Thought Like a Dog Leaping*

Asking whether something is correct or wrong—or in the case of aesthetics, good or bad—is the least interesting question we can ask of something.

Both the negative and positive conclusions foreclose thought. If negative, we dismiss the thing and inquiry stops. Or, and this is a little better, we delight in dissecting its faults. If positive, we come to identify ourselves with the thing, and experience attacks on it as attacks on ourselves.

In all cases, there is a more useful question: “good or bad for what?” “correct or wrong for what?”This redirects our attention from a thing’s properties to its powers.

It also encourages us to consider how an idea or an artwork functions in differing contexts. Not only the context in which it arose—the processes that gave rise to this particular product—but also novel contexts in which it might function differently.

Finally it can lead to what I find most life-enhancing: putting an idea, aesthetic, artwork or thing to unexpected uses that increase my power to think, act, or experience. Turning the thing into a tool for the unexpected, a bridge to the unforeseen.

For me this entails a shift in the image of thought itself, away from thought as judgment (Kant’s “tribunal of reason”), and toward thought as a kind of hacking or experimentation. The tribunal has its place, but it’s only a subset of thought, not its master image or crowning achievement. In all too many cases—not least the “bureaucrats of reason” Gilles Deleuze identifies with many, maybe even most, academics—it becomes an obstacle to thought itself.

* “If thought searches, it is less in the manner of someone who possesses a method than that of a dog that seems to be making uncoordinated leaps. We have no reason to take pride in this image of thought, which involves much suffering without glory and indicates the degree to which thinking has become increasingly difficult: immanence.“ —Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy? (55)

 

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