[-empyre-] the risky place of critique

Bhaskar Sarkar bs668 at cornell.edu
Sat Nov 10 10:42:04 EST 2012


You are pointing to the continued necessity of critique, and I am in emphatic agreement. At the same time, I want to move beyond mere critique to attend to cultural forms of enchantment: my interest in the popular impels me to do so. Popular cultural forms are generative in myriad ways: some are exhilarating, others downright disquieting. I will give two quick examples that bring into dialogue critique and appreciation of popular enchantments.

1) In talking about Baz Luhrmann's  MOULIN ROUGE, Rosalind Galt channels Said to point to the undeniably orientalist aspects of the film. But she does not stop there. She also explores set design and costumes--and the considerable pleasures they afford--to restitute the "decorative" (with all its gendered connotations of the ornamental and the superfluous) as an immensely productive element of cinematic signification.
2) In my own research, I look at the hilarious spoofs of well-known Bolly- and Hollywood films coming out of the western Indian town of Malegaon. Known for their DIY aesthetic and camp panache, these video-films draw on the glitter of big budget "global" films (the Superman franchises, Tarzan, and a host of Bollywood blockbusters) even as they viciously lampoon their vacuous promises. In a sense, these parodies buy into the allure of "the good life" that contemporary cultures of globalization sell; and yet, they question the global from the singular perspectives of their precarious lives. These remediations include hilarious riffs addressing the challenges they face in their quotidian lives, from mosquito-borne diseases to the lack of potable water. I draw inspiration from this pop-cultural practice that deftly moves beyond the polarization of complicity and resistance, trafficking in both at once.

As for my own approach, my writing practice: might I say that I tend towards a form of critical enchantment?

From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Timothy Conway Murray [tcm1 at cornell.edu]
Sent: Thursday, November 08, 2012 9:58 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: [-empyre-] the risky place of critique


I just asked Bishnu where an aesthetics of risk might fit into the picture, and then opened Renate's post to discover that she posed a similar question earlier this afternoon!  Your point about the limitations of critique.  I'm wondering, in this context, whether you'd care to expand on how you understand the nature of your writing practice.  My sense is that its aim is to raise a questioning concerning technology, as Heidegger pleaded as early as 1954, but might this also entail maintaining a continued critique of the closedness of habitual capitalized research agendas?


Director, Society for the Humanities
Curator, Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
A. D. White House
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York. 14853
From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Bhaskar Sarkar [bs668 at cornell.edu]
Sent: Monday, November 05, 2012 5:52 PM
To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Subject: [-empyre-] On Risk Cultures

The default understanding of “risk culture” references the spectacular media that cognitively and affectively habituate us to imminent harm: advertisements, advisories, warning systems, graphs/maps, and the like. The primary effort is to wager on future uncertainty with reasonable foresight: to calculate, measure, estimate, infer, and predict future states in order to capitalize the bet, thereby turning threat into opportunity. We see such effort across risk domains—in finance, real estate, biotech industries, patent regimes, or militarized security protocols—where aggressive speculative ventures block, exclude, and foreclose multiple possible futures so as to orient us toward a single telos. That telos too often metastasizes the status quo, even as inserts the present into an anticipatory logic; paradoxically, the status quo, immunized and protected against change, becomes the way to actualize the future. These ventures materialize specific instruments (mortgages, gene therapy), techniques (medical imaging, data mining), and policies (airport security, nuclear safety). Central to these materializations is the imperative to enclose, to privatize, and to individualize—ironically, in the name of the collective, the public good, now increasingly mobilized as the metaphysics of the “market.”

In recent years, such risk cultures have been subject to formidable and necessary critique. Our fear is that only critique, however, loses sight of other confrontations of the future: creative open-ended encounters in which one embarks on a path of action without clearly “knowing” or foreseeing the future context of actualization. Scientists immortalize cells, potentiating research whose outcomes are uncertain; hacktivists rely on unknown participants to make a DDoS attack hurt; media pirates engage in brisk economies of film circulation, always with an eye on the law; parkour practitioners scale city walls to remake urban space; ecological activists stand chest-deep in water to occupy the life-worlds the coming big dams will soon wash away….one could multiply the situations in which we witness latent, unforeseen forces sabotaging individuated risk management. Against the privatizing risk cultures, then, one might pose these other modes of living with risk—those myriad and often-invisible risk cultures that encompass both singular, experimental artistic interventions and robust world-making popular practices.

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