Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Cult of Guilty Pleasures: A Freudian Analysis of the Music Genre (part 2)


Please click here for part 1 of the blog: The Cult of Guilty Pleasures (part 1)

This somewhat circuitous route has been necessary in terms of my proposal that the underlying dynamic of Guilty Pleasures is better described as a form of narcissism. I would like to propose that the subject’s temporary identification with this music is actually an identification with a past self. So, what may appear to be the subject’s superficial connection with a cultural object, located outside of her/himself, is in fact a connection with a her/himself of yesterday: a recognition of a past self in the present. Not only is the subject caught in a temporality that is not the present, but by bringing the past into the present, s/he is misidentifying the self s/he sees in her/his mind’s eye. The self in the past-cum-present is not the self as it is known today: “He is obliged to repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience instead of […] remembering it as something belonging to the past.” (Freud 1995b, p.602). Therefore, this is a narcissistic pleasure. The nostalgic ‘guilty pleasure’ is a pleasure in the self-of-the-past, a recognition of an ‘I’ situated in the past: a misrecognition. I would also like to suggest that this act of concretising a past ‘I’ in the present, is a method of materialising a past self that is certain and ‘known’, unlike the present self which is never certain, a la Lacan, Benveniste, etc.

The act of listening to nostalgic music has a particular effect on the mind that we are all aware of: one feels temporarily transported back to that time because of the various emotional associations one has with the music. The temporal effect produced by the music has, in a sense, collapsed time: upon listening to the music one has invited the past self into the present, the past has been returned by bringing the object into oneself. This can be compared to Freud’s “fort da” game whereby the child throws away a small toy announcing “fort” (gone) and then upon retrieving it exclaims “da” (there) (1995b, p.599). Freud goes on to explain that the child then transfers this same process to his mother’s departure and return, thus it becomes a “cultural achievement” in that he allows his mother to go away without showing distress (1995b, p.600). Listening to Guilty Pleasures could have the effect of producing a “da” moment: allowing the music to be absent for a time will heighten the pleasure when it does return. Eagleton says the “fort-da” game symbolises the child’s first attempt at narrative and because narrative has a consolatory effect (as demonstrated in the return of the lost object) it provides pleasure (1983, p.185). Listening to Guilty Pleasures may also provide this particular form of pleasure in that it provides a narrative of the past which is returned to the individual.


In The Dilemma of Narcissus Louis Lavelle explains that Narcissus’ main preoccupation is with his search for himself in the world around him: “the sign of this sign, and the image of this image” (1993, p.33). He goes on to say: “On leaving himself, he hopes to find himself, and to return again within himself” (ibid.). This is similar to Freud’s “fort da” game and also demonstrates that the act of listening to Guilty Pleasures might not only be a search for a past pleasure, but also the desire for a pleasure that was located in a past self. Therefore the pleasure is not located in the cultural object, as such, but is displaced into that past self.

In his essay ‘On Narcissism: An Introduction’ Freud not only explains the origins of narcissism as being a stage within childhood development but he also provides examples of it in terms of a pathology in adulthood. In addition he offers up what he calls “narcissistic attitudes” which are not necessarily problematic but are rather “the libidinal complement to the egoism of the instinct of self-preservation” (1995a, p.546). A number of definitions of narcissism arise in his essay and refer to different aspects of his theory on this subject. In the young child, Freud sees narcissistic pleasure existing prior to the differentiation of ego (as discussed above with regards the child’s self-fascination with his/her body and the pleasures it can bring with auto-erotic excitation). This is what Freud describes as “primary narcissism”. Once the ego comes into play this narcissistic pleasure is displaced onto the world around him/her, into what Freud calls “object-cathexes”, whereby the child forms an emotional investment in people and objects around him. Freud also describes a form of narcissism which arises from a “drawing in of object-cathexes” (ibid.). This means that the ego has made some sort of choice in terms of withdrawing something it had once offered to the rest of the world: what Freud distinguishes as “secondary narcissism”. Lavelle describes an individual suffering from an extreme form of this type of narcissism: “He shuts himself up, alone with himself, to keep company with himself: but in this total self-sufficiency on which he pins his hopes, he discovers his own impotence.” (1993, p.34). This self-love described by Lavelle is an attachment to what Freud describes as an “ego ideal” (or “ideal object”) which is set up by an individual who cannot accept the loss of the narcissism experienced in childhood (1995a, p.558).

Lavelle also explains that the pathogenesis of narcissism is related to the past and death (1993, p.29). He explains how an obsession with the self prevents the individual from living in the present or future at all, he/she is always consigned to the past: “I cannot see myself in any other way than by turning around and contemplating my past, but that is to contemplate something I have already ceased to be.” (ibid.). Guilty Pleasures, because of its nostalgic focus, is a turning back to the past. But, is this necessarily the negative act that narcissism so eloquently describes? R. D. Laing says that providing fantasy is meaningful to the individual, they are not dissociated from it and it has value to them (1973, p.27). In line with Lavelle’s description of the narcissist, above, Freud describes the narcissistic adult as having withdrawn “his libido from things and people in the external world, without replacing them by others in phantasy” (1995a, p.546). If we choose to use this description by Freud, then it does throw into question the listening to Guilty Pleasures as a narcissistic act.

So, it appears, listening to Guilty Pleasures, in terms of whether it is pathological narcissism, may be a function of the individuals’ subjective experience. Lavelle does consider it to be problematic if the past is pursued at the cost of the present (1993, p.118). However, Freud, upon his analysis of the origins of instinct, believes instincts can all be traced back to “a need to restore an earlier state of things.” (1995b, p.622). So it may well be that, as individuals our need to fight the nostalgic pursuit of past experiences is an uphill struggle against a biological instinct. Roger Horrocks believes that humans are selective in their use of memory and some memories are useful in maintaining a sense of self (2001, p.60). Philip Rieff also explains that, for Freud, memory is not passive but involves “acceptances and rejections” (1979, p.38). So, if that is the case, the individual could be considered to choose to indulge in the narcissistic ‘guilty pleasure’ or not, and is not in fact a slave to it due to an instinctual drive or a neurotic pathology. However Horrocks does go on to say that Freud is not a supporter of nostalgia: “the past, for him, is condemned as impermanency, burden, neurosis.” (ibid.). So, perhaps, even with a thorough analysis of Freud’s work we will never be able to surmise his thoughts on the partaking of the music of Guilty Pleasures.

In conclusion I would like to suggest that Guilty Pleasures may be considered an attempt at closing the gap that exists at the subject’s centre because of his/her place in the Symbolic Order. Emile Benveniste explains that this problem derives from the fact that “each speaker sets himself up as a subject by referring to himself as an I in his discourse” (1971, p.225). At the point the enunciating subject utters ‘I’, and concretising him/herself in the present, he/she is also becoming the subject of the enounced, the subject of the past. Eagleton describes this as “a radical split between these two levels of being” (1983, p.169). Lavelle’s discussion on how Narcissus is constantly searching for his own image is extremely pertinent here: I cannot see myself in any other way than by turning round and contemplating my past, but that is to contemplate something that has already ceased to be. To live is to create my own being by turning my will towards a future in which I do not yet exist, and which will not become an object until I have not only reached it, but have gone beyond it. (1993, p.29). The listener of Guilty Pleasures attempts to mark out a present for her/himself that is a certainty in a world of sliding signifiers and lack, an identification with a self of the past in the present.

Bibliography:
Benveniste, Emile. 1971. Problems in General Linguistics (Miami: University of Miami Press). Billig, Michael. 1999. Freudian Repression: Conversation Creating the Unconscious (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Eagleton, Terry. 1983. Literary Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell).
Freud, Sigmund. 1976. ‘The Sexual Life of Human Beings’, Sigmund Freud: 1. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (Harmondsworth: Penguin) pp. 344-361.
Freud, Sigmund. 1995a. Extracts from ‘On Narcissism: An Introduction’, The Freud Reader, ed. by Peter Gay (London: Vintage) pp. 545-562.
Freud, Sigmund. 1995b. Extracts from ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, The Freud Reader, ed. by Peter Gay (London: Vintage) pp. 594-627.
Freud, Sigmund. 2004. Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. by David McLinktock (London: Penguin Books).
Horrocks, Roger. 2001. Freud Revisited (Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave).
Lacan, Jacques. 2004. Ecrits: A Selection, trans. by Bruce Fink (New York, London: W W Norton and Company).
Laing, R. D. 1973. The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise (Harmondsworth: Penguin).
Lavelle, Louis. 1993. The Dilemma of Narcissus, trans. by William Gairdner (New York: Larson Publications).
Oppenheimer, Paul. 1997. An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Guilt (London: Gerald Duckworth).
Rieff, Philip. 1979. Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Cult of Guilty Pleasures: A Freudian Analysis of the Music Genre (part 1)


The Guilty Pleasures music albums represent a nostalgic reflection of the music of the primarily male singer-songwriter of the seventies and early eighties from the retrospective position of the 21st century. The compilations of mostly British music have been compiled by the Radio 1 DJ Sean Rowley. The first album in the series was published in 2004 and was extremely popular. Reviews and articles appeared not only in the popular music press but also in the broadsheets. The music caught the attention of the public. Its promoters subsequently dedicated a website to the cult of Guilty Pleasures at www.guiltypleasures.co.uk which has also spawned a club night.

The Guilty Pleasures music genre has been described as ‘naff’ or ‘cheesy’ by some critics and by those who may not be clear of the philosophy behind it. However, it is designed to represent what may have been considered in its day to be ‘uncool’, but what people secretly enjoyed and perhaps did not openly admit to delighting in. Because many of the songs are by singer-songwriters, the musicianship is considered to be of a high quality even if, at the time, the songs themselves were considered overly romantic, sentimental or quirky, and dismissed for those reasons. It is important to state that Guilty Pleasures is a retrospective and this means that it represents the past and therefore has a high degree of nostalgia attached to it.

It is apparent on a superficial analysis how Sigmund Freud’s theories around ‘guilt’ and ‘pleasure’ would create a convenient reading of Guilty Pleasures. However, after briefly explaining how ‘guilt’ and ‘pleasure’ could fit the genre, I would like to propose ‘narcissism’ as the primary Freudian model that should be applied: “where the libido is concerned, man has here again shown himself incapable of giving up a satisfaction he had once enjoyed.” (Freud 1995a, p.558).

In his lecture ‘The Sexual Life of Human Beings’ Freud describes how the child once removed from its mother’s breast can become attached to sucking his own thumb or tongue, making himself “independent of the consent of the external world as regards gaining pleasure” (1976, p.356). According to Freud the young child moves through three stages in terms of attachment to erotogenetic zones: oral, anal and genital. But, despite the fact that stimulation of these zones results in an enjoyable sensation the child will eventually have to “exchange pleasure for social respectability” (Freud 1976, p.357). In ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ Freud explains how, in order to regulate the pleasure principle an individual will pursue an end which will lessen an “unpleasurable tension” and either produce a degree of pleasure or a cessation of the unpleasure (1995b, p.595). He goes on to explain that the main aim of the pleasure principle is to maintain a certain level of constancy within a given period, rather than to produce major peaks of excitation (ibid.). The pleasure principle eventually works in tandem with the reality principle, delaying gratification and helping the mature individual function in a social world (ibid.).

With regards to guilt, in simple terms Freud describes it as “fear of the super-ego” (2004, p.93). Being the regulator of the id (the instinctual drives) the super-ego acts as a social conscience. As Jacques Lacan explains (although he uses a different term to Freud) the super-ego “superimposes the reign of culture over the reign of nature” (2004, p.66). When the individual fails to act upon the rules imposed by the super-ego, the individual will feel a sense of guilt which is manifest in a feeling of anxiety because certain acts derived from the libidinal drives are prohibited and considered taboo. To keep these drives in check, civilisation, via the super-ego, sublimates particular desires. Indulgence in the guilty pleasure may provide short-term gain to the individual, nevertheless society instils in us from an early age the rule of deferred gratification.


Following that brief analysis of these Freudian concepts it is apparent how the Guilty Pleasures music genre has received its name, even if it is a tongue-in-cheek label. A somewhat marginalised type of music, considered to represent a lack of taste, is, in a sense, forbidden. Any indulgence in it by an individual would, theoretically, create a sense of guilt because it is outside of what society would deem aesthetically credible (hence, not desirable). In fact Freud even goes as far as saying that the desire alone would cause a sense of guilt, regardless of the fulfilment of the act (2004, p.77). In his book An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Guilt Paul Oppenheimer offers an alternative to Freud’s definition of ‘desire’ that may be more fitting to Guilty Pleasures. He does not see desires as simply being appetites but part of the human imagination (1997, p.90). Oppenheimer believes that a large part of desire is attached to abstract language and features “fantasy, dreaming, anticipating, wishing and visualizing.” (ibid.): the qualities that are considered by many to differentiate humans from ‘lower’ animals. Guilty Pleasures could be described as a method of fantasising about a past time, a wishing one was back in a time where life was more happy/carefree/romantic. And it is certainly true of music that if it has meaning to the individual it is accompanied with strong visual cues in the mind’s eye.

Michael Billig discusses how late capitalism brings about a different emotional dynamic for the postmodern individual from that existing in Freud’s time. He offers Zygmunt Bauman’s example of “seduction rather than repression” as a model for consumer society (1999, p.256). In this case we could say that the socio-economic system actually encourages the fulfilment of desire providing it furthers consumerism. Terry Eagleton explains that Freud’s definition of ‘sublimation’ means directing desires “towards a more socially valued end.” (1983, p.152), therefore this may simply be a matter of semantics rather than any threat to Freud’s theory of ‘repression’: because consumerism is socially valuable the desire to consume is not placed within the category of the forbidden, hence there is no repression in the first place.

Guilty Pleasures certainly represents a postmodern product in that it reflects the element of nostalgia associated with postmodernism (Frederic Jameson, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 1984). It also highlights postmodernity’s appropriation of a past style into a new format, thus creating a new narrative. When looking at cultural objects as texts, language, as a theory for the constitution of the subject can be offered as an alternative to Freud’s model which is grounded in the sexual. Billig challenges Freud’s belief that desire originates in biology. He says: “Because we speak, we have desires which must be repressed.” (1999, p.71). Billig sees our desires as being evoked by language, and if desires are not repressed then “the moral order, would be threatened.” (1999, p.72). Later he explains how using a model of language to represent repression enables us not to dismiss an ideological function constituted by societal change (1999, p.258). Therefore, using the language formulae of the psyche proposed by some of the Neo-Freudians may be a more useful interpretation of a cultural object if we decided to analyse it in narrative form.

In his essay ‘The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function’ Lacan explains how upon seeing its reflection in the mirror for the first time the small child is transformed by this identification in which he delights (2004, p.4). This transformation takes place because prior to this the child was not differentiated in terms of itself as opposed to ‘other’. The “ideal-I” that the child sees before it in the form of an image, is what constitutes the initial development of its ego. However, Lacan states, this moment will also be problematic in that is sets a future framework for the individual’s identification in regards to its place in the world which will always only allude to reality because it implies a type of permanence which does not exist (2004, pp.4-5).

Eagleton explains how the child and the image of the child in the mirror are analogous to the ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ of Ferdinand de Sausurre (1983, p.166). This represents Lacan’s “Imaginary Order” in that “objects ceaselessly reflect themselves in a sealed circuit” (ibid.). The child when viewing his image for the first time has a sense of completeness. However, the disunity inherent in the Symbolic Order, the phase which the child later moves into when he discovers language (the equivalent stage to Freud's Oedipal Phase), has not yet taken place. The child is still embedded in the imaginary, which is the unconscious, a place that Lacan sees as being structured rather like signifiers, with no stable meanings. Eagleton says that for the child: “No gap has yet opened up between signifier and signified, subject and world.” (ibid.). How desire fits into Lacan’s model is by the virtue of the lack inscribed in language. The lack of a ‘transcendental signified’, as defined by Lacan (Ecrits, 1966) and Derrida (Writing and Difference, 1967), results in a desire for a fixed meaning and for a fulfilment which cannot be attained in the symbolic.

Please click here for part 2 of the blog.

Freud Related Posts:
Taking an Urban Walk With Freud
Space/Place, Culture and Time: Sigmund Freud

Bibliography:
Benveniste, Emile. 1971. Problems in General Linguistics (Miami: University of Miami Press). Billig, Michael. 1999. Freudian Repression: Conversation Creating the Unconscious (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Eagleton, Terry. 1983. Literary Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell).
Freud, Sigmund. 1976. ‘The Sexual Life of Human Beings’, Sigmund Freud: 1. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (Harmondsworth: Penguin) pp. 344-361.
Freud, Sigmund. 1995a. Extracts from ‘On Narcissism: An Introduction’, The Freud Reader, ed. by Peter Gay (London: Vintage) pp. 545-562.
Freud, Sigmund. 1995b. Extracts from ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, The Freud Reader, ed. by Peter Gay (London: Vintage) pp. 594-627.
Freud, Sigmund. 2004. Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. by David McLinktock (London: Penguin Books).
Horrocks, Roger. 2001. Freud Revisited (Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave).
Lacan, Jacques. 2004. Ecrits: A Selection, trans. by Bruce Fink (New York, London: W W Norton and Company).
Laing, R. D. 1973. The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise (Harmondsworth: Penguin).
Lavelle, Louis. 1993. The Dilemma of Narcissus, trans. by William Gairdner (New York: Larson Publications).
Oppenheimer, Paul. 1997. An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Guilt (London: Gerald Duckworth).
Rieff, Philip. 1979. Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Relational Aesthetics & Chaosmosis: Nicolas Bourriaud's preference for an ethico-aesthetic analysis of relational art (part 3)


Please click here for the other parts of this blog: Part 1 and Part 2

In 'Machinic Orality and Virtual Ecology' Guattari looks at performance art. Even though it could be argued that performance art is not conceptual art, nor relational art, Guattari wrote this text at the beginning of the 1990s, before Bourriaud's concept of relational art had been developed. Also, relational art cannot be pinned down in any absolute sense: there are very often performative elements in it, as we can see in the examples Bourriaud gives us, such as Noritoshi Hirakawa placing advertisements asking for people to take part in his shows, and Pierre Huyghe putting out a casting call (Bourriaud 2002: 8). Guattari explains how performance art enables us to pose questions around space and time, language and meaning-making, by offering up new possibilities that help us challenge the notion of the everyday (1995: 90).

Bourriaud also makes reference to the everyday when discussing Guattari. He explains how art can catalyse energy and divert it by, in a sense, bouncing it off the subject, which in turn changes subjectivity (2002: 97). In his discussion on performance art, Guattari goes on to say: “But it seems to me that this art doesn't so much involve a return to an originary orality as it does a forward flight into machinations and deterritorialised machinic paths capable of engendering mutant subjectivities.” (1995: 90). Bourriaud makes reference to this when he talks about how the process of subjectivization, in producing a new subject, works in the same way that an artist does when creating a new artform (2002: 88). These “mutant subjectivites” open up a multitude of possible futures that cannot be anticipated in advance.

Deleuze's logical approach to words and objects, and the process of understanding them, does not really allow for a multitude of possible universes because of the nature of what 'sense' is. However, the co-work done in the capitalism and schizophrenia series is not totalising at all with discussions on 'lines of flight' which enable new subjectivities. And, What is Philosophy? (1991), another joint project, discusses the plane of immanence, which, put simply, is an infinite space that enables thought to arise. We must remember that Deleuze is a philosopher though. Because of logic's philosophical and metaphysical history, sense is loaded with a particular logos which is embedded in a patriarchal mode of thinking. Deleuze is not challenging logic here, but showing us how it can be used as a tool, so I am not criticising him for taking what might appear as a logocentric stance (and I do not believe he is), merely pointing out his preference for choosing a formal and ordered subject-matter to analyse.

Deleuze's preoccupation in The Logic of Sense is with what occurs between words and things, between signification and the objects in the world: “Everything happens at the boundary between things and propositions.” (2004b: 11). This is where the paradoxical element is located and so too where sense is formed. For Deleuze it is a false idea that the answer to the riddle can be found in the depths, one needs to rise to the surface to make sense of the world. We need to slide along the surface of the contradictory series (for example: word/object, signifier/signified, inside/outside), enabling a passage from one side to the other, the other side being simply the opposite direction (Deleuze 2004b: 12). It is the impression given by opposites, and contradictions, that they exist in some eternally alternate domain from each other, and this is the problem posed in the paradox. But for Deleuze there are no contradictions: “The force of the paradoxes is that they are not contradictory; they rather allow us to be present at the genesis of the contradiction.” (Deleuze 2004b: 86).

While I do not think that the resolution of a paradox can be absolutely contrasted to the process of chaosmosis, and therefore my choice of example is not a 'neat' one (it is neither final nor conclusive), it does highlight the differences in the two theorists' approach. It is apparent from Deleuze's discussion on the paradox that there are really no contradictions, and where there are they are a function of how language operates. I do not dispute his argument, but rather wish to highlight his style and choice of topic, in contrast to what Bourriaud sees as a preference for Guattari's chaosmotic style. I would now like to look more closely at how Deleuze's process of analysis (for example, how the collapsing of binaries brings about resolutions) could be considered to bring a form of closure and terminate other possibilities. I would like to stress, though, that when Deleuze and Guattari write together, their writing is very oriented around multiplicity and actualising possibilities, especially when discussing “lines of flight”. I shall firstly look at what Bourriaud says about how the traditional aesthetic operates and how he uses Guattari's aesthetic paradigm to critique it.

Bourriaud explains the responses by the viewer-participator to relational art: whereas the classical aesthetic involved a “buffer” between the closed-off, separated artwork and the beholder, relational art involves “aesthetic fluidity” which arises because of the relative position the viewer-participator is in relation to the artwork (2002: 100). He says that this aesthetic response, along with the art and the 'viewer', cannot be separated (ibid.). Bourriaud shows how Guattari's aesthetic paradigm effects subjectivity, creating new possibilities: “It's the spellbinding, para-hypnotic process of the aesthetic way of looking that crystallises around it the different ingredients of subjectivity, and redistributes them towards new vanishing points.” (ibid.). Guattari sees these “mutant subjectivities” as providing new voices (polyphony), and from them a new coming-together becomes possible, a world richer in both form and ways of living (1995: 90). He explains that this process of “recomposition” enables “a search for enunciative nuclei which would institute new cleavages between other insides and other outsides and which would offer a different metabolism of past-future where eternity will coexist with the present moment.” (ibid.).

To return to The Logic of Sense, I would like to continue where I left off with Deleuze and revisit the paradox to show the formalised, thorough and fiercely analytical (although admirable) formulation and solution to a problem. Deleuze explains how nonsense is internal to sense, emerging out of it. On the surface, Deleuze says, there is a line that enables sense to be produced: “The two series are therefore articulated by their difference, and sense traverses the entire surface, although it remains in its own line.” (2004b: 99). In art these processes that appear as series might involve oppositional terms such as: subject/object, art/beholder or art/artist. The surface simultaneously separates and assures the connection of the series, and the line of sense will eventually be produced there, on this surface, because “this line-frontier would not enact the separation of series at the surface if it did not finally articulate that which it separates.” (Deleuze 2004b: 209).

Deleuze's deeply philosophical analysis of the series, and how oppositions or contradictions can actually 'make sense', is an extremely dense and formalised theorisation which neatly takes the reader through his proposed system of sense formation. The reader comes away with a kind of satisfaction which gives them a sense of finality in understanding how contradictions work. However, for Guattari it is the opposite that he is aiming for in terms of the individual's relationship to universality: “Thus the singular points of view on being, with their precariousness, uncertainty and creative aspects take precedence over the fixity of structures so distinctive of universal visions.” (1995: 59). While I do not believe that Deleuze would describe his reconciliation of the series to be a 'universal vision', it is nevertheless the position of cooperation that the reader is placed in, in relation to The Logic of Sense, that makes this move one of finality. As we can see from what Guattari says above, this is not a position that Guattari sees as productive. He goes on to explain that bridges need to be formed between what he calls “actual and virtual functions” (ibid.). In The Three Ecologies (1989), which Bourriaud also refers to in Relational Aesthetics, Guattari speaks of a concept called “transversality” which has the function of forming bridges between territories. Gary Genosko, in an essay which is included in The Three Ecologies, describes transversality as “the tool used to open hitherto closed logics and hierarchies.” (2008: 54). Guattari explains that through these tools “subjectivity is able to install itself simultaneously in the realms of the environment [and] in the major institutional assemblages” (2008: 45). Bourriaud explains how in art this produces the effect of reducing the artist’s significance in the art so that other relationships can become apparent (2002: 93).

The environment and the institutions anchored in them, are important to both Bourriaud and Guattari. The artworks of the relational artists that Bourriaud discusses are not just from a European or American heritage: he appreciates the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija, who is from Thailand, and, in particular the Puerto Rican artist Fėlix González-Torres. Guattari worked in Brazil for a while on a project with Suely Rolnik where they examined the effect of capitalism on the individual in terms of behaviour and action. The text that emerged from this project is Molecular Revolution in Brazil (1986), also referred to in Relational Aesthetics. It might also be Guattari's interest in travel and how he is interested in challenging the totalising nature of globalisation (the appropriation of the local by the universal) that also interests Bourriaud and his anticipation of a new cultural understanding of alter-globalisation (the altermodern). This anticipation of a new paradigm is noted by Guattari in his essay 'The Postmodern Impasse': Guattari does not imagine what might come in the same way Bourriaud does, nor does he give it a name, but he does raise similar problems, especially in relation to territory and capitalism. One interesting comment Guattari makes in reference to postmodernity, is the structuralist approach that is still perpetrated by many postmodern theorists. He says:
Postmodern philosophers flit around pragmatic research in vain. They remain loyal to a structuralist conception of speech and language that will never allow them to articulate the subjective facts in the formations of the unconscious, aesthetic and micro-political problematics.” (1996a: 111).


Even though I am sure this is in no way a criticism of his friend and collaborator Deleuze, it does describe Deleuze's lineage and his attachment to language. Deleuze is a 'philosopher' and Guattari a practitioner, psychoanalyst and theorist; and as Genosko says, it is difficult to pin him down in terms of categorising him (2002: 29).

Guattari is specifically interested in the “ontological texture” (1995: 81) of chaos and how the single individual (who is at the same time the multiple) can be part of the event which, in effect, they are not separate from. This event, for Bourriaud would be the moment that arises from the participation in the artwork, which is never rigid or fixed in time and space, what Guattari calls the “proto-aesthetic paradigm”, which is “perpetually in advance of itself” (1995: 101-102). Guattari explains how art has the power to challenge “transcendental Truth” (1995: 102) which is difficult to do when one is oriented in language, and I mean that in respect of everyone participating in art, especially from a Western perspective, but also if one's heritage is philosophical, and therefore linguistic in nature, as it is for Deleuze.

My discussion in this essay has been oriented on finding the reason why Bourriaud has an attraction for Guattari over Deleuze. The work Deleuze and Guattari have done together has made this investigation difficult, this is complicated by the fact that they could both be considered to be 'poststructuralists'. Although Deleuze's historical background was structuralist, in the more philosophical sense of the word, it is also likely that Guattari took a traditional path through training as a psychoanalyst, at least in his early days - even though he studied under Lacan, this is still a Freudian lineage.

I have not been able to answer in uncertain terms what it is that forms Bourriaud's preference for Guattari and have had to piece this study together like a work of detection. Rather than looking at just one aspect I have tried to include all the possible main reasons I have discovered. This is as much because they are related to each other, but also because what we are attracted to in someone or something is usually not one simple (single) element but a multitude of qualities that make up that entity: for example the assemblage of what appears as the pronoun Félix Guattari. The largest part of my essay was on the statement that Bourriaud made in direct reference to Guattari and Deleuze, the issue of chaos versus order. While I could have spent the whole essay looking at this aspect, I did not. Just because it was the only direct comparison (and a polar one at that) it may have been too neat and convenient a hook to hang a complete reason on. I also was cognisant of the fact that because Deleuze and Guattari cross-over in a number of their terms and theories - for instance, assemblages, deterritorialisation, becoming - it would be rather too easy to look only at a difference of opposition, such as chaos and order. I did not want to unintentionally place Deleuze and Guattari in opposing camps. This would not only be a mistake, but also problematic in terms of a reading of Bourriaud. For example, Bourriaud likes Deleuze's idea that grass grows outwards from the centre and he applies this to how artists can therefore take up their art practice form where they are already located (2002: 13-14). He even repeats this concept in Postproduction (2007: 17).

I realise there are likely questions left unanswered and spaces not filled in this essay. This is both because I do not have an absolute answer, but also because I feel by neatly wrapping my text up in an absolute answer it would also mean that I am, in a sense, coming up with something final and 'cast in stone', at least from my own perspective. This would be just repeating a type of universalising form of understanding and theorising which Bourriaud and Guattari are not happy with, what Guattari calls in his reference to arts and society “the self-enclosed totalisation of Universes of reference” (1995: 29). It is also highly likely that an analysis of the same problem by another individual would produce a completely different essay, by highlighting other issues and approaching them from a different perspective. We all have “a world of forms, a set of problems and a trajectory” of our own (Bourriaud 2002: 43). This essay, as it appears here, is produced by a particular assemblage of enunciation that existed, one time only, at a specific position in space and moment in time. This essay-assemblage is the product of “a projective existential node” (Guattari 1995: 17), arising from the assemblage that could be described as the researcher who writes under the name Tina Richardson…

References:
Althusser, Louis. 2006. 'The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter', The Philosophy of the Encounter, trans. by G. M. Goshgarian (London and New York: Verso) pp. 163-207.
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2002. Relational Aesthetics, trans. by Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods (Dijon: Le presses du réel).
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2007. Postproduction, trans. by Jeanine Herman (New York: Lukas and Sternberg).
Nicolas Bourriaud, ‘Altermodern Tate Triennial’, Tate Britain, (2009), [accessed 24 March 2009]
Deleuze, Gilles. 2004a. Difference and Repetition, trans. by Paul Patton (London and New York: Continuum).
Deleuze, Gilles. 2004b. The Logic of Sense, trans. by Mark Lester (London and New York: Continuum).
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 2007. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum).
Genosko, Gary. 2002. Félix Guattari: An Abberrant Introduction (London and New York: Continuum).
Genosko, Gary. 2008. 'The Life and Work of Félix Guattari', The Three Ecologies, trans. by Ian Pinder and Paul Sutton (London and New York: Continuum) pp. 46-78.
Guattari, Félix. 1995. Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm, trans. by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press).
Guattari, Félix. 1996a. 'The Postmodern Impasse', The Guattari Reader, ed. by Gary Genosko (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers) pp. 109-113.
Guattari, Félix. 1996b. 'Toward a New perspective on Identity', The Guattari Reader, ed. by Gary Genosko (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers) pp. 215-217.
Guattari, Félix. 2008. The Three Ecologies, trans. by Ian Pinder and Paul Sutton (London and New York: Continuum).

Friday, 14 March 2014

Relational Aesthetics & Chaosmosis: Nicolas Bourriaud's preference for an ethico-aesthetic analysis of relational art (part 2)


Please click here for Part 1

Before I turn to what I think might be the main thrust of Bourriaud's predilection for Guattari, I would like to briefly discuss the concept of 'partial objects' because Bourriaud makes direct reference to this concept in relation to Guattari. The work that Deleuze and Guattari did in A Thousand Plateaus and Anti-Oedipus is anti-Lacanian, so little reference is made to 'partial objects' a term coined by Melanie Klein to describe objects that have at one time been connected to the child, for example, the mother's breast, and also the faeces. Jacques Lacan developed this notion further into his own concept, the 'objet petit a', the imaginary part object which can never be totally separated from the body and is a remainder from a time when the child had not become distinguished as an individual: a residual of a prior state, before language took them up as a subject.

While Deleuze does not use the term much (it is barely used in his Cinema series of books, and on the occasion it is it is only used in criticism), Guattari is happy to talk about it in Chaosmosis. He demonstrates how the partial object becomes the “partial enunciator” enabling the artist to “detach and deterritorialise a segment of the real”, and offer both sense to the participator, while posing the notion of alterity (1995: 131). Bourriaud offers almost a page to his discussion on the partial object from a Guattarian perspective, the “partial enunciator”, explaining how it becomes a “semiotic segment” which then can work autonomously within art production through such activities as “sampling of pictures and data, recycling now socialised and historicized forms [and the] invention of collective identities” (2002: 100). It is possible that Guattari's lack of rejection of the “partial object” - despite the fact that in the capitalism and schizophrenia series Freudian and neo-Freudian models of self are rejected by the two writers - is because of his psychoanalytical background.

What I would now like to look at is what might appear initially as a surface manifestation of style between Guattari and Deleuze, but is also one of content and theory: chaos versus order. Guattari and Deleuze would not be happy with the binary distinctions I have imposed on their work in order to set up a contrast between them, but I am choosing this because it is the only point where Bourriaud makes direct reference to a preference between them, my previous analyses being only perceived differences that have come about through some detective work. I believe it is this chaotic (chaosmotic) aspect that can also be related to his introduction of Althusser's aleatory materialism and philosophy of the encounter, what Bourriaud refers to as “random materialism” (2002: 18).

Althusser developed this idea from his study of Machiavelli, Spinoza and Epicurus and lays it out in 'The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter', where he develops Spinoza's and Machiavelli's notion of the void and how it evacuates first causes. This void is full of possibilities because it allows for the potential of emergence. How things emerge is through chance encounters. Althusser has based this part of his theory on Epicurus’ atomism, where atoms move through empty space in parallel trajectories and do not touch. However, Althusser takes this notion of the void and looks at the event which arises from a chance encounter (a swerve of the atom). How he ties this in with Machiavelli is that this event can become a place of leverage, and of power. It is this aspect of Althusser that Bourriaud appears to be attracted to rather than his more rigid and structural ideas of subjectivity, and he makes reference to this when he explains that Guattari's method “consists in bringing to the boil the structures fixed by Lacan, Althusser and Lėvi-Strauss” (2002: 89-90). What Bourriaud is attracted to in Althusser are the elements that converge with Guattari: history has innumerable possible outcomes which are never fixed (there is no telos); subjectivity as ever-changing and being formed through social relations; and events occurring in singular moments that cannot be totally anticipated (chance encounters).

On page eighty-seven of Relational Aesthetics, Bourriaud states his preference for Guattari's 'chaos' over Deleuze's 'order': “[Guattari's] phrasing is thoroughly oral, chaotic, 'wild and outrageous' (dėlirant), off-the-cuff and littered with deceptive short-cuts, quite unlike the conceptual order that presides over the writings of accomplice and fellow Gilles Deleuze.” (2002: 87). It is because of this clear statement for a preference for Guattari's 'chaotic' orientation as opposed to Deleuze's more ordered approach that I shall now look at this difference. I will do this by looking at the references that Bourriaud makes to Chaosmosis and contrast this to Deleuze's The Logic of Sense (1969), not because Bourriaud makes any reference to The Logic of Sense in his book, but because of the formalised format of the book and because the book is concerned with making sense out of non-sense (one could say: creating order out of chaos). For Deleuze nonsense is not the opposite of sense but actually gives value to it.

Before I further examine Deleuze and Guattari, from a Bourriaudian perspective, I would like to briefly introduce the two books from the perspective of form, before proceeding to a more in-depth analysis of the differences in content and theory. Not least because form and content are oppositions which are challenged in relational art, but also because Bourriaud makes direct reference to the style of articulation in the above quote when commenting on Guattari's mode of approach.

The Logic of Sense consists of a thirty-four short chapters on what Deleuze calls “series”. These series are paradoxes which Deleuze examines in order to 'make sense' out of them: he looks at what appear to be nonsensical situations or words (this book is all about language) and demonstrates how sense can be made from them. Examples he uses are the portmanteau words of Lewis Carroll, and the thought and speech of the schizophrenic. Deleuze looks at how meaning and meaninglessness converge and at this point sense arises; he provides an extremely elaborate, complex and logical analysis of how this occurs. Each chapter is structured in a very similar way and can almost be read in isolation in relation to their specific subject (chapters are oriented around subjects, for example: paradoxes, games, language and nonsense), although there is a subtle building up of theory as you move through the book. In each chapter Deleuze firstly introduces his own sample and his problem: for example, how the cause/effect duality is really the body/language problem (to eat or to speak, as in Alice in Wonderland). He discusses these issues in the light of other philosophers, such as Plato or one of the Stoics, appearing to go along with their argument in the initial stages but actually using it to challenge them or as a foil to propagate his thesis. He then returns to his own example and either provides an answer (often partial), or offers enough information and enough of a solution, to point the reader towards a direction he will move in in a later chapter. This style is not unique to The Logic of Sense and can also be seen in Difference and Repetition.

In Chaosmosis Guattari's chapters, whilst connected in their concentration on subjectivity, could almost be read in any order: it is even the case that two chapters that appear to be related are not together in the book ('Machinic Heterogenesis' and 'Machinic Orality and Virtual Ecology'). The text reads like a 'stream of consciousness'. Guattari's style is rather more one of commentary, and it is possible that the reader may get a sense that there is less space between themselves and the author than there is when reading Deleuze. While it may appear that this could be the opposite situation to one that usually arises when a psychoanalyst writes - clear divisions being set up between analyst and analysand in traditional psychotherapy - this might reflect Guattari's revolutionary approach to therapy: while at La Borde, one of Guattari's challenges to conventional therapy was to break down these classical boundaries. Bourriaud describes Guattari's style as a “scriptorial flow” and he particularly likes how Guattari produces images out of his work by using physical phenomena to promulgate his theory (2002: 86).

What I shall now look at his how 'making sense' of something could be argued to be a totalising effect and could be contrary to a notion whereby a work is concerned with the “modelling of possible universes” (Bourriaud 2002: 13); even if this is only a function of approach and style and not a reflection of philosophical orientation. It is important to state that I do not believe that Guattari and Bourriaud negate the idea of 'making sense'. However, there is a finality offered in Deleuze's model of providing a means for making sense, and the resolution provided in that move. I would like to emphasise that I do not see Deleuze's theory as being totalising, rather more his choice of subject-matter and his demonstration of how language operates. For example, here he is discussing the totalising nature of knowledge and how language organises it: “And whatever totalizations knowledge may perform, they remain asymptotic to the virtual totality of langue or language. The signifying series organizes a preliminary totality, whereas the signified series arranges the produced totalities.” (2004b: 58).

While I think Deleuze's analytical approach is an extremely valuable tool useful in helping to understand the problems of paradoxes or, what might appear as, gobbledegook, it could be considered to be contrary to Guattari's open-ended orientation. This can be seen in Guattari's chapter in Chaosmosis 'The New Aesthetic Paradigm' where he states: “The metabolism of the infinite, proper to each assemblage, is not fixed once and for all.” (1995: 101). It is also the case that Deleuze's resolution of the paradox is synonymous with his resolution of binary oppositions: in showing how the paradox is resolved he is also revealing how oppositions can be reconciled: which is a kind of deconstructive move. But, the effect of that 'deconstruction' does not open up possibilities but, rather, by bringing confusion to an end also brings with it closure.

To demonstrate where I see this totalising versus open-ended difference between Deleuze and Guattari taking place, I shall now look at Deleuze's resolution of the paradox in The Logic of Sense, while contrasting this to Bourriaud's references to Guattari that hinge around the articulation of worlds, differentness, heterogeneity and aesthetic fluidity. I think it is this aspect of relational art that Bourriaud believes Guattari's theories reveal; and while this cannot be separated from a discussion of subjectivity, which is what Chaosmosis is about, I think it is important to talk about what it is that Bourriaud sees relational art as 'doing'. This is clarified when Bourriaud discusses how, for Guattari, production and subjectivity are implicit. Here Bourriaud is commenting on Guattari's explanation that the activities of the individual bring about a production of subjectivity, which enables a relationship with the world, allowing them to grow:
A definition that ideally applies to the practices of contemporary artists: by creating and staging devices of existence including working methods and ways of being, instead of concrete objects which hitherto bounded the realm of art, they use time as a material. (2002: 103).
Please click here for Part 3

References:
Althusser, Louis. 2006. 'The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter', The Philosophy of the Encounter, trans. by G. M. Goshgarian (London and New York: Verso) pp. 163-207.
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2002. Relational Aesthetics, trans. by Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods (Dijon: Le presses du réel).
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2007. Postproduction, trans. by Jeanine Herman (New York: Lukas and Sternberg).
Nicolas Bourriaud, ‘Altermodern Tate Triennial’, Tate Britain, (2009), [accessed 24 March 2009]
Deleuze, Gilles. 2004a. Difference and Repetition, trans. by Paul Patton (London and New York: Continuum).
Deleuze, Gilles. 2004b. The Logic of Sense, trans. by Mark Lester (London and New York: Continuum).
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 2007. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum).
Genosko, Gary. 2002. Félix Guattari: An Abberrant Introduction (London and New York: Continuum).
Genosko, Gary. 2008. 'The Life and Work of Félix Guattari', The Three Ecologies, trans. by Ian Pinder and Paul Sutton (London and New York: Continuum) pp. 46-78.
Guattari, Félix. 1995. Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm, trans. by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press).
Guattari, Félix. 1996a. 'The Postmodern Impasse', The Guattari Reader, ed. by Gary Genosko (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers) pp. 109-113.
Guattari, Félix. 1996b. 'Toward a New perspective on Identity', The Guattari Reader, ed. by Gary Genosko (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers) pp. 215-217.
Guattari, Félix. 2008. The Three Ecologies, trans. by Ian Pinder and Paul Sutton (London and New York: Continuum).

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Relational Aesthetics & Chaosmosis: Nicolas Bourriaud's preference for an ethico-aesthetic analysis of relational art (part 1)


Nicolas Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics (1998) is concerned with a particular type of art that emerged predominantly in Europe in the 1990s. Bourriaud coined the term 'Relational Aesthetics' to refer to a response to art which not only emphasised the social nature of the lived experience, but that drew the viewer into the work as participator. One of his definitions is: “art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space [..]” (Bourriaud 2002: 14). The conceptual artists of this period that interest Bourriaud, are concerned with changing the more traditional position of the gallery visitor as 'beholder' to one of an interactive process. Very often the works Bourriaud discusses do not even take place in a gallery setting but in everyday social space, for example, he mentions the artwork of Gabriel Orozco. In one work he places oranges on the stalls of a deserted market (2002: 17).

Bourriaud's intention is to examine what he sees as the misunderstandings of 1990s art (2002: 7); and he does this by discussing a number of artists in the context of a philosophical debate. He often uses theorists who do not traditionally lend themselves specifically to a critique of art but more to an examination of culture: for example, Louis Althusser, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. While Bourriaud does not see relational art as being specifically a 1990s phenomenon, what makes the art of this period different from its predecessors is its self-conscious aspect: the participator, in their own insertion of themselves into the work, becomes aware of their own social context and place in history. It is apparent that Bourriaud is interested in what relational art does, rather than in a more classical description of what the art is as an object 'out there'. He is concerned with the forming of spaces of interaction whereby an alternative discourse can come into being around the artwork; of new spatial and temporal aspects; and the production of new experiences which move away from “the ideology of mass communication” (Bourriaud 2002: 44). Relational art challenges many of the socially related binary oppositions such as private/public, inside/outside and even theory/practice. It may be this, in part, which attracts him to the non-dialectical approach of Guattari, thus dispensing with the rigidity of dyadically, and triadically, ossified conditions of existence. His concentration on Guattari's work hinges around the book Chaosmosis (1992), and a large part of the latter end of Relational Aesthetics is 'dedicated' to Guattari (while this part of the book appears in as a kind of conclusion, it would actually have been a separate essay in its original form).

What I would like to discuss is Bourriaud's particular attraction to Guattari, as opposed to Deleuze. I shall be examining what the possibilities of this privileging might be. Bourriaud rarely states explicitly why he prefers Guattari to Deleuze, but there appear to be a number of threads that could be teased out in an examination of why this might be. What makes this particularly challenging is the large amount of the theory of both Guattari and Deleuze that crosses over, not only in the work they have done together, particularly in their capitalism and schizophrenia series (Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980)), but also separately: for example, the fundamental network-like nature of what they both describe as the “assemblage”, the term they use for a collection of multiple elements that come together momentarily. An assemblage can be anything, what appears as a person, a particular situation, or a mode of thought or action. The elements that make up that 'thing' could be physical aspects of the environment, specific forces or ways of thinking. Assemblages operate on a “plane of consistency” which is not hierarchic in nature (Deleuze and Guattari 2007: 100), they dispense with the privileging which is inherent in binary oppositions. Deleuze and Guattari use the term “assemblage” when they are writing as a pair and as individuals.

It is also the case that when Deleuze and Guattari co-write they do not see the existence of a subject per se. For them the subject is not a static entity. There is not even the 'subject of enunciation' offered by theorists such as the linguist Émile Benveniste, wherein at least there is a subject in the moment of speech, however transitory that may be. For Deleuze and Guattari “each individual is an infinite multiplicity” that comes together briefly through movement and rest (2007: 280). The parts that make up the individual are not constant but continually formed, disassembled and re-formed in different combinations; these parts do not belong to the individual, they only temporarily constitute her/him and emanate from the environment of that particular situation (ibid.). At the point a person is considered to be communicating, Deleuze and Guattari describe this as an “assemblage of enunciation” (2007: 89).

Where I believe Deleuze and Guattari do diverge to an extent is in the area of the 'individual'. Deleuze clearly states throughout Difference and Repetition (1968) that he does not recognise the individual. Whereas, Guattari's model of aesthetics, in respect to the person experiencing a cultural object, even involves the use of the word 'existential': a term used in humanist-oriented philosophies where the individual's experience of reality, and expression of that, is given priority. The term 'individual' is problematic for Deleuze. For him, what appears as the ‘individual’ is created by a force he calls “individuation” which “involves fields of fluid intensive factors which no more take the form of an I than of a Self.” (2004a: 190). I believe it is likely that the work Guattari has done in Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm, with its validation of subjects who have the ability to “recompos[e] their existential corporeality” (1995: 7), does lend itself to a more appropriate reading of Bourriaud's theory than does that of Deleuze's at least partial negation of the individual. However, it is important to state that Guattari's individual, or person, is still not a static entity, and he continues to use the term “assemblage of enunciation” when he writing on his own and referring to the 'speaking subject'.

It is also the case that in Chaosmosis much of Guattari's focus is on the experiential moment arising from the engagement of the individual, often with their participation in the artwork, and how this process can both affect and effect people. For Guattari, existential singularization is a process of becoming, and when sparked by “poetic existential catalysis” restores an “auto-essentialisation” in the individual (1995: 19-20). It is as if the individual re-connects with a previously alienated part of the self through a breaking down of the boundary between subject (self, ‘in here’) and object (world, ‘out there’). While this does emphasise the 'relational' aspect of relational art it also cannot necessarily be contrasted clearly to the work Deleuze has done in his discussions on cultural 'objects'. Guattari's discussion on art and artists - particularly in the final chapter of Chaosmosis 'An ecosophic object' - while lending itself to a more seamless appropriation by art theory, might be contrasted to Deleuze's concentration on the cinema, which is his preferred cultural process for analysis. However, the singular Deleuze does not totally avoid some of the terms discussed above in relation to the person (individual, subject). So the difference between Deleuze and Guattari when discussing the individual, while it is still an assemblage for both of them - in this example, something that comes together in its relation to the aesthetic - may not be such a contrast. Although it is possible Guattari has a preference for using the term 'individual' in his acknowledgement of the existential aspect of the aesthetic moment (and, perhaps, because of the humanist orientation of his psychoanalytical practice). This may also be the reason he is less constrained in using the word 'subjectivity', even if it is a fluid thing for him. In an interview with Jean-Charles Jambon and Nathalie Magnan, Guattari describes subjectivity as follows: “We do not stand before a subjectivity already given, fitted and packed; rather, we are called to produce it.” (1996b: 215).

It could also be that (although Bourriaud does not state this), Guattari's clear preference for the word 'alterity' has some particular preference for Bourriaud. Reference to 'Alterity' does not occur much in Deleuze's writing on the cinema, nor the work Deleuze and Guattari have done together (not that 'the other' is not discussed, just not through the use of this word); however, it is of importance to Guattari in Chaosmosis. This may be part of Bourriaud's attraction, because of its relation to the 'altermodern', a term Bourriaud has subsequently developed to help explain the paradigm which follows postmodernity and which is concerned with the hope that society and culture will orientate itself around multiplicity and otherness.  A video of Bourriaud describing what altermodern means is available on the Tate's website. I shall quote it in full here because I think it builds on the work in Relational Aesthetics by heralding a future that dispenses with totalising states and provides the possibility of a future which offers up a multiplicity of answers to particular issues. Here Bourriaud explains the term and makes reference to it in the context of the Tate triennial:
Altermodern is a term I invented to designate the field of what's next after postmodernism. Actually, it is more of a debate or a negation, and the exhibition is the conclusive process. Altermodern is the cultural answer to what alter-globalisation is, which is a collection, a cluster of singular and local answers to globalisation in the political field - modernity to come - which I believe is existing, is emerging. It won't be continental in the way that it totalises: more of an archipelago of different answers and artists addressing different issues. And, I believe in this form of the cluster, the constellation: points which are connected, one to another, rather than a continental or totalising form. (2009).
The term 'altermodern' does not appear in Relational Aesthetics and has been developed since writing that book, but it is likely it has emerged out of the work he did in producing the essays that make up Relational Aesthetics, and it is also possible this may be because of the influence of Guattari, which I think will become apparent as my essay evolves. While my essay will not be concentrating on the terms 'altermodern', or 'alterity', these aspects cannot be neatly separated from both Bourriaud's or Guattari's theorising because, actually, they are crucial to it.

Please click here for the next part of the blog: Part 2 and Part 3

References:
Althusser, Louis. 2006. 'The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter', The Philosophy of the Encounter, trans. by G. M. Goshgarian (London and New York: Verso) pp. 163-207.
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2002. Relational Aesthetics, trans. by Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods (Dijon: Le presses du réel).
Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2007. Postproduction, trans. by Jeanine Herman (New York: Lukas and Sternberg).
Nicolas Bourriaud, ‘Altermodern Tate Triennial’, Tate Britain, (2009), [accessed 24 March 2009]
Deleuze, Gilles. 2004a. Difference and Repetition, trans. by Paul Patton (London and New York: Continuum).
Deleuze, Gilles. 2004b. The Logic of Sense, trans. by Mark Lester (London and New York: Continuum).
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 2007. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum).
Genosko, Gary. 2002. Félix Guattari: An Abberrant Introduction (London and New York: Continuum).
Genosko, Gary. 2008. 'The Life and Work of Félix Guattari', The Three Ecologies, trans. by Ian Pinder and Paul Sutton (London and New York: Continuum) pp. 46-78.
Guattari, Félix. 1995. Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm, trans. by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press).
Guattari, Félix. 1996a. 'The Postmodern Impasse', The Guattari Reader, ed. by Gary Genosko (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers) pp. 109-113.
Guattari, Félix. 1996b. 'Toward a New perspective on Identity', The Guattari Reader, ed. by Gary Genosko (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers) pp. 215-217.
Guattari, Félix. 2008. The Three Ecologies, trans. by Ian Pinder and Paul Sutton (London and New York: Continuum).

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Cybercartography, Second-Order Observing and Virtual Connectivity


Cybercartography was introduced by D. R. Fraser Taylor in 1997 at the International Cartographic Conference. It does not just refer to GIS but is related to cybernetics in its connection to social systems and actions that take place at a community level. Feedback loops become significant in cybernetics, and machines (systems, technologies, devices, etcetera) become tools that create engagement and connections rather than something that separates the observer from the action observed. Katherine Hayles explains how, in a world of relationships and networks, an individual constructs its environment through a space of reciprocal actions. (1999: 137) She explains how second-order observing arises when an observer self-consciously describes herself to others and to herself. (1999: 145) Cybercartography is based on second order cybernetics and includes the accessing of multi-sensorial experience, interactivity, digital and virtual systems, and is an inter-disciplinary field of theory. (Taylor 2005: 3) This is how Taylor describes it:
The author sees the paradigm of cybercartography not as a sudden and dramatic shift from past ideas and practice, but as an evolutionary and integrative process which incorporates important elements from the past, redefines others, and introduces new ideas and approaches to both cartographic practice and theory. (2005: 2


Source: Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre

Cybercartography favours self-reflexivity, heterogeneity and real-world representations. It proposes self-organisation and the retaining of identity through a process of circular interaction that could be described as autopoietic. The originators of the term ‘autopoiesis’, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, describe it as a character of living systems where through the circular interaction of its processes it maintains its organisation and retains its identity (1980: 9). They explain that second order conduct is denotative because “it points to a feature of the environment that the second organism encounters” and which can be described. (1980: 28). They also make it clear that for linguistic behaviour to be of an orienting nature there needs to be consensus: individuals need to be able to compare events and experiences that are not only similar but use a shared medium – language (1980: 30). Geospatial technology, used in conjunction with local communities, enables spaces to have a symbolic meaning attached to them by encouraging exploration into areas of creative expression. Virtual geographies have the function of reversing the spectacle, “the secret nodes which connect and route flows of capital”, and help to reveal the concealed “black-box that is anti-market capitalism” (Imken 1999: 103).


Source: Centro de Investigacion en Geografia y Geomatica

In his essay ‘The Convergence of Virtual and Actual in the Global Matrix: Artificial Life, Geo-economics and Psychogeography’ Otto Imken situates the situational control of psychogeography within the computer-generated map, stating that this can help one “tilt a situation into various desired basins of attraction, and then, with a higher-level (almost instinctual) knowledge of the attractor’s neighbourhood, its quirks, probabilities, and back-alley pathways, the expert situationist can reach desired results.” (1999: 103) He goes on to explain that the goal is to create multiple possibilities through various connections, feedback loops and interactions, resulting in maps that capture a moment-in-time, an event. (1999: 103-104) In this essay he also makes reference to the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in relation to the decoding of capitalism and how the process of mapping can create “syncretic assemblages within the [Global] Matrix”. (ibid.)

Links:
Maps of Competence
Cartography: Representation and Revealing the Hidden

Bibliography:
Hayles, N. Katherine. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press).
Imken, Otto. 1999. ‘The Convergence of virtual and actual in the Global Matrix: Artificial life, geo-economics and psychogeography’, Virtual Geographies: Bodies, Space and Relations, ed. by Mike Crang, Phil Crang and Jon May (London: Routledge) pp. 92-106.
Maturana, Humberto R. and Varela, Francisco J. 1980. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living (London: Dordrecht).
Taylor, D. R. Fraser. 2005. ‘The Theory and Practice of Cybercartography: An Introduction’, Cybercartography: Theory and Practice, ed. by D. R. Fraser Taylor (Amsterdam: Elsevier) pp. 1-13.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Question of Kitsch and the Problem of Agency


Dali Melting Clock:
I bought this from a catalogue in the 1990s.

I watched a programme on Sky Arts recently on Jeff Koons ‘The King of Kitsch’, one of his most famous sculptures was Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988) and was gold-painted porcelain. I am a fan of kitsch. Not in all its forms, and not just ironically. I am also interested in discussions on kitsch and what is considered kitsch (there appear to be many grey areas). I think a piece of well-placed kitsch looks great in one’s house, so in this short blog on the subject I have interspersed the text with some of my own kitsch objects.

In Germany in the late 19th century articles known as 'New Kitsch Collections' appeared in the periodical Kunstwart displaying 'tacky' objects that the reader was warned not to purchase (Jenkins 1996: 123). The origins of the term kitsch are based on a form of aesthetic disapproval that was attributed to objects that might often be considered overly sentimental, like Crying Boy by Anna Zinkeisen. It was also applied to a critique of mass produced objects, from the 19th century onwards, such as the items flagged up in Kunstwart, but also elsewhere. The plaster seaside ornaments that were prevalent in the 1960s would be a good example. Also, the objects spawned by the Hello Kitty line, originally from Japan, but now available everywhere. In recent times some of the 1960s kitsch has reached a kind of cult status, such as the famous portrait Tina by J. H. Lynch and what was known as The Green Lady by Vladimir Tretchikoff, from the same period. The figurines and ornaments that appear under the aegis of the 'Leonardo Collection' by Lesser and Pavey could be considered contemporary kitsch. You can see my own dolphin ‘study’ from the Leonardo Collection below:


Two Dolphins:
This is in my guest room along with a set of china dolphin bookends.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) describes ‘kitsch’ as: “Art or objets d'art characterized by worthless pretentiousness; the qualities associated with such art or artefacts.” This definition implies that the object is pretending to be something that it is not, whereas the common usage of ‘kitsch’ today is often aligned with the art not pretending to be something it is not and, in a sense, setting itself up clearly as an object to be seen for what it is, in all its mocking superficiality. Today’s kitsch can be overtly self-conscious, as is the case with Koon’s work.

There are other entries in the OED, for example: “Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. [...] is vicarious experiences and faked sensations. [...] The more romantic a work of art, or a landscape, the quicker its repetitions are perceived as kitsch or ‘slush’.” Also, there are alternative meanings: “to render worthless, to affect with sentimentality and vulgarity”. In Theodor Adorno’s essay 'Kitsch' he states that the etymology of the word is in the English word ‘sketch’ and he explains this as “the quality of becoming unrealized, merely hinted at.” (2002: 501), although this connection to 'sketch' is not noted in the OED. It seems that 'kistch' is a slippery term, the use of which has changed over time.


Two Green Frogs:
The plastic one on the left was a gift and I bought the other china one to keep it company.

Adorno believed all kitsch to be ideological and to have the ability to cleverly disguise its falsity. Hermann Broch, in his essay 'Notes on the Problem of Kitsch' (which appears in the oft-cited edition by Gillo Dorfles Kitsch: An Anthology of Bad Taste), addresses this falseness thus:
[I]f kitsch represents falsehood (it is often so defined, and rightly so), this falsehood falls back on the person in need of it, on the person who uses this highly considerate mirror so as to be able to recognize himself in the counterfeit image it throws back of him (1973: 49).
These kitsch objects, whilst they are really only generic objects, are imbued with a power that appears to speak to 'you'. Whereas in the past warnings were given to individuals not to buy kitsch because it was 'bad taste' and mass produced, nowadays individuals generally understand the concept of kitsch because it is usually much more recognisable as kitsch. However, I think this brings with it some problems.


My Own Wardobe:
Because I needed a temporary wardrobe, I bought a really cheap one in white melamine and did it up in a kitsch style.

However, I believe this knowledge does not make the individual impervious to its calling. Because the individual is aware that something is kitsch (false) they enter into a relationship with it on the assumption they have total agency in this exchange, but kitsch operates on another level. I would describe this relationship with kitsch to be rather like that of the simulacra: a reflective mirroring which continually circulates and has no resting place. Especially when we consider the kitsch from our own past, such as how the Tina portrait would be for me growing up in the 1960s. The present looks back at the past which is what creates the calling; the calling emanates from the individual but they have projected it onto the object and believe it to be outside themself; the object, in its personalised way, looks into the psyche of the individual; and yet the individual feels they are controlling this process because they 'know' this thing to be kitsch. The knowledge that something is kitsch does not prevent one being interpellated by it: the chosen object has, in fact, already interpellated you before you consciously realised it was kitsch!

Bibliography:
Adorno, Theodor W. 2002. 'Kitsch', Essays on Music, trans. by Susan H. Gillespie (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press) pp. 501-505.
Broch, Hermann. 1973. ‘Notes on the Problem of Kitsch’, Kitsch: An Anthology of Bad Taste, ed. by Gillo Dorfles (London: Studio Vista) pp. 49-76.
Jenkins, Jennifer, ‘The Kitsch Collections and “The Spirit in the Furniture”: Cultural Reform and National Culture in Germany’, Social History, 21, 2 (1996), 123-141.