Who is Sisyphus Bellerophon Part 1: The improvisor’s wicked problem – or why all play is Sirius. (section i. )

Filed under:"Who is" series — posted by Schizostroller on November 5, 2018 @ 5:17 pm

“What is the sentence?” the Traveler asked. “You don’t even know that?” asked the Officer in astonishment and bit his lip. “Forgive me if my explanations are perhaps confused. I really do beg your pardon. Previously it was the Commandant’s habit to provide such explanations. But the New Commandant has excused himself from this honourable duty”. Franz Kafka, The Penal Colony

“…Ancient life was all silence. In the 19th Century, with the invention of machines, Noise was born. Today, Noise is triumphant and reigns sovereign over the sensibility of men.” Luigi Russolo, the Art of Noises.

The term ‘wicked problem’ was first diagnosed by Rittel and Webber in a paper in 1973. Wicked problems are particularly difficult to solve. They are more or less unique, they lack definitive formulations, they have multiple explanations, there is no test to decide the value of any response to them, no outcome measures, yet each response has important consequences, so there is no real chance to learn by trial and error. This means that wicked problems are interrelated, any wicked problem has complex links to others, any response to one may impact others.
There is a certain sense that intractable forms of psychosis are wicked problems. In worst case scenarios they get reclassified as personality disorders. Tractable at least with regards personality, though, is a synonym for docile, as Foucault described. What ideology, or as Deleuze discussed in his book on Foucault, diagram of power lies behind such disciplinary practices. Deleuze in his famous Postcript on the Control society described the constant remoulding of subjectivity required of modern semio-labour, the constant retraining, always prepared for the next job. Taking that subjectivity even in their relation to the means of production outside the workplace in their orientation to consumerism and commodities: ‘owning their choices’.
Freud says: “What has been called the dream we shall describe as the text of the dream or the manifest dream, and what we are looking for, what we suspect, so to say, of lying behind the dream, we shall describe as the latent dream-thoughts. Having done this, we can express our two tasks as follows. We have to transform the manifest dream into the latent one, and to explain how, in the dreamer’s mind, the latter has become the former.”
In ‘Who is Salome Bentham’ the question “who” became a “what”. Hannah Arendt in the book the Human Condition writes, “The problem of human nature, the Augustinian quaestio mihi factus sum (“a question I have become for myself”), seems unanswerable in both its individual psychological sense and its general philosophical sense. It is highly unlikely that we, who can know, determine, and define the natural essences of all things surrounding us, which we are not, should ever be able to do the same for ourselves – this would be like jumping over our own shadows. Moreover, nothing entitles us to assume that man has a nature or essence in the same sense as other things. In other words, if we have nature or essence, then surely only a god could know and define it, and the first prerequisite would be that he be able to speak about a ‘who’ as though it were a ‘what.” The perplexity is that the modes of human cognition applicable to things with ‘natural’ qualities, including ourselves to the limited extent that we are specimens of the most highly developed species of organic life, fail us when we raise the question: And who are we? This is why attempts to define human nature almost invariably end with some construction of a deity, that is, with the god of the philosophers, who since Plato, has revealed himself upon closer inspection to be a kind of Platonic idea of mine. Of course, to demask such philosophic concepts of the divine as conceptualisations of human capabilities and qualities is not a demonstration of, not even an argument for, the non-existence of God: but the fact that attempts to define the nature of man lead so easily into an idea which definitely strikes us as ‘superhuman’ and therefore is identified with the divine may cast suspicion upon the very concept of ‘human nature’. (p.10-11). Such an issue is indeed another kind of wicked problem.
In the therapy for voice hearers called voice dialogue, a whole panoply, a veritable pantheon of voice constructs are conjured up much as in a séance, each construct appearing as a ‘who’, in fact covers up for a ‘what’. Communication with such choruses are a means to work through such wicked problems, they can make tractable, but is there a method where instead of the personality becoming more docile, there is a possibility for the personality to make traction?
“Perhaps the most important new element in our music is our conception of free group improvisation. The idea of group improvisation, in itself, is not at all new; it played a big role in New Orleans’ early bands. The big bands of the early swing period changed all that. Today, still, the individual is either swallowed up in a group situation, or else he is out front soloing, with nothing but any of the other horns doing anything but calmly awaiting their turns for their solos. Even in some of the trios and quarters which permit quite a bit of improvisation, the final arrangement is one that is imposed beforehand by the arranger. One knows pretty much what to expect.
When our group plays, before we start out to play, we do not have any idea what the end result will be. Each player is free to contribute what he feels in the music at any given moment. We do not begin with a preconceived notion as to what kind of effect we will achieve.” Ornette Coleman.
Can we improvise with our voice constructs? However when such a group plays… do we know what the end result should be? A result that leads to freedom in an exploratory practice, but that outcome measures for costed auditing measures will always constrain, foreclose and limit.
I raised improvised music as it is a musical practice that gives possibility to more open possibilities in music. In the exploration of psychic phenomena it is not that unlike Freud’s theory of free association. However “Freely improvised music, variously called ‘total improvisation’, ‘open improvisation’, ‘free music’, or perhaps most often simply, ‘improvised music,’ suffers from – and enjoys – the confused identity which its resistance to labelling indicates. It is a logical situation: freely improvised music is an activity which encompasses too many different kinds of players, too many different attitudes to music, too many different concepts of what improvisation is, even, for it all to be subsumed under one name.” Derek Bailey
Derek Bailey’s argument here is akin to Michel De Certeau’s argument about the panopticon and minor practices: “the exceptional, indeed cancerous, development of panoptic procedures seems to be indissociable from the historical role to which they have been assigned, that of being a weapon to be used in combatting and controlling heterogeneous practices. The coherence in question is the result of a particular success, and will not be characteristic of all technological practices. Beneath what one might call the “monotheistic” privilege that panoptic apparatuses have won for themselves, a ‘polytheism’ of scattered practices survives, dominated but not erased by the triumphal success of one of the number” (p.48). When we put these together with Freud’s theory of a censoring apparatus in the dream and Lacan’s neutering Symbolic, we can find a portmanteau of practices to get to the latency beneath the manifest dream as a means to deal with this wicked problem.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace