A few weeks ago I wrote about the Duchy of Lancaster and how this institution uses ambiguity as a tool in its armoury of protecting privilege. Then, last week Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Davis made the following claim about Britain’s negotiating position. Responding to criticism that the Governments position is unclear he said:
You will find it difficult sometimes to read what we intend, That’s deliberate. I’m afraid in negotiations you do have constructive ambiguity from time to time.
So it seems a good time to revisit the idea of ambiguity in politics. As some of the more destructive ideas have emerged from the world of contemporary art it is useful to see how ambiguity, disguise and misperception is exploited in this domain. We can then see more clearly how they have been deployed to unsettle and confuse us.
Potential Images; Imprecise and Disturbing
In his book Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art, Dario Gamboni writes that
Ambiguity may be defined as the character of what is susceptible to different interpretations. It can also be said to express the character of ‘what belongs to two interpretations’ and of ‘what lacks precision and disturbs’.
Lacks precision and disturbs will be recurring themes. Gamboni was writing about the visual arts but makes it clear that ambiguity is widespread and present in all contemporary art to some degree. Partly as a result of the methods of communication employed and partly due to greater familiarity with sonic art on my part I shall focus on how the ideas work out in music.