Working principle(s) # 5: creative!’experimental, fallible, collective Thrift supports his view of NRT as ‘a machine for multi- plying questions’ by insisting that ‘the world should be added to not subtracted from’ (Thrift, 2005, p. 474). Creativ- ity, experimentation, fallible (modest theory) and collectivity should all be enfolded into the conduct of ArT practice. This creativity can be found in James’s assertion that; Any idea upon which we can ride, so to speak; any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, simplifying; saving labour; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instrumentally (James, 1981, p. 30). This resonates with the messengers of Serres which bring ‘rapprochement and rapport between categories’ (Bingham and Thrift, 2000, p. 285) and of the ‘movement thoughts’ of Deleuze and Guattari. In NRT there is a call for modest method and theory in so much as limits, and trial and error experiments are recognised. This is embedded in pragmatism, particularly its fallibihsm which was pioneered by Peirce. Doubt is placed at the heart of knowledge, yet it does not disable it, rather, it energises it – ‘where the modernist intellectuals saw doubt as debilitating, Peirce saw it as liberating’ (Dig- gins, 1995, p. 190). Bernstein (1991) terms pragmatism as a tradition of ‘engaged fallibilistic pluralism’ (which means), ‘taking our own fallibility seriously – resolving that however much we are committed to our own styles of thinking, we are willing to listen to others without denying or suppressing the otherness of the other’ (p. 336). Pluralism within prag- matist thought means not only assuming that existence is plural in nature but also that theoretical engagement with it should come in plural forms which are ‘interpretive, ten- tative, always subject to correction’ (ibid, p. 327). This entails replacing established adversarial styles of academic argument with ‘a model of dialogical encounter’ in which one ‘begins with the assumption that the other has some- thing to say to us and to contribute to our understanding. [ ] This requires imagination, sensitivity and perfecting of hermeneutical skills’ (ibid). It is not assumed that this pro- cess will resolve disagreement, but rather that it will pro- duce a mutual reciprocal understanding, which includes understanding of disagreements. This fallibilistic element of pragmatism anticipates Thrift’s notion of NRT as ‘mod- est’, ‘affirmative and therefore collective expression’ which does not seek to play the ‘macho’ stance ‘boy’s game’ of building and defending theoretical ground at the expense of others (Thrift, 2004a, p. 83). Linked to fallibihsm is Peirce’s metaphor of knowledge as a cable, in which the ‘mul- titude and variety’ of ideas and theories are woven intimately together, thus making it collective and ongoing. (Jones 2008)
I am going to take exception to Jones’ conclusion about the stance of the artist. Rather, I am going to accuse Jones of conflating the artist and the problem-solver. The artist is part of a project that is concerned with bearing witness and moving from experience to experience. The problem solver, however, is concerned with being an advocate. Being a quality advocate involves – or at the least should involve – a dialectic where questions are asked. The goal however, is never to question but to answer. The questions are merely a method of obtaining a more accurate (academics) or lasting (judiciary) answer. In either case though the concern is to obtain the ‘last’ answer. Problem solvers are not concerned with an endless process of discovery.
I will return to this as lately I have been consumed by the notion of ‘last’ and what it means to my life, my labor path and others. This new preoccupation is after rereading Chaloupka 1992 where he disclosed a twist to the ‘last’ problem: the search for knowledge is an individual’s attempt to have dying words worth remembering. Supposedly, we search for knowledge so we can utter some great axiom thus creating our immortality. An example of this is Shit My Dad Says. That site is easily the funniest thing on the interwbs these days, and what is really amazing is how much of it rings true. Shrinking the world into sound bites is therefore not only useful but ultimately a search for our own immortality. This mechanistic view of dialectics and even debate is turning into a focus of mine.
I am not yet sure if I buy such a cynical reading of the quest for knowledge. However, like Nietzsche, such a cynical read has infected my other readings and endeavors.
Chaloupka, William. (1992). Knowing nukes. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press.
Jones, Owain. (2008). Stepping from the wreckage: Geography, pragmatism and anti-representational theory. Geoforum, 39, 1600-1612.