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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Awestruck by Airstrikes

Awestruck by Airstrikes

In my visual argument I claim that the current on-going Airstrike campaign by coalition forces in Libya is immoral. I substantiate this argument by showing the forms of destruction, suffering, and backlash evoked as a result of the violence. My first two photos show two opposed ways of viewing the situation. By juxtaposing the photo of a broken window amidst the rabble of a city in ruins with a photo of a person comfortably sitting back in a leather chair watching the news of the violence, the difference in viewpoints becomes clear. By beginning in this manner the viewer is first given a heightened sense of the way they perceive the issue. Before they are given anything controversial in terms of content they are forced to confront the disparity in perspectives. This is not meant to cause a specific interpretation of the events as much as jolt them into viewing the situation through a different lens.

The next two photographs are pictures of Gaddafi and Obama striking an uncannily similar pose in speeches. The two photos are not meant to equate the two figures with one another but just show that what we think of as diplomacy has dissolved into finger pointing. The first two sets of pictures are place upside down in relation to each other to make the point that they are opposed to each other. This should provoke uncertainty in relation to the audience’s previous views because there is a form that presents the photographs as opposed yet the content reveals a striking similarity.

The next photograph takes a big leap. The jump from finger pointing to airplanes in the sky reveals the way that audiences to the ongoing violence are typically unaware of the process by which these decisions are made. All that is typically seen is the diplomatic posturing and the aftermath of the airstrikes and so the visual argument mirrors this. This is meant to somewhat frustrate the audience and make them want more information. The image of the airplanes flying is meant to show the power disadvantage between the Libyans and the coalition forces. The next photograph shows an image of an actual explosion from afar. This is meant to shock the audience when faced with actual destruction. The next photograph shows another image of an explosion yet it is closer up. There are also people running away from the actual detonation of the bomb thus increasing the feeling of exigency. This escalation is meant to cause unease in the audience. It shows that there is no such thing as a casualty free war. Showing visual images of the violence exerted by coalition forces challenges the audience’s understanding of the airstrikes. Instead of viewing the violence as completely contained to military targets, the images show its extension directly into the everyday life of civilians.

The next image shows the aftermath with a Libyan civilian standing where his house formerly was. His demeanor is solemn and he is holding a large photograph of Gaddafi. This is meant to evoke a contradictory response on the part of the audience. On the one hand they should feel sympathy for this person whose home was just destroyed. On the other hand the audience may feel that since this person is a Gaddafi supporter he deserved it. The interpretation or conclusion intended is that the airstrikes are failing to persuade Gaddafi loyalists.

The next photograph is of a Libyan funeral. This is intended to evoke sympathy. The final image is of a single red flower that was planted on the mound of a grave. This is meant to further evoke feelings of exigency and sympathy. While the red color of the flower is reminiscent of blood and a sense of emergency, it is also meant to provoke associations of a better future. The image of a flower reminds the audience of the organic and the birth of a new Libya in the future.

Pictures Cited:

Tariq Aziz

Jessica Chapin

Photographer unknown

Tariq Aziz

Tariq Aziz

Paul Kinkaid

Tariq Aziz

Scott Peterson
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Tariq Aziz

Tariq Aziz

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Massumi's Metaphysics

Of course the qualification of an emotion is quite often, in other contexts, itself a narrative element that moves the action ahead, taking its place in socially recognized lines of action and reaction. But to the extent that it is, it is not in resonance with intensity. It resonates to the exact degree to which it is in excess of any narrative or functional line (Massumi 27).

While Brennan indicates that the affects are a negative and modulating force, I think Massumi’s explanation above offers an interesting comparative account. Perhaps it is not that negative affects such as anxiety and hate are things that occupy a sort of hole when recalled in retrospect. They are things that disrupt our narrative accounts of experience. It is the tension between an emotion felt and its resistance or slippage into the symbolic that feeds cycles of trauma. An event haunts someone the more that its felt memory exceeds their ability to give meaning to it. There is a performative element in naming the felt state. When one has the perception of a perception, i.e. when people name the feeling a scene in a movie provoked, it can either dampen or amplify that state. I think for example when it is awkward in a social situation and that felt state is named it can be relieving or reinforcing. It could potentially release the pressure of tense situation by saying what was on everyone’s mind or it could be that people didn’t think it was such a big deal until it was brought to their attention.

I’m curious as to whether Brennan and Massumi start from the same point. Massumi writes, “Will and consciousness are subtractive. They are limitative, derived functions that reduce a complexity too rich to be functionally expressed” (29). Yet it seems that Brennan’s account begins with the life-drive as the power to assemble and build connections. Under her theoretical frame it is the affects that work as the subtractive or limiting force. And then it is the ability to engage in a sort of meditative process of discernment that allows one to strike a more productive balance between openness and closure as a means to living a healthy life. Massumi on the other hand seems to begin with the proposition that reality exceeds all possible reckonings and it is our will and cognition that modulate affects by attending to them or not. Yet I hesitate to make such a strong claim, since Massumi constantly reiterates the “two-sidedness” (35) of affect. It is here where I think that Massumi diverges from Brennan’s account in a much more radical fashion.

In my last post I made a rather strong argument about the ways in which Brennan’s arguments simply reverts to a reformed humanism without completely substantiating it. Part of my argument surrounds the way she frames the question of affect. She speaks of affect always only in relation to a subject and their experience of an affect, (although she may shy away from the language of the experiential). Massumi on the other hand starts with the question of affect and then applies it to the subject as becoming. Secondly, Massumi starts with the proposition that affect is autonomous. Massumi writes about how each “regime of power in the ecology of powers will have its own operative logic” (The Affect Theory Reader, “The Autonomy of Affect,” p. 62). He describes an operative logic as “one that combines an ontology with an epistemology in such a way as to endow itself with powers of self-causation” (ibid. 62). Each operative logic desires itself, its own continuance. In Massumi’s words it is “autopoietic” (ibid. 63). By understanding affects as operating according to an impersonal will-to-power the humanist paradigm is overthrown. One can no longer assume that agency resides solely within the subject. It radically decenters the tradition of western metaphysics that relies upon a subject separate and apart from either the collectivity or ecology that gave birth to them. Massumi writes that “The difference between the dead, the living, and the human is not a question of form or structure, nor of the properties possessed by the embodiments of forms or structures, not of the qualified functions performed by those embodiments” (Parables of the Virtual, 38). Massumi’s deconstruction of the distinction between natural and cultural, individual and collectivity opens up an entire new mode of engaging in critical theory. He seems to be engaging in the project Adorno originally embarked on, that of making thought adequate to its object. “It is not enough for process concepts of this kind to be “ontological.” They must be ontogenetic: they must be equal to emergence” (9). In order for us to understand a reality that can account for its own potentiality, the vocabulary and theoretical framework for understanding it must itself be open to experimentation, change and process.

The question of expectation and threat returns. Massumi’s account of affect provides a new vocabulary for understanding the performative effect of language. Massumi writes “it is a question of how a sign as such dynamically determines a body to become, in actual experience. It is the question of how an abstract force can be materially determining” (ATR 65). This analysis is based in an understanding of semiosis as “sign-induced becoming” (ATR 65). For example when one hears a fire alarm it is affectively felt as if it were real even if it was not. The sign can be understood as a ‘dynamical object.’ The question is not whether the sign accurately refers to its ‘true’ referent. Rather it is what does the sign do. How does the sign activate or animate a felt experience on the visceral register. Massumi continues his discussion to reveal the ways in which “the world becomingly includes so much more than perception reveals. For that reason, thought’s approach cannot be phenomenological. It must be unabashedly metaphysical” (ibid. 66)

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Monday, March 28, 2011

When all that is solid melts into thin air

It should not be surprising that there has been resistance to our most recent readings in class discussions. If Brennan is right about the power of the fantasies structuring our everyday lives and the desire to hold on to the illusion of a self-contained subject then the attempt to work through these questions should not be an easy task. 

 Brennan bombards the reader with a litany of attacks for being duped into thinking that they are discrete and disembodied. But for all of her grandstanding about why the subjectivist paradigm falters, she in many ways reifies its force. The Transmission of Affect begins with the subject in search of an infantile origin of the foundational fantasy (although I think she would argue that she is criticizing a completely genetic or essentialist explanatory principle for guiding human action, I think there are times where her principles become seemingly transcendent). She proceeds to present a mix of recent scientific developments in understanding pheromones and an analysis  of the theories surrounding group psychology and crowd theory. And finally ends by constructing a somewhat speculative theory for finding a way out of the contemporary impasse. All of this amounts to a humanist reformism.

Massumi, on the other hand, begins with a larger question, the “intrinsic connection between movement and sensation” (1). He starts in media res because that’s where everything interesting happens. Massumi’s exemplary method is frustratingly brilliant. His experimental form of affirmative critique allows him to merge the metaphysical with the everyday. In the chapter on threats and the logic of preemption he goes on to indicate that what is needed is a metaphysics of feeling. Thus making his project much more ambitious in scope. While I refer above to Brennan as making speculative conjecture about the nature of experience I do not mean it in a disparaging way but rather to accuse her of not being abstract enough.

Understanding the self as becoming and relational opens up the possibility for new lines of thought. One that can provide a theoretical vocabulary more adept at dealing with “an understanding of our information-and image-based late capitalist culture, in which so called master narratives are perceived to have foundered” (27). The recent financial crisis demonstrates even better than Massumi’s last story in chapter 1 the ways in which the immaterial has become material in the postmodern era of late capitalism. Stock market fluctuations in times of crises demonstrate the virtual nature of global economies in which the signs of value are almost completely divorced from their physical referent. Massumi writes “The ability of affect to produce an economic effect more swiftly and surely than economics itself means that affect is a real condition, an intrinsic variable of the late capitalist system, as infrastructural as a factory” (45). This is not simply a typical postmodern move that would reduce the realities of material production to the realm of representation. Rather it evinces the ways that affect materially functions in the tensions of capital’s contradictions. It is a materialist analysis of the immaterial functioning of capital. It is almost a hyper-materialism, an extension of the realm that we consider as material.

Reality Snowballs

Massumi’s metaphor feeds forward into the beginning of the first chapter. It begins with a story about the video of a man who builds a snowman that then melts. This video embodies the “productive paradox” (38). The snowman is simultaneously virtual and actual, structured yet dynamic, cultural and natural. The snowman is the product of man and a specific cultural artifact but it can only be constructed in the fleeting moments when the snow and conditions allow. It is a real thing that exists or did exist yet the participants of the study only experience it through the video. The snowman illustrates the potential to animate nature but also the ways in which the laws of nature move us. In my next post on Massumi I will extend this analysis to point to the ways that an understanding of affect holds the potential for a radical post-humanism.

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