/ / / / / /Clusters
‘The theoretical and practical struggle against unity-through-domination or unity-through-incorporation’ (Donna Haraway)
I’ve always found Donna Harraway inspiring; ‘The Cyborg Manifesto’ is a revenant essay that just won’t go away. In the section entitled ‘Fractured Identities’ she expands upon the notion of ‘affinity’ and ‘coalition’. The two terms describe the way that diverse entities come together and organise. She gives the example of: ‘witches, engineers, elders, perverts, Christians, mothers, and Leninists’— aggregating together as a protest group. Importantly, the resulting form does not damage the integrity of the individual parts; there is no ‘unity-through-domination or unity-through-incorporation’. The group benefits from the synergy of collectivisation but is not diminished by any totalizing identity. As Harraway says, cyborgs ‘are wary of holism, but needy for connection’.
Negri and Hardt’s concept of ‘multitude’ seems very similar to Haraway’s ‘affinity’. There is a shift of emphasis, a move away from the either/or of ‘identity-difference’, and a new simultaneous focus on commonality AND singularity.
‘The swarms that we see emerging in the new network political organizations, in contrast, are composed of a multitude of different creative agents. This adds several more layers of complexity to the model. The members of the multitude do not have to become the same or renounce their creativity in order to communicate and cooperate with each other. They remain different in terms of race, sex, sexuality, and so forth,’
‘Affinities’ and ‘Multitudes’ present types of organization that lie way beyond the scope of homogeneous wholes. These heterogeneous compounds are constructed from ‘self-subsistent’ parts, their sustaining relationships are external to that of the assemblage and their identity is not a function of the ‘whole’. Surround these elements with a different set of components and an entirely new set of behaviours might emerge. Conversely, totalizing identities tend to rely on ‘relations of interiority’, the individual elements are characterised by their relationship to each other and beyond the bounds the protective umbrella, they cannot survive. Interestingly, the recurring ‘organismic’ metaphor of the body falls into this latter category.
All this talk of multiplicity should go some way to explaining my esoteric comments on various sites. What is the collective noun for a mixed-species group— a bunch, an ecosystem? Does a ‘ready-made’ term already exist, or do I require a neologism? What happens when ‘non-human’ agents are brought into the equation? On paper, anything can interface with anything else. How would you conceptualize a future landscape of networked bio-cultural artefacts— for instance, a crazed assemblage of: dust, phobias, apples, thoughts, type and coffee-grinders? What do you call this cluster of stuff?
To some extent the branding of philosophical ideas is important— every kick-ass theory requires a killer metaphor; iconic images support the transmission of complex thought, ‘The Rhizome’ is a great example. However, it is possible that the search for an effective descriptor may be counter-productive. It could easily turn out to be yet another exercise in ‘unity-through-domination’, the failure to fully jettison my own ‘allegiance to unity’. For now I’ll remain undecided and stick to making connections and mapping relationships.
‘So it’s neither a flock, nor a school, nor a heap, nor a swarm, nor a herd, nor a pack. It is not an aggregate; it is not discrete. It’s a bit viscous perhaps. A lake under the mist, the sea, a white plain, background noise, the murmur of a crowd, time.’ (Michel Serres).
/ / / / / /GhostHackers
The ‘Hauntology Now’ conference was an inspiring event. As a way of grappling with Derrida’s idea of hauntology, I’ve decided to concentrate on something less abstract and reflect on ‘double-coding’ and pastiche within graphic design. That is, how the dominant method of communication over the last 20 years, has been to: ‘speak through masks’.
Also, along the way, I’d like to present my wilfull misunderstanding and ‘illegal use’ as a form of hopeful imagination or speculative reading. Preposterously claim that the fuzzy logic of ghosts might prove useful in un-coupling design from ‘kapital’; and that grief-stricken revenants could actually initiate change. However, if this is too grand a statement and at ‘the end of history’ we really are condemned to a life of ventriloquism, then lets be less ambitious and make do. Settle for the ‘art of the weak’ and implement a campaign of critical possession— inhabit the ready-made.
Postmodernity is a serial killer and we are all its victims. It not only questions, what and how we speak, but also what and who is speaking. Personally, I view this as ‘pharmakon’, both a blessing and curse.
The graphic designer (as with ‘the author’) has been murdered. Acts of creation have become the prerogative of the multitude. The designer function is now more one of steering and ‘swerving’. We have become ghost curators, presenting patterns for others to rearrange. Maybe this has always been the way? The thing is— none of us can actually remember!
Graphic design does not have a formal discourse, unlike architecture. There are isolated pockets, but it never really affects the coalface. Having said this, within practice, there is a ‘conversation’ or ‘folksonomy’. Everybody watches everyone else, ‘peer review’ and dialogue operates via: collecting, gossip, social networks, blogs, magazines, books, lectures and websites. Memes and methodologies are transmitted through the same channels and the current state of inertia (or lament) is propagated and reinforced by these same networks.
We speak with corpses in our mouths; cultural productions mode of communication is pastiche. Graphic design is no different, referencing and quoting have become the dominant grammar. Although, I suspect this form of making is less to do with grief and more to do with jargon and guilty pleasure. Strip-mining European modernism is as much about phatic communication as anything else. The parasite voice designed only for your peers, the inclusive nod and the wink of a select crowd and select conversation. Equally, and this is the closest one gets to a lament; some practices appear wistful and nostalgic. For there are several generations of designers born far too late to legitimately practice like their heroes. The prevailing orthodoxy of quoting and referencing provides a convenient alibi. Design like Weingart, Crouwel or Aicher and as long as you frame it as ‘blank parody’, you too can terminate history and practice covert-modernism!
Snapshot graphic design over the last 20 years, and we, like everyone else have been operating in ‘nostalgia mode’— rinsing the modernist cannon and moving in ever-decreasing circles. The informal discourse has been characterised by a series of micro-adjustments and variations upon a theme. The ensuing sense of inertia is (perhaps) the inevitable result of a cultural practice that has cannibalised and depleted its own historical reserve— undergone heat-death.
Sidestepping the history of ‘plunder-grief’, it is worth commenting on the significance of Factory Record’s visual engine-room and their contribution to hauntology. The contemporary design scene is the lovechild of Peter Saville and 8VO (bar a few others!) and interestingly, both heavily relied on pastiche within their practice. Saville, the veteran itinerant, roamed far and wide, drawing on the vast history of cultural production; 8VO more restrained, firmly located themselves within graphic designs own hagiography. They were iconographers operating ‘in tradition’, and together, schooled a whole generation. Others took up the mantle and in their own way, did as they were told.
TDR, Farrow, Intro, Non-Format, North, Experimental Jetset, M&M, Work in Progress, GTF, MadeThought, Biblioteque, Scott King; all beautifully utilize pastiche.
KPunk, referred to Jameson’s point that postmodernity was complicit with ‘kapital’; and for a long time, graphic design has been a vital component of the consumption machine. To some extent, the graphics-hauntology debate should end here—‘nuff-said, what do you expect? More importantly, none of the examples quoted above, present as hauntology; all (with the exception of Scott) are essentially ‘affirmative’ pieces of design in the service of ‘the man’— no criticality. My ab(use) and perverse reading is way off the mark.
However, what I love about hauntology is its potential and hopefulness. From what I understand, Derrida saw it as a form of resistance, a way of revisiting Marx and resuscitating debates around justice. At ‘the end of history’ exploitation and oppression have not disappeared, more than ever, there is a need for alternative visions and oppositional voices— even if they are thought to be impossible.
Part of HauntedGeographies has been to speculate on possible ways of uncoupling design from consumption, find out what design can become and explore how design can be deployed beyond the myopic vision of marketing and industry. One of these possible trajectories is the connection of design to justice making, or unmaking.
If we are currently exiled in Babel’s ground zero, then there is hope in its fractured patterns. As previously discussed, pastiche is the dominant mode of communication and spectres are already the cultural currency. There is a place for bricoleurs and tinkerers, ghosts that hack history and re-sequence artefacts and networks within oppositional projects. Certain narratives have gone, but there is still the opportunity for distributed, non-linear story telling— compose from the ‘vast ensembles of production’.
Equally, ghosts, by their nature, are disruptive. Their turbulence reorders space. These intermittent objects challenge conventional notions of identity and question our received ideas of unity and holism. It’s a vagueness I find reassuring, particularly when it comes to countering oppressive ideas that rely upon ontologically strict zones— ‘identity is death’. For me, propagating ontological uncertainty is part of justice making, as questions; ghosts have redemptive qualities, they are space as doubt.
Derrida presented hauntology as a possible vehicle to re-engage with justice, something that could generate spaces of potential and innovation. Yet we live in an age where resistance and critique seemed to have disappeared, cloned out of existence. Modes of change have been rendered untenable and we are left with hunches or holes, suspicions of what may (or may not) have been— despair in the face of implacable determinism.
The problem is, I’m still haunted by hope and by the possibility of change, no-matter how difficult and impoverished that may have become. Design as grief, the outward expression of suppressed desire and illogical thought. Illegal reading, bricolage, vagueness and doubt coalesce into a grammar of loss. They form the ghostly body of a revenant sent from the dead, a set of tactics to interrogate the spectacle. It may well all turn out to be ‘trompe-l’oeil negativity’, but for now, I’ll take the risk and settle for a low-resolution hope— a bitmap hope. Kodwo Eshun was right. ‘Everything was to be done. All the adventures are still to be had’…
/ / / / / /Atmospheres2
Brief notes from the final day of the Atmospheres2 conference, held in The Museum of Garden History in Vauxhall (a tad late!). Speakers were: Mark Fisher (KPunk), Paul Devereux, Jon Wozencroft and Christopher Woodhead, in the evening Steve Goodman et al transposed the theory. Unfortunately, I had to take-off in the afternoon, and only got to hear the first two — never-the-less, all very stimulating.
Monday explored sound’s ‘hauntological’ turn; yet another playful Derridian expressions, that fuses both ‘haunting’ and ‘ontology’. It refers to a disjointed sense of time or ‘dyschronia’. Where multiple temporalities co-exist but never merge. Hauntology has much to say about our current state of cultural inertia, nostalgia, the end of history and our inability (or refusal) to innovate. Hauntological shards provide an alternative to essentialist discourse and practice; they have the potential to map new topographies of resistance and oppose the dreamless sleep of hyper capital.
I’m interested to see how hauntology can inform spatial practice, how oscillation, fragmentation and loss might be deployed. Intermittently, I’ve been exploring the impact of fuzzy-identity and digital vagueness on graphic design. I was intrigued to see how the less ‘detribalized’ realm of sound had incorporated similar spectres— absorbed the migrating souls that regularly traverse the real-imagined.
KPunk delivered a poetic, ‘Ballardian’ presentation, speaking over The Caretaker and Burial. He traversed the temporal and the spatial, opening with a psycho-geographic account of the emerging Olympic Village— 2012’s inane memorial. Via Baudrillard and Jameson he described a banal and sterile landscape. A place where ‘otherness’ and ‘critique’ have been cloned and domesticated, where postmodernism ‘reinforces—the logic of consumer capitalism’. Cultural production is locked in ‘nostalgia mode’ and we seem incapable of speaking through anything other than masks. Pastiche is the dominant form of communication. The hauntological atmospheres of The Caretaker and Burial were presented as laments that ‘foreground temporality’, dissident soundscapes that attempt to counter historical disengagement and stasis via the process of grieving.
Paul Devereux, has been conducting joint research with Jon Wozencroft into the blue stones at Stonehenge. For me, the most enlightening aspect of the presentation was when a moody participant accused him of not ‘engaging’ with Derrida. It wasn’t a particularly graceful exchange, but I think the point was a good one. Devereux’s Arcadian position seemed suspiciously essentialist and foundational, pitting contemporary ‘natural’ landscapes against schizoid ‘abstracted’ culture— privileging the former over the latter. My understanding of ‘hauntology’ was that it short-circuited essentialism, this is its very appeal; fuzzy-logic and ontological vagueness disrupt foundational myth making. However, the antagonism did seem a little counter to the spirit of the conference and as Jon Wozencroft commented, we are attempting to practice ‘weak thought’, a more open and inclusive form of engagement.
Equally, I couldn’t understand why Paul Devereux kept pounding GPS systems— particularly if he’s passionate about landscape and narrative, storied-place. GPS, geo-coded data and sentient landscapes are about the ‘enchantment’, or the re-enchantment of space. Particularly when they fall into the hands of drifters and ghost writers. These technologies re-vitalise space and such heterotopic experiences are increasingly being augmented via pervasive media. They play an important role in the endless contestation of space and establishment of ‘placeways’— ghostwarez.
/ / / / / /ForThePatriots
“We have to construct the figure of a new David, the multitude as champion of asymmetrical combat, immaterial workers who become a new kind of combatants, cosmopolitan bricoleurs of resistance and cooperation.” (Hardt + Negri)
/ / / / / /LostInThe
A quick post about ‘The Rurban’ or ‘Transurbanism’; illustrated via the clash of two fascinating texts.
In ‘Theory of the Dérive’ Guy Debord effectively limits all pychogeographical practice to within the city boundary: ‘Wandering in open country is naturally depressing, and the interventions of chance are poorer there than anywhere else’.
Then comes the past master of centre-periphery politics and otherness, Mr Henri Lefebvre. He manages to loose Debord and Michele Bernstein ramberling— utter genius!
Il y a toujours l’Autre. Lets keep our questions complex please.
/ / / / / /In
Soft-build, collision architecture— a production of space delivered via relationship, association and interaction.