16 March 2020

Mumford -- Art and Technics (xiv)

"As with printing, photography did not altogether do away with the possibilities of human choice; but to justify their productions as art there was some tendency on the part of the early photographers, once they had overcome the technical difficulties of the process, to attempt to ape, by means of the camera, the special forms and symbols that had been handed down traditionally by painting. Accordingly, in the nineties, American photographs became soft and misty and impressionistic, just when impressionism was attempting to dissolve form into atmosphere and light. But the real triumphs of photography depended upon the photographer's respect for his medium, his interest in the object before him, and his ability to single out of the thousands of images that pass before his eye, affected by the time of day, the quality of light, movement, the sensitivity of his plates or film, the contours of his lens, precisely that moment when these factors were in conjunction with his own purpose. At that final moment of choice--which sometimes occurred at the point when a picture was taken, sometimes only after taking and developing a hundred indifferent prints--the human person again became operative; and at that moment, but only at that moment, the machine product becomes a veritable work of art, because it reflects the human spirit." (93)

"in conjunction with his own purpose"
In other words, this is where willfulness and vanity are turned to constructive ends; or at least the artists themselves are bound to think so, since these are their "purposes" and not someone else's. Ideally the audience/recipient also has an active part to play in assuming the same discriminating posture vis-a-vis any transmission they might choose to receive; but the question of direct communication of messages and ideas, of the equal validity of myriad contradictory interpretations of the transmission, looms large here. What if the recipient's purpose is, from the outset, somehow at odds with that of the artist? And even where their purposes are in fact aligned precisely, who is to say that this happy accident could not still get lost in the aesthetic shuffle?

Indeed, the skeptic is wont to intone: If you really need to send a message, write a letter. To decode that saying in terms of the present discussion: a language (one worthy of the name and shared by the parties concerned) is the most functional Technical means of comunication (worthy of the name), and photography is not, quite, a language. In Technics, initial design choices determine the use dynamics of a machine, which in turn determine an essential purpose for it. Similarly, the very notion of message or purpose seems to dictate that there is, whether really or merely ideally, an essential standard against which efforts of realization can be judged. All together now: Communication is a branch of Technics, not of Art. Aesthetic productions, meanwhile, say what words alone cannot, which is fine if the substance of your message or purpose is vague or negotiable. If your purpose is in fact deathly important, then you should get Technical and exclude a large part of your human personality from the transmission. If your personality is the message, then it's fine to use Art, but you had better be an unusually interesting and deep person if you expect anyone else to care.

From any position short of full comminicative potential, the aesthetic distinction between impressionistic photography and photographic photography (what else to call it?), between machine art which "attempts to ape...the special forms and symbols that had been handed down traditionally by [handicraft]" and that which "depends upon the [machine artist's] respect for his medium," between art which subverts mechanical function and art which affirms it, this distinction comes to seem rather arbitrary. In this passage it is implied, and elsewhere asserted, that art which subverts Technics is less successful across the board, including (perhaps especially) aesthetically, than art which affirms Technics. Mumford puts forward "machine art" as the clearest illustration of this dynamic, but ultimately I think that the distinction between functional art and recreational/contemplative/aestheticist art is most meaningful here. In other words, where there is a clear, objective standard of success or failure against which to measure the artist and their work, a standard which is borne of quotidian matters rather than hedonistic or metaphysical ones, then I would expect a pattern to emerge whereby affirmative machine use begets demonstrably higher functioning products than does subversive machine use. Art for its own sake, meanwhile, is definitionally oblivious to process, cares only about results, and imposes no (or at least many fewer) absolute standards of success or quality. This is why, from the standpoint of an aestheticist artist, Mumford's stricture against subversive machine use seems more like axe-grinding than meaningful analysis. I for one consider there to be no remarkable deviation in quality along the distinction between affirmative and subversive technicians; I do, however, see a certain path dependence as inhering in each way of working, with subversion leading not, as is so often claimed for it, to a broad flowering of untapped possibilities but simply to more or less equally narrow set of possibilities dictated by the initial design of the machine.

As such, the lesson I would take from the example of nineteenth century impressionistic photography is neither that it is doomed aesthetically nor that it can find no function, but merely that the desire for social acceptance under a very particular rubric is itself quite the arbitrary consideration vis-a-vis Art, arising as it does from neither aesthetic nor from functional demands but from social insecurity. It would be totally unsurprising, then, if art issuing from this quite unartistic mindset would fail at fulfilling roles which it was neither conceived nor designed to fill. In my own bailiwick there is no shortage of analogous examples: there are instrumentalists who turn to extended techniques and avant-garde performance practices simply to draw attention to themselves, to stand out, to be contrarian, or to conceal other deficiencies; and there are those who make their names and careers as earnest, compelling avant-gardists who subsequently choose to cash in on the mere spectacular potential which inheres in a drastic reversal of course. And then there are musicians like Robin Hayward and Vinko Globokar who have built compelling practices on technical subversion and succeeded on most every critical level all while sustaining a sincere posture. That they are exceptional examples is, I think, a function of the overall poor signal-to-noise ratio in the contemplative arts, and not necessarily a function of how contemplative artists use or misuse machines.

If all of this is so, then it would be absurd to claim that the "human person" is less "operative" here than elsewhere. I've known some profoundly deficient, supremely operative human persons, and I think we can all be thankful, actually, that they've gravitated toward the contemplative arts and away from the functional ones.


"that final moment of choice"
Perhaps the photorepresentational will has just recently found its Technical apotheosis in the smartphone and its various space-age cameras, in the "burst" and the "moment," functions which have done for curation what the camera itself did for representation. This seems a near-archetypal instance of an innovation which was technically achievable decades before social conditions led it to be advertised widely on television. Similarly, it is just the latest instance of the problematic, the others, the imperfect rejects, being at minimum more interesting, and often enough also more artistic, than the acceptable, the idealized, the perfect, which it is the contemporary will's social duty to prefer. The proof: these others are so good, in fact, that a recent TV commercial leads with the outtakes rather than with the choice cuts. In instancing the "final moment of choice" as a normative (non-)choice, it becomes undeniable that the outtakes are more interesting than perfection even if they are not necessarily better.

If there are device- and marketing-specific reasons, as well as social ones, that two-factor photo curation has just recently come (back?) into popular consciousness, this practice is incidentally also extremely relevant to the dynamic Mumford outlines here. These technologies themselves now make more transparent than ever before the possibility that this "moment of choice" can just as well come after the properly technical concerns and the gadgets themselves have been powered down and returned to the shelf. Curation is at that point not merely more accessible but, given the wide reach of these devices materially and socially alike, very nearly an essential part of photography, much as music production and post-production are, despite the prodigious recent growth of specialized credentialing therein, more likely than ever before in the recording era to be handled by the performers themselves. In one sense the counterproductive elisions of agency Mumford writes against have been made harder to accomplish; in another sense this has come about via a new regressive disenfranchisement within a formerly "democratized" art form, whereby social stigma and normative thinking pre-determine artistic choice that formerly lay more wholly with the individual. If you don't believe me, try playing raw sessions for an audiophile.

For those of us who wish to present ourselves to the world as artists first and foremost, there are two ways to interpret all of this vis-a-vis the will. Perhaps a compulsory choice is no choice at all; or perhaps this choice was always implied/tacet and by being made conscious makes (gently enough) a genuine agent out of the formerly passive recreator. Perhaps production responsibilities are imposed on music performers via an unfortunate confluence of economic, material and cultural forces; or perhaps musicians have thus wrested control of something they can do for themselves as well as anyone else can do it for them, thereby cutting overhead and regaining agency where usury and abdication and previously prevailed. As for photo-representational art, perhaps the social world thus represented is, essentially, a play of wills which is only made stronger by diversity; or perhaps this social world is a war of wills where greater technical power makes possible ever greater mutual destruction.

Presumably photogs still need the skill to account for many of the same variables Mumford lists even if their timing no longer needs to be perfect. There is even the possibility, which I assume has by this time been realized thousands of times over if not necessarily under the auspices of the formal art world, of a firmer division of labor between moment photographer and burst sorter, between Technician and Curator. In such a scenario, neither person is able to lay a whole claim to Mumford's conception of artisthood independent of the partnership, much like a termite colony in which the group demonstrates the characteristics of a complex organism but the individual bug does not. Termites get a lot of work done this way, but a human society committed to any degree of individualism might think twice about the implications of such extreme divisions of labor for the fate of the individual. Is there not a point where lifting the burdens of agency itself becomes oppressive by stunting development? And is this not intrinsically what Technical advances do in spite of their many more salutary aspects?

"his interest in the object before him"
The object which is mechanically reproduced by the photographic image has, as far as I can tell, no sentience or agency in Mumford's account; but in fact this object is quite frequently, perhaps even paradigmatically another human being, another citizen, social agent, desiring subject; and this means that the advent of photography greatly intensified a conflict of rights between the subject's freedom of expression and the object's freedom from it.

Mumford speaks to the possibility that the moment of choice can occur at two different stages of the process, either in the moment the picture is taken or as it is selected from among many such options. This two-part process of generation followed by curation is hardly unique to the photorepresentational arts, but the unique political dynamics of the representation of one subject by another are multiplied, literally and figuratively, by it. The object-agent can now be violated not just once but twice: first they can have their image captured for purposes over which they have less control or certainty than they are justly entitled to; next, they may see this image reproduced, deployed, distorted in all kinds of ways that may be more specifically violating. As photography becomes faster, more powerful and more precise, it requires a lot less skill than it used to capture the object in an unflattering moment; rather, you simply need enough time and a fast enough camera. The narrow area into which the expressive personality of the subject is channeled by this technology is coextensive with the area where the object-agent can be violated. Just as machine art has unique and distinctive aesthetic and functional qualities, so it enables unique forms of violation which humanity didn't have to wrestle with back when it was far more difficult and technically inaccessible to hand-draw someone's spitting image quite so well. And so the internet is full of clickbait portals which compete for our attention this way: football game wrap-ups which lead with piles of players in unfortunate positions, political coverage leading with spitting-mad stills of unsympathetic figures who may merely have been speaking a prosaic word that happens to begin with a hard consonant. If representational mediums do not quite lead inexorably to these sorts of outcomes, nonrepresentational mediums do lead inexorably away from them. It seems to me (still) that this fact has not been adequately considered or elaborated by scholars of art's place in society.

15 March 2020

Mumford -- Art and Technics (xiii)

"...by perfecting a mechanical method, the "taking of pictures" by a mere registration of sensations was democratized. ... What had been in the seventeenth century a slow handicraft process, requiring well-trained eyes and extremely skilled hands...now became an all-but-automatic gesture. Not entirely an automatic gesture, I hasten to add, lest any photographers in this audience should squirm in agonized silence... For after all it turns out that even in the making of the most mechanically contrived image, something more than machines and chemicals is involved. The eye, which means taste. The interest in the subject and an insight into the moment when it--or he or she--is ready. An understanding of just what esthetic values can be further brought out in the manipulation of the instrument and the materials. All these human contributions are essential. As in science, no matter how faithfully one excludes the subjective, it is still the subject who contrives the exclusion." (92)

There is, internecine politicking aside, a squirm-worthy element of these developments nonetheless: the inaccessible Technics of "a slow handicraft process" can indeed be elided via mechanization, and said process thereby rendered superfluous; but the choice and responsibility of Art, as Mumford speaks to earlier on, cannot be elided. (And why would we want them to be?) This "democratization" is thus constructive only insofar as the old Technical barriers prevented latent Art from being realized; insofar as they were concurrently preventing vapid or destructive impulses from manifesting in the material world, they were at worst neutral and at best critically important. Who is to say, really, how much of which kind of desire is latent at any given time?

The chance of gaining generative power without first passing through a protracted period of struggle and introspection is bound to be irresistible to many people, at least to the extent that they are consciously aware of this dynamic. Struggle and introspection themselves are, if inherently resistible to most people most of the time, nonetheless endemic to a certain small cross-section of the personality spectrum from which the master handicraftsperson tends to come. I say this not to valorize these traits but in fact to de-valorize them. In value-laden notions of art's place in society, such formative factors have a way of becoming value-laden too. By positing certain deep-psychological traits as conducive to artisthood and others as anathema to it, we run afoul of the distinctively American (and it is this even now, actually) belief in total freedom of vocational choice. But if artists did not place themselves on such pedestals to start with, then the assertion that not everyone is fit to be an artist ceases to be offensive, even under a regime of totally free choice1.

And so, if the imposition of handicraft morality at a certain point came to look like a mere protection of entrenched gerontocratic interests, if its effectiveness in jump-starting a concurrent development of moral sense was habitually overstated by those same interests, if it truly is functionally dispensable, if it is a mere antiquated roadblock to self-actualization which is best bypassed altogether so as not to delay consummation, and if distribution channels (i.e. the Internet) have now belatedly undergone the complementary democratization necessary to complete the two-way artistic transaction, then I would expect great democratizations such as the one under discussion here to have begotten far greater and broader progress than they have. It seems instead that the extent of the progress has been to initiate an ever-ongoing Marshmallow Test whereby successful passage of the test has over time become defined by ever-shorter intervals of delayed gratification. For Mumford here, to the extent that it is a basic human need to be generative in some capacity or other, the ever-escalating development of the technics of reproduction has enabled this need to be met more fully, a profound social gain purchased at the equally profound cost of a correspondingly massive devaluation of the resulting products. This confounds the technocratic-progressive conceit to "a steady climb upward", pointing instead to "a series of flat plateaus" (84) borne of a complex web of concurrent microtrends. Threads of progress and regress thus swirl together in ways that can be quite confusing to the human subjects swept up in them.

To note just one much-discussed current, there are of course those whose subsistence labor commitments occupy virtually their entire lives, who simply don't have time for introspection, but who may also avail themselves of these shortcuts to generativity. There is an ever-present temptation to valorize their output (and its lack of refinement) as the essential expression of a particular oppressed class or ethnic group; yet such work surely also reflects, regardless of its other good or bad qualities, the condition of oppression itself and thus an intolerable stunting of human potential. The full introjection by the oppressed of the very artifacts of their oppression is precisely the condition in which said oppression becomes self-perpetuating. Certainly the degree of refinement needs to be a choice freely taken and not imposed from above, but therefore also not merely foreclosed by structural barriers. Short of that, who can say where the dynamic interaction of personality and circumstance, of nature and nurture, might deliver any given person who is afforded the opportunity to stop and think about all of this more-than-occasionally? Given that most basic right, reflections of identity are bound to look rather different that they do without it. And if we simply elect never to stop and think about what we are doing, then what is the point?

1. Is totally free vocational choice really such a privilege? Is it really quite so kind and caring to let young people figure all of this out for themselves just as it has become too late to change course?

14 March 2020

Mumford -- Art and Technics (xii)

"In the case of photography...there was for long a question as to whether it was or was not art. And the answer to that question is: Is there any leeway for choice and initiative on the part of the photographer? If there is such leeway, there is a possibility of art, that is of success or failure in terms that would have significance to the beholder. Perhaps the best effect of machine art is to make us conscious of the play of the human personality in the small area where it remains free, a differentiation so delicate, so subtle, that a coarse eye would hardly take it in and an insensitive spirit would not know what it meant." (82)

p. 93 -- "As with printing, photography did not altogether do away with the possibilities of human choice; but to justify their productions as art there was some tendency on the part of the early photographers, once they had overcome the technical difficulties of the process, to attempt to ape, by means of the camera, the special forms and symbols that had been handed down traditionally by painting. Accordingly, in the nineties, American photographs became soft and misty and impressionistic, just when impressionism was attempting to dissolve form into atmosphere and light. But the real triumphs of photography depended upon the photographer's respect for his medium, his interest in the object before him, and his ability to single out of the thousands of images that pass before his eye, affected by the time of day, the quality of light, movement, the sensitivity of his plates or film, the contours of his lens, precisely that moment when these factors were in conjunction with his own purpose. At that final moment of choice--which sometimes occurred at the point when a picture was taken, sometimes only after taking and developing a hundred indifferent prints--the human person again became operative; and at that moment, but only at that moment, the machine product becomes a veritable work of art, because it reflects the human spirit."

Here Mumford takes photography's seemingly most obvious bug, the confinement of "choice and initiative" to an exceedingly "small area," and posits it as a feature. That the Technics of the endeavor so strictly circumscribe desire without quite disabling it entirely is, for him, not a limitation at all but in fact "one of the truly esthetic qualities of machine art," of disciplines where the "the play of the human personality" is brought into higher relief precisely for being so narrowly channeled. Though he does not explicitly state the obverse thesis, it is fair to wonder if, by this logic, there is at the other extreme a degree of artistic freedom into which the personality is merely diffused rather than exalted. And though he does not invoke the concept of accessibility, it would not be reading too closely between the lines to theorize a further connection to this most loaded construct, i.e. to posit that strict channeling of the aesthetic impulse has a parallel effect on the reception side as is ascribed to it here on the generative side; that "truly esthetic" reception is borne of intelligibility, and that intelligibility is borne of the strict channeling of generative desire.

Wherever photography's status as art is in fact questioned, indeed wherever the compulsion to settle on a hard and fast definition of "art" is for any particular reason prioritized, Mumford's gloss could be quite compelling in favor of including photography under any definition in which expression and/or communication are the linchpins: whereas conceits to expression and communication through art quite frequently run aground on the non-specificity of abstraction, photorepresentation is supremely concrete in surface content while permitting expressive depth within a managably "small area." If art is to be about sending messages, then photorepresentation is a medium which strikes a rare and delicate balance in this department.

This is certainly an interesting angle from which to consider photography as a medium and as an art form. The question of conclusively defining art is, however, never quite as interesting as it seems like it should be; it is interesting enough to divert Mumford here, I think, for two not-terribly-good reasons. Explicitly, he wishes to gently head off the charge that his hard-functionalist theory of machine art more or less does away with the art part of the question, and as such he wishes not to offend photographers by appearing to deny them their rightful status as artists. Rather, photography is art because it does afford generative-aesthetic choice, and it is not non-art simply because this choice is narrowly channeled by a mechanical intermediary. This point seemingly arises as a procedural matter rather than an essential one. It is a heading-off of offense borne of misunderstanding, a little white nugget of interest-group mollification offered up simply to keep things moving, "lest any photographers in this audience should squirm in agonized silence." Though now living on only in written form, these missives are in fact conceived as "lectures," whereby the lecturer is potentially face-to-face with the aggrieved. In the solitary consumption of formal academic writing, meanwhile, there is nothing but "agonized silence" and, probably, a squirm or two to boot. This is simply part of the readerly deal, and it is easier to accept when the only available recourse is itself a written one1; less so otherwise.

That being as it is, these assertions are actually quite central to Mumford's larger thesis, to his view that the metaphysics of machine usage are settled fact to a degree that the artists in the room may well find, in a word, unartistic, and this no matter their metiers. His is just about as hard and fast a definition of art as is ever put forward either in person or in print, so much so that there can be only "a possibility of art," not a certainty of it, inhering in any given technical medium. Arthood is not (or not entirely) in the subjective eye of the beholder but rather (also) can be objectively deduced from the evidenced relationship between human creator and technical intermediary. If I were a photographer in the audience, the possibility of inclusion under such a strict rubric would not be all that comforting. Nor would the implication that photographs which are "soft and misty and impressionistic" are, as a rule, something less than fully artistic or aesthetic. The overriding need or desire for early photographers "to justify their productions as art" at a time when such status was not yet firmly established furnishes Mumford with a handy example, but it simultaneously evinces a massive confounding factor vis-a-vis the argument he uses it to support. Presumably having judged such works aesthetic failures, he points to the fact that they work against rather than with the designed purpose of the camera. This is solid correlation which is nonetheless still a long way from causation; to take one for the other is to betray the presence of an underlying primary judgment which is far less rational than a fully-rationalized functionalist regime permits.

Further yet, in staking this argument to the concept of narrow channeling, Mumford risks contradicting his earlier assertion that "material and process play this [limiting] part everywhere." If that is so, then what is the significance of degree therein? Can our perception of these degrees of limitation ever be objective and reliable, or is it itself perspective-bound and ephemeral? Is the artistic leeway permitted by machine art truly narrower than in the fine and performing arts, or is its narrowness simply harder to ignore once machines become involved?

As always, the possibility of a global, prescriptive definition of art is rhetorically useful only up to the point where it must be fleshed out; for pragmatic purposes it is at that point elided by instead settling for the inscription of sub-categories within it rather than boundaries around it. This is somewhat less-than-explicit in the text but seems to me nonetheless an unavoidable takeaway. "If there is such leeway [for choice and initiative on the part of the Technician], there is a possibility of art, that is of success or failure in terms that would have significance to the beholder." Ostensibly this question of "success or failure" and that of "significance" would mark the common ground between so-called machine art and all other kinds of art, simultaneously becoming a rather strict prescription for all against which all cannot possibly stack up equally. Crucially, then, material differences among arts determine the ease with which their artifacts may meet this standard, the methods which are available to do so, and the likelihood of successful reception by an audience. Complete automation and wholecloth creation stake out the opposite poles of this continuum, along which various art forms and traditions can be placed. The "possibility of art" is somewhat broader than the possibilities of expression or communication; but wherever expression and communication are the functional mandates of art, the boundaries begin to close in rather precipitously.

Mumford is thus favorably disposed toward machine arts only insofar as they conform to his prescriptions, those being narrow enough so as to create, ultimately, a taxonomy whereby machine arts play by entirely different rules than do the fine and performing arts. Rhetorically at least, the latter lie towards an opposite pole which could be represented by any of a few wholecloth, "handicraft" archetypes: the lump of clay, the blank canvas, the silence before a musical performance; in other words, by voids, real or perceived, material or intellectual, from which artworks are brought into being, and where the Technics of this process are elementary enough that the Art side of his cosmic duality cannot help but predominate for sheer lack of resistance. The maker of machines faces up to this same void, but not so the end user: this is a void of agency as well as material which, once it has been filled, is not so easy to selectively rearrange without simply emptying it entirely and starting over. This is because in machine art, beginnings determine middles and endings, and path dependency carries the day. A whole array of "choice, freedom, esthetic evaluation, [is] transferred from the process as a whole...to the initial stage of design" (82), that is, to the maker and away from the end user. The maker thus gives the end user just barely enough rope to hang themselves, "leeway" which can be consummated as the freedom to specialize in Art with minimum Technical toil, or as the abdication of Art in mere undirected, sub-Artistic Play. Hence a fork in the road of absolute morality: to have "the right amount of the right quality in the right time and the right place for the right purpose" (110), or to have too much of everything all at once, or to have nothing at all; to sit quietly during the Marshmallow Test, or to devour the morsel at first sight, or to refuse to eat it when ultimately offered.

The same disparity of agency between wholecloth and prefabricated creation of course applies to immaterial inheritances too: to culture-bound conventions and processes, to ideas and ideologies, and certainly, in my own bailiwick, to the established uses of musical machines which themselves define "the small area where the play of the human personality remains free" for even the most creative, expressive or communicative instrumentalists. Even the humble lump of clay has, as its proverb-ization indicates, quite a weight of precedent and convention attached to it, as well as material limitations which I must imagine only seem simple to those who have never had to wrestle with them. This is quite a lot for the artist-technician to take account of as they seek a mediation between the inner and outer world; or, if you prefer, for the naive artist to manage to remain ignorant of lest they see their individuality incinerated in the pyre of received convention. In either case, clearly the old lump presents in a phase where, by Mumford's logic, the available extent of "choice and evaluation" is as great as it can ever be in the mediums of pottery and sculpture. Machines can be used to realize such choices as are subsequently made, but machines cannot be held responsible for them; responsibility is, for better or worse, a human burden, as any frustrated tech support worker will tell you. Certainly there are unique limitations, conventions, perceptions, politics and meanings at play in truly hand-made materials and processes, meaningful differences from works which are more fully machine-aided, where the role of the machine so inheres in the fabric of the work that there is, literally, no use pretending it is not there. But are these differences truly determined by the width or narrowness of expressive boundaries? Or, are we merely better able to see, hear and feel boundaries imposed by machines than we are to perceive those limitations which live inside of us, which inhere in intellectual inheritances we have never sufficiently questioned, which we can scarcely perceive because they have always been there, which are ineluctable laws of "nature," or which are imposed on us unwittingly and without our consent in myriad aspects of "nurture?"

I'm skeptical that degrees of limitation can be meaningfully distinguished when the object of said limitations (the degree to which the human personality roams free) is itself so ephemeral as to be difficult to codify or quantify. But I do think it is informative that the subset of the arts defined by the central role of well-developed machines (represented here by photography and printing) would be thought to confine expressive potential more tightly than those which involve less complex, more transparent technical ingredients (say lumps of clay, plucked strings, or buckets of paint). This Perception may well be incorrect, and it may have become Reality nonetheless. For Mumford, under a machine-imposed regime, such expression as is possible results in, "a differentiation so delicate, so subtle, that a coarse eye would hardly take it in and an insensitive spirit would not know what it meant," this as a direct consequence of the narrowness of the leeway permitted by the machine. Hence a double bind: are both machine precision itself and the general automation of artisanal gruntwork not constructs which appeal specifically to the coarse and the insensitive? Indeed, if this were not the case, then what would be be the point of taking such lengths to counterpoint the narrative of unbroken progress through Technics? If the basis for individual ability and affinity in the "machine arts" was a quality which consummates these arts rather than one which debases them, then would the arc of progress not be more steady and less jagged than Mumford elsewhere suggests it has been? Is the superficial appeal of machine precision not in and of itself the reason why ideal functionalist machine use is the exception and not the rule?

1. The radical empiricists among us badly underrate this aspect of formal academic discourse and its potential, especially now, to elide much of the social friction which inheres in face-to-face interaction. With as much attention as the issue of implicit bias has recently attracted, it is remarkable to me that anyone could consider the failings of abstraction, disinterest, and secondary sourcing to be the greater evil. At the risk of trivializing the issue of implicit bias, I would say that it is a luxury to so much as be able to stop and consider it: we are ruled by explicit biases and by the lizard-brain to an extent that makes all face-to-face interaction risky, with worst-case scenarios in play which are far more severe than being passed over for a job interview.

The possibilities for resolving epistemic conflict face-to-face have always been extremely limited, which is why the academic ideal has evolved to so severely restrict not just the personality but the entire social brain. It is one thing to complain that this paradigm is no fun, quite another to take a hard line for empiricism as against rationalism. Similarly, even as the academic conceit to objectivity has been ruthlessly problematized from an epistemological angle, as a mere conceit it has at least delivered conventions which are quite useful as blinding tools. This is worth keeping in mind as ever-clumsier blinding tools are resorted to in other social arenas. The lizard brain doesn't like to see the productions of the higher cortices forcibly blinded; rather, it wants due credit for them on its own terms; and so at that point it falls to other regions of those higher cortices to intervene.

And so, a thought for campaign season: is the staged debate not first and foremost about the contestants and only distantly secondarily about the question(s) at hand? When the question is actually important, there is a lot to be said for eliminating affect from discourse; it wouldn't hurt to eliminate self-listening, interrupting, and performing too. It is certainly too bad that fewer people will read most academic journal articles than can fit into a booth at the local micropub, but nor does it make any sense to expect superhuman degrees of impartiality and colorblindness in any face-to-face social contact. Wherever the discourse turns fraught, proceeding in writing and out of view of each other has clear benefits: it forces us to take turns, to restrain our affect, and most of all, to think twice or thrice about what we are about to say. That potential is not to be taken lightly.