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