Thinking Beyond Experience: Prosthetic Agency in The Form of Not


In The Unmanned, eds.: Fabien Giraud & Raphael Siboni, (Milan: Mousse Publishing), 2022. Link

Models, Badiou writes, are what enable thought through participation, where participation is understood as a mixture of the sensible and the intelligible.[1] This notion of participation in the context of art bears little resemblance to the incitement of audiences to become “active” collaborators in a work but is rather more nuanced, manifesting as the construction of sensorial conditions that embed the logics proper to the world of the artwork. Unlike the hard sciences that are disciplinarily bound to discovering the what-is-ness of a world in greater resolution, regardless of their often counterintuitive or inexperiential accounts, the domain of art possesses no such disciplinary constraints of fidelity to what-is. This point ought to give us pause in the face of the “epistemological project” of criticality subtending the self-narration of art as a discipline through which to reveal the what-is-ness of forms of “social dominance.”[2] This epistemological project not only entrenches the givenness of a what-is condition of a world through referential reproduction (in the negative, in a purely moral register), it also implicitly imposes a constraint upon thought as that which must be consistent with “experiential fact.”[3] Despite the proliferation of claims to knowledge-production in contemporary art that enact such a paradigmatic project, the consequence of this framework is a conflation of the fact of experience with what can be thought. Because experience is bound to what is given in the here and now, by aligning thought absolutely with the fact of experience, intelligibility is constricted to an enclosure of immediacy, and such constrictions that privilege immediacy do so at the cost of confusing what is phenomenologically local with procedural possibilities of localization—a distinction to which we’ll later return. Normative entrenchment within such a paradigm rehearses a sense of capture within the present, reverberating with bell hooks’s observation that “critique can become merely an expression of profound cynicism, which then works to sustain dominator culture,” in what has become a prevalent disciplinary disposition.[4] In response to this cynical disposition, or what Amanda Beech has identified as the “tragic,” “dysfunctional function” of art,[5] the turn towards speculation would seem to offer a way out of this entrenchment in the what-is-ness of a world. However, when speculative thought is unleashed in arbitrary ways, entirely divorced from the what-is and what-was of material and historical specificity, a heedless leap ensues for the trivial gesture of manufacturing “difference for the sake of difference.”[6] If participation implies a mixture of the sensible (the experiential) and the intelligible (the thinkable), it is as an activity transiting between empirical and speculative ways of thinking. Participation, then, marks the relation between speculation and critique, for which Nathan Brown has proposed a dialectical method of “rationalist empiricism”: a comparative pursuit of claim-checking “what must be thought” (rationalism, or the capacity to think “beyond the limits of experience”) with “what is the case” (empiricism).[7] For Brown, critique/empiricism denotes a space of constraining thought to what is concretely sensible, whereas speculation/rationalism acts as a movement of extending thought beyond what is available to the senses, and by insisting on a movement between the two, neither mode can be upheld autonomously, nor regarded as “superior to the other’s claims.”[8] Resonating with Badiou’s assertion that “ideas would be nothing if they were incapable of being accessed from what is given in the sensible,”[9] at work in rational empiricism as method is the ceaseless setting into relation of discrete epistemic values such that they interfere with each other in mutually transformative ways. The conception of thought as dialectical interference occasions the overcoming of “epistemological obstacles” qua thinking in either its purely general (abstract/rationalist) or its immediate (material/empirical) state,[10] a process that can be extrapolated to the relation between insensible structure and material/organizational ramifications of structure.


[1] Badiou, The Concept of a Model, 91.
[2] Amanda Beech, “How Art Ought to Think: Resuscitating the Epistemological Project,” Art and Reason, Contrapuntal Media 1 (Spring 2018).
[3] Nathan Brown, Rationalist Empiricism: A Theory of Speculative Critique (New York: Fordham University Press: 2021), 3.
[4] bell hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (London: Routledge, 2003), xiv.
[5] Beech, “How Art Ought to Think.”
[6] Reza Negarestani, “What Does it Take to Make Anything at All,” The Poet Engineers: Reader (New York: Miguel Abreu Gallery, 2021).
[7] Brown, Rationalist Empiricism, 3.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Badiou, The Concept of a Model, 92.
[10] Gaston Bachelard, quoted in Brown, Rationalist Empiricism, 8.

Patricia Reed, "Thinking Beyond Experience: Prosthetic Agency in The Form of Not", in The Unmanned: Fabien Giraud & Raphael Siboni, ed. Anne Stenne, (Milan: Mousse Publishing), 2022. Link