How to act when the opposite of good is good intention

As the world in which action takes place is full of inadvertence (“not resulting from or achieved through deliberate planning”) and contingency (“subject to chance”), it’s hardly surprising that difficulty, inexperience and not-knowing come to the fore and work against fulfilling your intentions.

This complexity doesn’t annihilate life; it is life. Just as war and pandemic create their own contingencies, so too the monumental wreckage of intention—good ones and bad—unmakes a stable present, or if you prefer, makes a complex one where unrealized intentions criticize everything that happens instead.

To leave it at that, though, is too negative.

The actual challenge remains, in the words of one critic, that of “demonstrat[ing] how to think with the past’s inadvertent posterity in the moment it tried to build an unknowable here-to-come that we used to viewing [only] through hindsight.” Which I take to underscore just how much a prejudice this “reliance on hindsight” is in a world of not-knowing, inexperience and difficulty.

That would be a banal observation were it not for its first-order implication: Even if we fail in having to improvise with what’s at hand, it is as an avant-garde fails in order to reinvent itself later on. That is always an option.

Principal sources

Alff, D. (2017). The Wreckage of Intentions: Projects in British Culture, 1660 – 1730. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, PA.

Philippe Parreno, artist, on the ontology of the avant-garde in: DADA: One Hundred Years On. The Art Newspaper (accessed online on February 24 2020 at

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