Estética Cuántica: A New Approach to Culture
John Murphy University of Miami
Manuel J. Caro University of Miami and Jung Choi Barry University
Estética Cuántica: A New Approach to Culture
A new movement has begun in Spain that may revolutionize how "cultural studies" is approached. The most visible participants call themselves the "Grupo de Estética Cuántica." In February of 1999, they met in a restaurant in Granada and signed a manifesto —E-m@ilfesto, they call it— although the ideas associated with this group began to circulate throughout Spain in the mid-1990's. A variety of discussions of this position have taken place in Spain, in the form of conferences, newspaper articles, and public debates (Morales 1998: 9-10). At this juncture, Gregorio Morales has emerged as the key theoretician of the Grupo. But few persons outside of this context have much knowledge of quantum aesthetics.
From the perspective of quantum aesthetics, science has been dehumanizing. But this criticism is true of only a particular rendition of science, according to these new writers. The past eighty years of science are not predicated on the principles that are praised by most supporters of positivism. Themes such as value-freedom, objectivity, causality, and so forth were significantly rethought during this period. The key implication of these changes is that science is no longer autonomous, and thus reality, even the physical world, is not obtrusive and something that persons confront. The proponents of quantum aesthetics believe the social consequences of these findings are profound and should not be ignored. So much so, claim supporters of this position, that"[f]rom this paradigm no creative individual, engraved in his/her times, can possibly escape" (Grupo de Estética Cuántica 2000).
This group, accordingly, attempts to resurrect the themes it believes make twentieth century science exciting. Furthermore, these ideas are applied to a variety of areas, such as art, literature, and social science. In each of these applications, the point is to place humankind "back into the role of active producer of the universe" (Ibid). At least theoretically, and possibly practically, persons are able to liberate themselves from the physical and social structures that were formerly envisioned to be constraints. The practical side of this proposal is incomplete, due to the absence of a formalized quantum politics. Still, a more just world is envisioned by the quantum group, which these artists and writers believe is entirely justified by science.
At the basis of traditional positivism there is a particular philosophical maneuver that these newer critics contend is outmoded and the cause of many problems. Because of dualism, measurement is presumed to be value-free, and thus able to generate valid information. Following the separation of objectivity from subjectivity, usually described as the bifurcation of fact from value, measurements can be undertaken in an environment uncontaminated by values, beliefs, cognitive acts, or commitments. In view of this division, any errors that occur are blamed on technical problems. That is, sound methodological protocols are either lacking or abridged because of the unwanted influence of subjectivity. But with the recent growth of technology, the human element will have little chance of creeping into the research setting. According to this outlook, accordingly, unadulterated truth will finally be available.
Central to quantum aesthetics is the rejection of dualism. This theme is clearly challenged in both the manifesto of this group and Morales' book, El Cadáver de Balzac (1998). Consistent with the "uncertainty principle" proposed by Heisenberg, the claim is advanced that the knower and what is known are intimately connected. As Morales says, persons create reality with their instruments of perception (1998: 21). Reality is not simply confronted, but instead is deployed through the various modes of human praxis, including measurement. Morales makes this point more poetically when he describes humankind to be the "eyes and the mind of the Universe" (Ibid.).
As a consequence of subverting dualism, many distinctions that were thought to be obvious lose their credibility. For example, the observer and observed, soul and matter, part and whole, and cause and effect can no longer be neatly differentiated (Morales 1998: 38-9). As a result, according to the Grupo, every aspect of reality is "constituted of mindful matter." Every facet of reality and the destiny inscribed by human praxis are intertwined. Jean Gebser, for example, refers to this version of existence as "integral" (1984: 97-102). Science is no exception to this rule.
Reacting against Newtonianism, quantum theory abandons the usual oppressive causal imagery. Morales adopts new metaphors and refers to physical reality as a fluid or a field. Along with quantum physicists, his point is that space and time do not consist of discrete units, but rather are comprised of horizons that are invented by observers. What quantum writers want everyone to notice is that now human action is not constrained a priori by any forces or structures (Morales 1998: 107-8). Reality, accordingly, is not something to which persons must assimilate, or run the risk of censure and marginalization. They are liberated because of the uncertainty found in the universe; the decisions made by persons, which are not predetermined, specify the parameters of reality. Reality is not a burden but an extension of ambitions.
The New World of Art.
Subsequent to the acceptance of quantum theory, a new paradigm of art is able to emerge. Morales and his colleagues believe that art in general should be renovated, so that the dignity and freedom of artists are restored and a more fair world is achieved. Once this occurs, creativity should proliferate throughout society. After all, important art is no longer thought to reflect reality, recapitulate the esprit d'temps, or provide entrée to eternal truth. Art, instead, should open possibilities, broaden horizons, and change lives. Following the demise of the Newtonian space-time matrix, artists can either affirm or change reality, but description is no longer an option.
Morales has a lot to say about how this change affects writing. He believes that most writers have not appreciated the "fuzzy logic" that accompanies the onset of a quantum world. The dominant opinion from the time of Aristotle has been that A=A, B=B, and A≠B. According to quantum thinkers, reality is not this clearly dissected; the identity of "A," instead, depends on how reality is filtered and shaped by observation (Morales 1998: 133).
This Aristotelian view of logic affects contemporary Spanish literature, claims Morales, through the use of stereotypes to provide alleged insight into the human condition (1998: 55). This strategy is both reductionistic and alienating, in that certain abstract images are reinforced and conveyed as real. Idealized and fictitious renditions of humans are substituted for the persons who struggle daily, and often valiantly, to make an identity for themselves and fulfill their aims.
At this juncture is where Morales introduces a concept he has borrowed from Carl Jung—that is, "individuation" (1955: 81-82). What Jung tries to illustrate with this notion is how healthy persons strive to design their own lives, while all the time encountering and often resisting persons and institutions that desire to make everyone identical. What Morales is saying is that writers should address the complex and often contradictory nature of human existence, instead of using contrived and reductionistic characters, scenes, and plots. The purpose of this transition, according to the Grupo, is to foster a more humane, tolerant, and diverse society.
There is no simple formula for generating quantum literature. But such a writer has two obligations. The first is to let persons speak for themselves; in today's parlance, the point is to give a voice to those who are portrayed. And second, through writing a space should be revealed where persons can achieve individuation.
A work by Spanish painter Xaverio, a member of the Grupo, illustrates clearly this shift in orientation. At first, his "Petral Maximal # 452," appears similar to many of the paintings done by Barnett Newman. In this work, gray and cyan background panels are separated by a single, thin gray line. When Newman used this technique his point was to produce an experience of depth and timelessness, and thus transport observers to a Platonic realm. Newman wants to convey a sense of the eternal.
Xaverio's goal is different. What an observer notices immediately is that his painting is not changeless, but is constantly shifting. In fact, the observer causes this movement by changing positions. Additionally, in his installation "Colores para pasear" (Walking colors), observers create and modify the work of art (colors, tones, brightness, etc.) with their movement around the painting and the resulting shifts in perspectives. Thus, instead of transcendence, Xaverio wants to demonstrate the direct involvement of persons in creating reality. Rather than jumping into the abyss —the mise-en-abîme— and floundering, persons give meaning to this otherwise nebulous domain (Morales 1998: 30). What Xaverio reveals is how the abyss is entered and courage prevails.
As might be expected, those who adhere to the quantum position eschew realism. Due to the rejection of dualism, reality cannot be imagined to constitute an objective referent. But as Durkheim argues, in the absence of a reality sui generis, anomie or chaos is inevitable. To avoid chaos, therefore, society is envisioned regularly to be an autonomous system that is able to constrain and control persons. Because the social system transcends personal interests and other quotidian concerns, a universal base of law and morality is available. This adherence to realism, however, has prompted a variety of critics to comment that modern social science continues to have a conservative orientation.
Given their epistemology, supporters of quantum aesthetics challenge this conservative rendition of the polity. Without the aid of dualism, there is no place to locate a reality sui generic; order extends from the praxis that is initiated from many sites and cannot be overcome (1984: 544). This situation is described by Morales as resulting from the collapse of the distinction usually made between the part and the whole (1998: 79). Now all elements are parts that can be congealed into a pattern, or whole, only through human intervention. Implied is that the elements of society are free to merge and rearrange themselves in any number of ways. These relationships are not causal or otherwise predetermined, but are based on the principle of "synchronicity." (Jung & Pauli 1955). This term has been interpreted in numerous ways, several of which are witnessed in the works of the Grupo.
Morales, for example, links synchronicity to coincidence and the intersection of mind and matter (1998: 124). But another type of synchronicity pertains to the self-organization of complexity. Morales also mentions this option by proclaiming that the totality of anything is discovered in each part. The idea is that various events can exist simultaneously and be coordinated relative to one another, rather than organized in a causal sequence or some other deterministic manner. In this sense, the part is not opposed to the whole; each part resides in a field that both defines and is defined by these elements.
The political consequences of this new image of wholeness have not been lost on Cornel West (1993: 82) or Alejandro Serrano (1993). In both cases, this mode of association is thought to be instrumental to human liberation. West and Serrano argue that this model allows diversity to be integrated into a whole without the sacrifice of individuality that is assumed traditionally to be necessary for order to be established and survive. In this regard a mature democracy may be reached, whereby the usual distinctions made between center and periphery are dissolved. This scenario does not stipulate a priori the need for particular social arrangements—class or gender—to be maintained to insure the stability of
The Theoretical Scene.
Quantum aesthetics is consistent in many respects with recent trends in philosophy and literary criticism, particularly the so-called "linguistic turn" (Barthes 1985: 153). Those who adhere to the "linguistic turn" jettison realism because of the approach they take to language. Language does not simply reflect and highlight reality, but instead mediates thoroughly everything that is known. Consequently, truth and fact, for example, are understood to be political. As Stanley Fish defines this term, political came to mean that the criteria for assessing truth are tied inextricably to the interests of persons (Fish 1989: 251; 519). Truth is thus not necessarily discovered but invented; truth is a product of praxis, rather than natural tendencies or laws.
The anti-dualistic move made by the Grupo, however, has nothing to do with current trends in philosophy or the work of Wittgenstein, although Morales spends some time addressing the issue of symbolism. Symbols, notes Morales, are connected to the psyché, and thus are complex and difficult to unravel (1998: 97). Nonetheless, dualism is attacked most vigorously by adhering to the axioms of quantum science. Changes in symbolism, in other words, are not necessarily at the root of this new aesthetics. This new aesthetics, in other words, advances a general hermeneutic that is not restricted to any particular realm, thereby leaving entire areas unscathed by interpretation.
Also consistent with current interests, the participants in the Grupo want to provide persons with additional social options, broaden culture, and reduce alienation. Cultural forces are now discursive and vulnerable to reinterpretation and flights of imagination. Of key importance is that expression is not discouraged or inhibited by autonomous cultural formations. Institutions, instead, embody the desires of their creators and are not alienated from their control. Morales' critique of the commodified institutions of modern society is most poignant in his review of Tom Wassleman's work. The arrival of Pop Art, claim Morales, signaled the objectification and trivialization of social life that has become commonplace nowadays.
Advocates of quantum aesthetics and many other contemporary critics want to bring to fruition a cultural Copernican Revolution. In other words, they want to place the human being at the center of the universe. Morales believes this maneuver can be made without promoting chaos, if the individual is understood never to be divorced from a community. As is revealed in the Grupo’s Manifesto, individuation is not the same as egoism or individualism; a truly individuated self is always communal.
The Grupo de Estética Cuántica wants to create a more humane world. Of course, such a task involves a political program and other practical concerns. Nonetheless, these new critics provide a theory that exposes the usual barriers to this goal to be arbitrary, rather than based on human nature or some other realistically conceived obstacles. This kind of vision is necessary for progressive political action, which recognizes that the former beliefs about hierarchies and other unfair social divisions are unnecessary to maintain order. In fact, these contrivances may have undermined harmony and liberty, and supported disruptive interests, in the name of liberty.
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