“Proof”, Skepticism, Belief and Satire

February 6, 2009

I Heart Huckabees “head banging scene”

By using a jejune experiment, I think Smithson is pointing out the obvious in relation to the absurd, as usual through his subtle satire. By saying “prove” in the use of a jejune experiment, he is commenting on the fetishes of culture (of his time), by saying, in essence, a child playing in a sandbox does not need a probability equation to make him/her believe that he cannot make the sand reverse back into pure black and white. I think you need to read Smithson with a bit of a sense of humour, sometimes. It’s pretty funny, considering that an unenculturated, unknowledgeable child might believe in the irreversability of entropy (via a sandbox) moreso than some adults may believe so because of the probabilistic “conclusions” and methods of the sciences. In doing this, he is most certainly not berating the Sciences at all, but most likely pointing out the absurdity of believing otherwise.

It’s a mockery. This is what happens when people believe in certain highly probable things, like entropy or an external world.

Smithson might attribute the fetishes for “proof” and lack of belief to a very fundemental misunderstanding of language due to “the mania for literacy”. He continues in the essay to write, “References are often reversed so that the “object” takes the place of the “word”. A is A is never A is A, but rather X is A. The misunderstood notion of a metaphor has it that A is X – that is wrong.” The word is not the object, yet this might be the fundamental misconception of language that extends outward into our cultural biases about “art movements”, rather than our more acute cultural biases about art and the artist, or an idea and its creator. The fetish for literacy, to paraphrase Smithson, is due to language fears. These language fears are a cultural phenomenon, where the size of your vocabulary might be an expression of your language fear. The labels of “art movements” are curiously long-winded and innacurate, which is why some artists, and historians put quotes around them. They have become a convention where categorical limits are necessary, but the meaning of the term brings to mind something completely different than what it’s referring to. It might be more appropriate, for convention’s sake, to name periods in art history from one artists name to the next, or one artpiece to the last. So, “conceptual art” might better be called “Duchamp onward”, or “Fountain onward”.

But, why the misleading terms? I think we can look to the fetishes of capitalism for this answer. The illusory hierarchies that are a development of the “territory struggle”, where the illusion becomes a “concrete” cell, and the dreamy “power-structures” that are upheld by the powerful, are considered real. The powerful could be considered wardons of the powerless. The nightmare of a “prison” becomes all too real. The physical language involved in political, and social discourse is misleading in some cases, I think. They’re not “territories” or “structures” but mirages, fantasies, and illusions. They don’t take up space the way a building does, but destroy actual space through the power of abusing metaphor. Their abuse of metaphors creates hallucinatory delusions of “territory” and “structures.” These delusions, I think, create a reversed belief in metaphor that extends into the misconceptions, and thus mislabels that are prevelaent in movements throughout history.

If you don’t believe in entropy, Smithson might say, “find a child and ask them.”  Or, if you don’t believe in existence, the writers of I Heart Huckabees might say, “bash your head against something.”


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