[-empyre-] (no subject)

Branden Hookway brandenhookway at cornell.edu
Fri Oct 28 08:41:18 EST 2011


Thank you, Johannes, for your invitation to participate and for the introduction. To comment on everything that struck my interest in the posts over the past three and a half weeks would make for a very, very long post indeed (as if this weren’t long enough).

I’ll start with a take on deceleration, following two of the running themes that seem to me to characterize the discussion so far. The first theme, explicitly, being butoh; the second theme, implicitly perhaps, being notions of the biological arguably derived from cybernetics. As evidence of the latter, note the recurrence throughout this discussion of epigenetic landscapes and ontogenetics, feedback loops and reciprocities, sensory thresholds, gyroscopes and homeostatic systems, behavioral teleologies, autopoiesis, and so on (bearing in mind F. Scott Taylor’s most warranted suspicion of the above). Further, I would suspect, albeit from my very limited knowledge of butoh, that the relation between butoh and cybernetics here is not at all coincidental but rather fundamentally has something to do with the role of techniques of the body in contemporary culture, especially with respect to issues of control, free will, and determinism. Here the quotation of Ohno Yoshito on technique provided by Michael Weiss is relevant, that "if you are dancing free all the time, it makes you unfree," as is the notion from butoh technique where movements of the body are not held as consciously directed but rather as driven from some external or internal location outside conscious control. The extent to which butoh or other techniques of the body may be used to resolve dualities of body and mind, yet while still remaining necessary to and present within that resolution, is also the extent to which we are ourselves as individuals or communities produced by techniques of all kinds, biological or linguistic or computational, Lacanian mirrors or Foucaultian technologies of the self. Or again, the cultural power or dynamic potential of a technique of the body, even if treated as a counter-technique, also goes to show the necessity and unavoidability of technique, at least with respect to that which may be registered, expressed, or communicated.

This is to say that no technique is absolute in terms of what it performs; rather, I find it more productive to think of technique as the locus of a problematic that carries within itself a threshold between that which may and may not be expressed. Likewise, cybernetics developed out of a problematic of free will and determinism. Maxwell explicitly formulated his demon as an escape from the determinism of the second law of thermodynamics, yet in its free will and agency, the demon is only ever semi-autonomous, only ever defined within given constraints. There is only ever situational or relative deceleration; and one might also just as well restate the relationship between acceleration and deceleration in terms of vertigo and orientation. While orientation in flight is almost always preferable to vertigo, vertigo still exists within orientation as a constant check on orientation, and as the grounds out of which the necessity of orientation was found. And of course however well we are oriented, we must also keep an eye on our trajectory and destination. One might argue that deceleration is increasingly a privilege (and perhaps at the same time even an imperative) reserved for those at the top of the economic, political, and cultural food chain (e.g., executive retreats at Eselen), who require some level of mastery over techniques of deceleration in order to maintain the capacity to invent and distribute the techno-cultural accelerations that more and more define both the labor and consumption of the majority.

As to Johannes' request to address Pandemonium, there are perhaps two ways to look at predation and capitalism. Of course we should always be aware of the more obvious kind of predatory capitalism, where there are easily identifiable malefactors and victims, whether in terms of individuals, institutions, or classes. My interest in Pandemonium, however, was to articulate a less visible form of predation, one that was the result of many hands often working unknowingly, and of what might best be described after Deleuze and Guattari as following developments along certain technological lineages. Put simply, this predation consists only of renaturing entities so that they are rendered compatible to networks of various kinds, so transforming them into constituents of systems. This network imperative is predatory to the extent that it can only ever seek its own expansion; in the book I figured this as a "pandemonic eye" constantly scanning its environment for that which it can incorporate into itself. In some ways, capitalism, though perhaps more and more defined by this process, is not in itself necessary for it; for example, in the final chapter of Architecture and Utopia (1973), Tafuri describes the near simultaneous discovery of decentralized planning methodologies in both the Soviet Union and the West. Decentralized control and network structures have a way of obscuring their own tracks within a semblance of organic and self-organizational inevitability, whether in markets, artificial intelligences and interfaces, or communication networks (I am reminded of Jack Butler's fatemaps); the choice of material examples in Pandemonium, from parallel processing architectures to computerized machine tools to office landscapes, was based on instances where it seemed to me that that which is generally kept implicit was shown, at least for a moment, as explicit.

This again follows an interest in the threshold between the expressible and inexpressible that is I think unavoidable when dealing with the kinds of entailment that typify recursive systems. Thus, the design of the book, even the font, became important as a kind of self-performance of the content it was presenting.

Your query, Johannes, about the context within which this project was produced is very interesting to me, especially in your decision to curate Pandemonium and Slow Space together as the two representatives from architecture that would speak to this discussion on choreography and deceleration. I think Michael would agree that Pandemonium and Slow Space were nurtured in the same hothouse as it were, which was the Rice School of Architecture in Houston, Texas in the mid- to late-1990s. Lars Lerup had just arrived as dean, and had defined the agenda of the school around the problem of Houston as a post-urban city; his 1995 essay "Stim and Dross" treated Houston as a kind of non-linear weather system defined by the interaction of attractions (stim) and wasteland sprawl (dross). Sanford Kwinter’s interests and influence on the school can be read in his regular contributions under the title FFE (Far From Equilbrium) to ANY (Architecture New York) magazine; his collaboration with Bruce Mau, and their shared interest in using image and design in the production of content was essential to producing Pandemonium in the form that it took. Albert Pope’s book Ladders (1996) addressed post-urban subject formation in relation to the breakdown of the urban grid. Michael was my very first architecture studio critic, and Slow Space, which he was working on at the time, was implicit in the studio.

This post is already overlong; I will try to say a little more in a later post about my more recent work on the interface and on the cockpit as a prototypical space of the interface. As a preview, though, I would have to say that Jack Butler’s citation of Didier Anzieu and Skin Ego, of a situation of both "barrier and penetration, the locus of the liminal stroke that both separates and joins," could pretty much precisely describe how I view the interface.

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