Seminar Marina Vishmidt; from month to month, from DAI-week to DAI-week
Seminar 6: Tuesday 3 May, 2016
Identity Thinking Otherwise
In our 6th and penultimate seminar this year, we will be reading and closely working through Karen Barad's recent essay 'Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart'. Following the critical lines established this year (the subject:object relation, dialectic entanglement, abstraction . . .) theoretical physicist and queer feminist philosopher Barad can help us encounter some of the closures in, as well as proposing some paths beyond, what it means to think difference and identity in emancipatory politics, and how this navigation can be extended far beyond the situatedness of the human species at the apex of a hierarchy of reasons and relations. With her concepts of 'diffraction' (the co-existence of connection and separation), 'intra-action' (the performative agency of entities which do not pre-exist their relations or conditions), and 'spacetimemattering' (the impossibility of detaching significance and signification from 'objective' phenomena or frameworks for thought), we re-visit some of the territory proposed by A.N. Whitehead in our first seminar, which sought to develop new resonances between knowledge and experience that pivoted around co/implication: anything which can be said to happen, happens for. Barad lends a concrete dimension to some of this thinking with her discussion of how race and coloniality re-defined the unicity of the Western feminist movement, an actualization of how neither identity nor difference can be totalizing formations. We thus also re-visit the category of 'totality' (usually taken to mean the determining or ultimate horizon established by capitalism for all forms of social and natural life) from the perspective of diffraction as Barad uses it, a metaphor which is also descriptive of the physical process in which light 'pushes through and around boundaries'. Which brings us to the question of what a project for establishing difference at a molecular level of reality, especially ones that uses the self-consciously cultural category of 'queering', could look like without re-suturing the political to an organic continuum or re-naturalize the social.
Reading: Karen Barad, 'Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart', parallax, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 3, 168–187.
Supplementary Reading: 'Intra-actions': Interview with Karen Barad by Adam Kleinman, Mousse Magazine 34, 2012, pp. 76-81.
Seminar 5: Tuesday 22 March, 2016
Normativity and the Attachments of the Broken
In this seminar, we will continue developing the line of reflection we've established that reads together the painful and surprising interferences of the abstract and the corporeal, here undertaken through a psychonalaytic lens that sees the socially constructed affects of social damage. In Chapter 5 of her 2011 book, Cruel Optimism, Lauren Berlant looks at two films by the Belgian Dardennes brothers, 'Rosetta'(1999) and 'La Promesse' (1996) to substantiate an analysis of how much hard labour is required just to keep up with an imaginary minimum of normality and how subjects situated differently under the regulations of gender, race and national community that bind and keep them apart, flailing to keep up, negotiate a catastrophic everyday, what Berlant describes as 'the reproduction of what we should call not the good life but "the bad life" - that is, a life dedicated to moving toward the good life's normative/utopian zone but actually stuck in what we might call survival time, the time of struggling, drowning, holding onto the ledge, treading water - the time of not-stopping.' This 'crisis ordinariness' is seen to both contain and foreclose any potentials at personal or wider social transformation or even challenge, stymieing the productivity of the negative so frequently allocated to those with 'nothing to lose' by the theorists whose optimism is cruel in a different key (another sort of attachment to what manifestly seems unpromising). The notion here of 'post-Fordist affect' seems to signal feeling formatted by a set of economic determinations, which are in turn legitimated and reproduced by the feelings invested in them. But more concretely, an affect of fragmentation, segmentation, subjects produced and available like just-in-time objects, stability a luxury good – the mode of regulation called 'post-Fordism' is proposed here as a 'structure of feeling' (Williams) which evokes its own methods of sympathetic observation (the directors, the writer) which stays with the affect and finds its own modes of visceral abstraction and irreducible experience without a need to filter these into a plane of theoretical justification which extends the distance from which these lives are seen.
I would also like us to look at Denise Riley's short 1977 book of poems, 'Marxism for Infants', and that each of us select something in it – a line, a poem, a cluster, an idea – that prompts each of us into a short (solo, collaborative) presentation.
- Lauren Berlant, Chapter Five: Nearly Utopian, Nearly Normal: Post-Fordist Affect in La Promesse and Rosetta; in Cruel Optimism, Duke University Press, 2011; pp. 161-189 (notes pp. 288-293)
- Denise Riley, Marxism for Infants, Street Editions, Cambridge: 1977
Seminar 4: Tuesday 12 February, 2016
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Holding On To Abstraction
The concept of abstraction, as it occurs in the fields of aesthetics, philosophy or economics, often marks the place where understanding ceases to apply: too complicated, too difficult, too abstract. At the same time, a certain mysticism may attend the the concept of abstraction as signifying something otherworldly, intangible or coded. 'Social' or 'real' abstraction on the other hand, as discussed in the work of Marx and much materialist critical theory, indicates a notion of abstraction as a concrete organizing principle – both of a society connected through form of monetray exchange, and of a critical method which needs to 'abstract' from empirical reality in order to develop analytic categories effective for comprehending and possibly changing it. Abstraction here is always understood as socially and historically mediated, and as forming one side of a dialectic with the concrete 'as such'. However, few have attempted to bring together the aesthetic or sensible modality of abstraction – with the experimental connotations this has carried in histories of the avant-garde – with this analysis of social abstraction. Abstraction fictionalises – creates social fictions – yet makes them seem like the most natural thing in the world; a phenomenon brought home unequivocally through language. The literary theorist Sianne Ngai (author of Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting) undertakes this mode of analysis in 'Visceral Abstractions', reading the politically and homoerotically charged poetry of Rob Halpern as an index of the painful and disturbing experience of social abstraction, and the power of form to bring the multiple nature of this experience to cognitive actuality. Starting with an extended unpacking of the place of abstraction and 'abstract labour' in particular in Marx's thought (as the site where the fleshly and the generic evidently converge), Ngai delivers a fine-grained survey of the horror and intimacy that emanates from the congealing of particularity operative in capitalist societies as performed in Halpern's 'Music for Porn' – if for Burroughs, the naked lunch is when you realize what is on the end of your fork, for Halpern that moment comes in the phantasmatic guise of the naked soldier. The problem of anonymity/particularity for a materialist view of abstraction for Ngai is initially encapsulated by the smiley face.
Two further sites of visceral abstraction will be looked in this context: John Russell's 'SQRRL' and Mykki Blanco's 'C-ORE', both of which point to an expanded ontology of affective materiality, articulating the trans-cognitive, trans-gender and trans-human aspects of abstraction that is made visceral, or at least uncanny, with the use of digital imaging technologies.
- Sianne Ngai,'Visceral Abstractions' in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Volume 21, Number 1, January 2015, pp. 33-63
- John Russell's 'SQRRL' http://www.bridgetdonahue.nyc/exhibitions/john-russell/
- Mykki Blanco, 'C-ORE' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzEX0H5N53U
Seminar 3: Tuesday 12 January, 2016
Natural Histories of Historic Natures
This seminar picks up the themes of the imbrication of the ecological, social and economic that emerged in Jakarta, and tries to develop the consequences for a critical theory and, perhaps, a political aesthetics able to rise to the challenge of such entanglements. Material histories and empirical processes must be studied at levels of abstraction capable of explaining regularities or patterns ensuring systemic reproduction – which may include more and less sustaining contradictions – but one capable of getting traction on the hugely divergent conditions of human and non-human life. For this seminar, then, we zoom out from the previous seminars' focus on philosophical and poetic narratives of the conceptual or racialised subject:object to the 'web of life' that Jason W. Moore identifies as the relevant frame of analysis for both ecological and economic crisis – a separation which, like Nature and Culture, or Nature and Society, he is concerned to dismantle. Using the term 'world-ecology', he re-tells the history of Western modernity and the global crises that seem to cascade from it in the present from a bio-physical standpoint that, however, does not leave behind the social but instead centres on capitalism as an engine of world-making. Capitalism is understood less as a 'mode of production' than a mode of appropriation of 'cheap inputs' – the unpaid life and work of nature and humans subjugated by gender, race or geography. The embeddedness of nature and capital means that humanity cannot be dissociated from the histories of exploitation and struggle that marked the domination of the 'human' over 'nature', as the Anthropocene paradigm would have it. Nor can the residual dualism of a nature:society divide be sustained, even in analyses that would strive to articulate the relationship between these 'spaces'. We thus loop back to the Whitehead essay in the first seminar, and its attempt to overcome dualisms of mind and body, subject and object, in favor of an environmental or situational concept of the real.
Moore's formidable and intricate analysis, laid out at greater length in his new book Capitalism in the Web of Life, is supplemented by Daniel Hartley's brief and accessible overview of Moore's arguments, introduced with a pungent short critique of the shortcomings of the 'Anthropocene' debate.
Jason W. Moore, 'Nature in the limits to capital (and vice versa)', Radical Philosophy 193, pp. 9-19
Daniel Hartley, 'Against the Anthropocene', Salvage Journal online, http://salvage.zone/in-print/against-the-anthropocene/
Seminar 2: (Arnhem Transaction Jakarta) 30 November, 2015
Seminar 1: Tuesday 19 October, 2015
In the initial 'Speculation as a Mode of Production' seminar of the 2015-16 we will embark on the research programme which departs from history of philosophical concepts of subjectivity and objectivity as a social and political relation. Whereas last year we began with Adorno's essay 'On Subject and Object' (1969), this year I'd like us to take a look at 'Objects and Subjects' by Alfred North Whitehead to give us an insight into some of the theoretical background of a lot of the post-human and new materialist debates in the present. While this philosophical framework is a fascinating and productive one in ways we will be exploring in the rest of the year, it has important differences with the Marx and Hegel-influenced premises of the critical theory that was dominant in an earlier era but which may still have much to contribute, along with feminism, queer theory and critical race theory, to this ostensibly 'post-critical' moment.