Valery Podoroga ::: Biography

RENE DESCARTES AND ARS CHIMAERA

C h i m e r a
I am coursing in labyrinth crossings, planing over the mountains, I'm
surfing on the waves, squealing in deep gorges; my
jaws catch shreds of clouds, my trailing tail traces the coasts,
and the hills follow the curves of my shoulders. But you!
I always find you immobile or scribbling the alphabet
on the sand with the tip of your nail.

S p h i n x
This is because I guard my secret! I cogitate and calculate.
The Ocean surges in its grand bed, fields sway in the breeze,
caravans go by, dust flies asunder, cities fall to the ground -
but my stare which no one can deflect
is directed through events to the horizon unattainable.

G. Flaubert. St. Anthony's Temptations.

1. Exploring the writings of Ars Chimaera, one can not but wonder at the price which modern actual art is ready to pay for the novelty it is striving for, ignoring at times the means and goals. Clearly enough, with state-of-the-art biotechnology having reached a level where it claims the right to re-recreate the whole organic medium (including the "man cloning" process that can not be stopped, as it would be equivalent to halting scientific research, i.e. stopping science), what is left to art that has been catching up with technologies for ages, pointing to the road to Hell? On one hand, these new developments are adopted by the artistic experience, and now the artist is looking for his own place within the spaces discovered by modern biotechnologies. But on the other hand, the experiment in art is not limited to the experiment in the scientific field. It is noticeable that modern actual art is trying out the ways which science has recognized as leading nowhere, viz. leading to chaos. This is exactly the goal of the newest acquisition of art: to reestablish and submit to the public the lost sense of chaos and disorder. We shall protect ourselves from order (e.g., the concept of cloning) with chaos - mimetic clones (works of art); modern art has become similar to pseudo-science which values the aesthetic feeling caused by the event higher than its truth, thereby presenting science with Utopia, once rejected by it, as implemented.

2. To every order its chaos is opposed, to every chaos its order is opposed.

3.The following opposition is intrinsic for Descartes: a perfect Demon - a malignant Demon. Contrasting the two: a supreme 'perfect God' who can not be a deceiver and a malignant Demon whose role is exclusively to cause damage or, to put it more precisely, to bring out the imperfection of human nature. The 'malicious and sly' Demon, the one who deceives us, is fiction, phantasmata, which is generated by ourselves. Is it not the reason why he is omnipresent, clinging, always changing his shape, promptly emerging in one place to disappear in another etc.? He seems to be moving parallel to our vague and obscure perceptions, hardly distinguishable from them. The accomplishments of this demon lie in the following: he does not allow anything to come true, he is remodeling everything, and he is always busy creating zones of chaos (perceptions) where order should take place, or where order should be reached.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: bulatov@ncca.koenig.ru (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): http://www.yantskaz.ru. Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

The malignant Demon does not possess equal rights with the 'perfect God.' He is more of a psychomimetic Counteract, the personified ideal of human nature's imperfection. The guard of its major 'defect': man's dependence on bodily perceptions.


Hybrid Entities. Illustrations from a Children Book, 19th century, fragment.

3. It seems that the hypothesis of a 'malignant Demon' suited Descartes because it allowed him to draw a radical distinction between the imperfect human nature and the perfect nature of God. The Demon was 'a mimic of man,' a master of endless and the most unrestricted likening of the dissimilar. The Demon is not part of Nature or part of the environment for the existence of the laws of Nature; he is unable to transform order into chaos, as in this case he would have to trespass an alien territory and make God a deceiver or an accomplice in the deception. But, as is well known, God does not dice. It is equally impossible since the Demon is deceiving just because he is not doing anything else, and deception for him is his mode of existence, so he does not support any other objective than testify to the imperfection of human nature.




Hybrid Entities. Illustrations from a Children Book, 19th century, fragment.

4. The need for 'demonic powers' could always be traced in the later periods of developing scientific knowledge as well. In any event, science keeps generating its demons: Laplace's demon, Pascal's demon, Maxwell's demon, Boltzmann's demon. [1] The Demon is a character of an intellectual comedy insofar as the Universe, the World, and Nature constitute super-complex systems which can only be conceived through perfect, albeit different, observers to whom we cannot ascribe any human faculties. That is the reason why the world-out-of-chaos is and remains home to the demon - in fact it is only there that he is in the right place, as he actualizes everything that no observer is capable of. Therefore, the Demon is an ordinary being, immanent to the complexity of the system; once we assume that he does not only manage chaos, but also creates it, the fewer the chances we have of comprehending how the system operates as a whole, the steadier his standing is. "Let's imagine a "demon" - a tiny little creature, immaterial, mischievous and always busy. In our simulated Universe, in particular, he keeps transferring excitement from one atom to another; he is the symbol of the 'unlawfulness' reigning in the Universe. The Demon is a disorganized creature, with all his activities coming to an absolutely random re-distribution of the excitement property between the atoms of the system, i.e. to an incessant, but aimless transfer of this property." [2] No longer is the Demon malignant or good, he is an indispensable functionality of the world-out-of-chaos, and we are getting an insight into increasingly complex systems of the natural objects by setting everywhere our eyes and ears; those tiny demonic creatures are but images of our thoughts. The Demon is appealed to where we cannot solve a task that could give an explanation to a whole (the structure of the Universe). The Demon replaces the old conceptual model of order, the 'perfect God' - 'who cannot be a deceiver' - and his responsibility covers the world-out-of-chaos. Thus, the demon is only our capacity to conceive something that can not be conceived at the moment, he is the sign of the inconceivable, or its presence. This is how any play of thought becomes possible, as in the long run it is always justified, as least because it is possible.

The Table of Monsters
5. Descartes' requirements: one must learn to distinguish between a demon and a monster, in the same manner in which we are able to distinguish, or are supposed to be able to distinguish a game of tricks from a game of riddles. The Monster is opposed to Chimera (to the demon, as it belongs to an absolutely different category of 'mental personages' (not 'sensory' ones). The Monster is a puzzle, and the solution to it: monstro-de-monstro, show it around, surprise (cognize) and display, reveal; mons, mountain; monstrabilis, outstanding; monstratio, indication; monstrator, indicator, pointer; monstratus, remarkable, noteworthy; monstrifer, producing monsters, terrible, ugly; monstro, point at, present, describe, define, prescribe, assign; monstrum, sign, miracle, monster [3]. The Monster is not merely a freak, something enormous and impossible, this is an actualized enigma of the world made visible, or if you wish, a 'puzzle.' The Monster itself is always a puzzle, and a mystery that he does not guard because he does not want it to be disclosed: where there is a question, there is an answer. The Monster can not be deceived unless you know the right answer or, more precisely, unless you know the truth. The Demon in his turn is a pre-requisite for the existence of the world of deceptions, and he is deceiving regardless of whether or not we will be able to disclose his tricks. Moreover, those tricks conceal the nothing of objective reality, the vanity of the possible, thereby making it feasible, which is nothing. The Monster does not personify chaos - on the contrary, he guards order and protects order from chaos: immobility, heaviness, and always keeping the secrets of the world. The difference between a deception and an anamorphous monstrous object is obvious, and they cannot be mated, just like the Sphinx and Chimera.

6. The invention of a monster is a unique skill that Descartes mastered to an exceptional degree. The Monster does not fool, does not deceive, he poses puzzles as he is always an implicate of a key, or a code, some sort of knowledge coding - the monster is rather what has to be spotted first. Spot the puzzle and explore it in the course of research and experiment. The Monster must be distinguished from an ordinary puzzle (although it would be incorrect to deny their century-old kinship).

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: bulatov@ncca.koenig.ru (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): http://www.yantskaz.ru. Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

Before that, though, we have to separate demons (chimeras) from monsters. God can't be a deceiver for a number of reasons, and those reasons are enough to see that monsters pertain to experimental fields of thinking. A living creature can be clued in a twofold way: if it exists, but repeatedly produces strange effects, it can be explained by a hidden link (from physio-optical mechanics); but if with the clue found, it breaks into fragments and loses the regular links, or disappears altogether, then we have to deal with a demonic source, and what was there before does not exist - it is phantasmata.


Hybrid Entities. Illustrations from a Children Book, 19th century, fragment.

7. The Monster is an amazing creature, but it manifests itself from a totally different angle, not from where "Descartes' demon" makes his appearance. Listed below are the origins, implications, some qualities and modalities of a monster:

- The Monster as an impossible (or fantastic) being. Zoographies of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the New Times, bestiaria and anatomies of monsters. Most frequently cited by Descartes are hippogryphs, centaurs, and the sphinx. Flaubert informs us of the following: sciapodes, cynocephales, sadhuzag, Catoblepas, Martichoras, Basilisk, unicorn, griffon, nisnas, blemmyes… Borges supplements: dragon, amphisbena, Harpies, the three-legged donkey, phoenix, behemoth, elves, Chinese dragon, gholem, al-Buraq, gryphon, minotaurus, chimera, gnomes, perity, nagy, yuwarks, simurgh, salamander, Norns, trolls, lamias, satyrs etc.

- The Monster as a natural anomaly. It isn't anything that may seem or appear as a chimeric phenomenon, but an unexplainable biological fact (universally observed: a man with two heads, various anomalies, inborn mutilations, or any other visible abnormalities) that violates the divinely instituted law for both human nature and wildlife. In this case the anomaly is interpreted as Nature's deviation from its regular path, which could be explained by the actual knowledge, but that knowledge is still to come.

-The Monster as a puzzle and the solution. The Monster as a notion (but not an image) [5] is used to achieve a certain outcome, since the monster, in modern language, is a category of problem-setting; it is not finding the clue to the riddle, but setting the limits to the domain where the clue can be found.

- The Monster and mons-tration (display), or the optical effect achieved. Something that appears in front of our eyes, strikes us with its hugeness, partly a wonder, a thing that reveals itself, speaks out, catches the eye because it suddenly exposes an unknown side. There is a character, too, for the Cartesian theatre of cogitative passions: homunculus, who is always outside, never to be found inside. He can't be spotted inside the eye, but he can see through everything that is provided by the seeing objects. He is the Lord of the External. Let's have a closer look. We find at least two of them: the homunculus of vision (depicted in old prints made under Descartes' personal guidance); and the homunculus of sensation ('the pineal gland' - a hypothetical locus in the brain where the soul could be situated, connecting the two substances - the extended and the non-extended). What is the monster then (chimera, centaural object etc.)? First of all, this is something impossible, non-existing, or existing because of a contingency, but not through a necessity. Namely: inventing monsters means trying to abridge the system of knowledge, if initially it has a gap which can not be filled in with the material of one or the other substance. The Monster-image is cogitation nolens volens ... He is indispensable since he combines the qualities of at least two substances, which are alien to each other. Without this optical monster from the old print vision would be impossible; without the monster of senses, "the brain gland," the human passion, the soul, would be missing. Leibnitz tells about the antipodes who disobey the similarity rules set up for this world, but follow them in another world. The universality of similitude - this is what monsters inform and warn about.




Hybrid Entities. Illustrations from a Children Book, 19th century, fragment.

8. The 'pineal gland' is exactly the establishment of the scope for solution of a problem (a puzzle) that can't be solved in any other way. "...the soul is located mostly in a small gland from where it rays (rayonne) throughout the whole body..." Now a special anatomical organ is deliberately invented which, strictly speaking, is not an organ at all, but a possibility for an organ to be; it must look like this, if it exists at all, as Descartes seems to hint. This is easily proved by a thorough reading of the pages describing the functions of this new organ. An unexpected thing comes up in this description, though - we do not see the organ itself as it is an optical device which helps us to see something in the organism, a sort of an optical probe, allowing us to grasp an invisible dimension where the two substances interface and interpenetrate: the extended and the non-extended. All of this is possible under one condition only - this new organ must be a model (optical) tailored to meet all the requirements needed for observation. Therefore, Descartes invents this new organ exclusively for setting up a purely optical, not biological, relationship between the organs.

The Generation of Monsters. M. Proust
9. Why is M. Proust a Cartesian? On a closer look it becomes clear that the mechanism that generates a monster-image is of exceptional value to him (like Descartes), since this is how he thinks and sees (senses). There are a number of reasons. We will consider only one of them: how monster-images are used. Not monsters, hideous creatures as such, but monster-images. I would like to insist on this presupposition: not a monster (a monstrous being, a freak etc.) used as an image, but an image used as a monster.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: bulatov@ncca.koenig.ru (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): http://www.yantskaz.ru. Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

The monster is generated at an optical point where the image is saturated with the heterogeneous contents, he is still an image, but in a second he is ready to generate a series of separate images, which will also be fragmenting under the obtrusive and pursuing glare. This is determined by the movement that provides distance for investigation.

Monsieur Descartes and Monsieur Teste
10. Everything is unusual in Monsieur Teste, created by the imagination of Paul Valery, everything is remarkable, but first of all - that what makes him indistinguishable from his forefather-personage, Mr. Descartes. [6] This personage does not appear on 'particular occasions' only. Probably, to restart cogitating, there is a need from time to time to appeal to the free spirit of Descartes. Mr. Teste is an image of Descartes himself, brought to an anthropologically-existential verge, one of his plausible modern masks, which we have to accept unless we are ready to lose a real thinker among the rarities of philosophical classics.

"... this sort of character would not be able to exist in real life for longer than an hour or so, I must say that the very proposition of his existence and the duration of it already gives my hero some life. The proposition is a fetus. Fetuses are viable, but not all of them are able to develop. In fact, we know but one striking thing about them - that they are short-lived. The latter are trying to survive, they become monsters, and monsters die. Abnormal beings live shorter lives than regular ones." [7]

"Depiction of such a monster, description of his appearance and manners, even making a sketch of a Hippogryph, or a Chimera of mans mythology requires - and is, therefore, justified - the utilisation, or even the deliberate creation of a semi-artificial language, very aggressive at times." [8]




Hybrid Entities. Illustrations from a Children Book, 19th century, fragment.

So, on one hand Mr. Teste is a monster, an impossible being, but on the other part, he is a character of the possible (cogitative experience), the product of a brain aberration, "a kind of redundant inner energy resulting in the overdevelopment of some organs or in higher physical or mental activity." [9] Mr. Teste was born to achieve an exceptional accuracy and purity of thought, if it is possible at all. This is why Valery says, "Demon of possibility." Whose possibility is that? Not ours, it is obvious, however hard Valery was trying to convince us. Monster and demon merge in Mr. Teste, without losing their distinctions. The Demon was invented for the sake of new opportunities for existence, a new philosophical personage was contrived in order to think about something that was inconceivable. Is there anything unusual in it? Did not Descartes do it? Did he not become his own personage when he imposed certain prohibitions upon himself, subordinated his intellect to rules and regulations, and submitted his biography for the judgement of method? Demon and monster belong to a possibility of perception. "It is impossible to cogitate as Descartes did" - and Mr. Teste undertakes to prove it. There is an event which we will always be thinking about, as long as we start to think, this event is contemporary to the Cartesian 'cogito': the proposition "I think." The Demon of possibility lives at the edge of the 'I' that cogitates and the 'I' that knows that the former 'I' cogitates. What is then the occupation of the latter 'I'? It testifies that it does not exist by itself. This is what Descartes implies by saying ironically, "I am a thinking thing," which means that since that moment there has been established a broadest freedom of human volition in respect of anything that is perceived, sensed, and cognized ... The first victim to that volition, disproportionate to the existence, is the humane; one must give up "considering oneself in any other way than an object in a series of objects." One must do away with the puppet in oneself, follow nothing and nobody, strive for a clear and unequivocal mental state that would allow one to feel nothing, but concentrate on thinking. I am not feeling any longer - a full anesthesia; I am conceiving everything that I am sensing, and not a single moment, however subtle and ephemeral it is, should be missed, and it must always be split into the one who is sensing, and the one who knows that he is sensing; any sensation, even a minute one, must not be missed by the latter 'I' who is observing it. Cogitation, when it abstracts itself from the humane, generates a monster.

Translated from Russian by Tatiana Mishunina.

Notes:
[1]. Compare: "Nature speaks to us in a thousand voices, but it is only recently that we started to listen to it. Nevertheless, for nearly two centuries Laplace's demon has been depressing us, causing nightmares in which everything seemed meaningless. If the world were such that the demon (i.e. a being in the long run similar to us, possessing the same knowledge, but allotted a much greater acuity of senses and the ability to make the most complicated calculations) could, based on the knowledge of the status of the Universe at an arbitrarily selected moment, figure out its past and future (provided that the simple systems that we are able to describe and the complex systems that require demon's efforts do not bear any qualitative distinctions), then the world is nothing other than a grand tautology." I. Prigogine, I. Stengers. Order out of Chaos (Moscow, "Progress" Publishing House, 1986), p.124-127.
[2]. P. Etkins. Order and Disorder in Nature (Moscow, "Mir" Publishing House, 1987), p.73.
[3]. G. Schultz. Latin-Russian Dictionary for Grammar School (Petrograd, 1915)
[4]. Compare: "But, among these ideas, some appear to me to be innate, others adventitious, and others to be made by myself (factitious); for, as I have the power of conceiving what is called a thing, or a truth, or a thought, it seems to me that I hold this power from no other source than my own nature; but if I now hear a noise, if I see the sun, or if I feel heat, I have all along judged that these sensations proceeded from certain objects existing out of myself; and, in fine, it appears to me that sirens, hippogryphs and the like, are inventions of my own mind." R. Descartes. Writings. v. 2, p.31
[5]. It is noteworthy to mention here what Thomas Kuhn presupposed when he was developing his theory of monster puzzles that he ascribed to the scope of existence of 'regular science'; V. Bibler uses a similar image-notion when analyzing Galileo's doctrine.
[6]. The first one to be published was Monsieur Teste (1895), to be followed later, starting since 1926, by a whole series of essays. At the same time, Valery was working on another series devoted to Descartes: Descartes and Rembrandt, Back to Holland. The major stages of this series were 1925, 1937, 1941, 1943.
[7]. Valery, P. Oeuvres. (Vol. II, Paris: Gallimard, 1957), p.13.
[8]. Ibid, p.14.
[9]. Ibid, p.222.




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COLOPHON

CONTENTS:

I. LABORATORY: science and technology

Svetlana Borinskaya. Genomics and Biotechnology: Science at the Beginning of the Third Millennium.

Mikhail Gelfand. Computational Genomics: from the Wet Lab to Computer and Back.

Irina Grigorjan, Vsevolod Makeev. Biochips and Industrial Biology.

Valery Shumakov, Alexander Tonevitsky. Xenotransplantation as a Scientific and Ethic Problem.

Abraham Iojrish. Legal Aspects of Gene Engineering.

Pavel Tishchenko. Genomics: New Science in the New Cultural Situation.
II. FORUM: society and genomic culture

Eugene Thacker. Darwin's Waiting Room.

Critical Art Ensemble. The Promissory Rhetoric of Biotechnology in the Public Sphere.

SubRosa. Sex and Gender in the Biotech Century.

Ricardo Dominguez. Nano-Fest Destiny 3.0: Fragments from the Post-Biotech Era.

Birgit Richard. Clones and Doppelgangers. Multiplications and Reproductions of the Self in Film.

Sven Druehl. Chimaera Phylogeny: From Antiquity to the Present.
III. TOPOLOGY: from biopolitics to bioaesthetics

Boris Groys. Art in the Age of Biopolitics.

Stephen Wilson. Art and Science as Cultural Acts.

Melentie Pandilovski. On the Phenomenology of Consciousness, Technology, and Genetic Culture.

Roy Ascott. Interactive Art: Doorway to the Post-Biological Culture.
IV. INTERACTION CODE: artificial life

Mark Bedau. Artificial Life Illuminates Human Hyper-creativity.

Louis Bec. Artificial Life under Tension.

Alan Dorin. Virtual Animals in Virtual Environments.

Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau. The Application of Artificial Life to Interactive Computer Installations.
V. MODERN THEATRE: ars genetica

George Gessert. A History of Art Involving DNA.

Kathleen Rogers. The Imagination of Matter.

Brandon Ballengee. The Origins of Artificial Selection.

Marta de Menezes. The Laboratory as an Art Studio.

Adam Zaretsky. Workhorse Zoo Art and Bioethics Quiz.
VI. IMAGE TECHNOLOGY: ars chimaera

Joe Davis. Monsters, Maps, Signals and Codes.

David Kremers. The Delbruck Paradox. Version 3.0.

Eduardo Kac. GFP Bunny.

Dmitry Bulatov. Ars Chimaera.

Valery Podoroga. Rene Descartes and Ars Chimaera.
VII. METABOLA: tissue culture and art

Ionat Zurr. Complicating Notions of Life - Semi-Living Entities.

Oron Catts. Fragments of Designed Life - the Wet Palette of Tissue Engineering.
VIII. P.S.

Dmitry Prigov. Speaking of Unutterable.

Wet art gallery

Biographies

Bibliography

Webliography

Glossary


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