Being Indisciplined


Last week at ISEA I presented a section of Edward Colless’ provocation “Transdisciplinary Aesthetics: An Occultation and Occultism”.   The section in question was entitled “On the trans…” and it offered a critique of what Ted saw as the glib ease with which discussions of trans- and interdisciplinarity presume a knowledge of which they can have none.  As Ted asserts, “connotations of diversity and amalgamation arising from transdisciplinarity have nothing to do with multiplicity, diversity, relativism or autonomy.  Nothing to do with collegiality as an intelligible, institutional paradigm… This insistence on “nothing” isn’t just rhetorical or polemical: we have to accept the transdisciplinary as entailing a certain mode of exclusion and divesting of properties…”.

In the first part of Ted’s paper, “On the inter…” he foregrounds this throwing down of a diacritical gauntlet by insisting that aestheticians “who try their hand at art are often treated as amateurs, since they lack what is called ‘a practice’, or professional history of working in art.  Correlatively… when artists or writers who are untrained or qualified in philosophy talk about aesthetics they’re doing so with the untutored partiality of an amateur or hobbyist”.

Ted’s example of the coming-together of the aesthetician/critic/academic and the arts practitioner is a useful synecdoche, a figure for thinking about the precariousness and potential ill-fitting collision of the “inter” and the “trans”.  In picking up on this thread I suggest that rather than seeing this as a lugubrious impasse we treat it as an opportunity, a heuretic, as Greg Ulmer would have it, that enables us to make something with what we have at hand.  And in this bricolage we need to be bold and divest ourselves of the usual trap in such discussions of defaulting to familiar, jaded and, as Ted reminds us, deleterious binary oppositions.  So rather than trying to resolve these contradictions I suggest that we embrace irresolution.  Instead of being trans or inter, we need to be undisciplined.  Or more accurately, “indisciplined”.

Here is an example of how it can be done:

The 70s prog rock band King Crimson reformed in the early 1980s and produced a CD called Discipline.  One of the tracks was called “Indiscipline”.  This is a semi-instrumental piece that segues between a number of different and complex time signatures.  The piece is largely a dialogue between bassist Tony Levin and drummer Bill Bruford.  Levin begins with a steady 5/8 beat; Bruford keeps time with him, establishing what seems like a dialogue, a call and response vibe.  He then syncopates on the downbeat, creating disruptive, arythmic counterpoints to Levin’s vamping and consistent beat.  The effect is of a dialogue between two different attitudes, two different forms of discipline.  What emerges is something that works as a collaboration from different perspectives; it segues between being disciplined and undisciplined; it is indiscipline.

It is “trans” in the coming together of two different voices riffing off each other; a crossing of thresholds not setting out to achieve some kind of harmony, but to heighten their difference.  It is “inter” in that when they attune themselves to the rhythm, vocabulary and tonality of the other, or at least become conversant in them, they can have a dialogue of sorts; one grounded in hybridity, the formation of something new from ill-fitting components.

So “trans” as enabling a temporary, heterotopic common ground found in difference; “inter” in enabling difference to emerge from a common ground.  This is what Ted describes as an “occultation”.

“Indiscipline” is for me, after T.S.Eliot, an objective correlative of Ted’s merger between inter and trans, a merger of fusion of horizons in which irresolution, risk and heuretic pathfinding is ok.  It is a journey into indiscipline, in which we won’t know what is possible until it has already happened.