Re: transdance III

Johannes H. Birringer (
Fri, 09 May 1997 03:07:02 -0500

Part 3/ transdance/ethnography series


Science adopted a model of language as a self-perfecting form of closed
that achieved closure by making language itself the object of description.
But closure was bought at the cost of descriptive adequacy. The more
language became its own object, the less it had to say about anything else.
So, the language of science became the object of science, and what had begun
as perception unmediated by concepts became conception unmediated by percepts.

The unity of communication brought about by language displaced the unity of
perception that language had formerly wrought. Language as communicaion
displaced language as representation, and as science communicated better and
better about itself, it had less and less to say about the world. In an
excess of democracy, agreement among scientists became more important than
the nature of nature.

Still, this would not have been fatal had it not been for the stubborn
refusal of language to perfect itself. As science increasingly defined
itself as the mode of discourse that had its own discourse as its object,
every move to perfect that discourse and fill every gap of proof revealed
ever-new imperfections. Every self-perfecting, self-corrective move created
local orders that spawned new imperfections requiring new corrections.
Instead of a coherent system of knowledge, science created a welter of local
orders unrelated to one another and beyond the control of anyone.

The utopian unity of science disappeared from sight along with all the other
unreal objects of scientific fantasy.


Caught up in the fascination of this glass-bead game with its ever-changing
rules of play and promise of the always new and different, scientists
fulfilled in their discourse that dream of capitalist production in which
new self-destructing products automatically remove themelves from
competition with still newer self-destructing products created to fill an
insatiable demand for the consumption of the latest scientific
break-through, the latest change in the rules of the game.

In this world of ever-changing fashions, the provincial was the player who
continued to play a game that had already been abandoned by those in the
"forefront" or on the "cutting edge" of research.

As science came to be thought of more and more as a game, it became
distanced from
praxis and disrupted the taken-for-granted relation between theory and
practice. What
consistent practice could flow from an inconstant theory that understood its
significance as a play in a game? The less theory was guided and stimulated
by a reflexive relation to practical application, the less it could justify
itself as the source of practice. And since the infinite game led only to
provisional knowledge, ever subject to revision as a consequence of changes
in the rules, it produced no universal knowledge and could not justify
itself by holding out the promise that it would.

Its involution closed off both the return to the concrete world of practice
and the transit to the wholly transcendental world of universal knowledge.
Consequently, it had to look outside its own discourse for justification, to
seek legitimation in a discourse that was other than its own and not subject
to its rules. It needed a discourse that could not be part of the
self-perfecting discourse of science or foundational in any scientifically
acceptable way.

[to be continued]

["Post-Modern Ethnography: From Document of the Occult to Occult Document"
(adapted, 1986, Stephen Tyler]