Eduardo Cachucho: The quantum mine of affect-mythology

 

Advisor/tutor: Marina Vishmidt
Independent reviewer: Brian Massumi
Arnhem, July 2015

Abstract

This thesis attempts to investigate how affect functions within mythological structures, thus strengthening and resonating the effect of these myths upon the public who are exposed to them. Focusing on Roland Barthes’ writings on mythology and Brian Massumi on affect, I combine these two ideological structures into a dynamic form that is both interrogative and performative in its approach. This approach allows for a more open and embodied deconstruction of these myths.

This structure was first used in Brazil as a test case to represent the mythological construction of the Casa Do Povo (est. 1953). The lessons learned from this initial experiment are then used to analyse a longer-term research on the psychological experiments and legislative acts developed by South African Prime Minister, Hendrik Verwoerd.

Review

The creative project at the heart of the thesis was a performance with fabric accompanied by a recited text. The performance emerged from research and reflections on Roland Barthes's semiology of mythology and my own work on affect. The project endeavors to create a theoretical intersection between these two currents, and to embody that intersection in the performance. The text of the thesis is not a simple account of this process, but is conceived as a production in its own right, including drawings and text that follows the questions of mythology and affect in narrative directions not directly related to the performance but informed by that experience (in particular, the history of apartheid in South Africa and its strange entanglement with the holisitic psychology of emotions through the figure of Hendrik Vewoerd). The thesis successfully carries out a valid artistic research investigation, in the sense that creates cross-connections between different levels of discourse (theoretical, narrative) with embodied practice to generate outcomes that could not have been generating outside this encounter which are mutually enriching. The thesis presents a process of theoretical investigation and creative practice that is deserving of the conferral of the Masters. This is not to say that there are not lacunae or misfires, or that the project necessarily produces what it sets out to do or arrives where it aims. "Men make errors," the thesis repeatedly quotes. The misfires are a part of the creativity of the project. They performatively work out tensions and discordances between the constituent elements set in play, and in doing so successfully make visible the stakes of the project and fill out its movement as a developing, experimental practice. Still, in view of the student's future work, it is worthwhile drawing attention to some of the tensions. To cite a passage from the thesis itself, "to be in a constant state of becoming is to be in a consant state of failure" – which, processually speaking, is to succeed.

The gist of the theory of affect is well understood and well stated, but there are some areas where the account could have been more precise:

-- the opposition between the autonomic/physiological/body and the intentional/linguistic/conscious is too starkly drawn. One of the main stakes of affect theory as I see it is to overcome this opposition by imbuing the body with what are usually considered "higher" functions, performed in the "missing half-second" of the incipiency of perception (reading is the example I give in "The Autonomy of Affect"). This forbids reducing the body to the purely physiological, and embeds abstract functions and cultural factors at the heart of its every move (affect is thus not "outside the functioning brain," but in the way the brain is enfolded into the flesh through its innervation). The directness of this imbuing of the body with abstract functions and cultural factors separates this kind of affect theory from the semiology of mythology as developed by Barthes. The latter works with notions of mediation, and always approaches the body as imaged or figured rhetorically. This presents a challenge to the project of the thesis that is not sufficiently worked out.

-- the performance evolves around the conceit of concretizing Barthes's diagram of the signifying structure of myth in fabric. This operation is apparently meant to make present myth in a way that creates a kind of mythopoiesis when the fabric is applied to the body in movement. There is a flaw in this procedure, in that it does not take into account the difference between the formal schema of myth and the mythic sign it schematizes. Literalizing the schema does not necessarily implement what it schematizes. Eduardo seems to understand this, and addresses it by attempting to activate mythological connotations through the siting of the performance at the Casa do Povo in Sao Paolo. That this fails to work is indicated by the response by one of his fellow students to the performance to the effect that he/she was unable to remember the accompanying text and although he/she could not in any way understand the performance, it made him/her shiver. This indicates to me that what the performance did achieve was actually to short-circuit the semiotic process of myth and confront the audience with the body's base state -affectivity (the shiver of affect's unexpressibility). This is a very interesting failure that says a great deal about the relationship between affect and myth that could be profitably mined in subsequent work, should that be of interest to the student. Much of historical and interpretive interest is also generated in the discussion of the context of the Casa do Povo (although the interpretation of the arch as a mythic sign seems vague). So although the performance "fails" to achieve its stated aim, the process is successfully generative. This kind of oblique success is an integral part of art-based research, with its willingness to take risks experimentally. It is part of what distinguishes it from more traditional forms of research.

-- it is also interesting that in his own account of the performance, Eduardo reports feeling "strangely disconnected from the context." It would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on what this means in relation to the mythopoietic intent of the performance (given that mythic connotations are so highly dependent on context) and on the nature of the body of affect as performed and the simply-present physiological body.

-- the narrative of Verwoerd's psychological experiments in producing emotion and its entanglement with the institutionalization of apartheid in the 1950s is fascinating and full of important implications. It would have been desirable here to address the difference between emotion and affect insisted upon by the current of affect theory the project is drawing upon, and to use that to make connections between the legal architecture of apartheid and affect that are more direct than the circumstantial, biographical, link in the person of Verwoerd. The myth-analysis of the apartheid laws could have used more explanation. In Barthes's Mythologies, the signifier and the signified always come as two aspects of a single sign (an image, a phrase). In the thesis, the signifier and signified are separated out and assigned to different laws. This seems to transpose the mythic structure onto a discursive network. The articulation between myth analysis and discourse analysis is not provided. The examples used from apartheid are more complicated than the schema of the myth is able to handle. This raises challenges that could be explored further in follow-up work.

The form of the thesis document, with its juxtaposition of different narratives and levels of analysis beaded on the strings of myth analysis and affect theory, presents a richness of thought and practice that follows through on the initial inquiry, and rather than producing final answers opens new challenges for future work.