mean to start ‘in the name of’*?

It is the result of its greatness that Nietzschean thought has provoked such mayhem; that every thought about a modern subject has to orient itself ‘in relation to’ Nietzsche*.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. This would be most absurd when Nietzsche is concerned. We are confronted with a merciless philosopher who objects compassion. He is merciless for not only he has declared a war on Christianity he has defined it as a ‘project’, one which he will not abandon. He has no mercy for a bleeding opponent, yet, in much of his philosophy he evokes this impression that his God is not dead.

What we shall try to do is to keep on thinking. Not to stop moving forward. We might start each time from very different points; we might change direction or surfaces; we might confront obstacles and go back and regress.* Turning back without regression: that’s what we shall allow to enter our arguments.

The western philosophy begins with the declaration of I and continues with it. The Greek had a multiplicity of not only thought but philosophies. (In comparison, one can speak of a Persian literature hovering above all the poets that constitute it.) We.* We intend to form a philosophy that has ‘we’ at its centre. Can there be such philosophy? Words exist as long as there is somebody to hear them. We exist although we might be unthinkable. We shall try to create tools for thinking ‘us’. Thus, once again, in the name of us.

We shall try to produce it for a myriad of reasons. To see the history of what has happened to us. Before the revolution, everybody was into politics and ideology. After it, there was a time that psychology and psychoanalysis was ‘in’. Those who thought, apparently refrained from the collective. The problems were to be solved in an internal world. Today it seems philosophy has got the upper hand. The situation is amazing: every publisher will accept a translated book on philosophy. You are here for the sake of it; a session like this is not easy to hold in any other part of the world. I cherish this chance of talking to you. You’re the ones who extract the words. It’s because of you that we have the right to say ‘us’.

In this first session I will try to mark not the lines of thought that we shall follow, rather the rules of thinking, ‘our’ axioms, our methodology and certain concepts that we shall concentrate upon. We shall.* This is a key concept in our methodology for instance. [Key concepts shall be marked with an asterisk in writing.] We shall try to incorporate ‘shall we?’ in every statement we make. There are reasons for this. In English, we can use in first person either will or shall in statements about the future. Now:

1. We cherish the fact that shall is oriented towards future. This marks the fact that our philosophy is a philosophy in progress, not a retrospect.

2. Shall is close to, but in certain respects different from, will. Happily enough, this celebrates our distance from Nietzsche.

3. Shall is not normally used with other subjects apart from the first person. It marks the fact that our philosophy is one concentrated on us: a philosophy of a certain number of people in a specific historical situation. It refrains from universals and does not seek solutions for everybody. [From time to time, we might have recourse to universals, yet they will be ‘our’ universals: universally true for us.]

4. Will often expresses the future as fact, something we cannot control. It expresses a prediction, a definite opinion about the future. On the contrary, when we can’t decide, we use shall to ask for advice or suggestions. What shall we do? The British use shall in suggestions and offers. Every statement in these sessions will be presented as a suggestion or offer to you. We can redraw our approval of any truth at any time.

5. The tag question of let’s is shall we? We shall imbed it in every statement we make. I shall be asking you to ‘allow me’ to move forward with every statement that I make. Although I shall act more or less as agent here, you can always feel free to object to, redirect or stop any statement at any time. As you will see, ‘regression’, ‘erasure’, ‘mistake’, ‘stopping’ etc. are among our key concepts.

To say ‘shall’ is to move (with) others with their permission. When one asks ‘Shall we?’ he is no longer a wanderer in Deleuzian sense. He is not passive either. It is to consider that my moving moves you. Please feel free to stop me to suggest a different direction or to ‘turn’ us ‘back’.

Another key concept is to consider art as a kind of philosophy. As such, our philosophy has to be new. There is no art without the new.

And a new philosophy needs a new way of writing. More than that, it needs a new method of discussion. We cherish it as our parting with Derrida as well. As we shall see, I will object to the deficiencies of the printed text. This—valuing speech above writing—might be thought of as a ‘regression’ in Derridean discussion, yet we shall cherish regression too as a key concept. This will be clearly seen in our concept of ‘forms of life’*.

Philosophy is not only the domain of answers.

Art as Philosophy. Art procedures as ways of life. Art.* Life.*

The problem with Nietzsche is that he does not speak ‘in the name’ of life. The name of his philosophy is ‘will’. The will as existence is to betray life in many respects. It leaves no space for the wisdom of letting go. It has to ignore the definite weakness of human beings as far as willing is their only opportunity for changing their environment. It is not just a matter of abandoning ‘pity’ as a tragic strategy, it is also about ‘not forgiving’. The notion of sin becomes central to Nietzsche with eternal recurrence. This is the stupid part of his philosophy, the part ‘in vain’ where he tries to make will measurable, to give rigidity to life, for if it happens ‘once’ it cannot be as rigid and ‘hard’ as he desires. It is this classical desire of Nietzsche that betrays life. Thank God he is not as consistent as he could be.

Where does the power of man rely? To let go in time. To change and resist. To obey and disobey. The power to implement the right change at the right time, as well as resisting change when necessary. It is obvious that Nietzsche fails in saying a full yes to life. One has to let go of power as a measure, if one has a criteria for his choice of form of life.

What is wrong with using words such as capitalism, post-modernism, multiculturalism and the like, to think our situation? Nothing apart from the fact that one cannot analyse specificity with notions that result form global abstraction that prevent forms of life from appearing and recurrence.

Is Capitalism not in favour of change? Not in favour of creation and re-creation of forms of life?

The problem is not Capitalism as such, but what an economic system (or any system whatsoever) can impose that disrupts the procedures with which one constructs his/her form of life.

Our situation is unthinkable. This is because the words used for thinking our situation are insufficient. And what happens if we don’t think our situation? Our main axiom will be a belief in what thought is capable of, even in a situation such as ours.

Should philosophy of us be ambiguous? Should it be fragmentary? Should it have a zip?

Zip.* We need a philosophy that you can zip and unzip. A philosophy that can expand. This is not a philosophy that can be continued on a straight line. It is not one that has no line of thought at all. It is a philosophy that jumps, that returns and fills in what is written. It is a philosophy that fills, that builds. A zip allows different bits to fit in place on a supple trajectory. A slight disorder can derail the zipper. It can return back to its path after a while.

Let us leave aside this lengthy jargon of rupture, break and gap. Let us forget about Lacan and Nietzsche. They are not meant for the destructed. He did not dare to be what we need.

Aphorism? Far from it. We have no intention of stabbing deep and hard.

Of One

Descartes wrote, ‘Cogito Ergo Sum.’ He should have said, ‘Cogito Ergo Sumus.’ For the existence of thought, of language proves the existence of human being as a kind. Language is a band. Thus, we shall say: ‘Cogitamus Ergo Sumus.’

There is deep selfishness in philosophy. The selfishness of the ‘I’. One usually does not say ‘philosophy’, but the ‘philosophy of’. The philosophy of a name. The philosophy of Kant, of Hegel, of. And these are those who have dedicated themselves to truth-seeking, to understand how things are and how one is. They have considered mind as a judging machine. A sorting machine. And no matter what they say, they are after universals. As such there is no place for ‘mistake’. For a philosopher, practically there is nothing more important to ‘inscribe’ his thought, and thus himself, in philosophy. As such, he will make it such that it is not easily refuted. In his ambition, he is very similar to an artist. In his methods for approaching it, it might seem that he is not.


Eraser is what is left out in the act of writing. The truth of writing is not only the binary opposition between text and margin, but also that it tries to be ‘precise’. This happens most of the time when a text is printed. To print, usually means to make a private text public. A printed text is essentially different from its manuscript. The greatest difference being the omission of mistakes.

What is our objection to a Nietzschean or Derridean philosophy in terms of their method? That they integrate in their method what they leave out in their thought. Derrida’s objection to Foucault should be returned to him: if it is impossible to write the History of Madness with sanity, then one shouldn’t print what is to explain deconstruction. No philosopher in the history of philosophy allows for mistakes. Even Socrates, who believed he is just moving forward without first ‘locating’ the truth, would not accept to ‘turn back’.* Anything settled in a previous discussion was a ‘foundation’ to him. Is anything wrong with that? Is philosophy not a kind, or shall we say, the most profound way of ‘truth-seeking’? We shall.* This is what we will try to incorporate in every sentence. Shall we? To ask this is to move forward with the permission of other’s who will share a thought. Ultimately, we arrive at this question once again: is thought a single or a collective act? What will a collective philosophy look like? What shall be its methods?

Way of thinking. Methodology. Is there a ‘way’ that can escape ‘methodology’? Is ‘plurality of methods’ an alternative to this? As usual, we shall find our answer in art. Shall we? An artist is someone who can tackle the problem of ‘style’. In art, style is an issue that cannot be left out. Every artwork defines a new style. Yet, if we accept styles as the only existing common modes of expression, to say something common in a new style appears, theoretically, impossible. But in art, the possibility of the new* is an axiom. We shall look for a new way of thinking which is, at the same time, very common. We shall talk and gather what we say. We shall examine, search and probe; we shall have ‘subjects’ and points of reference, rendezvous as it were. We shall design a plan, one that we might not refrain to be faithful to. This is a philosophy that should be able to ‘stop’.* We shall stop, not at the point of non-sense*, but were continuing is ‘worse’ than stopping or changing direction. And this is a very common procedure in art.

In Critique of Judgment, Kant considers three maxims for an enlightened way of thinking: (1) to think for oneself; (2) to think from the standpoint of everyone else; and (3) to think always consistently.[1] Although we might find ourselves closer to the 18th century philosopher than to the so-called post-moderns, we shall make certain changes to his statement. Our maxims would be: (a) to think for ourselves; (2) to think in terms of our situation; (c) to think continuously in a productive way in the face of whatever threatens the lively flow of our life, i.e. our way of life. This would be to change our way of life as a result of a change in our thought. We substitute the term ‘consistently’ with artistic, as a check for philosophic thought.

A common act of a painter is to step ‘back’ and look at what he has done. This is not only to judge different part in comparison to one another, but also to compare it with (or rather, to see how it functions in the context of) what is common, which is not to say, to check if it conforms. Rather to see what you have done. To see is always to see ‘in the light of’. What we shall try to see here, is in the light of us.

What is ‘bad’? Can we do away with ‘badness’? Can we go beyond the good and evil, as Nietzsche supposed? Yes and no. More accurately, why should we? What would be left of art, if nothing is different? One the other hand, how can art happen in a system of fixed values? In other words, how can art exist with beings and without becomings? Every subjective becoming has to pass through good and bad.

We shall try to experience the joy of creating a philosophy.

[1] Immanuel Kant (1987) Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett), p. 160.


  1. to think in terms of our situation itself requires a regression in our thoughts. since there are subjects which we may all agree on, but our situation. that's a trait of our unique situation, the unbalance between our vision and our acts . we could simply (not always) correct this misplacement by immigration or try our best to keep them apart and perhaps once in a while crash into reality and end up being told: don’t you know this is “Iran”?! or in this case find a third way, trying to take it in, actively… I’m not sure how we’re going to do that and I think none of us can really tell where this would lead us. it seems in that way this program is kind of similar to the condition of living in Iran, you never know what’s coming, everything is possible (but I hope we take this similarity in a much more positive way). anyway, it seems better suited to us...

  2. I've never read such a good analysis of Nietzsche's philosophy. It was what I'd thought about many times and couldn't find the reason why it makes me feel as a "sinner" sometimes? It seems like a dream to bring our artistic philosophy into our lives. "Shall we?" is such a kind and sharing word for a "start".

  3. Many thanks, Maryam and Shohreh. I'm so pleased to hear you've considered it relevant, that you think 'we shall', at least at this very first step, for the kick-start! Bravo Maryam for the creative thought...

  4. So we are hoping for a collective agreement upon a subject matter, fair enough. But how much are we willing or rather “shalling” to merge? How does it make any difference if we collectively agree upon something, or individually? Yes, I agree “ye dast seda nadare” but how do we maintain such agreement. I am not sure where his will take us, but I like kicking Nietzsche off the top seat for now.
    And what you say about the new. The new itself is quiet amusing, because it only is new for a limited time, and if something is new, is best to be consumed while it is new. I think what we are doing is like learning to bake bread, in a place where there is lots of “bayat” ones. So it is a constant consumption of homemade thoughts. And we are collectively making it. And it feels good to consume fresh. Yes, you like fresh bread and so do I.

  5. 1. What we shall do is more than reaching a 'collective agreement'. We hope to 'create' something together not to approve of a proposition that somebody puts forward. This would be, we hope, a somehow different process of creation. We try to come together, change one another and leave as different individuals, not as 'one' group. When one learns from others, it's not always the case that he admits what they say, that he drops his own belief and picks up the others', rather, he learns how to change 'in his own way'.

    2. How much are we willing to merge? But are we going to? The goal is not to 'dissolve' into a group but to hold it up with our individualities. The Deleuzian idea of a 'pack' versus a 'mass' might fit here. (Of course, he's too Nietzschean in that...) He maintains that what creates a pack of wolves is not a particular relation to a 'centre' (which does not exist) rather through complicated dynamic relations between the members. What we say is that humans are neither sheep or wolves, but rather connecting machines, communicators. Human , in its being, should be considered as a 'race'. As such, even their individuality and selfishness is a by-product of their sociability. By praising sociability, we're not trying to emphasize one side of a binary, rather as a 'quality' that can be supported and enhanced. There might be times when individualism is the best way of respecting what is truly collective.

    3. It's right to ask how we can maintain being-together. To be a group is very different from being named as such. We shall not claim that any coming together can solve problems. What we are looking after is a 'space of thought' that might or might not exist within a group. We shall seek ways and methods for creating and upholding that space. It surely acquires much effort, yet we start with this supposition that one receives more from a group than what he puts into it.

    4. There are philosophers who believe the new stays new even when it's no longer 'recent'. Badiou is one of them. However, we're not so much concerned with 'consuming' ideas than with creating them. We define thought as something that changes 'us'. Once we change by a thought, that thought becomes a part of us and it can no longer 'leave'. For us, an old thought is a one that lacks the power of changing contemporaries. It is an action, a performative, always happening in the present. Yes, you're right, we want to bake our bread, but at the same time, we are practicing and looking into what we do, we want to improve our skill of bread-baking by doing it.

  6. Public
    Whose standards do we live? It may be impossible to find a certain answer to where our standards start forming and how they continue to reform. How do we come about something like value? How is “this” any better than “that”. For the most part it is the future or the step after that evaluates our value system. I see a visible ratio between value and fear. Our set of value very much depends on our fear of life or rather cultural survival. Because what society encourages or rather forces us to do is to be safe and predictable. Fear and anxiety often back our decisions up, and there is always this tension between where mind likes to be, versus the force of a defined social obligation that pulls it back.
    Value is a changing ratio due to its surrounding, timeline, conditional force and other factors that I cant think of now. Each subset holds more or less “same” values, and defends a system that follows certain criteria of good and bad well fit under the main set of culture; And of course there is wealth, power, fame and success. You say money is an abstract thing, but it is a measurement that is grasped globally, and it has been carried out through history. Why is it the centre of public value? It is a device that is implanted on the mind of everyone? – well almost everyone- It allows immediate measurement by many signs that reveal its value, and many organizations in culture are there to promote it. It is because abstract, negotiable and non-linear thinking is not “healthy” for a “good” society. Now,

    If we start looking at ordinary objects that hold ordinary values (often easy to completely dismiss) it turns out their value is constantly at change and that is neither for the better nor for the worse. Let s say a piece of napkin, it holds a different value if it is on a pedestal, on a dinner plate or ready to wipe off at the toilet. Napkin one of the most disposable things, changes its reputation in hit of a second. it is important to remember that Use value is only making up a small proportion of the value that is given to things. That napkin is most wanted before use and least wanted after. Its placement and timeline works on the way it is evaluated. one thing or a combination of things are potent to hold any value. Value of things is relative and there is not a fixed value for a fixed thing. It doesn’t matter what it is used for, its surrounding and time line effect a large percentage of how it is viewed.
    Now if you ask what are the ways in which we can negotiate value instead of the “natural given facts” then I start thinking. I have thought of color codes, protection level, organization, order, fragmentation, sharpness, playfulness, and modest ness.

    PS. I would have liked to write in farsi, but my farsi type is terrible. I am on the way to improve it.