Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Every scholar or group of scholars should have a curator, just as a band has a manager. Parrots such as myself are only good at squawking our particular squawk in whatever tree we find ourselves.
In Australia and New Zealand I happened to be surrounded by three excellent curators. Two of them were also scholars so somehow they had managed to straddle both roles. I'm talking about Douglas Kahn, Sophie Jerram and Jill Bennett.
What a fine group of people. How refreshing to hang out with them. They were about curating ideas, not competing for who has the loudest or sexiest squawk. They were so well connected, and so urbane. I was floored by how creative and smart they were.
He nails it I reckon:
I suspect that the problem is that air conditioning is more than a utilitarian cooling device: it is a marker of luxury, of the ability to transcend the elements. That shock of cold air, so incongruous in the hot summer months, is precisely the point. It is not enough that air conditioning actually cool the air — it must draw attention to the fact that it is doing so.
The NIEA conference on materials and environments in Sydney a week or so ago had two papers that tackled this issue. The big picture here is how architecture has been designed to shunt flows around—and in an age in which “away” no longer exists (we know that the “bad air” just goes round the block and contributes to climate change, not into some radically different dimension), this game of shunting flows around more and more efficiently just won't do.
This paper by David Gissen makes the point in one way
This paper by Stephen Healy makes a related point
Both are worth the read.
A perceptive commenter writes:
Curious as to what you think about pan-psychism vs eliminativist position? Ah -- googling i see you've got a dozen posts on pan-psychos...I respond: Eliminativism versus pan-psychism—these are apples and oranges. In other words, you could be an eliminativist who thinks that consciousness inheres in nerve firings. I'm neither an eliminativist nor a pan-psychist--I'm an object oriented ontologist.
In other words, I think that there is something that my mind does that isn't that different from what a pencil does when it rests on a table. It's the other way around: it's not that pencils have minds, it's that minds are pencil like. The onus is on AI and anti-AI to prove that consciousness is a special bonus prize for being highly organized or highly evolved, a suspiciously anti-Darwinian notion.
I was talking with a neurobiologist in New Zealand who also thinks that consciousness is much "lower down" than AI or anti-AI deem to be the case. The smart money is on consciousness as an interobjective configuration space that includes 1+n objects (such as enaction theory).
Monday, May 30, 2011
HT David Reid. There's so much beauty and profundity in this talk by composer Otomo Yoshihide that I shall let it speak for itself. Well almost. Here is one poignant evocation of how the aesthetic dimension is the causal dimension:
The purpose of this project isn't just to perform music or organize entertainment. The biggest aim is to think about how we'll continue to observe Fukushima's ongoing situation. Right now, when everyone is hurting, a kind of entertainment that allows people to forget reality is necessary, too, so we're trying to balance that as well. If we try to face this harsh reality head on, we'd die. Because the ultimate way of facing reality would be to go right in front of the power plant itself.He imagines an instrument that would emit feedback for 20 000 years incapable of being unplugged without an explosion...He also talks about a UStream channel, DOMMUNE, which I hope to watch as soon as I can.
In other words, it's perfectly possible to be ecological and anti-authoritarian in your politics. Indeed, Bookchin style thinking influenced the anti-globalization movement.
We can conclude, then, that one act that Curtis's editorial performs is to wipe out traces of this and other forms of ecological politics. It's a cartoon.
Viruses are good examples of how life relies like all objects on contradictoriness at a deep level. I virus is like a Henkin sentence that tells your genome to look it up in its inventory. While you're busy doing that you're inadvertently copying the virus.
Your body becomes a photocopier for a document called "I cannot be copied on this copy machine." When the number of copies reaches a certain threshold, death is imminent.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
"If allowed to pass by Iowa Senate Democrats, HF 589 will make it much easier for groups to mislead America's consumers about livestock production by convincing them that the terrible abuses that happened on a farm in Texas, where dairy calves had their heads smashed with hammers and pickaxes are not the exception, but the rule. In fact, if these Ag Gag bills pass, those battered calves will become the new face of animal agriculture. After all, who knows what lurks behind closed doors?"
I've known Carol for a long time. I was one of the first big fans of The Sexual Politics of Meat, a very happy synchronicity for me, since I was beginning my research on vegetarianism in the Romantic period. It was very nice of her to endorse the eventual book.
It's interesting to me how much
a) Carol's work now seems totally given, while in the late 80s it was easy to dismiss as off the wall, as was mine.
b) There is still a progressive, futuristic edge to her work—because society has nowhere near caught up with the feminist vegetarian vision she outlines.
So this interview with her comes as a welcome surprise. Perhaps I've inclined some more towards her position as I've aged, so this is fun for me to see how my mind has changed (for the better).
There are many types. I think there's a pretty strong difference between the kind of emergentism favored by holists and atomists, and the kind of anarchy favored by UK Uncut—with full respect to Adam Curtis, whose editorial in the Guardian of London today I found so interesting.
Curtis argues that holism has a lineage that includes the invention of the notion of ecosystem and the hippie movement. He argues that this betrays an anxiety about authority that mystifies leadership. He then applies this to the UK Uncut movement and its leaderless “self-organization.”
Let's break this down OOO style. The big difference is that for holists and atomists there is a top object and a bottom object, respectively. For holists there is a top object such as Gaia or Nature or History or Destiny that acts as an attractor, a series of chreodes that shape the seemingly random flow of entities.
For atomists such as right wing libertarians, there are atomic individuals and an invisible hand which acts as a kind of ersatz top object that directs the flow. Atomism and holism share much in common.
For the anarchist on the other hand there is no top or bottom object. It's kind of unfair of Curtis to lump in the “self-organized” crew of UK Uncut with the Gaian holists. I agree on the holists. But the UK Uncut people aren't trying to push an ontotheology. They're trying to save Britain from irreparable damage.
The aestheticization of holism+atomism+anarchy lacquers over the significant cracks between these forms of thinking. Creating an easy-wipe surface over which the mind glides, another society of the spectacle product to gawk at.
Douglas Kahn had a brilliant idea as we stared out at the “landscape” of sheep, the automation that Deleuze and Guattari brilliantly called “the continual whirr of machines,” alias Nature.
Take a leaf from pot growers, he said (ha ha). We don't necessarily have to become nomads. What we need is to grow stuff on the roofs of supermarkets (like that silicon valley entrepreneur has been doing, sorry I forget his name for moment). Or hydroponics.
Imagine Sheep World converted into common land for whomever...now that's an anarchist vision I can get behind...
It's kind of like how porn drive internet innovation. Drugs could drive the big shift we need to make: a shift from four phases of human society (all the way back to slave-owning and forwards to communism). Instead of a single guy overseeing a continual whirr of Nature as far as the eye can see, all kinds of people and nonhumans populating the non-spaces created by the ruminant-human manifold.
...that has to be my favorite line of Marx, ever. It sums up my feelings about a farmer with whom I was talking in New Zealand. For miles around his house you could see fields mowed pristine by the nibbling mouths of sheep. And machines like an irrigation machine on wheels. You dialed a certain amount of rain and hit Enter, and presto.
The farmer was wondering why his daughter was the only person in her school who worked on a farm. The simple answer, which propriety forbade me from giving, went something like this: “Well, man, you fired the workers and replaced them with automation, to improve your bottom line.” This dude was telling us about the efficiencies gained therefrom, for Pete's sake, in the same conversation in which he lamented the sorry state of his daughter's school fellows.
Imagine what groups of humans and nonhumans who weren't farmers and sheep could do with the “vast open space” of agriculture. The original Mark Fisher hauntology, of which lawns, parking lots and ambient music are but pale translations, is the field.
Imagine, in other words, a time without agriculture.
We've had four vast modes of human enjoyment: capitalism, communism, feudalism, slave owning societies. These have all taken place basically in an agricultural world. Every single one of them has had fields and sheep, as it were.
Ecology without agriculture? I think my Ph.D. student Eric O'Brien has a serious point.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
In his talks, Fisher wonders what constitutes the next moment of history after the one he characterizes as hauntological non-place.
For me, what evaporated was space and time (in this I agree with Fisher). But this was a while ago. When then evaporates is the non-place itself, because the notion of being anywhere at all is replaced by its shadow, a threatening intimacy. After the end of the “world” there is intimacy with other lifeforms. “World,” “environment” and “place” (and even “space”) are simply reified euphemisms for a plenitude of non-totalizable lifeforms. Hills are made of them, the sky teems with them, oxygen is their shit.
The next moment of history, which I believe we are living (many of my talks have now argued this), is the moment at which humans catch up to the Darwinian and ecological knowledge that has been pressing on them for almost two hundred years, aided by phenomenological and scientific developments such as relativity and quantum theory and object-oriented ontology.
This has, I believe, serious implications for the practice of political critique and avant garde art. They are now seen as dialectical counterparts of the previous historical moment. They don't work, not because capitalism has won, but because ecological awareness demands something different.
Having a number of different reasons for doing something is rational, as long as those reasons don't contradict one another. Say for example that the action is eating a small jar of organic honey. The following reasons are given:
1) Alternatives are unpleasant (agave nectar, for instance, contains measurably toxic amounts of mercury; sugars are produced by industrial processes to which one might object)
2) Receiving a gift is part of the Buddhist paramita of generosity
3) Non-toxic alternatives also involve ecological issues (maple syrup is very expensive in the USA because the trees are endangered)
4) (and so on)
On the other hand, being told that your reasons are “psychic defense mechanisms” and not taking a hint—one of the given reasons would have been enough to suggest that I back off, were I pressing someone on their reasons for something—and further, compounding these reasons into a package that somehow expresses my evil...
Mark Fisher has been talking at NYU and I wish I could have been there (lectures here). It seems as if his argument has some affinities with some of the things I wrote in Ecology without Nature.
In fact that whole project began as a meditation on non-places. In Colorado I was struck by the enormous size of mall parking lots, far far bigger than necessary. And restaurant tables—the fancier the restaurant, the wider and more massive they were, the better to separate the diners. I too am haunted by these places.
I use Derrida's term hauntology in a slightly different way in EwN than the way I think Fisher uses it. This is the sense of undead, spectral presence rather than loneliness per se (though I see how they are related). I think this is an improvement on environmentalist presence. Mind you, check out these lines:
Spitzer argues that the very thinkers whose ideas undermine these usages introduce them, to protect us against what they have clearly discovered—vast empty space...
“Empty” space—space that capitalism has left relatively undeveloped—is intrinsic to capitalism, since the laws of capital may dictate that a vacant lot is more profitable over a certain span of time than one that has been developed. Plot is a potential space, a limbo waiting to generate value. Capitalism moves onto this empty stage, with its phantasmagoric carnival, leaving junkspace in its wake.
To theorize ecological views is also to bring thinking up to date. Varieties of Romanticism and primitivism have often construed ecological struggle as that of “place” against the encroachments of modern and postmodern “space.” In social structure and in thought, goes the argument, place has been ruthlessly corroded by space: all that is solid melts into air. But unless we think about it some more, the cry of “place!” will resound in empty space, to no effect.
My own take: capitalism has ruthlessly demystified the notion of place only to re-place it with other forms of interstitial place such as airport lounges. One of the first ever non-places is surely the garden lawn. Jefferson's Monticello (see photo) has a gigantic one, originally to obscure the view of slave quarters...
Margie has been kind enough to correspond with me on her talk, which I found more than exciting. Here are some extra notes:
My bad, Crooke's text is from 1615 not 1516.
It's significant that skepticism was strongly emergent in Renaissance discourse around the hymen. Margie cites the mockery made of “testing” for virginity in drama, for instance. This skepticism is what is sorely lacking in contemporary hymen practices such as surgery.
This is part of a bigger picture having to do with the notion of “plastic surgery”: is it a need or a luxury? (Of course, the term confuses the seemingly black and white difference.)
I had an extra thought. The cynical narrator in The Book of Thel makes Thel's voice from the grave (weird, yes?) speak a bewildered horror about the determinacy of the body. The ears are vortices that sucks things in: “The Ear, a whirlpool fierce to draw creations in.” The final line of this sequence obviously concerns the hymen: “Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire?”
The curtain evokes images of the four poster bed and the stage. The curtain that must be unveiled (apocalypse) to reveal being. Which in The Book of Thel is all about how creatures are penetrated by the voice of God (logos), given a place in the great ecosystemic machine. Thel's resistance to this dichotomy and to this attitude is hardly ever supported in the secondary literature: why won't she just grow up and have (virtual) sex with God like everyone else?
Two commenters seem concerned with my honey eating. But one seems more concerned to paint me into a corner:
So long as we agree, Tim, that you aren't a vegan and that you have a bunch of psychic defense mechanisms (e.g., mercury, gift, Buddhist, trees, etc) to justify your choices even when those choices violate your stated principles (i.e., that you are vegan).
This is the kind of beautiful soul syndrome (BS for short) that
a) Divides people who have more in common than they have differences
b) Pushes people into defiance
c) Paints the other as evil—with Hegel, I argue that this kind of painting is itself evil
d) Boxes the left into ever greater gyrations of cynicism and disillusionment
So in short, no—I don't agree that eating some honey that Sophie Jerram gave me makes me anything.
Catriona Sandilands (queer ecology star) has some stories about the early days of ecofeminism, in which it was made clear to non-vegans that they should not be made love to, because they were evil and smelled different. Wow.
This is the kind of thing that puts veganism squarely in the same box as consumerism—if we want out of that box, we have to start acting differently. I've written too many books on this to rehearse the arguments here, but I recommend starting with my essay “Let Them Eat Romanticism” in the book Cultures of Taste / Theories of Appetite. Or chapter 2 of Ecology without Nature.
Everything is sacred (Carlos Casteneda, confronted by a fan who was outraged at his eating a burger in a seedy New Mexico joint).
Friday, May 27, 2011
Yes that's right, at the Royal Academy Schools Show, 10:30–4pm. Iain Hamilton Grant will also be talking. I'm eager to meet him.
I arrive on June 30 in the morning if anyone wants to have me do anything else.
I'm in love with things Australia and New Zealand, as you may be able to tell. So I have these CDs of Australian birdsong, and of sounds of the Outback and rainforest. Of course environmental sounds cds are highly mediated, I know that. But even that is interesting to me—to figure out someone's view of how they would aesthetically translate the rainforest, for instance, may add to the experience rather than subtracting from it, since there is no unmediated access to objects (right?).
These mediations are by Andrew Skeoch and Sarah Koschak of Listening Earth. Their website has an informative blog.
Yes yes I know it says “The Pure Sounds of Nature.” I'm a hypocrite not a cynic, remember?
Much as I suspected at the time, they won for Outlands. I mean it's almost unspeakable how powerful this piece is. It's a bardo navigation device, that's what I think.
During my recent trip to Melbourne I had the pleasure of meeting with Graham Priest, a logician working on (or rather against) the law of non-contradiction (LNC), a concept that's been around since Aristotle but which has, strangely, never received any justification apart from a circular one, to wit, "If you don't believe in it you're not logical."
This was the kind of thing that made me have a low opinion of logic. The discipline seemed capable of easily being misused by the kinds of alpha chimp that try to dismiss your argument by making you feel like you're talking nonsense. Now Priest, like Derrida, is opening up LNC, but unlike Derrida, from within logic as such.
Since a lot of Ferguson's talk involved ambiguous or both-and constructs, one of which is the notion of "doorway," I thought we should be interested that one of Graham's examples of a situation that cries out for a more subtle logic (there are many, it seems) is the notion of being in a doorway--are you inside or outside the room?
It also seems to me, intuitively, that one reason why patriarchy seems obsessed with the hymen is its (here is Graham's term) dialetheic status (di = double, aletheia, truth). Hence the drive to reduce the contradictoriness to "You're either a virgin or you're a woman" (wow by the way I can't believe that modern website, see the notes below on Margie's lecture). And the drive to excise the hymen.
This seems to resemble the drive to excise from logic things like the Liar paradox ("This sentence is false"), despite Gödel's proof that for a system to be coherent, it has to be inconsistent, that is, it has to contain a sentence that says something like "This statement cannot be proved." (Let alone deconstruction and so on.)
The connection with Aristotle seems interesting, since he develops the LNC (and the unexplained taboo against violating it), at the same time as not restricting the notion of hymen. But his quite teleological view of bodies (hands are for clapping, ducks are for swimming etc.) might have played into fears about hymens. In which case what the heck are modern (hence anti-Aristotelian) doctors doing with it?
Abraham Cowley on the hymen, 1656. “The worst estate even of the sex that's worst ... Slight, outward Curtain to the Nuptial Bed!”
It's an imaginary point, that does not exist until one imagines it as a threshold or barrier. A doorway, a case, a false front of a building. Or a hidden essence, a magnetic center.
To say that the hymen doesn't exist as a stable single thing, separate from imagination, is not to say that it isn't important. The phenomenon named as if it were substance has the power to drive action and empirical practices.
Cowley: to find the hymen is an alchemical art...maiden is to chastity as porter is to door...a guardian but not the thing itself. Invisible, an aporia or crux. Must be thought as open and closed at once.
Cowley's poem offers crafted resistance to those who want the hymen to exist as a thing that one can simply purchase or be punished for lacking. Apostrophe to the hymen. A theatrical curtain or a magician, monk, alchemist. “A point imaginary.”
Spivak: the point of humanist critical thinking is to aim at “the uncoercive rearranging of desires.”
These practices are expanding in response to desires of individuals and groups. A scholarly project in the humanities can draw on historical and philological research to help solve a local and global problem.
Hymen surgeries are occurring in Davis, Cairo, Stockholm and other places. Question of qualitative changes from re-virgination practices in the past is an open one.
Older seeming words legitimate and clean up the physical abuse. OED editors describe the terms as recent in vintage. “Hymenogeny”: creation of hymens. What invented hymenography? This term is in the OED. “A description of the membranes of animal bodies.” For Aristotle the hymen was a membrane surrounding all organs in animal bodies. Not just one.
Modern tendency to reify the hymen can be located in the Tudor and Stuart archive.
Derrida's reflections on the hymen as a sign. There are few skeptical voices out there, however, even though there are problems with considering the hymen as a “separate” body part. And the generalization across time and space about a whole constituency of people and their bodies.
(Given that five hundred years later, almost everyone is affected by the actions of those in the Renaissance, to study it is highly important.)
Hymens remain off the radar. Medical practices that are performed for money today found their origin in the Renaissance. Hymenoplasty at e.g. 247surgery.com. “The tearing of the hymen makes a virgin turn into a woman.” Whoah. (And there are many other terrible lines, wow.) “Sometimes the hymen ruptures through excessive physical activities, like sports ... the use of tampons ... Whatever the reason a girl may want her hymen restored.”
Hymenorrhaphy: to sew of stitch together the hymen, to cause bleeding on wedding night and give evidence of the girl's virginity. Some surgeons put in a gelatin capsule of fake blood (!). It can cost anything from $29 (in China) to $4500.
Or hymen operations often involve infibulation: to clasp with a brooch ... “female circumcision,” FGM. Names matter in conceptualizing and valuing these procedures.
A commenter is somewhat surprised I eat honey. Well, agave nectar is an alternative but the products from Whole Foods (the dominant product) are full of mercury (no really). And maple syrup endangers a whole bunch of trees (unless perhaps you live in Canada...). Bees are for sure sentient but I'm not eating them. And I think it's fairly clear that cows have by far the worst of it in comparison. In America at least, bees are at risk and (some) bee keepers are among the only human people taking care of them.
And agave nectar is basically cunningly marketed high fructose corn syrup (with attendant chemical strippers, hence the mercury). Check it out.
Carl Douglas writes:
The rolling hills of NZ are an industrial landscape, of course: the biodiversity of native bush has been removed and replaced with an ultra-simplified ecology centring on grass and cows or sheep. The deforestation process was begun by Maori clearing land for agriculture, and continued apace by European settlers. The industrial waste runoff (mostly cow excrement and fertilisers) entering the streams unfiltered has a highly destructive effect on the health of those waterways. A major challenge in addressing ecological problems like this is the presumption that grass+animals=nature, and the consequent blindness to the industrial nature of agriculture.
Well said. I didn't realize that about the Maori clearing the land—I have a very sketchy picture of how they moved over New Zealand and had thought they had simply ignored this part. Carl's point underscores the slightly disturbing quality of the land there—England blown up to hyperbolic size.
There was quite a hilarious piece of graffiti on some rocks in the valley near to Wedderburn: “After Death” on one, “Judgment” on the next one. I wanted to put up two signs next to them: “After dinner” and “mints.”
She's the Faculty Lectureship holder for this year—a big, big deal, the biggest my school offers, open both to scientists and humanists. And she's a good friend. So I'm going to take some notes on my esteemed colleague's lecture here.
The notion of individualism—single or inseparable (a deep ambiguity). Contested ideas about individual versus group. Aggressive redefinition of virginity in the early Renaissance. Beth-ula (Hebrew): notion of separation. Slide of virgo intacta (from “young woman” to “virgin” in Greek).
Virginity increasingly defined as a stage of life that ended in marriage. The early Protestant state was ruled by a woman who refused to marry. Rumors that she was a virgin and a bastard. Model of the Virgin Mary.
Surgery adverts on the web: hymen (Greek, “membrane”). This term first entered English in 1615 (Crooke, Microcosmographia). Also Greek god of marriage and cries of pain or joy on crossing of threshold into married state. Hymen with torch.
Early modern skepticism about the hymen. 1693 petition of widows for redress of their grievances. “Clamor” about the loss of maidenhead.
On one side, the Western one, New Zealand is rainforest. On the other, it's rolling hills. I almost believed I was in the UK, possibly southern Scotland or northern England, as we drove towards Wedderburn across impossibly extended farmland, like a stretched version of what you see in the sheep farming areas of Britain.
Then Sophie and Trudy drove me to the beach near Auckland where The Piano was shot. Totally different scene. Strange lifeforms on the beach and strange plants, ferns and palms, not unlike rural Taiwan. Black sand.
It struck me forcefully that agriculture has an aesthetic that is somewhat hostile to contemporary ecological concerns. The farmer we hung out with for instance, was one of the principal resistors of wind farms—why? Because the turbines would spoil the horizon line.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Seriously seriously powerful honey (I love honey) from New Zealand. Any stronger and the eucalyptus notes of the manuka flower would taste like Vicks Vaporub (!). But at this concentration, it's beyond delicious. Medicine. It actually has antibacterial properties. Courtesy of Sophie Jerram (thank you!).
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Number two (very close) would be the event yesterday. Inspired by Blakean wrath against the minions of Exxon, Doug and I went kapow. See for yourself (video posted below).
Doug is my co-pilot and Sophie Jerram is a superstar and Jill Bennett is a magnificent maestro. Scholars need inspired curators to get them out of their isolated trees where they squawk alone, and put them in bigger environments where they can talk to one another and to non-scholars. I met some top humans and forged some relationships that will last a lifetime I reckon.
Somehow this was in two parts—sorry about that.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
(Of the debate, at least.) Chris de Freitas's wife showed up at dinner, somewhat surprisingly. He's a denialist “skeptic” funded, it seems, by Exxon. It was a very intense encounter, which left me wondering whether I was just a jerk and should dial back my arguments a bit...until I was told who this was and why I was being made to feel like that.
I have good news, which is that I have some arguments that Exxon et al. don't like. It's the one about the girl and the truck. The counter argument to global warming is based on keeping people in the terrain of facts and factoids. If you can introduce a sliver of doubt, Fox et al. will jump on it. If Nancy or Chris de Freitas can keep me occupied for long enough, I'm neutralized.
But my argument doesn't depend on proving for the millionth time that global warming is real. Indeed I see that as an ideologically driven distraction. Saying that there have been periods of cooling as well as warming on Earth so why bother, is to me like saying that since the truck has been known to reverse and drive down other streets, we shouldn't save the girl.
Why do you save the girl from the truck? You save her because you can see her. You don't need to prove that she's your relative. You don't need to prove that the truck is going to hit her. You just save her. Because you can understand what's going on.
Why do we fix global warming? Because we can understand it. No need for proof. Thanks to Alphonso Lingis for backing this up for me...
Monday, May 23, 2011
What a wonderful thing it is to work with Doug Kahn. He is a really generous guy and open to the unexpected. Talking with him has an improv feel. It's not easy to do that in any mode. I used to be in an music improv band, and it was rare to find someone who was ready to do that.
A dialogue between Douglas Kahn of NIEA Australia and Tim Morton at Dunedin Public Art Gallery, May 22, 2011. Facilitated by Now Futures (in particular, Sophie Jerram).
Sunday, May 22, 2011
If you want to come, please do, it's open I think. And if you are interested in me addressing whatever, respond here and I'll do my best to do that.
Then this evening I'm in conversation with Alvin Lucier student and all round fantastic guy and sound studies person Douglas Kahn, here.
It's just a good time, period, when you sit in an armchair in a quiet cottage in rural New Zealand being quizzed gently yet incisively on object-oriented ontology.
Met a farmer today, a heavy duty guy, a seer of big pictures. I'm sure we're quite different in many ways but we really hit it off. His house (five generations old) was so reminiscent of my grandparents' house in the northern Lake District. The quiet ticking of the clock, the scones and cream, the metal objects on the gravel in front. Only my grandparents had tank shells (grandfather was a tank designer!) and these guys had farm equipment.
My hosts, Sophie Jerram and others, are top humans. She's the sort of very creative person who is able to be a catalyst for all kinds of actions and events. We need Sophie Jerrams. I'm just a strategically shaved monkey who sits in armchairs and waffles on...
Good feng shui here. If I were a Taoist I'd admire the rock dragons that line the ridges here—very auspicious. Strangely the Maori word for them also means skink (a kind of reptile) and shaman healer...
Saturday, May 21, 2011
This sounded like a great event at the London School of Economics (HT Dirk Felleman). Nicholas Royle talks about the ecological thought, the mesh and dark ecology in the context of a novel he has just written about unfathomable things, events, and affects. You can download the MP3. Featuring the ocean and a manta ray...
Friday, May 20, 2011
“Curating Materials.” A most unusual session. David Gissen, Timothy Morton, Jill Bennett, Douglas Kahn (moderator). A roundtable on curating a hyperobjects exhibition in Sydney at NIEA. Featuring a host of interlocutors. Sydney, May 20 2011. Very creative ideas were had.
After I switched the recorder off (isn't that always the way?), I had the idea of buying some space on a satellite that would circle Earth and photograph events at the exhibition from space. The satellite might contain some precious or contaminated materials.
making the invisible visible
close study of Bergson, cited in 1913 in manifesto
any division of matter with outlines is artificial
rest as abstraction
matter must be a flux rather than a thing
time, repetition, beats, becoming objective
coalescence of us with the things around us
breaking down objectification of the world brought to us by perspectivalism
Lucretius and the fall in the void and the swerve
from that you get form, nature, individualism
Seurat as a swarm of atoms
Fabulous atomism in his drawing
Swarms of atoms
Using a scanning tunneling microscope to move atoms
AFM Atomic Force Microscope
Using touch to image, not optics
Growing a skin cell onto gold
Grey goo of Midas
AFM finds the cell like a mountain
Scientists write the software to interpret the images
Data turned into a soundwave
An artificial life program that eats the skin and turns it into gold
Dematerialization of matter
Discovery of critical vitalism (Thomas thought he was home there...)
Plan: take an immortal Hackett skin cell, scan in AFM, watch the cell dying
Then use the Unity Game Engine to produce an envelope of states between life and death
Transmission of life versus growth: which is it? Bible=transmission...
Nano materialism; the notion that we aren't that much according to the government language about piddling piles of carbon and so on
Bennett on encounters with nonhuman materials
Trying no longer to be a tourist looking at the world but understanding matter
Change of artistic role from the Protagorean view that man is the measure of all things
Thursday, May 19, 2011
modernism, seductive process of dominating nature and helping to define nature
cubes, rectangles, Euclidean geometry
design to get you to the moon (just deal with the design, functionalism); ironically the lunar module is a lot easier to live with than the machine for living!
a function that’s highly specific like a space machine
how can we think something as something else
coming from functionalism
nature as catastrophe (Zizek)
new computing power to imagine non-Newtonian stuff
Newtonian physics got us to the Moon
the real problem is starting to understand materiality through quantum mechanics
starting to grow architectures
architecture will disappear
because we can grow these forms over and on top of what exists
accretions like the coral reef
it will disappear into an interiority
new types of private space in public space: porosity
inverse of the phallocentric city
the architecture of invagination
something is something else: “this is not a pipe”
Richard Wilson, Deep End, 1994: defiance of the functional, a swimming pool becoming a boot
the greenest thing in the future is not to rebuild anything but just to rethink it
we have enough stuff to go with, we have to start doing stuff with it
though most schools do follow some kind of functionalist modernism we can at least name the thing first, metaphor
not just an extravagance, it’s doable, it leads with an idea
his favorite architecture is the slum without misunderstanding the suffering
invention, necessity, so much more interesting than an idea that we can dominate nature with our modernism
Virilio: elongated transformed war of eco catastrophe
structure itself is going to get to the point at which it reinvents and makes other things
do we paint the wrecked plane that crashed onto a building, and stabilize it and turn it into a building?
transformation through the parasite
thinking something is something else: surrealism
automatic processes that might suggest structure
prostheticizing the road to turn it into an architecture
the parasites: only allowed to be built as public art
the hard thing is to convince government to let us do it...
transforming bad buildings, reduce carbon emission, capture water
porosity: chiastic space; Rosalind Kraus on expanded fields between art and architecture etc.
vision of Sydney that got into Venice Biennale
my nervous system has been kidnapped by Aboriginal Australians
part of an indigenous poetics: no one seeing the system steadily and seeing it whole
experiments in thinking with things
David Uniapon: “everything that exists has some life apart from itself” (well put), indigenous Australian philosopher
me on the excessive object
some people need porn to get off
we don’t have a terminology of love for our sacred rituals
Karora: thinking, desire
flashes that caused the bandicoots to emerge
broke through the crust of the Earth
filled with sweet dark juice of the honeysuckle
he cooks and eats some bandicoots
and then talking about the painting:
it flashes in your mind and urges you to move around a bit
Harman: bring back myth; Sloterdijk, not just western--enlightenment should have something to do with enlightening the mood
scholars still sending out the term “modern”
Harman: quasi- term of objects undermines the idea of nature
ancient-modern paintings are hyperobjects
Bergson: it’s repugnant to us that we might have to create a new way of thinking to account for a new object
Latour: against the materialist orthodoxy tends to treat things as if they’re inanimate all the time
animist attitude that risks sounding new agish
singing, dancing, writing are not communicate items but ecological events existing more spatially than temporally
spirits, dreams, fictional beings
how can you imagine the relation between a snail and the leaf it’s eating
water spirit as the most changeful spirit of all
Question: absence of subject–object in the Dreaming
what does it mean to occupy a world in which landscape is a sentient being?
the question Gay asked me; how we might understand the relationship between political processes and materiality
how to account for the force of things in political culture
recognizing the force of things in political processes, a “more than human” politics
listing in OOO; proliferation of things that we need to be worried about
not just how does matter become a human political object, but how do objects have political effectivity
refusing to see it as an exclusive activity
stuff can have a constitutive role in political processes
Hawkins isn’t convinced that OOO knows how to talk about politics well
She prefers Bennett
Isabelle Stengers: matter doesn’t have fixed essence, but is arranged according to relations
(if it’s all relations...then...?)
different relations make present the different qualities of stuff: so that is an OOO point...I’m not sure whether Hawkins is conflicted on this
Latour: even humans don’t speak on their own but always through something or someone else
how to create mechanisms that can mediate this
agency cut loose from human orbit
can’t be designated as an attribute of subjects or objects
intraactivity (Barad, uncited)
politics as a generative process of negotiation as to what counts
plastic bag politics as “mattering” the bag, making the bag ethically animated, then the bag becomes capable of entangling humans in its affectivity
this isn’t about reason but about the bag making us think about emergent causation
plastic bottles changed the way we see water
how does the bottle participate in revealing things about ecology
Brita Water Filter ad:
generating this forum not through normal deliberative politics but by deploying the affective force of the bottle’s thing power
human and nonhuman intermingling, a fleeting, temporary assemblage
Doug: the granting of agency to materials and objects: he’s not sure how to divorce it from commodity fetishism
“granting social relations to what workers produce rather than the workers themselves”
although actually the fetishism is a real agency in the object according to Marx (!)
Answer: forcefields emerge; agency is always distributed, agentic force of an interrelationship...that generates actancy
approaching OOO from a different angle.
John Cage in the anechoic chamber: he heard a high pitched and a low pitch sound. Nervous system and circulation of blood. He thought he heard the inside of his body working.
“no one means to circulate their blood”
Serres would have difficulty with this: it implies the silencing of the world
pass through the body and are filtered by the skin; world becomes bearable because of these filters
from world to language’s first cycle
the second cycle: hard sounds to soft sounds, muted, deadened; racket of the collective
dinner table, phone goes off, disruption, sound changes, one sense of collectivity is complicated to another
social contact unifies but also dissassembles
a movement between boxes: racket and boxes important here (Serres)
beneath the process of meaning is music, meaning presupposes it; a kind of rhythm or resonance that’s part of sensation
the noise of movement, not of things
Cage wanted to hear the inner vibrations of objects, wanted to put little anechoic chambers over ashtrays
but what he really wanted to hear was this life affirming sound
his wish has been granted by modern houses
wireless and media swamp anechoic sound
if the space of no sound led cage to think he was hearing himself
what kind of sensation does the space of no sensation produce?
vicarious experience of google, mass surveillance
an entanglement that forms a racket, a snare; all thought blends into noise
no resonance possible and therefore no meaning
without this eloquence collapses into gibberish and boredom (Serres)
plea for relative quiet of natural world? no the only escape is death; there will always be filters (and then after you die...if you’re a Tibetan Buddhist...)
Fran then plays two versions of The Listening Post (Mark Hansen, Ben Rubin)
computer voice that synthesizes the world’s thoughts? great example of hard to soft sound?
chatter (DHS term for terrorism)
pleasant and dark version
air as a vector for everything
as a basis for aesthesis; milieu of air; body and environment as reciprocally unfolding
body as mingling of matter, situated by virtue of its capacity to sense and absorb the environment
Susskind, Perfume; orgiastic frenzy then collective denial; the protagonist Grenouille as object of misplaced affect
cumulative mood as atmosphere, momentarily sustained as an environment
social relationship conceived as only metaphorical but it’s equally physical (interaction with airborne chemicals)
atmosphere not an inert backdrop to human activity; socioclimate
thickness that envelopes bodies and regenerates experience; affectively binding; buzz, vibe, mood
defined by intensity, excitement
as the affect subsides the crowd dissipates
transmission a great not-well-studied phenomenon
Theresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect: we focus on expression and reception but not on in-between
ecological thinking comes into being across a whole variety of disciplines and practices
not just in explicit goals but to render the sphere of atmosphere as a dynamic inhabited zone
Turner and Constable establishing atmospheric phenomena as part of the landscape
Serres on Turner as genius of thermodynamics; Turner as first industrial artist; humans as onlookers to that spectacle
consumption of climate theater (Sloterdijk) as spectacle
contemporary immersive art practice
space in between subject and object is no longer a space but an envrionment
Antony Gormley Blind Light installation at the Hayward: when you encounter someone you’re already inside their intimacy space
Eliasson, Feeings are Facts http://www.olafureliasson.net/exhibitions/feelings_are_facts.html
to enter the building you have to pass through fog and water nozzles
smart raincoat encoded with personality data with lights that light up
anti-spectacular experience, far from anti-aesthetic
embodied experience of seeing in a mist
Serres, Background Noise is not a phenomenon; there is no such thing (!); noise as a matter of being, it’s just around and upon us before we think it (it has no specificity!)
I’m happy I’m not a Serres-ean then
it does uncercut habitual perception
constituting the ground not replacing one experience with another (I don’t agree with this by the way)
Phillippe Rahm installation, Digestible Gulf Stream; current of air; atmospheric momentum
immersion: ambience can be an end in itself, warm bath of indulgence, the necessary qualifier of place
cf deep ecology and romantic environmentalism
idea that simply being there is virtuous (well put, Jill!)
Serres versus armchair phenomenology (gymnastics, mountaineering)--but that could also suck!
art historical skepticism on immersive art (Hal Foster): appeal to affect eradicates the critical distance
at the general level these critiques can simply be resistance to the medium
but they work at a particular level
as a beginning of inquiry into ontology it could produce a critical quality
Avatar: natural utopia of Pandora as a technosublime fantasy
deep ecological immersion as absorption into the Pandoran ecosystem
excess of tech now required to get back to nature
Hilda Kozari, Bertrand Duchaufour, Smell of Helsinki
Duchamp’s Paris Air, 50cc’s of it
Rahm’s experiments with invisible architecture, Pulmonary Space from Radical Nature show
breath from the musicians collected and inhaled
kind of critical and cool as opposed to Kozari, not just an abstract cultural entity
trying to break the specator/object divide
movie space and narrative space (diegetic space) in cinema theory, viewer in fixed relationship, an inside–outside boundary
this is undercut by an immersive viewing experience; connected with environment through a series of discrete encounters including all kinds of different sensory connections
mingling of matter, need to develop a richer modeling of what goes on in space
new realism and sensory geography is emerging
Shona Illingworth in the Hebrides, military bombardment zones
sound not ecomimetic
The Watchman (about Belsen) http://www.wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/exhibitions/the-watch-man.aspx
Sylvia Eckerman, Breathe My Air
Chinese notion of “borrowed scenery”
Bergson: subjects and objects are “nothing more than relations and reciprocal unfoldings”
europeans have gone to a more american style recently
affective one: feeling AC; thermal comfort is culturally shaped; cool of Mosques, Islamic gardens; japanese onsen; ac inscribes a very particular kind of thermal comfort in contardistinction to the heterogenous variety of e.g. Mediterranean paseo; hearth; sauna
AC replaces these; malls depend on escalators and air conditioning
replaces thermally variant practices with invariant, powerful thermal monotony (Mexico banned the siesta in 1999)
Scott Lash 2001 on the “disembedded” and “generic” “lifted-out space of placelessness”
we tend to think of thermal comfort as natural
1920s “comfort chart”; Nicholas Rose on “irreal” spaces, governmentality, “fabricating a ‘clearing’ within which thought and action can occur” (1999, 212)
thermal comfort not climate is the standard by which we now judge
ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers)
young Singaporeans are now starting to sweat out of doors
stressing electricity systems and climate change
piggybacking on “comfort”; John Crowley, 2001 The Invention of Comfort: “self-conscious satisfaction with the relationship between one’s body and the immediate physical environment”
from the C18 it had to be taught and learnt
emergence of the contemporary novel, Robinson Crusoe e.g.: furnishing of his shack was very unfamiliar at the time, innovative, became part of enculturation
Monty Python’s comfy chair Inquisition skit; the Inquisition of the 16th century would not have understood comfort in those terms
comfort as a hyperobject
materially constructing affective conditions
many don’t even hear AC (Latour): they fall under the radar
we are deeply conditioned to delineate climate change from the many things such as thermal monotony,
this affect is likely a general characteristic of hyperobjects: we render them opaque at our cost
vectors in architectural drawings
contemporary aesthetics within architecture plays with that: Deleuzian aesthetic of flow
post-vectored representation of the environment
problem: the arrows represent the sublimation of the built environment within a vitalistic and scientific conception of the environment
new types of grammar
we live in a vectored mentality even when artworks aren’t about vectors
I Wei Wei’s kernels at the Tate Modern: viewed as vectors for dust
Forest de Belidor (1737–1753), Hydraulic Architecture: arrows representing the flow of water
Phillippe Buache, 1743 map of Flood of Paris
Air currents of New York Underground, 1900
Industry in Chicago, 1900
Pollution vectors in American Cities, 1960s: buildings sited within a particular airflow
Buckminster Fuller’s Dome over Manhattan, 1960
Air Currents in Times Square, DHS 2004
CASE phyto-remediation Wall System
Exhalations of Crowds, Home Woodbridge, 1900
Carbon Dioxide Swirls, Open Columns, Omar Khan 2007
Michael Carepetian photo, Leonardo Benevelo photo of architectural masterpieces open to the elements: a form of realism
things not moving in a graceful way
objectifying socio-natural matter into forms instead of distributing it; vs. optimize and fix
architecture has been the era of distribution; need for something that’s more formed
representation of environment that’s social-historical rather than scientific
Phillipe Rahm, The Underground House 2005
earth has a taste and smell; make each house have a relationship to the “profoundness of the odors of the soil”; house filled with the smell of earth; different from 19th or 20th or even a sustainable architect
instead of trying to propel the frightening stuff away
room as a form in which we’re in contact with ground in a new way
B_MU Tower, Bangkok, R&Sie, 2002; “Dusty Relief”
siting within Bangkok pollution: absorbing the polluted air with an electrostatic skin
the cruelty of creating an art gallery environment with perfect air systems, the irony of that
The Magic Mountain, Ames Iowa, Cero9, 2004; shower of roses and pollen
reification of “space” and “environment” in architectural theory
space as psychological vs environment as concrete
trying to put history back into the environment
Deterritorialized Territory, Paris, Phillippe Rahm, 2008
reconstitute May 1832 day in Paris; room that is a historical reconstruction of one month before first coal fired industrial plant
(Doug: The Air of Paris, Duchamp)
1920s pollution in Pennsylvania
David Gissen, Reconstruction, HTC experiments, 2006–2010
Stack and California College of the Arts, Potrero Hill, SF 2009; last industrial stack in the area
Plume Idling, California College of the Arts, HTC Experiments
Jorge Otero-Pailos, 2008, The Ethics of Dust
applying a latex wash to the surfaces; hung the residues back on the wall; sense of labor of the cleaners; turning the atmos into a physical form
there’s a determinacy to it
1990 image of CO2 concentrations over the Earth; we can site our work within this context without bowing to science
(are we bowing to science or to scientism? q)
thermodynamic flows: Gissen agrees, it’s a kind of aura of science, he calls it vitalism
Kant: forgetting the science, forgetting the ego
arrows: representing matter under force; connotation of force and aggression?
Q: where is the everyday-ness? Gissen can appreciate that. But does architecture represent life or is architecture the setting in which life occurs?
monuments withdrawn from activity--should architecture not speak to the here and now?
modernist program: shaping of human activity
architecture IS a historical, monumental activity...
“we need to withdraw a bit and activate other possibilities”
Doug: post-vector with stagnancy; that would be all buildings; an object that becomes more of an object...?
is it possible to have a building that comes from someplace else?
1970s studies of heat-island effect; carbon off-gassing studies
we can study even the most static-seeming object as vectored in “this vain age”
Q: Zeno; revenge of the filter; toxic buildup, Legionnaire’s disease
utopian planning that imagines the city as flow (1960s)
the flows, when seen from a higher dimensional point of view or taking the long view into account, are static or metastable (global warming)
Arthur Graham as vectored language
Tony Fry: how to make movable cities (Doug)
Jill: disciplinary orientation, capacity of architecture to intervene? Why isn’t this just art? So withdrawn that you can’t live in it
what do we really do in the city? monuments and memorials have to do with art, they represent life quite literally (men on horses etc.)
but architecture in general is the setting
not architecture any more even though architecture is its object
Rahm: he DOES build things; we are in a room with an air conditioning system which is somehow for us or plants or animals
the place emerges as a form, like the climate of Guatemala (a representation), 50% humidity, 70 degrees
I used to live in a farmhouse that had a basement that smelled like dirt...