[Quick quote] Levinas: Existence and Existents

June 13, 2010

Now off to bed, long after I should be… The Monstrosity of Christ is very good though. Zizek’s on form (and as repetitive in his sources and anecdotes) as ever. I am still quite impressed with just how he goes through Christianity to get to atheism, with all dialectical guns blazing in the process, even though I’m familiar with the logic of this story already. . . it’s like watching a particularly impressive magic trick again.  Also, seems to be using an awful lot of Chesterton, but to good effect… The comparison of The Man Who Was Thursday with V for Vendetta was especially intriguing.

“these seats are for paying customers only”

June 11, 2010

Ever high-street in England could be a duplicate of the next. Or at least, in some of my more angst filled moments, it seems that way. Franchised coffee houses, bars and pubs have appropriated whatever architectural spaces they can find to install the same mass made signs and shop fronts. In Brighton there are areas designated called ‘The Lanes’ kept for quirky and semi-exclusive shops and boutiques which have unique and extravagant building decoration. These shops are classic bo-ho fashion and retro cool intermixed with other petite-bourgeois delights such as the now mainstream tattoo parlour and high quality organic food shops. But many places are not quite as ‘lucky’ as Brighton to have such shops. And what’s more, these shops are the domain of the tourist budget and generally serve more of an aesthetic appeal for many Brighton residents. It seems that there is a distinct lack of spaces to gather and places such as pubs, bars and cafes are tempered with the banal mood music of the easy-listening safe list, and those which don’t play up to the mass market appeal of a popular brand are reserved for quirky and idiosyncratic establishments that pack a premium for the exclusivity. The only areas where there is a non-monetarily driven opening are churches and spiritual ‘friends’ meeting houses, which always feel like they have other, let’s say, meta-physical transactions in mind. What is most striking for me is the absolute lack of places to gather that are not over-determined in function or don’t have a profit incentive for their existence. Jameson was right to note that the ‘end of history’ actually mean the end to non-capitalist space.

Take any art or media complex and you will see that although many galleries and exhibitions are free and thus ‘public’ spaces, it is the surrounding zones which promote a form of elitism (and therefore class division – in terms of which members of the public can use the area for social assembly). It is not the arts themselves which are elitist but their associative environments. For example, “Mozart belonged to the poor in the upper stalls who spent their last dollars to see the opera. Far from making the exclusive temple of high art more accessible, it is the very surrounding of expensive cafeterias etc. which is effectively exclusive and “elitist.”, as Zizek notes in Architectural Parallax. Jameson and Zizek agree, it is the trick of the postmodern to play up to the ‘end of ideology’ motif at the ‘end of history’, and it is thus these places of supposed openness and equality that replicate ideology at its purest.

Even libraries are designed not as a place for groups to gather but studious individuals and book lovers to go and keep quiet. The library is the sacred space of Gutenberg Man, the reader of the printed page, which as McLuhan noted, produced the alienated individual enframed by the linearity and repeatability of the movable typed phonetic alphabet. This abstract uniformity of visual space on the printed page works in distinction to the variables of speech and the acoustic space it necessitates. Libraries can be entered by anyone, but their logic as spaces of social production is definitively individualistic: one pursues ones interests and tastes in literature, history and so on within the muted environment of a speechless vacuum. This is perhaps why some of the more interesting architectural projects in inner-city areas are focused around the rejuvenation of libraries (as an investment in libraries is an investment into the social reproduction of the liberal subject, although now libraries are sites of internet terminals and newspaper archives, so maybe they are polyvalent media zones that replicate the pastiche of late-modern thinking). This is not a call for a stop to libraries as a way out of capitalism, it is only a reflection on the ideas of McLuhan’s media theory that gives a second more questing look towards the library book maelstrom, to which I’m sure the ubiquitously applauded library can handle. It is curious that libraries are meant to be dying and illiteracy in school children rising when these are supposed to be the hallmarks of the literate, rational, liberal subject. Libraries take on an especially disconcerting character, as some of the last vestiges of covered and open public space for quiet literary consumption, as what ever was left of a sense of community for many towns and cities has been decimated under the excessive presence of super-shopping centres and supermarkets.

The phenomenon of out-of-town shopping centres, and supermarkets (which, ironically, are both in and out of town) shows a logic of the architectural envelope that requires mechanisms of spatial displacement that promote huge crowd volumes and threshold populations. To enclose public spaces but allow for a smooth flux and flow of people in and out of artificially controlled environmental micro-climates (through air conditioning and electric lighting) produces, as Alejandro Zaera Polo claims, a politically charged zone in conflictual relationship with the locality (due to their brutal prefabricated construction). These types of structure usually have  flat and horizontal envelopes and are privatized and strictly controlled. The atmosphere is sterile and homogeneous, where  the flat and effortlessly smooth ground allows for complete focus upon the shop front rather than concern for ones feet. The experience is one of intensive commodity ‘wonder’ with a reification of spacial reality through shining white and mirrored surfaces. Hygienic sterility is an imperative to maintain at all times, to keep a high quality gloss to the surroundings, making shopping as ‘pleasurable’ as possible: this hygiene includes human and non-human pollutants, as private security teams militantly patrol the entrances to check for ‘hoodies’, baseball capped youths, and other ‘unsightly’ reprobates. The spaces are not public or private but a privatized public, with the shopping centre as the centre of consumer life, where the ‘Mall’, as it is known across the pond, is naturalized and mocked by films such as Kevin Smith’s Mallrats and even built into utopian fantasies of super abundant societies, such as The Venus Project.

I’m not sure if many people have heard of The Venus Project but it is basically a utopian pseudo fantasy masquerading as politically revolutionary thought. The first thing that sprang to mind while gazing at the glossy architecture porn that makes up the bulk of the site’s content was Fredrick Jameson’s notion that capitalism colonizes the future through finance capital and land speculation, and as such, architecture is the closest of all the arts to replicating economic models rather than breaking them. Jameson quotes Manfredo Tafuri’s assertion that “one cannot ‘anticipate’ a class architecture (an architecture for a liberated society)”. To which Jameson follows with:

The conclusion of which is a condemnation of architectural fantasies such as The Venus Project. It takes the logic of, as Zizek would say, ‘ecology as the opium for the masses’, where the delicate balance of nature is appeased and man has learned to act as one with natural forces to create a harmonious society of leisure and spiritually driven subjects. The ‘pleasure’ of such a rationality controlled collective of control runs contra to the aesthetic sublime and jouissance of modernist architecture that aimed to change the mode of social production, not glorify the bourgeois fantasy of infinite leisure time. The Venus project has very little in the way of sociological critique, and seems to think that one can transplant society, as it is, into a new society of perfectly sustainable super-abundance without need to reconsider public (work) and private (family) formations that wouldn’t be solved by the replacement of the workforce by robotic automation. My gripes about the possibilities of space and the architecture that generates such spaces are not to be solved through such naive utopian fantasy (although I am not against utopianism or fantasy, but only when it is done with a sense of a genuine break, rather than apologetics for the status quo). Jameson argues that architecture reveals the historical materialism of the economic (capitalism), while architecture’s exterior is the economic conditions that influence the design as a judgement of history itself. The problem with The Venus Project is that it conflates the aesthetic for the political and the desires of today for the desires of the future. As Jameson states…

The desire for radical change to both our private and our public places comes, for me, through the sight of the city malls and high streets succumb to a non-place logic of consumption that undermines non-normative social practises and opportunities of assembly. But, in thinking and theorizing about architecture it is important to take not only an ideological view (for which Jameson criticizes Tafuri), but also a phenomenological view. It is through experience that architecture (as a singular building or considered as a total city) creates affective changes. I see architecture not as an epiphenomena of social ideologies but a sight that retroactively transforms the subject through its phenomenological engagement with it. In Understanding Media (which I’m sure is not the first thing many architectural theorists reach for) McLuhan views architecture as something that, through its forms, changes our perceptions of visual and tactile space and displaces ‘equilibriums’ between our senses and changes our ‘attitudes and preferences’. This phenomenological dimension needs to be considered not only from the inside of the building/city/zone itself, but also from the perspective of planning itself.

Architectural art, such as that seen on The Venus Project website, should be viewed through both ideological and phenomenological lenses: as a Marlau-Ponty style ‘reading’ of art would see, art is not just a visual field of experience but a tactile one, where the viewer is transported into the projected world of the image and gathers a sensual impression from its figures and forms. The feeling I get from the pictures on The Venus Project is of a kind of bourgeois leisure paradise, an anaesthetized dream image of rationally dominated landscapes eliminated of risk, surprise and contingency. There’s no intensive exertion or activity, just the feeling of a polymorphically perverse amniotic zone of total control and tamed nature. As Tafuri explicitly states, such ideological fantasies are a drive for “constant victory over the uncertainty of the future”, this envisioned utopia becomes capitalist real abstraction, its ‘judgement of history’.

So, as Jameson testifies, a revolutionary architecture is not possible to create from within the framework of capitalist social relations and the desires thus associated, but through the contingency of a break/reclamation of the reified space that enables an architecture that confirms the disequilibrium of such a space. Zizek suggests that we reclaim spaces known as ‘spandrels’, which is an architectural term for the forms and spaces left as a by-product of the design process. These are “interstitial spaces” are the site of appropriation, as they are the contingent opening for possible non-normative function. This reclamation of excess is what Zizek calls exaptation, where something is used for a purpose other than which it was specified, where the design feature can be used as an accident of the design or adaptive process. Either way, my guess is that this exaptation works in the same sense as Marx understood the factory as a site of class struggle for the workers, as the inventiveness of a child who transforms any environment into a playground, and as the students who ‘occupy everything’. Just as Zizek argues we should not aim to destroy the state but to make the state do something it is not meant to do, I feel the same way for the architectural playgrounds that are our cities.

I want to work at lot more on issues around architecture in the future (namely the distinction between the inside/outside, and architecture taken in the context of the personal and the social – what Jameson calls ‘cognitive mapping’, and re-reading Heidegger’s Building Dwelling Thinking) which has been largely inspired by Owen Hatherly’s book Militant Modernism, which I suggest you check out (or just look at his blog, if you get the chance   HERE).

[Quick compare] Bernini with Von Trier

June 11, 2010

The Antichrist (2009) – Lars Von Trier

Having watched Antichrist last night and thought it was excellent (and not at all like an “art house fart” as one critic commented. True, the black and white image saturated by the non-diegetic operatic soundtrack does have a slight taste of art house cliché about it, but, as Deleaze says, every artist approaches the canvass already virtually filled with cliché and has to break with it on their own terms.), I would give a quick post to a certian juxtraposotion that sprang to mind during the viewing.

A theologian and a materialist walked into a barred nature…

June 11, 2010

Having just had to take a couple of longish bus journeys, I got the chance to listen to two audio lectures by two provocative but very different thinkers. The first was Adrian Johnston’s paper read at the Real Objects or Material Subjects conference and the other was Anthony Paul Smith’s paper ‘Nature is not’, where and when it was given I don’t know. It was pure chance that I listened to these side by side but they were essentially a response to each other.

Adrian was arguing against Zizek’s appropriation of theological language in his Janus-faced like stance in both hypostasizing death drive as a supplementary third level of reality over and above a barred nature (or weak/incomplete nature) and culture (the barred symbolic), and also rejecting this hypostasis by defining death drive as the negativity of the pleasure principle’s disruptive malfunctioning, its inability to assert it’s intrapsychical hegemonic dominance. Death drive is that monstrous thing that opens the space for freedom, which is not natural freedom a la Kant, but a non-natural compulsion that needs mastering: human freedom is in nature more than nature itself (nature is auto-negating of its own dictates). It is the mastering of death drive that produces culture which retroactively transforms its own nature (this is essentially the Zizekian reading of Hegelian totality).

Adrian wanted to re-assert and remind Zizek of his proper materialist materialism and to encourage the understanding of neuro-plasticity favourable to brain science research (rather than considering them antagonistic to each other). Adrian brings Zizek’s ontology of the monstrous partial subject in line with contemporary scientific work concerning the brain as ‘kludge’ – a work around, ‘quick and dirty’ solution to a problem – something that just about works, but is by no means perfect, and is confident of neuroscience / dialectical materialism hybrid as attempted in his recent and continuing work with Catherine Malabou.

When Adrian’s lecture has finished I fired up Anthony’s lecture focused upon the axiom ‘nature is not reducible to matter or to the idea of matter’. Essentially, he is replying to the calls of Zizek and Badiou to get rid of nature to be replaced with an ‘ecology without nature’. This is also seen in the work of Latour, but I feel, should be separate from Zizek as he has made it clear he disagrees with Latour’s notion of ‘we have never been modern’. To Anthony, these philosopher’s claim ‘the earth is just a mite in the eye of the universe’, which I feel is note quite what these philosophers have in mind but is a strong rhetorical statement that tallies with the notion of death drive as some kind of irritant of nature. Although Anthony’s lecture wasn’t that long or detailed, it’s call was for one of non-Decision as to nature, rather than a decision on immanence or transcendence.

One of the more interesting aspects of the recording of Adrian’s paper was the quasi-voyeuristic and accidental recoding of the conversation after the paper between Adrian and John Mullarkey. The conversation concerns animality and notions of the human. John, a die-hard vegetarian (and on a side note, I think looks like the bad guy from Die Hard 2), asks Adrian why does one need to be a humanist to be a materialist, as this drags along the baggage of human exceptionalism rather than, as John advocates, degrees of difference? Adrian says that language generates qualities of the brain that we don’t see elsewhere, to which John counters, that is in danger of reinvesting ideological baggage (almost theological) into a materialist humanism. John introduces the need for a generic humanity rather than an ideological one, to which Adrian responds favourably. The notion of a generic humanity is clearly John’s Laruellian influence shining through, as in the paper ‘Principles of a generic ethics’ Laruelle sets out an ethics of the ‘generic human’ based upon the thinking the human-in-the-last-instance according to the Real – as the human does not think towards the Real but is always already within the Real in its immanence, not delivered over from it from a Neoplatonic source.

This notion of a ‘generic humanity’ ties in with the direction of Anthony’s project of a non-theological critical piety, where a Decision qua Real as immanence or transcendence has not been made. This opens up the practise of a speculative philosophy of religion that absorbs Meillassoux’s criticisms of contemporary fidism with a renewed sense of reason. I am keen to not only read these works of non-philosophy infused meditations on religion but also John’s next book, which he told me will be based on a non-philosophy reading of theories of animality, which should be a serious questioning of the exceptionalism he sees in Lacanian infused negative ontologies (which, to me, seem to be reworking of the old Heideggerian worldless-worldpoor-worlded tripartite hierarchical separation of essences). Either way, the non-philosophy approach will be at the forefront of my mind while reading The Monstrosity of Christ over the next few days (as Milbank seemed enthusiast but quite hostile to non-philosophy at the Laruelle conference in Nottingham, and Zizek, I think, is yet to mention it at all).

[Quick quote] Zizek & Milbank: The Monstrosity of Christ (p.3)

June 7, 2010

After listening to some John D. Caputo lectures on this book and around issues of negative and radical theology in general, I’m quite looking forward to getting stuck into this theology vs materialism battle in the next few days. According to Caputo, Zizek’s use of Meister Eckhart is a bit shady as he never quotes from primary sources, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he does like from Eckhart, especially as my run-ins with Eckhart a few years ago left me with my view of Christianity totally blown apart. This was reinforced by Caputo’s Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought was one of the first secondary sources on Heidegger I read and probably one of the best written.

To begin from the beginning…

June 7, 2010

Yes, I haven’t posted for a long time and this, for me, is like I’m starting from scratch but without the rigmarole of setting up a new site. As Badiou is so fond of quoting from Beckett “Try again. Fail again. Fail better“. I thought, to get myself off the mark once again, that I should explain a little about the title of my blog.

To avoid the void is to ignore the void that founds the ground of ones existence. The void, to put it in Badiouian terms (a philosopher whose concepts I’m becoming ever more accustomed to thinking through), is that which is not counted in the state of any situation, yet founds the presentation of that state. Although when I first thought of ‘Avoidingthevoid’ I wasn’t thinking specifically of Badiou, but was in fact referring to an absolutely pointless coupon that gets spat out by the QuickTicket machine at most British railway stations. It is the excremental excess of, what must be, a software problem that would be too difficult/time consuming/unprofitable to fix. Having in my hand this ticket and laughing manically for a few moments, I envisioned a closet existentialist NetworkRail computer engineer insisting that to fix the problem would require a complete overhaul of the system (while deviously rubbing her hands with the thought of thousands of commuters everyday presented with a slab of existential irony). The commuter, the archetypal purveyor of the average-everyday, is the avoider of the void par excellence: my fantasy mythical commuter determines and over determines their life-world everyday through clockwork repetition and habit. The expectation is that is seamless continuity, or at least expected dis-continuity (this is the British railway network we’re talking about here, after all) and as such the world of engagement is that of normalized relation and  anticipation. The smooth movement from A-B is filled with the contingencies of the day, but only as they prove to be variations of figures within a formalized and structural norm. The commuter does not dare look for the exception, does not dare be perturbed by the odd ranting nutter, a delay due to a ‘fatality on the track at Clapham Junction’ or the ‘miserable’ British weather. No, they plod on through these things to reach their destination, unimpressed by the distractions of the day. Avoiding the void is the everyday act of a routinized nature and it is with a hint of irony that I called the blog ‘avoidingthevoid’, not as a description of the task of this blogger, but the activity I would try to be avoiding.

Recently I was fortunate enough to have participated in something that gave me a shock to thought, a true deterritorialization and experience of the velocity of flux (to put it in sexy Deleuzian terms). Take a look at this book if you’re curious  HERE The result of this was not a kind of Heideggerian authentic resolute being-towards-death ‘F5 refresh’ style re-orientation, but a glimpse at just how withdrawn the average-everyday is from this encounter with the unnameable: it is the unnameable that proves the singularity of the truth. Now, as the days role on, I’m finding it a more pressing need to try and provoke myself into approaching this site once again, but through what at first feel seems the impotent medium of language.

To articulate something means to bring into joint the out of joint. Linguist expression is the articulation of an analysis (which means to break up). The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that to say anything is an act of bravery and to say something new is an act of revolution. In this sense, I agree wholeheartedly with the ruminations of the object-oriented philosophers (specifically Harman) when they talk about overdetermined objects as those ‘elemental’ things we must build with, use and abuse in order to create a new style, a new level of the world or in Badiouian terms, a new Truth.

I’m sure Harman would not agree on lumping him in with Badiou, but like I said before, I’m finding Badiou’s concepts quite fecund at the moment, especially to understand recent (pseudo) political activity of the election. I’m trying to reconcile Laruelle’s comments about Badiou as a modern and not a contemporary philosopher (defined through the Decision of his mathematical ontology), with Badiou’s politics and my own social discontents. This reconciliation does involve OOP, although I feel it to be more relative to Bryant’s OOO than Harman’s, for as a truly ‘realistic’ contemporary political trajectory to be thought. It is for this reason that I’m starting to blog again, as blogging is by its nature a public display of ones creative juices there is the necessity of exposure that is both confessional and communal. In this sense, blogging is the contemporary retrieval of the art of confession for the post-panoptically enmeshed subject: if your going to be watched then you might as well make it interesting, try and dissolve some of those overdetermined elemental objects that construct the everyday. This is not to reveal any hidden essence or to fetishize difference in-itself, but to not be sutured to a fidelity of a simulacrum that avoids the void for the sake of a closed particularity of an abstract set (i.e, don’t live a lie).

Object-oriented presentation

February 4, 2010


This is a link to the audio recording for my presentation on:

Object-Oriented Philosophy:

Weird Realism and aesthetics as first philosophy

at Sussex University last week. There were some good questions put forward and many interested responses to my quick remarks about Quentin Meillassoux’s Spectral Dilemma.

I won’t upload the paper itself, but I’m working on a long post concerning art, aesthetics and OOP which should be up in the next few weeks. As I’m working a lot and occupied with a tonne of reading (rather than writing), it may have to wait until I’ve digested some really important sources (such as Ortega y Gasset, Danto, Adorno, and some art history) that should help with the aforementioned article.

Overview of ‘Unit Operations’ by Ian Bogost (part 1)

February 4, 2010

This is a structured series of notes on the book to give an overview of its contents and its main arguments. I don’t have any problems with the book, and consider it a well written, entertaining and provocative book that I will no doubt re-read and recommend. Never before have I encountered any analysis of any kind with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City interwoven with James Joyce’s Ulysses. Truly bizarre, yet it works, because of the ‘unit operations’ active in both mediums.

The complaint that computer games are ‘not the real world’ is as unconvincing as the idea that reading is ‘pure escapism’. When we watch movies or television, read book and listen to radio we are not somehow disconnected from the world and vaulted into a virtual reality beyond out own, one which is less valuable serious and meaningful than the everyday world of our concern. When we do these things we are engaged with ‘unit operations’. Bogost’s book is an important comparative textual study that considers any modus operandi encouraged by any medium to be worthy of the same level of textual analysis. Using examining video games, movies and literature at the level of its unit operations, Bogost can illustrate the core meaningful units of expression these mediums demonstrate. I believe this to be a valuable book, as it places disparate mediums onto an equal level of intellectual importance and thus undermines medium specific elitism.

The ‘unit operation’ is contrasted with the term ‘system operations’. A unit is a building block, a materiel element that makes up a system or is autonomous as a system itself. It can be any object, human or non-human (just like Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy) yet also “encompass the material manifestations of complex, abstract, or conceptual structures such as jealousy, racial tension, and political advocacy” (p.5). “An operation is the means by which something executes some purposeful action”. Together the ‘unit operation’ is a powerful measure of meaning that is necessarily universally applicable, which bypasses the form/content problem by unfolding at every level.

Unit operations are modes of meaning-making that privilege discrete, disconnected actions over deterministic, progressive systems” (p.3). Unit and system analysis can encompass a wide selection of fields such as “software technology, physics and cybernetics”, but most interestingly, unit operations are also applicable to literary theory, as unit operations “interpret networks of discrete readings” while “system operations interpret singular literary authority”. Systems are still needed, but they are no longer rigid deterministic structures: they are the “spontaneous and complex result of multitudes rather than singular and absolute holisms”. Bogost gives the name ‘unit analysis’ to the type of practise based upon the “discovery and exposition of unit operations at work in one or many source texts” (p.15).

A distinction is needed between systems that are controlled at the level of of units, which “derive meaning from the interrelations of their components” and from systems which “regulate meaning for their constituents”. Works of literature, economies and anatomies are all system assemblages of units, but are not held rigidly in place by a deterministic totalizing structure. Systematization is an explanatory process that Bogost wants to banish from unit operational analysis. Systematization represents the quest for “stability, linearity, universalism, and permanence”, it is problem of Gestell (enframing) that Heidegger saw as the fleeing from being into technological determinism, as everything would be ordered to stand by for our calculated use (p.6). In contrast to this, Bogost asserts the important of complex systems over deterministic systems, as they open new possibilities and formations, rather than limiting them. We cannot escape from systems, just as we cannot escape from technology, thus instead of fleeing from it we should look to the “possible reconfiguration of its elements” (p.7). This reminds me of the Malabou’s notion of plasticity derived from her Hegelian-deconstructive approach to neuroscience, where the brain is a closed system yet the subject has a certain plasticity in its ability to morph into new formations.

It is evident that Bogost’s comparative literature background has had a profound impact on his work. Rather than specializing or undermining in one area, he opens up credible and well thought analyses in the areas of movies, literature and gaming that cuts across each other to reveal the unit operations that sustain them as meaningful worldly mediums of engagement. To get to this stage, however, Bogost takes us through a mini history of the systems bias in literary theory, computation and media analysis, but one that is challenge by his ontology which is is influenced by Spinoza, Badiou, Deleuze and Harman. The systematization of Levi-Strauss’ cultural myths and the predefined windowless monads structured through divine order of Leibniz are rigid deterministic systems in contrast to the open universe of Spinoza’s nature=God and the set as multiplicity of multiplicities of Badiou’s set theory ontology. The set is never a unity and thus underscores the problems of configuration at the heart of all kinds of structures. Bogost understands the ‘set’ in his terms as a ‘unit’, where he acknowledges the ‘count as one’ as “closest extant philosophical concept” to what he calls unit operations: “an understanding largely arbitrary, certainly contingent, of a particular situation, compared and taken as a whole” (p.13). It is this counting mechanism that configures the set as a distinct unit. The mathematical representation draws in computational as well as philosophical and cultural analysis together, springing the potentiality of a comparative procedural criticism.

It is important to note that the unit operation is not just a critical tool we can wield in front of any text. It is an intrinsic part of the texts themselves. Unit operations have a textual and critical existence. It is the job of the critical analyst to examine how these unit operations work with each text, whether computer game or literary classic. For example, Bogost analyses the unit operations of Spielberg’s The Terminal, with Tom Hanks. He draws the conclusion that ‘uncorroborated waiting’ is the main unit operation of the film. A unit operational analysis is based on the procedures that medium is demonstrating, not on any narrative structure. Unit operation, as a procedure measure of meaning cuts across mediums and exhibits their main message, whereas narrative, as Bogost will later examine, is not quite so simple to define. Therefore, his film analysis succeeds, as he thinks the film does, not because of its aesthetic or narrative attractions, but on the importance and profundity of waiting as a procedure part of the viewers watching experience. The point of the film is not the story, as such, but the unit operations that are demonstrated and held together by the “glue” of the story.

Bogost goes on to examine linguistics, post structuralism and the work of Slavoj Zizek in order to show how the relationship between unit and structure cannot be determined entirely from above or below. For instance, Levi-Strauss distinction between langue (structure) and parole (content) of language focused upon the systemic structure that gives shape and meaning to what is articulated through signs. The structuralism of Levi-Strauss examined myths at a structural level, grouping them through their units of meaning, rather than their contingent content. The post-structuralist used the parole/langue understanding of meaning but placed emphasis not on its systemic stability, but on the instability of meaningful sign systems, and the stability of supposedly universal unit operations. Deconstruction’s emphasis on the polysemic was aimed to perpetually destabilize totalizing systems, yet deconstruction itself could be said to be a closed system of the eternal recurrence of the same system: of fundamental instability prioritized over stability. Badiou thus characterized Derrida as an anti-philosopher of polysemic deconstruction which results, critically, in “polyvalance over truth” (p.25). Instead of prioritizing instability, Badiou’s sets, as well as Bogost’s unit operations place system and unit operations on a non-hierarchical plateaux by defining the unit/set as a unity defined as a multiplicity of multiplicities.

To be continued

The nausea of philosophy

January 31, 2010

At a Nietzsche conference in Oxford last year, I heard an inspiring paper presented by Dr Gudrun von Tevenar. She gave an eerily penetrating and dark profile of the feeling of ‘ekel’ as a kind of lost instinct. In translation, this is something like nausea and disgust, but apparently, in the German, it has a more shocking gravity and meaning which doesn’t resonate in the English translation. The use of this nauseating-disgust (ekel) at all things ugly and unclean allows for a turning away, to avoid contact. However, ekel is more of an instinctive judgment mechanism than a psycho-physical problem. This reaction, according to Nietzsche, was the original form of moral judgement for physical, ethical and mental health. Much in the same way dogs sniff each other in a mode of semi-formal etiquette. It is a close examination which still keeps the other at a distance.

For Nietzsche, intellectual ekel is needed if we are to learn to stretch distances between that which is clean and unclean, a free-spirit from the herd and the strong from the weak. After 2000 years of slave morality we have been taught to lose this ordering mechanism, this visceral affection that acts as a barometer for what is ‘good’.Nietzsche wants to affirm life but only through relearning what it means to live and seeking out the affirming while condemning that which is against life. Nietzsche advises we need to relearn to judge the wholesomeness of people much like we judge the wholesomeness of fruit. For Nietzsche ‘the “entrails” of every soul are physiologically perceived by him… ‘smelled’.

Once this has be re-learned, Nietzsche wrote that redemption from ekel comes from keeping a distance, where one must drink from the well not poisoned by the unclean and try to keep good company and solitude. However, withdrawal from others by escaping it in a kind of ascetic purity is not affirming life. Tevnar made a final comment about Zarathustra going back down to the people once he had overcome the ekel that had previously hounded him, once he had laughed a powerful laugh of affirmation, the fearless laugh of someone who dances over the abyss, the ‘laughter of height’ and not of the herd.

To philosophize is to turn towards the ekel that causes the pulse to quicken, for ground to become figure and to be estranged within the world again. As Heidegger said, it is easy for one to occupy oneself with ‘philosophy’, hence he favoured the term ‘thinking’, as a pre-philosophical move against the Platonic representational lichtung [clearing]. I have too readily engaged myself in ‘philosophy’ and not ‘thinking’ and thus need to begin again to examine the world not through the distant and stoic mind of the ‘philosopher’ who stands by and watches the world go by, but to face the ekel of a non-representational world. Ekel is not Sartrean nausea or Heideggerian angst, but a non-representational manner of approaching objects afresh each time. Zarathustra’s affirmative laughter is the non-categorical behaviour that dissolves those habitual responses that guide us to endlessly repeat the same elemental abstractions to the detriment of our lived experiences. Ekel is an instinct to to let the anxiety of change and change open new worlds.

The shape of thought to come: Musings on The Ornette Coleman Quartet

January 7, 2010

I take jazz improvisation to be a model for permanent revolution in society at large” Eugene Holland, Deleuze and Music

The album Ornette! is electrifying. The fluctuating pitter-patter cross rhythms and squeaky choppy eruptions of unexpected sounds feel like they’re blasting Being apart with snare and sax. Patterns grow and fade-out becoming intense with a gradated tempo and flickering motifs of delightful repetitions with a difference. There’s a forcefulness to it, an aggression one could say, but in the sense of trying to create new objects, unthought objects. To make objects that burst out between the gaps of the apparatus of mobilized rational society, its marketed castrated intensities and conceptualized modes of living.

The Quartet float out effervescent enunciations, crystalline things that re-set the rhythm of you body from an ordered structured clock time of contiguity and predictability to one a liquidated dimension of the joyful uncalculated being-there. This music is a sensual drenching, a celebration and reminder of the edifying and contingent experience of being that erupts in the gap between the thing and nothing. If consciousness is memory, as Bergson would proclaim, the experience of listening to music is the pattern matching of ever new layers of fresh memories. Memories that come and go yet linger on as remembrances of patterns and intensities.

The Quartet acts like a de-tuning process, taking one away from the register of the world as concepts, as structure, as order, yet forms these things organically, harmonizing to patterned resonance, disarray and back again. They play in the cracks, filling them up, bursts them open to let our ears feast on the fertile-soils and strange ripe fruits that are passed over by the unadventurous.

The freejazz of the Quartet is the finest example of a playful music of sporadic rapid movements between experimental existences. There is no imperative of beat, tempo and direction. The instruments wrap themselves around each other, like interweaving rainforest undergrowth that symbiotically spread and multiply. It is jarring, distorted and uneven; it strikes as rough waves of noise, especially if one is used to calmer warm seas that caress you in polymorphically perverse comfort. Beat chop and change, waves splash, bubble and morph into eddies and currents that move with relentless creative force. However, it is not random and neither is it anarchic. The weeping sounds that open Peace are not unstructured as such, but create an ephemeral mood that is welcomed like Rumi’s guests at his Guest House: “A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!”.

There is an emotional logic of sensation, as Deleuze would say, an instantaneously apprehended magnitude, where the irrational logic of a spasmodic sharp spontaneous reaction lingers in the memory-consciousness of the listener and player. Understood as a unit operation, it is “an understanding, largely arbitrary, certainly contingent, of a particular situation, compacted and taken as whole”. It is the procedure implementation of non representational randomness where man experiences himself as an accident… and likes it.

The Quartet do not battle against their sound’s structure like musical deconstructionists, but create in the playful seriousness of children’s games which morph through praxis that feeds back into the memory of a malleable given of the game structure. The music of the Quartet is not in fear of structure.However, there is always a fidelity to the enterprise of their collaboration: the fidelity is not to a mood, a sound, a rhythm or a idea, but to the exploration of the unknown and unforeseen.

The form and content of the music is creative and fecund. There is no obligation or expectation other than in playing with the possibilities of objects created by sax, drums and bass. These possibilities are generated inside the immediacy of their local assemblage, the apparatus by which they speak being from the depths. I feel in freejazz, the light and lightness of a deterritorialized line of flight, the permanent revolution of subjectivized freedom whose message is echoed in the instructions of Deleuze and Guattari who can bring this article to a close:

“This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight…” (ATP, p.178).