Predictive Hermeneutics: MEGA THREAD
What is predictive hermeneutics, you may ask? Luckily, @veryragged and I have written an entire paper explaining it:
Predictive processing, a meta-theory from cognitive science and computational neuroscience, proposes the mind as a hierarchical system which predicts reality as it unfolds (Clark 2016, Hohwy 2013, Friston 2006). This prediction occurs at levels ranging from the “merely” sensory to the highly conceptual. Here, we extend this thesis in order to understand the hermeneutic process as it relates to textual and artistic encounters. We argue that one of the foundational functions of contemporary artistic and literary production is to inform and exploit the mind’s predictive system. We further show how this conceptualization of the art encounter as a cognitively rich interaction between the artwork and mind, coupled with the predictive processing framework of cognition, helps explain a host of traditional literary, aesthetic, and art historical values, including ambiguity, defamiliarization, and reversal.
It's a bit long, so if you wanna cut to the chase, there's a blogpost synopsis:
The conceptual carving we call “schema-subverting art” in our paper tries to be meaningful by describing a fundamental, intrinsic value of the 20th century art project which is distinct from previous age’s aesthetic value hierarchies. It therefore inevitably doubles as a theory of the 20th century’s art project, a project which must be (1) coherent across many schools & movements and yet (2) distinct from the pre-modern paradigm. “Schema-revising” or “schema-subverting” art drives a through-line from the likes of, at the 20th century’s start, Cubist painting, rip-it-up Dada, and modernism’s relentless “make it new”—through to the happenings, psychedelia, and conceptual anti-art of the century’s center—to finally, the justice-oriented and activist work of contemporary avant production. All of these periods—though distinct in their attitudes toward materiality, politics, technique, and representation—are united in their preoccupation with perception, disruption, and disrupting perception: in a phrase, schematic interrogation.
Last, some Are.na channels with resources:
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There was actually a big part of Snav's recent dialogue on Evangelion that reminded me of this stuff—the way part of art's appeal is about coming in as an outsider exploring a world, understanding its logic. The sci-fi trope of inductee, as mirroring the state of the reader.
A: So you finished watching Evangelion, yes? [...] What did you think?
I: Honestly, I felt dissatisfied. Almost cheated. I feel like the show gave many hints to plot elements which were never resolved. A lot was never explained.
A: Oh? Like what?
I: Well, for example, the role of SEELE in the plot was never explained. What did they want, or why did they want to cause the third impact? And what exactly is Adam? What about Lilith? It just felt like, even though the show ended, there was a lot I didn't understand about the world.
A: And that's what left you dissatisfied? A lack of understanding about the show's world?
I: I'm not sure. In a way, I felt cheated, like if the show's going to bring up all these plot elements, why wont it explain them? I was expecting them to be explained, but they never were.
A: [...] Why is it that that the show revealing more of its plot elements and world would satisfy you, as opposed to how it actually ended?
I: Well, I want to know! When you reveal something in the world, I read that as asking me to pay attention to it, so that I might later understand how it all fits together.
A: So that's what brings you satisfaction? Having all the elements of the world snap into place?
I: Yes. I want the plot and world to make sense to me by the end.
A: Why? Or, what exactly makes that feeling of "the show makes sense" so satisfying?
I: Well, it's a like a relief. I put in all this effort to watch a show, and to follow its plot and the inner logic of its world. So of course I would want it to fit together into a "whole" by the end. Otherwise I'm left with this feeling of "something missing", why did I even bother watching if it doesn't snap into place?
A: So, to be clear, what you mean when you say you want the show to "make sense", is that you want know an explanation for each of the events occurring in the world? So that it fits into a nice causal arc, leaving no threads hanging.
I: Yes. I want to know all about it, so that nothing is "missing".
A: But what's so satisfying about that?
I: I feel like when I pick up a show, I want to enter into its world, and undergo this process of discovery, where each of the show's elements appear and then can be explained later by reasons, like solving a puzzle. And then, once the show ends, I want to feel like the puzzle is solved, so that I can exit the show's world and feel like the events transpired as a coherent unity.
A: If I understand correctly, what you want is for the show to present you with some experience as an observer, such that, through knowledge gained from what the show presents to you, the show is demonstrated to abide by some logic you find legible? And Evangelion failed at that, because certain events in the show were not provided with logical explanations?
In Trickster Makes This World, Lewis Hyde brings to life the playful and disruptive side of human imagination as it is embodied in trickster mythology. He first visits the old stories―Hermes in Greece, Eshu in West Africa, Krishna in India, Coyote in North America, among others―and then holds them up against the lives and work of more recent creators: Picasso, Duchamp, Ginsberg, John Cage, and Frederick Douglass.
The difficulty is that all art is both abstract and suggestive at the same time. You can’t show everything. If you do, it’s no longer art. Art lies in suggestion. The great difficulty for filmmakers is precisely not to show things. Ideally, nothing should be shown, but that’s impossible. So things must be shown from one sole angle that evokes all other angles without showing them. We must let the viewer gradually imagine, hope to imagine, and keep them in a constant state of anticipation. … Life is mysterious, and we should see that on-screen. The effects of things must always be shown before their cause, like in real life. We’re unaware of the causes of most of the events we witness. We see the effects and only later discover the cause.
This is one of my favorite examples of the "set up expectations, then surprise them" maneuver in art. You can skip to 1:10 in or so. Imagine you're an audience member, in the 70s. You've heard a lot about Close Encounters, you know it's an alien flick. The first shot we get appears to be windswept alien planet. Little beams of light hover over the ground, as if from a UFO... but as the dust clears, it's revealed to be a Jeep.
Now cut forward a decade or two, to Jurassic Park. You're in the audience, you've heard a lot about the film, you know it's a dino flick. How do you read the rustling trees?
In both cases, the kind of subversion is the same—we are the monsters. The YT previews spoil the effect a bit, by spoiling what the scene eventually reveals, but you can get the picture.
if the listener knows what’s coming at the apex of a big pop hook, knows exactly when or how it’ll drop and then winds up correct, his neurons flood him with dopamine.
The exact cause-and-effect structure seems hazy still (I've seen compelling evidence that all dopamine rewards are anticipatory, and not actually about anticipating and then being correct.) Still, neurochemistry aside, the phenomenology is clearly "a thing." We are all well aware of the way familiarity pays out in pop music.
Literary hermeneutics are more or less where I wanna go next with this stuff, though I haven't had the time yet to read Gombrich and Kermode's tomes on the matter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sense_of_an_Ending:_Studies_in_the_Theory_of_Fiction
There's a long tradition there of thinking through "framing," how our initial expectations inform interpretation and are updated while reading, etc.
From DeLillo's The Names, a director discussing his new project:
"I'm looking for something outside the range of expectations, you know? It's just a probe. The Wadi Rum's been filmed before, wide screen, soaring music. The place intrigues me in a totally different way... There's a particular logic."
From the first post-preface pages of Simon Reynold's Rip It Up (brackets are mine):
'[John] Lydon's disillusionment [with punk] had been brewing for months. The first public sign occurred during "The Punk and His Music," a July 1977 show on London's Capital Radio station, during which Lydon voiced his frustration with the predictability of most punk bands, saying he felt "cheated " by the genre's lack of diversity and imagination. Splicing together interview segments with Lydon and records he'd personally selected, "The Punk and His Music" revealed that the singer had far more sophisticated and eclectic taste in music than his, er, public image suggested. Those who turned in anticipating punk rock were immediately thrown for a loop by the first selection, Tim Buckley's "Sweet Surrender" ...[if you don't know Buckley Sr.'s music, 10sec of it on YT explains why it was nuts Johnny Rotten himself picked that as his DJ opener]. Over the next ninety minutes Lydon further tweaked expectations, playing languid roots reggae, solo tracks from former Velvet Underground members Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico, a surprising amount of hippie-tinged music by Can, Captain Beefheart, and Third Ear Band, and two tracks by his hero Peter Hammill, a full-blown progressive rocker. Just about everything Lydon played on Capital Radio contradicted the punk myth of the early seventies as musical wasteland."
This is all a preface to say that (pop) music history--the mid-60s thru punk/post-punk thru the Human League's Desire & and the Into Battle w/ the Art of Noise EP [the first use of sampling]/the KLF thru house/jungle/techno up until about '96--was exclusively thrust forward by the "schema-subverting" impulse...if you ask Simon Reynolds, Mark Fisher, and all of those who are of the punk/post-punk generation. It was the introduction of new frames--the 'studio' and LSD in the 60s, disco/reggae & conception of the anti-rational subject in the 70s, synths/drum machines/sequencers/samplers in the 80s, ecstasy in the 90s--that pushed music into new boundaries, new models and visions of the future that gave the listener the sense that something more was still possible.
I bring this all in because I think, in the case of recent music history, any conception of the new and the original has been rooted in schema-subversion tactics. And while for a while it worked--well, it burnt itself out, and did so kind of quickly (not sure 40y of a viable methodology is something to hang yr hat on). I listen to hyperpop now, arguably one of the only, if not the only, 'new' genre of the 21st century, and I feel like I'm starting into pop's death mask directly thru its empty eye sockets. There's something so nihilistic about it, like it recognizes that the deathly logical conclusion of pop music as we've known it has to be this kind of body-heavy, no head, feel-yourself-until-you-lose-yourself-until-you-die robotic pop that, in the words of this awesome new-ish band Black Country, New Road: 'remind me of a future I am / in no way part of'.
Anyway, this is all to ask the question: when you have all of history's schemas available to you at pretty much anytime (with only minimal research skills but lots of time required), is a schema-subversion-styled approach to art marking--and maybe more importantly, to art reception--still viable? I don't even think a person today needs to be aware of all of the overt and/or niche variations of perspectival schemas, of different styles, approaches, etc., that just the mere fact of all of them being available--and we know that they are!--have deconditioned us out of subversion and into a state/s of confirmation (of expectations/possibilities).
And if this is true, how can we refigure 21c hermeneutics, both in art production and interpretation, so we don't get caught in re(dis)cursive cycles?
TLDR; does 'schema-subverting art' still exist today, and if it does, where/when/what/how? And if it doesn't when did it die? And can we learn anything from when/why it died?
@RIPDCB Lot of good stuff to chew on! My initial thoughts—
- Have you read @beiser 's hyperpop post? We may want to collapse Cultural Capital and Pure Aurality as categories at some point, but nodding in the direction of a sister board.
- What's the "anti rational subject" trend in the 70s you describe? Totally in the dark!
- In math, where a similar burden of history has cropped up, the age that Nobel Prize winners do their important work has jumped back fifteen or twenty years since the Prize's inception (don't quote me on the specifics, just conveying gist). Interesting that James Murphy was a late bloomer, is all I'm saying—he had a lotta homework to do.
can't get this stuff out of my head since i read the paper. It occurs to me that 'hermeneutics of suspicion'/'paranoid reading' fits very nicely into this model as well, basically analogous to the PP model of paranoia/schizophrenia (I think).
i'm not really familiar with the 'paranoid style in american politics' but i wonder about that too, and about our current paranoiac cultural moment in general (thinking about tao lin for example)
if anyone's written about any of this i would love to read it, i'm not sure i have the capacity to write any of this myself.
Another thing - where does the PP idea of 'active inference' fit into all this? the PH paper limits itself to perception which is fair since we don't physically have to do much when we read books and watch movies, but maybe it's worth thinking about an 'active hermeneutics' of videogames (maybe other games too), since here our muscles really are involved in the 'unfolding' of the work.
finally, tangentially related, Ekin Erkan has some writing about PP and philosophy which i don't really understand but might interest some here, for example: http://plutonicsjournal.com/volumes/Plutonics Volume 13.pdf
two more things:
- Aristotle stresses in the Poetics that the sequence of events in a drama must be /probable/, i.e. have high P(event | prev. events) or just P(events) where P is the 'real world' distribution. Fits with the note in the PH paper about classical art reifying the familiar.
- is it trite to make a correspondence between PP's top-down/bottom-up and Nietzsche's Apollonian/Dionysian (or Pirsig's classical/romantic)? the Apollonian mode is abstract, illusory, rational; the Dionysian concrete, sensory, irrational. even better, Nietzsche describes the Apollonian as the world of dreams; for PP as i understand it, dreaming is top-down activity in the absence of sensation.