Transversal: Culture in the Plural

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A Transversal Escape: Culture in the Plural

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Culture in the Plural

The multiplication of the accessibility to data sources and knowledge fields is characteristic of our time, it therefore augments in an exponential manner the chances and possibilities of crossings, encounters, abductions, transformations, etc. This constrains us to complexity: to take into account this multiplication becomes absolutely necessary, starting with the three principles worked out by Edgar Morin in his “paradigm of complexity” (see Introduction à la pensée complexe, éd. ESF 1990, pp. 98-101):

  • Dialogic, that is two antagonist and contradictory, but indissociable and indispensable logics in order to understand a same reality.
  • Of recursion or of reciprocal influence, that is to say simultaneously causes and effects, product and producing.
  • Hologrammatic, presented in opposition to the “paradigm of simplification”, that is the whole is in the parts, the parts are in the whole.

The exploration of the principles of complexity developed by Edgar Morin brings us to the idea of uncomfortable comfort. The more one knows and practices a musical game field, succeeding at the end in being quietly at ease with it, notably in terms of mastering it, the more one encounters in fact some shadowy areas and its border-lines with the means to rub against them, first sources of the unexpected and of surprises: the comfort can be therefore an easy source of discomfort. And reciprocally, to be in the delicate position of discomfort can be the germ of building a new comfort. A double fruitful dynamic makes it easier to better seize of the type of interesting “comfort” to look for and to achieve.

In this way one can grasp the specificities of nomad and transversal artistic practices. They propose a concept of art that is not reduced to an analysis of the works and discussion of their value, but one that connects interactively the material and the gestures that allow the treatment of this material, the modalities of utilization of materials, the distribution of the participants’ functions and roles, the collective relationships within a group of artists, the relationships with the public, the logics of transmission, of appropriation, of mediation, education and teaching, up to the larger relationships with social and political aspects. In summary, all that constitutes the fabrication of a practice. It is also a question of connecting the practices in their diversity, comparing them, confronting them, and eventually combining them. This interactivity of the diverse elements of elaboration of the practices, and of the diversified practices builds up the conditions of a new definition of research as it explores both what guarantees the existence of the practices, and what constitutes a critical and reflexive view on practices.

In a publication announcing in a premonitory fashion the very large cultural diversity to which we have to be confronted today in the absence of a solid universal foundation (Culture in the Plural, trans. Tom Conley, Minneapolis, London: The University of Minnesota Press, 1997), Michel de Certeau made the following remarks:

Central here is the cultural act that is part and parcel of the “collage”, the invention of forms and combinations, and the procedures that allow such composite shapes to be multiplied. It is a technical act par excellence. Then, the attention is directed on practices. (p.49)

For him, the interest is no longer directed towards the “products”, but on the “methods of production”. In higher education, it is not a question anymore then of being content to exhibit the results of a research, but, “in the course of a collective praxis”, to explicit the ways to obtain them.

With the disappearance of universal principles, which seems characteristic of the situation we have to face today, the dominant theoretical models no longer allow us to think the plurality of “embedded or sedimentary systems”. We have no other choice than to proceed by trial and error facing particular situations in which our actions are inscribed (See page 101). Thus, concerning “the space of practices”, de Certeau notes that there is a persisting uneasiness: “the culture is soft” (p. 133). The actions of the users do not correspond to the intentions of those who rationally organize the world. The hard face is constituted by technocracy, which attempts to colonize the world in making the “manufacture of signifiers” profitable (p.134). All the voices of minorities are heard, projected by the media, but they tend to be instantly classified and itemized in museums or in definitively fixed written forms: they “cease then to speak and to be spoken”. He speaks of a border, which only lets through what is already dead:

This borderline circumscribes what we can say and make of the place from which we are speaking. Nothing from other cultures crosses this barrier without coming to us dead on arrival. Whatever exists is what irreducibly escapes us. The theory and practice of culture accede to honesty when we cast away the pretention of overcoming, by way of generalities the rift that separates the places where an experience or an event can be uttered. From scientific knowledge (when it is exclusive), all the way up to indigent discourses on “values” or on “humanism”, countless ways of eliminating other existences can be named. The common trait is that of the drive to establish unity, that is, a totalizing vision. Culture in the singular always imposes the law of a power. A resistance needs to be directed against the expansion of a force that unifies by colonizing, and that denies at once its own limits and those of others. At stake is a necessary relation of every cultural production with death that limits it and with the battle that defends it. Culture in the plural endlessly calls for a need to struggle. (p.139)(See also the station « La Culture au pluriel » of the present edition)

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