SEMINAR BASSAM EL BARONI; FROM MONTH TO MONTH, FROM DAI-WEEK TO DAI-WEEK
Tuesday 3 May, 2016
This seminar will focus on Ray Brassier’s 2014 essay ‘Wandering Abstraction’. The text will be analysed as a series of important moves that are able to open up a discussion about social and conceptual abstraction in relation to the real subsumption of labour by capitalism. The text illuminates a way forward in thinking about which models of thought and action might be appropriate under real subsumption in the current stage of capitalism “in which every aspect of labour has been subordinated to capitalist production, whose end is simply the self-valorisation of value.” Brassier points to the notion of Real Abstraction - discussed in a previous seminar – as a way of understanding the complexity of acting under real subsumption. He maps out how other thinkers – Jacque Camatte and the collective Endnotes - have addressed the question of how to theorise action under such circumstances. Although, Brassier recognises and identifies certain merits and strengths in both positions he refuses both their conclusions. Camatte’s notion of exit is refused because it “shades into a repudiation of modernity, which becomes a cipher for humanity’s wandering away from its authentic communality” and Endnote’s thesis because it leads to a position in which although consistent produces a paradoxical “self-abolition”. Brassier suggests that abstraction should become a research project in order to develop better strategies of action under real subsumption. For this he introduces American philosopher Wilfrid Sellar’s as a thinker whose work is able to show us “how conceptual form is anchored in linguistic function and grounds linguistic function in social practice” and thus is able to tell us “what abstract entities really are.” Equipping ourselves with a more intricate understanding of abstraction would not lead us to strategies of “absolute or indeterminate negation of capitalist society” such as those mentioned in the essay since such strategies abolish “the capitalist present at the cost of cancelling the post-capitalist future locked up within it.” The text ends by identifying what we need moving forward in developing future strategies, this is identified by Brassier as the need for “an account of the way in which cognitive function supervenes on social practices”.
Reading: Ray Brassier, Wandering Abstraction, 2014, Online here: Wandering Abstraction | Mute
Tuesday 16 February, 2016
On Embodiment, Disembodiment, and Information/Communication Technologies
“the real is the artificial – and not (as Lacan says) the impossible”
Félix Guattari, The Anti-Oedipus Papers
Detouring from ‘Real Abstraction’ – but returning to it next seminar - we will look at how the so called ‘disembodied communication’ of the internet and contemporary information tech is said to have contributed to the loss of the traditional sense of self (here we return to T. Metzinger for grounding) amidst the multiplication of identities and self-presentations and as a result the gradual loss of agency. This is a claim we will investigate by connecting a number of texts. Essential to understanding this claim is how we understand ‘the real’. Starting with sociologist Karin Knorr Cetina’s twin concepts of ‘Synthetic Situations’ and ‘Scopic Systems’ we move will move on to Johanna Seibt’s and Marco Nørskov’s essay "Embodying” the Internet: Towards the Moral Self via Communication Robots?’ which thoroughly examines the commonly held assumptions that the ‘disembodied’ nature of internet communication contributes to a less ethical self. The aim of the paper is not to refute such assumptions but to first “understand why direct personal (or embodied) communication engenders ethically sensitive constructions of self-understanding” then to consider how such understanding might be developed synthetically via forms of technological embodiment. Finally we look at Andrew Osborne and Inigo Wilkins concept of ‘Computational Immanence’ which they describe as: “the thesis that all aspects of the real without exception may be understood as both inputs and outputs of a purposeless and non-problematic computation …” Osborne and Wilkins associate Computational Immanence with the generative science behind computational modeling that is “instrumentalised by the contemporary state in order to maintain public order in a highly cynical manner”. But, while this may be true, they recognize that it is this same generative capacity in the deep logic of information and communication technologies that “has afforded the population at large an unprecedented possibility for liberation through the communalisation of information”. Developing links and connections out of these three texts we will discuss how such notions fit into a picture of an art practice which aims to be constructive rather than sceptical.
- Karin Knorr Cetina, The Synthetic Situation: Interactionism for a Global World, Symbolic Interaction 32 (2009), 1, pp. 61-87
- Johanna Seibt & Marco Nørskov, "Embodying” the Internet: Towards the Moral Self via Communication Robots?, Published online (for Purchase): 19 February 2012 # Springer-Verlag 2012
- Andrew Osborne and Inigo Wilkins, Catalysing Dissent, 2012: http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/catalysing-dissent
Tuesday 12 January, 2016
Last DAI Week in Jakarta we focused on the concept of Prometheanism that is defined by philosopher Ray Brassier as “… the claim that there is no reason to assume a predetermined limit to what we can achieve or to the ways in which we can transform ourselves and our world.” This seminar will pick up from where we left off continuing to crystallise a clearer idea of the stakes and arguments that this concept emanates and interjects with. One such interjection is the notion of ‘Real Abstraction ‘. Real Abstraction can be understood as the process that essentially creates value in the human brain through various acts of exchange that happen outside it. Although this originally Marxist concept varies from thinker to thinker, it’s most relevant blueprint can probably be found in Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s groundbreaking book Intellectual and Manual Labour: a Critique of Epistemology (1978). For Sohn-Rethel, Real Abstraction is the idea that the economic concept of value is a real one, precisely because it only exits in the human brain but does not originate in it but in the space and time of human exchange, thus this real ‘value’ abstraction is a real social abstraction because it is the actions by which people practice exchange that give it its power rather than the thought that thinks it even though it only exists inside the human brain. In Sohn-Rethel’s own words “While the concepts of natural science are thought abstractions, the economic concept of value is a real one. It exists nowhere other than in the human mind but it does not spring from it. Rather it is purely social in character, arising in the spatio-temporal sphere of human interrelations. It is not people who originate these abstractions but their actions.” What is clear in Sohn-Rethel’s argument is that abstraction does not spring from labour but from exchange as a particular mode of social interrelationship. Seeking to understand the different valences, debates, and connections this concept generates the seminar asks; how can we envision an aesthetico-political practice capable of grappling with and being adequate to the demands of the intensified Real Abstraction of the runaway financialization of today’s capitalism? Most importantly, what connections can be found, or rather developed between Prometheanism, Real Abstraction, and cognition in general, and how can this mapping out of a Promethean position activate art practice in an interesting way? Although these ties are largely underdeveloped, we will use the seminar to work through such possibilities and open up debate.
- Brassier, Ray. 2014. Prometheanism and Real Abstraction. In Speculative Aesthetics. MacKay, Robin, Pendrell, Luke, and Trafford, James (eds.). Falmouth: Urbanomic, 73-77
- Williams, Alex. The Politics of Abstraction. In Speculative Aesthetics. MacKay, Robin, Pendrell, Luke, and Trafford, James (eds.). Falmouth: Urbanomic, 63-70
- Toscano, Aberto. ‘Real Abstraction and the Dialectic’ 35 min. Lecture on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKx6ae2rgI8
- Toscano, Alberto. The Prejudice Against Prometheanism, available online at: https://cengizerdem.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/the-prejudice-against-prometheus-alberto-toscano/
- Toscano, Alberto. A Plea for Prometheus in Critical Horizons 10 (2), p. 241-256, 2010
- Toscano, Alberto. Real Abstraction Revisited: Of coins, commodities, and cognitive capitalism, available online at: http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/management/documents/research/research- units/cppe/seminar-pdfs/2005/toscano.pdf
- Sohn-Rethel, Alfred. 1977. Intellectual and Manual Labor: A Critique of Epistemology. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press. (Reference text for further reading)
Tuesday 19 October, 2015
This session establishes a basic groundwork for the year ahead, looking at the notion of the sublime and its evolvement within art history and how it appears in recent art practice and theory? Why is the sublime a problem? This is what we will attempt to unpack together by first comprehending its various layers and implications and then asking: what would it mean to be anti-sublime? Is it unsurpassable, how have artists challenged it as a limit in the past? What should we be aware of with regard to the sublime today? Viewing and referencing some examples of contemporary practice we will lean on J.F. Lyotard’s two influential essays on the sublime from his 1991 book The Inhuman to grasp a basic understanding of the sublime and its grip on art over the ages. Next, we will go over Thomas Metzinger’s simple but important idea that 'the self is not a thing but a process' and elaborate on his pivotal concepts of Transparency and Opacity signalling out their importance as guiding principles in the process of speculating and envisioning art practices that tackle certain fall backs and problems in the predominate forms of art being produced today. To this end, a simple introduction to Suhail Malik’s ‘On the Necessity of Art's Exit from Contemporary Art’ theorem will be sketched out to return to later in more detail.
- Lyotard, Jean-François. 1992. The Sublime and the Avant-Garde. The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, Stanford University Press, p. 89 – 107
- Lyotard, Jean-François. 1992. After the Sublime, the State of Aesthetics. The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, Stanford University Press, p. 135 – 143
- Metzinger, Thomas. 2009. The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self. New York: Basic Books, Introduction pages 1 - 12