Opticracy, experientially

by Suspended Reason

All too often and automatically, when imagining a possible undertaking from the first-person view, I end up switching to third-person appraisal, begin thinking in terms of the act’s social meaning and position—the other similar types” of things that I’d seen done, their feel,” whether they were reputed or heavy-handed or cringe. I’d imagine ways they might be talked about and thought about and situated in the larger culture, the possible lines of criticism leveled, the vulnerable points not in terms of which were most causally load-bearing so much as liable to actually be leveled. I want to be clear here, because I think this is common and often suppressed: it is not that I consciously asked What would the reputation of this game move be?” Rather, I found myself speaking in the tongues of cultural legitimators, about my own project. I felt myself feeling my way around, in fuzzy barely verbal maneuvers, instances of existing moves which I judged similar to the move I was considering. This similarity was often quite superficial and limited to a single focused-upon trait (a similar topic, similar voice, similar structure), without any holistic consideration of whether, and how, a given formal technique used in a work was causally related to that work’s feeling” in my deeply social taste. If it was the kind of thing” a tacky artist or artifact would use, or was known for using, it was tainted—it could perhaps still be used, but only with bracketing or scare quotes or or some other signal of self-awareness and reclamation. In other words, the implicit basis for picking projects be how the project might translate” into a set of social positionings around my self-situation in a cultural hierarchy, so as to communicate the right message” about who I am and how I ought to be regarded. And this was entirely implicit and obfuscated in what might easily, with less suspicion, be regarded as personal authenticity”—not in the asocial sense, but in the “individuality” sense of squatting a relatively uninhabited, yet recognizable-as-valuable, niche.

In my experience, what most separates the unproductive from productive version of this is an extreme scrupulousness around who is worth impressing, ideally an imagined composite who can never be pleased, but which approaches the limits of known perfection.

The habitus is built through mimicry; where its aspects become common knowledge, they enter social reality.