A recent viewing of Wolfgang Ploger’s “Make No Mistake about This” at the Art Institute of Chicago brought forward recent criticism of the hegemony of structuralist thought in the evaluation of policy debate judging. Ploger’s work, which is first approached as a projected incoherence encountered on a clean white wall, functions as an analog to the tabula rasa paradigm. Participants viewing the “art work” localized in the wall-space are presented with incoherence, noise and randomness.
However, the disrupting noise (akin to Serres‘ third parasite) of a film projector and the presence of a grand projector-ceiling-floor loop of moving film attracts the viewer away from the projected message and to the medium of the moving film. It’s upon this medium inspection that the viewer discovers a message inscribed upon the film which, when projected at many frames-per-second, embraces error and becomes perceptually incoherent. Inspected more closely, the film contains written discourse of the last words and testament of prisoners condemned to execution. Rendered mere noise on the projection of the wall/flow, the message is only ascertainable when evaluated within the medium itself. Ploger’s discourse then appears to appropriate McLuhan‘s famous quote: “the medium is the message.”
Contrast this experience with the state of policy debate judging (as re-experienced this weekend). Situated on an elimination-round panel and confronted with a concurring pure discourse affirmative and negative advocacy (Jane Reinhart’s Kansas City Central vs. Dana Christensen’s Millard South), the three-judge panel was presented with an error-fraught flow but a discursively clear medium. While the flow debate was problematic (akin to the phenomenally-experienced error projected image flow in Ploger’s work), the primary channel of the medium itself signified a much clearer message: KCC through both its exclusionary discourse and through its solvency deficit when approaching the discursive realm of the Lacanian Community Symbolic (my counter-reading of Millard South’s Community K/Counter-Advocacy) attains no functional solvency whereas the Negative sustains minimal solvency through the community alt.
An interesting aspect of the round was the commentary from the other judges on the 2-1 decision (I post-structurally squirrelled); they complained of error, dropped arguments (an easy Neg win through offense on the perm debate was dropped) and other problems encountered by the flow-structuralist interpretation of the discourse were spoken about at length. But through the whole critique by one of the two dissenting judges, I couldn’t help but realize that there’s was a critique of the deconstructionist reality that is signified by Ploger’s projected images. Yes, the image was filled with error (this is what happens when one reads walls and not the medium itself). Yes, structuralist rules were broken (but true discourse was in the round and never approached by the flow-structuralist judges). Yes, noise was overwhelming and the flow-structuralists (the other two traditionalists) were frustrated, angered and left making a poor decision. But more fundamentally, these judges refused to acknowledge: error is part of discourse. It’s evident that the flow-structural model of policy debate evaluation is incapable of appropriately handling error, given the consistency of decisions that express great consternation with its presence. Indeed, my prior squirrel was also in a round where the other two judges decided to reconstruct a structuralist debate that never happened, seeking to eradicate the problem of noise and recover a perfect-signal/zero-error debate that never occurred, re-affirming their faith in the Church of Structural Debate.
Yet the third parasite rendered a confident decision in an environment filled with error. How was this possible? Simple: that judge evaluated the medium, not the projected message, just as my 11-year-old (future policy debater) walked over to Ploger’s film and looked at the message-within-the-medium, disregarding the error-filed wall projection and read the words-on-film with little error. Ultimately, policy debate has to determine if it wants to perpetrate the myth of flow-structuralism, leading to even further worlds of irrelevance and absent meaning, or identify if it has the capacity to radicalize, put down the pens, stop requiring the Spectacle of the Flow, and evaluate the debate that is present before it. When presented with discourse-upon-discourse debate (where both teams ask to be exempt from the myth of flow-structural debate), a rejection of the flow-structural method is the only least-interventionist approach to take.