SUPERCONVERSATIONS DAY 41: DAVID XU BORGONJON RESPONDS TO YIN JU CHEN & JAMES T. HONG, “THE FRUITARIAN DILEMMA: A DIALOGUE ABOUT KISSING ASS, CORRUPTION, AND COMPROMISE”
There are many ways to define corruption.
- Legally: breaking rules for personal gain;
- Socially: cultivating networks of cronies;
- Functionally: the decreasing efficacy of a system;
- Ethically: tainted thoughts;
- Fictionally: in terms of characters…
A taxonomy is already implicit within Hong and Chen’s pastiche. Let’s draw it.
Figure 1 isolates individual traits that we might call corrupt from Hong and Chen’s characterizations. As we analyze, we might follow this line of questioning:
- What is unique to each character? (4 traits)
- What do any two characters share? (6 traits)
- And any three? (4 traits)
That sums to 14 combinations, at least. These questions can be mapped neatly onto a graph, as above, but also plotted into a table. Let’s extend our initial table into a third dimension, along a ‘z’ axis, into a sheaf of tables, or a prism:
Of course there’s no need to go to a fourth dimension, and name what all four characters share: that’s simply corruption tout court.
Each trait can be described positively and negatively—a simple semantic issue, hence the liberal /’s in figure 2. And as soon as we look at what nasty little tic any three share, we absolve the excluded corner of that trait. Note that the guru, artist and drunk all share a ‘sigh’ of resignation to the world as it is, for example; it’s the narcissist who can marshal what skill they have and their considerable self-interest to shape that world.
Any diagram of a crossed square can be pivoted into a tetrahedron, since it can be imagined as bordering triangular faces (figure 3)—i.e., four faces bound by six edges and four vertices. Just like the narrative extension in Hong and Chen’s fictive dialogue, this geometric manoeuvre gives us conceptual traction. (Tetracolorspace, MC Stoddard’s invention, simply maps RGB and value onto the four corners of a tetrahedron: this allows scientists to spatialize the optical sensitivity of, for example, birds.)
A picture of corruption in its ideal form. For example, running through one combination:
Each point is one persona’s unique trait
- EN = Opportunist | RA = Smug | CD = Empathetic
Each edge is a trait shared between two of them.
- EN x RA = Selfish | RA x CD = Aloof | CD x EN = Complicit
Each face is a trait shared by any three.
- EN x RA x CD = Vulnerable
And we could run through the other possible groupings to derive additional virtues:
If we trace “normals” from the centers of these faces, we can locate four new orienting points to add to our original four (see figure 4). Any tetrahedron can be thought of as embedded within a cube, (see figure 4) just like the triangles can be fit into squares. Rather than the narrative of “fall from grace” that Fruitarian Dilemma describes, we could find—in this white cube—room to grow.
“Fiction” is in the air, and it has been for a while. We are all thinking about how plots and narratives are constructed, how convincing stories are told—whether legal, racial, financial, sexual—but what about character:
- as a moral quantity?
- as a narrative agitant?
- as a constructed practice?
If corruption is a process, character is a practice.
David Xu Borgonjon is an independent administrator, who advocates for another return to institutionalism in the arts. He has curated at Eyebeam and Wave Hill in New York, and is managing editor at Screen.