[-empyre-] System, Environment, Operation

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD mtata at ipublishingllc.com
Wed Apr 29 09:56:58 EST 2009

Thanks for sharing Sparagana’s images and their razed surfaces.  It is extremely helpful to see a specific and concrete example of an artist’s work which you find relevant to our discussion; hopefully even Anna will find some solace in your particularity.  
In Sparagana’s images, the glossiness is definitely gone, as Cindy Crawford fades into a cloudbank and words of copy surrounding a new Fergie fragrance become wisps of smoke emanating from an industrial chimney turned on its side by solar wind.  I think what you are appreciating is Sparagana’s critique of gloss, the ways in which he de-glosses the glossy image through sustained personal contact with it.  This re-relation to material changes it, repurposing and detourning it, in the ways we’ve been describing à la Debord and the Situationists.  That he calls this process “Fatiguing” is just perfect, as he does clearly wear out the gloss, tiring out the liveliness of capital just long enough for the resulting image to be framed and hung.  To go back to Système de la Mode, the word “fatigue” and the look it represents—for example, the military look championed most forcefully by Dolce and Gabbana in recent years—carry a particular power in this strange time of war; here the fatigues refer to imagined wars with armies of paper tigers, not something like an actual draft and the sumptuary modifications it might impose.  
Autopoietically, one system may certainly take another system as its substratum, making of it something like the nutritive matrix used to grow an auxotrophic microorganism.  That system and environment have some degree of interchangeability is a fascinating idea, and does, indeed, obviate the need for belief or commitment of the sort we’ve been discussing with regard to Kierkegaard and Derrida (suspension of the ethical, Augenblick, metaphysics of the gift, etc.).  This change—i.e., the shift from a meta-narrative demanding belief and commitment—to the autopoietic, self-replicating, self-sustaining network that does not need me to believe in it, or even to comment upon it through that Idle Talk of Heidegger’s, or represent it aesthetically through the glossiness of an image, is critical, and is indeed an index of where subjectivity and objectivity stand at this present moment.  
To go back to Barthes, here we have superhighway, and Superhighway Code, as all these hitchhikers, support vehicles and road warriors zoom on by according to the rules of flow, the rhythm of an extracellular cytoplasmic streaming.  No matter what Cher may say, we do not need to believe—only to move—any more than turning a key in an ignition involves an ethical commitment (it may, but only if we have one of those DUI-mobiles requiring a breathalyzer test before the ignition can get going).  As with the pragmatists, truth is not some object waiting to be discovered, or some fact waiting to be revealed, but something we make through action, and something we might need to revise later, as more states of affairs come to light and the logic of fallibilism urges us to refine the truth a bit finer, or perhaps scrap it altogether and begin again.  But Luhmann’s (Wallerstein’s too?  I’ll have to look closer at your link) is a super-pragmatism, since in it much more is art stake than mere “relativism” or the de-objectification of truth; in essence, the human person is being redefined, its own perfectly bounded systematicity and enclosed operations an environment for other systems to employ as information (for example, the mailing list) and object of perception (the individual “caught on tape” in a bizarre situation).  Here evolutionary biology (Lynn Margulis, Maturana and Varela) come to a strange concord.    

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD  347.776.1931-USA


> Date: Tue, 28 Apr 2009 09:01:26 -0500
> From: jtabbi at gmail.com
> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> Subject: [-empyre-] Fatigue and the world-system
> Steve,
> I see what you mean and in my post I did speak of a current 'world
> system,' one that has achieved credibility in the eyes of enough
> people to keep things running (away). My reference point was Luhmann,
> but there's also the whole 'world-systems theory' elaborated from a
> Marxist standpoint by Immanuel Wallerstein and company. Wallerstein,
> by the way, sees the current troubles as nothing less than the
> unravelling of "capitalism as the world-system":
> http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090323/wallerstein
> There are also anti-systemic forces, which is how Wallerstein
> describes the former Soviet Union for example and current violent and
> mostly decentralized resistance to Western models of capital formation
> and the organization of a liberal society. Also there are
> transformative efforts, in "the spirit of Puerto Vallarta" (site of a
> convention for the World Socialist Organization) not "the spirit of
> Davos."
> As I understand Wallerstein (generally, not just in that one Nation
> essay), the world-system for him /is/ capital. Luhmann differs in that
> 'society,' and also 'art,' are systems separate from capital - or, as
> Luhmann would put it, capital might be the /environment/ for art and
> society, and vice versa. Each system is closed on itself, but each is
> also the environment for other systems: this closure (at the level of
> operations) and openness (at the level of information or selective
> perception) is what allows systems to interact with one another -
> though they cannot merge or become the other, not without losing their
> identity or (better) their autopoietic capacity (the ability to
> rereproduce themselves and their operations, distinct from all the
> other selves and operations in the environment).
> The artist as a hitchhiker (Davin), who enters the car and hence the
> entire supporting infrastructure of roads and energy production and so
> forth: that's a pretty good depiction of how "we" - people,
> individuals - enter systems: temporarily, and with parts of ourselves.
> We might bring curiosity to the encounter, small talk, and a view of
> the passing environment (including passersby in other vehicles, who
> speed along more like phantoms than fellow consciousnesses). But never
> are "we" asked to believe in the system, nor are "we" parts of
> society: we belong, rather, to the environment.
> There are many differences, between this systems description and the
> grand old narratives. The one difference to emphasize here, in the
> context of our discussion, has to do with questions of credibility
> and, to put it in spiritual terms, "belief." I would aproach the
> difference between then and now, between modernist meta-narratives and
> the current world-system, not from the angle of which system is more
> totalizing or totalitarian (even as capital and commodification do
> seem to enter more and more into areas of everyday life, giving some
> measure of credibility to Wallerstein's assertion that capitalism /is/
> the world-system). Rather, I would point to differences in the kinds
> of belief that the different narratives require of "us." I gestured at
> this difference, with a broad stroke admittedly, when I said the old
> meta-narratives no longer could support a full-hearted, passionate
> commitment - a commitment that one would be willing, say, to die for
> in battle. The current world-system, to cut straight to the point,
> does not require that kind of commitment from anyone. Indeed, the
> ideal of 'liberal governmentality' could be said to be devoted to
> avoiding questions of belief altogether.
> True, there are people dying in battles, and there are committed
> people who effect real change in many areas. But even the U.S.
> government, with the biggest military in the world, does not impose a
> draft on its people. Commitment and battle-readiness, where it is
> found, gets channeled into NGO's and other projects with limited aims,
> working collectively perhaps but not often, as formerly, at the level
> of "nation" or "class." Arguably, this is all to the good. But at the
> same time our collective efforts do tend to be disaggregated,
> numerous, and limited in the transformations we can imagine or hope
> for.
> This discussion may be linked to our discussions of the artist's place
> within or against the world of finance and capital.
> The kinds of arts that have interested me, are those that work at the
> boundaries of systems, not resisting them, critiquing them, or even (a
> la DeBord or Certeau) detourning them, repurposing them to suit
> alternative lifeways. I am more interested in arts and artists who
> transform elements of one system (say, high finance, or branches of
> the mass media), into elements of their own art-system. A few weeks
> ago, I encountered the compositions of a Chicago artist (and current
> professor at Rice University), John Sparagana. For years, John has
> been working with glossy magazines. Any day, anywhere he might be,
> chances are he will have in his pocket a crumpled up page from a
> magazine. He keeps the page in his pocket for several days or weeks,
> until the gloss is removed and the words become illegible or
> semi-legible. Eventually, he assembles pages into sizable collages
> that have a sometimes smooth, sometimes striated, texture that is hard
> to describe - though it's anything but "glossy." The lines of text or
> the arrangement of images on magazine pages gives to the collage its
> visual patterning, so the origins in commercial texts do continue to
> function, but in a ghostly "fashion."
> John generally wears fatigues, an outfit available for civilian wear
> now that there is no official draft by the U.S. military. The process
> of preparing his pages, he calls 'fatigue-ing." This seems to me a
> model for describing a person's ability to contfront the systems we
> inhabit without participating in them directly.
> The Chicago gallery where I encountered Sparagana's work is called
> Corbett vs Dempsey:
> http://www.corbettvsdempsey.com/artists.html
> Joseph
> On Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 2:33 AM, sdv at krokodile.co.uk
> <sdv at krokodile.co.uk> wrote:
> > Joseph,
> >
> > It always interests me how when people write of Lyotard's understanding
> > of the post-modern they write as if his writings of 1979 remain and were
> > accurate. As if the death of the meta-narrative of human liberation
> > meant the death of all meta-narratives. But actually as the past month
> > has demonstrated this is not the case.
> >
> > The Meta-narratives that have survived and proposed during the past 30
> > years since Lyotard's post-modern condition was published are broadly
> > speaking those which can be grouped under the heading 'theories of
> > liberal governance' , the internal arguments being around the subject of
> > how things should be governed - the critical one being neo-liberalism
> > with it's libertarian overtones. Given its existence I don't see how the
> > acceptance of the misreading of the 'passing of grand-narratives' is
> > really that helpful. That the postmodern stopped believing in the
> > narrative of human liberation did not finally mean that the liberal
> > narratives of human governance went away,  it mean rather they were
> > never stronger. So that when Michael writes of meta-N passing he was
> > ignoring our actual history to maintain a particular theoretical
> > understanding which at its best could only address the passing of one
> > set of enlightenment discourses but not the one that we most need to
> > critique that of 'liberal governmentality'.
> >
> > steve
> >
> >
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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