Glossary of Problems (Václav Hájek)

In a number of areas of knowledge, creation and the everyday management of life’s needs, it is essential to proceed by using approximations, i.e. by using approximate expressions at the expense of accuracy. Philosophical ideas, mathematical definitions, etc., on the other hand, are to be characterised by absolute precision (yet at the expense of imaginability, of course). We make use of similes, parables, metaphors, analogies, allegories, etc. and, among other things, confirm to ourselves that this is our own way of thinking and acting. We would like to rise like Ikaros to the sun of pure clarity, precision, and ideality. We burn our wings and find ourselves back on the ground, among the matter and material phenomena and those of our similes and approximations. The sooner we burn our wings, the better.

Idea / precision / pattern
Simile / parable / proximation
Abstract and concrete / body / matter


Etymologically, the word banality comes from the Latin “bannus”, i.e. a prohibition or authoritative decree. It is therefore a certain limit of behaviour not to be crossed, the basic parameters for social contact, creation, and behaviour. A banal matter is therefore not a pointless matter, yet a matter so basic, simple and obvious that no one finds it necessary to contradict, thematise, debate or make it visible. However, such banalities are also often historically and socially relative. In a certain situation, the banality becomes visible as something that no longer represents an undiscussed background, but as something permeable, moving towards the necessity of rethinking.

Taboo / foundation / prohibition
Boundary / threshold / base
Simple / compound / composite

Price (“cena”)
Traditionally, the price evaluation of artistic creations has depended on several factors. Firstly, there was the period idea of what was close to the “canon” of current expression and not jeopardised by the spectre of anachronism. On the one hand, what as also evaluated was the quasi-eternity and durability of the artefact, which was actually supposed to be a commodity and a monument at the same time. Furthermore, the emphasis was put on the “legend”, whether completely illusory or at least reworked according to the clichés of “artistic life” (which included, for example, rockers, founders of new, “alternative” companies, etc.). Last but not least, a certain conformity of the author with the commissioner, buyer or patron was also appreciated. The price was therefore decided by a complexly played game of almost theatrical and ritual practices. Other aspects, such as the temporality and processuality of the work, the ambiguous social status of artists, and the quantitative reporting of creative activity (which is in fact fundamentally non-transferable to many disciplines, even theoretical ones), gradually enter into this labyrinthine web of relationships.

Permanent and temporary / process and status
Material / legend / commodity
Ritual / cliché / role

Nowadays we often feel an obsession with definitions, clarity, or apparent precision. The definition is supposed to provide security, boundaries and clear limits to the world and thought. We do not perceive the definition as the creation of concepts (which is the principle of philosophy in Deleuzian terms), but as enclosing ourselves in a quasi-idyll or in a kind of nursing facility, which strains the complexity of the outside with a sieve of clarification (yet any such light will tend to blind us and make it impossible to perceive other alternatives).

Boundary / threshold / outline
Closure / finiteness / end
Anxiety / security / difference

What’s out of place? What isn’t fast becoming a marketable style to which trend-seekers supply a catalogue of offerings for so-called individual selection? New discoveries in art, philosophy, fashion, etc., are already incorporated in advance into an expectation which is flexible enough to contain and process every “monstrous” deviation and turn it into a “fossil” (in Foucault’s words).

Trends / style / image
Individuality / fashion / innovation
Uniformity / mask / fossilisation

Physicality (“fyzično”)
The body, the material, and the matter have moved from the external world into privacy, intimacy, and confinedness. The outside, with its possibilities of control, digital linking and bundling, has been transformed into a physically uninhabitable place. We try to find a little freedom of our own body in the hidden, invisible privacy. The outside represents the space of the new virtual order, while there is little space left for matter and “chaos” behind the locked door.

Corporeality / taboo / impurity
Virtuality / control / supervision
Material / touch / proximity

A labyrinth and a maze that is impossible to pass through without Ariadne’s thread of consistent thought. Alleged helpers in the form of algorithms are seducers on our path, offering us pointless detours. Comenius predicted “search engines” in his Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart. Our guide, “Delusion” (with its, nowadays we would say, “rose-coloured glasses”) is a masterful initiator of hurried, exhausting wandering.

Labyrinth / wandering / trap
Attention / inattention
Seduction / exposure / cover-up

Hyperbole, caricature, differentiation, and irony: how do you know?, some people are asking nowadays. Is it possible to turn irony into “truth” and then use it for the purposes of propaganda? Are some ideological discourses becoming unwanted hyperbole? The monster and the caricature represent the reverse and the obverse of the same coin. They both work with a distorted exaggeration of certain features. The problem arises when we rely on these features as the key ones.

Caricature / exaggeration / expression
Parable / metaphor / simile
Violence / abuse / manipulation

The era of illusory image strategies supposedly ended two centuries ago. Therefore, these practices have largely disappeared from the field of attention and theoretical reflection. This unfortunately provided them with the opportunity to expand unnoticed to such an extent that today we can hardly find their edges, the boundaries with the “primary” reality. Play and illusion are fun and informative phenomena (if we recognise where they begin and end).

Imerse / trompe l’oeil / virtuality
Play / strategy / rules
Fictional worlds / narratives / dreams

Self (“já”)
The world stretches out between me and the horizon. The words stretch out / decompose are aptly expressed as a single word in Czech. It does not only mean the vastness and relationships of the elements, but also the decomposition and the resulting difficulty of traceability. The world, the self, and the horizon are primarily certain labels or designations. Signs merely represent auxiliary means, yet they can be used to communicate (or to make enemies). The “binary opposition” structure associated with the concept of selfhood is simplistic, but practical if we take into consideration and remember this simplification.

Sign / binary opposition
Subject / object / abject
Identity / alterity

Copy (“kopie”)
I can recognise myself in my double, my copy, or my pictorial representation. The only invisible place in the world for me will always be my own face, which I cannot see “directly” under any circumstances. I see myself only in copies, in my creative achievements, in artefacts, in other people’s views, in reflections, shadows, or more or less indistinct flares. In the technical “flares”, I can vary my self-concept until I get lost in the flood of them. I will not find any intersection or junction. My face swells in the mass of “rhizomatic” copies – but that’s how it appears to me alone. If I’m not looking for my own originality, these processes don’t hurt me that much. The image and its copy have a similar relationship of problematic doubling. Establishing a hierarchy between the original and the copy was a traditional theoretical conundrum that is currently losing its obviousness, and “original-centrism” is deservedly problematised.

Double / duplicate / shadow
Original / principle / category
Multiplication / impression / reproduction

Popularity (“lidovost”)
This term is generally associated with either ideas of anachronism or some kind of critical, evaluative position. On the one hand, we think about something folkloristic and on the other hand, we argue about the relations between the elite and the marginal, the central and the peripheral, etc. However, any such reduction of “popularity” to something museum-like and aesthetically somewhat devalued is highly misleading. For instance, in his book “Understanding Popular Culture”, the theorist of popular culture and sociologist John Fiske argues that the “popular” recipient of mass media products is not a passive, manipulated recipient of ideological and commercial messages, but on the contrary a very active, creative co-author of the final message and meaning of the matter. In different social, cultural and historical contexts, even seemingly banal and consumer commodities of mass culture are transformed into very specific self-expressions of a particular social group. “Popularity” has therefore now shifted into this area of interactive transformation of ready-made pop-culture products which function as mere semi-finished products, only provided with a specific meaning by the “popular” viewer, reader, or listener.

Interaction / creativity / interpretation
Mass media / popular culture
Populus (people) / democracy / transformation

Painting (“malba”)
In general, theorists and other painting audiences agree in the expectation that this technique is a trace of the artist’s unique creative process. It is alleged that the eye, mind and hand necessarily meet here in an unusual projection field, on the surface of the future artefact. Until recently, not much consideration was given to the contribution of the field itself, i.e. the contribution of its techniques, materials, and possibilities. It is as if we wished to see the artist himself or herself through the painting. The painting was supposed to function as a curtain that would open and the performance of a certain legend would take place. The legend about showing uniqueness represents, among other things, an effective marketing tool.

Showing / deixis / ostension
Uniqueness / singularity / repetition
Item / surface / material

Flows, currents, volatility, and fluidity – these terms could be used to describe the current uncertainty and ambiguity about the relationship between power holders and their sources. It is a type of high stakes, high gambling game in which players lay down the cards of entire social groups, regions, and countries. The question is whether addiction or classic opportunistic behaviour serves as the impetus and driver of this game. Staying in the game requires laborious masking and fooling oneself. What is new here is the speed, aimlessness and immateriality of the processes.

Speed / change / fluidity
Profit / game / thrill
Risk / addiction / adrenaline

Perhaps what keeps returning is the longing for the search for the origin, the arché, the source, and the beginning. The interest in the original artefact, almost an obsession with the phenomenon, did not appear until around 1800, when the long-standing close cooperation between art and religion broke down. Early modern aesthetic discourse coined concepts such as originality, taste, genius, etc. The legend of the original artefact “touched” by the artist easily became an argument of the art market. Often superfluous discussions about the relationship between the so-called original and the copy, an alternative or derivative somewhat confuse both experts and the “lay” audience. Searching for the original item associated with the “creator” has a bit of the character of a pilgrimage to the “holy grail”.

Copy / counterfeit / alternative
Origin / arché / aura
Author / creator / genius

Different rhetorical styles, modes and presentations of speech use several basic positions, such as serious, comic, folk, etc. Politicians, journalists, even drunk people in pubs alternate between these self-presentations and, if they wish to present their “truth” to someone, they underline their speech with often theatrical, even tragic gestures and delivery. The rhetorical “package” of often banal or downright harmful messages influences audience acceptance or rejection. You won’t irritate anyone with a comic “package”, but you won’t convince anyone of anything either, except perhaps that the listeners themselves might engage their own critical thinking. You manipulate the audience very effectively with a theatrical speech and then the only thing left to do is to apologise years later when the consequences of the persuasion have been revealed.

Sublime / tragic / drama
Rhetoric / style / stylisation
Medium / vehicle / tool

Qui bono?
“Who benefited from that?”, ask the judges when considering guilt, innocence, punishment, acquittal, etc. Who benefits from production in different cultural spheres? This is how we could vary the original legal formula. A large number of people would go further and consider that so-called impractical activities may have something to do with crime (if I thus use hyperbole). For example, most of the so-called discussions on social media in this context include the truly insightful reflection that “impractical” cultural or artistic production “steals” tax money. These funds should be used to finance additional centimetres of motorways, etc. It may be roughly said that “bonum” (good) is enjoyed by everyone from non-utilitarian, artistic, philosophical activities, unless they have a particular desire to turn into robots.

Benefit / gain / optimisation
Practice / theory / introspection
Good / money / symbol

The human world consists of things (a thing is “rés” in Latin), which are nevertheless perceived as certain matters, phenomena, or events rather than material objects. For example, “public affairs” (i.e. rei publicae) are not a set of shared tools, etc., but a set of ideas and discussions over them. An object, on the other hand, means a sensually perceptible entity placed in front of me and which I actually only wish to use or misuse. The things that make up reality, the human world, cannot be used very much, they are elusive and changeable, and always take shape only in the context of interactions with other people’s perceptions of them. They are a kind of public sculptures which we shape together in our encounters.

Thing / object / phenomenon
Perception / sharing / communication
Anthropomorphisation / form / shape

Simulation could be deemed as a seductive, convincing imitation which we resort to as a ruse when we wish to deceive someone. For example, when I simulate illness at work, I don’t do it just to show how well I can pretend to be sick. A laboratory, model simulation, on the other hand, does not attempt to trick the audience in the first place, but is intended to function as a simulator of a certain group of situations. It converts them into typical processes and only later do they draft long and incomplete lists of “side effects”. The commercial, pop culture and mass media simulation combines ruse and typification, and in the end the recipient (the viewer) turns themselves into a dysfunctional imitation of the one who pays attention to something.

Simulacrum / mimesis / imitation
Audience / mass media / consumer culture
Model / laboratory / experiment

Finding your own identity within the restless fashion trends is really difficult. We would like to choose our own “modus”, way, or type of existence, since in the modern epoch of the last two centuries, we have been told that we are not thrown into predetermined and limited life tasks. Allegedly we can choose, vote, or so-called create. We can mix and match, rummaging through the clutter, styles, trends, and life “philosophies”. Unfortunately, we don’t generally understand a trend as a guidepost on our life path, but as a temporary, unstable situation, a mask, a backdrop, and a disguise that we shake off at home. The term trend originally referred to movement, today it refers to rigidity (masks).

Modus / fashion / manner
Mask / role / costume
Movement / state / direction

Art (“umění”)
Western thought has dug quite a chasm with the help of the term “art”. The opposition has piled up: ideas versus execution, primitive versus elite, kitsch versus taste, free versus servile, etc. Noble notions quite often trigger a battle: for example, the so-called true faith, etc. The sharp rupture of the world of images, texts, and tones, which has occurred since the Renaissance, leads to constant, returning “Protestant” movements, to iconoclastic agitation, and to playing the trump card of the true, meaningful, and current expression. Thus, the art of the Western and modern type is a marriage in the sense of a gambling game, not in the sense of the spousal relationship.

Conflict / game / opposition
Idea / invention / concept
Creation / substance / sensuality

In order to imagine something, I need a parable, a metaphor, or a figurative expression. Abstract data, projects, and concepts are better absorbed, experienced and accepted through the concretisation of sensory perception. The visible is a mixture of ideas, assumptions, conventions, and current external inputs. What does that imply? I never see what is in front of my eyes, but rather what is already inside my phantasms. However, I need the visualisation to awaken, initiate, and ignite that inner stream of imagery.

Vision / sense / perception
Abstract / concrete
Convention / notion / imagination

The omni-availability, the omnipotence of connection, where we seemingly don’t get caught up in some silly material traps, wires, fences, limits, and boundaries. It is as great an illusion as the one on which the whole modern idea of progress towards liberation, equality, and well-being is based. An invisible, immaterial network is capable of creating even more effective traps than barbed wire and electric fences. Now, however, we’re all entangled in this on our own.

Borders / network / lines
Connection / division
Individuality / mass character

How does an individual term become a general, winged saying? How are words formed? And how are they then reproduced and confirmed and codified by this reproduction? Do new technologies and apparatuses have the capacity to shift the approach to language and its maturation, and to change its history in sharp turns and leaps? Definitely. The new technologies and their quantitative power have struck the language as national revivals and similar ideological crises and ruptures. I still have some rather old “xeroxed” pictures and texts at home. They often stuck to one another and grew together, forming an archaeological layer. That pleases me perhaps more than if there was something visible about them.

Reproduction / copy / multiplicity
Trace / layer / impression
Technology / language / apparatus

I had never thought I would become a youtuber, but COVID taught me a lesson. I filmed several hours of instructional lectures and courses instead of punchy, short videos, which goes a bit against the purpose of the format, but I have my “profile”! Advertising agencies haven’t approached me yet, and I don’t know why. I guess they’ve got enough to worry about. And now a smiley face: “: )”. Thank you for your attention.

Manipulation / simplification / speed
Commerce / advertising / disappearance
Culture of individualism / obsession / ego

Prohibition (“zákaz”)
Prohibition, command, proof, preaching, punishment, and supervision. The transgression of prohibition, taboo, and norm is a creative act involving a significant and fundamental reluctance on the side of the maintainers of order. A large number of people today are thinking about what would be good to ban or what they would like to see banned. It is as if prohibition were paradoxically a type of negative creation: just as Walter Benjamin, for example, thought of destruction as the creation of open space with the help of negative creation. Can a ban also create some open space? Tabooing represents a traditional and sometimes functional social practice. Today, prohibition has shifted into the realm of aesthetics: prohibition as something that arouses “desire”.

Control / power / discipline
Destruction / creation / space
Security / confinedness / non-transparency