Opposing the Particular
Ellis A. Wilson
an essay from
UNILALIA: Critical Psychedelic Theory
As the image comes into focus, the phenomena of form is made more apparent — from an ambiguous field of indiscernible movement comes a display of separate and individually distinguished objects which occupy and fill the back and foregrounds of the visual field. These objects are then particularized as they are assigned specific attributes and qualitative values, all of which are only contextually relevant (because relevancy is entirely contextual).
Ambiguity is then dominated by particularity as the object is brought into definition — here, we observe the exacerbation of objectivity: the quality or condition of being an object, extant only in diametric opposition to a separate and self-determining subject. Like all oppositions, the subject-object opposition is a relationship between two separate yet inseparable parts of one unity — the novel cannot be conceptualized without its author just as the world cannot be made manifest without an observer. When the consciousness of this unity atrophies, this fundamental opposition assumes an antagonistic orientation wherein the subject seeks to conquer its object, failing to recognize the interdependency that is inherent to their relationship.
Here, we observe the advent of the human subject, what Smith (2013) characterized as “a project that aspires to universality, a project that can only exist over and against the particularity of the other.” She writes that the human subject conceptualizes itself as such by distinguishing itself from that which it considers to be outside of itself — in linguistics, some may refer to this generally as the mutual exclusivity principle. In its implied aspiration towards universality, the human subject emerges as a character which is motivated by its desire to colonize that which it is not, seeking to exercise control over the natural by reducing all aspects of life into an object to be acted upon in a linear and successive fashion. In this reduction, life is temporalized and distilled into a symbolic matrix — a series of representations which then constitute reality.
In this distillation, the human subject encounters the paradox at the center of its own conceptualization — by fulfilling its self-ascribed role as subject, it simultaneously falls victim to the logics of objectification. The subject becomes the object of its own imagination; thus, in seeking to colonize the natural, the human subject colonizes itself as it descends into a schizophrenic loop of contradiction. Here, consciousness finds itself shackled by the weight of a seemingly endless array of dualisms and binary antagonisms.
As a symbolic construction, reality becomes an illusion and as a consequence, the illusion becomes real — considering White’s (1949) contention regarding the symbol as “the basic unit of all human behavior and civilization”, those who have assumed a monopoly in the construction and management of the symbolic domain wield the understanding that within the theater of representation, the universe is no more than a linguistic construct, and infinitely stratified and malleable matrix of symbolization wherein the disempowered collective finds itself subjugated to the will of the semiotically proficient monopolists. When concerned with the consolidation of power, representation, within its diachrony, emerges as a predatory practice, a weaponized form of language intended to deceive its audience for the sake of mediating their relationship to the natural [self]. Through this mediation, domesticated individuals are deprived of any authentic relationship to themselves as they are conditioned to recognize and define themselves only in terms of how they appear in relation to the dominant social context. Simply put, the presentation of what is real becomes the ultimate exercise in manipulation and social control.
The master semiotician, as an authoritative ideal, seeks to exploit the ambiguity of form through the calculated particularization of the objective plane — only as a collection of particularized objects can the colonization of the natural be expedited via systemization: the organization of the movement of objects into a very specific set of patterns (whose only objective is the reiteration of the initial organization). The more particularized an object becomes, the further it is pulled into formality — particularization conquers ambiguity by putting the object in form, therefore producing units of information (items of intelligibility).
The insidious nature of this mode of reification reveals itself most readily in the context of hyper-industrialization, wherein the formation of the object is made uniform as particularization is mechanized and adapted to the grammars of mass production — as the world is distorted into a global marketplace, all objects are then bound to the universal form of the commodity as particularity itself is standardized and homogenized. As an article of commerce, Debord (1967) writes that the “commodity form reduces everything to quantitative equivalence. The quantitative is what it develops, and it can develop only within the quantitative.” This worldview is then projected as the dominant model of life, an image which in turn contextualizes and informs the domesticated individual’s imagination of self.
The reanimation of ambiguity opposes the hegemony of the particular — as the visual field becomes less definitive and more abstract, objects fall out of distinct formality and as a consequence, objectivity itself comes under fire.
So I ask in what ways can the artist reanimate ambiguity?