Thursday, January 28, 2010
In "Intuitionists: History and the Affective Event," Lauren Berlant searches for a way to talk about what she calls the "historical present." She argues that the present has undergone some serious neglect and defamation in theories that prioritize the past, the future, or that mark the present as simply an effect of these pasts and futures. Instead, her theory of the present is one that also argues for a notion of "embeddedness," in contrast to structure or agency. Berlant's argument for a strong, substantive third is unmistakable--that is, for the substantiality of an alternative option. Perhaps this is what I have been struggling to describe in posts and project-beginnings since the more or less formal completion of my dissertation, a work which, I must add, I'm still sorry to be done with, even as I realize that being done only means that I must also pick it up again and continue along. Since it seems that being "done" means that the anticipated liberatory feeling of being able to now write about anything has actually been experienced as not that.
The third, as it occurs in Berlant's work, is an argument for ongoingness, one that could be seen to complete with Brodsky's argument for building, as the equal meeting of theory and praxis in technology. These are, however, different forms of materialism. Berlant writes, "But Cayce is no modernist flaneuse: the aleatory is a professional style by the time of Pattern Recognition" (857). Referring to William Gibson's 2003 novel, Berlant implicitly compares the protagonist here with Lila Mae Watson in the other novel she discusss, The Intuitionist (1998). In the time of five years, then, and given the crises to which Berlant also refers, namely 9/11, the mode of sensory detection inhabited by Lila Mae has become something not just to make a profit on (Berlant suggests that Lila Mae's profession turned non-profitable at the point where she experienced the crisis), but to make a career out of. Berlant does not emphasize or discuss this point, but sees professionalization as an outgrowth of an earlier mode of inhabiting the present, and indeed of seeking ways of theorizing, although not actualizing, utopia. Such a career based on the style of the aleatory, however, is perhaps a way of returning to some of my earlier thoughts on Fatih Akin's films. Here, the first word that came to mind was "aleatory," "dependent on chance," in particular the notion as it occurs in Althusser, as "aleatory materialism," the materialism of the encounter. What Berlant reminds me of, even as she discusses the move into professionalism of a mode that is attached to chance, is that embeddedness has a price, at least, as the story goes.
picture: San Diego Zoo, built chimpanzee environment (eternal present)