Since 2012, I have been working on a new theoretical approach toward the relation between man and the cultural. The reflection on the possibility of noncultural poiesis and extracultural becoming of man forms the boldest part of this endeavor, although I also work in a more conventional way. I will explain, in the first place, what definition of culture is implicit in my exploration of cultural frontiers; at the same time, I will try to show what motivates the necessity of radical criticism of the cultural and the search for extracultural modalities of being human. I will explain how I expect to get an insight into such an outer sphere of the extracultural and what I expect to find there. Finally, I will share my idea that the extracultural may not be as novel, hypothetical and unexplored as one is inclined to believe; on the contrary, it may be seen as a regularly visited sphere, even a resource for individuals who chose to search for liberty, happiness and beauty beyond what would be their culturally delimited destiny.
The definition of culture implicit in my approach is arguably reductive, and somehow pessimistic. In the first place, I see culture as a phenomenon of transmission; it is the totality of what we learn from other human beings, and what we are invited to reproduce at minimal modification; it tends toward repetition. It is also essentially a feature of a group determining, dominating, normalizing the individual. The cultural sphere is opposed, in my view, to whatever an individual may invent for his or her strictly private use; I am interested in exploring the inner landscapes that cultures marginalize, reject, disqualify.
The noncultural and the extracultural are conceivable as a totality of what a human being is able to create by him/herself; it is the content of the most intimate sphere of thinking, feeling and doing, constantly shrinking under the pressure of the cultural. Human individual, as I believe, offers at least some degree of resistance against the cultural normalization imposed upon her. I am interested in analyzing the constant tension and ambivalence involving the cultural in each of us. In some of us probably more than in the vast majority.
I make the terminological distinction between the extra- and the noncultural to accentuate the hypothesis of a poiesis (or "making things") without any articulation with the culturally transmitted ways of using tools, controlling the body, using language, etc. This is an edge where human activity meets other, organic and inorganic, natural and supernatural forms of morphogenesis (processes of formation), such as, just to give an example, the growth of plants, building activity of termites or the creation of the universe by a divine instance (if one admits such a hypothesis; later on, I will add further comments on the place of the sacred in my thought that might appear as surprising in this rather neomaterialistic context).
On the other hand, the extracultural, as I define it, remains in some connection to the cultural, for example, as a search for ways of contesting and overcoming cultural shortcomings, expanding the insufficient modalities of expression that has been culturally transmitted to the individual, or exploring the limitrophe zones of experience yet uncharted by culture; the outcomes of such endeavors maybe become a part of the subsequent cultural transmission. Any invention of novel forms attacks and undermines the frontiers of the culturally given, any creative act appears as a constant interaction between those learned parameters of culture and the unrestrained, extracultural impulses. If creativity is the very essence of being human, thus there must exist an outer space of experience, expression and poiesis, uncharted by culture. There is no doubt that cultures shape human individual; yet human individual is the primary maker of cultures; no wonder he or she is constantly attracted toward the extracultural in which the cultural grows and expands. I am interested in this moving frontier.
Becoming cultural massively increased our chances of survival in our remote beginnings as a species. At the present time, our cultural identities may have an opposite effect; they decrease our potential of adaptability to the conditions of the contemporary world. Cultures as internalized sets of unyielding norms and automatic responses tend to diminish not only the potential of human creativity, spontaneity and authenticity, but also the ability of living with noncultural organisms and fellow human beings attached to quite different sets of norms and learned behaviors. A minimal ability of transgressing culture is implied in every successful interaction with strangers, animals, non-human and non-organic forms of existence.
Certainly, the cultural serves as a repertory of ready-made solutions; but it is also a source of hindrances and limitations. This is how the idea of transgressing or overcoming the cultural, without going as far as postulating total liberation from culture, appears as attractive. I do not dream of obliterating cultures; rather of harmonizing the spheres of the cultural and the extracultural for the benefit of the human individual.
I am interested in overcoming culture understood as a totality of transmitted and automatized habits, blocking individual spontaneity, authenticity and creativity. I claim that this cultural condition, although it seems inherent to every human being, may be transgressed; cultures may be unlearnt. Such a process of unlearning, de-automatising of the reactions that are usually channeled through culturally determined paradigms, may bring about progressive growth of the sphere of insight, awareness, autonomy and choice.
I believe that some human individuals deliberately search for the extracultural. Other may be projected beyond the usual cultural paradigms by unexpected, in a sense catastrophic, events. In other words, I am concerned with man either moving or projected into a void situated beyond the frontiers of the cultural. Such catastrophes - even a travel, an encounter with a stranger or the experience of incommunicability may become one - tear the usual tissue of culture exposing us, not as rarely as we might believe, to the extracultural.
I am interested in the study of man overcoming the cultured condition that once used to be seen in humanities as identical with the very essence of the human. In a way, my reflection implies a redefinition of the humanness, contesting the vision of Homo sapiens as an eminently cultural being. On the other hand, the exclusivity of Homo sapiens as the maker of culture and the identification of the species with the uniquely cultural way of existence has been undermined by the observation that also non-human primates transmit their skills and even form separate traditions or lines of transmission inside local groups. The cultural can no longer be seen as the source of distinction between human and animal. It is an open question for me if the capacity of transcending culture rebuilds such a distinction.
In fact, what appears as much more important and interesting for me is the emergence of a new level of symbolic complexity born from the interference and interaction of a great number of cultures under globalized conditions. As the result of this transition from the world of well delimited, self-sufficient cultures to the stage of interfering cultural codes, we reach, as I believe, a sort of post-cultural condition that differs in some crucial points from the historical condition of man immersed in a single cultural system. What I would like to accentuate once again is my focus on the individual. Interference of numerous cultures is not only a social phenomenon of a globalized metropolis; such an interference of cultures competing in a single consciousness also defines a new human condition and establishes a threshold of complexity in the inner life of the human individual.
I tend to understand the emergence of complex patterns of cultural interference in neomaterialistic terms, as a new level of organization that appears in the organic world of which we are part. In my optics, there is no ontological difference between symbolic constructs and any other form or structured information in the natural world; certainly they do not exist independently of the material support of our brains, of the neural patterns translated into contents transmitted on other material supports. The level of complexity is the only difference between them and any other phenomenon going on in the universe. I have the feeling that the object of my studies is not essentially alien to whatever science tries to capture and understand. Such a declaration may be seen as paradoxical and surprising, if it comes from someone who, a couple of paragraphs below, will debate the so called Uwaysi transmission of mystical insight. But such a transmission of wisdom beyond the physical contact of master and disciple is only possible if we admit a community of shared neural patterns that make is revisit the same locations in the extracultural space. We can go beyond the cultural transmission, and yet recognize experiences that we have no means to verbalize, because we live immersed in a highly complex, yet finite matrix of human potentiality. We still live in a shared symbolic space, also as we move beyond the cultural frontiers.
Be that as it may, increased complexity of that symbolic matrix, that in my optics has to be debated not only as a sum of cultural systems of the humanity, but also as an interferogram of their clashes and encounters, projecting individuals into the extracultural spheres of inexpressible, implies a tremendous methodological challenge for the humanities. It is also a major methodological question how to speak about the extracultural, if it is, by definition, an uncharted, undetermined, unverbalized territory occupied ad hoc by individuals contesting their cultural inscription. The first hypothesis seems to point toward abstract tools, as culturally neutral as possible. Spatial metaphors, such as matrix, sphere, territory, zone, edge, frontier are the first to appear. But there is a long way to go here.
To begin with, such areas as contemporary mathematics and quantum physics appear a possible source of new language of description for the emergent complexity of the symbolic sphere. They seem to befit the paradoxical, abstract, impalpable character of anything extracultural. This is how I got interested in mathematical inspirations, especially topology.
If the extracultural is to be seen through spatial metaphors, I also started to wonder what are the perspectives of syntonizing extracultural humanities with the recent breakthrough in defining basic spatial concepts in science. As a consequence of the ongoing search for unifying gravity theory and quantum mechanics, as well as the advancement in quantum computation, a new conceptualization of the spacetime is taking shape. Space ceased to be understood as a fundamental entity and starts to be conceptualized as a result of the quantum entanglement between yet undefined “atoms” of space. Those elementary units are defined as qubits, portions of information rather than “particles”. What is accentuated in this new understanding of the spacetime is the organization or correlation, rather than the precise “nature” of the involved elements.
This new conceptualization that appears in the domain of fundamental scientific research might become a model according to which we might try to reshape the fundamental notions in the humanities. This is why I see the necessity of constructing a new paradigm of thinking about a unitarian “symbolic space” rather than separate, even if interrelating, culture(s). The new scientific conceptualization of the physical spacetime understood as a network of relationships between the qubits (quantum equivalents of the smallest portions of information) might become here a crucial model, indicating a novel way to follow. The notion of entanglement, taken from the quantum mechanics, may become more than a mere metaphor: a precise, sophisticated concept used in the study of the non-local properties of the smallest portions of information constituting symbolical meaning.
Developing this new paradigm, we might employ mathematical concepts in order to advance towards a topology / topologies of the symbolic space, describing the occurrence of continuity and rupture in its tissue. The interpretation of complex symbolic entities, such as poems, paintings or narrations, as well as the relationships they establish between themselves, might be inscribed in or derived from a determined hypothesis concerning the topological properties of the symbolic space they constitute and in which they are immersed. We may also adopt further scientific notions, such as conformality, to the study of the symbolic space, interpreting its unity and the “entanglement” of distant elements (belonging to separate cultures in the traditional paradigm) that nonetheless interact between themselves and form non-local (or “transcultural”) structures.
The notion of symbolic space is another item that requires explanation. As I try to speak about all those outer spheres lying beyond what is usually understood by culture, I feel the need of a conceptual language permitting to name and to describe the "ether" in which cultures are immersed. The all-encompassing notion of multidimensional symbolic space, and discursive tools permitting to comment on its topological properties, would permit me to situate all the margins of human creativity stretching outside cultures. The non-cultural, to use the Derridian language of the khora, is composed by oscillations between different cultural systems that cannot be reduced to any of them.
Evidently, all this is not as radical and innovative as it might seem. There exists a tradition of searching for non-linear and non-discursive modalities of theory building in the postmodern heritage. Also more recently, visual tools of reflection are often used, even if they remain implicit and the textual modality of expression remains dominant. Topological thinking can be traced not only in Sloterdijk's spheres, but also in many moments of Slavoj Zizek, and others. Namely, I found the inspiration Zizek's essay “Coca cola as a petit object a” (2000). This philosopher, taking a Lacanian concept for his starting point, formulated a reflection on the non-trivial properties of the space in which the “objects of desire” are immersed. Further on in this essay, he built up a reflection on the properties of the museum showroom's space that ascribes to a casual, ready-made object a value of a “work of art”. Finally, he reached conclusions concerning a larger-scale space of modernity, constituted by the “liminar” works, such as the Origin of the world by Courbet and the Black square on white background by Malevich. He suggested that this particular symbolic space established by modernity has a defined topological properties, namely those of a Möbius strip.
I believe such inspirations should be developed towards a more consistent reflection in humanities that may run parallel to the advancement (or even the forthcoming “scientific revolution”) in our understanding of the spacetime. In order to foster such a parallel reflection between science and humanities, a close interdisciplinary collaboration is needed. This endeavour evidently makes sense only as far as the notions of the latest quantum physics and mathematics are properly understood by the humanists and as far as the subtle, yet precise way of concept-building is transmitted to the former field of the cultural studies. The aim of this project is to create a new language for humanities, rather than just to offer a bundle of loose, pseudo-scientific metaphors; of course it is a high-risk endeavour. Nonetheless, such a new language may acquire a crucial importance for the cognitive capture, description and interpretation of the transcultural phenomena.
In 2017, I tried to gather these ideas in a proposal for the NIAS Lorentz team research programme, but I failed to find a matematician to work with me on such an experiment; hopefully a team for extracultural emergence may still come true in the future.
I wonder how far the notion of “culture” may be treated as a fundamental “entity”. This notion, never defined in a unequivocal and consensual way by the scholars, becomes lately more and more troublesome, as the idea of “dissolution of cultures” (Auflösung der Kulturen), initially proposed by Wolfgang Welsch in 1992, becomes increasingly influential. In recent humanities, we deal more and more often with – again, variously defined – transcultural elements, travelling between cultures or not belonging to any of them. The study of such phenomena often clashes against the classical definitions of culture as a stable structure of meaning; according to this traditional view, no element (no work of art, no poem, no myth, etc.) may acquire meaning outside a particular cultural system; meanings are always constructed inside them. Yet more and more often we deal with freely circulating, and yet meaningful elements that cannot be reduced to or inscribed in any culture in particular. They seem to float in the extracultural, deriving their protential of conveying meaning from some other, not exactly cultural source. I would say that such wandering elements resonate with the very matrix of human potentiality; they appeal to our universal intuitions rather than determined, stabilized structures of cultural meanings. These are two languages of approaching and describing symbolic realities.
Since the remote, neo-Kantian, Cassirerian beginnings of humanities, it has been an implicit lemma that meaning is always inscribed in the cultural and remains valid only inside its proper cultural context. Moreover, also humanness arguably takes its perfect, fully developed shape essentially inside the frontiers of whatever is culturally transmitted to the individual. In other words, the human should be cultivated and cultured.
Cassirerian thesis of meaning necessarily inscribed in the cultural is valid not only for linguistic communication, but also for many forms of culturally defined gestures; there exist culturally defined languages of visual forms and music. The call for unlearning culture and recuperating extracultural authenticity makes us turn into a completely oposite direction.
Is there any primordial language of symbolic forms transcending the division of humanity into separate lines of tradition? Answers to this question form themselves a long line of tradition, going back as far as the Middle Ages; it is one of my research fields.
Concommitantly with my theoretical reflection, I search through whatever is my knowledge of cultural history in order to identify forgotten attempts, aspirations, shadows of past experience of the extra-cultural. Since the beginning of this research, I have expected to find those extra-cultural elements inscribed in the very flow of cultural transmission; nontheless their translation into the culturally pre-determined terms would be very imperfect; as a consequence, those elements would be hard to spot, marginalized, alien to the dominant patterns. Yet still possible to identify. Also the interference of various cultural patterns, that I consider as crucial factor of the post-cultural emergence, happened, although with lesser intensity, in the past. This is why I suppose that some glimpses of the outer sphere of extra-cultural possibilities may have been visible also in earlier historical epochs, precisely at those intersections of different normativities and their reciprocate obliteration. I am interested in tracing this extra-cultural history, partially and imperfectly transmitted to us in cultural traditions.
Concomittantly with this line of reserach taking cultural history for its starting point (I will return to the details below), I explore the synergetic approach to textual and visual modalities of thinking and conveying meaning. The first premise of all my experimentation is derived, as I have suggested, from the concept of emergence. This new complexity requires new tools for extracultural theory and criticism. Such a search for new tools, complementary in relation to the textual mood of reflection, has been initiated already by the classical postmodernism. The heritage of Guattari, Deleuze and Derrida, with their attempts at introducing visual operations into philosophy, is to be resumed as a line of research and reflection. I work with this tradition, with this culturally transmitted precedent of searching access to the extracultural. It is in these terms that I face the postmodern heritage, especially its most hermetic elements.
The diagrammatic turn in humanities has been initiated by the Deleuzian sketches: a significant device in such works as A Thousand Plateaus. The other co-author, Félix Guattari, a name that has been half-forgotten, appears in full importance as the diagrams are considered. His relatively neglected works, such as Schizoanalytic Cartographies contribute decisively to this field.
In the subsequent reflection, the diagrams became something more than a simple aid to systematization; Ben van Berkel, Caroline Bos and others started to see them as a tool in the crucial process of building hypothesis and searching for new conceptualization, as essential "proliferators of a process of unfolding". The diagrammatic modality of thinking became thus a way of projecting / designing new relationships and exploring unprecedented connections.
Diagrammatic approach appears specifically as a tool of dealing with the moments of "destabilization and discovery", causing very deep changes in cultural landscapes. By the means of diagrams, a set of new circumstances can be systematized.
Prototypical diagrams shouldn't be understood exclusively as visualizations, i.e. observable objects such as drawings, maps, etc., but also as mental constructs implied in narrations. The diagrammatic mood contains a narrative potential, as far as it is transformable into a sequence, an alignment of units of meaning. The textual presence of diagrams requires an analytical, reconstructive procedure performed by a researcher. Its final result may consist in the discovery of a generalizable topology, furnishing a key for the understanding of texts and contexts, individual works and processes in the history of ideas.
My project of diagrammata consists in a tentative of expanding the limits of expression in cultural criticism through a construction of a multimodal objects. Diagrammaton is a fusion of text and diagram, a text developing in a differently constructed space. In other words, the limitation I want to trespass is the Western tradition of codex, i.e., simply speaking, a book in which text occupies subsequent flat surfaces called pages. Of course, a great deal of experiments have been done in this domain. I want to go further, treating the text as an element entering more and more complex geometry. What about a text written not as a book, but recuperating the alternative tradition of the scroll, a cyclical scroll in form of a Möbius strip, with no beginning and no end, and the illusion of a dualism (two sides of the strip) forming a surprising and paradoxical unity? What if these common operations known from popular maths, such as cutting the Möbius strip in the middle, are operated on a text? What if there is a game of two languages and their (in)translatability, their merging into one? It is relatively easy to imagine this kind of experiments as art. But could they become a fully operating form producing new cultural theory?
My idea of building a visual-verbal theory is not simply that of going on illustrating texts with images, sketches or drawings. I am interested in the idea of thinking by forms as much as concepts, launched, for the most immediate inspiration, by the classical postmodern authors, for whom visual generation and disposition of ideas was to precede their textualization. Theoretical conceptualization may thus exist independently of such a text as I write now, as an intelligible and visually translatable formula, as a conceptual work of art and finally, as a multimodal deployment involving text merely as one of its constituents. No need to say that it is yet another moment in which humanities may be syntonized with what would be more typical for scientific exploration of the reality. This new visual mood is iconoclastic and anti-mimetic. It breaks through the dominant tradition of the European art, based on mimetic representation, in order to reestablish minor zones of visual experience. At the same time, giving a new meaning to the visualness typical for the mathematical paradigms of rendering concepts and relationships, it fosters the unification of art, science and humanities.
Be as it may, I develop this experimentation in the relatively well-established limitrophe zone of post- postmodern humanities and art. My personal touch in this domain consists in exploring the crisscrossing world cultures, each of them taken in its idiosyncratic form of translating the memory of extracultural aspirations. Diagrammatic modalities create not only a natural bridge between cultures, but also open a new space of extracultural potentiality, associating form and meaning in open, non-exclusive, overlapping ways and at the same time searching for universal patterns and relations beneath culturally defined, accidental qualities.
As I said, the main defining feature of the cultural in my optics is transmission, the process of acquisition by learning as opposed to autonomous invention. At the same time, I define culture as a normative and essentially oppressive system. I am especially interested in norms that are transmitted to the individual in order to mitigate his or her creativity. Creative impulses are channeled into pre-defined, accepted, culturally controlled genres and modalities of producing new forms and meanings. The cultural tends toward repetition and preservation of the status quo; it functions as an effective rein of creative impulses.
On the other hand, the existence of what I call cultured genres, or separate modalities of expression, enables greater efficacy in conveying meanings, greater facility of access to those meanings; they foster continuity of experimentation across larger groups of individuals and across generations. Insight and creation are constantly negotiated between absolute originality and inscription in communities or lines of tradition. In other words, there exists an essential, insolvable tension between unlimited originality of human individual and the requirements of group cohesion and mutual comprehensibility. As communities, we are much less creative and original than we might have been as individuals; through culture, we constantly mitigate our maverick impulses; otherwise we would lose sight of one another very soon. Once again, I see the necessity of stepping back on the path of our cultured development.