[-empyre-] into what midst? which collective? whose imaginary space?

stamatia portanova stamatiaportanova at yahoo.it
Wed Apr 24 01:16:10 EST 2013

Dear all,
as a
long-distance friend of the SenseLab, and having enjoyed the conversations
developed on this forum so far, I  would like to join in and share some thoughts. 
It was
for me of particular interest to read about Erin and Brian’s idea of a ‘pragmatics
of the useless’, of giving value to what is not already valued as productive in
contemporary capitalist societies, and I particularly enjoyed the notion of a
‘wasted effort’ and of the delicious dionysian joy that comes with it. Kristine
also gave us Filliou’s beautiful words about the good-at-nothing and
good-at-everything (which I read as an ode to open access, or a
collectivization of aesthetic sensibility as a political aim, if that makes
sense). So I get this to be one of the core concepts to think, in order to
understand the SenseLab and its various practices and events. Indeed, the first
thing all of this reminds me of is Chuang-Tzu’s story of the serrate oak, which
was ‘broad enough to shelter several thousand oxen and measured a hundred spans
around, towering above the hills’, and yet remained untouched by carpenters for
being ‘a worthless tree’. “There's nothing it can be used for”, the wise man
says, “That's how it got to be that old!" It is of course not a lack of
value that is attributed in this case to the tree, but what is at stake is a
rethinking of value in itself, and a questioning of the conventional economic
and moral senses we, as human beings, usually give to it and to our actions.
Another useful (!) reference in relation to this reverted pragmatism is
logician and philosopher C.S. Pierce, for whom the success of a pragmatic
action can never be seen as definitive and always has in it germs of failure
and traces of denial. It is exactly this character of novelty in experience, Pierce
goes on to say, that produces an evolution in our ideas. Thinking does not
derive from thoughts, but from the necessity of action, and continuously
mutates with it. On this matter, I would really point out Pierce’s writings and
thoughts on non-utilitarian pragmatism, and his logic of relations and signs,
as one of the best theoretical keys for entering a collaborative midst. 
beyond these very philosophical reflections, what is important to highlight
here I think is the fact that all this pragmatic uselessness, in
research-creation events, is the plane from which new modes of subjectivization
and of social relationality can very concretely and usefully emerge. This has
been already well articulated by all the other participants, and what catches one’s
attention from the whole discussion so far is indeed how generosity is emerging
here as one of the main attractors of this relationality. The SenseLab is
certainly a creative hub where challenging philosophical, artistic, aesthetic
practices are experimented with, but as such it is also a place where issues
emerge and are dealt with that go beyond these practices, such as the
modulation of social relations between its components, or money and
fund-raising for its projects, or as Erin was also pointing out, other
pedagogical and distribution issues. The rhizomatic composition of the Lab (of
every lab at its best) therefore extends, in all senses, much beyond the realm
of art, to life itself. A creative lab is an open model for life, and a
modulation of life itself. The way in which Sense Labbers are stimulated to
deal with this modulation (if ONE main way can exist) is generosity. From this
comes the political importance of its (and all such) projects, for they
significantly manage to replace the key notion of ‘debt’ (one that is today
dominant in any form of capitalist exploitation, from immaterial labour to
power mining) with that of the ‘gift’. Instead of trying to fluidify relations
and exchanges and instead of making them increasingly and illusorily abstract
(as in the myth of total virtualisation proposed to us by forms of digital
economic commonality such as that, much discussed today, of the bitcoin), the
goal would be to pay the right attention to differences, to the various bodies
and qualities implied in all our relations, those same bodies and qualities
that still represent a hindrance for contemporary algorithmic and financial
capitalism, and are at best to be simply dismissed, or thrown away as ‘waste’
(think of the tons of local fruits thrown away each year in many countries in
the name of import and profit, and think of all the wasted efforts of unknown
artists striving to produce some work and survive with no support). ‘Waste’ is
really such, of course, only in the capitalist markets, where the very notion
of value is totally submitted to a logic of qualitative in/equivalence and debt
repayment: would it be possible for the unknown performer to repay the services
of a prestigious lawyer with her work? Under this light, all forms of recuperation,
redistribution, of play with what is excessive and wasted (wasted efforts,
wasted matters, wasted ideas), generously bestowing it without expecting
anything in exchange, become a vital for  not only of political critique but of creation (in the sense of an
excessive and dionysian political economy, as Georges Bataille would define
it). But I’ll stop here, before I start to waste time philosophizing again…

 Da: Toni Pape <tonipape at gmail.com>
A: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au> 
Inviato: Lunedì 22 Aprile 2013 21:37
Oggetto: Re: [-empyre-] into what midst? which collective? whose imaginary space?


from erin's phrasing I would think that she means our "subtle allegiances" with capital. if i may paraphrase in a somewhat simplistic way: even the most anti-capitalist among us cannot escape capital. the goal is therefore not to naïvely try and step out of capital but to step in and navigate our complex entanglements with it differently.

a really short note on friendship: we've had a lot of conversations about this and here's what i took out it. friendship can be (but doesn't have to be) an outcome of collaborative practice. it cannot be its basis. it has to do with taking collaboration out of the personal. i'd be glad to go over that one again if people are interested. :-)

concerning "new forms of knowledge." this may sound evasive but i hope you trust that it's not: i believe you cannot know what a new form of knowledge is because it doesn't exist yet. that's the thing with novelty. and taken seriously, this poses quite a demanding task:
if you go to a conventional conference, you know that the form of knowledge you'll get is the 20-minute-paper. if you go to a research-creation event, you will have to invent that form in the first place. in any case, you will only ever know afterwards (and we've talked about what that was in the case of the dome project). we obviously have ideas and propositions. but you never know how the process will play out, what will stick, what will fall away. speaking of "what" and "how", i'm reminded of the first Inflexions issue which was called "How is research-creation?" instead of "What...".

i'd say the point about failure and uselessness is not that our collaborative efforts have to result in that. but failure is always an option. obviously, one doesn't need an instrument for failure. i'd say failure has a habit of falling into place all by itself and doesn't need much help. also, it would be weird (paradoxical?) to have instruments for failure. applied correctly, they would allow us to "succeed in failing."  sadly enough, failure still feels like failure to me.
and the notion of uselessness, for me, simply implies that the standard by which you measure value does not pre-exist that which is measured. for instance, it's very easy to say Logic of Sensation is useless because Francis Bacon hated it and he was a good painter. so it's of no use to the obvious authority in place. fine. but a more interesting and generous question would be to ask: what can a book, or movement of thought, a creative process generate? how might it create its own use?


Am 22.04.2013 um 13:53 schrieb Johannes Birringer <Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk>:

----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>dear all
>on a less humorous note, i have been thinking much about the recent response posting by Erin, which I felt was
>thought-provoking and frustrating at the same time, so i wondered how others here responded to the language
>and the philosophical stance (the term failure has been mentioned repeatedly but so far was excised from the discussion
>- and I'm glad it was as I don't particularly enjoyed recent academic rhetorical valuations of the merits of 'failure' in theory and
>praxis), so my question is rather simple - in response to the valid claims that might be made in favor of trying to un-align oneself
>with "value"  or prestige in the art marker or art system ...
>[Erin writes]
>>...a collective practice of working out how to connect with and at the same time leave behind modes of value-added (prestige value, for instance) so often associated to how art operates in the market. And the fact that many of us are academics also keeps us on our toes. But our point is not to suggest that we can create conditions that escape capital. Our hope is that in developing techniques that can create conditions for emergent collective processes, we will better be able to negotiate these subtle allegiances all of us participate in, and create lines of resistance that are curious and open-ended. >>
>could you elaborate what keeps you on your toes  -- that you have to produce something that is not waste?  
>Claims that art is useless had been made a long time ago and repeatedly, of course the ironies abound.
>Yet collectively, cultures tend to remember art works and performances  and certain beliefs/rhythms (here I remind you of the
>text that Olu Taiwo had sent and which I quoted last sweek) they found useful and very much worth remembering or
>reinventing, that were instrumental in more than one sense.  
>So what is your instrument of waste, of rigorous effort resulting in nothing? or anything (work) but only "affinities" and "subtle allegiances"?  What are these subtle allegiances, 
>and where to they take us? are they your friendships?  surely that is fine, so are work-related creative temporary partnerships and production teams, we all enjoy them. What then
>are the "new forms of knowledge" you speak of?  and how could they be collective beyond your particular affinity group? is this the collective mode you meant to introduce?
>Johannes Birringer
>dap / interaktionslabor
>empyre forum
>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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