Thursday, December 26, 2013

Personalized Ideology (or Ideology Personified): Silva's Mood Economy

Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize’ by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generation of de-individualization.  Michel Foucault, Preface to Anti-Oedipus. 

In the past few weeks I have returned again and again to the idea of "negative solidarity" that I outlined on this blog. I found myself mentally bookmarking news reports and articles that seem to be evidence of hostility to any collective organization for wages or benefits, not to mention larger or more structural transformations. The affect of ressentiment, the distinct sense that someone somewhere was benefiting at your expense, seemed prevalent. (Of course the "someones" in this situation are always those on social welfare programs, state employees, etc., never capitalists, investors, etc.) However, negative solidarity risked having all of the characteristics of what Althusser called a "descriptive theory," a sophisticated sounding recasting of what one already knows and thinks. The dangers of descriptive theories is that they provide a moment of recognition, ("That is it, dude; totally,")but no way to move forward. So the question which I returned to again, is how to account for the genesis and constitution of negative solidarity, how to move beyond description. This is a question of socio-political theory, but it is a necessary precondition of political action as well.  Negative Solidarity is in that sense another name to the barrier of any politics whatsoever. 

It is perhaps for this reason that I only had to read a few sentences describing Jennifer Silva's Coming Up Short: Working Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty before I decided to buy it. I read it eagerly, starting it on the plane over Thanksgiving and finishing it during the brief break between the end of classes and the onslaught of grading. 

Silva's certain concern, her central thesis, is that the current economic transformations, which could be broadly described as a combination of neoliberalism and austerity, have produced a new adulthood, a new subjectivity, that is individualized, psychologized, and therapeutic.  As Silva writes, 

"At its core, this emerging working-class adult self is characterized by low expectations of work, wariness toward romantic commitment widespread of social institutions, profound isolation from others, and an overriding focus on their emotions and psychic health. Rather than turn to politics to address the obstacles standing in the way of a secure adult life, the majority of the men and women I interview crafted deeply personal coming of age stories, grounding their adult identities in recovering from their painful pasts--whether addition childhood abuse, family trauma, or abandonment and forging an emancipated, transformed and adult self."

Drawing from a series of interviews of young working class individuals in Richmond, Virginia and Lowell, Massachusetts, Silva paints a familiar picture of lives that go from school, to military, to community college, and sometimes back home, passing in and through these institutions without every constituting the traditional linear arrow of familial home, school, work, marriage. etc. As Silva argues the linear narrative of life is then constructed not in terms of career, marriage, and family, but in terms of past trauma and present victory. As Silva argues,

"I make sense of the phenomenon of the phenomenon of therapeutic adulthood through the concept of the mood economy. I argue that working-class men and women inhabit a social world in which the legitimacy and dignity due adults are purchased not with traditional currencies such as work or marriage but instead through the ability to organize their difficult emotions into a narrative of self-transformation."

On this reading a mood economy would offer a different sense of validation and compensation, one that fills the void that is left not only from the markers of progress on the standard middle class biography ("time's arrow" in Sennett's sense) but from monetary compensation in general. In place of the standard biography of job, marriage, and children, or even the quantitative accumulation of wealth, there is a biography which charts its victories and defeats on a much more intimate scale, on overcoming addiction, abuse, or simply the ever important "taking responsibility" for oneself and one's actions. What is interesting about Silva's book is that she presents this narrative less as some kind of new found concern with inner life, with all of its positive valuations, than as an isolation, people turning away from politics, community, and love, turning into the infinite morass of their feelings and history. 

In this way Silva's "mood economy" is similar to a particular articulation of what I have called, following Frédéric Lordon an "Affective economy." As Lordon argues one of the primary goals of the organization of affect and the imagination, these two things never being too far apart for a Spinozist, at least in a hierarchal society, is the simultaneous "elevation" of the puny objects and goals left to the majority, the workers in capitalism,  and the denigration of any systemic change as impossible. As Lordon argues inCapitalisme, Désir, et Servitude: 

"Symbolic violence consists then properly speaking in the production of a double imaginary, the imaginary of fulfillment, which makes the humble joys to which the dominated are assigned appear sufficient, and the imaginary of powerlessness, which convince them to renounce any greater ones to which they might aspire. ‘For whatever man imagines he cannot do, he necessarily imagines; and he is so disposed by this imagination that he really cannot do what he imagines he cannot do’ (EIIIDXXVIII) Here is the passionate mechanism for converting designation into self-designation put to work by the (social) imaginary of powerlessness."

Read along these lines Silva's "mood economy" offers an even more meager reward than even the consumer society. No longer is the promise one of buying things the ultimate capture of desire, compensating for a life sold away in labor, but the promise of "self-help, of organizing one's hopes and desires. In austerity there is no longer the promise of endless accumulation, but endless introspection--which comes much cheaper. An insipid spiritualism supplants a decadent materialism. It just so happens that the central watchword of this spiritualism is responsibility, the subject it produces is infinitely responsible for every lost job, for debt, for a tattered world of community and relations. The self-help subject is the perfect subject of a contemporary labor situation we demands responsibility and flexibility. 

In this way Silva's conception of a "mood economy" is in some sense similar to Rob Horning's analysis of the virtual compensations of social media, the retweets, likes, and reblogs that give us a sense of validation. In each case "economy" or "compensation" functions as a kind of consolation prize, these economies function to paper over the decline of real wages and actual connections with others. Our rewards get smaller, and with each spiral inward the idea of changing the system becomes harder and harder to imagine. 

As much as Silva's book could be used to chart a kind of psychic economy of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, a kind of diminishing returns of psychic investments, its focus on interviews, on the narratives individuals construct of their own lives, also sheds light on contemporary politics. The idea that social welfare damages responsibility, that it encourages the laziness of the unemployed, has been been around at least since Reagan's "welfare queen" and shows no sign of waining as a powerful political idea (or ideology).  The idea that one should be held responsible and accountable for the loss of their job would seem to be absurd, especially after the current recession. However, Silva's analysis suggests that the calls for "personal responsibility" from elected leaders resonate with the personal narratives of responsibility being constructed in front of television sets and in the pages of the latest self-help bestseller. As Yves Citton argues in his book Mythocratiepolitical myths, the narratives of nation and party, can only function, can only take hold, if they in some sense capture and resonate with the narratives through which individuals make sense of their own lives (and vice versa). A population turned inward, turned towards the narratives of past trauma and present responsibility, will thus be more receptive to a politics and economics of personal responsibility, no matter how economically incoherent it is. 

Thus, to conclude by invoking the epigraph above, over thirty years ago Deleuze and Guattari wrote Anti-Oedipus, critiquing the conservative individualism at the heart of psychoanalysis, perhaps it is now necessary to write the necessary follow-up, Anti-Oprah. Of course the point is not Oprah, or any specific guru, but the entire tendency to turn ever inwards in moments of crisis, constructing our defeats and victories in the interior space of feelings and narrative. That space is a cage. 

text by Jason Read

Saturday, December 21, 2013


This "rhyton," a drinking cup, is formed of two animals' heads: the left half a ram and the right half of a donkey. Double-faced vases like this one evoked characteristics viewed as polar opposites. Rams were prized for religious sacrifices, while donkeys, symbols of potent sexuality, were never sacrificed because their flesh was too tough. Around the neck of the cub is a scene of satyrs cavorting, circa 450 BC.

Friday, December 13, 2013


A preview of an answer that might be forthcoming

Shortly after Alien Phenomenology was publsihed, Darius Kazemi asked: what's the difference between carpentry and art? Carpentry, for the record, is my name for the philosophical practice of making things, of which articles and books are but one example. I borrowed and expanded the term from the ordinary sense of woodcraft and adapted from Graham Harman and Alphonso Lingis, who use it to refer to the way things mold one another.
Darius wondered, why distinguish between the different uses of things? Isn't this just a commission of the intentional fallacy? These are reasonable questions.
As it happens, I have an unpublished and probably unfinished paper that answers this question, and which includes a good measure of carpentry in so doing. But after a back and forth on Twitter on this topic, I figured maybe I should offer a preview of that answer since it's been almost a year since I wrote the paper and carpentered the illustrations, and I still haven't done anything with them.
I don't expect anybody will be satisfied with these answers yet, but I offer them as a preview of more to come:
Anytime art comes up we have a problem, because the twentieth century made it such that anything can be art, whether you or I like it or not. So in that sense, I guess Darius is right.
Carpentry is a perspective on creative work that asks philosophical questions. Or differently put, carpentry is what you call it when matter (including art, why not) is used (at least) but especially fashioned for philosophical use.
Carpentry is the process of making things that help philosophers (which is just to say, lovers of wisdom) pursue arguments and questions, not just illustrations of ideas that "really" live in the discursive realm.
Carpentry it's not "just" art because it participates in the practice of philosophy, just like a surgeon's scalpel isn't art because it participates in the practice of medicine.
The above notwithstanding, carpentry surely also has other uses and interpretations beyond the ones I originally conceived.

Text by Ian Bogost, March 19, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Explosions in the sky, Welcome ghosts

Πάκυ Βλασσοπούλου, Explosions in the sky, Welcome ghosts, 2013

Με αφορμή το έργο της Explosions in the sky, Welcome ghosts, 2013, που παρουσιάζεται στην έκθεση, η Πάκυ Βλασοπούλου θα αφηγηθεί την ιστορία του καλλιτεχνικού βιβλίου με τίτλο Το Κλεμμένο Σερβίτσιο: Πλούτος & Πειρατεία, Οικογένειες & Πολιτική. Μια σύντομη εικονογραφημένη ιστορία για το πώς και το γιατί τα αντικείμενα κατασκευάζονται, χρησιμοποιούνται και συσσωρεύονται, 2013, της ομάδας Οι αρχιτέκτονες της Φάλαινας (Ίρις & Λήδα Λυκουριώτη,

Το Κλεμμένο Σερβίτσιο βασίζεται στο πραγματικό γεγονός μιας δικαστικής διαμάχης που εκτυλίχθηκε σε ένα νησί του Αιγαίου πριν από δύο χρόνια μεταξύ των μελών μιας οικογένειας ως αποτέλεσμα της κλοπής ενός κεραμικού σκεύους-οικογενειακού κειμηλίου. 

Η καλλιτέχνις επιλέγει το συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο γιατί «στην ιστορία του περιγράφεται η ζωή ενός αντικειμένου και η επίδραση που ασκεί στην κοινωνία των ανθρώπων. Το αντικείμενο συνδέεται με τον τόπο παραγωγής του, την Ιστορία αυτού του τόπου αλλά και του ευρύτερου χάρτη, τις ιστορίες των ανθρώπων που κατέχουν το αντικείμενο και την αξία που το αντικείμενο φέρει». 

Εθνικό Μουσείο Σύγχρονης Τέχνης στο πλαίσιο της έκθεσης Εκ νέου, Μια νέα γενιά Ελλήνων καλλιτεχνών (σε επιμέλεια: Δάφνης Βιτάλη, Δάφνης Δραγώνα, Τίνας Πανδή) . Πέμπτη 27 Φεβρουαρίου, μια διαφορετική ανάγνωση από την εικαστικό Πάκυ Βλασσοπούλου. 


Afresh. A New Generation of Greek Artists
The participating artists are opening in new interdisciplinary fields in order to give a fresh approach to materials, concepts and artistic practices in times of crisis and economic recession. They critically comment on the current politico-economic reality, they confront recent history; they bring back issues dealing with the portrayal of symbols and monuments of our cultural heritage. They establish open and ambiguous narratives that often start from personal experiences. They utilize digital technology as a raw material and explore the culture of the Internet giving a critical insight at its role.
Representatives of a generation shaped by (and from) the intangible digital technology, they are brought up with the new consciousness of co-creation, collaboration, diffusion of knowledge and information. They create collective and participatory communities; explore contemporary issues related to the new economy and production processes, labor, sustainability, autonomy and alternative ways of living.
The Afresh exhibition brings us closer to the enchanting and living side of artistic creation, the very moment that its vocabulary is being constructed, deconstructed and re-tried, where experimentation and doubt are a pivotal point in the quest for artistic identity.
Participating artists are: Christos Vagiatas, Hrysa Valsamaki, Ino Varvariti, Maria Varela, Afroditi Psarra, Marinos Koutsomichalis, Paky Vlassopoulou, Panagiotis Vorrias, Theodoros Giannakis, Natalie Yiaxi, Manolis Daskalakis-Lemos, Athanasios Zagorisios, Efthimis Theou and Thanasis Deligiannis, Valentina Karga, Chrysanthi Koumianaki, Marinos Koutsomichalis, Alexandros Laios, Kernel (Petros Moris, Pegy Zali, Theodoros Giannakis), Bill Balaskas, Rania Bellou, Petros Moris, Kosmas Nikolaou, Sofia Dona, Myrto Xanthopoulou, Ioanna Ximeri, Maria Papanikolaou, Tula Plumi, Erica Scourti, Evangelia Spiliopoulou, Anastasis Stratakis, Stefania Strouza, Maria Tsagkari, Maro Fasouli, Myrto Ferentinou, Marianna Christofides, City Index Lab + Energize.

Curated By: Daphne Dragona, Tina Pandi, Daphne Vitali
The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST)
From October 24th until 31st 2013.

Monday, December 9, 2013

European contextualising in analytical sociology and ethnographical representation on history and the present

Remco Torenbosch, European contextualising in analytical sociology and ethnographical representation on history and the present’ (studio view), 2011

The European flag; originally designed by Arsène Heitz (a French draughtsman, born in Strasbourg and worked at the Council of Europe) and Paul Lévy (a Belgium born Jewish Holocaust survivor who worked for many years as Director of Information at the Council of Europe) was presented in 1955 at The Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

In the physical sense, the European blue colour functions as a monochrome within a modernist tradition with its purity laws, it’s longing for transcendence and an optimistic believe in the utopian potential. Simultaneously in a psychological sense the blue fabric functions as a blue-screen (chroma key, used in the TV and movie industry) where the broad and critical thoughts about Europe and the European Union can be projected on, an idea that in both cases is a parallel to the so-called ‘European collective thought’. Fundamental to this research is displaying the monochromes as ethnographical documents that are mapping the economic and social changes of many local communities by embodying an ethnographic and sociological value as remnants from the various disappearing or already disappeared textile industries of Europe.

The research ‘European contextualising in analytical sociology and ethnographical representation on history and the present’ started at the end of 2011. Components of this research are shown in the solo exhibition EUROPA at GAMeC - Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Bergamo, Italy. And in the group exhibition Autumn of Modernism curated by Lorenzo Benedetti and took place at De Vleeshal and at the Temporary Gallery in Cologne, Germany.

The flag of Europe consists of a circle of 12 golden (yellow) stars on an azure background. It is the flag and emblem of the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union (EU). It is also often used to indicate eurozone countries, and, more loosely, to represent the continent of Europe or the countries of Europe independent of any of these institutions. The number of stars does not vary according to the members of either organisation as they are intended to represent all the peoples of Europe, even those outside the EU, but inside the CoE. The flag was designed by Arsène Heitz and Paul Lévy in 1955 for the CoE as its symbol, and the CoE urged it to be adopted by other organisations. In 1985 the EU, which was then the European Economic Community (EEC), adopted it as its own flag (having had no flag of its own before) at the initiative of the European Parliament. The flag is not mentioned in the EU's treaties, its incorporation being dropped 
along with the European Constitution, but it is formally adopted in law. Despite its being the flag of two separate organisations, it is often more associated with the EU due to the EU's higher profile and heavy usage of the emblem. The flag has also been used to represent Europe in sporting events and as a pro-democracy banner outside the Union.[5] It has partly inspired other flags, such as those of other European organisations and those of states where the EU has been heavily involved (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo).

The Golden Age of Social Science Has Begun

If there is one thing that has held the human sciences back more than anything else, it is the quality of the data they have available. Sure, we can do little lab experiments with college freshmen and gain some insights. But the big, interesting questions—why people behave the way they do out in the wild, embedded in their institutions and cultures—are really, really hard to answer rigorously. Never mind big, singular events such as the Great Depression or the Industrial Revolution. It seems we’re stuck with ex post narratives and no good way to select among them. But the migration to digital interactions may be changing all that. More and more of normal human social behavior is taking place in a form that is digital and online, meaning we get perfectly accurate measurement and the ability to draw on true randomization—both highly elusive qualities of pre-Internet social science research. I believe we are on the verge of a revolution of our understanding of human social systems.
This revolution has already begun in the relatively young field of network science. Prior to the digital revolution, this discipline did have a few famous studies—such as Mark Granovetter’s “The Strength of Weak Ties”. However, reliable data was very hard to come by, and so network science struggled to move beyond its roots in the pure mathematics of graph theory. Today, network scientists have more data than they know what to do with, and luminaries such as Albert-László Barabási and Duncan Watts are blazing a trail and doing some very impressive work.
The data makes all the difference. Ganovetter’s study involved simply talking to people and asking them about their experiences. Now, we can simply tap into Twitter’s API and get an enormous, random sample. We can map out the social graph of the accounts in our sample, and study how information spreads, or fails to, within this structure. And network scientists weren’t waiting around for Twitter’s structured data to come along—Barabási and his peers were examining the linked structure of the web practically from the beginning of the web itself.
The result has been a model of networks that has proven to be very broadly applicable beyond the bounds of human connections. As Barabási explains:
We now know that clustering is present on the Web; we have spotted it in the physical lines that connect computers on the Internet; economists have detected it in the network describing how companies are linked by joint ownership; ecologists see it in food webs that quantify how species feed on each other in ecosystems; and cell biologists have learned that it characterizes the fragile network of molecules packed within a cell.
In other words, our new sources of data on human behavior may not only lead to new discoveries about ourselves, but about the nature of the world we live in.
The application for economics—particularly macroeconomics—is fairly well known. Companies like Linden Labs and Valve have created game universes with real operational economies. The latter has hired an economist whose focus on the European currency crisis was applicable to their own attempts to integrate some of their digital economies. He has already come out with some interesting work on what goes on in these virtual worlds.
The debates around fiscal and monetary policy always seem more like battles between warring religions than attempts to move a science forward. As Noah Smith puts it, there’s not much you can do when the data fundamentally sucks. But game economies may resolve these debates once and for all. It is now conceivable to take a unified gaming economy, split it up and randomly sort players into particular isolated economies, and test out different monetary or fiscal approaches on said economies. Granted, game c
ompanies would need some reason to do this in the first place, but it’s possible that developing booming economies might be in their interest if they find a way to make it impact their bottom line. And regardless, it is at least conceivable now—whereas it was impossible before.
We should expect that not only will young and mature social sciences be improved by this new wealth of good data, but whole new disciplines will emerge to address questions we couldn’t have dreamed to ask before. If ever there was a time for enthusiasts and practitioners of social science to be excited for the future, it is now.
by Adam Gurri November 4, 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Stars Wheel in Purple

Stars wheel in purple, yours is not so rare
as Hesperus, nor yet so great a star
as bright Aldeboran or Sirius,
nor yet the stained and brilliant one of War;

stars turn in purple, glorious to the sight;
yours is not gracious as the Pleiads are
nor as Orion's sapphires, luminous;

yet disenchanted, cold, imperious face,
when all the others blighted, reel and fall,
your star, steel-set, keeps lone and frigid tryst
to freighted ships, baffled in wind and blast.

H. D.(born Hilda Doolittle)

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Fragment of allotment device (kleroterion) used for random jury selection, Greece, third century BCE. A number of black and white balls were dropped into a funnel and the order in which they exited an attached tube determined which horizontal row of potential jurors would serve in a given trial. Courtesy the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

The great middle-class identity crisis

Fewer stay in the same profession for life. We are ceasing to be our jobs’
By Simon Kuper
November 8, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Paul Joostens, Untitled, 1920
Assemblage of an engraving, painted wood, cord, felt, an iron lock and chain in a wooden box

Διαδικασία από το φτιάξιμο της κλωστής μέχρι την ύφανση

Διαδικασία από το φτιάξιμο της κλωστής μέχρι την ύφανση, σαρακατσάνικα υφαντά

A farmer's house locked between three major highways

 A farmer's house locked between three major highways, China, 2009.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Alfred Jarry loves Rrose Selavy

Barry Flanagan, Alfred Jarry loves Rrose Selavy,1974
Pen on paper, 19 x 25 cm.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Το μοντέρνο

Το μοντέρνο στη σκέψη και τις τέχνες του 20ού αιώνα

Η γεωγραφία του μοντέρνου στη διάρκεια του 20ού αιώνα περιλαμβάνει πόλεις όπως η Βιέννη, το Βερολίνο, το Παρίσι, η Πράγα, η Μόσχα, το Λονδίνο, η Νέα Υόρκη. Η Αθήνα, η οποία φιλοξένησε το 1933 το 4ο Διεθνές Συνέδριο Μοντέρνας Αρχιτεκτονικής (IV CIAM), πώς τοποθετείται στον χάρτη αυτό; Ποιος ήταν ο δικός της μοντερνισμός; Ποιες μορφές και ποια ιδιαίτερα χαρακτηριστικά πήρε ο μοντερνισμός –και ο ελληνικός μοντερνισμός ειδικότερα– στη σκέψη και τις τέχνες του 20ού αιώνα; 

Στο βιβλίο διερευνώνται και αναλύονται χαρακτηριστικά του μοντέρνου όπως η αυτοαναφορικότητα, ο κατακερματισμός της συνέχειας, η αφαίρεση, ο φορμαλισμός, η λειτουργική καθαρότητα, η ορθολογικότητα και το παράλογο, η έμφαση στην πρόοδο, η αναφορά στη μηχανή και την τεχνολογία, η ρήξη με την παράδοση, ο ελιτισμός, ο κοσμοπολιτισμός, η ουτοπία, ενώ αναπτύσσεται ένας διάλογος για τις μορφές που πήρε η εκδήλωση του μοντέρνου σε διάφορους χώρους: από την Αρχιτεκτονική μέχρι τη Φιλοσοφία, από τη Μουσική μέχρι τις Φυσικές Επιστήμες και τα Μαθηματικά, από την Πολιτική μέχρι τη Λογοτεχνία.

Γράφουν οι:

Αριστείδης Αντονάς
Αλβέρτος Αρούχ
Κωστής Βελώνης
Στέλιος Βιρβιδάκης
Φαίη Ζήκα
Χρήστος Καρράς
Βάσω Κιντή
Γιώργος Ξηροπαΐδης
Κωνσταντίνος Α. Παπαγεωργίου
Κατερίνα Παπλωματά
Παναγιώτης Τουρνικιώτης
Κώστας Τσιαμπάος

Έκδοση: 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

Untitled (from Evidence)

Larry Sultan, Mike Mandel, Untitled (from Evidence), photo paper,1977.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Frightful Gaiety

Adolphe Willette’s illustration of Pierrot tickling his wife Columbine to death published in his weekly journal Le Pierrot, 7 December 1888

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ubu Roi

Affiche de la première d'"Ubu Roi" ,1896. Ecrivain: Alfred Jarry

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Uncommon Common (Re) Projected

Uncommon Common (Re) Projected is a two days forum conceptualized by Jenny Marketou, interdisciplinary artist based in New York City for the 4th Biennial of Athens, AGORA. Using the process of inquiry and research “Uncommon Common (Re) Projected” invites autonomous groups, self organized collectives and individuals from Athens to come together at the AGORA on October 15-16, 2013 to join via skype self organized groups and individuals in New York, Palestine and New Delhi.

The goal of the two days forum is the creation of a common time/space to explore the interfaces of art, activism, and social research as well as creating in common a platform of sharing, thought, inquiry and discussions mental and conceptual which can inspire and translate into practices of commoning. Further on this forum will involve discussions which have a starting point the current economic transformations such as labor, social debt, dept resistance, morality, education and neo-liberalism.
The two days discussions are facilitated and moderated by Jenny Marketou, (artist) and Elpida Karaba (curator, writer, art critic).
With Nicholas Mirzoeff, (Professor Media Culture and Communication, NYU, writer, founder and deputy director of International Association of Visual Culture), Yates McKee (NYC Activist, Art Historian), Pamela Brown (NYC Activist, Scholar), Amin Husain (Artist, Lawyer) in Palestine, Nitasha Dhillon (photographer) in New Delhi, Strike Debt based in New York City.
And George PapanagiotouIlias ParaskevopoulosKaterina Tselou members of the curatorial team of AB4 as well as collectives, autonomous groups such as RadiobubbleTutorpoolIliosporoiErrandsPoliteia 2.0Global VoicesMedia Liberation Front/FeminismGlobal Voices and cultural thinkers and artists Gigi Argyropoulou (stage director and theorist), Dimitris Kosmidis (cultural producer, historian), Kostis Stafylakis (artist, curator and theorist), Kostis Velonis (artist) based in Athens.
As a basis for each discussion will focus on casual, informal sharing of methods and outcomes, texts readings, discussions on practices, printed material such as Tidal and The Militant Research Handbook, followed by group sharing work and ending with general questions from all participants.

October 16, 2013 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
4th Athens Biennale

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Undarkened Window

In the daytime, I see him in the street
in a dark suit,
wearing a tie -
at night the light shines in his window
across from my window.
A survivor
of Hitler's gas chambers,
he sails at night around
his undarkened window -
a wandering ship
on oceans of darkness,
and no port
allows it to enter,
so it may anchor
and darken.
Only in the mornings
does it go out,
the sickly yellow light
in his window.

Rajzel Zychlinksy

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Department of Islands

Drawing on his studies of art, sociology and agroecology, García-Dory rethinks the role of the artist as cultural producer addressing the intersection of culture and nature within related contexts: landscape, the rural, identity, crisis and utopia. In AGORA, Fernando García-Dory presents recent progress in the Department of Islands, a project which he began working in 2009 in an ongoing collaboration with members of A Whale’s Architects and Valentina Karga. This ongoing intervention project focuses on Pacific, Carribean and Mediterranean islands as semi-enclosed ecosystems that become the setting of the classic neo-liberal drama in which local economies succumb to the promissory spectacle of a worldly paradise.
Panel Participants:
Tania Bruguera (Artist)
Efstratios Charchalakis (President of the Domestic Property Committee of the Greek islands Kythera and Antikythera)
Valentina Karga (Architect and Artist, fellow of the Graduate School of the Univesity of the Arts, Berlin)
Iris Lykourioti (Co-founder of A Whale’s architects Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture, University of Thessaly)
Tzanos Mavrikos (Student of the Department of Physics, University of Athens, Owner of a livestock unit of Agrotourism in Skyros Island)
Thanos Michalis (Student of the Department of Architecture, University ofAthens)
Sept.29, 2013 @ 3:30 – 5:00
Agora,4th Athens Biennale

Monday, September 23, 2013

Saloon : There is no Country in our Hearts

Between September 27 and October 3 the Museum shows first from the series of three innovative performances by New York performance artists, who will work with the current new presentation of the collection to expand its frame and outline to new boundaries, interactions, notions, and readings.
As part of the exhibition "In the Heart of the Country", SALOON by Georgia Sagri presents "There is no country in our hearts". SALOON is an ongoing performance project initiated in 2007. SALOON will be working on the collection and its reconfiguration through series of performances with works in the Museum collection and works of the invited artists: Roman Stańczak and Kostis Velonis, Zofia Kulik and Anna Molska, Geta Brătescu and Asli Çavuşoğlu, Jack Smith and Bill Kouligas. Through “hijacking” of a curatorial process this performance in duets reshapes the environment of dynamic exchanges between seen works.
SALOON manifests Sagri's involvement in ideas of movement, flee, and deterritorialization. "It derives just out of need for enjoyment and constant change. Assuming there is no passive and active, inside and outside, representation and representatives what kind of social grounds can be created? SALOON is the moment of question not answer."
I. September 27 (Friday) at 8pm
Roman Stańczak and Kostis Velonis
II. September 28 (Saturday) at 8pm
Zofia Kulik and Anna Molska
III. October 2 (Wednesday) at 8pm
Geta Brătescu and Asli Çavuşoğlu
IV. October 3 (Thursday) at 8pm
Jack Smith and Bill Kouligas

SALOON: There is no country in our hearts
"There is no country in our hearts" I told her and she looked at me with surprise. I couldn't suggest a drink after that look of hers. With that gaze of hers, its discomfort that made me think of my knees and how I need to open my bag without reason, just checking things in my bag I walked and walked for hours. I started recording my voice saying how I hate being asked from which country I am, those shitty borders, nationalities, national expectations for what, for whom exactly are those expectations for, for which reason to talk my mother tongue like there is something that belongs to me when I speak it? I want my steps to be steps of pleasure for the things I do that I don't need to name, - I recorded that- the smells, sounds, textures, clothing and behaviors of a different world.
Georgia Sagri, 2013

Roman Stańczak, Cupboards, 1996

Curator : Monika Szczukowska, Collaboration :Natalia Sielewicz

Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Warsaw

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pleasure of Curve

Pleasure of Curve (Statistics), 2013, ceramic, plaster, wood, 100 x 15 x 14 cm.

His Boat

This boat you see, friends, will tell you 
that she was the fastest of craft,
not to be challenged for speed
 by any vessel afloat, whether
 driven by sail or the labour of oars.
The threatening Adriatic coast won’t deny it,
nor the isles of the Cyclades,
nor noble Rhodes, nor fearful Bosphorus,
nor the grim bay of the Black Sea
 where, before becoming a boat, she was 
leafy wood: for on the heights of Cytorus
 she often hissed to the whispering leaves.
The boat says these things were well known to you,
and are, Amastris and box-wood clad Cytorus: 
she says from the very beginning she stood 
on your slope, that she dipped her oars
 in your water, and carried her owner from there 
over so many headstrong breakers,
whether the wind cried from starboard 
or larboard, or whether Jupiter struck at the sheets 
on one side and the other, together:
and no prayers to the gods of the shore were offered
 for her, when she came from a foreign sea 
here, as far as this limpid lake.
But that’s past: now hidden away here 
she ages quietly and offers herself to you,
Castor and his brother, heavenly Twins.
Gaius Valerius Catullus

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Nyord Study

Boyle Family, Nyord Study, World Series, 1972. Included in the exhibition Ends of the Earth, Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2013

Objects that Judge: Latour’s Parliament of Things

Towards a Non-modern Constitution
Bruno Latour argues for the rights of the object. He is the spokesperson for the “parliament of things”. Latour argues that modernity has systematically refused to consider the rights of the object, partly because of its systematic propensity to think in terms of subject/object dualism. He holds that we can come to recognize the rights, the autonomy, the agency of the object. We can do so if we can recognize that the modern mode of classification never corresponded to what was really going on in thought and in practice, and never recognized the consequences of these practices. Latour argues that “modernity” was never any more than a mode of classification, a mode of sorting, or better an ideology that accounted for how we classified and sorted. He argues that we must break with the time-honoured sociological chronology in which la pensée sauvage of primitive classifications is displaced by a dualistic pensée moderne, by a dualistic mode of modern classifications. That we must instead come to terms with what is our very non-modern mode of classification, and recognize at the same time that we have never been modern.[1] It is only then that rights and representation, that rights to speak and be represented, will have been granted to and claimed by the object.
Latour understands modernity, and its pre-modern predecessor and non-modern successor, in terms of differing “constitutions”. These constitutions are juridical frameworks which often do not correspond to de facto practices. It is important to note that he speaks of a “constitution” instead of “mode of classification” here. And that is because these frameworks are not just about classifications and epistemology, but also about political representation. Latour holds that this distinction between political representation and epistemological representation is one of the modern constitution’s tendentious dichotomies. He is not the first to make this comment. Gayatri Spivak, in her classical article “Let the subaltern speak”, points to the ideological nature of this dichotomy, which indeed tends to limit the chances of subaltern speech.[2] Like Spivak, Latour holds that modernity’s phoney dualism are rooted in the bifurcation of these two forms of “representation” and “delegation”, i.e. of political representation in parliaments and the state, on the one hand, and of epistemological (or classificatory) representation and delegation in the sciences, on the other.
Latour speaks of modern and non-modern constitutions, each with four “guarantees”. There is also an implicit notion of a pre-modern constitution as well, though its less codified conventions would not amount to guarantees. Each of his constitutions addresses four, so to speak, ontological realms: the subject, the object, language and being. The realm of the subject is also that of society, communities, culture and the state; the realm of the object is that of things, technologies, facts and nature; the realm of language includes practices of discourse, mediation, translation, delegation and representation; and, finally, the realm of being includes God and the gods, the immortals, the totemized ancestors – it includes questions of existence. For Latour every epoch’s constitution must have conventions and guarantees in these four ontological realms.
The four guarantees of the modern constitution for Latour are: (a) that nature (i.e. things, objects) is “transcendent”, or universal in time and space; there to be discovered; (b) that society (the subject, the state) is “immanent”, i.e. it is continually constructed “artificially” by citizens or by subjects; (c) that “translation networks” between these first two realms are “banned”, i.e. the “separation of powers” of these realms is “assured”; (d) that a “crossed out God” acts as “arbitrator” of this dualism.[3] Now in fact, as distinct from in law, what this constitutional dualism permits and encourages is the invention and innovation of a host, a proliferation of quasi-objects, ob hybrids that totally violate modernity’s categories and guarantees. We moderns close our eyes to the hybridity of the machines, the technologies and other quasi-objects, of the “monsters” that are thus produced. We moderns tend to classify them into the conventional dualistic categories. But none the less we produce these hybrids, these monsters, on a scale never previously envisaged. Further, our dualistic (anti-hybrid) categories have facilitated the production and innovation of these proliferated quasi-objects. The point in time has come now, Latour says, where these quasi-objects, these monsters, like gene technologies, thinking machines and ozone layers, have become so omnipresent that we can no longer deny their existence. Hence we should recognize now that we are not modern and that we never have been.
The point, paradoxically, is that it is this dualism that has allowed the proliferation of hybrids that violate its principles. Let us investigate this. The central dualism of modernity is that nature is transcendent while society and the subject are immanent. To be transcendent means not to be constructed, it means to be universal in time and space. It means somehow to be real as in social-scientific realism, to be objectively true. Modernity’s constitution holds nature, scientific facts and technologies and other objects and things to be in this sense transcendent. However, the sociology of science, for example, has demonstrated the mythic character of this in demonstrating nature’s immanence, in showing how facts and theories themselves are constructed. Nature, moreover, is not fully transcendent, but also partly immanent, in the sense of spatio-temporal universality. Scientific theories and facts only have a certain duration in time and a certain scale of outreach in space. The constitution holds that society and the subject are immanent in the sense of being constructed. That individual and collective subjects are artificial and hence fragile, lasting only a moment, the moment of their construction. The truth is otherwise, Latour claims. Society is partly transcendent: such collectivities of humans are durable in time largely “through the enrolment of ever more numerous nonhumans”,[4] i.e. through the enrolment of nature, of objects, of things and technologies. Thus what look like modernity’s transcendental objects (and nature) are in fact non-modernity’s mix of transcendence and immanence; indeed, they are not fully fledged objects but what Michel Serres calls “quasi-objects”. What look like modernity’s immanent, exclusively “here and now” subjects (and societies) are themselves partly transcendent through their own extended duration in time and outreach in space: they are not fully fledged and immanent subjects, but partly transcendental “quasi-subjects”.
The modern constitution thus legislates through two guarantees for these two separate realms of subjects and objects, of society and nature. Let us consider the constitution’s third guarantee, regarding language or discourse. This guarantee “forbids” the existence of “translation networks”. What this means is that language or representing or signifying practices are involved only in “work of purification”, to the exclusion of “work of mediation”. This guarantee too has opened up space for its own violation. Thus “the official work of purification”, though denying the latter, has permitted “the unofficial (linguistic and representational) work of mediation”. The assumptions of the modern constitution that “science and technology are extra human” in fact hides the repressed and unofficial work that multiplies the “intermediaries” that are neither fully human or non-human.[5] The sort of discourse that is needed, Latour argues, is a “symmetrical anthropology”, a set of inscribing practices that contest the asymmetry of both realism and constructivism. Positivism and realism here only look at the causality by the transcendent object, while constructivism – including most anthropological and science studies work – only looks at construction by immanent subjects. Both of these reproduce the separation of the realms. Latour’s symmetrical anthropology will give a place for the causal agency of both subjects and objects, or rather of both “quasi-subjects” and “quasi-objects”.
Let us examine Latour’s constitution for non-modernity, realizing that guarantees in the third and fourth, discursive and existential, realms – guarantees in the realms of language and of God and the religious – are as important as guarantees regarding subjects and objects, societies and nature. Thus non-modern constitution’s guarantees in realms one and two are instead of the “non-separability of quasi-objects and quasi-subjects”: of their population of a “third kingdom”, whose place is between the transcendent and the immanent. In this kingdom “nature and society are one and the same production of successive states of societies-natures, of collectives”. Here every institution that interferes with the “continuous deployment of [such] collectives and their experimentation with hybrids would be deemed pernicious”. Now the “work of mediation” is no longer marginalized, but takes its place “at the very centre”. Now the networks (of quasi-subjects and quasi-objects) “come out of hiding”.[6]
The realm of language is just as important. Discourse in modernity involves purifying language, while non-modern discourse comprises practices of mediation. The key to non-modern language use is to destroy the ban on translation networks, to end the ban on our “freedom” to “combine associations”.[7]The modern constitutional guarantee that language must engage in work of purification also “outlaws the archaic”: it legislates the forgetting of history. The non-modern constitution will enable language to bring back history in a set of new associations combining the archaic and the new. Finally, in terms of existence, the modern constitution separated God out into a purely sacred realm, while the other three realms were placed securely in the profane. In its fourth guarantee, non-modernity will counteract modernity’s Faustian subject by bringing the gods back into the realm of the profane. The non-modern constitution brings God, the religious, being, the existential, right back into this middle kingdom of quasi-objects, quasi-subjects, of hybrids and networks. These measures of retrieval of history and being, as well as recognition of the spatio-temporal durability and partly transcendent nature of the middle kingdom, will counteract the “wild and uncontrollable” overproduction of hybrids; will lead to “an enlarged democracy that regulates and slows down the cadence”.[8] Hence in the non-modern condition, the previously Faustian subject will be reconstituted in a new modesty, a new finitude.
Latour’s non-modern constitution is made up of “actants”. The notion of actant comes from Beneviste’s theory of narrative. Here humans and non-humans play roles in such narratives. Insofar as they play such roles they are “actants” in the narrative. Latour’s non-modern quasi-objects and quasi-subjects and even his discourses figure as such actants. “Discourses is a population of actants that mix with things as well as societies.”[9] These actants – these monsters, these hybrids populating the middle kingdom – all translate, mediate and extend the networks, they “trace networks”: they build the “actor-networks”. At points Latour speaks of various types of actants: quasi-subjects, quasi-objects, discourses and even “existential” actants. But on a more fundamental level, non-modern (like pre-modern) actants are comprised of four sorts of “properties”, four sorts of “ontological substance”. Each of these monsters, each of these actants, is comprised of subject properties, object (or nature) properties, discourse properties and existential properties. And each is comprised of different measures of each. Thus machines are hybrids, with accentuated quasi-object properties, or poems as actants have most pronounced linguistic and existential properties.[10] In modernity each of these properties occupied a separate realm. God is “crossed out” from the world and is only fully transcendent in the Reformation (and Counter- Reformation): God was at that point separate and fully differentiated from the social, from nature and from language. Subject and object took on their autonomy, as did language, as we see in the various theories of semiotics – from Saussure to Peirce to even Barthes – and their assumption of the autonomy of the signifier. This followed a much less differentiated pre-modern constitution; in which the “natives” “saturated mixes of the divine, the human and natural elements with concepts”.[11] This is well known from classical theories of modernization. But Latour asks the further question: what is it in the West that allows this dualism, this hybrid proliferating dualism, to emerge? His answer to the question of the “Great Divide” is that we in the West are the only culture “which mobilises nature. We mobilise nature, not as signs, but as it is. And we mobilise nature through science.”[12] Thus Lévi-Strauss writes that the savage mind “arrives at the physical world by the detour of communication”, whereas the West “arrives at the world of communications by the detour of the physical”. The savage mind “recognises physical and semantic properties simultaneously” and “mistakes mere manifestations of physical determinism for messages”; it “treats the sensible properties of the animal and plant kingdoms as if they were the elements of a message”, it discovers “signatures” and thus “signs” in them.[13]

Morphism Weavers and Object Trackers
Latour is not a constructivist. Constructivism for him comes under that same old modern constitution that realism did. Latour makes two moves which separate him from constructivism. First, he does not understand objects so much as being caused by subjects, but instead sees them as bearing certain properties that subjects bear. Objects for him thus have agency: not causal agency like in naturalism, but more the sort of agency that subjects have. They have rights, responsibilities, they can judge and measure, they can mediate. Just like subjects can. So Latour’s objects are not primarily caused by subjects. Instead they are similar to subjects. Second, Latour is not exclusively a sociologist of science. He is a sociologist of science and technology. His focus in his comparison of Hobbes and Boyle, for example, is not Boyle’s theory, but the vacuum pump, the technology that mediates the theory. The same for his work on Pasteur: it is the laboratory, not the scientific facts, which is primarily at stake. Michel Callon, for his part, has similarly focused on the texts written about the experiment.[14]
Now technologies have never had the transcendental status that science and scientific facts and theories have had. Technologies have always been very difficult to reduce to poles of subject and object. Previously they have with difficulty been reduced to the object role, as in, for example, “technological determinism”. But with the growing centrality of genetic and information technologies this is increasingly impossible. Technologies become increasingly hybrid: neither subject nor clearly object. Sociologists of science may be tempted by the constructionist option. Latour as sociologist of science and technologycan no longer be constructionist. He must be non-modern.
So Latour’s objects are not only constructed. They themselves do not so much cause as themselves construct. They construct through “mediation” and “delegation”. How does Latour understand this? He understands human social practices, in science and everyday life, in terms of a process of “sorting”. This is reminiscent of Durkheim and Mauss’s and Bourdieu’s understanding of human beings as “classifying animals”. This recalls Kant’s third critique, in which determinate judgement is one (very important) variety of reflexive judgement. Determinate judgement is especially important in Latour’s modern constitution, whose “work of purification” involves “civilizing the hybrids”, “sorting” them, by placing them forcibly into either society or nature. Latour insists that we see this form of dualistic mediation as only one form of mediation, and that the human or “anthropos” must no longer be defined as a pure determinate judging subject up against a Sartrean “practico-inert”, but instead humanism has to do with our non-modern work of mediation. Humans, says Latour, are “analogy machines”. The human is a “weaver of morphisms”: not just of anthropomorphisms, but also of “zoomorphisms, theomorphisms, technomorphisms and ideomorphisms”. Not only do we use non-humans as representations or anlogues, but non-humans themselves become analogy machines, themselves become weavers of morphisms. Classical humanism has conventionally stripped things of their powers, cut them off as “delegations and senders”. But non-modern humanism instead “shares itself” with these “other mandates”, through the “redistribution of action among all these mediators”. “The human”, Latour continues, “is in the delegation itself, in the pass, in the sending, in the continuous exchange of forms.” “Human nature is the set of its delegates and representatives, its figures and its messengers.”[15]
This is, I think, the key to Latour’s theory and the book. He is saying that objects themselves are judges; objects themselves engage in reflexive judgement, in the weaving of morphisms. To weave a morphism is more than just to represent: it is also “to pass”, to “send”. It is – in the idiom of computer graphics artists – to “morph” something,[16] i.e. to create your morphism and then to communicate it. It is through this communication to weave a net or a network. For Latour judgement is always at the same time communication of that judgement. It is never pure representation. Or pure fact. It is a statement and its sending. In its effects it is more like a speech act than just a predicative utterance. It is parole understood not as speech but as message: it always includes the sending. And the sending weaves a net, helps to construct a network. Here quasi-objects are among the most important of these “mediators”. Mediation itself, of course, means much more than just representation. Representation involves the sort of practices occurring in sculpture, painting, the novel, the poem. Even film is more a matter of representation than mediation. But characteristically late-modern global forms of culture break with the logic of representation. Or, rather, such late-modern culture, quite rightly understood in terms of “the media”, can never represent without sending, without transmitting or communicating. Indeed, contemporary “economies of signs and space”, especially in their capacity as information, have a lot more to do with transmission than with representation. That is, in contemporary culture the primacy of transmission has displaced the primacy of representation. Contemporary culture is thus a culture of movement. A culture of moving (quasi-) objects.
And here is where Latour may become unwound in a contradiction. Although in his non-modern utopia we come to understand that we and non-humans are analogy-machines, are reflexively judging entities, this is not what he suggests we do as social scientists. In this sense I think his theory itself is insufficiently reflexive, i.e. it cannot be applied to itself without contradiction. What Latour asks us as social scientists to do in non-modernity is not reflexively to judge and send, but instead to “track the object”. What I am arguing is that cultural activities of analogic judgement are themselves typical of not non-modernity, butmodernity. Latour recognizes this but then says we cover it up with a dualistic ideology of determinate (logical) judgement. But as we move into the proliferated hybridity of the global informational order, we may be involved in an entirely different set of cultural practices: we become engaged in “object tracking”.[17] Thus, ascertaining that actants are simultaneously real, social and discursive, Latour encourages us to “follow the quasi-objects to the end”. He encourages us to begin from the middle kingdom of the monsters and hybrids and track them to see how they are hypostatized as immanent or transcendent. If we track the object, we discover the network. He endorses Michel Callon’s dictum that we put ourselves “at the median point where we can follow the attribution of both human and nonhuman properties”.[18] That we thus track the work of mediation, of how quasi-objects in the middle kingdom become stabilized as subject and object. He says we should “follow the work of proliferation of hybrids” and “shadow the quasi-object or networks”.[19]
This “shadowing” or tracking sounds a lot more like the work of a detective than the work of a judge. And perhaps this is what we are about in global informational culture. We non-moderns are perhaps not “judges” at all, but “trackers”. We are less concerned with the representation than with the sending, the signal. We are no longer pre-moderns of symbolic, not like the moderns iconic, but have moved into anindexical order of non-representation. Where we follow the object. Where not only social scientists, but all of us are object trackers. Whether when net surfing or 500-channel surfing, we uncover the hypertext, or open the doors and the drawers in interactive graphics on CD-ROM. In each case at issue is not so much representation or the symbolic, but information and sending. We trace the network through the Web site. There is neither aurality (the symbolic) nor vision (the iconic), but tactility, indexicality at the heart of the signal and the information economy.[20] Not only do we track the objects, trace the networks. But as we see in our discussion of Virilio[21], the objects can track us. The networks can be our prisons. In our discussion of Benjamin[22] we look at how object-tracking can be an allegorical and metonymic practice as we reflexively dis-embed objects from contemporary culture and then re-embed them in our own allegorical ordering, an ordering that is non- and post-narrative. An ordering of tracking that has not so much to do with the representation of linear narrative or even the problematization of representation by non-linear narrative. It has to do instead with the irrelevance of representation: the irrelevance of narrative. It has to do with what Lefebvre calls a “path”, a material path, an indexical and tactile path that we trace and then that we lift out and reconnect. This may be how we make sense and make meaning in contemporary culture. And note that much of the time we make sense through practices of orientation that do not involve making meaning. We non-moderns are not mediators but materialist “trackers”, pathfinders. We find not Kantian rules, but “paths”. We create our hybrids not through mediating as analogy machines, but as trackers, as allegorists.

This text was published earlier in Scott Lash, Another Modernity, A Different Rationality, Oxford, Malden: Blackwell 1999, pp. 312-338. By courtesy of the publisher.

[1] Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993). The “sociology (and anthropology) of things” has a considerable pedigree. There is of course the juxtaposition of use-value and exchange-value in Marx. There is something irreducibly thing-like in Durkheim’s “social fact”, which is a thing as much as it is a structure. Mauss’s Gift in a sense gave the strongest foundations to this analytic of things. Marx’s use-value versus exchange-value follows very much in the Kantian frame of finality versus instrumentality. Indeed, so does the contemporary anthropology of things of Appadurai and Kopytoff in their juxtaposition of “singularity” versus “commodity”. See Arjun Appadurai, “Commodities and the politics of value”, in Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); and I. Kopytoff, “The cultural biography of things, commoditization as process”, in ibid. Yet the anthropological argument very much breaks with the transcendental and universalist assumptions of Marxism and Kant and looks at symbolic values for specific cultures. Thus too can be understood Daniel Miller’s “material culture analyses” in his several books: see, for example, A Theory of Shopping (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998).
The logic of the present text breaks radically with any such aporetic juxtaposition, even with the aporia of gift-society versus exchange-society. Its inspiration is partly Baudrillard. Not Baudrillard’s nostalgia for Maussian symbolic exchange, but instead his theory of the object. And especially his idea of the object, which is, on the one hand, not knowable by the subject, and hence not an instrumentality; but an object that is also and emphatically not a finality. Hence the importance of the idea of “reversibility” for Baudrillard. What is not a finality for him is reversible. Baudrillard’s object seduces. Finalities do not seduce. They are sublime or beautiful but they do not seduce. To speak of the sublime is still to speak the language of aporetics. The sublime is part and parcel of the second modernity, not of the global information culture. “Sign-value” seduces. Sign-value has nothing to do with the status associated with consumption. Baudrillard’s consumer culture is a culture of seduction. It is not a culture of commodification. Baudrillard will refuse critical theory’s analyses of mass society based on the counterposition of commodity and use-value, or alienation and authenticity. The quasi-objects in Latour’s actor-networks are also clearly not finalities. And also not instrumentalities. They transmit, they judge, they speak. See Jean Baudrillard, Seduction (London: Macmillan, 1990), p. 103, and see “Dead symbols”, interview with Jean Baudrillard, Theory, Culture and Society, 12, 4 (1995).
[2] Gayatri Spivak, “Let the subaltern speak”, in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), pp. 271-313.
[3] Latour, Never Modern, p. 138.
[4] Ibid. See also Donna Haraway, Modest Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncomouseTM (London: Routledge, 1997). In her focus on microbes, units of genetic information and the like, Haraway, unlike Latour, ties her “non-humanism” to a systematic periodization of what are effectively frameworks of knowledge. Her contemporary phase, which is derived from her thinking about microbiology, immunology and genetic engineering, amounts to a systematic formulation of an episteme, one which clearly is posterior to Foucault’s modern episteme. Philosophers tend to think in terms of the transcendental and the universal both spatially and temporally. Anthropologists tend often to think in terms of difference and particularities spatially – that is, across cultures – but tend to think in terms of universals temporally. In thus sense Latour thinks very anthropologically, arguing that we never were modern, but just thought we were. And, indeed, how we now are is how we always were. Haraway will think in terms of temporal difference in her periodization. This is a very sociological mode of analysis. The only problem is that sociologists, and the present analysis is no exception, tend often to lose sight of spatial difference. They tend to think temporally but to universalize a sort of Western model across cultures.
[5] Never Modern, p. 131.
[6] Ibid., p. 139.
[7] Ibid., p. 141.
[8] Ibid., p. 142.
[9] Ibid., p. 90. See Emile Beneviste, Problèmes de la linguistique générale (Paris: Gallimard, 1966).
[10] Latour, Never Modern, p. 89.
[11] Ibid., p. 42.
[12] Ibid., p. 101.
[13] Ibid., p. 97.
[14] See Michel Callon, “Techno-economic networks and irreversibility”, in J. Law (ed.) A Sociology of Monsters (London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 132-164. Werner Rammert offers us elements for a general sociological theory of technology. Rammert notes that the refusal of technological determinism has led to a thoroughgoing forgetting of technology (Technik) in social science. Like Heidegger he begins with an idea of “Technik” in terms of the fourfold nature of Aristotelian causation. Rammert then rejects Heidegger’s definition of the essence of technology in its simultaneous hiding and bringing forth of the meaning of Being. Instead he sociologically argues for the difference of Technik in different social situations. Influenced by Latour and the sociology of science, he none the less forgoes radical constructivism for a pragmatic notion of technology. This is a Deweyan, strongly embedded and practice-oriented idea of technology. Rammert notes the historic progression from substantial to functional notions of technology in Western thought. He agrees with neither. He replaces modern functionalist focus on “ends-means-concept” with his pragmatic focus on “medium-form-relationship”. Technology here becomes a mediator that is not necessarily only a means. It is instead a medium. And the difference between media in this context is of the utmost importance. This holds especially for the difference between biological bodies, physical things and symbolic signs in today’s information societies. This model is of great potential explanatory value in distinguishing technology in industrial society from information society and in analysing biotechnology, high technology and the like in what Rammert notes is our “increasingly technically mediated social life”. See Rammert, „Die Form der Technik und die Differenz der Medien: auf dem Weg zu einer pragmatischen Techniktheorie“, in Rammert (ed.), Technik und Sozialtheorie, pp. 293-320, pp. 293-296, 318-320.
[15] Latour, Never Modern, pp. 131, 137-138.
[16] I am indebted to conversations with Vivian Sobchack on this. See Sobchack (ed.), Cinema, Television and the Modern Event (New York: Routledge, 1996).
[17] The anthropology of things with its contrast of singularity and commodity tends to repeat the Kantian aporia. Daniel Miller’s Modernity: an Ethnographic Approach, Dualism and Mass Consumption in Trinidad (Oxford: Berg, 1994) begins to put this dualism into question. Howard Morphy’s work on the West and African art radically opens up the categories, understanding the object not just as singularity versus commodity, but also as artefact as art etc. See Howard Morphy, Aboriginal Art (London: Phaidon, 1998).
[18] Latour, Never Modern, pp. 64, 96.
[19] Ibid., p. 67.
[20] Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1996).
[21] Cf. Scott Lash’s chapter „Bad Objects: Virilio“ in his book Another Modernity, A Different Rationality, Oxford, Malden: Blackwell 1999, pp. 285-311.
[22] Cf. Scott Lash’s chapter „The Symbolic in Fragments: Walter Benjamin’s Talking Things“ in his bookAnother Modernity, A Different Rationality, Oxford, Malden: Blackwell 1999, pp. 312-338.