May 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
But what do we mean by gesture? Above all, we have abandoned the sphere of purposive means: walking not as a means for displacing the body but not as an end in itself either (aesthetic form). Dance, for example, is gesture, according to Giorgio Agamben, “because it consists entirely in supporting and exhibiting the media character of physical movement. The gesture consists in exhibiting a mediality, in rendering a means visible as such.”
Hans-Thies Lehmann: Postdramatic theatre
December 3, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht: Production of presence
[on presence culture vs. meaning culture]
Now if space is the dominant dimension through which, in a presence culture, the relationship between humans, that is, between human bodies, is constituted, then this relationship /…/ can constantly turn (and indeed tends to turn) into violence – that is, into occupying and blocking spaces with bodies – against other bodies. For meaning cultures, in contrast, it is typical (and perhaps even obligatory) to infinitely defer the moment of actual violence and to thus transform violence into power, which we can define as the potential of occupying or blocking spaces with bodies. The more the self-image of a certain culture corresponds to the typology of a meaning culture, the more it will try to hide and even to exclude violence as the ultimate potential of power. This is how we can explain the fact that, in recent decades, historians and philosophers of our culture have confused power relations with relations defined by the distribution of knowledge. But the lines along which knowledge is distributed will only coincide with the lines of power relations as long as the stability of the lines of knowledge distribution is ultimately covered, even in a meaning culture, by the potential and the threat of physical violence
My question presupposes two presence-based definitions of “power” and of “violence” that I launched in the last part of the previous chapter. I had proposed to define “power” as the potential of occupying or of blocking spaces ith bodies, and “violence” as the actualization of power, that is, power as performance or as event. Referring back to our discussion of the epiphanic character of aesthetic experience, /…/ we may indeed postulate that there can be no epiphany and, as a consequence, no genuinely aesthetic experience without a moment of violence – because there is no aesthetic experience /…/ without the event of substance occupying space.
I am not simply saying that “violence is beautiful” (it can be beautiful, but it is not beautiful in principle), and I exclude any necessary convergence between aesthetic experience and ethical norms.
July 12, 2009 § 2 Comments
What follows is the second of a series of reports from Tehran, Iran. The author wishes to remain anonymous. First report here.
June 14th 2009 8:45 PM
It‟s still less than ten days before the official beginning of summer. Although the weather may be warm and the blossoms are gone, it is, according to the position of the Earth in relation to the Sun, spring. Tehran Spring.
A period of political liberalization under a Reformist government, backed by popular approval against the Soviet-backed Socialist system in Czechoslovakia in 1968 has come to be known as the Prague Spring. Infamous for the brutality of the Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks rolling into the city of Prague eight months after President Alexander Dubcek loosened restrictions on speech, the media and travel, millions of demonstrators were crushed within seconds, although they remained peaceful the entire time. Czechoslovakia remained occupied by Soviet military forces until 1990, when the Socialist system collapsed. The Prague Spring may have not been successful from a populist, anti-authoritarian perspective, but it indicated a trend, rising in Europe and the world at the time, that unrest existed on many levels: cultural, economic, social, and, most importantly, ideological. The demonstrations in Prague temporarily shadowed the International Marxist movement, popular amongst intellectuals in Western Europe, as the USSR proved once again that the utopian yearning for revolution had seceded to authority hungry for control. During the early months of the Prague Spring, inspired by the Socialist reformist experiment in Czechoslovakia, students in Paris and other Western European cities set the university ablaze, workers went on strike, and the bureaucracy collapsed. A glimmer of hope, only temporary, until the moment of the Grand Compromise between the „68ers and De Gaulle‟s government occurred one month later, effectively paralyzing Leftism in the West until even today. This paralysis was confirmed by the multilateral Soviet crushing of the reformist movement later that summer. « Read the rest of this entry »
July 11, 2009 § 1 Comment
What follows is the first of a series of reports from Tehran, Iran. The author wishes to remain anonymous. Second report.
June 13, 2009
The satellite signal for BBC Farsi just turned off. I had spoken a few minutes earlier with my father and forgot where I was and that probably my phone call was being monitored. In fact, about 5 minutes into my phone conversation, I heard a faint click on the phone and my father‟s voice all of a sudden sounded very far away, muffled, as if he were on conference call. I was reminded by my friends in the other room that I should be a bit more prudent about what I say and how I say it – maybe it wasn‟t such a good idea to start off my conversation with “There‟s been a revolution”.
We‟ve been camping out at home for the past 48 hours. Last night we were awake, in front of the television until 6AM. Slept in until noon and since then, we‟ve been on high alert, full of testosterone, exchanging our disappointment, confusion, worries, nervousness interspersed with information, hear say, opinions and the occasional, very necessary, joke. The house has turned into a news room, all of our computers open and connected to the internet. A few of us are writing about the previous day‟s events as they develop; one of us is uploading video footage from today and posting it online; another is sifting through the continuous updates on Facebook profiles, delivering news-from-the-ground to us as it takes place through picture albums and wall posts. I‟ve been looking through a variety of newspapers‟ online versions: New York Times, LA Times, Guardian, Al-Jazeera, Washington Post. I‟m trying to see how what has been so unreal today on the streets here is being covered by the international media, and, as if it should be a surprise, it is quite disappointing for me. All reports cover basic facts, speculate about the future of Iran, and provide a selection of photographs from the demonstrations today. All reports maintain their professional distance, attempting to mediate between the passionate debates that have been taking place here not only today, but in the past two weeks as these elections drew nearer. I don‟t believe these opinions can be mediated, though. That‟s where the confusion lies.
November 24, 2008 § 1 Comment
Metaphysics and the Mise en Scène
How does it happen that in the theater, at least in the theater as we know it in Europe, or better in the Occident, everything specifically theatrical, i.e. everything that cannot be expressed in speech, in words, or, if you prefer, everything that is not contained as a function of the exigencies of this sonorisation) is left in the background?
Dialogue – a thing written and spoken – does not belong specifically to the stage, it belongs to books
I say that the stage is a concrete physical place which asks to be filled, and to be given its own concrete language to speak.
I have noticed that in our theater which lives under the exclusive dictatorship of speech, /…/ everything I consider specifically theatrical in the theater, all these elements when they exist apart from text are generally considered the minor part of theater; they are negligently referred to as “craft”, and identified with what is understood by staging or “production”, /…/ a way which seems to me entirely Occidental or rather Latin, i.e. pigheaded /…/
What is Latin is this need to use words to express ideas that are obvious.
I believe, however, that our present social state is iniquitous and should be destroyed. If this is a fact for the theater to be preoccupied with, it is even more a matter for machine guns.
The contemporary theater is decadent because it has lost the feeling on the one hand for seiousness and on the other for laughter; because it has broken away from gravity, from effects that are immediate and painful – in a word, from Danger.
I expect many will be tempted to tell me that if there is one inhuman idea in the world, one ineffectual and dead idea which conveys little enough even to the mind, it is indeed the idea of metaphysics.
This is due, as René Guénon says, “to our purely Occidental way, our antipoetic and truncated way of considering principles (apart from the massice and energetic spiritual state which corresponds to them).”
In the Oriental theater of metaphysical tendencies, as opposed to the Occidental theater of psychological tendencies, this whole complex of gestures, signs, postures, and sonorities /…/ induces thought to adopt profound attitudes which could be called metaphysics-in-action.
Everything in this active poetic mode of envisaging expression on the stage leads us to abandon the modern humanistic and psychological meaning of the theater, in order to recover the religious and mystic preference of which our theater has completely lost the sense.
The Theater of Cruelty (First Manifesto)
/…/ instead of continuing to rely upon texts considered definitive and sacred, it is essential to put an end to the subjugation of the theater to the text, and to recover the notion of a kind of unique language half-way between gesture and thought.
Once aware of this language in space, language of sounds, cries, lights, onomatopoeia, the theater must organize it into veritable hieroglyphs /…/
The question, then, for the theater, is to create a metaphysics of speech, gesture, and expression, in order torescue it from its servitude to psychology and “human interest”.
this naked language of the theater (not a virtual but a real language) must permit, by its use of man’s nervous magnetism, the transgression of the ordinary limits of art and speech, in order to realize actively, that is to say magically, in real terms, a kind of total creation in which man must reassume his place between dream and events.
MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS: They will be treated as objects and as part of the set.
Also, the need to act directly and profoundly upon the sensibility through the organs invites research, from the point of view of sound, into qualities and vibrations of absolutely new sounds, qualities which present-day musical instruments do not possess and which require the revival of ancient and forgotten instruments or the invention of new ones.
THE STAGE – THE AUDITORIUM: We abolish the stage and the auditorium and replace them by a single site, without partition or barrier of any kind, which will become the theater of the action.
WORKS: We shall not act a written play, but we shall make attempts at direct staging, around themes, facts, or known works. The very nature and disposition of the room suggest this treatment, and there is no theme, however vast, that can be denied us.
THE CINEMA: To the crude visualization of what is, the theater through poetry opposes images of what is not. However, from the point of view of action, one cannot compare a cinematic image which, however poetic it may be, is limited by the film, to a theatrical image which obeys all the exigencies of life.
CRUELTY: Without an element of cruelty at the root of every spectacle, the theater is not possible.
THE PUBLIC: First of all this theater must exist.
June 24, 2008 § 2 Comments
Allan Stoekl: Bataille’s Peak. Energy, Religion, and Postsustainability
University of Minnesota Press, 2007
Introduction. On Shortage, Excess, and Expenditure
At the end of the twentieth century, we were regaled with arguments concerning history: it had ended, we were told. /…/
Barely a few years into the new century, may have concluded that that “posthistorical” ideal is radically insufficient. /…/
In short, energy has been rediscovered. In the 1970s and very early 1980s, first world society was made acutely aware of energy, its limited supplies, and the consequences of energy shortages. A U.S. president (Jimmy Carter) even based his central policies on the idea that energy sources (fossil fuels) were scarce and could only grow scarcer in the coming years. /…/ He was, of course, brusquely turned out of office and replaced by a president (Ronald Reagan) who cheerfully answered that “the free market” would take care of energy supplies forever. Luckily for him, the quantities of fossil fuels available shot up in the mid to late 1980s and throughout the 1990s /…/
As I write this, in 2006, even mainstream news sources have become aware that fuel supplies are fundamentally limited. /…/
The labor of construction of civilization is not over, in other words, history is not at an end, because labor itself is not autonomous: you can’t work or produce anything if you don’t have the fuels (the sources of energy) to do it. The great myth that Man “forms himself” by forming, and transforming, brute matter is over. The idea that Nature is dead is over because fossil fuels were not made by Man, they were only extracted by “him”. They are brutally natural, and their shortage too is a natural shortage (their lack is natural). And when a profound, irremediable shortage of those fuels supervenes, history opens back up. /…/ No one yet wants to think about how History should continue in the absence of an adequate supply of fossil fuels. It is too horrible to think about. Human die-off is quite natural, but it also constitutes an incontrovertible historical event. With the finitude of cheap energy, alas, the end of history is itself finite. But how do we think the end of the end of history?
Now along with a permanent energy crisis, or rather a permanent shortage of cheap fuel supplies, we face another crisis: a permanent religion crisis. It seems as if energy and religion are inseparable issues. /…/
Marxism was the canary in the coal mine, so to speak, because its decline was due to an energy crisis, the first to shock the world since the crises of the late 1970s. Marxism collapsed because its great, worldwide patron, the Soviet Union, collapsed, and the Soviet Union collapsed because it could no longer support itself by selling its oil profitably on the world markets. It was driven into the ground by Saudi Arabia, which in the late 1980s produced so much oil that the world markets became flooded. /…/
The great irony is that religion came to the fore in the very countries whose vast production of fossil fuels had made the Soviet system untenable. The Islamic countries of the Middle East were the producers of the fuels that the West needed to continue its individualist lifestyle. /…/
Many of the regions that provide these fuels have turned to a religion that is, in principle at least, indifferent to the fossil fuel lifestyle and to the cult of the human. /…/
As fuel reveals its finitude, we come to recognize our dependence on it and our dependence on others who affirm a religious culture that survived and flourished in the profound absence of fossil fuel. /…/
This book is about Bataille’s take on these issues and my version of what Bataille’s take would be if it were extrapolated to the twenty-first century. /…/
On the other hand, an ever more counterproductive orientation will assert itself in the years ahead. Such an orientation sees energy as an adjunct of, at best, a certain humanism: we spend to establish and maintain our independent, purpose-driven selves, our freedom as consumers, spenders of certain (rather lavish, given available reserves) quantities of refined energy. This model is doubly humanistic in that not only is the benificary the “free” self of Man; the human spirit itself is incessantly invoked to get us out of the jam. We are told over and over again that the human mind alone produces energy; when reserves are short, there is always a genius who comes along and devises some technology that turns things around, makes even more energy available, and so on. Technology transcends energy, in other words, and reflects the human mind’s infinite ability to derive energy from virtually nothing. /…/
One can argue that the religion that confronts the fossil fuel-driven civilization of Man is equally grounded in the demands of a human subjectivity. People demand salvation, an ultimate purpose for which they are consuming so much fuel: I spend, or waste, so that I will ultimately be saved. Conversely, energy inputs are available because God has blessed me with them; the faithful are rewarded with a healthy, fertile, and energy-rich environment. /…/
Against this energetico-theological model is arrayed an ecoreligion, one that would defy the “comfortable” or “free” (and nonnegotiable) lifestyle of consumerist humanism, not through a recognition of the literal truth of the divine Word but through a religiously inspired truth of austerity, simplicity, and personal virtue. Such a cult refuses certain basic human urges to consume or destroy, and in the process involves the affirmation of yet another humanism (the self as virtuous in its austerity) and, after consumer profligacy, yet another model of nature as a standing reserve to be protected largely for its value to Man.
Fossile fuel civilization, then, and its antitheses, or antidotes. Man and/or God as ultimate referent: a couple we can expect to hear more from in the coming years. Bataille poses a very different model of the interrelation of energy and religion. /…/ Bataille’s energy and religion are not an alternative; they promise nothing for the future, certainly no salvation, although their aftereffect may entail a future more livable — by whom? — than that promised under the signs of God or Man.
Bataille’s energy is inseparable from that which powers cars and raises elevators, but it is different as well. It is excess energy, and in that sense it is left over when a jo is done, when the limits of growth are reached, or, in the current situation, when fossil fuels themselves reveal their profound limitations. Bataille’s energy is a transgression of the limit; it is what is left over in excess of what can be used within a fundamentally limited human field. As such, it is quite different from what can be used: it is not just left over in the sense of not being consumed; it is fundamentally unusable. At the point at which quantification reveals its finitude, energy asserts itself as the movement that cannot be stockpiled or quantified. It is the energy that by definition does not do work, that is insubordinate, that plays now rather than contributing to some effort that may mean something at some later date and that is devoted to some transcendent goal or principle. /…/ Energy is expended in social ritual that is pointless, that is tied not to the adhesion of a group or the security of the individual but to the loss of group and individual identity — sacrifice.
Bataille’s religion is thus inseparable from Bataille’s energy. /…/ If there is community, it is the unplanned aftereffect and not the essential meaning of this energy, of this mobement of the death or void of God.
Thus ethics for Bataille, the community, and its meaning and survival are aftereffects of the expenditure of the sacred. Bataille’s theory is profoundly ethical but only in the sense that the instant of preservation, of meaning, of conservation, of knowledge, is the unforeseen offshoot of another movement, that of the drive to spend without counting, without attempting to anticipate return. To deny the ethical moment, the moment, the moment in which conservation and meaning are established only the better to affirm the destruction of expenditure, is to relegate that destrection to the the simple, homogeneous movement of the animal, unaware of limit, meaning, and purposive act. Expenditure, in other words, is not the denial of the human, its repression, but instead its affirmation to the point at which it falls: the sacrifical act, the recognition of an energy that does not do “work” for the maintenance of the human, is the affirmation of a God who is not the slave of the human. It is the impossible movement in which awareness doubles the unknowable loss of energy and the virulence of a God who disbelieves in himself.
The ethics of Bataille, then, entail a vision of the future in which the “left-hand sacred”, the sacred of impurity, of eroticism, of the radically unconditioned God, spins off a community in and through which expenditure can be furthered (a community of those with nothing in common). Not nuclear war, the channeling of excess in ways that ensure survival so that more excess can be thrown off. And (one can continue along these lines) not generalized ecocide, but an affirmation of another energy, another religion, another waste, entailing not so much a steady state sustaininability (with what stable referent? Man?) but instead a postsustainable state in which we labor in order to expend, not conserve. Hence the energy, and wealth, of the body — the energy of libidinous and divine recycling, not the stockpiled, exploited, and dissipated energy of easily measured and used fossil fuels.
This book has two goals: in the first part, to sketch out Bataille’s positions on energy expenditure, religion of and against the Book, and the city; in the second, to extrapolate from those positions and consider current questions of energy use and depletion, religious literalism and fervor, and urban “life”. /…/
This book is a small effort that tries to suggest that there are other ways of thinking about how we power our lifes, with energy and with religion: these ways, these directions have been there all along. These other ways are not so much opposed to sustainability (as it is conventionally conceived) as they logically precede it and spin it off not as a goal but as an aftereffect. /…/ In a future (and imminent) era of scarcity we rethink what it means to be happy — thereby recognizing that happiness is tied not to the mere consumption and disposal of materials, but to their wise use — we will perhaps also realize that happiness means something more, or other, than a meager conservation or a placid contentment grounded in a placid sociability.
August 16, 2007 § 1 Comment
Auslander, Philip (1999): Liveness. Performance in a mediatized culture
Routledge, London/New York
70: “The concept of rock authenticity is linked with the romantic bent of rock culture, in which rock music is imagined to be truly expressive of the artists’ souls and psyches, and as necessarily politically and culturally oppositional. /…/
the fact that the criteria for rock authenticity are imaginary has never prevented them from functioning in a very real way for rock fans.”
95: “As I have argued, rock authenticity resides in a dialectical relationship between recording and live performance.”
83: “rock ideology, itself a product of the age of mechanical reproduction, is a form of contemporary perception that allows its adherents to experience mass-produced objects as auratic through the process of authentication.”
76-77: “Live performance contributes to the process of authentication in two crucial ways. First, to be considered an authentic rocker, a musician must have a history as a live performer, as someone who has paid those dues and whose current visibility is the result of earlier popularity with a local following. Pursuing rock’s traditional career path, musicians must first establish themselves and find an audience through live performance; musicians are chosen to record by industry scouts on the basis of live performances.”
82: “Listeners steeped in rock ideology are tolerant of studio manipulation only to the extent that they know or believe that the resulting sound can be reproduced on stage by the same performers.”
71: “rock ideology is conservative: authenticity is often located in current music’s relationship to an earlier, ‘purer’ moment in a mythic history of the music.”
67-68: “The name most frequently used for rock’s Other is ‘pop’.”
84-85: “In the case of rock ideology, the aura must be seen as existing between the recording and the live performance. The aura is located in a dialectical relation between two cultural objects – the recording and the live performance – rather than perceived as a property inherent in a single object, and it is from this relation of mutuality that both objects derive their authenticity.”
72: “Synthesizers, once seen not as musical instruments but as machines that had no place in rock, have come to be seen as just another form of keyboard instrument. The computer keyboard has yet to be assimilated in quite the same way, though that process has begun.”
July 23, 2007 § 3 Comments
Asger Sørensen (Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School):
“The inner experience of living matter: Bataille and dialectics”
Philosophy & Social Criticism, vol. 33 no. 5, pp. 597-615
Like Marx, Bataille states that his thought is the ‘opposite’ of Hegel’s, but he immediately afterwards adds: ‘I only found myself there dialectically, if I may say so, Hegelically’. /…/
though initially arguing for the now common position reserving dialectics only for the praxis of the changeable human world, Bataille keeps the possibility open for reintroducing nature into the realm of dialectics /…/
Bataille thinks of his dialectics as the result of a determinate negation of Hegel’s, which of course maintains the Hegelian dialectic in the dialectics of Bataille as Moment. /…/
Desire is necessary for the fusion of sexual reproduction and therefore for the growth of life, when first it has become sexualized; but desire is also a negation of life, creating contradictions within life at various levels. /…/ The necessity of choosing between the objects of desire introduces a pause, a temporal discontinuity that inhibits the continuous process of life /…/
As a contradiction conscious life appears within life itself, not as something anti-thetic coming from outside life, but exactly as the determinate negation of life by life itself. /…/
Bataille opposes Hegel’s undifferentiated and ahistorical concept of life and introduces a development, both within the process of life’s reproduction of it-self and in the evolution from asexual to sexual reproduction. /…/ Bataille conceives of the dialectics of nature as constituting ‘a sort of natural history’ already in his early writings. /…/ In contrast to Hegel, Bataille thinks of life as historical, although this history has neither a beginning nor any end /…/
To Bataille what is prohibited in the taboo is the ‘violence’ of nature, and the human attitude is precisely the ‘refusal’ of such a violence. /…/ The human ‘no’ to natural violence, however, is never definitive. According to Bataille it is only a pause, ‘a momentary suspension, ot a final standstill’. The basic non-logical difference does not disappear, it just reaches a temporary unity, and this unity makes life’s activity human, i.e. makes activity conscious and reasonable as poiesis and praxis. /…/
If the conflict between the reasonable order of civilization and the subversive, violent pleasure of nature is understood theoretically as a logical contradiction it must be resolved /…/ A non-conflicting, i.e. a non-dialectical solution can only consist in siding with one or the other, idealizing either a self-defeating critique of civilization as such, or a pure and therefore senseless negation of nature as a whole. Hegel chose the last solution, accepting in the end only being uplifted to reason, spirit and absolute knowledge.
This is what Horkheimer termed the dogmatic aspect of Hegel’s philosophy. /…/
Instead, inspired by the dialectics of Bataille, one could understand the basic contradiction in and of human life as just a conflict, a tension inherent in humn and social eing as such, and as such an ontological condition that is dealt with – and thus solved – practically every day. The point to discuss politically is therefore not whether we can dissolve what the dialectical tradition would call the contradictions of the existing solution and reach the truth of the social being in question. The contradictions are always already solved practically, and the question is only how to make these practical solutions better.
No society is completely homogeneous, since any human being takes part in more than one social being, e.g. families, classes, subcultures, associations, etc. /…/
Bataille’s materialist dialectics /…/ risk becoming a mystifying ideology for a world organized only by the market, since no long-term political action, no persistent use of force, seems legitimate in Bataille’s perspective. /…/
Bataille describe the processes of nature and human culture dialectically, without comforting himself with dreams and hopes of ideals of a harmony that history or experience will realize in the end. /…/
In short, with an epistemology and an ontology like Bataille’s, it is very difficult to believe in anything worth dying for. And that is a shame.
June 9, 2007 § 3 Comments
(forthcoming in Ephemera, 1/2007- download Arvidsson.finaleditmarch07-1)
The interconnections between the advertising industry and the underground have been institutionalized to such an extent that advertising professionals, although they often identify as members of the ‘creative class’, often concede that real creative production tends to unfold elsewhere. As one event bureau professional told me:
There are, like, these two groups, on the one hand the ‘correctly creative’; the people that go to the right places, Barcelona, New York, Paris, and have the right bike, and the right glasses and live on the Islands Brygge or Vesterbro [Copenhagen neighborhoods in the process of gentrification] and dress in a certain way. They choose a role where they can confirm each other. Then there are the ‘true creatives’, like strange people: maybe they study at the university or make music, or underground theater, and they’re just born with it, and they’re crude and not well adapted, and they think untraditionally and alternatively, and these strange people are the ones that advertising agencies really want to get in touch with.
At the same time, the ‘underground’ has changed as well. It has become less political, more individualized and competitive, and more open to cooperate with the creative industries and with business in general. In this respect the Copenhagen underground scene has gone through changes similar to those described by Muggleton & Weinzeirl (2003) and McRobbie (2002) in the case of Britain, only about five years later. As in the UK, the transformation of the Copenhagen underground was linked to the establishment of the electronic music scene as the centre of underground culture. Electronic music accomplished two things: first, it expanded the size of the underground scene. With new technologies, PCs and music editing software, the capacity to engage in independent music production expanded to involve the kinds of people that did not embrace the political and existential ethos of an earlier generation of underground artists. In short, “the nerds now got involved as well”. Second, as the electronic music scene expanded outside the cultural and spatial boundaries of the older political underground, it came to create its own events. This involved using new venues and connecting to other emerging scenes, like video art, fashion and design, which further expanded the size and scope of underground culture. It also tended to introduce an entrepreneurial logic into independent cultural production. DJs and party organizers began to see themselves as cultural entrepreneurs, putting together music, artists and venues to create an event, marketing it to get the right kind of audience and charging money at the door to cover costs. In short, they invested time and money in order to cash in on respect (more than on money).
If underground cultural production in the 1980s had moved within ideologically coherent communities with strong internal solidarities and clear boundaries that set them off from the rest of the city (the Autonomen/Punk scene with its occupied buildings and frequent clashes with the police), it now began to look more like an ethical economy (with an emphasis on ‘economy’) marked instead by open-ended networks (Wittel, 1999). Cultural producers perceived themselves as enterprising individuals who invested their time and money and put their reputation at stake in producing events that might increase their credibility and standing within the peer group. This entrepreneurial turn tended to open up the underground to the creative industries and the rest of the city. First, because event producers now accepted and actively sought out sponsorships to help cover costs and to increase the attraction of their event by providing things like free beer. Second, because the frequency of these events led to the opening of a number of clubs which transformed the (former) underground into an important part of the urban nightlife scene, with the result that independent ‘underground’ cultural producers and creative industry employees began to frequent the same environments and ‘network’ with each other with greater ease than before.
Indeed network entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future. On the one hand there is a continuing interest on the part of business to sponsor underground artists: “That’s how I see the future of the underground, that we can be used to speak for those who make a lot of money, because there is no money in selling records any more.” On the other hand, new information and communication technologies (like file sharing) that permit new ways of distributing and circulating music have enabled new forms of cooperation that in turn generate new forms of life. These can be successfully marketed to business:
So we won’t be unemployed just because music has become more openly accessible. It only means that people form new groups, with new things in common. And these become even harder to find and grasp for people on the outside. This makes it even more difficult for businesses to stay in touch.
To summarize: at least in case of the event bureaus, the ‘underground’ has become an integrated element to the economy of the culture industries. Underground artists and advertising professionals mutually utilize each other. For the underground artists, sponsorship provides resources to be mobilized in the drive to maximize one’s standing and respect. To the advertising professionals, the underground produces the authentic forms of life that have become increasingly valuable in contemporary viral or event marketing strategies. The cultural industry appropriates the creativity of the underground by hooking into its networks. The network entrepreneurs play a crucial part here. By means of their position at the top of the hierarchy of the underground they are endowed with the kinds of contacts, sub-cultural capital, respect and the general biopolitical capacity that enable them to recruit and mobilize desired forms of life and to guarantee their quality. The people who are recruited by network entrepreneurs, like DJs and artists, in turn make use of their networks, either to mobilize an attractive crowd of friends and acquaintances, or to develop their own artistic capital in terms of skills and up-to-date-ness. At yet a lower level there is the ‘deep underground’ where innovations are made that will slowly trickle upwards. All of these levels are also connected laterally to other environments and milieus (Berlin, New York, Barcelona), chiefly, but not exclusively through ICTs. It is as if the event bureau plants a root (or maybe a rhizome) in the productive multitude that dissipates almost ad infinitum, and allows it to establish a value stream.
May 19, 2007 § 2 Comments
Foreword to Friedrich Kittler, Discourse Networks, 1800/1900 S. xi-xvi
Kittler’s work cannot be classified as Derridean, Foucauldian, or Lacanian; rather, it grounds itself on what might be termed the joint achievement of the three. Perhaps this is the major methodological innovation of Kittler’s book. By eliciting from the divergent elaborations of post-structuralist thought a collective epistemological apparatus, Kittler establishes a positive research program for a post-hermeneutic criticism.
The first component of this program–the premise that determines its overall perspective–might be termed the “presupposition of exteriority.” The task of Kittler’s critical investigation, in other words, is not to reabsorb the scattered utterances and inscriptions of the past into an inwardness that would endow them with meaning, be this inwardness the reflexivity of the subject as in Romantic hermeneutics or the reflexivity of language itself as in Gadamer. Rather, he practices what Foucault, in an early essay on Maurice Blanchot, called the “thinking of the outside,” the thinking of language as a domain recalcitrant to internalization. Later in his career, Foucault named this domain “discourse” and set out to develop a lexicon of exteriority–series, event, discontinuity, materiality– with which to describe it. Kittler’s discourse analysis follows the Foucauldian lead in that it seeks to delineate the apparatuses of power, storage, transmission, training, reproduction, and so forth that make up the conditions of factual discursive occurrences. The object of study is not what is said or written but the fact – the brute and often brutal fact–that it is said, that this and not rather something else is inscribed.
Inscription, in its contingent facticity and exteriority, is the irreducible given of Kittler’s analysis, as the original German title of his book– Aufschreibesysteme–makes evident. That title, a neologism invented by Dr. Schreber, can be most literally translated as “systems of writing down” or “notation systems.” It refers to a level of material deployment that is prior to questions of meaning. At stake here are the constraints that select an array of marks from the noisy reservoir of all possible written constellations, paths and media of transmission, or mechanisms of memory. A notation system or, as we have chosen to translate, a discourse network has the exterior character–the outsideness–of a technology. In Kittler’s view, such technologies are not mere instruments with which “man” produces his meanings; they cannot be grounded in a philosophical anthropology. Rather, they set the framework within which something like “meaning,” indeed, something like “man,” become possible at all.
Writing (or arche-writing) as the condition of possibility of metaphysical conceptuality: this, of course, is a major tenet of Derrida’s work. In Lacan, the cognate notion is that our existence is a function of our relation to the signifier. Kittler concretizes this post-structuralist theme by situating his analysis not at the level of writing or the signifier in general, but rather at the level of the historically specific machineries–scriptural and otherwise–that in their various arrangements organize information processing. His post-hermeneutic criticism, in other words, renders explicit and productive the tendency toward a radical historicism that is in fact immanent to the work of all the post-structuralist thinkers. To be sure, this historicism is no longer the narrative of a subject–a hero of knowledge, labor, or liberty–in the manner of the master plots of modernity; nor is it a particularist anamnesis of the lived past such as the socalled new historicism pursues. Like Foucault’s, Kittler’s historiography has a systematic thrust, tends toward the delineation of types. These types, denoted simply by the dates 1800 and 1900, are the discourse networks – the linkages of power, technologies, signifying marks, and bodies–that have orchestrated European culture for the past two hundred years.
The presupposition of exteriority, I claimed, determines the overall perspective of Kittler’s post-hermeneutic criticism. The field within which that criticism operates, its domain of inquiry, is carved out by a second major premise, which I shall call the “presupposition of mediality.” Here too Kittler develops insights that emerged within post-structuralism, for instance, in the investigations of the cinematic apparatus carried out by Christian Metz and Jean-Louis Baudry, investigations themselves strongly influenced by the Lacanian notion of the unconscious as a machine. Of course, the studies of Metz and Baudry are concerned with the medium of film alone, and it is principally in the area of film studies that, in both Europe and the United States, the concept of medium is broadly employed. The decisive methodological step undertaken by Kittler is to generalize the concept of medium, to apply it to all domains of cultural exchange. Whatever the historical field we are dealing with, in Kittler’s view, we are dealing with media as determined by the technological possibilities of the epoch in question. Mediality is the general condition within which, under specific circumstances, something like “poetry” or “literature” can take shape. Post-hermeneutic literary history (or criticism), therefore, becomes a sub-branch of media studies.
This reclassification of literary criticism necessarily elicits a rethinking of its object of study. First and most obviously, if literature is medially constituted–that is, if it is a means for the processing, storage, and transmission of data–then its character will change historically according to the material and technical resources at its disposal. And it will likewise change historically according to the alternative medial possibilities with which it competes. In this regard, too, Kittler’s work leads to a radical historicism that finally dissolves the universality of the concept of literature. Moreover, this dissolution does not bear merely on distant epochs such as the medieval period, where the question of orality versus literacy has long been a focus of research. It operates in our own historical backyard, severing, as Kittler shows, Romantic “poetry” (produced under the monopoly of print and universal alphabetization) from modern “literature” (where writing enters into competition with the technical media of phonograph and film). From this perspective, the typewriter, still a component of our historical a priori, can be seen to initiate a fundamental mutation in the mode of existence of language.
But the notion of mediality recasts our notion of literature in another sense. As soon as we conceive of literature as medially instantiated, then we must view its meaning as the product of a selection and rarefaction. All media of transmission require a material channel, and the characteristic of every material channel is that, beyond – and, as it were, against – the information it carries, it produces noise and nonsense. What we call literature, in other words, stands in an essential (and again, historically variable) relation to a non-meaning, which it must exclude. It is defined not by what it means, but by the difference between meaning and nonmeaning, information and noise, that its medial possibilities set into place. This difference, obviously, is inaccessible to hermeneutics. It is the privileged locus, however, of post-hermeneutic thought.
A criticism oriented by the presuppositions of exteriority and mediality has no place for creative human subjects, allows no room to psychology and its internalizations, refuses to anchor itself in a notion of universal human being. This non-anthropological bent of Kittler’s work will seem disturbing to many readers of the book, who will rightly ask: What is the interest that motivates this critical enterprise? Where are its bonds of solidarity? An answer to these questions, I believe, is implied by the third premise of post-hermeneutic criticism, the premise that defines not its analytical perspective (exteriority), nor its domain of study (mediality), but rather its point of reference and focus of concern. I call this premise the “presupposition of corporeality.”
The reason that the concept of corporeality defines the point of reference for post-hermeneutic criticism is clear. The body is the site upon which the various technologies of our culture inscribe themselves, the connecting link to which and from which our medial means of processing, storage, and transmission run. Indeed, in its nervous system, the body itself is a medial apparatus and an elaborate technology. But it is also radically historical in the sense that it is shaped and reshaped by the networks to which it is conjoined. The forerunner of this thinking in terms of corporeality, of course, is Nietzsche, whose philosophy follows, as he put it, the body’s guiding thread and whose aesthetics, as he often insisted, is a physiology. Among the post-structuralists, Foucault cleaves most closely to this aspect of the Nietzschean program, especially in his work on the history of punishment and on sexuality. But in Lacan, too, for whom subject formation takes place at the intersection of the body and the sign)fier, and in Derrida, whose reading of Freud focuses on the question of intra-psychic inscription, the theme of corporeality is insistent. One widespread reading of post- structuralism claims that it eliminates the concept of the subject. It would be more accurate to say that it replaces that concept with that of the body, a transformation which disperses (bodies are multiple), complexifies (bodies are layered systems), and historicizes (bodies are finite and contingent products) subjectivity rather than exchanging it for a simple absence.
The presupposition of corporeality has two major methodological consequences for post-hermeneutic criticism. The first is that the question of agency recedes into the background. The body is not first and foremost an agent or actor, and in order to become one it must suffer a restriction of its possibilities: the attribution of agency is a reduction of complexity. As a result, culture is no longer viewed as a drama in which actors carry out their various projects. Rather, the focus of analysis shifts to the processes that make that drama possible: to the writing of the script, the rehearsals and memorizations, the orders that emanate from the directorial authority. This (in my view) important conceptual shift can be formulated somewhat less metaphorically as follows: post-hermeneutic criticism replaces the foundational notion of praxis (the materialist version of subjective agency) with that of training. Culture is just that: the regimen that bodies pass through; the reduction of randomness, impulse, forgetfulness; the domestication of an animal, as Nietzsche claimed, to the point where it can make, and hold to, a promise.
The second methodological consequence of the presupposition of corporeality is that the sufferance of the body, its essential pathos, becomes a privileged locus for the analysis of discourse networks in terms of both their systematic character and their effectivity. In other words, the point at which discourse networks reveal most sharply their specific impress is in the pathologies they produce. Just as post-hermeneutic criticism focuses on the difference between information and noise, sense and nonsense, that defines every medium, so too it attends to the difference between normal behavior and aberrance (including madness) that lends every cultural formation its identity. The victims who people Kittler’s book–the Bettinas, the Gunderodes, the Nietzsches, the Schrebers–speak the truth of the culture they suffer. Whoever would look for the bonds of solidarity that orient Kittler’s investigation will find them here: in its unmistakable compassion for the pathos of the body in pain. Hermeneutics would appropriate this corporeal singularity in the construction of a meaning. Post-hermeneutic criticism, however, draws its responsibility precisely from the unassimilable otherness of the singular and mortal body. This is the ethical reason it stops making sense.