Relaying and Re-Beginning
February 15, 2013 – Zurich
We are wrapping up a one week seminar on the topic “Beyond the Network: Media, Art and Affect” with oral feedback from the participants. One of the students states that a more nuanced political stance at the beginning of the seminar would have helped to qualify our material and approach and to position oneself better. Was it about positioning, telling what is right from wrong? Apparently there was a subtle sense of a potential political “manipulation” without these clear signifiers. Micropolitics at its best? Affective charge taking ingression without using the appropriate order-words?
The student’s statement emerged partially after a public screening of Insurgence – a Quebecois film by the collective épopée treating footage from the Printemps Érable over a span of more than 8 months. For the student it was obvious that we were taking a political position associated with the left without flagging this circumstance from the beginning. Does reading Deleuze, Guattari, and Massumi, amongst others, evoke a leftist stance from its outset? What kind of left are we talking about? Do we arrive at a political position by qualifying coursework as leftist, and how would that feel for students unfamiliar with the nuanced and less oppositional ways of thinking politics through the material we treated? The student’s irritation and the longing for clear identifying statements brought to the fore a political force, directly linked to the manner and style of how movements of thought and concepts inflect with different sets of practices.
The seminar was interdisciplinary and open to members from all faculties. The main concern resided in the development of generating techniques for ‘relaying and re-beginning’, through the students’ respective practices in resonances with textual, visual, cinematic and sonic material. Treating a seminar as research-creation is a political issue. Not only does it require a careful attunement of material and people, but also expresses in its immanent impact on processes of thinking and feeling its affective potential. Research-creation: a “minor practice.”1
February 14, 2013 (morning) – Zurich
Érik Bordeleau has joined the seminar for a presentation of his recent work on the Printemps Érable (Bordeleau 2012b). The students are hyper-attentive. In his elegant manner, Bordeleau unfolds the tangible complexity between ethics and aesthetics made apparent in a concrete series of demonstrations in Montreal and their mediatized expressions. His point of entry focuses on the short video Casseroles – Montreal, 24 Mai 2012, showing a wide range of people walking the streets of Montreal banging pans and pots with Avec Pas d’Casque’s song “Intuition #1” as soundtrack. Carefully unpacking the problem of the romanticization of nonviolent protests, he hints at another force tangible in the video, that of abstraction and “affective propulsion” (2012b). The seminar’s central question resurfaces: how to consider affect as a force allowing us to think beyond the networks of media and art. The demonstraters have developed a sustained and continued practice where bodily presence, sonorous resonances, and the duration of collective will expressively take hold of sensation and thought.
In an article co-written with Roberto Nigro and Gerald Raunig, we suggest to consider Occupy New York’s development of the human microphone not as simply a technique of repetition (Brunner/Nigro/Raunig 2013). By carefully looking at its procedure, one remarks that the initial content of the “speaker” transforms through various expressions and alterations: a cacophony of voices and contents emerging from the event of speaking collectively but not homogenously. A similar argument could be made for the varied modes of expression present in the Printemps Érable’s inventive use of bodies, materials and collective assemblages of enunciation. There is no straight comparison between Occupy and the Printemps Érable. What is of interest here is the development of aesthetic practices, using the power of heterogenesis and assembling varied modes of expression, to give a matter of concern its proper field of effectuation. Neither the people nor their bodies, signs, slogans or student union representatives become a homogeneous Hobbesian mass. The modulatory style of assembling of these movements take the notion of “movement” in its double sense seriously: a movement as a set of movements, not a generality but a creative involution (Deleuze/Guattari 1987, 164). Proposing involution instead of evolution Deleuze and Guattari emphasize a creative process of becoming that operates through interstices instead of moving from one entity or position to another (1987, 238-239). Being a movement through movement makes it not a whole, but a bodying of movements, what Deleuze and Guattari define as Body without Organs that is neither the body nor your body but a body as creative involution. Distribution of forces, without creating a “form of the organism”, makes it a Spinozist body perpetuated by the play of motion and rest, speed and slowness. The common ground of the multiplicity or multitude of bodies is not an idea or ideology, it is the sensation of an affective charge. Inserting one’s practice and participation into a field of activity activates the potential of change by extending the boundary of the possible. This kind of politics is an aesthetic politics which enables us to “live more intensively, live more fully, with augmented powers of existence, with the limits of that desperate situation, while finding ways to continue nevertheless, chipping away at the macro problems” (McKim/Massumi 2009).
A collectivity comes not from the outside; it is not discrete but infratextural. The collectivity of movements inflecting must include physical presence, the occupation of spaces, the sonorous, sensual and often incorporeal modes of existence in the arts, the power of duration and suspense, and crucially the force of abstraction. Bordeleau calls this force of abstraction a “passage of the impersonal” which requires envelopes for their creation and to care for them (Bordeleau 2012a). Far removed from the theoretical power of abstraction as part of finite-truth-making mechanisms constantly deployed across arts, politics, military practices, and economics, abstraction in this case relates to the process of re-beginning, relaying and repotentializing practices and processes always already under way. Abstraction belongs to affect, both coursing through materializing bodies and at the same time fostering their continued renewal. In this sense, abstraction defines an incorporeal pole of existence without which the material/corporeal or bodying pole of its continuum could not persist.
Accordingly, abstraction is the differentiation of difference. Gabriel Tarde states “exister c’est différer.” The differentiation of difference directly links to a double-process that of relaying and re-beginning. In his piece “Desert Island” Deleuze suggests that there is no beginning or origin, whatever becomes is a re-beginning (Deleuze 2004, 13). To create a desert island is not to detach, to identify or universalize – that is to make a system – but to relay and re-begin. In the case of the video and the lyrics of Intuition #1 there is a relaying of the bodying and sonorous dimension of the manifestation, supplanted by visually aestheticized images and the song in itself “at once grave and full of hope” (Bordeleau 2012b). In the practice of relaying, the point of ambivalence and anonymity reaches a plateau of renewed possibilities.
Without a steady and continued attentiveness towards the machinic working of change, one cannot exercise a practice of insertion. Insertion here is different from direct action as often proposed by activist groups. Action differs from activity. While action often pertains to a volitional act, activity emphasizes the “bare activity” of existence, instigating change and differentiation without which there would be nothing (James 1996, 162; see also Massumi 2011). If there are acts they are always already part of the activity-field through which experience emerges. The field of the people marching, the “coincidence” of the lyrics and the events, the move toward abstraction to make this collectivity felt in textual encounter: these are all processes of relaying, not as act but as inserting into activity’s force toward lived, felt and bodying experience. Bordeleau takes up this process of involutional relaying to express a sense of the collective, which openly operates with ambivalence and anonymity of things, where the impossibility of simple foreclosure of a process becomes its strongest political value.
February 15, 2013 (evening) – Corner College (Zurich)
Insurgence is everything but an ordinary film about the Printemps Érable. The 141 minutes of uninterrupted flow without commentary, talking-heads or clear indications of chronology are, in the words of Bordeleau, an “assault on the senses.” Screening the film at Corner College in Zurich, an off-space dedicated to transversal aesthetic and discursive experimentation, we decidedly stepped outside of a more traditional activist context. The entire seminar is present and the screening certainly marks a turning point in relation to the force of affect moving through sensation. The manifesto Nous la forêt released by the filmmakers states: “Swarming as dark collective in the storm, strong in their interstices. The Printemps Érable, its ecstatic redness, its affective propulsion – forest effect. Come with us.”2 There is a saying: “you can’t see the forest for the trees”, meaning that something is so evident that you tend to overlook it. Overlooking is a useful vehicle for habit to be disrupted by the foresting effect. “Every day new shoots surface in the ravage’s vacuum. Us and anyone: the forest.” Without a signifier, an indication or obvious structure, Insurgence forces habit to see the trees and the forest at the same time, to undo the saying’s clichéd logic of distinguishing and discerning the relevant from the irrelevant. Ambivalent and anonymous, the camera is at the frontline of conflict, without emphasizing the police violence often depicted in other activist films on the protests. Violence is part of the Printemps Érable as much as the feeling of a convivial and non-violent protest. Both aspects oscillate between Insurgence and Casseroles – Montreal, 24 Mai 2012. What is interesting, though, is the surface-effect of either film. The surface is not a superficial glance over the complex content of images. On the contrary, it is the membrane across which intensities run, where limits are the extensive field of potential. Insurgence is an untimely insistence on the necessity of duration, and the continued affective propulsion of anonymous forces coursing through and enabling sensation. The film has no content in relation to a context. It is pure situation, pure experience in its precession, repetition and endurance. The frontline of conflict, of bodies being attacked, moved, hand-cuffed, pepper-sprayed and pushed to the floor gives violence its proper space and time without leading to either mere counter-attack or resentment.
The film sets its visual rhythm by starting with the redness of the movement, and then plunging into darkness with sporadic explorations into gray and brown colors (Victoriaville) and their disappearance into the shadowy twilight of protests at night. Suggestions that it feels like an endless YouTube-video without any story or coherence underestimates the color’s and movement’s own will at the heart of what is coming to pass. While absorbing the images and sounds I feel that it is not the people, their slogans or even the red squares that actually move. Movement cannot be attributed to single actors, just as time is not composed of single moments but of duration. Each supposed act is the expression of a field of movement, a bodying toward through which a collective individuation takes form. I don’t think of the masses in the streets as a collectivity subsumed under an umbrella of allied political issues. The collectivity at stake here is a collectivity of a pre-individual kind, an enabling of potential from which expression can take off. The definition of Deleuze and Guattari’s term plateau is close to my understanding of a collective as ‘enabling process’: “a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end” (Deleuze/Guattari 1987, 22). Like a plateau, the collective is not yet an effect, but bears the potential of effectuation.
The movement issued from this plateau is double. In its push toward actualization, bodies materialize and physical force passes between them. In a second motion, the same movement perishes to become incorporeal yet real, ready for take up and extension across the collective field of a situation. Contracting time and space through sensation and abstraction, Insurgence provides an effect of immediation and suspense. Both of these processes defer the enclosure of context. Due to the absence of clear indications of a chronology in the film, a spectator not familiar with the current events in Québec might think that Insurgence covers a few days or many months, might be a historical event or is still continuing. By creating such a forest effect not just of individualized bodies but of an entire field of sensation, the collective here becomes one of different modes of existence and new forms of life. It creates an appetite for feeling and thinking beyond the capturing of context. The event is dated and yet the image defers, continues, endures.
We witness a politics of timing and duration affectively modulating the presence of embodied perceptual encounter. While the Printemps Érable emerged from a specific concern—the hikes in tuition fees—its capacity to generate envelopes of care and continuation hint at an open-ended, yet not arbitrary, engagement with a life-activity of resistance. Resistance here is not a resistance against something to be opposed, but a resistance that is at the heart of life itself. “Life becomes resistance to power when power takes life as its object…. When power becomes bio-power resistance becomes the power of life, a vital power that cannot be confined within species, environment or the paths of a particular diagram” (Deleuze 1988, 92). While the relation between life and power in Deleuze’s reading of Foucault continues to maintain a historically marked moment in Foucault’s analysis, one can extend the relation between life, power and resistance through thinking of a collective attuned to primordial resistance, without which there would be not self-vibratory existence. Resistance is a decisively anti-dichotomous concept. Life is not bare life or an original generality (sometimes also considered as commons). It is always already a second-life, that is, a life pregnant not only with emergence but re-emergence or re-beginning. There never has been one origin but only always a second origin – the “law of repetition” (Deleuze 2004, 13). Insurgence, in its relaying of the limit’s potential, its violence and relation to a bodying born of collectivity, is also always a re-beginning; it bears the “radiating seed … that must be sufficient to re-produce everything” (2004, 13). Insurgence is such a radiating seed. Its potential resides in its ambivalent character, preventing it from foreclosure as either aestheticizing or activist propaganda. The film lays out a cartography of matters of fact: people were on the streets, violent was present, bodies have been hurt, there were specific causes and immediate effects. However, Insurgence provides another register of appetition for a continued difference of life-option to be felt and actually lived. It is a desire for a sensual and speculative ethico-aesthetics joined by the forces of duration and suspense.
March 5, 2013 – Spring
All websites I frequent on social movements in Canada and Quebec announce a demonstration tonight – Insurgence/Resurgence – life extending its appetition for more. Nous la forêt – puissance.
February 20, 2012 – Zurich
In a down period of winterly depression, a bomb explodes on the streets and on my screen. Urgency economies shift entirely. I have witnessed the sporadic and partly persistent but then consensually abandoned Occupy camp in Zurich. And now, back “home” in Montreal they take the streets, they live with their bodies a feeling of appetite for life’s resistant manner. The days become a set of necessities to be dealt with for continued survival, while dedicating as much time as possible to streams, videos, articles, blogs. The intake is vast, the feeling between sheer enthusiasm, astonishment, love and care, and desperation. Relaying an event and finding how to re-begin it through the milieu of one’s very own bodying makes the collective potentialization a challenging task. Opening up a gestural realm of media-relaying allows for a potential re-beginning of my own cartography of an activist-philosophical life. Immediation provides a tool for thinking-feeling what research-practice has to do with the modes of expression and the assemblages of enunciation coursing through mediatized images and sounds. The movement of cameras in live-streams on eye level, inviting me to affectively engage in the events taking place, feeling with, not through emotion, but through the immediate abstraction of a felt thought keeping me awake at night, overcomes me while trying to work on other things. The question of how feeling becomes transversally distributed is crucial for the state I am in, away from the local activities and yet part of a spilling memory ready for re-emergence with a difference. The activity of life coursing through bodies of organic and inorganic life, through media technologies, gives way to radiating seeds of technologies of the self – not a translation through the subject, but a machinic relaying of elements at a distance. The immediate force of a gestural space, perpetuated through the camera use at the frontline of protests, allows for the constitution of a translocal field of relations becoming part of a media ecology teeming with desires and appetitions.
What moves across these images is beyond a mere logic of reporting and representation. The U-Stream panel of juxtaposed and simultaneous streams multiplies different localities of protest and shows a more enveloping force generative of possible lives and values. Massumi names the introduction to Parables of the Virtual “Concrete is as concrete doesn’t”, emphasizing an “incorporeal materialism” mobilized by affect (Massumi 2002, 6). This incorporeal materialism defines the dynamic unity of each process of experience, its foyer, which allows a collective tending-toward to become expressive, be it in a manifestation, a word, thought or a written essay a year after the emergence of an event took root. It is incorporeal materialism’s particular capacity and insistence to orchestrate states of affairs around matters of concern. In other words, the problem of tuition hikes in Québec is a singularity opening up a swarm of tendencies felt but not enough expressed coming to the fore, pushing the boundary of perceptual thresholds. Becoming a forest is a double movement, it inserts through anonymity and it expresses to constitute envelops. Hooked to the screen, my perceptual thresholds have extended, making things felt-differently wherever the production of my subjectivity takes its assemblage. It is a call for working on making difference felt as the motor for an affirmative life, a life in resonance with becoming.
May 25, 2012 – Zurich – Debt, Speculation, lived-abstraction
The 100th day of night manifs just passed. We had a lecture and seminar with Silvia Federici, Christian Marazzi and Georges Caffentzis on “cognitive capital.” The questions of debt-economies and affective power of financialization fall into place with the events in Québec and my own work on affective politics. Exactly one week after Special Law 78 has been passed, I ask the three scholars and activists to stage an improvised gesture of solidarity with Québec around the question of debt. The issue of debt bridges a major concern of the Occupy Wall Street movement and a crucial concern for Québec students (and most students worldwide). Debt, however, concerns not only students but also entire populations, orienting the effects of immaterial labor toward the debt economy’s preferred instrument for speculation and surplus accumulation (Lazzarato 2011). For me it becomes clear at this point that the work of a series of abstractions in the production of capital surplus from labor power to money and from money to debt need to be counter-effectuated by another operation of abstraction, “lived abstraction” (Massumi 2011, 15). This kind of abstraction underlines the inseparable entanglement between a sensuous, affective and activist politics where a divide between theory and practice, abstract and concrete, cannot survive. The turn toward speculation, so predominant in finance, has taken a different direction in activist philosophy. Here, the speculative gesture requires a “pragmatics of potential” as an integral part of each practice and its aesthetic techniques (McKim/Massumi 2009). The need for relaying and re-beginning as techniques addresses exactly the intersection I want to outline: the relation between activity and insertion, between affective propulsion and collective individuation, between movement and resistance. Abstractions need to be lived for having real effects and by being lived they push the boundary of what is possible. The aesthetic envelope of such practices is a crucial passage for affective relaying, a form of continued re-beginning refusing to cut off what has been before Affective relaying as much as affective propulsion are integral techniques of a politics of timing, a politics of determined openness.
June 27 – July 1, 2012 – Leeds, UK – Performance Studies International #18
For the Performance Studies International Conference in Leeds, Alanna Thain, Bianca Scilar and I have submitted an proposal entitled “Ecologies of Siting” for PSi’s experimental format Shifts. We understand Psi#18’s theme Performance :: Culture :: Industry as a critical remark on the role of culture industries restructuring not only the cultural sector toward a streamlined concept of spectacle but also reshaping university programs now geared toward cultural productivity and entertainment. Playing on the idea of attending conferences and seeking attention for one’s ideas we want to enable a different way of engaging with attention beyond a logic of information and communication. How can we activate attentiveness as an eventful rediscovering of the activity of life living, making duration a force of affective attunement across bodies, spaces, and ecologies? Part of this open proposition for experimentation is also its possible failure or rather its non-actualization. The conference with more than ten parallel sessions does not really support participants’ engagement in something that is not containable in a 100-word abstract. We start with a vital round of discussion but end up with only three people returning the second day and finally we abandon the shift entirely. The time we spend together opens up alternative durational vacuoles. Jen Spiegel, also from Montréal, brought a roll of red felt, security pins and scissors. We decide to cut red squares and wear them en masse on our clothes. Whenever asked by other conference participants or people in the streets we stop and talk, giving one of our squares as a gift. Radiating seeds of red squares – the potential of a forest. Relaying Leeds with Montreal through a shared practice of red square emission re-invents our collective joy in the event. How to relay and re-begin for strange forces to summon situations open to the movement of abstraction and continued effectuation? Foresting anonymously: a swarm of concerns, affectively pulsing lifelines of an aesthetic politics coursing through collective individuation felt as much as thought in differential returning. Us the forest – a future thought already felt.
Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 2011.
Duke University Press, 2002.
1 While the notion of the minor taken from Deleuze and Guattari allows for combination with specific fields or processes such as ‘practice’ I want to emphasize that the way I understand the term derives from Nasrin Himada and conversations we had some years ago.
2 The translation I am offering does not entirely capture the force of propulsion at the heart of the French original: “Sortir à l’intempérie en collectifs sombres, forts de leurs interstices. Le printemps érable, son rouge extatique, sa propulsion affective – effet forêt. Emboîte le pas.”