[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 3: MODERNITY'S SPELL

Rhonda Holberton rhonda at rhondaholberton.com
Sun Nov 24 08:23:43 AEDT 2019

Magic as an inter-locutionary act.*

I’d like to consider Magic as a connective force enabling intra-actions** between things; not necessarily a flattening but a conduit between difference. Put simply, Magic makes possible causal entanglement between unlike or distant things.  Within this framework, it might be easier to find empathetic resonance between magic and technology in that both can be described as an entanglement of linguistic performance and material manipulation that facilitate intra-action between non-contiguous things.

It might be easier to first discuss the ways in which Technology and Magic differ. In the Heideggerian sense, the mysterious Gestell, ‘the essence of technology’, strong-armed all possible phenomena into becoming a stockpile of ‘standing reserve.’ This enframing gathers and orders material and phenomenal in a singe reality framing/shaping entity of possible capital value.  Digital technologies seek to obscure their base material-ness. The linear excretions from technology's metabolic processes have been off-shored.  (The problem now, is that the excriment is overwhelming the system.)

If the essential framing of technology, or Technic***,  relies on but also rejects or obscures it’s materiality, then magic relishes within in.  Rather than projecting onto Magic is the bringing about of. Magic celebrates labor and the body from which is expresses; it burns energy; that intra-corporeal thing that connects the consumptive tube between the mouth and the anus to the neural-retinal system that directly engages technology.  

Both Techic & Magic are reality constructing tools; they conjure.  I think the recent interest in Magic, Spells, Technology, & Conjuring is a reaction to the collective breaking of technology’s spell (see So the internet didn’t turn out the way we hoped. Now What <https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/14/magazine/internet-future-dream.html> in NYT Magazine &  Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie: the cognitive segregation of America <https://bigthink.com/podcast/cambridge-analytica>).  In that breaking, some of the operational mechanisms of technology have been exposed… something that looks both more and less like magic.

 From a recent presentation of mine:

	We are living through a crisis of reality.  Today, ubiquitous screens mediate bodily experiences of the physical world.  In turn, we are beginning to see digital content shaping material reality. At the same time, the material environment and physical bodies living within it are approaching a critical moment of climate-induced destabilization that can only be mitigated by collective action. If VR can create a situation in which the user's entire environment is determined by the creators of the virtual world, then it is imperative that the creators of virtual worlds take into account the collective needs of the physical one.  This presentation discusses three recent speculative projects that address this need.

	I contend that while there is potential for beauty and interpersonal connection in networked interaction,  that biases coded into these platforms have resulted in fragmentation and trauma for the end users. Instead, I design platforms that create gentle places of healing for the most vulnerable and traumatized bodies. 

	The VR installation, Again For the First Time,  houses a web server hosting a single site that stores energetic residue from every visitor. Periodically throughout the course of the exhibition, a reiki healer performs energetic alignment to rid the site of blocked and negative energy.  Once updated, healthy energy is sent back out onto the network.  Visitors to the installation can use VR headsets to experience virtually-embodied healing sessions created from the motion capture data of each healing session while they connect to the server. This call and response creates an electromagnetic connection between the user’s and healer’s devices. I contend that while there is potential for beauty and interpersonal connection in networked interaction,  that biases coded into these platforms have resulted in fragmentation and trauma for the end users. Instead, I design platforms that create gentle places of healing for the most vulnerable and traumatized bodies. 

	I am not suggesting that the crisis of reality/anthropocene/capitalocene can be solved by speculative practices alone.  What I am arguing, is that the solutions to existential problems must come from existential analysis. My work asks users to meditate on the ways we are all physically connected through technology; how signals of digitally engineered worlds have physical ramifications;  how the extraction of materials from the environment that support technology are destabilizing the plant, and how we might write better rules for digital platforms that consider the effects on all bodies and respect the most vulnerable ones.

*For more on software as a inter-locutionary performance see Inke Arns below
**For more on intra-actions see Karan Barad below
***Here I will borrow from Federico Campagna, in Technic & Magic <https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/technic-and-magic-9781350044036/> (see chart below)

INKE ARNS: read me run me execute me <https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwOPVTUuuN0PNmliTGhmbzE5UXM/view?usp=sharing>

By performativity of the code
I mean its ability to act and perform in the sense of speech act theory.
I am thinking here of a series of lectures held by John Langshaw
Austin at the Harvard University in 1955. In these lectures, entitled
How to Do Things With Words, Austin formulated the ground-
breaking idea that language does not only have a descriptive, refer-
ential or constative function, but also possesses a performative
dimension. Austin distinguishes three different speech acts: the
locutionary,28 the illocutionary,29 and the perlocutionary30 act.
Only illocutionary speech acts are performatives —i.e., they create
or do what they describe, provided that they are set within a matrix
that is simultaneously social and semiotic.This draws attention to
the importance of the context of a performative utterance.The illo-
cutionary, or performative utterance can succeed or fail, depending
on whether it is set an an appropriate context or not.

Accordingly, if I speak of the performativity of code, I claim that this
performativity is not to be understood as a purely technical perfor-
mativity, i.e. it does not only happen in the context of a closed tech-
nical system, but affects the realm of the aesthetical, the political
and the social. Program code is characterised by the fact that here
“saying” coincides with “doing”. Code as an effective speech act is
not a description or a representation of something, but, on the con-
trary, it directly affects, and literally sets in motion —or it even
“kills” a process.31 This “coded performativity”32 has immediate, also
political consequences on the actual and virtual spaces (amongst
others, the Internet), in which we are increasingly moving and liv-
ing: it means, ultimately, that this coded performativity mobilises or
immobilizes its users. Code thus becomes Law, or, as Lawrence
Lessig has put it in 1999, “Code [already] is Law.”33 This is the rea-
son why software art is rather more interested in the “performance”
than in the “competence” (terms coined by Noam Chomsky), rather
more interested in the parole than the langue34 (famous opposition
coined by Ferdinand de Saussure). In our context, performance and
parole mean the respective actualisations and concrete realisations
and repercussions a certain program code has on, let’s say, social sys-
tems, and not only what it does or generates in the context of
abstract-technical systems.

Interview with Karen Barad: Intra-Actions <https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwOPVTUuuN0PV1c1Q0pLUGw5SzA/view?usp=sharing>
We have always thought the world was made of discrete objects, and interactions
happened between individuals that existed prior to the exchanges. But what would
we think if our frames of reference were disrupted by a new, convincing theory that
asserts the exact opposite, namely that individuals exist because of the existence
of given interactions: and, furthermore, that even matter exists as a phenomenon,
i.e. as the materialization of relationships? Karen Barad, physicist, scholar of the
philosophy of science and feminism, is the thinker behind Agential Realism, a theory
that ultimately undermines not just the substance of matter as we know it, but also
the dichotomies between nature and culture, animal and human, female and male,
even problematizing the social practice of science and the nature of ethics.

karen barad: The usual notion of interaction assumes that there are
individual independently existing entities or agents that preexist their acting
upon one another. By contrast, the notion of “intra-action” queers the familiar
sense of causality (where one or more causal agents precede and produce an ef-
fect), and more generally unsettles the metaphysics of individualism (the belief
that there are individually constituted agents or entities, as well as times and
places). According to my agential realist ontology, or rather ethico-onto-epis-
temology (an entanglement of what is usually taken to be the separate consid-
erations of ethics, ontology, and epistemology), “individuals” do not preexist
as such but rather materialize in intra-action. That is, intra-action goes to the
question of the making of differences, of “individuals,” rather than assuming
their independent or prior existence. “Individuals” do not not exist, but are not
individually determinate. Rather, “individuals” only exist within phenomena
(particular materialized/materializing relations) in their ongoing iteratively
intra-active reconfiguring.

“Phenomena,” in an agential realist sense, are the entanglement—the ontologi-
cal inseparability—of intra-acting agencies. (Where agency is an enactment,
not something someone has, or something instantiated in the form of an indi-
vidual agent.) It is through specific agential intra-actions that the boundaries
and properties of “individuals” within the phenomenon become determinate
and particular material articulations of the world become meaningful. A spe-
cific intra-action enacts an “agential cut” (in contrast to the Cartesian cut—an
inherent distinction—between subject and object), effecting a separation be-
tween “subject” and “object” within the phenomenon. In particular, agential
cuts enact a resolution within the phenomenon of some inherent ontological
indeterminacies to the exclusion of others. That is, intra-actions enact “agen-
tial separability”—the condition of exteriority-within-phenomena. So it is not
that there are no separations or differentiations, but that they only exist within
relations. Putting the point another way, phenomena are differential patterns of
“mattering”—diffraction patterns dispersed across differently entangled spaces
and times, or rather spacetimematterings. The notion of intra-action marks an
important shift in many foundational philosophical notions such as causality,
agency, space, time, matter, meaning, knowing, being, responsibility, account-
ability, and justice.

It is perhaps worth noting that while Cartesian epistemology is built on the
given-ness of a distinction or a Cartesian cut between subject and object, the
epistemology of agential realism, or rather its entangled ethico-onto-episte-
mology, goes to a set of prior questions. Agential realism does not start with a
set of given or fixed differences, but rather makes inquiries into how differences
are made and remade, stabilized and destabilized, as well as their materializ-
ing effects and constitutive exclusions. Since cuts are understood to be enacted
rather than given (it is the cut that makes the individual and not the other way
around), all manner of questions regarding the nature of mattering come to-
gether here—that is, questions of matter in the multiple senses of meaning,
being, and valuing.
The larger question of differences interests me a great deal. Quantum physics
as well as feminist, poststructuralist, and queer theories have been inspiring
coworkers in my efforts to think about the nature of matter and how differences
materialize. According to my agential realist account, matter is not mere stuff,
an inanimate given-ness. Rather, matter is substance in its iterative intra-active
becoming—not a thing, but a doing, a congealing of agency. It is morpho-
logically active, responsive, generative, and articulate. Mattering is the ongoing
intra-active differentiating of the world. Intra-actions enact agential cuts, which
are a cutting together-apart (that is, entangling-differentiating), as one move
(not sequential acts). That may seem paradoxical, but it goes to the very nature
of the agential cut, which cross-cuts itself. That is, it cross-cuts not only the no-
tion of “itself ” but even the notion of the cut itself.

R H O N D A   H O L B E R T O N
rhonda at rhondaholberton.com <mailto:rhonda at rhondaholberton.com>
rhondaholberton.com <http://www.rhondaholberton.com/>

> On Nov 22, 2019, at 4:04 PM, lucian o'connor <lucianoconnor7 at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> I very much appreciate these discussions of magic, waste, modernity,
> witchcraft, myth, the ruderal, and survival on empyre – they are
> timely, worldly, and generous. They make me feel anxiety about some of
> the practices I do not understand but wish to know more about, and
> excited about possibilities to contemplate and share with other
> thoughtful people here.
> When I think of waste and the ruderal, my mind immediately turns to
> Myra Hird’s writings in my carrier bag. She has taught me much about
> how landfills are unpredictable places with nearly unique combinations
> of waste materials that are having all sorts of new impacts on
> microbes -- the beings she knows so well from her work with Margulis
> and otherwise. Myra warns of the unpredictable dangers that could
> emerge from these unstable mixtures, and I wonder if she would also
> embrace the ruderal in her cautionary framework. I think she probably
> would have much to say about it. Myra visited us a couple years ago
> and we spent significant time discussing how she will devote the rest
> of her career to researching waste. At that time, she was thinking
> intensely about the concept of waste as a colonial relationship, using
> case studies of indigenous people in the Arctic, where militaries
> frequently dump their garbage, where the permafrost is melting, and
> where breastmilk is considered to be a toxic substance.......
> When I think of the generative possibilities of the ruderal, I think
> of how I admire beings who can thrive in the most challenging of
> circumstances, as I also reject the white-supremacist origins and
> persistence of “survival of the fittest,” that moralistic
> colonialist-capitalist mantra which usurped Darwin’s theory of
> evolution many decades ago...
> When I think of waste, I also think of how Myra taught me that the
> oxygen in our atmosphere was created by microbes. Cyanobacteria have
> injected tremendous quantities of oxygen into the atmosphere, and at
> first, the gas would have been considered waste that produced violent
> conditions for other species to adapt to in order to survive. Each
> breath we take is therefore a symbiotic act. The blue skies we see are
> thanks to waste that we might understand to be beautiful, perhaps
> magical – after all, the oxygen of our atmosphere is arguably the most
> significant impact any life has had on the planet…
> I think of performance artist Coco Rico and her origin stories about
> emerging from the Waste Land, drawing from T.S. Eliot, when I ponder
> the ruderal. Her political interventions always include elements of
> SF, multispecies responsibility, and magical expressions that provoke
> intense interest in her actions.
> …sorting through more of my carrier bag….
> The discussion of shamanism engaged by Fabi, Whitefeather, and others,
> resonates with research I’ve done on the life and art of Norval
> Morrisseau, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) painter who developed a
> counter-primitivist aesthetic and spoke back to the "spell" of
> Modernist painters like Picasso who felt entitled in their "great"
> works to take symbols and other visual elements from non-Western
> cultures without citing individual makers or crediting their cultures
> in specific terms.
> Morrisseau was the first Native artist to have a solo exhibition in
> the National Gallery of Canada in 2005-6, and his life is so
> interesting. He was known to live in close relationship and proximity
> to garbage in what others called a shack. Morrisseau’s rejections of
> fancy grant awards became badges of honor for him, ongoing gestures of
> resistance to rampant commodification throughout his homeland. He
> spent a significant portion of his life homeless in Vancouver (after
> much success in the 60s-70s). White settlers were confounded by his
> talent and fame and how they saw those attributes as incompatible with
> his living conditions, even if those conditions simultaneously
> produced a sense of titillating authenticity for them.
> Morrisseau developed a contemporary Native style of painting that was
> rooted in traditional Anishinaabe scroll imagery and his own
> experiences as a shaman trained by family members and elders who
> gutted suburban-looking houses, and built inside them secret
> traditional ritual structures so that they could continue their
> outlawed Midewiwin rituals in subterfuge. The shamanistic rites of
> passage described in his biographical materials are fascinating and
> teach us a lot about Anishinaabe lifeways that most people living in
> Anishinaabe Akiing (the great lakes region) are completely oblivious
> to...
> In 1978 he performed as a shaman for important people in Canada’s art
> world, via an action he referred to as performance art. He clearly had
> a sense of self-conscious irony then (theorized by Coco Fusco as the
> critical understanding performance artists of color exhibit while
> playing up to an audience’s racial stereotypes and expectations). The
> dynamics of Morrisseau’s shaman performance and tea party in the
> forests of Ontario challenged colonial tropes and revealed to me how
> he was also very much aware of the potential for connections that
> performing shamanism to white people opened up -- while also
> recognizing that there are limits to what can be shared with
> individuals who are not familiar with or accountable to the traditions
> from which his shamanism emerged.
> Morrisseau’s paintings from the 90s are rendered in brilliant blues,
> purples, and other jeweled hues – a stark departure from the
> “recognizably-Indian” color palette of his earlier work. He was
> notoriously enthusiastic about the blossoming New Age culture of the
> 90s, its spiritual dimensions, and its potential to foster connections
> between people from very different backgrounds. He was critically
> dismissed for being open to the spiritual dimensions of New Age in
> ways that functioned to deauthenticate his Indigeneity as "impure" in
> some art circles. Throughout grad school, I was taught to be very
> skeptical of New Age because of how appropriative participants can be,
> commonly taking visual elements from other cultures without citation
> or credit, sometimes even sacred things that align New Age with the
> practice of stealing Native things to commodify or otherwise coopt
> them, i.e. expressing a non-accountable power relationship even when
> the act seems well-intended.
> New Age, Shelly Errington once wrote, is one of the final remaining
> spheres where “primitive” and related ideas still circulate with
> positive valuation and without problematization...
> On a panel chaired by Grace Dillon, who claims Morrisseau as a
> relative, I pondered over ways to rethink the New Age phase of
> Morrisseau’s art production and how one might adequately curate it
> (plus how his Agokwa/transgender expressions are suppressed in
> authoritative narratives about his life). I rejected dismissals of his
> New Age paintings on the basis that they were not about an “authentic”
> spirituality or world view, as I also reconsidered my own biases
> against New Age and appropriation. Ciclón and I discussed on the phone
> at that time how Morrisseau taught me that New Age could be approached
> creatively -- as a mode for bringing together people from very
> different heritages -- as a potential platform that does not just give
> away the sacred or the secret to anyone, but which can be critically
> and inclusively spiritual, critical, and transformative nonetheless.
> My openness in recent years to New Age does not abandon critiques of
> problematic appropriations which sometimes still go unchecked in its
> circles. Rather, I am motivated to think about appropriation in more
> nuanced ways, and to possibly try to write something serious about
> what an ethics of appropriation might look like in related contexts.
> I’ve been inspired to return to analyzing performance work I did many
> years ago with Anna Deavere Smith, whose trademark hyperreal style of
> performing real people was once described by Richard Schechner as
> shamanism.
> Smith taught me her method and insisted on the value of showing almost
> excessive accountability to the people we performed, always inviting
> their criticism and agency in the events we staged. Her lessons
> reached me in profound ways as I reenacted a personal experience from
> a friend, for example, who was harassed by police because of his race
> and political beliefs, in a scene directed entirely by him and in
> which he performed as one of the police officers. Without his
> direction and complete control over the narrative, and Smith's overall
> production of the piece, I can't imagine how an Irish person like
> myself might otherwise ethically perform as a black man...
> (of course, no makeup was involved)
> My thoughts are evolving, but right now it comes down to relationships
> of accountability for me... to who claims whom.... and on what
> situated grounds…..
> <3
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

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