April 11, 2019
USF Provost’s Lecture: Matters of Value, Matters of Fact
In recent years I’ve taken to asking students and colleagues, “Why do you do what you do?” Although that question is not the same as “Why do we live?,” it is not unrelated, because how we live would be part of my own response to the question of why we live. It’s a phenomenological question about the experience of life, but I would like to answer it in a poetic way in the context of contemporary and emerging technologies of performance, where performance is construed generously, beyond the domains of performing and performance arts.
One may aspire to do philosophy in the mode of poetry again, a Laozi multiply transposed. But didn’t Plato throw out the poets from the Republic because they operated in the realm of the fictive imitative, thrice removed from the truth, and therefore were not to be trusted with the proper affairs of the polis? Emboldened by Felix Guattari’s activist ecosophic call, can we create fresh know-hows in the mode of art, where that it matters not only what we say or do, but how we say or do it. I’m wagering that both truth effects and ethico-aesthetic passions can be accommodated in the same breath, the way mathematicians construct truths via imaginative processes that can be regarded as poetic and poietic art.
It is in this spirit that I describe how adventurous artists, engineers, and scholars have engaged over 20 years the experimental study of experience, in transdisciplinary organizational and institutional experiments such as the Topological Media Lab, FoAM, and Synthesis. We will see how questions of craft, under inspection and reflection, can become refined into philosophical questions. Under rigorous reflection, questions how become questions why as well. Questions of philosophy in turn can provide heuristics, though never blueprints or methodologies, for craft.
The most compelling reason for refining technical challenges — political, economic, engineering, health problems — into philosophical questions is to understand how we produce matters of value as well as matters of fact
And, in the face of the “anthropocene”, a name which seems to substitute species-centrism for ego-centrism, can we invent a techne (art + engineering) and an ethico-aesthetic experiment for our age that is humane but not anthropocentric?