[-empyre-] indifference and in/direct politics

Cull, Laura lkc202 at exeter.ac.uk
Tue May 19 18:25:39 EST 2009

Dear Johannes, dear Stamatia, dear all,

… to follow on from Stamatia’s last post, I guess I don’t really believe in the notion of the ‘inert’. That is, from the perspective of the process philosophy I tend to share, there is movement everywhere – albeit that sometimes that movement occurs above or below a human threshold of perception. I like very much, is it Whitehead who writes about the movement of the monument – Cleopatra’s Needle – of the life of the stone. And perhaps this is where a connection might begin with the Shadow Casters project – with the memory of the urban landscape itself, not necessarily as a landscape that needs human memory to remember itself. 

On the other hand, we could say that Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of making yourself a body without organs comes close to the idea of producing an indifferent body, as a surface over which intensities – pain, cold, joy - can pass. However, even then, at least according to Deleuze and Guattari, what we reach once we have ‘sufficiently dismantled our self’ is ‘nonstratified, unformed, intense matter’ or ‘energy’. The BwO is this primary ‘glacial reality’ on which organisms and subjects form - nothing but these flows of energy, of difference in itself. 

Indifference, for me then, is less about the inert or inertia than about the absence of interest – a breaking away from an interested perspective or an ordering of the world from our own duration. 

I’m not sure I can now answer Stamatia’s question about the role of technological augmentation in all this vis-à-vis her example of the hysterical body. I guess the risk here – as with many of the bodies that figure in Deleuze – is that we end up fetishizing a body produced by a different experience of time (the spasm), in a way that neglects to the actual suffering of that body. At least this is my anxiety about Deleuze’s relation to Artaud. 

That said, I’m all for dance that breaks with the notion of the self as origin – moving from one rhythm and speed to another in a manner that one might call ‘schizophrenic’. I very much enjoy, for example, the specific kind of skill to move at unexpected speeds developed by performers like Rosie Dennis (http://www.suture.com.au/). 

To return to the question of ‘criticality’, I agree entirely with Stamatia’s argument that “it is fundamental for dance to be critical, first of all of itself”. But I wonder, then, how we understand the relationship between dance’s critique of itself and its critique of the broader social/political/economic context. Which returns me to the politics of movement in the city. I heard on a documentary recently about the urban planning of Paris conducted by Baron Haussman under Napoleon III – in which Haussman developed the boulevard system in order to prevent Paris from falling into another civil war. The idea was that the boulevards would be so wide, that the building of barricades would be impossible. At the same time, Haussman designed the city such that there was a direct connection between the military barracks and the workers districts – and any emergent civil unrest could be quickly suppressed.

I guess my question is, how directly critical do you/we want to be? For myself, I know I continue to tussle with a belief in and commitment to the politics of perception – and as such, the indirect political value of works which operate on their audiences sense of time, space, body, mind and so forth (as we have already discussed) – alongside a sense of impotence, and a correlative attraction to the directness of activism. Clearly we need both kinds of practice in the world, and perhaps there is no reason to “decide” – certainly not once and for all. But I wonder how others manage this question of value…? Is that working with very new technology is somehow self-justifying to the extend that such practices involve a generous form of public experiment – showing what the body can do in connection with these various new softwares, sensors and so forth. Or if the dance is critical of itself, then it is also critical of these new technologies – and/or of techno-choreography vs. the ever-present critique of ‘gimmickry’ so beloved of evangelists of the ‘live’?

Excuse my thinking aloud.


From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of stamatia portanova [stamatiaportanova at yahoo.it]
Sent: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 2:21 AM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: [-empyre-] R:   swarms, task envelopes,        trajectories and displacements...

I also  find the concept of 'indifference' very stimulating and challenging, from many points of view... In particular, I find it interesting from a very literal physiological points of view: thinking of the body as the 'inert' surface animated by a flow of electrical energy. As human bodies in perception and motion, our fluid and broken experiences are always galvanized by electricity. The meta-stable equilibrium of this kinetic system consists of a normal release of electrons, and their ordered transmission through a network of nerve connections separated by tiny gaps (the synapses). 'Ordinary' movement depends on a smooth energetic transmission of electricity across the nerves: in Freud’s thermodynamic description, “the dominating tendency of mental life, and perhaps of nervous life in general, is the effort to reduce, to keep constant or to remove internal tension due to stimuli …”. Different kinetic pathologies derive from the alteration and disruption of this electrical transmission, provoking an over-stimulation of the nervous system and an autonomous hyper-activation of different bodily areas. An example of this excessive kinetic condition is represented by the sudden jerks and spasms of the hysterical body: being literally flooded by a flow of uncontrollable electrical energy, the nervous body becomes a 'schizophrenic' kinetic system whose spasms result from the abnormal working of its neural cells. In this sense, hysterical conditions seem to already reveal, without any recurrence to digital or analog technologies of any kind, an inadequate, involuntary and augmented condition of the indifferent body, a physical powerlessness that opens it to a more abstract potential. My question is if, and how, the technological connections exemplified by practices of technological augmentation show something more, and different, from the hysterical body, of if they are redundant to it. Perhaps the key to understand these practices is to consider not only the basic ontological condition of the indifferent body, but also the way in which it is inscribed by precise aesthetic and technical parameters of artistic intervention (the organization, or coding, Laura was also talking about)?

The indifferent body is beyond its phenomenological subjectivity, beyond memory and anticipation, opening moments for a reflexions that, for once, does not depart by the needs of the ever-present 'I'. I very much like the idea of a dance that 'ends', giving time to re-think (always non-subjectively). I think it is fundamental for dance to be critical, first of all of itself. For this reason, I agree with Laura about the non contradiction and the possibility of having indifference and desire working together. What perhaps I don't clearly understand is the relation between this very much 'deleuzian' idea, and a political practice of movement strongly connected to the cultural memory of a 'cultural subjectivity' (such as in Shadowing the City). Indifference is not only a sort of 'neutrality' towards the categorizations of life. It is also a 'superficiality' with respect to the profundities of memory and expectation. Another word for it is oblivion.


--- Dom 17/5/09, Stelarc <stelarc at va.com.au> ha scritto:

Da: Stelarc <stelarc at va.com.au>
Oggetto: [-empyre-] swarms, task envelopes, trajectories and displacements...
A: "soft_skinned_space" <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Data: Domenica 17 maggio 2009, 02:52

Hi Tim and Ashley-

Thanks for suggesting alternate ideas, constructing additional
meanings and relevance to what was written and prompting a further

Much of what we do affirms and perpetuates outmoded assumptions and
perceptions about the body. I just wanted to problematize it and try
to re-think, if not re-figure what it means to be a body- in both form
and function. (The "I" in these references  simply means "this" body.
It is a huge metaphysical leap to assert anything inner, anything

We should neither affirm the biological status quo of the body nor
should we be mimicking machines. What is more interesting is to see
the body now as an extended operational system of mixed realities in
both proximal and remote spaces.

To augment and extend the body is not so much about enhancement but
rather being able to perform with alternate capabilities and
unexpected outcomes.

Indifference allows not mere entanglement of bodies and machines but
their assemblage. These assemblages of body, machines and virtual
systems are constantly changing with the trajectories,  intensities,
rhythms and duration of operation. Indifference is necessary for an
erasure of agency at the critical moment that allows a coupling. This
coupling can result in Chimeric Flesh.

We are fascinated by the diverse locomotion of living things, of the
flocking behavior of birds and the swarming behavior of insects. Of
their complexity and seeming emergent behavior.  Aliveness is now
enriched by the seductive, smooth and speedy motion of machines. Not
only do living things move, but things now move too. Some relevant
ideas that come to mind include   technology as the external organs of
the body (McLuhan), the displacement of human capabilities into
machines (Baudrillard) and the unexpected occurrences and accidents
that occur with new technologies (Virilio). Accidents though seen in a
more positive way,  as unscripted moments of possibilities and

With Circulating Flesh, not only do bodies move but now bits of bodies
are displaced from one body to another. Blood circulating in my body
may tomorrow circulate in your body. Ova that have been stored are
fertilized with sperm that has been unfrozen. The face of a cadaver
becomes a third face on a recipient. Organs are extracted from one
body and implanted into other bodies.  Organs in circulation. Organs
in excess.  Organs awaiting bodies. Organs without bodies.

When I talk about Fractal Flesh I mean bodies and bits of bodies
spatially separated but electronically connected, generating recurring
patterns of interactivity at varying scales.

The proliferation of haptic devices on the internet will mean being
able to generate potent physical presences of remote bodies and
machines. To interact with force-feedback. Tele-presence becomes tele-
existence when there are adequate feedback loops between a body and a
robot. That is what's meant by Phantom Flesh.

Unexpected  kinds of bodily trajectories have been generated. Bodies
coupled with machines, bodies contained in machines, machines inserted
into bodies. The body once only seamlessly moved in space with a
continuity of time. Now bodies are  violently launched, accelerated
and propelled across time-zones. This is increasingly experienced as
displacement. We are not going anywhere now but rather we are
sometimes here, some times there. We are all differently enabled
bodies on varying prosthetic trajectories extending our task envelopes
beyond the proximal (beyond the boundaries of the skin and beyond the
local space we inhabit) and becoming remote sensors and end-effectors
for other bodies and surrogate machines in other places.

A prosthesis is not necessarily a sign of lack, but rather a symptom
of excess. The HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) EMG controlled exoskeleton
for example both prosthetically supports and actuates a disabled body
or strengthens the musculature of normally functioning body.

Perhaps we need more singularities. More moments of implosion. More
anxieties generated by indecision. Unable to choose, the body stops,
the body can't move. The dance ends. Time to re-think.


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