Mark C. Taylor is one of those people you stumble upon and wonder why you were previously roaming around unaware. His countless books explore many areas of culture, philosophy, art, theory, and, most recently, commerce. I originally came across his work while doing research on artist Mark Tansey (Taylor’s The Picture in Question explores the mix of messages and theory in Tansey’s paintings). Having read his book The Moment of Complexity (University of Chicago Press, 2003) a few months ago, I was intrigued by Taylor’s consolidation of seemingly disparate theoretical areas (e.g., postmodernism/post-structuralism, chaos/catastrophe/complexity theory, network theory, the pixelated artwork of Chuck Close, etc.) into a new critical perspective. Not only that, but the book outlines how this new perspective can — and should — be implemented in education, a feat around which Taylor has organized the Global Education Network.
His latest book, Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World Without Redemption (University of Chicago Press, 2004), brings together over three decades worth of research. And it seems he’s just getting warmed up: Taylor has three new books on the way.
Roy Christopher: Your work crosses many disciplinary lines and encompasses many academic realms. What do you consider your field?
Mark C. Taylor: The best way to describe what I do is the philosophy of culture. I am especially interested in the philosophical and religious presuppositions and implications of current cultural practices.
RC: Tell us about your newest book, Confidence Games. What is this book’s aim?
MCT: Confidence Games draws together lines of analysis I have been tracing for more than thirty years. I have three major objectives in this book. First, to explain how art displaces religion, and then markets and finance displace art as the expression of spiritual striving during the past two centuries; second, to examine the interrelationship between postmodern philosophy and art on the one hand and finance capitalism on the other hand; third, to develop a model of global financial markets as complex adaptive systems. In the course of this analysis, the intricate interrelation of neoliberal economics, neoconservative politics, and neofundamentalist religion becomes clear.
RC: You seem to have a visual counterpart in Mark Tansey. When and how did you discover his work?
MCT: I first encountered Tansey’s work years ago at MIT. I had just finished a visit to the Media Lab and in the elevator I noticed an announcement of an exhibition of his work in a nearby gallery. By the time I got there, the gallery was ready to close. But I saw enough to know the work was interesting. What intrigued me was that Tansey had gone through very similar stages in his work as I had in mine. He started with an analysis and critique of modernism, then examined deconstruction in considerable depth and finally turned to complexity theory. His pictures explicitly and implicitly explore these issues. Unfortunately, in recent years he has stalled and is no longer doing very interesting work.
RC: How exactly is the Global Education Network working to implement your view of complexity and network culture into its program?
MCT: I have experimented with new technologies in my teaching for more than fifteen years. I started by using teleconferencing to team-teach seminars with the University of Helsinki and the University of Melbourne. As the web became more extensive and reliable, I started webcasting my courses. When the college where I teach was not interested in developing these initiatives, I started Global Education Network with Herbert Allen, who is a New York investment banker. We have been trying to develop high-quality online education in the liberal arts, humanities, and sciences for people all over the world. I believe that networking technology is changing the structure of knowledge and eventually will transform the structure of education institutions. We are trying to develop new forms of education that more effectively reflect and utilize these technologies. Imagine a curriculum structured like a hypertext and an educational institution structured like a network and you will glimpse what I imagine.
RC: Is there anything you’re working on that you’d like to mention here?
MCT: I have three new books that are at various stages of completion. The first is a book on religion and contemporary culture. While all of my books deal with religion in one way or another that is not always obvious to readers. It is now apparent to people that religion is not going away and they are trying to figure out what to make of it. There is a desperate need for responsible and critical thinking about religion today. This book is conceptualized, but I haven’t had time to write it yet. The second book is entitled About Nothing and is a collection of essays on art and literature — William Gaddis, Mark Z. Danielewski, Joseph Beuys, Matthew Barney, James Turrell, Ann Hamilton, and others. This book is almost finished. The final project, which is finished, is a favorite of mine. It is a book of original photographs of bones. I took these pictures with a former student. The book consists of about 90 images with an essay and an aphorism for each image. The images are quite remarkable and are rather startling. The title of the book is Mystic Bones. As I write in one of the aphorisms: If you can’t dance with bones, you are a nihilist.