Seminar Rachel O'Reilly; from month to month, from DAI-week to DAI-week


Seminar 6: Tuesday 2 May 2016

Aesthetic Education in Flames

We began the Seminar with the geopolitical travails of ‘travelling theory’; through Hillyer, we saw specific politico-formal approaches to ‘the Writing of the No’ (for example, exemplified in the poetry of Spahr and Clover) as attempts to erect handbrakes upon neo-expansionist language and to pose abolitions of techno-imperial form. With our third key theorist of the limits of the writerly, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, we deal with legacies of projective imagination for thinking through the Enlightenment from below.

The ‘below’ is not simple, but in the very first line of Aesthetic Education in an Era of Globalization we are given the standpoint for the text that follows: “Only capital and data and globalize. All the rest is damage control.” (We know the truth of this axiom inherently from practice, but are asked by the dictates of CA to perform denial of it as a marker of a speculatively global, secular professionalism.) Spivak’s project to intentionally misinterpret Kant through Schiller (on the way adapting Gregory Bateson’s work now dated but salient work on habit in Steps towards an Ecology of Mind) prioritises to push Enlightenment dictates on into active crisis, such that the “freedom, justice, reason, and liberty” so valued for some subjects and not others, at the heart of the privileges of a distanciating education, might be redistributed ideally (this is her wager on romanticism).

She says her aim here is that we might re-write the aesthetic “to suit us, from the toughest definition of politics to the most mysterious confines of literary [or art] theory.” The difficulty of the text gets easier once we get a handle on this dominating concept of the double bind as non-neutralizable tension ‘in the work’ for practice, that must be dramatised, rather than put to rest, to acknowledge real political contradictions and schizoid conditions of the capitalist contemporary that we have no option but to navigate. In other words, the double-bind can only be played to be navigated and thus, involves frequent ‘politically incorrect’ discoveries of mistakes in attempts at re-habituating ethics. (Lauren Berlant calls this the slapstick register of politically committed orientations towards others, esp. as that commitment confronts non-revolutionary conditions.)

Centralizing practice as the other side of theory’s double bind, and ethics’ only in materialization, in habit re-scripting (a productive limit of the writerly), we will move with Danny Butt’s review essay case study of Born in Flames, the feminist sci-fi film classic set in NYC of the the 1970s (a period with much in parallel to contemporary conditions), and the film itself, for a close reading of a formidable work of feminist cinema in the terms of Spivak’s aesthetic education. (This also gives us traction on the rest of the book for further research for those interested.) The class will bring its own examples as needed, and come together to work through the text, by way of these examples, for each other.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, Harvard University Press, Chapter 1.

Danny Butt, Double-bound: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Review essay to appear in RUPC Working Papers series, 2015.

Born in Flames (film), 1983, Writer/Director Lizzie Bordon.


Seminar 5: Tuesday 22 March 2016

Execution and Mourning, poetics of/after neoconceptualism

The postcolonial literary critic Gayatri Spivak draws on Melanie Klein’s work on the development of subjectivity to elaborate the ‘first abstraction’ (gender), and to articulate the navigation of culture as being, at its core, a negotiation of capacities for splitting transcendent and profane value. As we’ve just worked through in Spahr, for Spivak, aesthetic comportment, including that involved in art making, involves capacities for perceiving of ethical differences in the unfolding of relations. Where this is not possible, Spivak argues “you can neither execute nor mourn.”

This Seminar takes up with these two notions - execution and mourning - in essays by Melanie Klein and Joshua Clover, to think about the automaticity and partial scriptedness of our position taking around certain research materials and artworks, especially those with which we associate certain kinds of compulsion and readymade-ness. To the artist, ‘objects’—broadly defined—cross between internal and external spaces of memory and experience, form and reform into one kind of shape and another, quite apart from the moment of ‘achievement’ of any normative ‘reality principle’. In Klein, the incontrovertible ‘depressive position’ is a moment that interrupts fascination, in order to focalise the question of use, and of utilities that are otherwise. With the poet-critic Joshua Clover we will consider how this discourse of object relations already politicised by Spivak might be thought in proximity to socio-technical periodizations of relations between poetry and (neo)conceptual art.

- Joshua Clover, ‘The Technical Composition of Conceptualism’

- Melanie Klein, ‘Mourning and its Relation to Manic Depressive States’, in (Rita v. Frankiel) Essential Papers on Object Loss, New York University Press.


Seminar 4: Tuesday 16 February 2016

Spahr, for Example: After Eliminative Poetics 

This seminar continues the focus of our first three sessions, addressing the postcoloniality in ‘travelling theory’ (Said), accumulation processes in the narrativity and language work of capital ((Marazzi, Turner), the sociality and collectivity of experimental scientific and poetic authorship (Stengers, Moten), to think these different theories with and through one exemplary long-form narrative, or ‘poet novel’, The Transformation, written by the American poet Juliana Spahr. 

The Transformation was written during Spahr’s time in Hawaii and is formally, and fictionally, imbricated with this autobiographical experience as a settler educator of ‘exceptional’ avant grade poetics in the context of the ongoing impacts of US military-industrialism. The negotiation of indeterminacy inside of a poetics of responsibility brings together the form and content, or ‘object’ of the work. Pronouns are key queries and tools of experimentation in this and all other work by this practitioner of materialist poetics. ’We and they and you’, but especially ‘they’ in The Transformation, are denaturalised so as to interrogate materials and experiences in the opposite direction of an eliminative imperial aesthetic, as ecological, social and economic material processes are re-processed by the author in the recent past tenses of a reflexive literary inquiry. With Spahr we will relate artistic and aesthetic desire and anxiety around ‘what to do with the material’ that is inevitably on some level 'lived' (the subject of our seminar following) to the text’s articulations of non-sovereignty, translation ethics and debt/indebtedness. We will consider one of Spahr’s many strategies of ‘thirding’ constellations, which set value aside from the reproduction of convention, enabling articulable shifts in thought, prose and action.

Seminar 3: Tuesday 12 January, 2016

Structuring conditions of Corporate poetics

Following from our seminar in Jakarta on the ‘Poetics and Politics of Infrastructural Form’, where we brought together readings of two key dispossessive and eliminative infrastructures (in the poet Fred Moten’s articulation of the subject of property, of the shipped, and in the corporate sociality of the mine) this seminar will address relationships between processes of valuation and linguistic ingenuity in the New Economy, so that we might further our situated comprehension of the aesthetic, informatic, and affective experience of language within specific historical conditions.

We will begin with Christian Marazzi’s double claim in Capital and Language that 1) the world of finance is characterized by and functions through linguistic conventions, and 2) that newly dominant forms of labor are produced through language and means analogous to linguistic performance, and that these are linked. If, in an economy run on unequal access to information and purchase on risk, the speech acts of companies and of the U.S. Federal Reserve have extraordinary, real effects on financial markets, how does this contribute to our existing understanding of culturization of economy/economization of culture? From Marazzi we will consider possible genealogies of the ‘Corporate author’ and its voice so as to us cast light on deeper histories of knowledge and information production processes. The work of Isabelle Stengers on the fragile sociality, power and inventiveness of scientific labour helps us begin to put current neoliberalized conditions of knowledge production between corporatised science and poetic labour into parallel.

Marazzi, C. ‘Introduction’ and ‘Chapter 1’, Capital and Language. Semiotext(e), 2008.
Stengers, I. ‘Who is the Author’, Power and Invention: situating science. Theory Out of Bounds Volume 10, University of Minnesota Press.

Turner, H. ‘Toward an Analysis of the Corporate Ego: The Case of Richard Hakluyt’. Volume 20, no 2 and 3, Differences: Journal of Feminist and Cultural Studies, 2009.

Seminar 2: Monday November 2015

DAI & MKMK team up for an experiment in reading and thinking together. The participants/students will join Marina Vishmidt's and Rachel O'Reilly's existing ‘How to Do Things with Theory’ seminars, including their set readings, into one combined and improvised session.

The session will address political form in art and writing, drawing in particular on the writings of poet and theorist Fred Moten, to discuss more broadly relationships set up between poetics and infrastructure by the Jakarta biennale through its artistic and curatorial elements.

Conjoined Preparatory Readings of Both Classes

Isabelle Stengers, ‘Who is the Author’, in Power and Invention: Situating Science, pp 153-176.

Marina A. Welker, ‘Corporate Security Begins in Community: Mining, the Corporate Social Responsibility Industry, and Environmental Advocacy in Indonesia,’ in Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 24, Issue1, pp.142–179, 2009.

Fred Moten, (Introduction) 'The Resistance Of the Object: Aunt Hester's Scream', in In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003) pp. 1-24

Fred Moten, 'barbara lee', in B Jenkins, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010) pp. 84-7.

Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, 'Fantasy in the Hold', in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Wivenhoe/New York/Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2013), pp. 87-99
2. Just the chapter Who is the Author from Stengers, Power and Invention: situating science.

Seminar 1: Tuesday 19 October 2015

This seminar On the Limits of the Writerly assesses double-images of the edge work of a critical writerly practice. It will do this broadly, through exposure to a number of exemplary ‘literary-philosophical’ texts, and more specifically or concertedly through a planetary—that is, cultural political and world-ecological—focus on the New Economy’s specific setup of relations between capital/ization and language.

The first text we will read is Edward Said's 'Travelling Theory', from The World, The Text, The Critic. It traces the journey of a particular theorisation of the novel by the Marxist literary scholar Georg Lukacs, in terms of how that theory translates into two different spaces of reception and institutionalisation that are inevitably both quite different from the space and socio-historic 'moment' in which it was initially composed. Lukácsian narrative theory has been significant to critical literary studies but its principles and conclusions are mostly befitting of radical writerly production within the industrializing European nation-state, hinged as that was upon a high colonial world systemic 'humanism'. We begin with this text to mainframe questions around past and present politics of literary-political movement and circulation in the relationship to writing to the aesthetic, and to theory's own cultural-industrial 'travail'.

The second text we will read with Said is Aaron Hillyer's introductory chapter, 'Writing of the No', in The Disappearance of Literature: Blanchot, Agamben, and the Writers of the No. All of the writers of interest in Hillyer's book are somewhat difficult (and perhaps besides the writerly point) to deal with ‘theoretically,' by which I mean, their tendency to generate and inspire new readings/writings is due precisely to their obliteration of the difference between theory and literature. It is useful for us beginning this class to appreciate the stakes of such a literary-theoretical investment in No, through the particular signposts that Hillyer has isolated in practices: the affirmative modality of study, the question of community, the improper nature of our dealings with apparatus, the relationship between mysticism and un/governeable subjectivity, and of literature/writing to itself.

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