[-empyre-] Smelly Objects

lauren.berlant@gmail.com lberlant at aol.com
Tue Jun 19 14:00:35 EST 2012

Hi!  Jack, thanks for being game!  I was indeed interested in reading Transitional Objects as a piece of queer new media about the making of new mediums that destroy notions of bodily ego, identity, inside/outside, human/object, and reproduction/replication, while yet holding up a potential world that can reveal itself and be occupied (even as an atmosphere in proximity) without requiring a confidence on the other side that kills the confusion of a new sensorium right away into taxonomy.  Taxidermy against taxonomy. Even the baby on the breast has a too closeness that can't quite re-find itself in the VHS cassette (a formerly new medium). 

We look at the insane animals that Jennifer sews, and the film compiled with her toes; we look at the abjection of making in situ, and sense something queer about making as a kind of editing, or open ended (endlessly hacked) suturing, as a process that works against being known, and therefore against death. Life is the estranged thing. We see that the making of a new medium is a gathering up of previous events of newness, all violent to the sensorium.  It made me think about Zach's queer mask surveillance work.  In both cases a known thing is reproduced as a screen against knowing; and the desires to be seen and known, and to see and know, are propped against the insecurity state any enigma forces the surveyor to occupy.  These dramas are usefully linked to camp, with its production of engimas that cannot be known but that stand in nonetheless for the desire to define objects as potentially knowable (as potentially "data," as Patricia would say).  

I also think we could talk about the affectivity of the soundtrack, out of sync with the image but not in an uncanny way:  it's very soothing when it's a voiceover reading theory, but anxiogenic when the two girlish voices are collaborating on what to call the emerging objects. But the big impact on me is in the visuals of making.  I always feel sick when I watch Jennifer both move the film with her toes and eviscerate the stuffed animals.  There is nothing more pedagogical about the being in objects than the experience of seeing the object cut into. Her version of "reparativity" is not pastoral; her version of the object is in the recognition that any impressment on consciousness does a violence to it and the object:  "Hello Object, I destroyed you, I love you...While I am loving you I am all the time destroying you in unconscious fantasy." To "respect" the being of objects here is to encounter the violence of the non-encounter that generates the pleasure and strangeness of being in relation. I think that's what the spaghetti western is doing there too: explaining aesthetics as our pleasure in bruising the object when we encounter its trace, and take away an image that is neither a reproduction, nor a replication, but a sense, an impact.  We were supposed to talk about affect this week:  about the erotics of biopower, about the aesthetics of new media producing a different kind of surfacing of impact and therefore of affect; about the Mobius strip of revelation and withdrawal that the object dramatizes.  So I thought I'd offer something like this. 


Lauren Berlant
George M. Pullman Professor
Department of English
University of Chicago
Walker Museum 413
1115 E. 58th. St.
Chicago IL 60637

-----Original Message-----
From: Judith Halberstam <halberst at usc.edu>
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Sent: Mon, Jun 18, 2012 8:01 pm
Subject: [-empyre-] Smelly Objects


I have read your post several times, watched the video by Jennifer Montgomery, read some Winnicott and also looked again at Alison Bechdel's graphic novel memoir, Are You My Mother? which contains several episodes revolving around her readings of Winnicott and even has a chapter titled "Transitional Objects." Homay mentioned Bechdel last week also.

So, here are my short comments in response, I won't go on since this is not even my week but i loved your post and found that it opened up lots of new doors...

1. Bechdel's book is brilliant and each chapter begins with a dream and then uses material from her endless conversations with her mother to make sense of the dream. In the book's opening sequence for example, she dreams that she has trapped herself in her house's cellar while doing a home improvement project. She escapes through a small window and then jumps into a deep brook to try to find her way home again. This dream about being trapped and then getting lost recurs throughout.

After the dream, there is a mesmerizing cinematic sequence within which Bechdel is driving in heavy traffic and having a conversation with her mother. The panels tightly frame her upper body behind the wheel of the car and then slowly pull back until by the fourth panel we see that the passenger seat is empty. She has been rehearsing a conversation with her mother but in this scene the mother is (and she remains throughout the book) absent. This is a stunning illustration of what Lauren calls "the generative potential of withdrawn objects" and like the dreams that do not resolve, the absent mother keeps things moving throughout the memoir.

Bechdel seems to offer a way into the thinking about the queerness of the object - partly because she uses the comic/graphic novel format (the book's subtitle is A Comic Drama) and therefore makes the connection to the infantile in form as well as content and offers the cartoon itself as a transitional object. but Bechdel's queerness emerges out of her own transitional identity - the slippage she herself represents between male and female, son and daughter. Her gender ambiguity, she thinks, makes her unloveable to the mother and so she goes on a hunt for the good enough mother who will accept her transitional self. In the process she develops a series of (queer) relations with things...this is where she and the child in Montgomery's video overlap.

2. In the video by Montgomery, I was sort of amused by this passage from Winnicott:

"The transitional object may, because of an anal erotic organization, stand for faeces (but it is not for this reason that it may become smelly or remain unwashed)."

There is something about the use of the word "smelly" there that is disgusting but also humorous. Of course the stuffed animal is a kind of sponge (bob) in that it soaks up the child - his/her fluids - tears, milk, puke, slobber. It becomes an olefactory record of the child's misery and abjection. This is a history that smells.

When the object becomes smelly is its dirtiness part of its liveliness? is the washed object something else entirely? what is the relationship between the smelly and the loved? 

Second, in the relationship between the two voices in the video, the adult, Jennifer, who surgically cuts up stuffed animals with a razor blade and then sews them back to together again in hybrid forms, hardly acknowledges the rambling but compelling narration of the little girl:

Girl: "what is this?...no face...a teddy bear...with two hands...hands up in the sky....whatttt, no face..."
Jennifer M: "no face"
Girl: "why? did the face go away? what did it look like? what did it look like? a bear?"
JM: no answer
Girl: "what like this? this is silly? an elephant and a bunny. that's a monkey!"
JM: "really"
Girl: "yeah, look, it is also a bunny and a cat, a dog and a monkey, a lion. a little bit a cat, a little bit a lion, what else? that's all"
JM: "uh huh."
Girl: "a little bit a person...that's all...a person and a little bit a cat."

The little girl is trying to find something she recognizes in the hybrid forms that the Jennifer character makes, sort of sadistically, and so she ends up looking at one of the monstrosities (and I say this with much approval of the monstrous object) and calling it "a little bit a person and a little bit a cat."

Finding herself reflected in the hybridity of the altered object, the girl fashions a kind of identification with monstrosity...this way queerness lies. Perhaps we are little bit person and little bit cat/monkey/camel, donkey/dog etc...Lauren called us "cats" as in "Hey Cats"...

The girl, like Bechdel, finding herself blocked out somehow by the mother figure, begins to craft an intimacy with the object. It is this intimacy that might be the basis for access to the realm of what Lauren calls the "interobjective."

Anyone else watch the video? thanks for posting this and your comments Lauren...

On Jun 18, 2012, at 4:52 AM, lauren.berlant at gmail.com wrote:

Hi cats!  I have
been trying to figure out how to respond to so much of this without dilating in
bloated paragraphs that become unreadable.  I will try therefore to stick
to the genre of the prompt (as opposed to genres of exegesis) so that we can
always point to outsides with which we can read/relate and therefore continue
talk later.  

I am also going to introduce this week artists I would like to bring into the conversation--Doug

Ischar, Tina Takemoto, and today Jennifer Montgomery, in case watching their
work might clarify some questions, e.g. make them more questionable.
Here is thebackground for today's prompt:  Jennifer Montgomery's brilliant Transitional
Objects (from which the title to my post is taken).  http://vimeo.com/21270312

11.  The structural zeitgeist: Patricia points out that we're undergoing a transformation in the ways we think about structure,
and as Zach and Jacob will attest, I've been going around for the past year saying this too, and the first sentence of my next book is "This book
offers a concept of structure for transitional times.  All times are transitional, but at some times, like this one, politics is defined by the
collective struggle to determine the terms of a transition in relation to collective social existence." This is how I have long understood the
OOO discussion as a prompt for thinking not just being but for a new structural understanding of relation from which worlds can be described.
Interobjectivity replacing intersubjectivity as the new ethical/political/analytical scene.  I think Christina McFee’s work is
extraordinary in this way, an aesthetics of attention dedicated to an analytic of modeling that never subtracts from itself a scenicness for sensual

22.      Laplanchean psychoanalysis, which props relationality on the impersonal intimacy of beings passing their enigmatic
signifiers (affects of the encounter that is not an event) between each other, I have
long thought, has something to contribute to the image of the withdrawn object
whose very resistance to a sufficient coding can open up dark, maybe even
queer, passages of relating and mutual extension (that might even be thriving). 

34. The idea of a transitional environment for the relating
that always involves losing the habit that appears to be sovereign, for
producing change without the melodrama of a trauma that appears to be a
sufficient coding, is what Jennifer’s piece is about: making. Winnicott: “In
relation to the transitional object the infant passes from magical omnipotent
control to control by manipulation involving muscle eroticism and coordination
pleasure.”  He doesn’t sound too different
from Ian. 

4.  4.   Is the “object” in (imaginative) psychoanalysis
the same as the “object” in OOO?  Neither
external nor internal, but holding up an environment/world? In my work the object
has nothing to do with that which is held together by the apparent skin of a
thing but it’s a cluster of investments, of attention and attunements, that
make a scene (an affectively overwhelming situation) that demands an

5.   5  What’s queer about all this? In our first weeks
of discussion “queer” seemed a name for the erotically invested non-normative
procedure or orientation. Is that sufficient? What’s the fantasy investment in
calling the appearance of a withdrawn thing queer?  My second post will focus on the play of
security/insecurity re this, but I’d love to hear from the subjects who wrote
towards/from the queer.

Bye! LB


Lauren Berlant

George M. Pullman

Department of English

University of Chicago

Walker Museum 413

1115 E. 58th. St.

Chicago IL 60637


-----Original Message-----

From: Clough, Patricia <PClough at gc.cuny.edu>

To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>

Sent: Sun, Jun 17, 2012 1:15 pm

Subject: Re: [-empyre-] the real and reality in speculative realism and OOO/P

I have just finished
reading a piece by Latour on big data  for
a paper I am 

writing  with three students (Josh Scannell,  Benjamin Haber and Karen Gregory  

who are lurking on the
site).  One of Latour's points is that
the two level 

analysis carried on in
sociology (but everywhere else as well) 
of individual 

and structure are the
result of technologies for navigating sets of data.   He 

also proposes that
digital technologies--the way they collect and circulate data  

or the way they navigate
data sets-- is eating away at both elements of a two 

level analysis   allowing for another way for
understanding  social order.  Of 

course Latour  has in mind 
his own ANT approach and something close to  a flat 

ontology   But I am really interested in what his
proposal makes us think about 

the concepts we have
been using  like individual and
structure  and how they are 

an effect of or a
compensation for the ways we  "do
data,"   including 

narrative, performance
but cinema television--or writing technologies generally 

speaking and carrying a
bit of Derrida along here as to the sensibilities coming 

with his use of
Writing.   I have been thinking that when
there is noise 

produced in
philosophical circles (especially when it produces an aporia between 

epistemology and
ontology as noise probably always does) like OOO/SR is making  

but which
poststructuralism also made (still makes) it is because technology is 

giving another way of
doing data.   And when I say we have to
know how that is 

working in order to
critique it, I mean  we will have to
critique  it  in the 

terms of the constraints
and freedoms of that very technology.   I
don't believe 

there can be another
ontology then the one that arrives with a technology, our 

differences in how to
articulate it notwithstanding .(so that is how I read 

Combes on  Simondon)  
Indeed I think ethics or  politics
comes with inserting  

noise in the aporia
produced by the provisions for data navigation given with a 

technology and that
the  differences between us --- how we
are articulating 

ontology  ethics etc. 
are already noise.   I am not sure
those differences 

should be so easily
resolved  but taken as widening contrasts
at any moment.

So when I take up OOO/SR
in my work   I also use poetic form or
sound scapes to  

contrast with
OOO/SR  as some of the poetry is
autobiographic  performing 

something close to a
confessional subject   some quite
Deleuzian  more a body 

without organs   some 
psychoanalytic. very much a body and queer.     I don't 

believe these things are
compatible  and if I were just making an
argument  they 

could not all be in one
piece   But  when composed artistically they can be near 

each other  and 
become contrasts.   What holds the
pieces together is the 

modulation of affect
that the composition hopes to be its effect.  
I think the 

current interest in
affect is about digital technology in that it is asking us 

to rethink  these two levels of individual and
structure  and asking us to think 

about how we present our
thoughts or ideas    how we compose them.


  Also the way technologies shape the way  we do data 
is not just a matter of 

method  or analysis, it is at the same time  about governance and economy  and  

I think these words are
changing what they refer to  and what
they can do when 

we use them  as new ways of navigating  data are arising.  And so too what we 

mean by life.  I love Eugene Thacker's book   After Life just to show the many 

ways (all impossible) we
have tried to define life  in
relationship to living 

starting with
theology.   Eugene writes such a book
just at a time when  the 

definition of  life 
is undergoing a change in relationship to living.







From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
[empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] 

On Behalf Of frederic
neyrat [fneyrat at gmail.com]

Sent: Sunday, June 17,
2012 4:02 AM

To: soft_skinned_space

Subject: Re: [-empyre-]
the real and reality in speculative realism and OOO/P


Hi Patricia,


1/ You wrote: "They
are lively before or without human consciousness.

 I think this arouses more respect for the
environment and the cosmos

not to mention human
beings and other living things":

I'm not sure about that.
I would like, but I'm note sure. I'm just

thinking about the
hunter killing the living prey. Or about Sade in

his dark castle. I think
it's not possible to pass directly from

ontology to ethics or
politics. It depends a/ not only on the

definition of life
(first problem: if everything is alive, who cares

about life? because if
Yellowstone trees die, no problems, there still

will be stones, yellow
and washing machine) but b/ on the politics

built on this


2/ may you explain this
sentence: "If those technosciences we worry

about are doing what
they are doing that worries us  we need

imagine an ontology that
meets their capacity in order to think the

possibilities of
politics". Because I was thinking: maybe the

technosciences ontology
is wrong. Maybe - for example - life is not

only a pure matter on
which I can put a patent. Maybe - as Muriel

Combes says in "La
vie inséparée" - a living being cannot be separated

from its form. Maybe we
need absolutely another ontology to fight this





Frederic Neyrat


2012/6/17 Clough,
Patricia <PClough at gc.cuny.edu>:

> I am not sure this
got through    since I am also missing
some of Tim's  I 

think  but I will put it here below but first.   Just to say that objects in OOO 

are not
objectifications   or mere things or
commodities.   A  turn to ontology  

(whether OOO or feminist
queer ones) is to give us a sense that objects differ 

from themselves; they
exude temporality.  They are lively
before or without 

consciousness.   I think this arouses
more respect for the environment and 

the cosmos not to
mention human beings and other living things.  
This seems 

especially important in
raising questions about the boundary between species and 

organic and
nonorganic.   If those technosciences we
worry about are doing what 

they are doing that
worries us  we need to imagine an
ontology that meets their 

capacity in order to
think the possibilities of politics.   
But of course 

OOO/SR isn't everything
that is needed.   And so I am interested
in how we write 

or argue or
philosophize   We need poetry a

>  nd 
artistry  so we can have hesitancy
and allusion  where causality is 

alluring....  And so the reference by Michael ( I
think)  to transitional 

objects is something I
want to take up.   I prefer  Bollas's transformational 

objects that Lauren
Berlant makes such good use of  in her
work  recently again 

in Cruel Optimism.    Patricia


> (repeat maybye )

> Well starting off
in the last week is difficult.   So much
going on over the 

last three weeks.   Thanks to Zach and Micha for the invite
and  to everyone 

else offering some great
thoughts  to ponder.



> As for discussion
around feminism, queer and OOO/ SR  There
are (still/even 

more)  worrisome issues  of oppression, exploitation and
repression   that come 

to mind with queer,
feminist, postcolonial, anti-race, debility 

formations  but there also are troubles
which are before 

us,  feminist neoliberalism or  pink washing and queer, for examples.  

institutional arrangements are much more complicated than identity 

politics sometimes
presented itself as being  in the demand
for subject  

recognition  which led to decades of debate on the truth
of representation and 

the deconstruction
of  the authority of discourse with a
hesitancy  to reference 

the real in
support.   Here a certain
Althusserian/Lacanianism played a weighty 

part  and then add  
Derrida  Spivak Butler Foucault
Berlant, Sedgwick  and 

more. For many of us
this work has been a go to intellectual and political 

resource for some
time.  Clearly these authors  put philosophy  intimately i

>  n play with a politics (often  Marxism, and then Marxism plus) that was 

easily felt in their
work.   In  OOO/SR , this tight connection is less

if there at all.  What I do not want to overlook however is
that OOO/SR came 

when the former (not
necessarily the thinkers themselves) was not easily working 

as an intellectual
resource in the face of several issues: 
what to be said 

about political economy
except to say again and again neoliberalism or even 

biopolitics (even though
I keep saying those);  what is to be said

subjectivity and the
unconscious after deconstruction and along with a profound 

transformation in social
media;  what is to be said about the
human, the 

organism as figure of
life, about matter  after posthumanism
and with the 

development of various
technologies we should call biotechnologies (but now all 

technology seems to have
always been) or even more incredible nanotechnologies?  

What to say about the
persistence but varied forms of racism oppre

>  ssion exploitation?  How to let all this feed back to rethinking



> I think that for
some of us OOO/SR made us think again about the intellectual 

resources for our work
and how to address some of the questions I just raised by 

turning us to
ontological issues beyond constructivism asking us to critically 

address the assimilating
act of human consciousness embedded in most of our 

materialisms (thus the
new materialisms and  a recent paper by
Liz Grosz on 

matter and life is
exquisite here) .  This new materialisms  comes in part as a 

response to recent
developments in technoscience  and as a
social scientist (of 

sorts) I am so aware
that social science leans on scientific assumptions if not 

ideals that need
updating to say the least. But I think this is the case for 

many of our
materialisms. This rethinking of technoscience including digital 

technologies has in part
raised interest in OOO/SR   and  that is the case for 

me.   But I am not sure that  the elective affinity between  digital 

technologies,  the growth of computational studies  and al

>  gorithm studies etc.  and OOO/SR yet has been well stated.  I do not think 

that all OOO/SR thinkers
find this to be  central while some
do.   Debates 

around OOO/SR with which
Steven Shaviro is involved usually speak to digital 

technology  (and Bogost of course)     All this to say that the 'affect' that I 

have most written about
is the Spinoza Deleuze Whitehead Masssumi 

version (although I want
to talk more about feelings and emotions this week).  

The Spinoza Deleuze
Whitehead Masssumi  Parisi version of
affect I believe has 

always required an
ontological shift (which is central to the Affective Turn 

volume). That  ontological shift has everything to do with
the way affect is 

experienced through a
technological intensification  since it
is otherwise 

preconscious if not
nonconscious and a-social   While
language generally is an 

intensifier  I have been more interested in intensifications
that did not 

necessarily raise to
consciousness but simply intensified experience

>   inciting resonances rhythmicities   oscillations etc.  and which then could 

be about bodies other
than human ones or organic ones--queering body. 

seemed to require an
ontological shift, one involving 
matter.  I have been 

arguing for some time
that matter is affective or informational (well maybe we 

should just say energy)
and this  led me to OOO/SR.   But before checking out 

OOO/SR  I was much indebted to Deleuze and the
others   and  since 

OOO/SR  I feel the noteworthy tension  between Deleuzians and  OOO/SR (although 

there are those trying
to negotiate the tension as I am).  
During the next week  

I want to offer some
thoughts (and can't wait for response and interventions) 

about  this tension in relationship to affect.  I hope we can discussion  more 

the recent focus on
aesthetics which has enabled me to think in the tension 

rather than against
it  and find a way as well to dwell  in rather than  simply 

put an end to the  aporia between ontology  and ep

>  istemology that affect and non-human
perception produces.   I think  

aesthetics and the turn
to Whitehead's rereading of Kant points to a way to 

engage the liveliness
of  what Eugene Thacker calls a world
without us  or not 

for us.


> Finally,  during the first week  I much enjoyed all the sites to which I was 

sent and all the efforts
to make stuff, queer stuff, with  digital
technology as 

well as with other
technologies.   This doing along with
thinking (crude way of 

putting it) seems
important to a critical engagement with what we once would 

have called  knowledge production.    Looking forward to ongoing















> ________________________________________

> From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
[empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] 

On Behalf Of Michael
O'Rourke [tranquilised_icon at yahoo.com]

> Sent: Saturday,
June 16, 2012 7:40 PM

> To:

> Subject: Re:
[-empyre-] the real and reality in speculative realism and OOO/P


> Hi Tim! Cheers for
your thoughts. Take a look at Christina's work here:


> http://www.christinamcphee.net/


> I think it
resonates in many ways with yours.


> M.




> --- On Sat, 16/6/12,
Timothy Morton <timothymorton303 at gmail.com> wrote:


> From: Timothy
Morton <timothymorton303 at gmail.com>

> Subject: Re:
[-empyre-] the real and reality in speculative realism and OOO/P

> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

> Date: Saturday, 16
June, 2012, 23:25


> Hi Everyone,


> This is my first
(or possibly second if the other got through) message to the 

list, and I'm responding
to a brief discussion of the notion of flat ontology 

initiated by Michael
O'Rourke (hi Michael!) and Frederic Neyrat.


> OOO comes in
various flavors and is not necessarily flat. Mine and Graham 

Harman's has two levels.
Levi Bryant's and Ian Bogost's have one, but differ in 

how that one level


> Other forms of
realism such as Manuel De Landa's are flat, or flatter, than 



> Frederic I'm a
Derridean and the idea of the singularity is my idea of the 

strange stranger, which
is Derrida's arrivant.


> Just apply this
notion of arrivant to non-life and you get the OOO "object."


> You can have all
the singularities you want in a non-all and by definition 

non-hierarchical set,
which is the OOO universe.


> Yours, Tim



> --


> Ecology without



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