TARGET & AUTONOMY
Short Essay
Included in “Livro das Transfigurações” (Book of Transfigurations)
Edited by Joana Patrão and Adriana Romero
pp. 91 — 96
ISBN — 978-989-33-3699-1
2022

If by Godot I had meant God I would have said God, and not Godot.
— Samuel Beckett

A portrait-picture can be a good portrait or a good picture, two registers working independently from each other. Asserting that a portrait-picture is either a good or bad portrait refers to the pictorial ability of said picture to perform a denotation function — to denote as unequivocally as possible the subject being portrayed; to guarantee, to the best of its abilities, a plausible correspondence between object (target) and crafted image (picture). Despite being bound to such instrumentality, the performance of denotation is far from being fully described through a boolean construct — does the portrait-picture establish (true) or not (false) a credible analogy to its target.

If true, this boolean operation actually marks the initial point of a half-line (ray) departing from the picture towards its target. In this sense, a ray’s extension describes an indexical continuum ranging from an initial point (ontological lower threshold) reserved to superficial resemblance — the rendering of palpable features, which can be achieved even by two strangers (portrayer and portrayed) engaged in a portraying act — to potentially infinite registers of depth — the rendering of processes or other-than-palpable features that would require a deeper entanglement between portrayer and portrayed. Consequently, a portrait-picture can sit upon either a point or an interval across this one-dimensional half-space of denotation. The mobility granted to a portrait-picture by being a portrait is axial — as a portrait, a portrait-picture is only allowed to move across (back and forth) the half-line that traces the univocal correspondence between object (x) and image (ƒ(x)). In other words, a portrait is, by definition, captured, held captive, by what it captures — its target. To qualify the performance of a portrait-picture as a portrait, its target must be known and play a key role in a perceptive and/or affective judgement, a judgement that, by its own nature, calls for an external location — the target being pointed to — in order to take place.

However, not even optimal performance in denotation can account for the qualities of a portrait-picture as a picture, it provides no traction for aesthetic judgement. Meeting the boolean requirement to perform along the one-dimensional half-space of denotation, and then do so, acknowledges a framework grounded upon the premise of a target and, therefore, belongs to the workings of a perceptual or affective judgment based on the experience of a pre-existing (real) object 1. Portrait-picture-as-portrait and portrait-picture-as-picture belong to different modalities of thought, where the latter, committed to its sovereignty, refuses subjugation to an external location, a refusal conscious of the fact that (t)he domain of aesthetic judgment is the domain of pure autonomy inhabited solely by ends without finality, or purposiveness without purpose 2. Thus, a  judgment directed to portrait-picture-as-portrait dwells on an extraneous grounding kept by the axial restrictions imposed by target; while a portrait-picture-as-picture requests high degrees of freedom in order to be yielded through a self-centred (self-grounding) radial mobility responsible for generating a tractable and non-teleological (disinterested) realm (n-dimensional) of free play. This realm is then a thin layer (compact and lucid) characterised by a [high-resolution ∧ low-definition] imbalance where, holding leverage, formal and material instantiation grants tractable handle grips for experience, allowing a bare minimum — if any at all — to be occupied by elemental remnants of authorial or indexical discourse.

In this sense, a portrait-picture fosters two incompatible modalities — allegiance (pragmatics) and sovereignty (aesthetics). If transposed, this ontological discord can be found and described, through both typological and local specifications, in any image crafted (picture) through computation-as-computation — meaning, computation deployed at low-levels which, by its own nature, is committed to a strict notion of model and modelling as the performance of formal instructions serving general abstractions that, theoretically, capture the processes of a subject (depth). The notion of model and modelling at large is far from consensual. This lack of unanimity unfolds to such an extent that in Languages of Art (1968) Nelson Goodman addresses the promiscuity in the common usage of the term by mentioning how “model” seems to be almost anything from a naked blonde to a quadratic equation 3. In any case, even ill-structured assumptions on what models actually are, whether regarded as approximations to reality after, as forms of representation, or as simplifications of items available in the world, seem to run on the ontological need for a model to perform conceivable correspondences, to engage in partial isomorphy and, in that sense, they seem to be sufficiently insightful — (r)oughly speaking, concrete models are physical objects whose physical properties can potentially stand in representational relationships with real-world phenomena. Mathematical models are abstract structures whose properties can potentially stand in relations to mathematical representations of phenomena. Computational models are sets of procedures that can potentially stand in relations to a computational description of the behaviour of a system 4. As a consequence, if a model is an exemplar of or instance of what it models — a thing standing for something else —, if isomorphism is quintessential for modelling, then a model, acting as a model, is precluded from engaging or being engaged in free play by the harnesses cast via a target (narrow scope) or set of targets (wide scope) — (…) a model is, in the negative sense, like a solid body that restricts the freedom of movement of others, and, in the positive sense, like a space bounded by solid substance in which there is room for a body 5.

In Of Barrels and Pipes: Representation-as in Art and Science (2017), Roman Frigg and James Nguyen make a case for a facultative role played by targets in modelling — not all scientific models have targets — by summoning models involving aether, phlogiston, Ptolemaic epicycles, steady state cosmology and Lamarquean inheritance of acquired characteristics 6. A counterargument to such a claim could be that, for example, the Copernican revolution does not render Ptolemaic models targetless. Its impact is much more profound. The Copernican revolution removes the modelness of Ptolemaic models. A model cannot be accounted for, it cannot stand, without the correspondence (theory) to the target that allows it to function — to do what it does — as a model. In a similar fashion, a portrait-picture of someone that never existed ceases to be a portrait, it concedes its portraitness. By extension, targetless models cannot stand in for anything other than themselves and, in that, they lose the ability to do what they do, and if they cannot do what they do, they cease to be what they are. If the target is lost, then so is the model.

The way in which the disappearance of external dependencies brings about a model’s demise has no correspondence in works of art since works of art are works of art due to the absence of external dependencies. They do not point to anything, they do not abstract anything, and they do not stand in for anything else. Surely such dependencies can be — and are — adjoined as annexes — never as appendixes — when works of art are handled in any fashion. Scoping and framing are mandatory to artificially suspend ambiguity, despite the fact that, as a promoter of mobility, ambiguity prevails impassive in any framing. So, they can point to something, they can abstract something, and they can stand in for something else. But unlike models, whose being is maintained by a target or finite set of targets, works of art, in all of their vortical promiscuity, can accommodate, be hosts, to any demand — they admit all possible situations. Just to ignore all of them right afterwards. Their sovereignty is the direct product of an unfaithful servitude brought to bear by the local next-to-nothing features that make them available (instantiations) under the register of sociality. Facing such behaviour, the only utterable proposal about works of art in this regard is that they are what they are or, better still, they do what they do (tautology) — (i)n a tautology the conditions of agreement with the world — the representational relations — cancel one another, so that it does not stand in any representational relation to reality 7. Frustrating as it might seem, self-referentiality (⊤) is far from being barren terrain. As tautological instances, works of art leave open to reality the whole — the infinite whole — of logical space 8.

Wholeness is more than what a model can serve. It is true that is possible to imagine a model committed to wholeness as a target. However, a model committed to wholeness as a target loses wholeness due to its commitment, since such commitment to wholeness would entail the very absence of said commitment in the first place, and thus, the collapse of the general one-dimensional half-space that allows models to be models. Conversely, by lacking sense (sinnlos) — which grants more-than-axial mobility — without being non-sensical (unsinn) — which awards operational capabilities —  ({0} ≠ {}) works of art function with infinite wholeness as both domain and codomain. Works of art stand beyond both the minimum and maximal thresholds that define models as such — a model progresses according to a function;  a work of art is a function in progress. As such, under the guise of wholeness, the relationship between models and works of art can be thought of either in terms of collapse or origin. Through the lens of origin, the infinite radial field generated through the circularity of works of art — the field where enformed matter can potentially signify — encompasses all models; through the lens of collapse, all works of art can be seen as models whose enformed matter exceeds modelnesswhenever a sign acquires any prominent formal value, the latter has so powerful a reaction on the value of the sign as such that it is either drained of meaning or is turned from its regular course and directed toward a totally new life 9.

Godot can be God, a demigod, hope, DeGaulle, etc… — thus, Godot is {…, God, a demigod, hope, DeGaulle, …}, which amounts to say that the only thing that can be said about Godo is that Godot is Godot.

References

1,2 Negarestani, R. (2016) Technologies of Form as Technologies of Autonomy in Mackay, R. (Ed.) Florian Hecker — Formulations, p. 39.
London: Koenig Books. ISBN 97839600980551

Goodman, N. (1976) Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols, p. 171. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company. ISBN 9780915144341

4 Weisberg, M. (2013) Simulation and Similarity: Using Models to Understand the World, p. 7. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

5,7,8 Wittgenstein, L. (2002) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, p.42.
New York: Routledge Classics. ISBN 9780203010345.

6 Frigg, R.; Nguyen, J. (2017) Of Barrels and Pipes: Representation-as in Art and Science in Bueno, O.; Darby, G.; French, S.; Rickles, D. (Eds.) Thinking about Science, Reflecting on Art: Bringing Aesthetics and Philosophy of Science Together, p. 56. London: Routledge. ISBN 9781138687325

9 Focillon, H. (1992) The Life of Forms in Art, p. 34. 
New York: Zone Books. ISBN 9780942299571