Skip to content

Complexism?

Composer Gordon Monro, via Warren Burt, has pointed me to Philip Galanter’s manifesto-like piece in which he proposes what he calls “Complexism – a new science-friendly paradigm for the arts and humanities”.

Read Gordon’s blog post/summary and/or Galanter’s original text.

It is refreshing to see this position continuing to be put! I agree with lots of PG’s position. In the spirit of discourse, and certainly not for cheap antagonism, I’ll make a few quick, and thus unbalanced, remarks. I don’t know him, though I occasionally see him on the Supercollider list.

  • He does make the distinction between complexity and complicatedness, yet his examples are all of complicated systems (frog’s guts, weather etc). A good example to clarify the distinction is the inability to predict the path two connected pendula will traverse when set in motion.
  • His discussion of information theory is encouraging, though a little glossy. But I would say that, I suppose, given my extended writing on the matter. (See Chapter 3 and Appendix A here. ) Ditto Enlightenment thinking which can be differently (better?) expressed as the reconciliation by Kant of contemporary empirical and Idealistic impulses.
  • I’m not clear whether the asymptotiic discontinuity (the peak) in the graph is intentional or meaningful. I would have thought a bell-shaped curve more appropriate, though perhaps I’ve missed a vital point.
  • It is often not clear whether he uses the terms “Art” and “arts” exactly or loosely. Visual art commentary commonly elides the two; the reasons for which are another non-apolitical topic. Unfortunately, the disregard (whether through lack of knowledge or whatever) for the musical precedents on this topic make much of it appear more journalistic than scholarly. Think, for example, of the different positions on randomness (taken and as expressed in their compositions) in the 50s-70 between Cage, Stockhausen, Boulez and Xenakis. Relative to music, the visual arts have come late to the use of computers in the making of work and so their (art) theoretical context has been more influenced by PM than has music composition. Because W. culture is so overwhelmingly dominated by the visual, not acknowledging this historical precedence has the effect of silencing it and visual art theory, as well as the wider cultural debate is considerably weakened in its so-doing.
  • The discussion in section 15.3.3 Postmodernism in Crisis reflects a much deeper understanding, IMO, not withstanding the claim that modernism and politics are orthogonal, if that is what he is saying. The expression “Modernism, by contrast, is politically orthogonal” is not clear to me – orthogonal to what? Further, I think in music, it is not accurate to PM as essentially “left-leaning”. Often it is the opposite. In truth, M and PM inclinations seem much less easily oriented. Think of the closeness of Xenakis and Boulez on the M-PM spectrum, yet politically,they are poles apart. It is certainly the case w. Cage, yet he is/was not an island.
  • While the opposition between M and PM is useful for clarifying impulses, as per Apollonian/Dionysian, ingestion/digestion, exploration/settlement etc, and my own inclinations are more hunter-gatherer than cultivator, it seems to me that PM is but an incarnation of mannerist / neo-classicist impulses expressed in contemporary language. That the arguments seem to be so vehemently put by the PMs (death of history etc) is more because it is “our” incarnation of these forces, than de-vitalised historicised memories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.