What is gesture?

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

Gumbrecht on violence

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.

Anonymous: Tehran Report 2, 14th June 2009

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. (more…)

Anonymous: Tehran Report 1, 13th June 2009

What follows is the first of a series of reports from Tehran, Iran. The author wishes to remain anonymous. Second report.

June 13, 2009
9:05 PM

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.


Antonin Artaud’s theatre

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.

Bataille’s Peak. Energy, Religion, and Postsustainability (introductory chapter)

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.

Philip Auslander on “rock ideology” and authenticity

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.”