Whoa, look at that title. The concept I wanted to describe is fairly simple, though. Here we go.
This spawns from a discussion over at Bakker’s blog. I wrote there a lot and about many different things, but the bottom line is that it’s about different facets that belong to the same cluster. Specifically about what I wanted to write here, it seems to me that from whatever angle you look at this you’ll always end in the same place/conclusion. The yarn untangles pretty easily just as long you keep pulling.
The discussion was mostly about ontology, epistemology and Truth. All essentially the same thing, since they imply a way to judge things objectively, and how we can reach an agreement about what can or cannot be known.
Postmodern Maximalism is essentially a writing style, the wikipedia entry about it doesn’t help since it underlines “excess” and “redundancy”, where both of these are completely wrong at describing why Maximalism offers an interesting perspective. Maximalism is a method that makes things appear as if they slow down until they are frozen in time. The observing eye goes through everything on the scene, leaving out nothing. It’s an utopian attempt at seizing a moment for what it is, stop time and analyze everything. It basically defines the failure at observing everything and it also reveals that in order to seize the moment, you need pages and pages and pages. More time, endlessly. A single moment whose description requires a dilatation of time much, much greater.
The epistemological uncertainty is a solid point, arguing what is authentic and what isn’t, is not. Maximalist description is a desire for a truer form. It tests the boundary of what can be done, it underlines the limit. But it’s not a way to include everything because you can’t decide what’s important. What’s inauthentic is the idea that certain things are not needed, that they do not play a role. (The ideal of) Maximalism doesn’t dull the world with excess and redundancy, but it ENRICHES it, makes it flourish and bloom with meaning, flowing in all directions. Every word is important and has purpose.
The important point is to understand that the purpose of Maximalism is to defy a boundary and FAIL. Showing what is not possible to achieve. That you cannot fully grasp a single moment. And that to possibly do it you’d always need more time, exponentially. Formally it means that to analyze information you always use a greater amount of it. In a similar way Bakker’s Blind Brain Theory explains consciousness as founded on a series of heuristics whose purpose is to remove the majority of information. If consciousness had a full access to the activity of the brain then it would be COMPLETELY PARALYZED. Analysis paralysis, that for example David Foster Wallace often binds with Maximalism. They are the same thing. Time frozen because you are lost in the process. Every single instant exploding out in a myriad of states, all fundamental, all unavoidable.
We started from ontology and truth. I use a scheme because it is powerful and reveals the real contradiction that we live in. The dichotomy is BEING / KNOWING. If you are on one side you cannot achieve the other. Mutually exclusive. With the theme of ontology we always fall back in the contradiction where to state something you need to rely on some bigger picture. If you say that everything one can say is just a cartoon, than to say it you rely on another cartoon. Recursively. And we observe this similar recursion and paradox everywhere. Why is it so? Because it’s a reproduction of the observation itself. We merely see echoes, infinite reflections, mise en abyme, of the same original state. This original state is self-observation, as I write often. In order to observe yourself you need to exit yourself and see yourself as if from the outside, object of observation. This is the original split, the first separation between observing system and observed system. It creates a double, and so the original dichotomy that we can then shape in the various ways, like body/soul, or being/knowing I used above. A threshold, a boundary. Ontology reproduces a similar problem because it can never unify a truth. You are always separated from a concept and its unity, from a middle state and a pure, ontological truer one. Which means you cannot cross from a state of knowing to a state of being, because knowing builds up the barrier.
(The Blind Brain Theory says consciousness doesn’t have any idea of the actual processes in the brain, since it can only access a very small amount of information. In the same way we know the writer’s mind, so this consciousness, creates a story by removing all detail. Creating meaning, linearity and purpose where there’s actually none. A place of the mind, not of the world. Writing is always a process of FALSIFICATION of reality. That’s why maximalism is instead an inversion. It isn’t about excess of superfluousness but an attempt to reach a more fundamental truth and escape from the falsehood that otherwise binds all. Though, it is granted, you can’t expect literary critics to be smart enough to understand this…)
If you are really radical about epistemology and ontology, then you reach a point where you cannot say anything. It’s as if knowing you cannot know, and so a deeply nihilistic stance. You know the impossibility of things. But I see this as a profoundly IMMORAL, UNHOLY position to take. Because it’s extremely partial and not at all radical as it wants to be. In order to define nihilism you need to rely on absolutes. Like having endless time. Like the hypothesis of true knowledge that lies always deeper. But the point is that in order to enable nihilism as a legitimate stance, you have to rely on cartoons that are far more abstract compared to everything else. Nihilism doesn’t rely on crude realism, but on idealism. The idea of unachievable perfect dimension, and so sorrow because you can’t go there. It’s a failure to reach and to be, but justified by this distance from truth. Truth being the most abstract and most stupid cartoon. As if the will to avoid speculation just threw you toward the wildest speculation possible. In order to know you have no Free Will, you imagine a place where Free Will truly is. And so a lack.
Nihilism relies on a idealistic and false idea of reality. It relies on cartoon abstractions that it wanted proved wrong in the first place. How do you come out of all this? You come out because the world doesn’t give you a choice. Free Will is a possibility because you are negated a choice, if you accept the paradox. Do we know how the world really works? No, science will lead us there. How long will it take? We don’t know. But then we realistically and pragmatically know that “many” of us will be dead by then. Timelessness is not a thing that belongs to life. We are bound in time. Life imposes on us choices now. You don’t have unlimited amount of borrowed time. You can’t delay a choice until you have all the elements to make a wiser one. In the same way you cannot wait forever so you know better what kind of true role you have in this world. Time is limited. And, in the same way, the brain works with heuristic because full access to information would paralyze all activity.
The same as epistemology, there’s the hypothesis of an ultimate truth that will invalidate the one we have now. The same as in science a new theory replaces an old one. On the horizon there’s always an ideal elsewhere that is more true and more complete. But are we there? No. Will we be there? No, because we’ll be dead. Time binds us again. It’s a boundary that is imposed on. A limit that creates a partiality. A slice.
I say this limit creates Free Will, and limited knowledge creates choice. Same as a character in a book cannot stop on his tracks and think he’s a character in a book. Any less we can do that too. It’s part of a different reality we don’t belong to. It’s knowledge that is possible only if a boundary is crossed, but we don’t get to cross it, and we won’t later on. As single individuals, as well as a species, we are limited by time (and knowledge). Idealistic absolutes like a “science” that explains all, or the ultimate “Truth”, these are the real false gods. The real cartoons in this picture. They speak to us from the other side of a reality that binds us.
And so this is why I say this creates the possibility of relative truth compared to an ultimate one. Or Relative Free Will. A point of view that is bound by time. That becomes true because we don’t have the choice of reaching out and defy the limit of time. This is honest and moral because it makes us equal and empowers us. It makes us human instead of super-human, or compared to super-humans as nihilism or other forms of false realism would pretend.