Adrian Piper


Left: Adrian Piper, The Mythic Being, Cycle I.10, 1974, advertisement in the Village Voice, 14 x 17“. Right: Adrian Piper, Book Cover Template for Rationality and the Structure of the Self, 2004, pencil on paper, 8 1/2 x 11”. Both images: © Adrian Piper Research Archive.

Adrian Piper recently finished the second volume of Rationality and the Structure of the Self, the philosophical treatise she has developed for over three decades. Though both volumes were accepted by Cambridge University Press, the publishing house’s marketing department demanded cuts. Piper decided instead to self-publish the manuscripts, offering them to readers on her personal website. Here she discusses the evolution of Rationality and the Structure of the Self, and how her decisions to self-publish and advertise—as well as her long careers in art and philosophy—might shape the audience of this work.

I HAD NO IDEA what a long-term project this would be. It started as my undergraduate honors thesis, which I wrote on deception and self-deception. Looking at earlier drafts, I see that I did not understand the structure of my own mind well enough to articulate the formal structure of mind generally that I now feel is right. I learned that through my meditation practice, which involves looking at various levels of the mind from other levels. And I had to understand how my desires work, how my reasoning sometimes got it right, sometimes fell short—in order to be able to write about desire and reason and the intellect.

My editor at Cambridge University Press was the best I could have asked for. And the two-volume set, as it appears on my website, was formally accepted by the syndicate of Cambridge University Press—a board of eighteen professors. But the marketing department then required me to cut one hundred pages from each volume so they could sell it. I approach publishing—to my great dismay!—the same way I approach making an artwork: You work on it as long as you need, until you get it right. It would be utterly unthinkable for an exhibition venue that offered to show it to then demand that you cut off a third of it because the space was too small! I set a personal historical precedent for self-publishing around 1973–74, when I was placing Mythic Being ads containing texts from my personal journals in the Village Voice. The permutational system that chose which particular text would appear once selected one with a salacious word. The Voice refused to publish it. So I just published an announcement that the censored text was available for free at Jaap Rietman Bookstore in SoHo.

Rationality and the Structure of the Self is first and foremost targeted at specialists. However, it has a much broader audience, because it’s about desire, which is very sexy, and reason, which everyone would like. I think of this project as an extension of Sol LeWitt’s innovation when he fathered Conceptual art: that you could make art with your mind as well as your hands. Of course, artists always work from intuition; you can’t argue yourself into the kind of art you should make. But is intuition always perceptual? Kant thought intuition could be intellectual, too. When you make art from intellectual intuition, you directly intuit ideas with your mind. That I went into philosophy from art was extremely important—my approach to philosophy presupposes training in a field that requires attention to form, manipulation of objects, and hand-eye coordination. When I first started philosophy, I was exhilarated by the ability to soar anywhere in the universe with my mind. But the more I realized the demands of credible argument and theory building, the more I appreciated the pull of the real. And that comes from being in my studio, having to deal with objects—to hammer them together, cut them up, overpaint them—all the physical things artists do. That’s very important to the way I practice philosophy.

— As told to Dawn Chan