HTDTWT: At the Limits of the Writerly: Which Dispositif? from Month to Month

Seminar 7: Tuesday May 23rd, 2017

In the spirit of the Eindhoven Caucus, and given this is our final class for the semester, in this month we will together revisit to survey the assemblage of theory and readings that ‘At the Limits of the Writerly’ /: ‘Which Dispositif’ has worked through the last two years at DAI.  We will consider the brainstorm, the diagram, the dialogue and the mind map as critical instruments for hanging together and intersecting existing and further inventive relations between the key theorists, arguments, concepts and provocations of the course. The aim is to pass on to ourselves a tangible blueprint or postcript that minimally archives not just fields of work but further possible compositional relations to the class's argumentation, from our use and ab-use of texts for different purposes. What to bring: 1) two key texts - ideally an existing summary of each - that have changed your relation to 'theory' or been of significant use or value to your thinking through and beyond the course; 2) a printout of the month-by-month class summaries and bibliography (Rachel will send (2) as a single doc).

Seminar 6: Tuesday April 25th, 2017

Land-based ethics and Mercantile culture

This session tracks ‘limits of the writerly’ in racial possessive logics of ‘real abstraction’ of land. Our two texts connect the financialization and dispossession of indigenous custodianship to philosophical-anthropological propertizations of indigenous ‘truth,’ and 'culture' by and for European humanist philosophy. The Australian ‘case’ continues to return to the seminar as a space of violently efficient ‘late modern’ apparatuses - ever resisted. We will read Brenna Bhandar on the mercantile origins of the Torrens Title land registry system, invented by the British Crown for experimentation in the colony in “the drive to render land as fungible as possible.” The efficiency of the Torrens system in managing swift dispossessions and ‘ease of transfer’ saw it quickly promoted and taken up by other British colonial and South East Asian states, before becoming the IMFs preferred instrument of propertization. 

In ‘Exporting Truth from Aboriginal Australia: ‘Portions of our Past Become Present Again where Only the Melancholy Light of Origin Shines’, media theorist Toby Miller argues that indigenous cultural agents have been “the most important Australian exporters of social theory and cultural production to the northern hemisphere over the past century”. In the style and spirit of negative critique, Miller notates the moderns’ deep fascination with sampling indigenous practices (in Georg Hegel, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, Frederick Engels, Gaetano Mosca, AR Radcliffe-Brown, Ruth Benedict, Talcott Parsons, Claude Levi-Strauss and Clifford Geertz among others), and classifying categories of the human, duty and social organisation as ‘clues’ to a lost, in-crisis, originary sociality and thus ‘convenient for experiments’ in continental thought. We will discuss the continuity and difference of curatorial operations in the present moment by reading together Danny Butt’s text ‘Colonial hospitality: rethinking curatorial and artistic responsibility’. 

Brenna Bhandar Title by Registration: Instituting Modern Property Law and Creating Racial Value in the Settler Colony, Journal of Law and Society,  VOLUME 42, NUMBER 2, JUNE 2015 

Toby Miller, ‘Exporting Truth from Aboriginal Australia: ‘Portions of our Past Become Present Again where Only the Melancholy Light of Origin Shines’’, Media Information Australia, No 76- May 1995.

Danny Butt, ‘Colonial hospitality: rethinking curatorial and artistic responsibility’. Journal of Artistic Research 10, April 2016.

Seminar 5: Monday March 13th, 2017

Planetary Dispositifs beyond Legal Infrastructure

In this Seminar, our focus on infrastructure/apparatuses, planetarity and the coloniality of power, come together in our visit to the Contour Biennale 8 in Mechelen. As preparation, we will think through both the increasing technologization of and ontological ‘otherwise’ to juridical modernist materialities through the work of Judy Radul and Elizabeth Povinelli.  

Radul’s text, ‘What was behind me now faces me: Performance, staging, and technology in the court of law’, begins with artist’s own literacy and reflexivity on the question and problem of representation, and how these come into increasing relief and contestation with the technologization and durable site-specificity of the court of law. She draws on the writing of artists and filmmakers on trials and presence (Eyal Sivan, Ivan Grubanov, and Dan Graham) alongside Rosalind Krauss’s work on the ‘post-medium condition’ (here, we might wish to revisit Krauss’ articulation of post-medium, vs  for example Manovich or Weibel), Cornelia Vismann’s influential work on video media in law, and constitutional legal theory, to think through the law’s transforming mediatic performativity, as textual production persists in interpretation and in case-making. The effect here is something like putting judges and juries in the role of ‘film reviewers of the real’, especially through live-feed and playback technologies. The im/possible work of justice as aesthetic pursuit and intelligibility is paralleled by the ‘legal interests’ of key film-philosophers Jean luc Godard and Gilles Deleuze, who see in film an expanded space of jurispudence.

Povinelli’s essay we are reading as a companion piece to, and articulation of the limited vocabulary (also for ‘culture’) of, marxist value theory (e.g. Moore in our Seminar). What Povinelli names as ‘otherwise’ across her work is the continuity of knowledge production and protocols, subsistence economics and non-human agential materialities in subaltern and indigenous life worlds, which, lived and practiced as a maintained and under-visible infrastructural ordinary, are entirely foreclosed by colonial modernist legal-forms. In Australia and other settler colonies, the limited rights that indigenous groups have to their resources are (only in the last half century) based on an adjudication of long durée occupancy, and the proven continuity and maintainence of an at-risk culture (this paradox) but not ownership, since the latter was articulated by colonial jurisprudence to be evidenced only through transformation of the environment by signs of ‘labour’—typically, cultivated crops, oriented towards surplus.[1] 

If the claims of non-surplus oriented land-based forms of life (‘immediate return’ cultures in anthropological parlance) are only seen as an explicit ‘detriment’ in colonial courts to national(ist) cultural futures—in holding up mineral extraction projects and futures especially—this is precisely were we meet the limits of liberal multicultural / capitalist environmentalism, but also the poverty of marxist vocabularies for knowing human action in and within land-based cultures of adjudication outside of and beyond the human. Here, “western disbelief” maintains “the subterranean machinations of Western cultural notions of production, value, leisure, and labor, their subjects and objects”. At this same place, in the work of Karrabing in the biennale (where Povinelli is a collective member) a cinematic practice attentive to colonial parallax produces alter-civilizational images reflexively machinating survivance.

Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Do Rocks Listen? The Cultural Politics of Apprehending Australian Aboriginal Labor, American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 97, No. 3. (Sep., 1995), pp. 505-518.

Judy Radul, What was behind me now faces me: Performance, staging, and technology in the court of law, Eurozine, 2 May 2007

[1] Here, it is worth mentioning that late symbolic re-cognitions of ‘hunter-gather’ rights in law are destabilized more materially in long overdue scholarship linking trade, land management and forms of ecological/agricultural intervention. See for example, Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. 

Seminar 4: Tuesday February 14th, 2017

Material contracts of the Infrastructural?

This seminar extends upon key questions surrounding the scope and plural analytics of the infrastructural, attending in particular to landscape and moving closer to law (the latter analytic will become a central focus in our March Seminar). Michel Serres, in the chapters ‘The Natural Contract’ and ‘Science/Law’ from his book The Natural Contract, articulates the relationship of western philosophy to anthropocentric conditions, through the floating bedrock of law. In modern western ‘natural law’, nature’s reason is reduced to human reason, and thus the universal subject’s contract with the world to the social contract only. Serres introduces the concept-metaphor of the parasite, one that confuses use and usery, to articulate forms of ecological usery among the human that might be regulated through an other articulation of contractual form that exceeds the human. Serres’ book here is a ‘new universalist’ writing of eco-social justice. We might approach it through the spread of investments in contemporary non-human rights discourses, as well as the very late spate of western interests in colonized/de-colonized indigenous lores of post-human sociality. We will discuss the ideality, normative and regulatory investments of this text hopefully in some detail. For those interested, the chapter that follows is recommended reading.

Pierre Belanger’s chapter ‘Is Landscape Infrastructure?’ is useful in binding together biophysical and industrial developmentalist readings of land-scaping ‘to bridge the anthropocene’s grown divide between political platforms of environment and economy. Questioning the analytic intent of recent reclamations of infrastructure “as a question and conundrum”, he turns to the politics of obscurity and environmental apartheid that are only about to be understood through ontologies ‘beyond engineering’. Through a method that Belanger calls ‘ontological recall’, we will consider the “non-mechanical,” “non-linear” and “non-stable” media of living systems as (potentially) infrastructure; and conversely, non-biologic, non-dynamic, and non-adaptive materials of infrastructure as constructed landscape and lived experience. To see these as symmetrically ‘gridlocked ideologies’ that, when kept apart, obscure software and hardwares of historical and contemporary forms of life, is to open up new readings of spaces of production and counterlogics articulate in contemporary conditions.

Serres, M. Ch 2 &3, The Natural Contract, Ann Arbour, The University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Belanger, P. ‘Is Lanscape Infrastructure?’, in Is Landscape…?, (ed. Gareth Doherty and Charles Waldheim), Routlege, New York. 2015.

Seminar 3: Tuesday January 17th, 2017

Cultures of and against Eco-dissolution

This month our seminar builds around the Roaming Academy event Infrastructural Rifts: Souls and Soils of Disaster Developmentalism, co-curated with farid rakun. Please read the full Roaming Academy introduction and compulsory readings, consider the optional readings also and be prepared to actively contribute to the Assembly itself.

We will address in our theory class relations between ‘development’, power, and writerly/aesthetic limits through two main texts.The first is the chapter ‘Toward a Genealogy of the Concept of Ritual’ from Talal Assad’s well known Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. It tracks the historical-discursive attempts of western philosophy to ideally separate religious practice from social and cultural categories of embodied form. Following from this may be a consideration of the relationship of the body to cultural technique, discipline, habit, affect etc as being (potentially) also infrastructural, according to our early definition provided by Larkin. 

The second reading, Jason E. Moore’s essay ‘The End of Cheap Nature. Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about “The” Environment and Love the Crisis of Capitalism’ is built solidly on the work of Marxist ecology and social reproductive feminism, and takes stock of the veritable arrival and consequences of the ‘end of cheap nature’ for thinking through the deep history and present operations of capital as a ‘world ecology’ and capitalism as ‘environment-making’. It is a useful text for periodising the present, and also to set in parallel to the dominant defensive use today of neoclassical economics by mainstream environmental NGOs, aiming to rationalize nature ‘out of production’.

Both texts in dialogue with the Roaming Academy symposium will contribute to our ongoing discussions of ‘The Writing of the No’ (Hillyer): negotiations with apparatuses and ungovernable subjectivity.

For students wishing to know more about post-war histories of eco-social destruction and large-scale infrastructure developments, the following (non-compulsory) texts will be useful or interesting:

Adam Curtis (film), Bitter Lake (only for the sections relating Roosevelt’s New Deal dam development in Afghanistan to the ‘war on terror’).

Rob Nixon,  ‘Unimagined Communities’ in Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.

Mark Davis, ‘Slum Ecology’ and especially ‘A Surplus Humanity?’ in Planet of Slums.

Benjamin Busch, Three Strikes You're Out: Habitat III's Doomed Urban Agenda

Further reading:

Clive L. Spash, ‘Bulldozing Biodiversity: The Economics of Optimal Extinction’

Recall also Marina Welker, ‘Corporate Security Begins in Community’ that we read for the ‘Infrastructural Poetics’ seminar in Jakarta 2015.

Seminar 2: Tuesday December 13th, 2016

This month we deal with infrastructure in relationship to the power and the coloniality of recognition. First we will review Althusser’s ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ less for his (uncontemporary) theory of the State than for an articulation of ideology’s relationship to the subject through a theory of ‘interpellation’ (which dialogue’s with the theory of dispositif we have encountered already in Foucault and Agamben). Infrastructure is defined traditionally in Althusser as: ‘the forces, the means, and the relations of production’, and superstructure as arising from infrastructure and consisting of ‘culture and ideology’. "Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence"(153) such that it " has a material existence"(155) Importantly here then, ideology is not a mental occupation or object (e.g. the impossibly individuated ‘decolonize your mind’) but consists of the actions and behaviours of bodies governed by their disposition within material apparatuses. Here, the ‘obviousness’ or givenness of the subject is itself an effect of ideology, the functions of which are “recognition” and “misrecognition” (which we will further interrogate in Bhandar’s colonial critique). It is through "interpellation" that we carry ideology in processes of ritual, individuation, deindividuation. This goes against the classical definition of the subject as cause and substance, emphasising instead how the situation always precedes the (individual or collective) subject. (Althusser’s ‘anti-humanist’ binding of Marx and psychoanalysis here goes on to impact e.g. Benedict Anderson on Imagined Communities whose work we re-encountered in Indonesia, Lauren Berlant on affect and state fantasy, many others.)

In Brenner Bhandar and Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller’s essay, ‘Law, Sovereignty, and Recognition’, from a recent collection of essays on Catherine Malabou’s work, we will work through a colonial critique of, and engagement with Malabou’s new materialist theoriziation of plasticity, to think through the never-closed historical and ontologized gap between propertied and indigenous subjectivity at the core of western legal order, and how all engagements with modernist-colonial infrastructures are managed and reproduced to ‘mind the gap’. We are interested in this essay for how it sets up in particularthe impracticality of being ‘done’ with identity-formations, reactivities and resistances (vis a vis the coloniality of law), with a highly reflexive and persistently anti-colonial articulation of what in Malabou is conceived as the gap between the biological and the symbolic that make possible trans-valuations, regime problematizations and ruptures that can potentially stage meaningful confrontations with the naturalness of a colonial infrastructural and legal imperium. The essay leads us to land as infrastructure and counter-infrastructure of/to global capitalism, and to consider forms, and aesthetic comportments, that navigate this.

Students will review the film ‘How Ideology Moved our Collective Body’ on the socialist history of Yugoslavia read through public performances, directed by Marta Popivoda, inspired by a two-year research project, Performance and the Public, developed by Ana Vujanović, Bojana Cvejić, and Marta Popivoda 2011-2012.

Seminar 1: Tuesday October 25th, 2016

The ‘dispositif’ or apparatus is a concept inherited from film and media philosophy and post-structuralist theories of governmentality that is able to gather together questions of comportment, movement and relation around non-suspended infrastructures. In this first class we will read ‘Infrastructures as Ontological Experiments’ by Casper Bruun Jensen and Atsuro Morita, with Agamben’s text, ’What is an Apparatus?’ in order to gather together what Anna Poletti interviewing Chris Kraus appreciates as “the anthropology of the setup” in experimental writing that performs consciousness of de/re subjectivization.

The anthropologist Brian Larkin (in Jensen and Morita) defines infrastructures as ‘objects that create the grounds on which other objects operate,’ and as ‘things and also the relation between things.’ Infrastructures involve complex relations of modeling and experimentation; they are not only foundational to certain models of civilization, they are also generative of politics, society and environment systems.

Agamben argues in ‘What is an Apparatus?’ that in our current phase of late capitalism has witnessed a proliferation of new apparatuses to capture every moment and facet of life, such that new apparatuses subjectify precisely by desubjectifying. This is the religious element of contemporary life that is constantly ‘delivering’, despite whatever urgencies or breaks are articulated by production crises. It is through apparatuses that we “assume the legacy of the providential governance of the world”. These apparatuses can be resisted in ways that bring to light what he calls “the Ungovernable, which is the beginning and, at the same time, the vanishing point of every politics”. How can we use both texts to de-naturalize or suspend differently the infrastructures that we are attentive to, employ and are deployed by in our work? How does a thinking of infrastructure enable us to re-think, for example, presentism, sovereignty, and self-identicalism in ways that expand and challenge our writing as writing?

Spivak, G. An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Cambridge,. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Barthes, R. S/Z. (trans. Richard Miller), Blackwell, 1974.

Agamben, G. ‘What is An Apparatus? And Other Essays, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.

Jensen, C B, and Morita, A. Infrastructures as Ontological Experiments

Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 1 (2015), 81-87.

Poletti, Anna. ‘The Anthropology of the Setup: A Conversation with Chris Kraus.’ Contemporary Women’s Writing 10.1 (2016): 123-135.