Friday, October 7, 2011

Preliminary Notes to Laruelle's The Concept of Non-Photography and Barthes' Camera Lucida

I've been invited to facilitate the initial meeting of an arts criticism readings group at the gallery {Poem 88} over in the Westside Arts District (thank you Robin and Jon!) If you're in the metro Atlanta area, please come join us, it's fun and stimulating! We're taking a vote on next readings, here.

For our first meeting, since October is Atlanta Celebrates Photography and the current show at {Poem 88} is a collection of photographs from Ryan Nablusi we agreed to read excerpts from Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida (1981) as well as from François Laruelle's The Concept of Non-Photography (2011).

I am very grateful to the participants in our conversation on Wednesday night. I also welcome your feedback over the next several months as I will be presenting a modified version of this discussion at Parsons (The New School for Design) in the spring of 2012 at the invitation of some friends teaching there.

Like my friends in the reading group, I am new to the work of Laruelle and his non-philosophy project. So, this reading group serves two purposes for me, as I will also be sharing a paper currently titled "What Is a Thing?" later this month as part of Robert Cheatham's Thresholds series, where I will share some more of this budding speculative/object-oriented/non-correlationist sort of thinking.

And here are the opening remarks I made to facilitate our conversation:

Reading Group Notes
Laruelle's The Concept of Non-Philosophy + Barthes' Camera Lucida
{Poem 88} Gallery; October 5, 2011
Paul Boshears

I really appreciate your enthusiasm and presence here today, thank you. I've chosen these two texts because I think that they speak to each other and since this is Atlanta Celebrates Photography month, it seems fitting to read these. François Laruelle, in a very Deleuzean manner asks, “What can an image do, what is it that can be done in an image?” (56) It's a great question for us as we take part in ACP this month.

I'd like to lead our conversation for a few minutes, to give an overall sketch of the conversation between these two selected passages in these books and I'd like to focus our conversation tonight on a problem that Laruelle presents in his book. Where Camera Lucida, at least in the section we've read together, offers some techniques or rules (it's his word) to appreciate a photograph, Laruelle has significant metaphysical concerns, which we can sense when he states, “The traditional double conception of the image as description and as iconic manifestation, applies to the photo even less than to any other type of image.” (68)

Between the two texts I would suppose we found the Barthes to be more accessible than the Laruelle. Barthes is likely a very familiar figure to many of you and Camera Lucida is unique among his texts because it is written in such a personal manner. As you may have read, this was the book Barthes wrote while grieving the passing of his mother with whom he had lived almost all of his life. The subtitle to the book is “Reflections on Photography” and I think we get a clear sense of this almost meditative quality as Barthes shares particular images and their impact on him.

In the selection from Camera Lucida we encounter two important terms that will, I hope, serve to guide our discussion tonight. Barthes characterizes photography as an “uncertain art” and curiously introduces in that same sentence that this uncertain art is as uncertain as “a science of desirable or detestable bodies.” (18) And here we have the term that is going to guide our discussion of these two very different texts. Both Barthes and Laruelle are presenting us with their criteria for developing a science of photography.

I'd like to bring up another item to guide our talk: both Barthes and Laruelle, in their own ways, present a world of objects that do things. The world is seen, in both authors, as composed of thrumming material “vibrant matter” to take a phrase from Jane Bennett. Barthes discusses how those photographs that “reach” him—unlike those that simply present themselves to him uninvited—animate him and he, somehow, reciprocates and animates the photographs. This exchange of, what? energy?, is “what creates every adventure,” (20) and without advenience or adventure there can be no field called Photography and no objects called photographs to populate that field. (19)

Barthes admits to borrowing and working, self-consciously, with the paradoxes that accompany Phenomenology. He attempts to sketch an eidetic science of Photography (20). But Classical Phenomenology, perhaps frustratingly for Barthes, has never, “spoken of desire or mourning.” (21) This is the first time that Barthes discusses mourning in Camera Lucida and its introduction here is really interesting because he traces a previous interest in the ontology of photography, but that question, “what is the nature of a photograph” is no longer important for Barthes as he no wants, “to explore it not as a question (a theme) but as a wound: I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think.” (21)

Barthes, in trying to establish how he assesses the quality of a photograph, uses two words from Latin: studium and punctum. Barthes describes studium as the “application to a thing” a kind of knowledge that has been metabolized through one's cultural filter, this filtering (or screening, if you will) is the means by which we participate in the world. (26)
The studium is that very wide field of unconcerned desire, of various interest, of inconsequential taste [....] The studium is of the order of liking, not of loving; it mobilizes a half desire, a demi- volition; it is the same sort of vague, slippery, irresponsible interest one takes in thepeople, the entertainments, the books, the clothes one finds "all right." (27)
The existence of studia is what underwrites what we might call a social contract as it is the mechanism by which we recognize each other. (27-28) The studium is the result of mutual intelligibility, it's the reason why I can say tree and you comprehend the concept. But you and I may not be referring or reflecting on the same tree.

The punctum is “that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).” (27) Puncta disturb studia and do so without any intentionality on the part of the photographer; puncta exist, in this sense, independent of human psychogenesis. Puncta are “partial objects” (43) and do not reveal there reveal themselves except in memory. (42) The relationship between studia and puncta is not one of causality, they are simply co-present when it happens to be the case. (42)

But, when studium and punctum are co-present, we have the potential for subversive and dangerous photographs because the co-presence of these two elements establishes a curious quality in what we tend to say is inert material. The photograph enables an object to speak and this compels us to think (38) and this inducing of thought in the viewer is creates a site of subversive potential, but it's not only in the Spectator, but between the photograph and the view, “Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks.” (38)

Such curious object relations here. We would think, then, that the role of the critic or the philosopher would be to facilitate the Spectators' relationship to those objects which happen to possess both studia and puncta. But not so, according to Laruelle. “What can an image do, what is it that can be done in an image? The philosopher's role is not to manifest this to us, but to hide it from us, inscribing the photo in a prosthesis [...] that denatures its truth.” (56) The philosopher, he says in another text, “A philosopher has never looked a man directly in the eyes [....] The philosopher misrecognizes the immediate for he himself is not immediate.” ("Biography of the Eye," 2009)

Where Barthes constantly suggests an interiority to photographs (and perhaps all objects), a certain call to immanence, Laruelle seems to be saying that no philosopher can tolerate immediacy. And this has to do with a maniacal refusal to relinquish the terms by which identity is formed. “Philosophy represses the identity of the photo, divides it or puts a blank in its place, a blank it no longer sees any more than It sees this identity.” (57)

Laruelle's position is that Western philosophy is so entrenched in transcendental metaphysics that no thing can be what it is without first being screened, that is represented. That is to say, processed through the lens of culture.
Any philosophy whatsoever (empiricism, rationalism, semiology and even
phenomenology) will try to conflate the being-photo (of) the photo with a
transcendent content of representation, the ideal or the a priori with the effective,
on the pretext of 'shedding light on' or rendering comprehensible—by reflection
—the photographic irreflective. It simply comes down to an attempt at reification,
an attempt to enclose the infinite uni-verse that every time, every single photon
deploys … (58)
Where did this position come from? Let's try to situate the conversation Laruelle has been having for some time now.

(from Alexander Galloway's Translator's Note in the essay “The Truth According to Hermes: Theorems on the Secret and Communication” in the journal Parrhesia 2010)
“Philosophy needs a nonphilosophy that comprehends it,” wrote Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari late in life. By non-philosophy they point not simply to a general inversion of philosophical thought, but to the work of one particular compatriot, the author and self-proclaimed “non-philosopher” François Laruelle.

Non-philosophy hinges on a rejection of what Laruelle calls the philosophical decision. To engage in the philosophical decision is to endorse the position that anything and everything is a candidate for philosophical reflection. Thus to do philosophy means to reflect on the world, and likewise if one is being philosophical, one is necessarily being reflective or meta-philosophical. Non-philosophy means simply to refuse such a decision. In other words non-philosophy refuses to reflect on things. Instead non-philosophy withdraws from the decision, and in doing so enters into a space of what Laruelle calls science.

Laruelle’s goal is to cut through the correlationist thinking associated with hermeneutics that forever breaks truth in half as: truth and its communication, or the secret and its manifestation. We must instead, as Laruelle writes here, “let the philosophers in on the secret,” so that they may pursue a rigorous science of truth. (18)
Why should we be concerned at all with this distinction between a radical immanence and the traditional transcendental approach which most of us here today are so accustomed to employing, and why would photography be the field or the objects through which we can understand what's at stake in the shifting from the transcendental perspective to that of radical immanence? “As soon as the photo is understood in the context of Transcendence in general, it is the object of a double causality, with one the inverse of the other.” (63) Causality itself goes wonky in this perspectival shift.

Attempts, such as those developed in Deconstruction, may delay the sleight of hand, but ultimately they, too, subsume under the gaze of Philosophy, the very subjects which the practice tries to address. “No philosophical interpretation escapes this illusion, not even those that deconstruct this convenibility of the image and the real, that differ this transcendent mimesis but which do not know that what can be in an image does not stem from the Other but from the One. The Other radicalizes absence and exacerbates the 'symptomatic' nature of the photo [....]” (65)

What Laruelle is putting forward in his redefinition of science is the potential for understanding through relationship that is not mediated, or broadcasted, it is immediate. This immediacy has a reality that we tend to occlude through a layering onto the world an anthropocentrism that is perhaps ill-equipped to provide solutions to real problems facing us.
If there is a photographic realism, it is a realism 'in-the-last-instance'; which
explains why to take a photograph is not, at least as far as science is concerned, to
convert one's gaze, to alter one's consciousness, to pragmatically orientate
perception or to deconstruct painting, but to produce a new presentation, emergent
and novel in relation to the imagination, and in principle more universal than the latter.
Now, this might seem like a bunch of hullabaloo but let me put forward what I believe to be a real-world, practical application of where Laruelle's position can lead us.
Currently we have technologies at work that have amplified and made possible a vast universe of scientific production. Neuroscience, for example, has developed in a manner that presents stunning, Science-fiction sounding headlines, suggesting that soon we will be able to use technologies to read individuals' minds, or record dreams. But this is a claim to realism, that the technologies are presenting images of the universe that are more real than the universes we interact with already. As Laruelle states “If resemblance is a resemblance to the absent but supposed perceptible (or indeed on the contrary, opposed to perception) object, this distinction still inscribes itself within the horizon of transcendence or of the World.” (62) The images that an fMRI scanner present are not how your mind works. We're barely able to understand how the brain works. Nonetheless these images are regularly being called upon to act as empirical proof of criminality and of a curious legal conceit we call intent. Laruelle's critiques of the wholesale subsuming of photography into philosophy isn't unique to only photography, but our worldview itself is in need of a reconsideration.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Note About My New Post at BURNAWAY

You can read my review of Performances in Nearly-Inaccessible Environs, Public and Private over at BURNAWAY.
In the review I briefly touch on the question, "what does it mean to be contemporary?" It's a simple question, but there are significant problems that burble-up when we try to answer it.

Hans Ulrich Obrist's article, "Manifestos for the Future," in e-flux is pretty great reading. As he states,
the phrase “contemporary art” has special currency today, as a commonplace of the media and of society in general. If “contemporary art” has largely replaced “modern art” in the public consciousness, then it is no doubt due in part to the term’s apparent simplicity [....]
But, of course, every work of art, every text, every action is always committed to in the present; and as such is always a product of contemporaneity, right?
The Street Enters The House. Umberto Boccioni (1911)

"Not necessarily," says Giorgio Agamben (with whom I studied this summer at the European Graduate School). As he states in his essay "What Is the Contemporary?" contemporariness is a singular relationship with times in which one lives. "Those who coincide too well with the epoch, those who are perfectly tied to it in every respect, are not contemporaries, precisely because they do not manage to see it; they are not able to firmly hold their gaze on it" (41). It sounds like an easy, off-the-cuff, maybe even elitist, dismissal: there are important people and then there's the rest of the rabble, and they are unimportant and of little currency with which to effect current events. But then Agamben goes on to discuss the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam (whose works we studied this summer in Judith Balso's poetry class—my notes from these classes will be available as soon as I can get them typed-up, promise).

Mandlestam's poetry exemplifies well what I'm getting at in my review of Performances in Nearly-Inaccessible Environs: works of art have a weird temporality. Mendelstam's poetry is written at a particular time in Russia's history, but his poetry speaks to more than only Russianness or 20th centuriness. This is because, for Mandelstam, the relationship between world and language is not fixed; they elide one another. As a result of this slippage, the work of Mandlestam's poems are never finished—they continue to create the worlds they seem to be describing.

This is why I am asking for your help in collecting the documentation of the Performances in Nearly-Inaccessible Environs... series. By allowing the documentation to evaporate, the works are forced closed and that's a shame because I suspect some of those works still have a lot to say about Atlanta and, perhaps more interestingly, about the housing boom that swept-up the country during the Aughts and precipitated this (why aren't we just calling it a depression already) prolonged recession.

As an aside: for those of you not familiar with Giorgio Agamben, maybe you could start by reading the introduction from the editors of a special issue of the journal Theory & Event.

Call for Performance Works (Please Distribute Widely)

I am very excited to have been invited to curate the public works section of the inaugural Off the EDGE contemporary dance event at the Rialto Center for the arts this January.

There will be some very significant dance makers at this week-long event and the opportunity for peer-learning is excellent.

Below is the call for works; my curator's statement is on the second page.
Edge PUBLIC Call for Works

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Tale of Three Terrorists/Freedom Fighters

If it's not entertaining, it's not really happening
The Christian Science Monitor (syndicated by MSNBC) has this cheery story of a Math major from UCLA who has decided to spend his summer vacation—wait for it—fighting with Libyan rebels. How exciting! He's just a young man who knows how to have a "'sick' vacation" as he told his classmates. It's a plucky little story.

But it's hard not to think about Detainees number 001 & 002 at Guantanamo Bay: John Walker Lindh and David Hicks.

Hicks' new book has brought about this uninforming pile of dreck from David Penberthy at The Punch "Maybe Dave Just Shouldn't Have Joined the Taliban." The chief complaint here being that Hicks should have known that the tides of history were going to shift against the former US-sponsored freedom fighters and now the kid's gotta take his lumps for being in support of a currently-unpopular political group that most of his compatriots probably knew next to nothing about before the war spectacle began in 2002. Never mind the serious violations of international law that put Hicks in a US kangaroo court and illegally held by the US government.

What's really compelling, though is the narrative of how John Walker Lindh was acquired by the US military in Afghanistan as told by his father in The Guardian this July. This is a must-read.

The Quebec Provincial Police had to eventually admit that these three terrorists captured during last year's G20 summit in Toronto were actually police operatives used to justify the state of exception and suspension of civil rights.
I'm not saying that either Hicks or Lindh were not morally wrong, although I suspect there was systemic violations of their rights by the US government (just as was the case for dozens of citizens from the UK and Germany, etc.) The truth is neither Lindh nor Hicks were guilty of the crimes for which they were tortured and mistreated and held captive and paraded as bogeymen by the US government. Laws matter, it's what makes a country worth defending and living in; Lindh and Walker were made to serve as homo sacer.

Friday, July 8, 2011

new post at BURNAWAY

Last week The Blow came through Atlanta on their tour of the U.S. and while in the A they gave an artist talk.  Their discussion of audience dynamics got me thinking about the nature of publics, which is a significant aspect of my work on spectacular agency and since we're on the eve of another U.S. Presidential election season the mediasphere will be chock full of talk about the American public as though we all understand what a (the) public is.

You can read my thinking on the matter at BURNAWAY.

Monday, July 4, 2011

"Interventions" Symposium at the Autonomous School in Zürich

"Drills 22 & 23," from The Palmer Method of Business Writing. A.N. Palmer (1935)

Christian Hänggi has been busily arranging for a two day symposium at the Autonomous School in Zürich at the end of July.

There will be presentations from Julia Hölzl, Jennifer Davy, myself, Benedikt Wahner, Jacob Miller, and Jamie Allen (who's going to be leading a soundwalk).

The flyer is available here (.pdf).

The event also presents an opportunity for Jamie and I to discuss the newest issue of continent. which is now available. With Nico Jenkins, we are also planning an event in Saas-Fee with our colleagues at EGS.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

new post at BURNAWAY

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lauri Stallings and Nicole Johnson of gloATL and record another episode of ARTSpeak on AM1690 WMLB. The three of us discussed gloATL's world premier of Chapter III: This Is a World.

You can hear it today on WMLB AM1690 during your drive home or also by visiting BURNAWAY.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

new post at BURNAWAY

I have a review of Craig Dongoski's show Attack/Decay/Sustain/Release (Whitespace, 814 Edgewood) over at BURNAWAY.

It's a great show and I enjoyed writing this review so please visit both the gallery and BA.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Moving Bodies for Democracy in Canada

From the always-awesome Department of Biological Flow I am glad to share the following press release:

Moving Bodies for Democracy in Canada


While struggles continue around the world for the democratic right to vote, Canada had a voter turnout rate in its 2008 election of 58.8 percent, the lowest percentage in Canadian electoral history. Clearly we need to start thinking much smaller.

Do NOT use your remote control to turn on your TV for the national Canadian Leaders' Debates on APRIL 12+14: Walk, Run, Wheel, Crawl, Skip to the TV instead. Cover the 3 fucking metres under your own power. Move your body for democracy.

Once you complete the basic training, move to discuss politics in a public space (coffee shop, gym, community centre, mall, market, transit, etc, etc, etc) with a friend, acquaintance, stranger, or anyone else of interest! Suggested non-partisan phrasing may include: "Are you voting in this election?"

Finally, vote! No remote controls! Walk, run, wheel, crawl, or skip, to your polling station on MAY 2, 2011.

One-week training program starts today for 3 FUCKING METRES!


Get VOTER FIT in just ONE WEEK!! ®

How to create VOTING SHOES ®

"To appropriate the historic transformations of human nature that capitalism wants to limit to the spectacle, to link together image and body in a space where they can no longer be separated, and thus to forge the whatever body, whose physis is resemblance — this is the good that humanity must learn how to wrest from commodities in their decline. Advertising and pornography, which escort the commodity to the grave like hired mourners, are the unknowing midwives of this new body of humanity" (Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, p.50).

All artwork by Department of Biological Flow


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

new post at BURNAWAY

I had the great pleasure to sit down with Annette Cone-Skelton (CEO/President/Director) and Shana Barefoot (Collections & Exhibitions Manager) of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA GA) for a new episode of ARTSpeak at AM1690 WMLB - The Voice of the Arts.

You can hear the three of us talking about MOCA GA's (accidentally) biennial "Movers & Shakers" exhibit over at BURNAWAY.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview with Marina Abramović at BURNAWAY

I had the singular pleasure of sitting down with Marina Abramović at SCAD-Atlanta's Digital Media Center last week and with the kind assistance of some friends we asked her some questions.

You can read our conversation at BURNAWAY.

Many thanks to Jeremy Abernathy and Jennifer Jones for providing the logistical support to make this possible.

Far out!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

First Issue of continent. Is Available

The editors of continent. are pleased to announce the release of the first issue of their new journal.

The contents include a dab o' speculative realism from Ben Woodard (of Speculative Heresy and Naught Thought), a photo essay by Rainer Ganahl, a short story by the inimitable Gary Lutz, and more!

We are profoundly thankful for the support of our Board of Advisors and to the Culture Lab at Newcastle University.

We're very excited to do this work and we hope that you enjoy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Post at the International Schopenhauer Association

Some might laugh that I have Google Alerts set-up for variations of my name. But you know what? It's really useful. With these alerts I learn about how people can see me and how they might form opinions about me.

Today I was greeted with an alert that said my name was listed on the website of the Internationale Schopenhauer-Vereinigung – Forum für offenes Philosophieren e.V. (the International Schopenhauer Association, based in Hamburg, Germany). Which was odd at first, but then I remembered that the Director of the European Graduate School, Wolfgang Schirmacher, is the President of this Association. And, of course, I took Herr Doktor President Professor Schirmacher's seminar on Schopenhauer, titled "Living Disaster" if I recall,  this previous summer while in Saas-Fee.

While in the seminar--which was quite good--we had to write several quick response papers to Schirmacher's questions and in response to selected readings from his translations. If you follow this link, you can read one of the responses I wrote for that class.

The writing is a bit short on quotes from Schopenhauer, but it's full of enthusiasm.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

new post at BURNAWAY

Jiha Moon has curated a group print show at Get This! Gallery on view now through early March. At BURNAWAY I've shared my conversation with Moon about the need for painters to share their vision through celebrating the successes of their peers. Moon calls for a revaluation of works on paper, which are often denigrated as simply vehicles for making money, but not collectible in the ways that paintings are.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Post at New American Paintings

I recently had the great pleasure of visiting the studio of Atlanta-based painter, Jiha Moon. We had a fine talk and my interview with her is now available for your pleasure at New American Paintings' blog.

Moon was also generous in sharing images of her paintings and you should definitely click over and check out her amazing work.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Laura U. Marks Evening Lecture

NOTE: As with all my notes from the EGS, there will likely be mistakes because I did not record the lectures, I made notes as they spoke, so I am perhaps interpreting what they are saying as I am writing.

The students are required to attend evening lectures given by the faculty each evening as part of our curriculum. Laura U. Marks was the fifth person to give an evening lecture during the August sessions.

"Enfoldment and Infinity: An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art"

Does the perceptible give rise to the infinite?
Finn Brunton's site Manners of Unfolding

The algorithmic art of our time, prior to our perception; arts of latency....

New Media Art points us to this world, an immanence.

Several modes of historiography were employed, genealogy included, here we will tease-out some of the Western absorption of Islamic aesthetics.

9th century CE, Iraq
Minimal parts doctrine -- the world is composed of discrete particles and there is no need to explore the nature of reality any further because the whole of the universe is underwritten by Divine Grace.
  • Epicurean atoms: in motion, varying sizes
  • Kalāmic atoms: stable, one size
The universe only exists of God and atoms in accidents

Absolute Occasionalism -- God sustains the universe in a series of commands, one body at a time, "continue to exist, continue to exist, continue..."

This was continuous command hypothesis was opposed by the Willing of God.

We can see the anxiety of living in a universe that is constantly on the verge of being eradicated.

The Sunni world closed-off the rational exploration of the Qur'an

In the 13th century there was the rational ordering of how the letters of of the Qur'an would be written. The letters were based on the point in a rhomboid shape. These square shapes harmonize with the square pixel and both serve as the entry to an exploration of the infinite.

What interpellates the subject isn't the image but the jump-cut

Islamic Atomism can help account for the appearance and disappearance in lived experience. The on-off of the signal, the pixel, the voxel; digital media rely on a minimal parts model.

While the Sunni Caliphate held a prohibition against exploring the parts comprising the minimal parts, in Cairo the Shiite Ismaelis were exploring these composing elements.

As writing developed the tiny writing of letter began to become tiny fields of intensive expressions of the infinitesimal sublime