I gave the following talk at the RAM’s seminar on Friday 6 November 2009. This is the text used. The line in the middle indicates the place where I spoke about my other methodology, which was drawn from my earlier posts here about methodology.
In 1905 Cézanne wrote a letter to Emile Bernard in which he commented that ‘time and reflection […] modify little by little our vision, and at last comprehension comes to us.’ This quote comes from the article ‘Making Space: The Purpose and Place of Practice-led Research’, written by Graeme Sullivan (2008). It’s a nice idea, and also one that belongs to an earlier era, when stating the concept that ‘comprehension could be attained’ was still possible. In this postmodern time such utopias seem naïve, yet the notion that action and reflection are bound in an iterative cycle of alteration and modification is one that this talk will explore.
This is right and proper, since it relates to a topic that happened ‘before my time’ (the mid-1960s) in a country from which I was once geographically disconnected (in Wiltshire). The way in which I am going about uncovering its contours is one that relies on recognizing the iterative nature of research, the way that this process impels further inquiry, and the reflective scepticism that it engenders.
To Cézanne’s ‘little-by-little’ modification I will add precarious moments of clarity, confusion and boredom that also shape the research process, enabling and disabling potential outcomes in future writing. I will discuss this in terms of categories and tags when I explain my working with a blog.
My research into the Wardour Castle Summer Schools seeks to clarify the events in terms of who was there, what went on, what its impact was and how it has been documented. It also seeks to track the process of research and to be attentive to the choices made in documentation. In bringing these forces together, my research adopts forms that complicate, confuse, blur and reconfigure research and publication. My methodologies above all emphasise the little-by-little modification of my vision of these events, to understand better how there were comprehended, as well as my own comprehension of them. It’s research that is led by my practice of composing a new idea of the Wardour Castle Summer Schools.
Earlier I mentioned Cézanne, before immediately moving away from it, critiquing Cézanne’s comments and opening up space for positioning my research in relation to the research-led and practice-led methodologies that provided the impetus for the book in which Cézanne is quoted. My research responds to the literature of this debate, as well as forging idiosyncratic methodologies that suit my topic. If my reference to Cézanne is unconvincing, it’s because I am skeptical, but such a problem need not be debilitating, since it enables new thoughts: a modification of vision. In this specific case, I know that finishing reading the book will prompt some major changes in my methodology and critical stance. With major changes looming it’s important that I clarify where I am now, so I know what’s changed. More generally, this is research in progress, unstable, subject to contradiction and alteration. It’s also research that is flexible, prone to following fashions that indicate the possibility of shared understanding. Responding to last week’s seminar, I want to re-begin this seminar with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges:
On Exactitude in Science
In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.
Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658 (Borges, 1999)
Predating last week’s seminar by a week I wrote:
In mapping the ‘lieux de memoire’ of these events, my map-making needs to embrace modernism’s lessons and to inhabit the tattered ruins of previous maps, by which I mean to be creative in the patchiness of memory rather than to focus on finding the edges of its tatters as a precursor to sewing it together.
I then discussed the work of Otto von Busch, a Swedish fashion theorist with a speciality in hacking fashion.
(RSA Talk: 21’10”)
Before this is dismissed as too tangential from my research it is worth considering a juxtaposition. Firstly, Otto von Busch, again.
(RSA Talk: 5’02”)
Compare that with the following quote from Graeme Sullivan, writing about Cézanne:
A […] lesson to be taken from artistic and scientific investigations of a century ago is the realisation of the necessity of communicating across fields of inquiry. [….] Coming to understand the interconnections among visual forms, patterns of inquiry and different perspectives offers the possibility of making intuitive and intellectual leaps towards the creation of new knowledge. (Sullivan 2009, 43)
The link between these two theorists is a meta-methodological one. If you look up ‘metamethod’ in the 2009 book Fieldwork Is Not What It Used To Be: Learning Anthropology’s Method in a Time of Transition, one is directed to the index entry on ‘craft culture’. At the risk of stammering, the meta-metamethodological content of this book sews together the tatters of map anew to connect method and craft with conceptions about both method and craft.
(As an aside, Steven Connor’s work on stammering and Alvin Lucier is fascinating. http://www.stevenconnor.com/phonophobia/ See too Borges on Funes ‘a certain stammering greatness’ for his mind is ‘folded in on itself’ (Connor))
The point is that Fieldwork Is Not What It Used To Be is a book that reflects a postmodern way of working, where hierarchies can be connected in new ways to destabilize old ideas. In this case there is a new connection between metamethodology and professional craft, that is, the practice of undertaking fieldwork, which is as practical as anthropology gets. The map has been connected in new ways, no longer reliant on linear connections represented by ratios of scale.
If this is post-Borges in its conception of mapping, then it’s interesting to consider the recent story about the fictitious town Argleton, reported widely in the press this week. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/nov/03/google> Borges’ fictions seem alive and well.
There is another reason that I refer to Fieldwork Is Not What It Used To Be, since it is a text written by professors and their best former students who worked together at Rice University. The book is motivated by a shift in what students wanted from the 1980s, where theory was taught prior to practice, to today, when most graduate students within universities already have experience working with NGOs and other places where they are practising fieldwork (17). Rather than simply reworking new syllabuses, the book seeks to engage in new ways of thinking, lead by the young practitioners in the discipline. This may go some way to explaining the particular methods I have chosen for my research. It also recalls Neil Heyde’s comments in the first of this year’s seminar’s about this as a forum for working through new problems.
If my talk still seems to tangential, then it’s time to tell you more about the Wardour Castle Summer Schools, and the ways in which some tangents become centres.
Taking place in 1964 and 1965 these events brought together a wide range of composers who later formed the core and the tangent of British music making. Darmstadt and Dartington brought leading composers and performers in contact with those less experienced, in lectures and concerts. Wardour Castle fostered a culture of discussion among the UK’s young practitioners.
You can find this text on my blog, and if you have anything to add, do use the comment option.
Recently the New Scientist reviewed two books. One on remembering everything, one on the virtue of forgetting. Yadin Dudai on remembering:
The scheme seems ingeniously simple and technically feasible. To overcome oblivion, say the authors, all you need are sensitive miniature sensors and several terabytes of storage, which are already or soon-to-be affordable. You can then record every minute of your life using video, audio, location and physiological signals, culminating in the commitment of this endless stream of information to your personal MyLifeBits account in your pocket and/or in cyberspace. Proper software will permit you to retrieve the information years later, and it will even pass by default to your progeny for eternity, with the hope that they will pay attention to it.
Part of Microsoft’s research project includes new work on ways of annotating, hyperlinking, and full-text transcription of a life’s experience. http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/mylifebits/
Yadin Dudai’s critique utilizes the lastest scientific research on brain function:
as cognitive psychology and neuroscience demonstrate again and again, two individuals sensing the same input, or the same individual sensing the same input at different times, may understand very different things. So registering bits of episodes is unlikely to really preserve these episodes. [….] Most importantly, though, the authors, consumed by their hunt for every last bit of information (and even offering practical advice on how to make an extra buck in the process), forget forgetting.
Dudai then continues, stating that ‘for the human condition, forgetting is at least as important as remembering – sometimes more so.’ He then gives two examples, one a real mnemonist, Solomon Shereshevsky, and other ‘Funes the Memorious’, the subject of Borges’s fictional story from the 1940s. Funes’ reconstruction of an entire day takes an entire day. Borges:
‘To think is to ignore (or forget) differences, to generalize, to abstract.’ (Borges 1999, 137)
To an extent about which I cannot be precise, loss of memory of details and the unmemorability of the events are entangled.
My methodology extends from this position, and seeks not to try to record everything, nor to gather all the facts. When Michael Hall told me that he wouldn’t let me listen to his recordings made with composers I was glad. Some of those composers are now dead. So too was David Lumsdaine when we first met:
I first met David Lumsdaine in November 2003. I had travelled from my home in Sydney’s South to Cremorne, on the Lower North Shore, hoping to interview him. Before I asked any questions, he explained to me that he was a ghost, for, as a composer, he had died years before. He then described something of the trauma of this death. The conversation continued until he was assured that I understood that any answers he gave to my questions were as reliable as those divined by a spirit‐medium. When it seemed that this was understood, he allowed me to turn on my microphone, and the interview commenced.
The recording of that conversation, like subsequent discussions I have had with Lumsdaine, occupy a ground between the supposed voices of the dead captured on tape, and insightful thoughts by a commentator intimately familiar with the music. (Hooper, 2008)
My methodology is grounded on the importance of disciplined creativity in the face of forgetting, of sewing the tatters of the past together into new forms. In so doing I am aiming to generalize and to abstract. To a large extent, that is why the focus of this talk is not on the events of the 1964 and 1965 Wardour Castle Summer Schools, which I have published online to be viewed by all those with an interest.
When documenting, it’s important for me to forget, but also to record decisions that lead to forgetting, since they are the records that enable me to join together different levels of abstraction and to hone a methodology that engages with the disciplines of musicology, anthropology, design and fashion.
Busch, Otto von (2009), talk at the RSA http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2009/hacking-design–folly,-theft-or-a-new-democratic-dawn
Borges, Jorge Luis (1999) Collected Fictions trans. Andrew Hurley (Penguin).
Fieldwork is nor what it used to be
Hooper, Michael (2008) The Music of David Lumsdaine 1966-1980 (PhD thesis).
Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor (2009) Delete: The virtue of forgetting in the digital age (Princeton University Press).
Sullivan, Graeme (2009) ‘Making Space: The Purpose and Place of Practice-led Research), Practice-led Research: Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, H. Smith and R. T. Dean (eds) (Edinburgh University Press).