Friday, November 27, 2009

Scary Monsters/Super Freaks

If as Agamben suggests “ the profanation of the unprofanable is the political task of the coming generation,” then the task of writing in the 21st century is the profanation of the apparatus of media that aims, Agamben says, at the “neutralizing (of the) profanatory power of language as pure means, at preventing language from disclosing the possibility of a new use, a new experience of the word.”

How does one profane media except through the appropriation and mis-use of its own codes? Agamben would call this a form of play. “For the cat, what is the possible use for the ball of yarn? It consists in freeing a behavior from its
genetic inscription within a given sphere (predatory activity,
hunting). The freed behavior still reproduces and mimics the
forms of the activity from which it has been emancipated, but,
in emptying them of their sense and of any obligatory relation-
ship to an end, it opens them and makes them available for a
new use.”

What I refer to as “kitsch” narratives are really media forms that, because of their propagation, repetition and relative stability, are contemporary substitutes for myth. Agamben writes that, “Play breaks up this unity (of myth that tells a story and rite that reproduces and stages it): as physical play, it drops the myth and preserves the rite; as wordplay, it effaces the rite and allows the myth to survive.”

To have the two in union produces a great satisfaction that is not unlike the process by which a new being is produced. But, if the point of the modernist project was a sacred object, the point of contemporary art ought to be perversion. For, resistance manifests not in the attempt to substitute one sacred object for another, a process that Agamben calls secularization, but in the conscious production of an object that cannot be made into a symbol of anything except that process of unmaking that produced it. Agamben calls this “pure means.” In other words, there can be no absolute winner, because there is no universally accepted set of rules.

Or as Deleuze, quoted by Zizek
puts it, “I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed."

Zizek goes on to point out that: “This Deleuzian procedure has an unexpected theological precedent - not the Christian immaculate conception, to which he himself refers, but the Jewish legend about the birth of the Messiah, reported by Joseph in a monoscript from the 13th century. God wants to give birth to the Messiah, but knows that all of the forces of evil are waiting in front of the vagina of Shekina to kill the Messiah the minute he is born. So God goes at night to his mistress, Lilith, the symbol of evil, and penetrates her anally (the expression used can also mean that he pees into her vagina). The Messiah will come from Lilith after anal sex: this is the way God tricks the forces of evil, by bringing the Messiah through evil.”

Keren Cytter’s "History in the Making or the Secret Diaries of Linda Schultz" which combines film, dance and theater is the best example of Deleuzian monstrosity that I’ve seen. It is about a male liberal activist and a female graphic designer/waitress who fall in love and wake up one morning to find they have shifted genders. Cytter utilizes repetition in dialogue, music (I am almost positive it’s constructed from free Garage Band loops) and choreography to empty it of a dominant meaning. As Zizek points out, “If the founding move that establishes a symbolic universe is the empty gesture, how is a gesture emptied? How is its content neutralized? Through repetition.”

Cytter’s project is not purely nihilistic. She acknowledges our nostalgia for revolution—though she kills off the protagonist--liberal activist Webber, she allows him to resurrect again and again with his identifying data slightly changed. In this way, Cytter hints at the potential for revolution. Nothing is infinitely reproducible, no category of knowledge or naming is stable for ever. [R]evolution will happen, Cytter suggests, not with a grand, unified effort, but in the slippage.

Again, this is from Zizek’s essay, “Today’s crisis is indeed one of experience, that is, a crisis of the destruction of experience, and the ‘spectacle’ is indeed the means of that destruction. But what exactly is the relation between spectacle and the destruction of existence and temporality? If by spectacle we name our captivation by the techniques of the audiovisual technical system, then the question is to understand this process. It is a question of understanding what it is about experience as such that makes us susceptible to such captivation. And this means understanding the ways in which the flux of consciousness is able to enter into or be entered by another flux, that flux constituted by the programs of the audiovisual system, programs which are nothing but, as Stiegler calls them, “industrial temporal objects.” If clues about this process can be inferred from Agamben’s writing, these are not pursued to the point of constituting an analysis. In the end, Agamben fails to grasp that if the word or the image is insubstantial or immaterial, nevertheless the conditions of both are always material, and technical, and therefore historical. Agamben fails to think through the history of the exteriorisation process itself, to think the historicity of the changing milieu, from language to writing to photography to cinema, and beyond. For Agamben, in the end, everything is reducible to language, the apparatus par excellence, and hence what is taking place today is seen only as destructive (which it is), not as the opening of new dimensions of preindividual potential (which it potentially is).”

Google images is perhaps the best example of this potentiality. Below are search results for “sacred.”

There is something wonderful and horrible about this. Clearly some video game has co-opted the word in the collective imagination. Nevertheless, that “sacred” has been released from its conventional associations opens up the possibility of new ways of working, thinking, communicating.