Saturday, July 28, 2007

inside joke, outside job

How people decide whether or not it matters to be on the inside (and then what inside) or the outside is a matter of passion, of Leiden, of suffering. It follows from such a description (in which choice is not so much an action, or an act, but rather something that acts upon you) interiority and exteriority are related to affect, or to the exchange of activity and passivity. The exchange of interior and exterior, or the blurring or solidification of each sphere, seems to fixate nonetheless on the boundary in between rather than the logic involved in their obversity in the first place. This contrasts with our attention to the substantive realms of subject- and objecthood when we fixate on what distinguishes the one from the other; instead, their relationship seems figured by a "determining" logic that persists (or is blurred or solidified) between them. In fact, it seems kind of arbitrary to say that this type of distinction, between the contours of interiority/exteriority and the substantiveness of subject/object, holds. Figures of the encounter between the subject and an other have sought to capture the gesturality and ephemerality, the mutual constitutivenss of the subject by the other, and of the object-world or environment in which she finds herself, in an effort to rethink the ontological status of the subject and its other. But the question that such a juxtaposition seems to present to me at this point has to do with the desire to even think of the pairs of interiority/exteriority and subject/object as analogous, or minimally, as fitting comparisions.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

lost lust: before Freud

In Exhausted Modernity, Teresa Brennan notes that though Freud’s pleasure principle might be criticized for its economic (quantitative) aspects, discussion tends far less towards its descriptive characteristics, the type of phenomena that it qualifies. For Brennan, this quality is instant gratification, one that relates to the commodity form. She writes, “[m]oreover, if one reconsiders the desires implicit in commodities, it will be plain that while the pleasure principle accords with the desire for instant gratification that they express, and with their visual presentation in various media, it does not account for the other desires revealed in their design, namely: the desire to be waited upon; the desire to believe one is the source of agency who makes it happen; the desire to dominate and control the other who is active in providing, but whose activity is controlled by a relatively passive director, and the aggressive desire towards the other, if we take pollution as evidence of aggression” (23). Brennan's summary of the forms of latent desire registers the complications of knowing or seeing the factors involved in circulation; these unaccounted for desires or pleasures are what Freud calls “forepleasure,” which he uses to describe the various pleasures of infantile sexuality, jokes, creative, and stage-acting, is “the pleasure that serves to initiate a large release of pleasure.”[1] I want to explore the notion of desires that don’t “count” or can’t be quantified as forms of circulation. One form of this question is how we enter (voluntarily) into circuits that we also suffer from, which is also a question of the translation of passivity (or passions) into activity (or actions). Brennan's observations of latent desires reveal that there is a utility to passions that are not as immediate willful agency. Freud's mentions of preconscious pleasure generally become subsumed in the unconscious, but I would like to extend Brennan’s observations of this affective realm that is “beyond” circulation, exchange, and pleasure by examining the aesthetic principles that are behind these dynamics.

Freud’s citation of these dynamics often refers to the work of G.T. Fechner, whose work on psychophysical phenomena is seen as the basis of Freud’s economic and energetic principle of constancy. Fechner is perhaps less known for his two-volume work, The Primer of Aesthetics, but it here that he develops the notion of “forepleasure”; describing the contribution of multiple factors “without contradiction,” Fechner develops a notion of the aesthetic that comes from this transformation of passive factors into activity. Freud describes this as an aesthetic in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious not he did in Project for a Scientific Psychology as “relating to sensation or perception,” but as “deriving pleasure from its own activity” (emphasis mine). Freud's rough, apologetic definition of the aesthetic presents the possibility that the causes of aesthetic pleasure are obscure, but this autonomy is generally revoked for a more certain, unconscious empirical, one which is easily quantifiable and whose circulation is registered at a conscious level. In this extension, I move to exploring the aesthetic underside of this desire for a scientific basis, places where the aesthetic might betray its scientific intention.

Monday, July 9, 2007

forms of vor

In his essay "Comittment," Adorno describes the tension between didactic and non-political art, and labels art that is itself and no other thing "pre-artistic." This designation signals a realm outside of the tension (and perhaps also relationship) between subject and object.

Adorno writes: “The notion of a ‘message’ in art, even when politically radical, already contains an accommodation to the world: the stance of the lecturer conceals a clandestine entente with the listeners, who could only be rescued from deception by refusing it. […] But any literature which therefore concludes that it can be a law unto itself, and exist only for itself, degenerates into ideology no less. Art, which even in its opposition to society remains a part of it, must close its eyes and ears against it: it cannot escape the shadow of irrationality. But when it appeals to this unreason, making it a raison d’etre, it converts its own malediction into theodicy. Even in the most sublimated work of art there is a hidden ‘it should be otherwise’. When a work is merely itself and no other thing, as in a pure pseudo-scientific construction, it becomes bad art—literally pre-artistic.” (Adorno, "Comittment" 193-194)

The equation between bad art and the "pre-artistic" is compared to the non-referentiality of a pseudo-scientific "construction," something that does not have the verifiability of organic replication, perhaps. Adorno's construction of the problem of art in this manner introduces the tension subject and object into the field of artistic creation. I think something like the struggle between the individual, human world and the collective, social world can be sensed here; it is this anxiety that overpowers what for Adorno seems to be the real danger. The real danger seems to also need some signification that the "times" which the artwork opposes are also, in some way, exceptional--perhaps, as Adorno would say, damaged. From this, Adorno can go on to say that the problem of the "message" is its "accomodation" to the world, and can use the force of the tension between the subject and the object to differentiate art that accomodates from art that says "otherwise." The tension between the subject and the object is what Adorno, in other places, describes as "form." Here, he merely says that when this tension is not strong enough, there is no "art," or worse, that there is "bad art"--that this realm of not art is "pre-artistic." Here--when we are talking about what counts as art (vs. what is pre-artistic)--the stakes of judging good and bad are revealed, since form can seem to hinge on something as flippant and finnicky as taste.