IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID? (5): Conclusion

The structure of my argument is very classical, and very abstract, remaining wholly in the domain of first philosophy. To conclude I would like to give some indications showing that these questions are, or can be, very practical.

In his article NEW ONTOLOGIES Andrew Pickering presents the two types of ontology that I discuss in terms of the contrast between the respective styles of the painters De Kooning and Mondrian. Mondrian’s paintings are typical examples of a synchronic approach, where the subject distances itself from the world to dominate it, according to a transcendent plan which imposes its abstract representations on a passive material. The painter foresees and imposes his projected order, there is no room for surprises to emerge during the process of painting. The canvas itself does nothing, it is passive rather than agentive, there is no exchange between the painter and his canvas, no dialogue.

On the other hand, De Kooning’s canvases participate themselves in the elaboration of the work. There is a continual back-and-forth between the painter and his canvas, “between the perception of emergent effects and the attempt to intensify them”. The De Kooningian approach is diachronic, it involves an immanent, concrete, incarnated, open process of engagement  in the world, whereas the Mondrianesque approach is synchronic and implies a transcendent , abstract, disincarnated, closed process of distanciation from the world.

The Mondrianesque approach corresponds, according to Pickering, to Heidegger’s notion of “enframing”, while the De Kooningian approach practices aletheia, unveiling.

Pickering’s hope is that the diachronic practices which are still marginal in our society can come together and overflow or dissolve the dominant synchronic enframing. Pickering gives several concrete examples of diachronic practices, not only in art (De Kooning) but also in civil engineering (the ecological and adaptative management of a river) and also in psychiatry (anti-psychiatric experiments like Kingsley Hall, institutional psychotherapy like La Borde, favourising symmetric and non-hierarchical relations). He also talks of mathematics, music and architecture, to show in each case the concrete effects of both approaches. Thus we should keep in mind that even if the discussion in this paper is situated on the conceptual plane, differences and disputes over ontology are inseparable from our concrete daily existence.

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