Fretless Theory

Consider for a moment the fretless bass.
Naturally, by this I mean fretless electric bass guitar as nearly all upright basses are inherently fretless (I’ll get back to that).

What might be gained from an understanding of the fretless as a tool to think theory with? Because I argue for play against structure, one might consider the inherent increase in play with the fretless, the ability to play notes between the standard Western chromatics. There are, of course, other benefits to the metaphor. One could look to the increased use of the fretless in jazz and experimental musics and thus the improvisation and unique sound and thus propose a move towards improvisational theory. One could note the increased difficulty in playing a fretless, in playing a fretless in tune, in tune with a band, with other players. Everyone needs to play the same between in order to be playing the same song, after all. Or do we no longer need to be playing the same song while we play in the same room?

I also would mark the concpetualization of frets as disciplinary boundaries. Markers of what is an acceptable note. How one must play in order to be playing music. Perhaps we extend the metaphor to breaking? Consider then the upright bass, so long the standard, and compare the looser disciplinary structures of antiquity. Metaphysics: the book Aristotle wrote after Physics and couldn’t think of a better title for than After Physics.

This does not even get into the question of postproduction manipulation of the soundwaves…

And yet as my colleague Nick Ware put it: “Analyzing a game as if it were a film is like fixing a car as if it were a horse.”

Jean Baudrillard stretches a science metaphor in Impossible Exchange:

The uncertainty principle, which states that it is impossible to calculate the speed of a particle and its position simultaneously, is not confined to physics. It applies also to the impossibility of evaluating both reality and the meaning of an event as it appears in the information media, the impossibility of distinguishing causes and effects in a particular complex process – of distinguishing the terrorist from the hostage (in the Stockholm syndrome), the virus from the cell (in viral pathology).This is just as impossible as isolating subject from object in experiments in subatomic physics.

Of course, now there is this bit of recent research out of Canada.

The principle has bedeviled quantum physicists for nearly a century, until recently, when researchers at the University of Toronto demonstrated the ability to directly measure the disturbance and confirm that Heisenberg was too pessimistic.

What does that say about the metaphor? The limits of metaphor? Is a metaphor about uncertainty more uncertain when the science behind the original metaphor becomes uncertain? Might as well just admit we need to bracket language too while we’re at it. Insist upon the tautology: “I mean what I mean until I don’t. And then I mean something else. Trust me.” and go about our business. Communication breakdown. It’s always the same.

I’d rather just play. Amps to 11, Nigel.

or, Jaco meet Jacques:

‘Go then. There are other worlds than these.’ – on the extradiagetic or metagaming reality

I make an effort to view reality extradiagetically. This is a standard theoretical maneuver: Marxian base/superstructure, say, or Foucaultian power dynamics, Deleuzian flows, &c. One must look behind the narratives, the metanarratives, the arcs of time and history and trace the various flows and powers and institutions and apparati at work.

Naturally, this functions quite well within the cultural realm whether you are citing Dialectic of the Enlightenment or whatever new list of things you didn’t realize Cracked has just put out (Buzzfeed’s lists and animal images less so, but that might, of course, bring one to question why (or how) the Internet has been so colonized by cute animals and what the focus on cute might mean in the greater scheme – though I am not one to argue the claim that every minute you spend looking at cute animals is a minute you could have spent saving the world or helping people in need because that argument goes nowhere.) The other day I was watching Disney’s Robin Hood (1973) with my son and got to considering why Prince John was rendered in dog-whistle as a homosexual. Yet is a well known historical fact that Richard the Lionheart was, himself, a gay man. But of course, he the savior who enters at the close to legitimize Robin (and his chaste and proper love to the maiden Marion) is rendered as a boisterous and jolly man’s man’s lion. Note John’s paltry mane. What, then, was Disney saying in the 70s with this manner of portrayal? Not that the work is the height of historical accuracy (the line from “Phony King of England” – ‘too late to be known as John the First” is especially appalling since he is, in fact, John the Only and, should there ever be another King John, he would become John I). Clearly my son will be getting explanatory extradiagetic lessons that I never got while watching the film.

This, then, got me towards thinking about disciplinary scholarship. As so much does. And the inherent perils in looking at anything with one established framework, that, naturally, must exclude more than it includes because of history, tradition, editorial requirements, etc. It is not that the interdisciplinary is less fraught, but when rendered well it certainly offers more possibility. Of course, lacking defined boundaries, the interdisciplinary is prone to a particular madness. If one must, when analyzing a problem, analyze it extradiagetically from all perspectives, then everything must be included. How could one ignore architecture, or geography, or affect theory, or the practical on the ground concerns of activists? And if everything can be included, if every aspect of a problem bears a trace, is stained by influence, how does research ever stop?

How (and what) does one decide to bracket when everything is meaningful and everything is suspect? This is the essence of the Paranoiac Noise research method that I am currently developing, but the simple answer is one decides individually. The scope of a paper or a theory or a problem define the brackets that will be put on a particular analysis. But the knowledge that those brackets are individually applied in a case by case basis (rather antithetical to a disciplinary structure with favored methods and theories) must remain, must haunt the text as reminder and remainder. This is, naturally, a matter of increased responsibility for the researcher. Choices and brackets must be, to an even greater extent, justified. Unlike Roland, we may not be offered an additional chance to save the boy (as Skippy rides off with the marriage coach).