Arts Criticism and its Future
posted by October 22 at 15:59 PMon
The missing component from this post I made just over a year ago (September, 28, 2007):
If art criticism is to become invulnerable it must be grounded not in economics but in the body, the head, the physical brain itself. The critic must argue that this or that thing is good because the biological processes that made it happen are good processes. But how does one do this? Neurology offers the critic a solution.
What I lacked at the moment of presenting this solution was any knowledge of mirror neurons. I learned about them by accident on July 16, 2008. I was surfing cyberspace when I came across the enchanting (almost Borgesian) words “mirror neurons” (I would also have been enchanted by the words “maze neurons” or “haze neurons” or “twilight neurons”). And what are mirror neurons (which can also be called echo/dub neurons—but that’s for another post)? This is how I described them in a recent book review:
Mirror neurons are neurons in the brain that fire when a primate sees another primate perform an action. Meaning, the action (grabbing a cup, caressing a nipple, making a face) is not simply seen, it is also experienced within the head of the perceiver. Furthermore, it is experienced as if the primate had committed the action him/herself. Ultimately, learning, talking, acting are the products of direct, even crude, imitation, or, to use the language of Iacoboni, simulation. We not only learn from others, we are others.
In another post, The Future of Criticism, I wrote:
Mirror neurons in the brain fire when, for example, your finger caresses the tip of someone’s nipple. Mirror neurons also fire in the same way if you happen to see another person’s finger caressing the tip of someone’s nipple. This means the inside is no different from the outside. How you experience your own body is also how you see another human experience their own body.
My point: Discovered a decade or so ago in Parma, Italy, mirror neurons are the gateway between to two socials (or associations): the human body and human culture. With mirror neurons we can finally connect cultural processes to biological ones. Cultural developments are no longer something special or exceptional or independent but continuous with organic developments. Not only that, culture impacts its base, the body. The whole Marxist edifice of superstructure and base crumbles. The movement between the body (bios, base, production of life) and culture (ideology, superstructure, production of codes) is not one-way—it’s both ways. Culture changes the brain; changes in the brain change culture, and what binds the social of the body to the social of a community are mirror neurons. Language is not just language and art is not just art. These are the productions of natural imitation, and must be understood as having that point of departure and point of return.