Art Criticism / Art History / Photography as Documentary

On Teleology, Evolution, Suit-Wearing and History as Novelism


I was having this conversation yesterday with my girlfriend about how in talk of evolution there is room to disagree with so-called evolutionists because some evolutionist don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

There is room to disagree because many evolutionists don’t talk about evolution as premised in a way we think about the world, evolution qua science and, so, contingency: they talk about evolution as anthropology and, worse, sociology. There is room here because there is room to debate teleology, the goal-oriented approach to processes and, yes, perversions, versus contingency. Debating an interlocutor who makes pat causal assertions between species, leading to “us”, we might argue that some quadrupeds became bipeds only in the sense that we use the term “became” as short hand for a number of different environmental, ecological, and, in response, physiognomic changes in organisms that…umm…well, what? What? What’s “that”? What comes after that? Whatever link our interlocutor wants to invite.  For we rely on similarities in genetic markers, or, weakly, the fossil record to get to the next link, the next point. There is this and there is that. There are quadrupeds, bipeds and there are humans. But, Rortianly speaking that’s not true. There is no one line, no teleology; there is only evidence that there are we, us, and there are “they”, “them” and all we have to connect ’em–and all is a lot, here–is similarities. There is no logical identity here, causal in the sense that the arrow of time has to always move in one direction.

There are only stories. Un(a)bridged to other stories. The bridges we might just have are only inferred planks from one story to another. These planks often look and sound like “power”. *Part of what I want to say isn’t normative; it’s only descriptive. The problem is descriptions are often (maybe, always) normative.

I wear suits and I’m brown. And by that I mean no connect(x)ion. Apart from the necessary identitiarian one, at most there is a sociological connect(x)ion that connects me to other brown people who’ve worn suits and that has to do with learned behavior as subjects of an Empire and later, subjected to the politics of some Commonwealth. And then there’s me, having grown up with pictures of elegant grandfathers and a handsome father, more handsome in a suit, say, that in just a shirt and trousers, a man in his 70’s now, in suits often in the 1960s and then usually only in professional enviros. Now, me: a man in a suit a lot of times and every one of those times, apart from interviews and weddings and such, and even then, rocking suiting wares without needing to do just that thing. I am a product of my times, though I look at the world through my own view of what’s come before.

But I’m also a critic and an art writer and I dress a certain way to invite a particular view (from specific others) about me. I have been thought a banker and a monied guy; gallerists have shat on other galleries because they thought I might be around a show to pick up some art and they’ve told me how other gallerists up and down the block have no clue about no nothing. I dress a certain way because I enjoy inviting upon myself the power that sort of dress has to convey some truth about me. Some of that truth looks like a bald-headed lie.

Bill Blass worked as an artist in the WWII “Ghost Army”, helping to fabricate the facts of a grossly amassed Allied military presence where there was none. Adi and Rudolf Dassler, brothers two, and sons of a shoe-maker, gave Jesse Owens a pair of running shoes during the 1936 Olympics in Reichian Germany. Adi broke off with his brother and started Adidas and Rudolf started his own shoe company called Ruda, and eventually changed the company’s name to Puma.

Contingencies. And weird turns you couldn’t lay out loud a priori.

One more thing: A historian is, indeed, a novelist. But a successful one.

One more, more thing: you might think this is an undercover endorsement of Adidas shoes and sportswear. It’s not. Rorty, ahoy!

5 thoughts on “On Teleology, Evolution, Suit-Wearing and History as Novelism

  1. …yeah, sometimes a goat with a tire around it is just a goat with a tire around it. And sometimes not. It’s hard to tell apart which is which, when is when, what is what.

  2. The incomplete Colombo-esque investigation consequent to understanding the definitions and implications of this piece, based on Odin’s comment – for a person like me, who knows far less about philosophical contingency- was fun! Thanks, Faheem. Thanks, Odin.

    “Contemporary scholars argue that if rhetoric is merely about the contingent, it automatically excludes that which is either necessary or impossible. The “necessary” is that which either must be done or will inevitably be done. The “impossible” is that which will never be done; therefore, it will not be deliberated over. For example, the United States Congress will not convene tomorrow to discuss something necessary, such as whether or not to hold elections, or something impossible, such as outlawing death. Congress convenes to discuss problems, different solutions to those problems, and the consequences of each solution. This again raises the question of contingency because that which is deemed necessary or impossible depends almost entirely on time and perspective.” And “normativity is arguably the key feature distinguishing ethical and political discourse from other discourses (such as natural science)” …or so I read somewhere on the internet.

    After contemplating the choice between normative and descriptive statements, you place the condition upon that choice that it is not really a choice by asserting that the latter type of statement is often the former. Thus it seems that it is both necessary and impossible to choose. So off you went, down that path where you empirically observe then relate chosen examples within two discourses, via analogy that is both humorous and informative, to get to your point about contingency- as it is defined in both philosophy and planning. Thoroughly enjoyable!

    I first thought, a priori, that perhaps in a companion piece you could delve into a third modality- the positive. And I use that term with its double-entendre couched in both philosophy and benefit. Assuming the parameters that those contemporary scholars and Odin are correct, then doesn’t the nature of your rhetoric here which is about the relative contingency of science and art, remove its necessity?

    I next thought, moving on the assumption that those parameters hold, stoking the flames of curiosity and respect in those readers who are less familiar with Richard Rorty, or evolution, or the life and times of contemporary art critic in the fickle gallery world, or purposeful suit wearing, or your lovely father, or philosophical musings on contingency, et cetera, is nice and all, but to what end? To get us thinking about how we can use your thoughts and observations and conclusions to improve the quality of life around us? Or was it really just philosophical masturbation? I wondered onto what hills above the din will you ascend in order to guide your readers in the Land of Hume, or perhaps will you reach as a place beyond, which I know not how to describe yet.

    I humbly avow I initially missed the fact that you delivered what I had just thought to ask of you- in that, to be normative here, we must always undertake further introspective examination to discover how a set of experiences translate and how certain observations apply to our own lives. (Could I state that such a normative act is in fact then contingent, and necessary?) I shall forge ahead, regardless. Then I pondered about what I could take away and then create from this piece – and found that it is indeed, if only partially, necessary.

    …I also dress a certain way because I enjoy inviting upon myself a partially false pretense; I like to create a ruse, apply some rouge as it states in the Hagakure. However, as you said- there exists not one linear direction for evolution or even time, and so as a consequence, not one direction in shifting tenses or pretenses. I dress down, sometimes, to give the impression I am not such an academic minded nerd craving knowledge and the ability to utilize it, one who is thoroughly curious about philosophy, et cetera. I dress down so people expect less from me, so that then when I wow them with my inner, suit-wearing sophist, limited as he is, the wow effect is magnified, if ever so slightly. Basically, I think I have a lot of catching up to do if I am going to be effectively impressive in a suit, or any clothing for that matter- that is to say beyond the partial honesty of not being impressive in any clothes, yet affecting half a step toward mutual progress. Your knowledge impresses people, as does your sincerity, and ability to communicate, and commune, yet you assert that sometimes you can bring a shovel full of, well, self-important bullshit to the table. I say: “Welcome, my brown brother, I carry a truck load of it.”

    Dressing down also keeps me cooler and more pleasant on hot, late-July afternoons while sitting in the sun with a brown brother learning about art and helping a brown child, for, as with no evidence of linear evolution, their brownness has nothing to do with their value, normative or otherwise, as in the case of Owens- so there is a pragmatism to my method.

    It does however, preclude some conversations that would enlighten me while inviting several that would annoy me. Such is a contingency of my life at this stage. I need a casual sport coat.

    And working, writing historians like myself who are soon to be published in a newspaper or magazine, are indeed journalists. However despite the length of this comment, I do not want to be a novelist. I invoke Poe’s observation that the novel is too damn long and it loses its power when you have to put it down because you ran out of time that night, and have to go to an art show.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s