Aura, Or Something Like It

Consider the following thought experiment:

A poet opens a coffee shop. He has three loyal customers: a teacher, a businessman, and a child. On the first day, the poet draws out three symbols next to each other on her blackboard:

♥ & ∞

The teacher was moved to tears. The banker frowned. The a child looked at the board and wasn’t interested to look more. On the second day, the poet draws three new symbols:  

◔◡◔

The child reached his hands towards the board, trying to grab it. The banker and the teacher, perplexed, asked the child what he was doing. The child said: “A monster”. On the third day, the draws three new signs:

† ℇ þ

The teacher, the child, and the banker, all at a loss, asked what the poet meant. The poet said, “A few days ago my typewriter broke. It seemed to have caught some sort of mechanic glitch and has been prompting three signs everyday since then.”

Without understanding the true intention of the poet, the businessman, the teacher, and the child made meaning out of the signs on their own. Jacque Derrida famously claimed “Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: ‘Here are our monsters,’ without immediately turning the monsters into pets.”

We never get angry at scientists for speaking languages we don’t understand. As a matter of fact, we speak with each other without understanding the true intentions all the time. We introspect our own private thoughts and feelings without knowing the true intentions of them either. Perfect understanding doesn’t help us relate to each other better. If two people speak of perfectly identical thoughts and feelings, there won’t be a need for conversations in the first place.

We do not break down into tears when we translate a paragraph of text to another language. Coded language transmits information, but not produce meaning. When we enter into a conversation, we do not “transmit or reproduce knowledge”. We provoke each other into becoming informed of each other’s “informings”. These informings become abstracted tokens, enabling us to transition from How to speak, to Why to speak, and ascend into higher levels of meaning.  When two old friends meet, they sit around the same table, share the same pot of tea, look each other in the eyes and make meaning that the encounter between two strangers cannot compare. The “thing in itself”(Kant, 1781) always escapes. However, through words, sounds, colors, music notes, body movements,  we help each other get closer to who we are, or more accurately, who we think we are.

Meaning is not the “storage” of “representations”. However, meaning making cannot take place without constructing external and partial representations of internal thoughts. In The Three-Body Problem, a science fiction novel by writer Cunxi Liu, it is said that the aliens have extremely advanced technology which allows them to create eleven-dimensional supercomputers called sophons which have the power to catch any form of communication, even thoughts manifested through neuro-brainwaves. Lost its ability to represent and transmit information, humanity ceased to advance for 400 years.

We can never know the true intention behind any representation, but we can always talk, listen, and try to understand more. We have never truly seen Aura, but it has always been There.

More on https://www.e-flux.com/journal/15/61298/a-thing-like-you-and-me/

 

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