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Concept Art:


Henry Flynt

(c) 1991 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.

I. Constitutive dissociation defined

Consider a situation or configuration which is established by ordainments or stipulations or rules. The situation may belong to a genre which is standardized--a genre having a protocol which is standard or straightforwardly ascertainable. Moreover, the genre may have customary aims--although they do not have the force of requirements.

A constitutive dissociation (C/D for short) comes about because the instigator of a situation alters the aims of the genre from the customary aims. Since the traditional aims are foregone, the instigator can evade or replace standard protocol with an inscrutable protocol.

In the present study, the devolution from customary aims comes about in "logic." Logical syntax is allowed to be underspecified, etc. I indicate this by placing an asterisk before logical terminology subject to such departures. The exact details of the departures from "mechanistic" logical syntax are provided only when we arrive at finished C/D constructions. I find it appropriate to extend the word 'logic' because it is the only extant term for concept-structure.

The end result is a genuinely established conventionalism which is impenetrable. But wouldn't we want knowledge, not contrived obscurity? ("Ignorance is not a contribution to mathematics.") The answer is that the aims get redirected in a profoundly unexpected way. At the level of meta-technology, each achieved C/D is a kind of miracle: as if we produced an object like Freud's "unconscious" by construction--an unconscious which had a conscious outside operator.

C/D finds an abstract commonality in avenues of dissociation which are quite divergent.

A. A situation is contrived so that features which traditionally can be inferred by participants become inscrutable--I call this opacity. Opacity poses critical problems about what should be counted as C/D.

1. Each phase of the situation must be in the purview of some human; and each phase of the situation must be open to view once the inquirer has stepped out of his or her role in the situation. C/D would be trite if I allowed mysteries whose explanation is said to reside with God or Nature or a vanished people. Or if I allowed mysteries which can be attributed to mere general ignorance.

2. When C/D claims the existence of a "game" about which nothing can be known, the game must be established or palpable. Mere bluffing is of no interest.

But that does not dispose of the matter, because a bluff can be profound, exploiting a vulnerability or indoctrination of the spectator. Compare the "Climbing Bear" of VI.4 below.

B. Ordainment itself may be treated in an anomalous way. Acts of ordainment involve public declarations; and for an ordained activity with distinct phases, the phases occur in a certain time-order. So these protocols can be disrupted. [The time-order of an activity relative to its announcement may be disrupted.]

C. The source of authorization, or authorship, may be misrepresented. A case would be unsolicited ghost-writing.

D. The protocol of a genre may assign sharply distinct and counterposed roles to participants. An instigator may allow participants to presuppose these distinctions of roles, but instruct them to act in ways which in fact collapse these role differences.

If the reader needs more background, see my "Forerunners of Constitutive Dissociation," which analyzes C/D in examples drawn from the "avant-garde" compositions of Cage, Young, etc.[1]

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II. On the reality of ordainments

I have never had somebody show up for an appointment I didn't make (claiming that we had an appointment).

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III. What does it take to establish a convention, and what does it take to communicate or convey a thought?

1. If stipulation is what makes abstractions exist, to what degree does the stipulation have to be promulgated socially?

There is no such thing as pure syntax. All syntax involves descriptive syntax. Before making a stipulative definition, you must check that the definiendum is unencumbered by a prior social contract. A stipulation that a "fox" is a refrigerator would not be accepted.

Would Gödel-coding have been real if Gödel had thought of it but told nobody?

2. Must there be personalistic intent for a "thing" to be a sign? That is, must a symbol which conformist thought believes to be a convention have a traceable personalistic intent? This question forces the question of language along the axis of my "Critical Notes on Personhood," Part V. Informally, lacking personalistic intent, one has a dead universe, not agreed-on signs-with-meanings. (Crudely, there have to be three agreements: token; structural context; meaning.) And yet the addressee often has to hypothecate the authorial act; the location of the authorial act is too obscure to be traced. (A STOP sign.) Then: what of a perceptron which continues to print out sentences reporting observations after humans are extinct? In fact, the addressee supplies the personalistic intent by imputation, in appropriating the symbol or declaration in a way which has been learned. In the conventional reality, the personalistic intent is necessary but unprovable.

Both (1) and (2) pertain to the mathematical folklore that arithmetic "always" contained its own syntax because Gödel constructs such a syntax with a coding whose specific assignments are arbitrary.

3. What of ignorance which will assuredly be dispelled in the future? What of a question which will be settled tomorrow, but does not have a probable answer now? (Not whether the sun will rise, but whether it will rain tomorrow.) Carnap said that "It will rain tomorrow" is factually truth-valued now but is not truth-valued epistemologically now.

[Mathematical questions which are answered after being known for many years without an answer. According to Carnap, this subject-matter has been created entirely by conventions.]

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IV. What does it take to establish an authorial purview?

A. Suppose the only contribution of the instigator of a performance is to tell the performers how to use a found schedule as a script. The concrete content of the script is never known to the instigator. (Note: the schedule's producer should not be considered an unwitting scriptwriter.)

I required that each phase of an opaque situation must be open to view once the inquirer has stepped out of his or her role in the situation. But that allows the possibility that the situation is opaque to its instigator. The instigator could learn by appealing to an executor or spectator; in actuality he may never exercise this option. The author's role can be limited to the provision of a frame.

B. But then framing becomes an issue. Given a genre in which a spectacle is enacted for spectators; and given the problem of eliminating all authorial control from the spectacle. A solution is to collapse the genre to the spectator's attention. The composer does nothing but instruct the spectator's attention. Here any milieu satisfies the nominal requirements of a spectacle. The spectator is enjoined to passive observation, in a single modality.

The solution at issue here is Dennis Johnson's


Composer and performer have in a sense been eliminated.

But that is not the end of the matter; this work has evoked controversy. It has been said that the problem of eliminating the composer cannot be solved. Authorial control cannot altogether be eliminated from the spectacle. Johnson's piece fails because if you don't obey the command which confronts you, then the composer fails to subject you to "his" music. The composer needs that vestige of control to function as a composer.

Another discussion point. The idle viewer has to be told that the word is a musical composition, a text score. Or would you want it to be circumstantial whether the word was apprehended as a musical score? Constitutive dissociation of the genre's presence.

C. My "Work Such That No One Knows What's Going On" (hereafter WSTNOKWGO)[2] can be taken as a call for a work manifesting the conjunction of all possible constitutive dissociations. But if there were a "game" so inscrutable that nobody knew anything about it, then how would the game be established as palpable? The criticism of WSTNOKWGO was that it was only a title, a bluff. But how could such a work comprise anything more? If, for example, you provide nothing but a frame, and the frame is invisible, then what have you provided?

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V. What perspective on human symbolic activities can C/D provide? Human symbolic activities which in some cases have been thoroughly studied from other perspectives can be considered in the perspective of C/D. Three cases deserve extended discussion: natural language; mathematics; and cultural invisibility (my phrase). It would slow the line of thought too much to treat them here. I take them up in the appendix.

A fourth case is provided by a "syntax" which everybody employs but which nobody will admit exists. Namely, the blocking of unwanted deductions from the inconsistencies of common sense. See my "Paradoxes of Common Sense and Blocking of Propositional Calculus."

With reference to the venerable symbolic activities, they are not really allowed cases of C/D, because we cannot step outside our role as borrowers of the symbolic medium and view the source of authorization of the mysteries (and the explanation of the mysteries).

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VI. I now present individual devices which may be utilized in C/D. Some of these procedures locate or construct information which is hidden in plain view.

1. Present an optical illusion which allows many different transitory "sights" which the viewer cannot fully control. (A row of Necker cubes. Illusions of proportion; here the viewer changes what is seen through an autosuggestion to see the objectively real ratio.)

[I have worked with this in several concept-art pieces.]

2. The hypnagogic stream of consciousness is a palpable declamation (automatic speech, babbling) such that you cannot both attend to it and sink into sleep. [a palpable utterance which is not accessible if one goes to sleep]

3. Use as elements culturally invisible objects of observation, or culturally invisible complex artifacts. See the Appendix.

4. In case it becomes germane, let me mention the reverse of C/D: when in perceiving you infer, from "cues," more than you are given--you apprehend more than is warranted. The climbing bear.


As I said in I.A, this device could be used to make a bluff profound. [A conventional mathematics textbook as a profound bluff? An unsolved mathematical problem as a profound bluff?]

5. Place an ordainment in an inaccessible or impossible location. (The original metaphor was the other side of a Möbius strip, but strictly speaking this is trivial. A serious case would converge with 6.a or VII.C or VII.E below. The "impossible location" is past reality, as accessed via memory, in which a rule was supposed to have been established.)

6. A case where memory validly determines the past: a memory, in a dream, of an earlier event in the same dream. (What could establish that the memory misrepresented the event?)

a. A refinement. Suppose you register an observation of a situation at two different moments in the same dream. Suppose that at the second moment (registration), you do not discern any discrepancy between what you observe then and what you observed at the first moment (registration). Then, by the foregoing principle, you may conclude that both observations observed the same thing--for if your memory is misrepresenting the past, it is doing so tracelessly. [longitudinal constancy of a token or application of a rule]

7. In "Personhood II" I spoke of a thematic personal identity which comes from the future (an "unprecedented destiny"). If that were to be taken seriously, then one would have a longitudinal thematic identity which would increasingly focus in a novel way. While one now knows the direction, vaguely, one cannot know the concrete details. So there is a guarantee of an unknown terrain which is progressively occupied. It's much more mysterious than an unsolved mathematical problem.

Dubious devices

a. Use elements which a hypnotized subject negatively hallucinates. Indeed, there is also post-hypnotic suggestion, and psychological manipulation to hide things in plain sight. Psychological manipulation deliberately deceives the target, and/or pushes the target's emotional hot buttons. Thereby, the person's alertness is broken, or the person's attention is pointed sharply. Then the person is blind to what is to be concealed. Formal authoritarian hypnosis oversteps limits tacitly present in the techniques already given; it requires the target's consent to being manipulated. Psychological manipulation infringes the target's freedom even further. The target is deliberately tricked; it's like a cruel practical joke.

b. I cannot remember the calendar dates on which landmark events in my life occurred (unless I consult written records).

c. Are texts which are irrevocably lost through mistakes with personal computers real somewhere, but inaccessible? Cf. the legendary case of Fermat's Last Theorem.

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VII. Provisional cases

A. Look in the first room you haven't looked in to see if the Holy Grail is there. If it isn't, then these instructions are void.

But if the instructions are void, then absence of the Holy Grail has no significance.

But then the instructions are not cancelled, and are again operative.

[Vicious circle of cancellations?]

B. Let the work be my "Composition 10 VIII 91 to La Monte Young."[3]

Choose an instruction and

follow it as well as you can.

If you believe in infinities, then self-apply the work an infinite number of times, changing 'an' to 'the'.

Choose the instruction 'Choose the

instruction 'Choose the instruction

'...' and follow it as well as you can'

and follow it as well as you can'

and follow it as well as you can.

No specific instruction is at the center of the nest. The outside instruction and the next-to-outside instruction are syntactically identical. Thus the frame between instruction, and instruction about that instruction, has been eliminated.

I include this example because it disperses the frame. (Also, realizations would be dissociated from me, the composer.) On the other hand, the composition disperses the frame by invoking an infinity--which is suspiciously like a mystery of God or Nature.

C. Contrive a situation so that you apprehend a

derivation--as follows. Notate with a multistable figure, as in VI.1. The steps in the derivation appear to you in experience as transitory perceptions which are not sequenced in their rational order.

The derivation is constituted by the steps in their (well-defined) rational order.

But you can't cause that order to occur in perception, because you can't completely control the sequence of sights. The only way you can apprehend the derivation is to re-order the transitory perceptions mentally via your memory of them.

If your memory for transient perceptions cannot fix the perception-series rigidly enough to allow you to replay it mentally in a different order, then you were exposed to a derivation which is well-defined but which you cannot appreciate. [Several concept-art pieces.]

D. Suppose the

rules of a
formal theory are entirely stored in your memory. More than one
rule of substitution or implication is compatible with sentences. ("A heterodeterminate theory.") As you operate the theory, you have to remember which rule you have earlier been using. VI.6.a provides a case such that if a rule were altered by your memory when you recollect it, the alteration will be untraceable (because there is no independent standard). The system would keep shifting in an untraceable way. Whether the rules are constant under repeated application would be an impenetrable question. The theory stepwise becomes more and more elusive or impenetrable.

Well, that's a C/D perspective. You could just as well say that your memory produces (chooses) the past and produces the obtaining rules at each application.

(Use the "Impossible Constancy" from "The Apprehension of Plurality."[4] Let a parameter be notated with one of my stroke-numerals. Let a

logician fix the parameter and proceed with a
theory. Applying the impossible constancy, the fixed parameter can change tracelessly. An impenetrable shift in reality has been constructed.)

E. 1. Provide a method for editing any discourse-stream so that it can be construed as a

logical syntax.

2. Apply that method to the hypnagogic stream of consciousness (as in VI.2).

The result is a really existing, absolutely inaccessible

formal theory.