tirado/thrown


Incandescent Phenomena
December 13, 2009, 2:30 am
Filed under: Aesthetics, art, Philosophy | Tags: , , , , , ,

Cai Guo-Qiang, Self-Portrait: A Subjugated Soul, 1985/89 From the first time encountering this image, the associations with a handful concepts were inescapable.  In one fell swoop, ideas of subjectivity, energy, temporality, the trace, eventality, halos, and (most interestingly) incandescence glisten in the flow of attention when standing before the Qiang’s image. Multiple=

Cai Guo-Qiang, Self-Portrait: A Subjugated Soul, 1985/89

From the first time encountering this image, the associations with a handful concepts were inescapable.  In one fell swoop, ideas of subjectivity, energy, temporality, the trace, eventality, halos, and (most interestingly) incandescence glisten in the flow of attention when standing before the Qiang’s image.

Multiple passages from Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Experience of Freedom speak to this flash of bundled energy in the act of taking-place or becoming that Qiang’s self-rendering seems to record.  In one particular instance, Nancy writes of the ontological dimensions of freedom’s flare (82):

…freedom is itself nothingness, which does not negate itself properly speaking, but which, in an pre-or paradialectical figure of the negation of negation, affirms itself by making itself intense.

The intensification of the nothingness does not negate its nothing-ness: it concentrates it, accumulates the tension of the nothingness as nothingness (hollowing out the abyss, we cold say…), and carries it to the point of incandescence where it takes on the burst of an affirmation.  With the burst–lightning and bursting, the burst of lightning–it is the strike of one time, the existing irruption of existence.

This radiance occurs at the border between the formless being that lays beyond representation and representations of humanity that take on a determinate form or another.  It is the most basic point of our existence where ontological and ethical categories blur and come into play with each other.

Qiang’s gesture shows a trace of a human being that at a point in time glistens with a particular intensity, radiates heat and energy, and warps and bends the field around him.  At some points the halo surrounding the figure crackles with electric flashes whose ardor match that of the body.

In the halo’s dark singes it is difficult to determine whether each ray is a wayward flash straying outward from the body or if the body is attempting to collect loose bits of energy from the surrounding environment to concentrate and make possible that blinding flash of light that burns the parchment of our world.  The halo allows itself to radiate and dissipate outwards in a faint light to reveal the dark, unknown form that captivates our attention.

Cross-posted at the brand-new tirado/thrown tumblr. Be sure to visit there, too!



Bidding the Summer Farewell: Revisiting Some of Its Finer Reads

Link dumps occupy an odd place in the blogging universe, and are to be treated alternately with curiosity, suspicion, and a modicum of heightened alertness.   For one, they are points of reference that fully haven’t been taken in by the poster of said links.  Had the person posting the link truly made the works they reference his/her own, then the poster could just as well dispense with the reference altogether and have the reference return as some artifact or remnant within another work the poster provides (preferably with a link if it’s online).

As with practically everything that is done here at tirado/thrown, the bullet points that follow are not meatballs, but barbecue: charred, gristly, messy, and nearly-indigestible.  However, as a way to look back at the summer that will have just passed on September 22, here are some links to short pieces to that helped make it worthwhile:

  • Boston’s master of experience, James Parker, dwells in the marrow of the MBTA’s scorned jewel, the Orange Line.  Incidentally, the line passes through our beloved Jamaica Plain, where tirado/thrown calls home. [Boston Globe]
  • Though tangled in the throes of a post-racial America (whatever that means), the term “Racism” has some words to offer the kind folks at We Are Respectable Negroes on its use and abuse.  [W.A.R.N]
  • Theory spares us from disasters:  A brilliant interview with Sylvere Lotringer, co-founder of that most abrasive and alluring of publishers, semiotext(e)  .  He speaks with Nina Power on art, the academy, thought, and theory’s ongoing relevance.  [frieze]
  • Our favorite blogs are the ones we are entirely jealous of when we come across them, leaving us wishing that this blog were only as good.  Planomenology is in fact one of those blogs that belong in the class ‘aspirational peers’. The posts can be lenghty at parts, but there’s some visceral and fascinating stuff going on there- not to be missed.  [Planomenology]
  • Another philosophy blog worth paying attention to:  The Inhumanities launches with a discussion of Matthew Callarco’s book, Zoographies, which is sitting on the shelf waiting to be read.  We wish we were better readers, as much as we value our idleness.  However, work towards an articulation of being that includes the world of animals and tilts its spears towards unseating anthropocentrism as a philosophical paradigm is an admirable and necessary task. [Inhumanities]
  • Having just mentioned in passing an outstanding blog with vegan links, we continue with a nod to our ethical impotence.   The New York Times discusses the Sonorense, the Chicano/Mexican contribution to the American hot dog landscape. How could something so wrong just be so good?  For our money, though, Daniel Hernandez’s LA Weekly piece on danger dogs from early 2008 remains the best treatment on the bacon-wrapped hot dog thus far. [NYT]
  • Over at Buddyhead (when was the last we read that???), Chris Checkman offers readers a passionate, bile-laced appraisal of James Carr, whose rendition of “Dark End of the Street” lets us know the Flying Burrito Brothers could conjure up the soul, but not like Carr.  Checkman (aka Papa John, the former host of KXLUs infamous Blues Hotel) should be read with Carr’s music playing loud.  Conveniently, the article has samples of Carr’s output to allow readers just that pleasure. [Buddyhead]
  • Our closer: What if Fantasy Island were actually set on Beirut’s Riviera instead of some tropical island?  We think that visitors would have been welcomed with the sounds in video Filastine Frequencies posted at his blog. There he invites us to imagine a Middle East not besmirched by crackpots, fanatics, and imperialists alike, and witness hybridity at its finest.  The video for the Bendaly Family’s “Do You Love Me?” also leads this post.  [Filastine Frequencies, with a big nod to WayneandWax]


Porcine Biopolitics
May 18, 2009, 10:10 pm
Filed under: Mexico, Philosophy, Politics | Tags: , , , , , ,

The recent eruption of swine flu that ignited in Mexico has provoked a massive global response on the part of governments. In turn, it has prompted reflection here at tirado/thrown on biopolitics. The surrepetituiously unfolding events afforded an object lesson in how biopolitics, state power, government, and everyday life intersect. The phenomenon’s global scale makes this is an interesting case to examine how the administration of biopower effects social and political life.

calderon-latam-herald-trib

Governments and public health ministries the world over are mobilizing at a frenzied clip. Mexico, Spain, the United States, New Zealand, Germany, China were at the vanguard of a growing list. At least in Mexico, the epidemiological situation was (and remains to be) treated as a state of exception. There, President Felipe Calderon issued a decree giving government expanded powers defined only by a vague reference to the epidemiological emergency. Surrounded by relativlely anodyne general public health policy directives, the decree’s second article grants the government powers to:

  • isolate and limit the movements and activities of infected people,
  • inspect passengers who “may be viral carriers”,
  • enter “all type of place or dwelling house for the fulfillment of activities directed to controlling and combatting the epidemic”,
  • regulate maritime, air, and ground transport, as well as giving government free use the means of transport and exchange, including, roads, telecommunications, and the mail.

Moreover, the terms of the decree are indefinite. The decree offers no criteria for defining what resolves the crisis other than a tautological one. That is, only the government could declare the crisis resolved, without stating (or even having to state) what a return to a non-exceptional situation would entail.

Legal scholar John Ackerman of Mexico City’s Universidad Autonoma Nacional de Mexico (UNAM) has already pointed out how the government of Felipe Calderon is resorting to the state of exception as an unconstitutional means to strengthen his grip on power and to extend his capacity to declare a state of emergency without legislative consent. Ackerman writes that “[Calderon’s] response to the flu epidemic only exacerbates” the “authoritarian tendencies” he has shown in Mexico’s current campaign against the narcotics cartels.**

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (which controls immigration and customs agencies), the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been at the forefront of the American response to the outbreaks, highlighting the biopolitical nexus between governmental power, national security, and public health. As of yet, no generalized state of emergency in the United States has been invoked for the government’s assumption of extraordinary powers.

In Mexico City, Daniel Hernandez notes how the drastic, seemingly sudden change in conditions has activated a generalized state of fear and suspicion that he describes thus:

…the fear is changing our lives in dramatic ways.

Mexico City prides itself on holding strongly to its social customs, despite the arrival of American-style Wal-Marts and Starbucks. But suddenly, Mass was canceled. Soccer matches were played to empty stadiums. Suddenly, the bars and clubs shut down. And suddenly, that warm customary greeting of a handshake and a kiss on the check was replaced with a friendly yet uneasy nod.

A culture built on physical contact has become a culture muted by fear, by suspicion, a distrust of others and even ourselves.

What has changed, and we will wait to find out how permanently, are the gestures which are our unmarketable political currency bearing the truth of our lives together. In their being gagged, arrested, and halted, we also notice how now (temporarily) absent gestures shaped a form of life, politics is now suspended by decree.

Just as interesting, and perhaps no less coincidental in this case, has been the general public response to the outbreak: the donning of surgical masks. While not an unusual device to use when airborne pathogens proliferate, the surgical masks’ rapid and widespread use alongside the state’s alacrity in regulating life on a mass scale for public safety gives an occasion to reflect on the ties binding a sovereign authority to the citizens it subjects to its power.

alex-mascara

Masks render faces opaque and impenetrable. The swatches of sterile fabric covering the nose and mouth make expressions more inscrutable, more difficult to decode. They also inhibit the act of communication. Fear and distrust are further heightened by ambiguously peering eyes that show the absence of otherwise more full and radiant expressions. The masquerade seems to make our presence to each all the more obscure. In the manner of a photographic negative or an x-ray, the masks illuminate the how the faces they cover are the locus of the truth of ourselves. Giorgio Agamben notes in Means Without End,

Language…transforms nature into face… The face is at once the irreparable being-exposed of humans and the very opening in which they hide and stay hidden. The face is the only location of community, the only possible city. And that is because that which in single individuals opens up to the political is the tragicomedy of truth, in which they always already fall and out of which they have to find a way…

We may call tragicomedy of appearance the fact that the face uncovers only and precisely inasmuch as it hides, and hides to the extent to which it uncovers… Precisely because the face is solely the location of truth, it is also and immediately the location of simulation and of an irreducible impropriety. This does not mean, however, that appearance dissimulates what it uncovers by making it look lke what in reality it is not: rather, what human beings truly are is nothing other than this dissimuliation and this disquietude within the appearance…

State power today is no longer grounded on the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence…rather it is founded above all on the control of appearance (of doxa).

The state’s issuing of masks to cover faces becomes, then, an accidental, though no less important, metaphor for the glory of state’s reign: the de-politicization of citizens and the production of bare life by quaratine and separation. Gestures and faces alike are blocked; politics and truth are potentially suppressed, in part through the control of their appearances. These are among the political dimensions of the crisis worth adverting to.

xinhua-de-la-paz-mask-handout

Images: Felipe Calderon speaking at hospital opening, April 25, 2009, photo by Alfredo Guerrero, Latin American Herald Tribune; Our dear Citoyen du Monde riding the first wave out in DF; David De la Paz, Xinhua.

**tirado/thrown highly recommends the near-daily coverage of the swine flu crisis over at Daniel Hernandez’s blog, Intersections for reflections and analysis.



A Rare Autobiographical Anecdote

zizek

A comment of Slavoj Žižek’s at his talk in Cambridge a few weeks ago brought to mind a harrowing memory.

In an aside during a meandering, though no less interesting lecture (tangentially related to his new book The Monstrosity of Christ), Žižek mentioned CIA documents from Latin America noting that liberation theology was perceived as a greater threat than communism.

On the one hand, such an assertion seems entirely unsurprising.  Liberation theology threatened the legitimacy of Empire, Church, and State alike, to the point that officials at the highest levels of the Catholic Church ardently labored to suppress it, in an apparent collusion with neo-liberal and authoritarian interests (with a few exceptions).  The State, with imperial support, did the less savory work, carrying out the infamous atrocities on laity and clergy alike.  That much is well-known.

On the other hand, his comment brought to mind a discussion with my stepfather during Christmas of 1998. In the 70s and early 80s he had spent time in Guatemala as an officer, training and fighting alongside the most lethal of Latin America’s elite forces: the Kaibiles.**  To note his fervent anti-communist almost goes without saying.  To his mind, a liberationist eucharist would probably have resembled the scene below.

last-supper

During my last year of undergraduate education and my first years of graduate stuidies in philosophy, I was enthralled by Catholicism and struggled with the idea of becoming a Jesuit. That I attended Jesuit institutions during those years only made my questioning more palpable and immediate to me at the time.

On my first night back from Boston for winter break, my step-father and I stood by the Christmas tree in the modest Calabasas apartment he and my mother shared with my younger brother. Within five minutes of our conversation he asked me, “So, are you still thinking about becoming a Jesuit priest?”

“Well, I’m still not sure. I’ve thought about it, but…”

“You know, some of those Jesuits died with AK-47s in their hands…”

I couldn’t adequately, nor quickly, respond at the time. From what I knew about my stepfather, I could only sense that he would not have hesitated to deal a fatal shot were I a cleric at the other end of his rifle muzzle.  Žižek’s comment only made that episode almost eleven years ago that much more vivid- and chilling. Perhaps the most monstrous fantasy of Christ an authoritarian could imagine was one whose wrath was directed at the oppressors of the poor or the abusers of power who did a shabby job of justice.

jesus1

**  Since the end of the nearly four-decade civil war in Guatemala, the Kaibil have come upon relatively slim times.  Still in existence, their numbers have been curtailed to some extent, but their fate has mirrored the fortunes of post-dictatorial Latin America.  Active Kaibil continue to work in various capacities: mired in the fight against drug trafficking, taking on projects against “juvenile delinquency”, and taking part in UN peacekeeping and combat missions. Some ex-Kaibiles have found work leveraging their skills as security or muscle for narco cartels, recruited into groups such as Los Zetas.  Still others have entered into private security industry as mercenaries.  Spanish-language video reportage of the Kaibil are available here, here, and here.



From the Dead Letter Office: Agamben in Inverno

 

 

[Ed note:  This post was initially meant to publish sometime in the dead of winter, around January of 2009.  For a variety of reasons (procrastination, laziness, business, preoccupation with other matters, reservations, etc.) the post has sat around in a mostly-completed state in the ‘Drafts’ folder for a long time.  Maybe the post has its own schedule, or its publication is not really meant to come out in quite this fashion.  (In retrospect, there were probably three or four separate blog posts just waiting to be made out of the compendium below.)  At any rate, they are words coming from an exigence that was ultimately frustrated and arrested, leaving you with a post whose timeliness is at best ambiguous.]

 

The last couple of months of 2008 have been busy on news regarding Giorgio Agamben and work being done on his thought.  Usually some piece of information ocasionally drifts in, or a new, nearly inaudible video on YouTube of Agamben’s lectures catches my attention.  But I don’t remember there being such a relative volume of Agamben-related news since he protested the U.S.’s policy of ‘biopolitical tattooing’ under provisions of the US-Visit act  and consequently turned down an appointment at NYU.  Maybe it’s just that my antennae are more finely tuned to pick these kind of things up now than they were before. Be that as it may, though, the news is welcome. Some bits follow:

sacramento-del-linguaggio

  • In May 2009, Stanford University Press will be publishing a very short collection of Agamben’s essays under the title, What is an Apparatus?  and Other Essays.  consisting of the title essay, and works on friendship and contemporaenity rounding out the tiny, 80 page book.  Frankly, I’m a little disappointed, as seeing a relatively larger text like Il Regno e la Gloria come out in translation before such a short collection of texts would be more desirable.  But it’s a trivial complaint.  Jason Adams’ translation of the title essay (which will not appear in the collection, David Kishik’s translation will), originally entitled Qui est une dispositif?  What is a Dispositor?  is a good place to start for a glimpse of what the book will offer. [Stanford University Press/Notes for the Coming Community]

apparatu

  • Lacan.com and Notes for the Coming Community have published translations of a recent editorial that Agamben wrote for France’s Liberation, calling for the release of Julien Coupat* and the Tarnac 9.  In the process he challenges a significant feature political life in our time: the concentration of state power that has made dissent a suspect activity by appealing to security (whether real or perceived) as a basis for governance.  A outstanding blog with updates and documents on the Tarnac 9 situation is can be found here. [Lacan.com/Notes for the Coming Community/Support the Tarnac 9] 
  • Leyland de la Durantaye’s recent work on Agamben, “Homo Profanus: Giorgo Agamben’s Profane Philosophy” appears in the most recent edition of the journal boundary.  At a cursory glance, it appears to be an in-depth treatment bringing ideas developed in Profanations to bear as part of Agamben’s philosophical and political projects.  Namely he places Profanations in proxmity to works outside of the Homo Sacer series- The Coming Community, Means Without End, The Idea of Prose, and The Time That Remains.  The article holds out the possibility of reading Agamben’s work systemtically to present some possible prospects and directions for Agamben’s thought, especially in relation to ideas discussed in Walter Benjamin’s work.  Interestingly, he alludes to the Flamen Diale as an example of a profane figure.  Could this counterpart to the sacred [hu]man be a hint pointing towards the next phase of Agamben’s thinking?  Next May, Stanford University Press will be publishing de la Durantaye’s text Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction. [Duke Journals/Stanford University Press]
  • Infinite Thought, a tirado/thrown favorite, posted this little item with a link on “How to Write Like Agamben”** from a blog that is the latest addition to the blogroll, No Useless Leniency.   Worth checking out is a commentary on Agamben’s essay “In Praise of Profanation”, in the style of another of Agamben’s essays, Notes on Gesture.  It’s called Notes on the Image.  [Infinite Thought/No Useless Leniency] 

*As it happens, Coupat is the editor of the French-based journal TiqqunFor a sample of work featured in the journal, Soft Targets published some excerpts from a piece entitled Introduction to Civil War.  Very Roughly speaking, these fragments throw situationism, Agambenian philosophy, and samplings of Hardt-Negri’s autonomism into the mix, offer offer a response to neo-liberal imperialism and preventive counter-revolutionary politics.  The Support the Tarnac 9 site also has additional texts from Tiqqun and the Inoperative Collective available. [Soft Targets Journal/Support the Tarnac 9]

**As a rejoinder to IT, another possible way to score a Warburg Institute fellowship is to write like Richard Rodriguez, whatever the Chicanada may think of him. This here one finds Rodriguez to be essential reading on the dynamics of mestizaje and subject formation.

Image Credit: Reiner Gahnal, Seminar/Lecture, Giorgio Agamben, Filosofia teoretica,istituto universitario di architettura di Venezia, 6/5/2007, 20 x 24 inches. 51 x 61 cm



Are you HILOBROW?

hilobrow screenshot

A number of weeks ago, a blip on the feed reader caught our attention at tirado/thrown: blog posts authored by Josh Glenn and Matthew Battles, a couple of fellow Bostonians from the JP barrio whose acquaintance we made while shilling ads for Glenn’s amazing periodical Hermenaut in the late 90s-early 00s.  A little more digging outside the confines of the feed reader’s data stream revealed the existence of a new entity on the blogging landscape: HILOBROW. 

From the looks of a number of the posts, hilobrow promises to be an exciting exploration of modes of (dis)engagement with cultural phenomena which advance a particular disposition. Its editors argue against the snobbishness attitude of the highbrow, the well-intentioned dishonesty of the lowbrow, and the middlebrow’s toxic sarcasm. Instead, hilobrow seeks to approach matters through a camp sensibility, which the editors identify as

…a manifestation of engaged irony. (When the cast of John Waters’s 1998 movie Pecker toast the “death of irony,” they’re toasting the death of middlebrow sarcastic hipsterism.) The engaged ironist is a hilobrow.

This, of course, continues Glenn’s long-standing interest in cultivating philosophic attitudes towards the phantasmic saturation of late capitalist existence. In the late 90s, Glenn devoted a double-issue of Hermenaut (#11/12) to the theme of “Camp”, which lays out the terrain he’s treading. The introductory essay and excerpts from that issue still live at the Hermenaut website (under “Print”).  

We here at tirado/thrown couldn’t be more excited for hilobrow‘s debut!



“Dasein ist Design”

021709_Spheres_235.JPG

That was the philosophical catchphrase proclaimed by the self-described “Sloterdijkian” Bruno Latour during his portion of a public lecture with Peter Sloterdijk at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design a couple of weeks ago.

Taking as its theme, “Networks and Spheres: Two Ways to Interpret Globalization”, the tandem lectures and discussion was a sweeping journey through very basic issues of space, dwelling, and modes of design required to meet the demands our current socio-spatial conditions.  

Peter Sloterdijk quietly approached the lectern after being introduced by GSD Dean Moshen Mostafavi and lectured with a measure of understatement and modesty.  In the form of a self-colloquy, Sloterdijk introduced listeners to the main features of his three-volume Spharen (Spheres) project, citing VonUexkull, Benjamin, LeCorbusier, and a view of psychedelic capitalism as exemplified by the structure heralding the birth of mass culture: London’s Crystal Palace.  Taking seriously the notion of space as a key anthropological category, Sloterdijk develops a heuristic questioning the home or the dwelling as the primary philosophical space in a context of profoundly fragile spatial and social complexity.  

In the sense that ethos designates a habitat or “accustomed space”, the home is the site western philosophy and ethical thinking.  Instead, Sloterdijk proposes the flexible, structures of spheres and foams as structuring spatial relations (whether biological or interpersonal) noting that the task of architecture is to understand its place between biology (dealing with atmosphere or environment) and philosophy (whose inquiry is oriented towards the world).  Sloterdijk’s lecture hinted at architecture’s biopolitical vocation in the design and construction of habitats organizing space in dynamic constellations of spheres and islands.

Sloterdijk concluded his portion by noting architecture’s contribution to scientific discovery. He cited the early biologists’ use of the architectural terminology used in the design of monasteries to inspire their study of microscopically experienced structures, saying that “the real owner of the use of the cell is the community of architects…”

An energetic Bruno Latour followed. Drawing upon Sloterdijk, he announced at the very beginning of his lecture, “I was born a Sloterdijkian!”  To test out the ideas of spheres and networks in his proposed thought experiment, he took to task contemporary internet-based notions of networks against his understanding of networks as inspired by Leibniz’s monadology and Diderot.  Latour equally takes to task Heidegger’s ontological enterprise, which he claims, superficially considers the atmosphere of the world at its peril. Biopolitics again reared its head, this time in the midst of a critique of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology.  In Latour’s words,

The Dasein is thrown into the world, but so naked that he doesn’t stand much chance to last. …the respective relations between death and superficiality are suddenly reversed.  There’s not the slightest chance to understand being when it has been cut off from the vast numbers of apparently “trifle” [sic] and “superficial” “little beings” that make it exist from moment to moment…In one stroke, the philosopher’s quest for being as such, looks like an antiquated research program.

Latour’s lecture simultaneously glossed on Sloterdijk’s and challenged philosophic thought to re-think itself by diving into the material conceptions and conditions of our dwelling and recast the split between nature and culture in terms of spheres and networks. This provocation calls on us to consider justice and equality as operative in environments where space is needed, spherically structured, and mediated by circuits of networks.  In a parody of Heidegger, “Tell me what is your position on space, and I’ll tell you who you are…” he proposes a dead-serious litmus test for philosophers and architects alike to consider.  Towards the end of the lecture, his reverie along theological, economic, political, spatial, and historical lines illustrated the urgency of such a project.

Additional Materials:

Image: From left, Bruno Latour, Peter Sloterdijk, and Moshen Mostafavi at the “Networks and Spheres” discussion at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, February 17, 2009.  Photo by Stephanie Mitchell, Harvard University News Office.