Issue #42 July 2021

Introduction

If we are so inclined, we might identify two directions which have marked modern science, and which have come with their particular sets of fears. On the one hand, there was a claustrophobic closing-in, a tightening of the universe into a particular set of immutable laws; on the other hand, an unimaginable dilatation, a disorienting openness that engulfs us from the moment of our birth. It does not help that in its contraction, science was itself forced to multiply and to find modes of expression that lie far beyond our common understanding, while in its expansion, it had to invent new ways of experiencing the world, and to leave the boundaries it has set for itself. It may come as no surprise, then, that in our vertigo we had to invent another science, harnessed into our needs, at our service, thus binding the fears it elicits in us. That even this draft-animal-science appears to have left us to serve new masters – capital, investors, profits – is unlikely to calm our rancor. But this might be precisely the reason, why trying to make science palpable to the common people by affirming that they also profit from its fruits, even if they will never get a taste of its profits, will necessarily fail. It is akin to feeding off the fallen leftovers from the masters’ table. It might just be, then, that the inhumane science, in its infinite movements, was more humane after all, and that it is precisely in its invention of new experiences, new modes of expression, new constellations, that it is the bearer of a livable future. In destroying all hopes of finding a place in the universe, it bears the revolutionary potential of destroying all attempts to assign specific places to individuals, and to keep them in their place. Does a science that serves a master not necessarily betray its nature?

This is what leaves a bitter taste concerning our modern sensibilities, and makes the discursive movements tricky. Too naïve is the move to question all rationalization, the suspicion of all quantities and all described vectors. The fitting and the dissecting is what has opened the world and collapsed the medieval ‘chain of Being’. But, also, too naïve is the move of deferring to these spreadsheets in their neutrality, as the highest value. This merely conceals the persistence of the appeal to papal authority, to kings and countries. It’s the limited nature of this dialectic that allows all manner of hobgoblins and ghoulish projects to refract their madness – a mistrust of ‘science’ in line with the ‘scientific spirit’ and the ‘spirit of the nation’, in the flat earth, hot blooded, fist pumping genre. Such excesses won’t be curtailed by gesturing to the spreadsheets and the dizzying commodities, the degrees and pedigrees off the data. Those are so many account books and investor reports, the booming voice of the great machinery we toil under, or, at least, shares its tone of voice.

We’re left thinking that the ‘scientific revolution’ has never been attempted in earnest, only the rationalization of states and markets, and, admittedly, a few quickly hijacked projects. But with the fixing of the vectors all becomes, paradoxically, movement. The decentering is there to grasp, just as it slips through the fingers who are now moving in orbits on the edge of a field. Perhaps Nietzsche said it best when he diagnosed the issue as one concerning our lack of attention to the ability of dance

Cover illustration: Walter Dexel, “1927 oder Komposition auf schwarzem Grund”, (1927).

#42

July 2021

Introduction

Alain Badiou – The Theory of Covering and the Ethics of the Idea

A translation by Timothy Lavenz

Nineteenth Century Interpretations of Thought and the Claims of Twenty-First Century Science

by GW Middleton

Views of Reality from Stagecraft, Science, and ‘Nowhere’

by Venkat Ramanan

Neo-Berkeleyan Meditations on Systems, Rules, Freedom, Death, and the Last of my Kind

by Raphael Chim