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A post-Blink essentialist, looking at Asian space - click opera
February 2010
 
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Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 10:46 am
A post-Blink essentialist, looking at Asian space

Threading, grouping, clustering is something I do which often gets, ha, essentialised as essentialism and, ho, generalised as generalisation. This tends to happen when people from cultures dedicated to individualism encounter my "essentialist generalisations" about collectivities, or when people dedicated to empiricism encounter my rather more mythopoeic, archetypalist thinking. In other words, it's not just an individualist-collectivist misunderstanding, but also an arts-science misunderstanding (C.P. Snow's "two cultures").



I think artists rely on the kind of thinking Malcolm Gladwell describes in Blink. We're rapid, judgemental, we make unexpected associations which persuade, perhaps, because they're, at first sight, unlikely, or perhaps repressed, or which amuse or annoy for the same reason. But I think also this kind of intuitive leap-thinking improves as you get older and more experienced, so you could substitute "old people" for artists in that sentence if you like. Although it sucks that nothing feels fresh any more and you've seen everything before, this is one of the good things about getting older; you get quicker and better at running a conceptual thread through things, grouping things with other things you've encountered, clustering stuff and perhaps finding a response you already made last time you ran up against the thing you're confronting.



In a sense, then, the blink-style human intuition of artists, and of the experienced, has come by a different route to something rather like the highly calculated, high-tech associations made by internet clustering technologies like the YouTube program that throws related video thumbnails up when you've finished watching a clip. Purely algorithmic, these suggestions nevertheless resemble the very intuitive way a poet's mind works when he comes up with a metaphor or a simile. Something links to something else; I thread, I group, I cluster. If it's right it's right, if it persuades momentarily, fine, and if it's wrong it might still be original (after all, no metaphor is ever "wrong", just "stretched" or "fanciful").



The pictures on this page are snaps of semi-transparency prints artist Kuo-min Lee (born 1969, Taiwan) showed in the Taiwan pavilion at the Venice Biennale last year. The series, called "You Only Die Twice", documents Taiwanese rooms endangered by urban redevelopment.

Now, there are lots of ways of looking at these rooms. You can use the sequence as "eye-training", helping you improve your skill at recognising what the photographer's interests are. You might want to use the images to sum up a particularly Asian organisation of space (I personally cluster them immediately with Kyoichi Tsuzuki's Tokyo: A Certain Style pictures), or to distinguish Taiwanese spatial organisation from that of Japan or even Mainland China. Since the environments are "endangered", you might want to say that this is a retro spatial organisation. You might even want to dwell on the paradox that to endanger characteristically Asian space is, itself, characteristically Asian. That's certainly an argument I've used against supporters of Alex Kerr, who complains that Japan's beautiful heritage is disappearing under concrete. Essentialist Japan is dead, long live essentialist Japan!



The other day someone called Samantha left an interesting -- and obviously well-informed -- note under my piece about Emmy the Great. "Hello," she said, "I like pictures of creative girls' bedrooms as much as the next creative girl, and Emmy The Great's is certainly cute. But I've got to say I don't really see any visual connection to a typical Hong Kong bedroom or domestic style".

Samantha went on to list why Emmy's London bedroom couldn't be in Hong Kong: "1) Too big (even judging by the single wall that seems to extend beyond the edges of the frame!), 2) Riotous plants (rare in HK, especially of the non-lucky bamboo variety), 3) Vintage-seeming patina to the furniture and some objects (instead of everything looking like it was bought at Ikea or Price Rite, or for wealthier girls, G.O.D. or Franc Franc), 4) The large rawly-rendered drawing of a woman's face (not cartoon-cute, or graphic designy-slick), 5) Not enough STUFFF! No plastic/shopping bags stuffed here and there to maximize space, no books stacked beneath the desk, etc. For a much more typical view of HK interior spaces, check out the great HK artist Warren Leung Chi Wo's series Domestica Invisibile (these photos are not staged in any way)."



It's true that Emmy's room has more patina than it should, is too big, lacks visible computers, has stuff on the walls which isn't manga-like enough... it's clearly not a typical Hong Kong room, just as Emmy isn't a typical Hong Kong girl, although she was brought up there. Zoom in closer and you might want to say something like "This is a half-Chinese girl brought up in Hong Kong, who then switched to London and got involved in a twee-ish indie folk scene..." If you were Emmy's sister or her psychoanalyst or her boyfriend you'd add all sorts of other biographical data to explain why her room looks the way it does. If class was your thing, you'd talk about Emmy's caste, and the links between caste and taste. None of this would be wrong, but it might begin to lose the clarity of the first impression.

Gladwell calls this "thin-slicing" and explains that "as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience". This might sound lazy, but there's something rather elegant -- and sometimes startlingly acute -- about it. "In a psychological experiment, normal people given fifteen minutes to examine a student's college dormitory can describe the subject's personality more accurately than his or her own friends." It's why I always scribble down my first impressions of a new city within minutes of arriving. It's not just that first impressions are lasting, they're also some of the most penetrating thin-slices you'll ever get. "Reality", said Willem de Kooning, "is a slipping glimpse".

54CommentReply

microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 10:02 am (UTC)

Hmm, the last paragraph reminds me of the post you made last year about people's trash bins! Except, I think it was about the way people lived if I recall correctly?


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hbdeath
hbdeath
Papa Snuff
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 10:06 am (UTC)

I don't think you can put generalising and essentialism in the same bag, because essentially (ha!) where I have a problem with your argument style is that you so often move from the former to the latter. For example, you can certainly generalise about the different behaviour patterns of men and women, but it's a leap (that you're so often prepared to make) that there's something essential about those feminine and masculine 'values'.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 10:23 am (UTC)

I think what people don't understand about my arguments is this bit: Plato was an essentialist because he thought "the ideas" were objective and absolute, almost divine. I'd see them as built into language and culture, and changeable. But I'd also see language and culture as determinant. So we quickly get this scenario of the drawing hand trying to redraw itself:



It's the same with gender. Gender is a construct, but the mistake people make is in thinking that because it's a construct, and changeable, it's somehow not real, not binding, and not determinant of how we see and how we act. People make this mistake because they're rockists -- they think the moment something isn't "authentic" or "natural" it isn't real.

But if gender is artificial-yet-determinant, to ask for gender to be changed is to ask gender-as-it-is to change itself, resulting in the same paradox as we see in the Escher print: how can a drawn hand be free to draw itself differently? (And you can see in the print that the drawn hand isn't making many changes.) This tends to play itself out historically in the paradox that all attempts to move beyond a perceived position of weakness tend to encode, through and through, that perception of weakness, and therefore to perpetuate it.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 11:15 am (UTC)
(these photos are not staged in any way)

Unexpected Associations.

Start with Emmy. Lets try MUSIC! Ends up at Bedroom. Ouch.

No. Did NOT mean to go there.

Start again with Suzanna. Lets try INTERIOR! Ends up at Bedroom again! Ouch.

I think old people rely on the kind of thinking Malcolm Gladwell describes in Blink. Finding a response you already made last time you ran up against the thing you\'re confronting.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 11:41 am (UTC)
Re: (these photos are not staged in any way)

It's pretty obvious that you don't work in the entertainment industry, Texas Tosser, since you think bedrooms and music have so little to do with each other! It's also obvious you don't live in Hong Kong, since you think people's bedrooms aren't where they live.

If you keep giving yourself away like this I'll be able to guess your location and occupation fairly soon. As for your name... Rumpelstiltskin?


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 11:52 am (UTC)

Rumpelstiltskin is most commonly interpreted as a cautionary tale against bragging (compare with the concept of hubris in Greek mythology), but in this case not the miller himself but rather his daughter is punished for his lies. An alternative explanation is that the tale could have been meant to teach women the importance of performing a supporting role in their later marriage. The gift of spinning straw into gold is seen here as a metaphor for the value of household skills. Indeed, the king in this tale does not seem to be interested in the girl besides her alleged magical capabilities — even though her beauty is mentioned in passing — and she exists only to bring him riches and bear his children. Another moral gleaned by this story is that it\'s okay to break promises if you happen to change your mind.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:01 pm (UTC)

Ha, I thought you were sounding a bit more intelligent than usual there (and punctuating and spelling better), TT! You've just copied that out of the Wikipedia entry on Rumpelstiltskin. Apart from the last sentence, which has TT-isms like "gleaned by" and "it\'s". And has your usual "puritan preacher" tone of needling disapproval.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 11:57 am (UTC)

Rumpelstiltskin Syndrome is an analogical reference to the role of the king in the story of Rumpelstiltskin. Common practice in middle-management is to impose unreasonable work demands on subordinates. Upon completion of the task or tasks in question, equal or higher work demands are then imposed; moreover, no credit, acknowledgement, or overt appreciation is demonstrated by way of recognition.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:00 pm (UTC)

Alphabetical Site Map
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? If England has Rumpelstiltskin who spins gold fabrics, Italy has Count Giorgini who spun the fabrics of the fairytale ...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:02 pm (UTC)

Thank you, thank you, beautiful copy and paste skills, TT!

However, Anon Screening is now enabled to give you a chance to take your meds and me to read some comments about the entry.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:16 pm (UTC)

If we were in a playground scenario i would possibly be clapping my hands and crying FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT - TT VS Momus - with Mr Wikipedia as the referee. And we all know who would be holding up the boards between the rounds. I'm sure Emmy would see such a position as a waste of her talents (thats if her body and looks are in-fact not a talent)

wewillbecome.com


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Mon, Mar. 3rd, 2008 06:47 pm (UTC)
nurture / nature

i believe there are or have been cultures where while the women were doing more of the hunting and stuff and men domestic business the women turned out to be phisically bigger and more muscular than the man. i can't recall where but i'm pretty sure it was in some scientific context i've come across that,, all i have now for examples are the amazons of old, east german athletes and certain small animals.

it's funny you seem to be arguing with momus when the position you're criticizing is better taken by the anon.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Tue, Mar. 4th, 2008 12:42 am (UTC)
purr... purr... purr..

This post meant a lot to me Nick. I've written and erased about 10 paragraphs trying to explain why, but I don't have access to the muse on a daily basis like you do, so I'll just leave it at that.


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armoredbaby
armoredbaby
Tue, Mar. 4th, 2008 07:35 am (UTC)

I enjoyed this post's descriptions of thinking and process or the seeming lack of it, the automatic feel.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Mar. 4th, 2008 08:05 am (UTC)

Do you think any of those Frieze.com readers like an intelligent discussion, Nick?

Der


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Mar. 4th, 2008 08:49 am (UTC)

More importantly, could these ones identify an intelligent discussion?

Der.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Mar. 4th, 2008 02:05 pm (UTC)

You got it wrong. It needs to be lower case.

der.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Mar. 4th, 2008 09:08 am (UTC)
LOLZ


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Tue, Mar. 4th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
Sorry to bust your bubble...

I'm always late with your posts. But...

Gladwell's stated hypothesis is a lie and is disproved in the book. Every example Gladwell uses in his book (and I mean just that - EVERY example) is NOT an example of regular "thin-slicing" but of well-informed thin-slicing.

In the book, ALL of the successful examples of thin-slicing come from educated experts who have naturalized their skills and are able to make snap decisions that are usually right.

On the contrary, every example of unsuccessful snap decisions mentioned in the book come from people who rely on an uneducated guess. Think of the "bad" examples about how we can be unconsciously racist, or favor tall people, etc.

The book's advertising is a lie, and I'm not sure if that's Gladwell's fault or the fault of the marketers, but the book is not about the power of snap-decisions, but about the power of educated and informed snap-decisions.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Mar. 4th, 2008 05:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Sorry to bust your bubble...

Don't worry, you're not bursting my bubble -- or Gladwell's. I answered this point at the first place you made it, above.


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