Scott Wilkerson


Radical Similitude



Where It's At: Toward an Aesthetic Grammar of Spatiality and Sameness

I need some space.

Who among us has not, at least, considered this classic rejoinder to another's solemn entreaties for our attention, time, and commitment? I submit that it is neither accidental nor insignificant that our rhetoric of escape is that of the spatial plenum. I wish here to explore the mediating forces that open dually upon representations of that space and the narratological implications subtending the structure of those representations. I hope, also, to move toward a vision of Difference, not to say Différance, in which the sameness, the arch similarity of these conceptual relations animates a critical architectonic, which I shall call Radical Similitude.

In a note dated August 22, 1938, Freud observes, somewhat cryptically, that "the psyche is extended." Leaving aside the obvious Cartesian ripostes, I take Freud's conjecture as a possible point of departure for the Similitudo as an expressive motif, as a way of speaking about the mentation that informs and modulates our experience of spatial, linguistic, and, to be sure, philosophical phenomena.

At first approach, the puzzle here seems to require some prior commitment to a metaphysics that persuasively locates—without implacing, indeed without implicating—the pre-Freudian psyche. Insofar as the psyche is, at least in the limited scope of this inquiry, provisional with respect the structure of representation, it seems to me that our first maneuver must be toward a coherent language of spatiality and, thus, refine the functional postulates of Difference. Moreover, if Bachelard's dictum, that all things — even those in infinity—take a form, is true, then the phenomenological crisis arising from an incomplete account of the Similitudo is certainly tolerable, perhaps even providential, given the larger question of infinity itself, which is articulated in terms of the differential not the reductio.

It was precisely to avoid the reductive closure of forms (poetic, social, theological, etc.) that Charles Olson declared spatiality the “first fact” of our experience. And all the basic claims of his Projective Verse theory are formulations of an argument for the “space” of language. Radical Similitude searches for a unifying language of logological space, one that decodes the strange attractors between metaphor and geometry.

Ron Silliman’s own program for the New Sentence anticipates these ideas insofar as it conceives a retooling of our procedures for logical argumentation— he sentence, not the paragraph as the principal heuristic mode of meaning, a shift in the material density of ever smaller increments of thought. Spatial relations, then, whether construed as distributions of points about an axis or as rhizomic clusters, are fundamentally relations of sets and invite, therefore, some kind of modified serio-topological investigation. From this ontological substrate, Radical Similitude imputes to logical systems the asymmetry of textual poetics while preserving correct semantic intervals in texts themselves.

While semanticists struggle with the admirable aporia of meaning as the originary solicitation of language, grammarians are free to explore its logo-graphemic disclosures through multifarious modes of textual address. As a matter of pure theory, we might want to wonder whether these modes are, themselves, constituents of an infinite set. But in either case, regarded as sets, all the manifestations of text yield to formalization and, thus, to analysis. And Similitude can be productively understood as Difference arcing infinitely toward negative values.

The narrative implicit in Freud's invocation of an extended psyche is perhaps decoded in Lefebvre's notion of the body as the nexus of a "generative principle," which I take to be a kind of reflexive, Olsonesque proprioception in which, from which, through which, or by which the cogito derives itself. Here, of course, we are compelled to deploy the same linguistic imprecision we wish to refine and are thus ensnared in the problem we hope to correct: the untenable relationship between haecceity and ipseity, that is, between singularity and identity. But it is exactly here that my model for Radical Similitude promises some clarity and formalization, and maybe some hope for navigation.

It is, in fact, upon this question of navigation that the nature of spatial and conceptual identity turns. From the propositional abstractions of rhetoric to the megalithic concretizations of architecture, it is through representations in a spatial discourse that we begin to construct the lines and outlines of the Self proper or at least the essential properties of a Self.

Radical Similitude's graphemic model thus permits an openly eschatological hypothesis in which Difference remains somewhat under-determined until other issues relating to representation are resolved. To anticipate at least two objections, so far, with the expectation that many more will follow, I want first to consider what "resolution" of the representation problem finally means; and, perhaps more importantly, why does any of this matter?

Holly Tavel, editor of the mysteriously evaporated web journal Neuroscape, under the aegis of a larger experiment in Pychogeography, called Glowlab offers her gloss on our nascent discipline. I take the following passage from a musing in quite another context, but she captures with remarkable penetration the modalities of process that concern us here:

"Within a labyrinthine network of enormous, multileveled interior spaces floating above the ground on support columns, interconnected sectors spreading and branching organically over the whole of the earth, inhabitants move through the city on foot, reconfiguring the movable walls and adding or subtracting elements at whim. In this way daily life becomes a kind of mass architectural game, a collective creative act displacing traditional forms of art altogether.”

Tavel is, of course, describing another writer's utopian vision, but leaving aside the social schema, we find here two threads of spatial discourse, precisely those in fact to which I have alluded: art and architecture. Now, the Essentialist paradigm would demand a more rigorous reading of terms like "labyrinthine" and "traditional," if only to authorize a later recourse to Husserlian geometry and historicity. But as idées fixes, they are indeed exemplary, for they give us all three Euclidean axes, XYZ and the temporal horizon, Delta-T. From this, we can derive a first-order proximal calculus and, from that, postulate a basic canon of mereological corollaries. This much, it seems tome, is irreproachable and indisputable. I must, however, concede that many will find the next conceptual move rather more controversial: that of establishing, through morpho-graphemics and deep-structural analysis, a link between these spatial expropriations and the logotropic projections, Projective Logotopes, Radical Similitopes of language.



A Logical Crisis of Difference
A place for everything. And everything in its place.

Far more than merely a program for good living, these words of wisdom suggest a fundamental intuition about the coeval, interpenetrated nature of both objects and space. In this introduction, I consider whether the ideas of "place" and "place world" persuasively resolve those tensions arising from what is otherwise a manifestly evident condition of experience: that things—in order to be at all—must finally be somewhere. And taking this as my point of departure, I explore some of its implications for the space of art and for "art space."

Beauty is in the indexical, pronominal "I" of the beholder, framed by the causal expropriations of conceptual space, but named by the Cartesian accommodation of perceptual place, all of which is implicit in the classical criteria for beauty—proportio, integritas, and claritas. Of these, proportio, the body nexus, most readily invites formal analysis, but clearly does not authorize a purely functionalist critique. Bodies, even narratological ones, are, after all, not universally interchangeable, but are absolutely Similiotonic, that is, nominally isomorphic. Radical Similitude is metaphor without guilt.

For those of us who are content to leave certain mysteries of art untouched—and, therefore, presumably unharmed—the structural inadequacy of an articulated aesthetics of Sameness is simply not a problem. Nonetheless, for any serious inquiry into the spatial architectonics of Similio-aesthetic theory, irrespective of its prior metaphysical commitments, there are phenomenological blanks that must be filled. And proportio is the sharpest available instrument of inscription.

Whether one conceives of proportional relations as numerical, geometrical, topological, or even logological, one is locating objects in a meta-spatial matrix, meta- because space here is properly understood as the invocative principle for the "place-world" and implacement, the ontological template for the disclosure of an aesthetics.

Aquinas's notion of the "habitudo" is precisely that view of proportion in which spatial projections are self-reflexive. The object, then, is its own relational mechanism, but operates under the constitutive aegis of a kind of essentialist cover story. It doesn't know if it is art, but it knows what it is like. It inhabits itself and becomes, thus, a habitation of space and, to be sure, a shifting mosaic of Heideggeresque imagery. Radical Similitude transcribes Heideggerian complexity as Derridean complicity.

Quantitatively, these propositions are puzzling and inconclusive. In Heidegger's work, for instance, they are perhaps the necessary consequences of imaging an aesthetic universe inside the Dasein, that is, of being a thing (even an abstract thing) inside Being itself. His gallant attempt, in An Introduction to Metaphysics, to find an appropriate rhetoric for the aesthetic project is, to my mind, an exquisite, quixotic failure to find Radical Similitude and, therefore, an achievement of the highest artistic conjecture. Moreover, I read his wistful reflection that we have art instead of truth to mean that we have, as truth, only art. Aesthetic theory thus fuses the speculative to the performative in the space of the objet d'art, in the radicalism of the property of similitude.

Here, then, is the surprising emergence of proportion as an epistemological provocation. There is hardly space enough or time to to argue whether art qua art can - or should(!) - prove the truth of its claims. But it is instructive to note that the multifariousness of space as the expressive motif for an aesthetics is, in itself, an approach to the axis of knowledge. That there is room for doubt requires a concomitant place of certainty, again compelling the phantasmagoria of fantastical aporia into the ambit of radicalizations within similitudo.

There is a sense, then, in which the architecture of the syllogism is recapitulated by the transmutation of space into place. The possibility alone of a metaphysical foundation for logic imputes to formal discourse a minimally descriptive narratonomy. Further, because this relation is isomorphic, the logical foundation for narrative permits spatial discourse a maximal metaphysical expenditure. Argumentation is the objective, and the object is an argument. To be clear, this is NOT an instance of Radical Similitude, but rather, it is Radical Similitude that authorizes this transitivity and encodes its language.

Radical Similtude insures that Difference will both always and never be the same old thing.