GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

October 23, 2020

Maximal Addressability within the Field of Sample Utterances

Filed under: GA — adam @ 3:58 am

I found myself with the phrase constituting the title of this post at the end of my previous post, as a distillation of the pedagogical order to be strapped into the technomedia order, a distillation that takes the form of sample utterances within a field of utterances. Everything is samples, signs, or utterances—even the most vigorous action in the sense of physical action in the real world involving lots of people only makes sense, has effects, is recorded, remembered and institutionalized insofar as it takes the form of signs and generates other signs. So, the “best,” or most powerful, or durable sample is the one that makes other samples maximally addressable and is so itself. Every utterance has its addressees—a greeting addresses the visitor, a command addresses the subordinate, a broadcast addresses all within range. The addressee is part of the meaning of the utterance—most obviously, ostensives and imperatives require presence, but declaratives only take on their meaning insofar as they address a disciplinary space, real or potential (the real/potential distinction is probably not worth holding onto any more than the technology/media one).

The field of addressees can’t be completely determined in advance—which means that meaning can never be determined once and for all—meaning is always the articulation of a hypothesis. Anyone can claim to be the addressee of a particular utterance and act accordingly—not always with equal success. But the chances of success can be improved. This is the field of ethical and moral decision and acting. You’re addressed by everything you see and hear—it’s just a question of what kind of addressee you’re going to be. A mugger tells an old lady to give him her handbag—his command, as far as he’s concerned, addresses her, but if you see and hear it you become an addressee. Are you addressed as a participant who will interfere with the event, as a detached spectator, an observant witness? That will depend on what you do, and what you do will in turn address others. The moral or, to stick with Wierzbicka’s primes, the good thing to do is to make that mugger’s utterance (and the victim’s utterances—resistance, cries for help, paralysis through fear) maximally addressable—but that doesn’t necessarily mean the most direct and immediately impactful action. Getting yourself along with the old lady killed is not the best move, even if there are situations in which the imperative is to take that risk. The real question is what will spread and embed the signs of this event across the semiotic field, to represent everything that happens as a possibility that transforms the entire field of possibilities. This, again, doesn’t tell you exactly what to do, but it does, first of all, militate against certain responses—running away and remaining silent about the crime, for example.

The search for maximal addressability is the discovery procedure for eliciting the imperative of the center. If I’m young, strong, and trained in the martial arts I can turn the scene into a rescue operation and sign of the potential of informal, participatory modes of order maintenance. If I’m incapable, I can call for help and remain in proximity to help the victim afterward; I can remember as much as I can to help catch and punish the perpetrator. In either case, the better I set an example, the more meaning I confer on the scene, the more closely I am conforming to the imperative of the center—I’m formalizing myself as rescuer, or witness, or caregiver or some other role in a way that others can play that same role. The imperative to create maximal addressability scales up, even if things get more complex. To determine which utterances to take as addressing you and what kind of addressee to be follows from your calculations regarding your own maximal addressability, as citizen, tribune, historian, theorist, curator of likely forgotten utterances for the future, etc. Imagine someone, an hour from now, a year from now, a century from now, seeking out the utterance he could make and that would make him maximally addressable across the field of utterances, formulating the most precise and expansive search of the cloud possible at that moment that would provide him with that utterance, coming across yours. That’s the sample you want to “emit”; that would be obeying to the fullest extent possible the imperative of the center.

Maximal addressability means not only responding to a declarative with a binary (yes/no, true/false) or even with another declarative that would further surface in its richness the imperative studied by the first declarative but also to find a way to obey that imperative even in the form of your declarative, by narrowing down the ostensive (“referent”) to be sought, supplied or hypothesized in confirmation of the completion of that imperative. It is to be the ostensive that would make the declarative maximally addressable, even while sustaining the complexity and openness of the declarative order precisely in order to initiate new searches into the tacitly maintained projects that have become invisible but might need to be surfaced and continued at any time. It means that your statements of fact are also promises, and your promises are also hypotheses, and that this layered character of each utterance, is existence in the imperative-ostensive world and declarative order alike, is inscribed in ways that require the maximal addressability of other to be iterated.

Maximal addressability is always separated by a thin boundary from a failure of address—“too much” addressability tips over into the absurd and unintelligible. The oscillation between maximal addressability and failure of address is the aesthetics of address: saturating the space of address always involves elements of failure to address, in order to mark that saturation. Any meaning displaces some other meaning, and in doing so marks the displaced meaning as a prepping for mimetic convergence. Maximal addressability means signaling a readiness to give the sign a chance, and this can only be done by indicating the possible consequences of giving up on the sign. The boundary between maximal addressability and the various possible failures of address is the site of thought experiments and hypotheses, constitutive of the utterance itself. You follow the imperative of the center by distinguishing your adherence from possible “rebellions,” “failures of nerve,” misfires, and so on. You can think about this as paying the maximum possible amount of attention to some interlocutor or source of messages while simultaneously encouraging the interlocutor or allowing the message to command your attention and that of others in ways that create multiple vectors of address—while modeling this posture for others. Or as responding to an utterance in such a way as to make it memorable, worthy of being remembered, and more likely to be remembered to the extent that other find themselves addressed by it.

One way of thinking about a highly formalized and ritualized order is that it provides formulas for all possible modes of address. Everyone has a “dense” name, in the sense that your name includes all possible addresses to and from the community. Imagine a given name that includes references to all your kinship relations, and that then accrues new names through the successive roles one is initiated into in the community, along with “nicknames” noting the particular abilities, proclivities, and accomplishments that aren’t reducible to formal roles. I don’t know if any community ever existing actually had such names, but some certainly approximated it much more closely than others. And the de-sacralized “modern” order is as far from such a fully named order as it is possible to be. One could say that the most important and powerful desire is to have such a name—to be saturated by recognition. Even humiliating recognition is better than no recognition at all. The problem of maximal addressability could only be raised in a de-sacralized order, and it is a response to it.

The modes of address prevalent in de-sacralized orders are created by the disciplines—law, politics, economics, education, psychiatry, and so on. We are citizens, legal subjects, workers or businessmen, high-school dropouts or PhDs, “on the spectrum,” “neuro-atypical” and so on. These modes of address were, first of all, the basis of statistics, originally a way for the state to keep records and order in the wake of the fraying and then breakdown of traditional communities in which modes of address were contained by kin and liturgical affiliations. These statistics produce data, which in the age of planetary computation can all be preserved and easily accessed in various configurations, by various agencies, for various purposes. Models of order (safety, health, wealth, aptitude, etc.) are used to search and shape data flows, which leads to each of us being addressed in specific ways. You could say we’re being addressed by vectors of data flow, but also by models of activity. Facebook constructs a model of a particular kind of political identity (“liberal,” “conservative”) and then ensures that news items that feed into your identity find their way to you. The same obviously holds true for musical tastes, vacations, potential romantic partners and so on. This is where the decisions regarding how to be addressable show up.

The question of “political agency,” then, or “self-appification,” is to be found in the contribution one can make to constructing the models shaping and directing data flows. The algorithms governing data flows are revised by the feedback the machines receive from the users they serve. You can see that you are being labeled as a “conservative,” and so you can through your online searches and purchases scramble with the model and evade any particular model. In that case you become the model that might shape the data for others. This is a model of praxis: maximizing your addressability by the algorithm so that the algorithm can only process your activity by elevating you to a model for others. If we were to think of this as an organized, collective practice, it might be very practical. So, the question becomes, how to maximize addressability by the algorithm? You could think this as simulating a particular kind of person who evades the algorithm’s radar or over-saturates it. But a “type of person” which can named by a cliché “(“courageous,” “generous,” intelligent,” “inquisitive,” etc.) would quickly be captured by the algorithm and brought into conformity with its other models.

I would suggest confronting the data in a more Dadaist way. I’m going to be putting together something like a “logic,” using Wierzbicka’s primes, among other things. I’ve already said in Anthropomorphicsthat what is more important than the mere proof that all languages have words with these meanings in them is that the “prime” meaning of these words is best derived from the relations between them in basic possible sentences. So, for example, ordinarily one thinksbefore one sayssomething, and it seems like one hasn’t, that is something to be remarked upon. To say that one thinks before saying is not to make an empirical observation (in which case, philosophy or cognitive psychology style, we’d have to start looking for “evidence” of thinking prior to saying) but to posit a right order of things. We could say to someone to whom things seem to be always happeningthat at some point he needs todosomething. Before saying that youwantsomething you should knowwhat it is. Various combinations of the primes would produce all the proverbs, aphorisms and maxims of action we would need; and, of course, lots of other combinations would produce all kinds of playful paradoxes and nonsense. The more I do, the more things happen to me; I can only know what I wanted after I do something; you can say what you think but can you think what you say; etc. This is the material out of which design practices of self-appification can be constructed: you can enter the data stream as the type of person who turns what he does into happenings by hearing what he says before he says it (for example). Then the work of translation begins—translation into an idiosyncratic form of the idiom of any discipline. Being someone who does things that happen by hearing what he says before he says it and wanting what he can’t know (for example) would take on different forms in finance, sociology, psychology, law and so on. You can be sure that any idiom can always be reduced to some relation between wanting and knowing and thinking and saying and doing and happening, etc. And these little (or maybe not always so little) Dada-fied sentences can certainly be spread across the whole field of mimological impressments, introducing new mimical twists requiring new approaches to address. Here is how unseen layers of addressability get surfaced, and our pursuit of the imperative of the center into its lair prosecuted.

Think about it this way—anything you do comes preframed by a set of expectations, your own and others. If the expectations are reasonable, there’s no dishonor in simply meeting them. Just meeting them, though, means that the limitation implicit in those expectations goes unexplored, and other courses of action are never examined, much less taken. Just refusing and defying expectations, though, makes you even more sharply defined and severely limited by them—that’s really what “resentment” is, refusing any input into your decisions and actions that you can’t claim is completely your own. But you can revise the expectations, so as to raise them, for yourself and others. This means, first of all, acknowledging the fundamental legitimacy of expectations and, second, subjecting them to experimental practices. Expectations imposed on you subject you to a model: be like this, you are told. If you’re going to change or destroy the model, you better be sure you’re going to leave something better in its place. To become “like” some model, or a composite of successful or admirable actions or lives, is to treat it as a sum total of postures, gestures and utterances that may exceed the sum of its parts but nevertheless contains the sum. Each posture, gesture or utterance tells you: do this. So, the question is, what is “this,” “here” and “now” (as opposed to “then” and “there,” in the world of the model). You take all of the parts seriously, including the ones that seem to you dysfunctional or obsolete—maybe you’re right, but start with the assumption that you’re missing something. (In the process, you come to think about how you might eventually be worthy of incorporation into a future model.) You read all the parts generously, you work them all over, you preserve every bit of them you can in your iterations, even the parts you aren’t so sure about which you perhaps incorporate as a kind of “loyal opposition” to your own projects. You defend the model against its detractors, even if you’re not sure your arguments are as compelling as theirs—maybe you haven’t yet formulated the more compelling arguments. You can turn out to be entirely wrong, and you may have to junk a particular model completely, but that will only be because you’ve become subject to a new one that preserves everything you’ve crystallized from the previous one along with some new “parts” or more of more than the sum of them than the previous model. This is maximal addressability. You accept your subordination to models and their imperatives, and you do so by carrying forward those models in ways those “inputting” to those models couldn’t have anticipated, and you do so in such a way that others can do the same with and for you.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Powered by WordPress