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Edited By

Contributors

DOUGLAS KEARNEY

Chase Stone Tatiana Vahan Chris Brown Joseph Rihn Victoria Hungerford Tony Ostrowski Dan DiPiero

A publication from MA PROGRAM IN AESTHETICS AND POLITICS at California Institute of the Arts This book is typeset in Chicago by SUSAN KARE Charcoal by DAVID BERLOW Leitura News, Leitura Sans, & LEITURA HEADLINE by DINO DOS SANTOS Design by JACOB HALPERN

Copy Editor

STUART FROLICK CalArts Office of Public Affairs, September 2013


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Editor's Introduction DOUGLAS KEARNEY

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BREAKIN' FROM THE «AVANT-GARDE» Chase Stone

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ART & EMBODIMENT Tatiana Vahan

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WHAT IS INTERVENTION? Chris Brown

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RICK CARUSO'S AMERICANA DREAM Joseph Rihn

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GAMER GIRL & GAMERS Victoria Hungerford

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TRAVERSING DIGITAL LABYRINTHS Tony Ostrowski

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PLACE TO (BE) LONG Dan DiPiero

Contributor Biographies

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Editor’s Introduction The 2012–2013 volume of In/Form takes the title "POLY-" to indicate more than its diverse contents. This collection investigates multiplicity: collisions of generic strategies in popular film and sculpture, gender trouble in multiplayer online gaming, the teeming assemblage of signifiers in shopping mall architecture, and growing pains from the individual copyright to the multitudinous copyleft. These essays, and several others, cohere here like a polymer. Of course we’d be remiss not to remix POLY-'s root polus into polis. The people, the city, the political—bodies, physical and conceptual—figure throughout, as these writers consider how much one can ever “be” in harmony with a “place” and whether the many can find concord through disruption. The authors, current students in CalArts’ MA in Aesthetics and Politics program, completed these texts for the program’s core courses in aesthetic and political thought, the lecture series, the thesis seminar, and as extensions of ideas developed over their year of intensive study. To get better in/formed about our program, please visit: aestheticsandpolitics.calarts.edu. —DOUGLAS KEARNEY School of Critical Studies California Institute of the Arts

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"I’m incredibly unobservant. I’m always amazed when people notice things and ask questions. Apparently I do take in a certain amount of information, but I don’t know where it goes. It certainly doesn’t seem to go to my brain." –DEBORAH EISENBERG, WRITER 1 "There is no one right way to experience what I’ve written. I write - and talk - in order to find out what I think. But that doesn’t mean “I” “really” “think” that. It only means that is my-thoughtwhen-writing (or when-talking). If I’d written another day, or in another conversation, “I” might have “thought” differently." –SUSAN SONTAG, CRITIC 2 "I’m also writing a book of jokes, too." –HARMONY KORINE, FILMMAKER, DISCUSSING KIDS (1995) 3


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WRITING, AT LEAST THE KIND I AM ABOUT TO ENDEAVOR, IS BEST PERFORMED LIKE A BALLADEER IMAGINING A LOST LOVE IN THE AUDIENCE.

Like singing, writing to a projected image—be it inside of one's own mind, on a screen, on a wall, or on a page—is easier than writing without one. As evidenced by the epigraphs above, quotations projected from the minds of writers Eisenberg, Sontag, and even Korine (a quotation that reveals as much about his character as his approach to art making), writing takes place in a number of ways, each unique in time, place, subjective perspective, and, of course, style. With regard to writing theoretically about film (using a case study of contemporary media, for instance), writing often happens alongside the image. However, of late, the media in film's alleged realm— image mediums within arm’s reach—are increasingly in and of each other, alike more than ever, as if they belong in the same sentence, or even as images that can stand in for each other as metaphors. Los Angeles is one site in which these image mediums are, operationally, in conversation. Indeed, it is a space where the subtleties of image metaphors are on the market because it is here that so many images are produced. Briefly, take for example, the lobby of the Pasadena Academy 6 theater here in L.A., following a screening of Spring Breakers, where a critique of director Harmony Korine's recent film was quite poignant: “That movie sucked,” said a middle-aged man, plainly, as he moved towards the door. Pausing

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1.

2.

3.

2013. Eisenberg, Deborah. Interview: Paris Review, 2013. New York: The Paris Review Foundation, 2013. 2012. Sontag, Susan. A Sontag Sampler: Why I Write. 2012. New York: The New York Times, 2012. “Harmony Korine.” The Late Show with David Letterman. Date Unknown, 1995. Television.


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to consider his delivery, an observer might question the method of this critique; such a totalizing and reductionist perspective reveals a perceived failure of Korine's film—but also, a general unawareness of the film's operational tactic—one intended to subvert the very audience that sought to see the film based on presupposed notions. The film in question is called Spring Breakers, not Spring Break. Thus, Korine's subject matter should be considered as a focus on the people—those individuals bent on pursuing tropical ecstasy with theological fervor—not the phenomenon of ‘Spring Break’ itself. The latter title might shift the critical lens of the film, from the people, and point to our April academic vacation as an aspect of American culture that is actually greater than the individuals who participate themselves. In the case of Spring Breakers, the viewer witnesses a dark underside to the phenomenon: the imbibing, traveling all night by bus, partying until the break of dawn (in swimming pools), and murdering for fun. Atlanta-based rapper “Gucci Mane” (Radric Davis) plays the character of “Alfie,” a crosstown rival of the protagonist, “Alien” (James Franco). The story reveals that Alien and Alfie were friends, growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida together, ultimately parting ways and becoming bitter enemies in the drug cartel. In particular, Gucci Mane's presence in Spring Breakers affirms one of the film's underlying agendas: Korine's desire to subvert norms of popular culture and, offer his own take on the avant-garde. However, the film also embarks on an ill-fated depiction of race relations, or at least, a depiction that culminates in the violent decimation of every person of color during the plot's apogee. Nevertheless, one cannot help but focus on the relationship between the actors on screen and their relationship to the characters they seek to portray. For example, when Alfie and Alien meet in neutral territory (a St. Petersburg strip club to discuss the trajectory of their businesses) nothing seems quite out of the ordinary, despite the fact that the meta-text of the scene would reveal Alfie as something closer to the rapper that plays him, whom purports actual involvement in the illicit drug trade; in contrast to Franco, whom recently taught a master-class at CalArts, and is pursuing his Ph.D in Comparative Literature at Yale. This is not to say that either of these backgrounds, personal and professional, are incompatible,


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but rather that Korine’s sub-rosa intentions simply do not recede into the mise-en-scéne. One begins to wonder how to read this film accurately, and whether these intentional moves are meant to relate within the narrative or be ignored as “happy coincidence.” Korine's casting of Gucci Mane marks the entertainer's first presence in a film set for wide-release; a non-actor, who plays a character similar to the image he seeks to portray as a rap artist. Franco's character was modeled after another entertainer named “Riff-Raff,” known in the hip-hop market for the lascivious nature of his music. Alien and Riff-Raff strike a resemblance, confirmed by Riff-Raff's own critical response on YouTube to Franco's portrayal.4 The similarity between Franco and Riff-Raff provoke further questioning regarding the nature of performativity in popular culture, specifically, who is playing whom in this aesthetic relationship? Is the true Riff-Raff an authentic identity, or is his also one of mystification? It's a game that Korine plays, too, throughout the film—drawing such parallel lines, often unbeknownst to the audience, with an intention of enriching the film's meta-stylistic undertone. In addition, Vanessa Hudgens (“Candy”), Selena Gomez (“Faith”), Ashley Benson (“Brit”) and Rachel Korine (“Cotty”) round-out a cast of actors, some with polished Disney pedigree (in addition to Korine's own spouse) who all seem slightly out of place. But, perhaps these are the roles they are actually meant to play, reminiscent of the audacious choices typical of Korine, such as when he observed, regarding the casting of the main character of Gummo (1997), that the lead actor in that film “reminded [him] of Buster Keaton, but he was a paint-sniffing survivor!” Indeed, this essay will later explore the notion of the de-skilled in artwork, as investigated by e-flux writer Anton Vidokle. Here, the irony of the casting is furthered by Ms. Gomez's insistence that her own mother is a “huge Harmony fan.” Gomez elaborates,5 “[my mother] got the script and said it was totally what Harmony's vision was…so we watched all his old movies and I gotta 4. 5.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8O-epV-s50 Gomez, Selena. "The Making of Spring Breakers". Author Unknown. Web. Complex Magazine, 14 Mar. 2013. <www.complex.com/pop...of.../themaking-of-spring-breakers-10>


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say, I was a little hesitant at first.” This quotation is enough to make one wonder about Gomez's perception of Korine's past films, such as Trash Humpers (2009), Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), and Gummo (1997), especially juxtaposed against her own filmography. In her own way, Gomez may bear a more striking resemblance to a character in Kids (1995) written by Korine for director Larry Clarke. AN AVANT-GARDE FILM?

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At this point, five succinct questions seem to be in order, if we are to understand how Spring Breakers is functioning in relation to these perceptions all around. Firstly, is Spring Breakers an avant-garde film by virtue of these “parallel lines” drawn between popular culture and underground cinema, especially if we consider the canon of Korine's previous work? Secondly, and more generally, what constitutes an avant-garde film in today's cinematic landscape? This question may be more difficult to pursue given the fact that it is constantly evolving, due to the rise of digital video media, and the established canon of conceptual artists who recognize film as their medium. Thirdly, how do the subversive elements of Korine's film, for example, the casting of the same actors in Disney's Oz: The Great and Powerful, function as a self-reflexive critique of mainstream cinematic experience? Furthermore, is Spring Breakers meant to be seen as a mainstream cinematic experience in the first place? In addition, how does the audience read the film in conversation with the other films juxtaposed with it at the box office? Fourthly, how are the inter-textual materials surrounding Spring Breakers functioning to contribute to the film's perception? (This notion will be explored via the Dadaists, as observed by theorist Walter Benjamin, as well as the materials promoting Spring Breakers fabricated by a boutique fashion store in New York City). Lastly: if Korine's film does not clearly function in the avant-garde category—nor entirely in the category of cinema's mainstream—could it signal a new category of cinema that attempts to blend these tropes in a smilingly, sardonic critique? Peter Bürger's “Theory of the Avant-Garde” is an apropos text with which to begin an interrogation of the category of the avant-garde, if we are to first place Korine's film in it and later consider a formal


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classification. Bürger roots his discussion of the avant-garde, and his critique of extant critical responses to it, in an understanding that many implications of the avant-garde movement were part and parcel to Marx's conception of labor. In industrialized England, for example, Marx understands that Adam Smith's economic theory of wealth depicts the progress of general labor, moving from the dominant agricultural form, to industrialized labor practices in factories. Labor no longer needed “a particular form,” but labor “as such”; in other words, the ability to deem different methods of production as labor.6 For Marx, this opened up the possibility for knowledge, for as Bürger surmises, “this development is not merely one in economic theory. Rather [Marx] thinks that the possibility of a progress in knowledge is a function of the development of the object towards which insights directs itself.” This development, occurring through the industrial revolution as observed by Smith, and as critiqued by Marx, is thus how Bürger sees the process working in the objectification of the arts as well. The avant-garde artists were liberated from the labor of agriculture, and instead, were provided the means to deem themselves as intellectual laborers, and thus the freedom to create. As Bürger explains, art then developed a relationship to bourgeois society, “it is only with aestheticism that the full unfolding of the phenomenon of art became a fact, and it is to aestheticism that the historical avantgarde movement respond(s).”7 For instance, Bürger cites avant-garde literature post-1848, which was written in response to classical realism (i.e. Milton's poetry) as an example of an avant-garde movement that recognized the phenomenon in bourgeois art, aestheticized it, and responded. In addition, Bürger posits theoreticians Adorno and Lukács against each other in this observation. Adorno, argues positively, that the avant-garde marks “an increase in rationality, a growing command of man over his art” whereas Lukács argues that the avant-garde is actually “a symptom of decay”.8 Bürger continues with his observation about this decay, which 6.

7. 8.

1984. Bürger, Peter. Theory of the Avant Garde. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. p. 17. Ibid. p. 17. Ibid, p. I.


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may be handily applied to our current political and economic context in the U.S. and, indeed, Spring Breakers. “The above thesis needs refining in one further aspect,” argues Bürger, “only the avant-garde, it was said, made artistic means recognizable in their generality because it no longer chooses means according to a stylistic principle but avails itself of them as means…” Avant-garde art became available in its generality, and recognizable, due to its rejection of style and instead, refocused its lens to view the process of creation as the work itself. This idea is clearly exemplified through the paradigmatic shifts occurring in the Dada movement. Yet, Bürger continues: Since the middle of the nineteenth-century, that is, subsequent to the consolidation of political rule by the bourgeoisie, this development has taken a particular turn: the form-content dialectic of artistic structures has increasingly shifted in favor of form… From the point of view of production aesthetics, this dominance of form in art since about the middle of the nineteenth century can be understood as command over means; from the point of view of reception aesthetics, as a tendency towards the sensitizing of the recipient.9

9.

Ibid. pp. 19–20.

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Two ideas can be directly surmised from Bürger's observation, which can be applied to this discussion of avant-garde cinema. Firstly, the avant-garde has responded in some way to the bourgeois culture with art that has taken a more formally directed approach, that is less concerned with portraying content in a consumable manner. This dialectic, between form and content, is at the heart of every art work and the shift towards form distinguishes the avant-garde as a subset of art at large. Secondly, Bürger understands the rise of the avant-garde is also a demarcation of the artists’ successful colonization of their medium, which is how the term avant-garde comes to transcend categorization into works of writing, painting, cinema, etc. The dominance over means, however, also affects the way these projects are understood—what we might call “reception aesthetics”—in the sense that the shift towards a more formal approach causes


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recipients to shift their perception from a content-oriented analytical understanding, towards a “sensitizing” one. “Sensitizing”, in the case of Bürger's conception of the avant-garde, could be characterized as the transmission of meaning disconnected from a system of thought or matrix for analysis. In other words, “sensitizing” is best understood as meaning derived intuitively. If we supplant Bürger's understanding of the historical avantgarde with the undergirding in the avant-garde of today's art, then we more or less have an understanding of the gestures at work in works such as Korine's Spring Breakers. However, in addition to Bürger’s construct, there would seem to be two poles from which to discuss today's avant-garde. Regarding this second pole, the e-flux writer Anton Vidokle has provided his understanding in a recent article entitled “Art Without Market, Art Without Education: Political Economy of Art.” On one hand, as Bürger states, there is an inherent mastery over the formal aspects of the medium, where the avant-garde art piece is sensitizing, less content-oriented; in other words, a tendency to make a work that transmits-over-tells, having overcome the technical aspects of the medium. Vidokle problematizes Bürger's notion of mastery by probing his audience, of mostly trained artists (it can be inferred from the selectivity of e-flux's readership) “What does being professional actually mean under the current conditions of de-skilling in art?”10 Indeed, this notion of de-skilling is how the contemporary art world might advertise itself. For instance, artists in the sphere of CalArts, such as Liz Glynn, have moved to create work that emphasizes universal participation, for example, by choreographing dances with non-dancers. Glynn has also forayed into working with architecture, having built informal structures on her own with the help of untrained co-conspirators. Vidokle premises his question, above, by arguing that along with this trend of de-skilling, artists have also been displaced. He cites the height of Warhol's Factory days as the movement that best 10.

Vidokle, Anton. "Art Without Market, Art Without Education: Political Economy of Art". Vidokle, Anton. Web. e-flux Magazine, Mar. 2013. <www.e-flux.com/.../art-without-market-art-without-education-political-ec...>


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exemplified the previous generation of art production. Those artists, such as the individuals depicted in Patti Smith's recent autobiography Just Kids, typically resided in spaces that allowed for a transversal mobility between mediums—idyllic “bohemias”—like the Chelsea Hotel, which have since disappeared. “Unlike the gestures of the avant-garde,” says Vidokle, “[bohemia] was not a calculated temporary tactic intended only so that one could return to the salon of art in a more advantageous position, but a more permanent departure.” Here we have two positions on the avant-garde in contemporary art, one that argues that the avant-garde is produced by mastery, and the other that characterizes a current turn towards de-skilling. Vidokle emphasizes a product that comes from a time and place that does not support a culture of resistance, but instead, has flattened the market for art to such a degree that the circumstances for producing art require artists to essentially relinquish their title for something Vidokle calls “passionate hobbyism,” where anyone can do anything, part-time, as a way of straddling both the professional-side of art-making and maintaining an income. In a similar way, the “ATL Twins” in Korine's film, played by Sidney and Thurman Sewell, are untrained actors working in a medium outside of their own. So, where does the “impressionistic” Spring Breakers find itself between these two poles of mastery and de-skilling? Perhaps no segment of the film better engages these notions than the two sequences depicting Korine's actresses singing (at one point along with Franco) Britney Spears' song “Everytime.” The tongue-incheek cover alludes to much more than an obsession with Spears, or what she still represents. It may, in fact, signal a sort of nostalgia for 90's pop culture, when a blockbuster film depicting American Spring Break hijinks might have actually been “greenlit.” If this scene were re-imagined as taking place during the '90s, the tableau would have been set for the actors to show their “professional” training, perhaps belting out in perfect harmony with Spears. Instead what the viewer receives is not professional, nor necessarily charming either. But, rather, a scene provoking a range of emotions—from uplifting and heartwarming to disturbing and vapid. The “Spears moments” in Spring Breakers are entirely Deleuzian, even if the film partakes in a few of the tropes that Gilles Deleuze


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outlines in terms of Cinema II's encapsulation of neo-realism. In terms of Deleuze's “crystal image” in Cinema II, the “indiscernibility” that image provokes—is this an actual rendition or virtual?—prompts the viewer to consider that “the actual image [Spears] itself has a virtual image (the perception of her in the film vis-a-vis Korine's actors) which corresponds to it, like a double or a reflection.”11 As Deleuze states later, “there is no virtual which does not become actual in relation to the actual, the latter becoming virtual through the same relation,” or—as understood in terms of Korine's film—by enacting Spears, she is actualized, and by extension, the virtual world she corresponds to becomes part of our reality. The result is Korine's critique, which depending on the lens, may be viewed instead as a humorous moment, or conversely, more indicative of the avant-garde. Or, as Korine himself described it in an interview, “It’s a kind of beautiful, morose, pop ballad, kind of air-less and haunting. Underneath it there’s something a lot more aggressive and pathological.”12 Korine's use of the Spears' song is utterly intentional—what would the effect have been had he conjured a more contemporary female pop vocalist?—and affirms the subtle critique that Korine is offering. To cite this moment as an aspect of Spring Breakers that supports a classification as an avant-garde film (by virtue of the actor's intentionally camp performance) would be to reduce the film too much. It is merely to point out that the notion of de-skilling has also entered the realm of Korine's work, a stylistic motif that he has championed since his earliest films. Bürger picks up on the murkiness of combining popular culture and cinema, such as in instances like this, when he theorizes that, “in the meantime, the culture industry has brought about the false elimination of the distance between art and life, and this also allows one to recognize the contradictoriness of the avant-gardiste undertaking.”13 This contradiction is impressed upon the viewer twice. First, in relation to the characters themselves, who are depicted as excessively normal in 1983. Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema II: The Time-Image. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1983: p 69. 12. Ganfield, Katia. "Chatting with the Ultimate Spring Breaker Harmony Korine". Korine, Harmony. Web. Nathalie Olah Video. <http://ow.ly/jMNi6> 11.


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their disposition, and thus their relation to Spears is one of distance typical of any individual's relationship to a celebrity. The second contradiction is realized simply by the reception of Korine's film as a project that straddles a line between critique and indulgence, where viewers are unsure where to locate themselves in relation to the art. Bürger's observation that art and life are seemingly closer vis-a-vis the culture industry's insistence reinforces the fiction of Spring Breakers and underscores its potential to illuminate a reality. Franco comments that, in his view, Korine's film also functioned as “a way of pushing the subject matter to the extreme,” and in effect, to “take something like ‘Spring Break’ and say, “We’re going to make this story as crazy as possible to kind of show the dark underside.” Indeed, Franco confirms Bürger's understanding about how the avant-garde functions “in bourgeois society,” when Bürger emphasizes that “art has a contradictory role: it projects the image of a better order and to that extent protests against the prevailing order. But by realizing the image of a better order in fiction, which is semblance only, it relieves the existing society of the pressure of those forces that make for change. They are assigned to confinement in an ideal sphere.”14 An additional problem seems to be that of the “ideal order” Korine is projecting—is it an embrace of the sardonic enjoyment of something like “Spring Break,” best exemplified by the characters’ passionate elegy to Spears' in a liquor store parking lot? Or, is this ideal present in the mantra repeated again and again: “…Spring Break, forever…”? No, it is actually the dystopic reality of our world that Korine portrays honestly, as something young adults seek out as paradise, a place no one wants to leave? Spring Break is a place akin to heaven on Earth, which, ironically, is home to a character called Alien, one of the only natives of St. Petersburg depicted in the film. Of course, there's the overall editing technique of the film, which seems influenced by music video-style montage, a style, one might argue, that emerged from a lack of narrative footing. In addition, many scenes are recycled, along with the imagery and dialogue as well. The characters appear to be tired, repeating the

14.

Ibid, p. 50. Ibid. p. 50.

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13.


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same plot points again and again—a postmodern nightmare in many ways—in which lines, sets, scenes, and plot points are repeated until, briefly, a new caveat is placed in the story, and is then cycled into the repetition. The avant-garde's notion of repetition, especially as it relates to the 'distance' is, for Bürger, tied in with Walter Benjamin's theorization of the reproducibility of the image and its “aura.” Repetition, in this sense, alludes to the filmmaker's ability to copy and re-copy or loop the image. Bürger recapitulates Benjamin in acknowledging that “destruction of art and its aura by new reproduction techniques”15 that come from within “quasi-industrial techniques” have laid the grounds for the “total subordination of work contents to profit motives, and a fading of the critical potencies of works in favor of training in consumer attitudes (which extends to the most intimate inter human relations).” Yet, does Spring Breakers position itself as a film that subordinates content for pure profit motive? Indeed, the film played at the consumer-friendly “Grove” theater/ mall in Los Angeles, alongside Oz, utilizes a soundtrack and actors befit for a commercial film—and yet, something is different. Conversely, if considered as an avant-garde attempt, Spring Breakers could be a film that actually spawns new demand for similar market-driven films that offer similar market-driven critiques (as we will see in a moment, Spring Breakers accomplished this in another medium). For instance, Benjamin critiques the Dadaists, by arguing that despite even their pioneering efforts, in addition to the fact that they benevolently and politically “attached much less importance to the sales value of their work,” they also were responsible for “creat[ing] a 'demand' that only the new technical medium can satisfy”.16 In terms of demand, Spring Breakers did have a hand in pushing merchandise, by launching a line of clothing at the New York-based high-fashion store Opening Ceremony. During the same week of the film’s release, Opening Ceremony featured the film on its webpage, where online shoppers could purchase hats, outfits, keychains and assorted memorabilia from the film: 15. 16.

Ibid, p. 30. Ibid, p. 29.


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Pack your bags and spray on the tanning oil. Today, the Opening

Ceremony x Spring Breakers collection launches exclusively at our US and online stores. Inspired by cult director Harmony Korine's new movie and realized together with its costume designer, Heidi Bivens, the collection includes everything you need for the best week of your life. Highlights include basketball jerseys, hoodies, friendship bracelets, and bandanas printed with custom graphics like dripping ice cream cones, unicorns, and glow-in-the-dark aliens.

17.

Ibid, Natalie Olah video.

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The store typically features clothing from internationally recognized designers, catering to a clientele that can afford often exorbitant prices for unique items available only at the store's two boutique locations in New York and Los Angeles. It is difficult to say whether the critique of consumer culture, offered by Korine vis-a-vis Spring Breakers, is undermined, re-enacted, or subverted by these products, or whether, as Benjamin acknowledged with the Dadaist's potential for spurring new market demands, the film is actually reinforcing his paradigm shifting efforts as a mainstream film that has the functionality of something underground, high-art, low-brow, and brow-beating. The film inspired the imagery for the Opening Ceremony collection. The film's visual style, in the words of Korine, was inspired by a range of images he had been collecting: “I had started looking at all these images together—all these hyper-sexual, hyper-violent subject matter and there’s all this sort of pop culture details and pop culture indicators…the puke, the Dunkin’ Donuts boxes. All that stuff kind of spoke to me in a coded language.”17 The irony of this situation cannot be greater: such derelict imagery, the fastfood refuse of corporate America, which served as fuel for Korine's image of American “Spring Break”, is now being conceptualized, marketed, and sold to a high-brow bourgeois audience. How can we explain this? We will turn now to the notion of film's “coded language” (semiotics) taken up by Pier Paolo Pasolini in his text, The “Cinema of Poetry” in which he discusses the notion of signs in cinematic language.


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Among many relevant observations, Pasolini notes that with style in particular, the appropriate use of certain language can define our perception of the object. For instance, “the evolution that presides over the fashion which creates clothing or which invents the shapes of cars is followed by the meaning of words—the latter, in other words, adapt themselves to the former.”18 Thus, Pasolini argues for the importance of language in determining a theoretical meaning to the styles, fashions, even speaking of the design of automobiles, that are viewed idiosyncratically as objects, and are rendered meaningless without the words that define them (often the words of advertising) as a whole. This perhaps explains how Opening Ceremony's target audience can unwittingly consume the imagery of Spring Breakers. Furthermore, in relation to language's defining role in cinema, Pasolini takes on the notion of the actor and the adaptation of dialect. As Pasolini observes, “it is, in fact, the social condition of a character that determines his language [specialized] language, slang, dialect, or however dialect-like language has become.”19 This observation sheds light on Franco's character, in particular, who embodies aspects of the linguistic dialect akin to his counterpart, Gucci Mane, a person of color himself. The responsibility of writing with class-consciousness falls on Korine's shoulders, in the sense that: The author constructs a character, who may speak an invented language, in order to express a particular interpretation of the world. It is in this ‘indirect’ discourse, whose function is a pretext—at times for good reasons, at others for bad—that one can find a narrative in which large amounts of the [film] are taken from the ‘language of poetry’.20

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Pasolini confirms Bürger's earlier observations regarding the avant-garde's potential for transmission over content. As an image medium, cinema, Pasolini argues, has the unique ability to connect to the audience because it is “accustomed to read reality visually, 1989. Pasolini, Pier Paolo. The "Cinema of Poetry". Minnesota: University of Minnesota, 1989. p. 170. 19. Ibid, p. 175. 18.


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that is, to have an instrumental conversation with the surrounding reality inasmuch as it is the environment of a collectivity, which also expresses itself with the pure and simple optical presence of its actions.”21 Perhaps if Korine had attempted to convey his project in another medium, say, sculpture for instance, the ability to convey with exactitude the cross between art-house and mainstream consumerism would have been lost in the technical underpinnings of the medium. For Korine, film is inherently suited for his critical project. To revisit the initial five questions posed in earlier paragraphs, Spring Breakers does indeed function as an avant-garde project due to its willingness to engage in a plurality of avant-garde techniques, notably participating in both the mastery of technique, and the contemporary notion of the de-skilled. The cast of actors, often utilized in mainstream cinema, were part-and-parcel to the mission of the avant-garde critique in this sense, and the contradiction that this caused is, according to Bürger, native territory for avant-garde artists like Korine. The para-cultural materials associated with the film, for instance, the products sold by Opening Ceremony, are part of the function of the avant-garde, as evidenced by Benjamin's observation regarding the Dadaists that despite their benevolent insistence that sales were unimportant, nevertheless reinforced demand. Spring Breakers may signal a new genre of filmmaking, combining nascent tropes of avant-garde cinema with artifacts of the mainstream, to be reflexively consumed by the very audience that is only in the market for the latter, but will nevertheless be exposed to the former, unknowingly or not.

21.

Ibid, p. 176. Ibid, p. 176.

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20.


ART & EMBODIMENT


Tatiana Vahan


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IN 2007, AMERICAN MINIMALIST SCULPTOR RICHARD SERRA PRESENTED A 40-YEAR RETROSPECTIVE OF HIS WORK AT THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (MOMA) IN NEW YORK.

The exhibition showcased the evolution of the artist’s freestanding steel sculptures from the late 1960s to his most recent site-specific works commissioned for the museum’s exhibition. The works ranged in scale from his smaller, earlier sculptures reflecting the human-sized scale of their maker to his newer, larger ones, reflecting the mammoth size of the steel yard manufacturing them for him. These latter works average a height of approximately 13 feet, and span lengths and widths between 36 feet and 72 feet, easily dwarfing the spaces that contain them, as well as their onlookers. The layout and scale of Serra’s works, exemplify the sculptural necessity for a spectator to not only look at a work of art, but to experience it.1 Upon approaching one of Serra’s large pieces,2 you must encircle it, walk through it, bend your neck up at it, in order to grasp its full shape, size, and capacity. You might further your understanding of the physical work by walking up to it, touching it, experimenting with the acoustics in and around it, screaming; you can follow its periphery and its interior, kids run through it, the possible interactions are boundless. Similarly, upon approaching his smaller works (you can peer down, into, and through some of them)

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This is true also for other Minimalists who sought a bodily experience, as well as for those artists since, whose work considers other sensory capacities of experience. Referring to the works on the second floor and in the sculpture garden of the MoMA retrospective: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2007/serra/flash.html


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which range in height from four to six feet, a much different relationship is established between their scale and your body, catalyzing a conversation between balance and gravity through the works’ simple arrangements and juxtapositions.3 This physical assessment of the sculptures’ characteristics is through the relationship the spectator’s body has with the space surrounding them. These assessments are all relative to our own individual and physical experience. For example, you might feel the dwarfing of your body as you encounter something much larger than you. Or your lightness with something perceptibly heavier. So, as spectators evaluate Serra’s large steel sculptures they become aware of their own size, shape, and flexibility (how far can they turn their head, or bend it back to find the top?) Additionally, as Serra’s works curve, lean inward and outward, the spectators' sense of space and their movement changes as the open space between them and the sculpture transmogrifies. Consequently, they may feel encompassed, enclosed, without, within, or imbalanced, their sense of self continually changing and reassessing as they survey the space. This somatic phenomenon is caused by sensory receptors called proprioceptors and exteroceptors located in various tissues of the body. More specifically, proprioceptors sense the body’s movement and positioning of itself, while exteroceptors sense external stimuli, for example external touch, sound, sight, and, the sense of our bodies in space. And Serra’s 2007 retrospective at MoMA provides a generous example of how this is experienced within our bodies and the body’s position when encountering and engaging the work of art and other structures external to us. In regarding Serra’s sculptures along with the striking proprioceptive and exteroceptive play at work when encountering them, one could consider the influences of art in a broader context. That is, drawing from how these and other works affect us on an individual level as exemplified through the experience of proprioception and exteroception, the question becomes, does art affect the larger world and, if so, how? To answer, we can turn to philosopher Catherine Malabou whose text on plasticity addresses the importance of See works exhibited on sixth floor of the MoMA retrospective: http:// www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2007/serra/flash.html

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the environment, including art, in the development and evolution of the human brain and, in turn, how the development of our brain affects the evolution of our environment; a contemporary iteration of the age-old “nature versus nurture” debate. In her text “Plasticity and Flexibility—For a Consciousness of the Brain,” Malabou emphasizes what she identifies as our alienation from our brain, consisting of a break between what we think our brain can do and what it is actually capable of doing. She describes the unfamiliarity many people have with their ability to be in control of their brain’s consciousness, emphasizing a disconnect between our perceived abilities and actual abilities. Mid-text, she italicizes her central interest in the form of a question, “What should we do so that consciousness of the brain does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism?” (12). Clearly, Malabou is concerned about the exterior condition of capitalism affecting the interior condition of our brains. To further untether this concern, she presents the terms flexibility, or the “capacity to receive form,” and plasticity, or “the capacity to receive and give form” (5), in order to describe our brain and our self-perceived understanding of it. The most important part of Malabou’s definition of plasticity is that we are able to give form to our external context and therefore ourselves, as opposed to our consciousness being given form by our environment, which today is dominantly characterized by capitalism.4 Malabou accentuates that we are frozen in this state of flexibility, without control over our own environment, giving the example of the common labor situation in which the laborer has “‘flexibility on the job, of one’s schedule (flex time, conversion), flexible factories’…” (12), without having the opportunity to form their work situation. Our presumed flexibility is missing that part where we can create, invent, revolt, “erase an impression”: it is missing our control. It brings to mind the loss of control experienced with fetishization—of the state, of capital, both part of our environment. In Malabou’s text, this is control of ourselves, our identities, both on an individual level and on a much larger scale. In a sense, Malabou is 4.

There are many approaches throughout history that concern the breaking of this habit, see Bertolt Brecht’s philosophy on theater, and Deleuze’s concept of the crystal image in cinema, to name just two.


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arguing that humanity has lost its identity, but this identity is sitting right next to us, it is simply out of our field of vision. She concludes by giving an indirect call for creativity and a challenge to ask ourselves, “To what extent are we plastic?” (14). To grasp how we may apply Malabou’s notion of a plastic brain to the former question of art’s effect on the larger world, we can look to art historian Charles Molesworth who, through the Minimalist works in the Dia:Beacon, writes of art’s role in countering the expansive capitalistic environment we live in, his text a reverberation of Malabou’s call to creativity. Molesworth, in his column “The Art Scene” from the quarterly journal Salmagundi, writes, “The unclassified object, classifies the space it occupies,” referencing Minimalist sculptor Tony Smith’s work Die—a name as ambiguous as the work’s form and meaning5—a six-foot, steel, black cube (43). Molesworth’s quote speaks directly to Malabou’s conception of plasticity, in this case it is the art object (Tony Smith’s art object) creating a space of plasticity for its viewers who encounter it. To elaborate, the ambiguity of the work’s title along with the ambiguity of its form/content leaves room for viewers to inject their own consciousness into the object, or to utilize the plasticity of their brains to inject their own consciousness into the object. Molesworth goes further, drawing our attention to Minimalism’s intent to open up the sensory experience of viewing a work of art through a more wholly conscious experience: that is, through the body, proprioceptively (exemplified in Serra’s work) as opposed to the visual focus dominant in the viewing of painting.6 The Minimalists sought, “A new sensorium, a new cognition, a new set of values…” to counter the visually dominant mode of perception in art at that time, as well as acknowledging the importance and impact of material objects and structures, of the larger world outside of art, 5.

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Molesworth brings our attention to the homonymy of the word die, which could stand for either the end of life or one part of the two in dice, and in turn the polysemy of the sculpture itself. Although art historian Michael Fried has since written about experiencing just this in painting before the Minimalists, in what he calls the “embodiment of painting.” See his book titled Menzel’s Realism: Art and Embodiment in Nineteenth-Century Berlin.


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upon our consciousnesses (43). By broadening how a viewer could perceive a work of art (through their body), the Minimalists not only broke through sculpture’s subordinate relationship to painting, they also brought attention to the importance of structure, its effects on the body, and in turn, on our consciousness—and as a result, in keeping Malabou’s conceptions in mind, on our environments. Molesworth writes, “Phenomenologists ground their models of consciousness in relations and forces and structures,” drawing from phenomenology to connect the embodiment in Minimalism to its approach of impacting the broader environment (43).

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In considering Minimalist work in today’s context, both in the world of art and in the broader world, it can hardly be argued that the work still holds the same impact as it did when it was first made and exhibited in the 1960s.7 Although while engaging with these works today, a viewer can still feel the proprioceptive sensations the Minimalists sought to bring forth in their work in the 60s and 70s, the weight of these sensations as framed by art hardly has the intellectual or conceptual impact it had when first emerging. The work, which as Molesworth states, once sought “to turn us out of our habits and toward our perceptions” (43) no longer serves us in this way. Minimalism has turned into the very habit it sought to guide us from: today, when one comes upon a Minimalist sculpture, it is usually found in an institution that is heavily shrouded in conformity. What’s more, a viewer in a museum typically accepts what is being presented to them as art, without further questioning. Museumgoers are now familiar with Minimalist objects, and although not everyone may understand the discourse of Minimalism, they accept these objects as a part of the institution of art. Through this shift in the framing of Minimalist works from the 1960s into their comfortable conformity in today’s context, the works themselves have become absorbed into the broader capitalistic environment they originally 7.

See: http://www.artandculture.com/feature/526 and http://www. intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/view-Article,id=6058/ and Donald Judd’s text “Specific Objects,” for texts about Minimalism written during the time of Minimalism.


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sought to expose. This has led Minimalist work to become commodified objects, with their position secured in museums and other traditional institutions of art, further advancing their aura of value. Molesworth refers to this when he writes of the evolution of Minimalism’s impact on our perception, shedding light on how our approaches to challenging or disrupting our accepted environment must always evolve in order to remain critical of its constantly metamorphosing character.8 In regard to Minimalism he writes: The very slogan of ‘less is more’ has been banished to the ash heap of history by the powers of consumerist culture and the post modern love of detached indulgence. Minimalism is not spared this negative reaction. Recently a mass market publication offered a summary judgment by one of its commentators; it said ‘there is nothing innately interesting about art that turns its back on life, and we are in a period when Minimalism no longer seems useful.’ Put aside for the moment the semantic force of the word ‘useful’ in this remark, and consider instead the charge that Minimalism is an art that ‘turns its back on life.’ It was, of course, its program to do exactly the opposite, to front our experience, to turn us out of our habits and toward our perceptions (43).

Here, Molesworth exemplifies the evolving nature of the existence of any artwork or movement. While Minimalism once sought to “front our experience, to turn us out of our habits and toward our perceptions,” it no longer has this effect, instead now embodying the identity of a valuable object that sits in a traditional institutional setting that tells its viewers it is art without confronting them as it once did, plastically. Richard Serra’s work easily exemplifies this, as it sells for millions of dollars, extinguishing the dominance of its original discourse for its current identity as a highly priced art commodity.9, 10 Donald Judd, a Minimalist who is credited with 8.

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In a review in Art Forum, author Jean-Max Colard writes of an exhibition citing Malabou’s text on plasticity, ending with a quote from the philosopher: “The favored regime of change today is the continuous implosion of form, by which it is reworked and reshaped continually.”


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developing the vocabulary that would later define the movement, is also exemplary in this, with an online art appraisal database, listing his Untitled (Bernstein 90-01) as currently one of the “highest sale prices at auction” today (May 4th, 2013) going for $3,525,000.11 This absorption into the art market is not specific to Minimalism and can be witnessed in other past avant-garde movements that also began with the intent to disrupt the perception of our environment.12 One could look at the Dadaists, whose work directly responded to the horrific events of World War I in their critique of the rational by being completely nonsensical and irrational. Today, work of key Dadaists can be seen in museums and at auction houses, and as the environment surrounding their work has evolved, so too has its ability to perform its originally intended task. Of this effect, Brings to mind the treatment of artworks in museums and other institutional settings where preservation of the objects’ conditions are insured and all works are housed in custom-made crates, or wrapped in special materials sometimes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Additionally, they are moved only by specialists who must wear archival gloves and treat the work as one might a premature baby, since the art’s monetary worth may fall as the object’s condition changes from when it first left the artist’s studio. 10. It is also interesting to consider that Serra’s works grew in scale to a much larger size—the size of the steel yards they were manufactured in. Where the relationship typical in his earlier works as well as those of other Minimalists were human-sized, the relationship is now, following the commodification of his work, between the viewer and industry, alienation of labor, and machinery for massive manufacturing. 11. http://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/Untitled--Bernstein-90-01/322B8669D12D6B31 12. This is true also to movements in other domains. For example, in fashion, the absorption of what was originally “punk” into the market, then becomes commodified in outlets such as Hot Topic. See Nato Thompson 2012 lecture at the Hammer Museum involving the concept of identity commodification where he specifically uses this example: http:// hammer.ucla.edu/watchlisten/watchlisten?search=nato+thompson&category=0&browse=none. The occurrence of gentrification can also be paralleled to this idea.

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Marcel Duchamp is known to be keenly aware. He reacted to this phenomenon by giving up his practice of art to pursue chess. He has been quoted in a 1952 issue of Time Magazine as saying about this move, “I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art—and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position.”13 One could look at each avant-garde artistic movement and see this pattern with the same profundity as those exemplified here.14 In returning to our central question of can and how does art affect the larger world outside of it, the absorption of each avant-garde movement as exemplified by the Minimalists into the environment of the capitalistic market shows the tenuous relationship between our ability to be flexible, or molded by the environment, and to be plastic, in our constant reinvention of artistic movements revolting against their current environment. In focusing on this ever-absorbing and seemingly inevitable flexibility and returning to Malabou’s question, “What should we do so that consciousness of the brain does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism?” (12), we consider now: What can one make of this seemingly inevitable track of art coinciding with “the spirit of capitalism”? Malabou emphasizes in her text the importance of plasticity in shaping our capitalistic environment/regaining control over the consciousness of our brains, from which she cites creativity, invention, and revolt as methods of exercising our plasticity, all of which are characteristics of artmaking. However, what has been Found on a wikipedia.org citation in an article about Marcel Duchamp: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Duchamp#cite_note-36 14. See article in The Independent on the secret financial support of abstract expressionism by the CIA as a method of propaganda in order to subtley display “proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US,” and capitalism over communism during the Cold War: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-wascia-weapon-1578808.html; and see Marina Vishmidt’s article about the use of Social Practice being comparative to a good business model: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/%E2%80%9Cmimesis-of-the-hardened-and-alienated%E2%80%9D-social-practice-as-business-model/, to name just two of many. 13.

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exemplified in this text is the absorption of avant-garde art making into conformity by example of the market, thereby turning Malabou’s proposition to break free of capitalism by these means, into an inescapable vicious circle. Is the resolution then for each generation to necessarily and tirelessly reinvent itself in order to escape this absorption, never to fully break free of it? Perhaps this is the nature of creativity itself, something always in movement. Another question could be, is there a way in which this commodification can still serve the work without reshaping it? Or is there a way in which this commodification does not affect the work at all? Rather than approach the question from the end of art, maybe we should approach it from the side of capitalism. It would then be relevant to consider the conclusions outlined by Antke Engel in her text “Desire for/within Economic Transformation,” in which she traces the ideas of J.K. Gibson-Graham. Engels writes, “new possibilities for economic transformation will arise once we no longer understand capitalism as a monolithic entity or as covering the

Screenshot of MutualArt.com “Auction” splash page on May 4, 2013, including the latest selling price for Donald Judd’s work Untitled (Bernstein 90-01).


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whole range of existing economic practices” (148). In other words, Gibson-Graham theorizes that in order to shift the economic model of capitalism that is in place today, or to be specific to our text, that is in the place of art today, we must rhizomatize (as philosopher Gilles Deleuze might interpret it) our conception of capitalism. Gibson-Graham hypothesizes three methods by which to achieve this. Engels lists them: “to develop new forms of thinking and accordingly, a new economic language; ask: If we want other worlds and other economies, how do we make ourselves a condition of possibility for their emergence?; and lastly, the collaborative pursuit of economic experimentation” (148–149). This essay began by introducing the way in which art can affect a viewer on an individual level, by example of proprioception and Serra’s latest sculptural works. Based on this idea, the first question asked was can art then affect the larger world, and how? Through tracing Minimalism and considering other avant-garde movements, it became clear that the quality of radicality present in each movement and original to its intentions, in due time became lost through conformity evident in its rising market value which in itself takes part in the environment so often revolted against in art. The question then turned to if and how art could avoid this absorption into the capitalistic environment that takes part in its loss of radicality? To conclude, J.K. Gibson-Graham’s three suggestions as for how to create new economic practices, brings the most current alternative practices in the art world to mind, which also very much exist and target the world outside of art. The most alternative of these practices, which I term “peripheral practices,” take many forms but most importantly exist both in economic and structural variants. It is important to think about the diversification of these peripheral models when contemplating the last question of this essay: how may we approach art so that it does not purely and simply coincide with capitalism?

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Works Cited: Engel, Antke. “Desire for/within Economic Transformation.” Are You Working Too Much? Post-Fordism, Precarity, and the Labor of Art. Eds. Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011. 147-166. Print. Malabou, Catherine. “Plasticity and Flexibility—For a Consciousness of the Brain.” What Should We Do With Our Brain?. Trans. Sebastian Rand. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008. 1-14. Print. Molesworth, Charles. “Collectors and Other Issues.” Salmagundi. 137 (2003): 30-40. ProQuest. Web. 30 Apr. 2012

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“Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years.” Museum of Modern Art. 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019. Exhibition. June 2007.


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WHAT IS INTERVENTION


"Secretly liberate any being you see in a cage." â&#x20AC;&#x201C;LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI, "POETRY AS INSURGENT ART"

N? Chris Brown


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ALL TOO OFTEN POLITICAL INTERVENTION HAS BEEN MISCONSTRUED SOLELY AS THE EXTENSION OF STATE FOREIGN POLICY AND THE USE OF MILITARY OR ECONOMIC FORCE FOR HUMANITARIAN PURPOSES.

While at times necessary for averting disaster, these forms of international aid do not exhaust the spirit of interventionism. Although it may have different manifestations, intervention is about establishing communication, not conflict. Its aim is connection, changing perspective1 and creating dialogue. It is less about opposition or open resistance than conveying meaning, inspiring motivated action2 and creating the potential for communal power.3 I think we can expand our understanding of political action to also include forms of artistic and poetic intervention. These kinds of interventions challenge people to actively rethink the realities of their situation and engage differently with the world around them.4 In economically advanced nations, much inter1. 2.

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Claude Lefort, “Permanence of the Theological-Political?”. For Arendt, action is the ability to politically disclose oneself in unexpected yet meaningful ways. Action is closely connected to freedom, plurality, communication and human togetherness. From this perspective, freedom is less about choice than the ability to create or begin something anew. Arendt understands power as the capacity of people to work together for a political purpose. Consider the theory of the dérive, developed by the Situationists International as an attempt to liberate oneself from the psychogeographies of urban landscapes.


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ventionist art has focused on resisting the reduction of people and places to components of exchange within a greater capitalist system. However, in areas of seemingly perpetual conflict, intervention means working for an alternative to violence. In such places, the work of artists and activists may be especially important in addressing the wounds of civil society.5 Intervention can mean many things. It can mean the subversion of rigid identity boundaries that enable conflict. It can mean the disruption of hegemonic or habitual thought patterns. It can mean the creation of situations capable of dissolving political certainties and rekindling the imagination. Intervention can even mean connecting new thoughts by opening avenues of communication between possibly distant others. The hope is that aesthetic intervention can provide a productive destabilization with lasting political significance. When faced with institutional aggression, intervention can also mean giving civil society a voice with which to be heard. What is the value of a refugee? The unemployed? The homeless? The stateless? Intervention means collapsing the boundaries between teaching and learning by completely rethinking who is capable of teaching and who is capable of learning.6 These kinds of questions agitate the usual ways we inhabit the world and interact with others, laying the foundations for an aesthetic community capable of responding to itself with empathy.7 Intervention should not be imperialism in disguise. Since political action must value plurality and multiplicity, intervention necessarily means learning how to ask questions and communicate across difference. It means learning how to find your way with others while doing what you can to bring hope into the world. It means 5.

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For example, in Palestine and Israel projects such as Face 2 Face, Hello Peace!, the film 5 Broken Cameras, or Ariella Azoulay’s photographic works are attempts to destabilize oppositional identity and radically re-humanize the Other. Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster asserts the equality of intelligence between students and teachers while providing strategies for promoting connective intellectual growth. Rancière, “Aesthetic Community/Aesthetic Separation” in The Emancipated Spectator.


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trying to overcome the forces of apathy and alienation by actively resisting the withering of the commons8 or returning stars to a city where they have long since disappeared.9 Intervention can bring awakening (on many levels). It can breathe life into civil society by renewing the environment or telling truths when history has been sold as a lie.10 Sometimes intervention means saying NO! not now! not anymore! not ever! not ever again! 11 (But intervention is not negation...)12 If anything, it is an affirmation for a lost way of life, a disappearing form of being-together. Perhaps it can even be the finding of some new freedoms? And what of freedom? What does it mean to you? The freedom to buy things, to purchase and consume? Capitalist freedom? Natural freedom? What of the freedom to not be hungry? To have a place to stay for the night? To live? To love? Existential freedom? The ability to express oneself and create meaning in the world? And what of the freedom to not be subjected to the military mentality of occupational regimes? constant surveillance? police brutality? ecological devastation? genetic modification? the wholesale reduction of food to substances linked with cancer, obesity and “The people who meet on the exchange market are primarily not persons but producers of products, and what they show there is never themselves...” (Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 209.) 9. Beginning in Sydney, Australia (2007), Earth Hour is now annually celebrated in over 7,000 cities and has been instrumental in raising global environmental awareness. 10. The works of Ariella Azoulay (From Palestine to Israel), Aaron Huey (“America’s Native Prisoners of War”), and Emory Douglas (former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party) all provide alternative historiographies that bear testimony to moments of forgotten oppression. 11. On September 21, 1983, in an event known as the Siluetazo, artists and families gathered for an “aesthetic takeover” of the Plaza de Mayo (Buenos Aires, Argentina) to protest the country’s brutal military dictatorship and create a collective representation of the over 30,000 people who violently disappeared from their lives. 12. “Artistic creation is a demand for unity and a rejection of the world. But it rejects the world on account of what it lacks and in the name of what it sometimes is.” (Camus, “Rebellion and Art,” The Rebel, p.253).

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the proliferation of depression? What of the freedom necessary to take a stand and protect the future? Our future? Freedom means different things to different people, and intervention must begin by learning how even our smallest actions cumulatively impact others. There is no intervention without courage. There is no intervention without care.

Intervention is the outside thought that changes your life and brings understanding. It is the “chance encounter” that could never have been mere coincidence alone. Intervention is transformative liberation, but liberation is not freedom. Liberation is only a moment, and freedom a constant struggle. Intervention breaks the locks, but leaves people to pursue their own ideas of freedom. This requires communal puissance,13 not individual power. Intervention is a creative war machine that attempts to make the invisible visible; the unheard heard. It is the opposite of isolation.14 It is action that hears and responds to need, rather than desire. Intervention means rethinking everything—politics, aesthetics, communication, and (especially) “normativity.”15 It means establishing the preconditions for new growth. Though not always pretty, there can be no intervention without reflexivity. Those capable of influencing the lives of others must appreciate the precariousness of their ability as well as their responsibility to forgotten voices.16 Intervention is an art-form dedicated to creating aesthetic spaces17 and filling them with potential... a dangerous slope where Deleuze and Guattari, “Treatise on Nomadology—The War Machine.” “Action... is never possible in isolation; to be isolated is to be deprived of the capacity to act.” (Arendt, The Human Condition, p.188.). 15. Curated by Nato Thompson, “The Interventionists: Art in the Social Sphere” (MASS MoCA 2004) exhibited the works of nearly 30 artists and collectives who have been involved with political intervention since the 1990s. Inspired by the overtly political art of the 1980s, these newer interventions often employed humor as a device for disarming and engaging with audiences. 13.

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good intentions are easily corruptible. The final question is not “Is art intervention?” but rather “Is our art intervention?” Of course “intervention” for some may mean “repression” to others. We must walk a fine line. Ambiguity and creative confusion can be our closest friends.18 We should rather promote new thought than incite open rebellion. The idea of non-communism19 may be helpful for future conversations. Another choice between anti-capitalism and anti-communism, non-communism seeks to reforge the bonds of community within the greater capitalist framework that has led to our problems of alienation and hyper-individualization. Such ideas may prove useful for those seeking to create networks of creative solidarity or relational autonomy. The transmission of these ideas is also an intervention.20 In some places, street art, immersive performance, or radical pedagogy21 may be enough to inspire the civil imagination.22 However, not all interventions can be reduced to a re-appropriation of the commons. Some intervention is fundamentally about recognition. An endless poem? An understated exaggeration? Intervention is “Each of us could be subject to deprivation, injury, debilitation or death by virtue of events or processes outside of our control. It is also, importantly, a feature of what we might call the social bond, the various relations that establish our interdependency... As bodies, we suffer and we resist [together].” (Judith Butler, “From and Against Precarity”). 17. Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, p.53. 18. Overcoming the individualism inherent in Sartre’s existentialism, Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity is generally critical about using power or force to influence another, yet maintains that we have a duty to intervene when we see people living under the delusions of false consciousness or otherwise denying their own freedoms. For de Beauvoir, genuine freedom is inspired by a passionate concern for others: “To will oneself free is to will others free.” 19. Merleau-Ponty, Epilogue to Adventures of the Dialectic, p.310. 20. While the Occupy Movement began as a series of protests in 2011, it has since inspired the creation of a large body of theory related to autonomous politics. This includes both the website occupytheory.org as well as a large number of independent print publications, such as those associated with the Oakland Commune.

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not the machinery of foreign salvation. Intervention is not idolatry... Intervention means learning to ask how you can help!23—and respecting what you could not or should not do for another. It does not mean standing idly by watching as inhumanity blossoms. WITNESSING IS A CONTACT SPORT!24 Intervention, the anti-spectacle that destroys false consciousness!

It means offering testimony, breaking the gazeless stare,25 stopping a tank,26 protecting the Earth, or risking your life to share an image with the world. (Some things are worth risking everything for...) “Live art” workshops such as those hosted by theorists Erin Manning and Brian Massumi (www.senselab.ca) or artist Guillermo Gomez-Pena attempt to overcome notions of individual authorship and other psychological boundaries that may inhibit communal co-creativity. 22. Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination, p.5. 23. In August 2007, the small town of Pisco, Peru was devastated by an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. Over the next year, international NGO Burners Without Borders (associated with the BurningMan Project) provided immediate disaster relief while also helping locals develop their own autonomous organization Pisco Sin Fronteras (“Pisco Without Borders”). PSF launched on the first anniversary of the earthquake, and continues to operate to this day, mobilizing both the community and an international team of volunteers. 24. Rancière’s Emancipated Spectator proposes that witnessing (as opposed to spectating) is a potentially transformative action capable of inspiring motivated political action. (“The true witness is one who does not want to witness.” p.91). 25. The psychological exhaustion associated with the stagnation of post-industrial life is referenced by “The Man Who Sold the World,” originally written by David Bowie and covered by Nirvana (“...for years and years we roamed, and gazed a gazeless stare at all the millions there. We must have died alone, a long, long time ago...”). 26. Several photographers smuggled footage of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests (the “Tank Man” image) out of the country as the Chinese government conducted extensive raids. 21.

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WHAT IS INTERVENTION?

There is no intervention without confusion. There is no intervention without education.

Just as knowledge disrupts power, sounds of intervention startle sleeping ears. Anyone who’s ever had a dream27 knows that intervention is a bitter/sweet Hungering that must sometimes feel lonely and change direction often... Intervention is what makes absence conspicuous. It elevates poverty to a problem shared by all. It gives people access to tools that help them sculpt new realities and see things as they are. Intervention takes the form of dashed expectations and pictures that echo through space without words. It is expression, not representation. It is lived idealism and portable anarchy, a never-final unflattening rhizomatic explosion of connective potential. It is the alternative between rigidified structures, Chance in a world of Order and shelter for the exhausted soul28 navigating the madness of regimes.29 It is refuge for those who need it most. It is amnesty. Intervention is primary information and Art that challenges the willful blindness of our societies and their widespread loss of poetic imagination30—a complex continuum of movement thinking of others after which good karma may follow, dig?

“Sweet Jane,” Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Jan Verwoert, “Exhaustion and Exuberance: Ways to Defy the Pressure to Perform.” 29. “Privacy and its possibilities are abolished… Attention is under siege everywhere. Not silence but uninterrupted noise, not the red desert, but a cognitive space overcharged with nervous incentives to act: this is the alienation of our times...” (“Bifo” Berardi, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, p.107-8.). 30. Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man. 27.

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Occupy Los Angeles, Summer 2012.

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Works Referenced: 5 Broken Cameras. Dir. Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi. Kino Lorber, 2011. Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1998. Print. Azoulay, Ariella. Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography. London: Verso, 2012. Print. Azoulay, Ariella. From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-50. London: Pluto, 2011. Print. Berardi, Franco. The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2009. Print. Butler, Judith. "From and Against Precarity." Tidal. OccupyTheory.Web. 31 May 2013. <http://occupytheory.org/read/from-and-againstprecarity.html>. Camus, Albert. The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt. New York: Vintage, 1991. Print. De Beauvoir, Simone. The Ethics of Ambiguity. New York: Kensington Pub., 1976. Print. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. “Treatise on Nomadology—The War Machine.” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987. Print.

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Grange, Jeremy. "Line of Hope Links Palestinians and Israelis." BBC News. BBC, 17 Aug. 2007. Web. 17 May 2013. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/ middle_east/6948034.stm] "History." Piscosinfronteras.org. Pisco Sin Fronteras. Web. 31 May 2013. <http://piscosinfronteras.org/about-us/history/>.


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Huey, Aaron. “America's Native Prisoners of War." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. Web. 31 May 2013. <http://www.ted.com/talks/aaron_ huey.html>. "JR's TED Prize Wish: Use Art to Turn the World Inside Out." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. Web. 31 May 2013. <http://www.ted.com/talks/jr_s_ted_ prize_wish_use_art_to_turn_the_world_inside_out.html>. Lefort, Claude. Democracy and Political Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1988. Print. Longoni, Ana. "Photographs and Silhouettes: Visual Politics in Argentina." Afterall.org. Afterall. Web. 31 May 2013.<http://www.afterall.org/ journal/issue.25/photographs-and-silhouettes-visual-politicsin-the-human-rights-movement-of-argentina>. Manning, Erin. "About." SenseLab: A Laboratory for Thought in Motion. Sense Lab. Web. 31 May 2013. <http://senselab.ca/wp2/about/>. Marcuse, Herbert. One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon, 1964. Print. "MASS MoCA - The Interventionists: Art in the Social Sphere." MASS MoCA. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://www.massmoca.org/event_details. php?id=38>. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “Epilogue to Adventures of the Dialectic.”The Merleau-Ponty Reader. Ed. Ted Toadvine and Leonard Lawlor. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2007. Print. Rancière, Jacques. The Emancipated Spectator. London: Verso, 2011. Print. Rancière, Jacques. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1991. Print. PO LY -

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Works Referenced (Cont.): Thompson, Nato, and Gregory Sholette. "The Interventionists: User's Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life." Web. 31 May 2013. <http://www.gregorysholette.com/wp-content/uploads/ 2011/04/Interventionists_03_14_041.pdf>. Verwoert, Jan. “Exhaustion Et Exuberance: Ways to Defy the Pressure to Perform.” Sheffield: Sheffield 08: Yes, No and Other Options, 2008. Print.

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Witty, Patrick. "Tank Man Revisited: More Details Emerge About the Iconic Image." Time.com. Time Magazine, Web. 31 May 2013. <http://light box.time.com/2012/06/05/tiananmen/>.


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RICK CARUSO'S AMERICANA DREAM


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DRIVING ALONG THE 2 FREEWAY AS IT TRANSFORMS FROM THE WINDING, MOUNTAINOUS ANGELES CREST HIGHWAY INTO AN ARTERY OF ECHO PARK CALLED GLENDALE BLVD., ONE CAN SEE FROM THE PASSENGER SIDE WINDOW, AMONG OTHER STRUCTURES IN DOWNTOWN GLEDALE, AN IRON SPIRE BEARING CONSPICUOUS RESEMBLANCE TO THE EIFFEL TOWER.

A neon sign nearby reads, The Americana at Brand: Always Welcome. The Americana sits along Brand Blvd., just north of the strip of car dealerships known as the “Brand Boulevard of Cars.” It is a mall, adjacent to a mall, which is across the street from a third mall. At the stoplight where the entrance to the Americana intersects with Brand Blvd., the street sign says Caruso Way, referring to the powerful real estate developer and SoCal political hopeful, Rick Caruso. The Americana is one of his most cherished works. Opened in May of 2008 after years of heated debate about its potential impact on traffic congestion and competing businesses nearby, the Americana is gleefully inconsistent with the surrounding city. Next door, the red-bricked monolith known as the Glendale Galleria is clearly a product of the 1970s, a place that could have


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been the backdrop for teen gatherings in countless 80s movies. The buildings that comprise the Americana reference an older time, and in turn the Galleria becomes a dated vision of the future, while the Americana presents a contemporary and commercial interpretation of the past. Mediterranean and brick facades encircle an artificial town square. In the center, a golden statue of a nude Grecian athlete prances from a fountain that shoots jets of water into the air, intermittently signaling the majesty of the scene. An old-timey, novelty trolley, like the kind that would have served this area before its tracks were ripped out in favor of the automobile, rolls along 1,755 feet of rail, shuttling customers from purchase to purchase at a leisurely pace. All the while, the music of Frank Sinatra is blaring from speakers on every street lamp and kiosk, signifying that the "Good Life" is indeed right here and now, and that everyone present is fortunate enough to be shopping in it. Naturally the premises are teeming with staff, all in exaggerated uniforms fit for a Las Vegas casino. Emphasizing the theatrical component of the Americana, a recent job opening listed on the Caruso Affiliated website seeks a “star” to play the “role” of concierge from 12 pm to 7 pm weekdays and 1 pm to 4 pm weekends.1 Since the Americana is a private space, it is bustling with private security, dressed somewhere between Canadian Mounties and butlers. In fact, the Americana is so private that there are residences available on-site. Now shoppers can really feel at home. With its on-site living quarters, Caruso’s Americana attempts to return to the urban community and street life that existed in pre-automobile times, and still exists in those places built before the driver usurped the pedestrian. His sentimental project harkens back to an urban model that is staunchly anti-LA, in the way it enables the residential and the commercial to overlap. As exhaust continues to make the sky more brown than blue, as fatal car crashes cause intolerable gridlock and the need for gasoline pilfers the savings of downtrodden commuters, Caruso wants to offer a desperately-needed option to Southern California. In principle, something like the Americana presents a more sustainable version of urban life "Current Openings." Caruso Affiliated. Caruso Affiliated, n.d. Web. June 2013.

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as it challenges the alienation of suburban sprawl with high-density housing and the promise of a meaningful sense of community. A letter from Caruso on his own website says, “Building a stronger community is at the core of my beliefs and I feel our projects possess that magical quality—and always will,” and more succinctly, “We don’t build retail centers, we build the center of town.”2 Caruso is a billionaire, but he’s also a philanthropist. Perhaps he sees his developments as gifts to the people, or at least as positive additions to a cityscape that has often been unfriendly to pedestrians. This sentiment is expressed quite clearly in a 2010 Los Angeles Times interview with Patt Morrison in which Caruso says, “At the Americana, the whole idea [is that] people can walk downstairs, grab a paper, go to the movies, go to dinner, shop. You shouldn't have to get in your car.”3 In the same interview he claims, “The thing I'm most proud of about our properties is that they get really woven into the fabric of the community. People go jogging through, walking their dogs or their kids, meeting friends. People never buy a thing; that's fine. It's their little downtown.”4 From these quotes, Caruso convincingly expresses good intentions. His words convey a genuine desire to provide infrastructure for a sustainable lifestyle and a new sense of communal belonging in Los Angeles. However this sincerity begets a baffling question: how did Caruso get it so wrong? Undeniably, Caruso has created a successful mall. It may even foster an exceptionally rewarding shopping experience, where the customer feels the retail setting coming to life in a way that would be unthinkable at the Galleria. But as part of a larger urban environment, and as a gesture toward a heightened sense of community, the Americana is a failure in every respect. Instead of the vibrant meeting place he promised, Caruso’s aesthetic choices have left us with a pastiche of cultural detritus, drawn together by a vague theme of luxury. The soundtrack, the trolley, and the outfits are a motley nostalgia for an America that "Rick J. Caruso." Caruso Affiliated. Caruso Affiliated, n.d. Web. 7 June 2013. 3. Morrison, Patt. "Rick J. Caruso: A Work in Progress." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 09 Jan. 2010. Web. 9 June 2013 4. Ibid.

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5.

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probably never existed, and if it did, only on the estates of billionaires like Caruso. The Americana flaunts a grand unawareness of the multiplicity of economic classes that make up Southern California, its aesthetics boldly signifying abundance. As a result, Caruso’s creation is as tacky and over-stimulating as it is wasteful, with its ostentatious fountains and pristine lawn baking in the sun. For all of its lofty ideals, the Americana has precious little to say. It utters only one word: money. Living up to its name, the most consistent aesthetic characteristic of the Americana is that of pastiche itself. But Caruso isn’t compiling a slough of mismatched bourgeois trinkets from scratch. Instead he is drawing from the finished forms of Las Vegas, Disneyland, and Hollywood backlots. In fact, Caruso has openly welcomed comparisons between Disney’s developments and his own.5 The Americana is a tribute to a copy, an appropriation of a replica or maybe just a fake of a fake. It is a mall with a theme, and the theme is “vibrant urban setting.” Caruso has set a stage, and he is directing you to play the role of big spender. In this environment, not to consume is deviant behavior. Rather than creating a development that actually encourages pedestrian activity in Glendale, Caruso has cast his customers in a simulated version of street life. And here is the sick twist in Caruso’s work: his version of urban life comes across as a parody of the real thing. By removing any semblance of the real surrounding city, and all the social challenges that accompany a real city, Caruso suggests the futility of the same functional urban space he claims to be creating. The Americana states clearly that such a place is only possible if we erase the harmful byproducts of capitalism from the scene entirely. It can only work with a homogenous population sporting fat wallets and a taste for lounge music. Urban life is portrayed as a fantasyland or an appealing theme for a brief vacation. Not only does the Americana fail to deliver what it promises, but it mocks the very desire for such things. The space of dense urban activity remains elsewhere, while the patrons of the Americana shop in a temporary reproduction. A painting in the lobby of one of its buildings illustrates this aesthetic crisis with brutal simplicity. In a style that recalls the murals of the


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Chicano movement, the painting depicts a map of California with certain structures enlarged for emphasis. There is the Golden Gate Bridge, the California State Capitol in Sacramento, and unsurprisingly, the Americana at Brand. With its trolley, golden statues, and knock-off Eiffel Tower, the Americana dominates the lower half of the image, editing itself into California history as the state’s crowning achievement. All the while a slick yacht cruises toward the undeveloped coastline as a jetliner soars above. Perhaps the image offers a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a powerful real estate developer. Or maybe it’s just a discarded jacket cover for a lost edition of Atlas Shrugged. Since one of its major innovations is the incorporation of luxury condos into a shopping center, the Americana’s relationship to the car is fraught with irony. Anyone who doesn’t live on the premises, which is almost everyone, must still drive to the Americana in order to experience the joys of pedestrianhood. In other words, Caruso’s explicit attempt to abandon the car is entirely dependent on the car. If the only shoppers at the Americana were its residents, it would be a ghost town, which means that commuters make the enterprise possible. Caruso responds to this troublesome fact by hiding the cars in a towering parking structure that doesn’t look at all like a parking structure. A stream of vehicles disappears into a building and somehow patrons materialize from a separate staircase. The automobile, in its indispensable role, emphasizes the novelty of the whole project. And at the end of the day those who choose to live here, instead of drive, sleep at the mall. Despite its aesthetic blunders, the Americana is more than an eyesore or the misguided scheme of an ambitious businessman. Its questionable aesthetics inevitably lead to questionable politics. Caruso’s rhetoric in describing the Americana invokes an appeal to the commons (which also happens to be the name of Caruso’s mall in the upscale community of Calabasas), and while the Americana may resemble publicly-owned space, it is not. Instead of offering a shared community resource, the Americana reimagines the commons as a corporate entity. It peddles the idea of public land, while operating as a privately-owned replica, thereby commodifying the very idea of the commons. The entire premises of the Americana are privately owned, except for the two-acre lawn in the center, which


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belongs to the public despite its compliance with the Americana’s rules and regulations. As architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne points out, free speech, free assembly and free expression are not protected on the Americana’s grounds, rendering its name all the more ironic.6 By surrounding the public with the private, Caruso performs a symbolic act of enclosure. But perhaps even more significant than the distinction between public and private at the Americana, is the ambiguity between the two. By including things that are typically absent from shopping centers—public parks, for instance—Caruso coerces his customers into involving the mall in every aspect of their lives. The Americana becomes a one-stop shop for generalized fulfillment. Because its whole infrastructure is private, the wealth that the Americana displays does not belong to the surrounding city at all. Instead the Americana exhibits a private fortune that is at odds with its surroundings. The cuteness, the gaucheness, the cleanliness and the lounge music all conspire to make the Americana a place where social challenges of the public domain are out of sight and out of mind. It accentuates the earnings of Caruso Affiliated while downplaying the barrier between that wealth and the city outside. This is abundantly clear in the Americana’s bias in favor of the wealthy. As a high-end space based entirely on the consumption of luxury retail goods, working a low-wage job at the Americana does not necessarily afford one the means to shop there, and it likely precludes one from living there. For Caruso, utopia is a high-end taste. While Caruso’s influence as a developer is well known, his ambitions do not end there. In 2011, as the Los Angeles mayoral election approached, Caruso thought he might join the race, casually strolling along the line between business and politics.7 If one part of Caruso’s political vision is clear, it is that he favors the private sector over the public. In other words, he would run LA like a business. But as Caruso creates theatrical urban environments, perhaps Angelenos could Hawthorne, Christopher. "Faux New World At Glendale's New Megaproject, Is a Park Really a Park? Maybe Not." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 04 May 2008. Web. 9 June 2013. 7. Almendrala, Anna. “Rick Caruso: Los Angeles’ Next Mayor?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com

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expect Caruso to function more like the director of Los Angeles, than the mayor. The hallmarks of Caruso’s aesthetic sense—showmanship, opulence, nostalgia—may be staples of showbiz, but how would they translate into politics? Would his bid for office mock the electoral process, in the same way that his developments parody functional urban space? Angelenos can table these questions, as Caruso has chosen to remain a real estate developer for now, but a future campaign is well within the realm of possibility. A more pressing issue is whether or not there is any structure—political or architectural— that cannot be Caruso-fied into an artificial version of itself. In the miniature city known as The Americana at Brand, Caruso is already mayor. The place he presides over is a well-intentioned dystopia, reflecting vividly the excesses of the summer of 2008, just before the economic meltdown. By now, the Americana has become well entrenched in the landscape of Glendale, but whether or not it is really a part of the city is not so clear. It is a space rife with ambiguity, where the lines between public and private, server and actor, customer and resident are continually blurred. If there is one thing the Americana is certain about, it is a steadfast dedication to free enterprise. It is as politically active as a structure can be, because it goes so far as to construct a world it wants us to believe in: one that is wholly dependent upon the market. Like any good capitalistic entity, the Americana’s central goal is endless growth, and while it pretends to be looking backwards, it is actually lurching forward, preparing to swallow up more city blocks.


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GAMER GIRL & GAMERS


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GAMER GIRL & GAMERS

THIS IS A GAMING SOCIETY.1

Yet, you find the most enjoyment in the digital–the video game. Your first game, like many of your generation of the late 80s– early 90s-born kids, was Super Mario Brothers on the SNES. The side-scrolling platformer was always super fun, but something bothered you about that game, it wasn't about the skill or precision, but how fast you could complete it. Speed, not score, was most important. People would beat that game in under five minutes. An entire game in under five minutes. The princess was saved and you could do it all again, if you wanted. It bored you. Which is now blasphemous to say of Super Mario Brothers. The game you loved the most was Duck Hunt. You loved the plastic laser gun in your hand, the need for quick reflexes and, as sick as it sounds, killing the ducks. From then on you were hooked. First person shooters2 (FPS) are your favorite style of video games. FPS video games typically have a play style that involves guns or other projectiles fired or wielded from the first person perspective. This genre accounts for the three top-selling video games for the Xbox 360: Call of Duty: Black Ops (25 million copies sold, Matos, 2011), Halo 3 (18 million, Sinclair, 2008), and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (7.5 million, Brightman, 2009). This style of video game tends to rely on the player to develop precision aiming

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The term “gamification” was coined in 2002 and some argue that the concept was present as far back as 1984. However, it became increasingly popular in 2010. Gamification is the use of game-like tactics—especially the social reward aspects of traditional video games—in non-video game contexts. For example: we gain points based on the number and types of restaurants and establishments we visit; this gives us digital badges and mayorships to show off to all your friends who use FourSquare. You must continue to eat and buy things at a particular restaurant to maintain your mayorship (read: prestige). Gamification can be seen on any number of different platforms to drive consumer activity, but it is also present within the K-12 educational environment (“Educational Games”), the fitness world, travel, entertainment—it is virtually a part of every aspect of society.


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techniques, fast reflexes, and, if playing multiplayer, the ability to work as a team. Video games and, specifically, console games have accounted for $25.1 billion in sales within the last year alone (Electronic Software Association [ESA], 2011). The older you get the more time and money you spend on FPS games; the fast-paced, shoot-ordie feeling of the game is adrenalin releasing. Video games are a large part of your life and have helped you construct the digital identity that you claim proudly: Gamer Girl.3 The summer of 2010 you spent most of your free time playing 2.

3.

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Looking at FPS themselves, they are aesthetically hyper-masculine worlds. Gamers are moving through a visual assault of images that glorify the societal construction that is masculine—war, guns, sexually—objectified women are just a few examples. Most of the characters are men. The gamer is forced into the position of the male viewer, the gaze belongs to and is intended for the male audience. This becomes apparent within the Halo franchise, for example, as the sidekick is a barely-clothed female artificial intelligence who exists for the male protagonist. The average gamer is between the ages of 18 and 49, the mean age of a gamer is 37 (ESA, 2011). This shows that children do not make up the largest demographic of the gaming market. Females make up 42 percent of the console gaming market while 72% of households in America own a computer or console within their home (ESA, 2011). According to a 2011 study conducted by the ESA, women age 18 or older “represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (37%) than boys age 17 or younger (13%)” (pg. 3). On average, adult gamers have been playing 12 years, with the average for male gamers at 13 years and the average for female adult gamers at 10 years (ESA, 2011). However large the female console gaming population is, video games are still discoursed by media and advertising agencies as being “boy toys” (Brownfield, 2006). Advertising agencies have also assumed that female involvement within the console market has been driven solely by the advertising of consoles as “entertainment machines” and not as gaming platforms (Brownfield, 2006). This discourse assumes that video games, and gaming itself, do not attract females at large. Or they attract females solely in the video game fitness and “girl games” such as Cooking Mama.


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Call of Duty: Black Ops.4 Between three jobs and summer school, you slept little, but killed many. You didn't care for any of the other games in the Call of Duty franchise before, but Black Ops was and still is engaging. The online gamers have a lot of skill and you wanted to learn as much as you could from them. Being accepted in this online community was tough at first. Very much like any other sport— you must prove yourself. Your “prestige,” or a number up to 15 that shows the amount of games won and overall player score, is one way to show other players that you are serious. However, prestige isn't everything. One could have a high prestige without being good at the game—you could simply rack up play hours. A player can join any multiplayer game, but the real meat of the community is joining a party, and you all play together. One can do this with a group of friends within the material world, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are the best gamers. The best gamers tend to be scattered across the globe, playing long nights, tirelessly dedicated to enhancing their skills. To find a group of individuals who will add you to their team isn't easy. Again, you have to prove yourself. Proving yourself as a gamer is difficult; it is even more so if you are perceived as a woman/girl gamer. Gamers are expected to be men/boys, but if you identify as women/girls, you must label yourself as something else entirely:

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Call of Duty: Black Ops is the seventh in the series of Call of Duty. It was released on November 9, 2010 and has sold 25 million copies. This makes it the most widely sold video game of all time, as well as the most widely sold FPS. Call of Duty: Black Ops takes place during the 1960s , based on the premise of the Cold War. It focuses on the CIA and other covert operations by a government, a government agency, or a military organization. A black operation or operative typically involves activities that are highly clandestine and often outside of standard military/intelligence protocol, and sometimes against the law. The player engages in a variety of imagined Cold War scenarios. For example, the player will go into Cuba and assassinate Fidel Castro, only to kill his double and be captured by the actual Fidel Castro. The player then engages in missions where he infiltrates the USSR’s space program or, perhaps, enters Vietnam. It is by no means historically accurate; the Cold War is reimagined as one-sided, from a pro-American perspective.


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Gamer Girl, Grrl Gamer, Female Gamer..?5 You cannot be seen as a Gamer alone—how dare you assume you have a space within the digital interface of online gaming; the community that was created by men, for men, their fantasies, their desire for dominance, their need to conquer in the digital what they cannot in the material. Silly girl! So what if you're 20, so what if you pay your own rent, you are a girl, and you will forever be! No women—psh, girls!—allowed here, unless you're in the kitchen making ME a sandwich. The gendered experience reflects that of the material society. While the codes of gendered engagement are similar to that of the material, one quickly understands that while sexist jokes tend to be saved for behind closed doors or amongst friends, online sexism, where users hide behind the interface that mediates their social interactions, sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination is out in the open. It isn’t uncommon for females to experience some form of sexual harassment while playing video games, and it is even 5.

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Within the gamer community, the term “Gamer Girl” is a highly contested signifier. It is hard to pinpoint when the first instance of the “Gamer Girl” appeared on the Internet, but within the last five years, YouTube videos, support groups, and broader discussion of the “Gamer Girl” have been ever present. Within the last year specifically, the “Gamer Girl” has been under attack. Satirical and offensive articles have been written on popular gaming websites on why one should never date a Gamer Girl. Memes have been created to discredit the “mythical unicorn” that is the “Gamer Girl.” (C, Adam, 2012) Even within the women/girl gaming community, the “Gamer Girl” identity is a highly-contested identity marker (HaiLedaBear, 2012 SexyNerdGirlPresents, 2012). Some self-identified women within the gaming community feel that the term "Gamer Girl" may lead to the perpetuation of "Gamer Girl" stereotypes (largely perpetuated by men within the gamer community). These stereotypes tend to assume that those who identify as “Gamer Girls” are posers (that, in fact, they do not play video games and just want attention from men/ boy gamers), are over-sexualized, only play casual games or, on the opposite side of this, are defiant or confrontational. Those who identify with the "Gamer Girl" identity do so to reappropriate the term, to counter discourse that “girl’s don’t play games” or that they play only one type of game (Cooking Mama, Sims, etc.).


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more common for females to experience sexual harassment when they are playing online FPS games. What happens during these moments of pre- and post-sexual harassment illustrates the ways in which females must negotiate and perform gender6 in order to find alternative pleasure within a rampant sexually harassing culture. This sexual harassment is based solely on gender or perceived gender. In other words, “You sound like a girl, I will send you messages asking you to suck my penis.” You experience this immediately as you begin playing online. You're not surprised; it is something you have experienced frequently as a Girl Gamer. Even more frequently because you play FPS and you talk on your headset a lot. Websites such as “Fat Ugly or Slutty” have for a while been documenting the sexual harassment faced by women/girls when playing online games. It is a site you visit to laugh at the insanity of others, to laugh at your own experience.7 Mother always told you, “Nothing cures like a good laugh.” But your “guy” friends tell you, “You know you wouldn't be harassed so much if you didn't talk online.” This makes you angry—it perpetuates rape culture and victim blaming in society.8 It's a micro example of a bigger problem. When you try to address this concern, your statements get swept under the rug and you really can't be bothered to go off on one of your “feminist rants” because you have to frag some players9 before the time is up and you hate to lose. You've tried to be civilized before, but it often landed on deaf ears.10 You decide to leave that discussion for another day.11 You start learning the game maps, discovering the best places to hide. You start creating a character class12 that works best for you.

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To operate within the matrix of power or domination is not the same as to uncritically replicate relations of domination. Therefore, the Gamer Girl is a performative identity (Butler, 1990). For Butler, gender isn't a fixed category, but a repeated “stylization of the body.” Gender can be used as a subversion technique to undermine the current masculine frameworks and institutions that are dependent on dualism and hierarchy. Whether intentionally or not, the Gamer Girl embraces a gendered identity that is codified by the other in order to subvert the misogyny within the FPS online multiplayer games, sexual harassment and sexual degradation.


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FN-FAL is your gun of choice. It has great accuracy. It has a low burst rate, being a light automatic rifle, which you surmise is the reason for its pinpoint accuracy. You really don't care about the realistic depiction of the gun you choose—if it works great for you ingame, you're happy. This gun works best for your play style because 7.

8.

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The website, "Fat, Ugly, or Slutty," has been aggregating visual, audio, and textual evidence of sexual harassment toward women/girl gamers. In a post published on November 14, 2012, titled “You Know, just Whenever” a Gamer Girl recounted an experience with sexual harassment while playing on the XBox Live Network: “I had this guy on my friends list for quite a while actually. After not playing with him for a long time, I got this message: 'can u moan on xbox for me smtm? (show me the money).' It isn’t rare to see sexual harassment in the form of textual communication addressed to Gamer Girls online. What is startling is that this harasser’s gamer reputation, awarded by the gamer community, is 5 stars (a good gamer who does not use lag switches or other cheats during online game play and has not said anything overtly offensive). Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a violent and often sexual crime (rape) is blamed for the violence inflicted upon them. An instance of this is, “You shouldn't have worn such a provocative dress; you were basically asking for it.” This mode of thinking assumes that the rape could have been prevented based on the personal attire choices of the victim, instead of placing the blame on the rapist. It also is part of the discourse revolving around rape culture. Often the sexualization of women as objects of male fantasy is part of this narrative as well: she owes her body as a reward for the work of the man. Sex is an assumed right for men in this narrative; the female’s desires and wants are assumed to be only for the pleasure and reward of the male fantasy/ego. Feminist activists and scholars have been critiquing the media portrayal of women for quite some time, calling the male gaze into question, including the ways in which the media treats the victim in rape cases. To Frag means: 1a) noun. a slang term for a fragmentation hand grenade. 2a) verb. "accidentally" killing an officer who is incapable of leading troops by dropping a grenade on him. 2b) verb. slang used to describe the act of eliminating an opponent with a fragmentation grenade. 3) verb. slang used by computer game players to describe the act of defeating another player. (Urban Dictionary)


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you're not a rush-in-balls-first13 sort of player anyways. You like to take it slow, line up your shots, duck for cover. You want to be good at this game after all, not some n00b14 of a player who gets pwned15 every four seconds. You're not a camper.16 You like to roam the map, do recon. Three weeks go by and your prestige has slowly increased to 10, and you feel proud. Not bad for three weeks worth of practice. You log in after a hard day of work and you meet three gamers who will radically change your perception of how Call of Duty should be played. You start off with a game of “Team Deathmatch”: this means that you have four people on your team, and four people Rancière argues that disagreement is what happens when a consensus is broken; in this case, calling for equal rights within the context of Feminist discourse and discussion revolving around rape culture. In the case of the Gamer Girl, she may not be an activist in the corporeal sense, but she still demands her rights as a citizen through her disagreement with the hegemonic, cultural norm. She demands her equality within the political positioning of her group of self-identified male friends. 11. Can you argue all the time? And is it okay if for once you just want to play? Saying the same things in different ways: can the person you're trying to educate learn what you're trying to teach if she doesn't want to listen? 12. A character class in FPS games is created by the player to attribute different abilities and aptitudes to their avatar. These abilities and aptitudes are based on gun choice (primary weapon and secondary) and different game play perks that relate to how fast or quietly an avatar moves, depending on the play style of the player. 13. Within video game cultural jargon, rushing in “balls first” assumes that the player enjoys the rapid one-to-one kill-to-death ratio. This assumes the player doesn't care about tactics and techniques to ensure that she has a higher kill-to-death ratio, but rather enjoys a faster-paced gaming session. This harkens back to players completing Super Mario Brothers for speed rather than points. 14. N00b: Short for “newbie”; an inexperienced and/or ignorant or unskilled person. Especially used in video games. 15. "pwned" is mainly used when someone is defeated or humiliated in a very sudden manner. The slower, more elaborate "owned" will more often be used to describe domination over time.

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on the enemy’s team. You are to kill one another until one team gets the winning score of 2500 first. Points are awarded based on various actions—a different number of points is given for an assist kill versus a regular kill, a headshot, etc. This type of game can be more “rage” inducing than others, meaning that the game overtly rewards the players for winning and punishes the loser for losing. The more points and death streaks (kills in a row) players have, the more likely they are able to spawn a helicopter to kill helpless enemies from above. The helicopter is all-powerful, and if a team didn't have a rocket launcher preloaded in their class section they would be screwed—it is almost the only thing that can stop the helicopter from mass murder and destruction. You were put on a team with three men with southern/rural accents you can't quite place. You introduce yourself. “Hi guys.” They laugh upon hearing your higher-pitched voice, and at your apparently “girly” gamertag17 “PeachTii3.” You let out a chuckle. “Boys, looks like we got a girl on our team.” They hoot and holler. Your palms get sweaty. You are still unsure why this bothers you so much—they are at a safe distance, mediated through the interface of a gaming community. You are veiled behind the anonymity of your gamertag. You keep telling yourself this, but you know deep down inside, these are all just thoughts to help you cope. Your gamertag is an extension of yourself, it is part of the larger mesh of network that makes up your identity and lived experience. Limiting the gender-based harassment that you experience via the digital world to something that isn't a “big deal” is like treating all sexual harassment experienced in cyberspace as though it were not important, valid or that it shouldn’t be changed. They ask about your gun of choice. “FN FAL.” They laugh, merely out of astonishment. A camper in an online multiplayer scenario is a player who likes to wait in one area of the map and kill enemies who come to them, instead of seeking out the other players and moving around the map. To camp means to be stationary. 17. A gamertag is similar to a username, however it is only used on the XBox Live Network and is a cultural signifier for that console system. 16.

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“You sure you can handle that one?” “Probably better than you can handle those lonely nights, all alone, just you and your hand.” The three men all break out in laughter, and it is time to play. You're glad the banter is over. You didn't want to continue, the conversation was making you uncomfortable and the level of conscious performativity18 was starting to lessen your enjoyment of the day’s gaming experience. The game goes well, the men comment on how good you are, “I mean not to sound sexist, but damn good for a Girl!” You didn't want to correct them, but “Woman” slips out of your mouth before you can stop it. You silently curse yourself. “More power to you.” Says one, you can hear him sipping on something. Beer? Soda? You just assume that it is beer—it's a Friday night and you're sipping on one yourself. “Really? You have a voice of a 14-year-old at best.” You laugh, “Yeah, yeah...” “Good,” The third one says. “Now I can hit on you without feeling pervy.”19 “Are you kidding me, Jim?20 You would have hit on her anyways!” The three laugh and you laugh along. You just want to get along, after all. While you play, they teach you new techniques. You realize their game is better because they are playing as a team, coordinating through vocal communication on attack tactics, defense positions and overall strategy. This excites you. Often when playing team Deathmatch, not everyone is on headset, so communication between you and your fellow “team” mates is slim to none.21 Instead of playing as a team, it feels like it is one against the others; no strategy, no team tactics, just running around and killing. Your heart is racing, According to Butler in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of identity, gender isn’t a fixed category, but it is something that we do or perform, that makes us socially intelligible. 19. Pervy is to be perverted. In this case he would have continued to hit on me if I were a 14-year-old girl, but would have had moments of reflexivity because of the illegality of dating or having sex with a minor. 20. All names were changed from actual, nor were their real gamertags used in this paper.

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not because you fear for your death,22 but because you know you are finally playing the game as you're supposed to be playing it. You all dominate the other team, gaining an easy victory. “Good job!” You exclaim at the end. You feel like it is appropriate to congratulate your team. You each had one another's backs, despite the banter back and forth, the silly questions and unending sexism. You figured it is an initiation technique. At least this is what you tell yourself.23 In the post game lobby, Dan asks you if he can add you to his friends list. You agree. It was great playing with them. “You know if you ever want to team up again, we can party up.” “That'd be great,” you respond. You mean it. You know that these guys could teach you valuable lessons about the game you probably weren't going to learn anywhere else. “If you play Halo we party up on there as well.” Jim tells you. “Sweet, I love Halo. I usually play that online.” You have found your gaming party. You log off for the night, excitement running through your veins. When you explain to your roommates how “Big of a deal” this is, they look at you, confused, not quite understanding why they should care, but they politely nod their heads to placate you. At least they are good friends. That night you dream of the game. THE GAME AS POLITICAL Two weeks of gaming five times a week go by before you and “the guys,” as you call them, begin talking about things outside the game. They ask you where you live. “I'm in Santa Barbara, CaliforOn the XBox Live Network, players can communicate via a headset if they so desire; this allows players to coordinate more effectively as a team as well as use gaming as a social networking of sorts. 22. If players’ avatars die during gameplay they are respawned so that they can continue to play during the time allotment for the game. 23. What is it about the XBox Live Network in particular that makes sexual harassment and sexism synonymous with “shit-talking” to women/girl gamers? This is a bigger question that needs more in-depth exploration. 21.

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nia.” you tell them. You find out that they are all recently released from the Marines24,25 two living in Tennessee and one in Texas, all three currently unemployed. All of them served time and met each other while This doesn't strike you as odd—many ex-military play FPS that glorify the military-industrial complex. You've encountered many soldiers and ex-soldiers while playing online. You know that video games have been co-opted by the military for training and recruitment purposes. America's Army is one of those games the US military purposely designed and implemented to build interest in the codes and cultures of the military for recruitment. Simulation-style video games have been employed within the US military since the early 1980s when video game development was fairly new. The Atari VCS (first home console system) was released in 1977 and was still within the 8-bit era of video game graphic capabilities; thus, far from realistic. However, with the continuing technical development of video games, it became apparent to the military that they were the answer to a pressing problem: lowering the initial fiscal and human costs of training. Military analysts thought that video games would mentally prepare soldiers for training. With the continuation of simulated technologies within the training sphere, the military transformed from a military-industrial complex to a military-entertainment complex (Lenoir, 2003). With the US military’s decision to engage in “off the shelf” style recruitment techniques (video games), the US Congress passed the Federal Acquisitions Streamlining Act. This allowed for video games to be used to train and teach soldiers basic war techniques (Graaf & Nieborg, 2003). The US military uses a variety of video games to prepare soldiers for training. These games include, but are not limited to, the Call of Duty Series for the Army and Marines, Falcon Series (flight simulator) for the US Air Force and the Army’s America's Army as a gateway into shooting range drills. 25. “We want kids to come into the Army and feel like they've already been there. A game is like a team effort, and the Army is very much a team effort. By playing an online, multiplayer game, you can get the feel of being in the Army. It's designed to give them an inside view on the very fundamentals of being a soldier, and it's also designed to give them a sense of self-efficacy, that they can do it, we want them to see that they can succeed in doing this. You don't have to think what it would look like—you can see what it looks like” (Wardynski, Washington Post May 27, 2005).

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in Afghanistan. You ask them about their experience. Two were military police, the other a mechanic. They remark with dismay that they didn't see much “action.” “You wanted to kill people?” you ask, genuinely surprised. You remember the horror stories told by your brother during his time in Afghanistan and how he never came back the same. He had changed, was depressed, more distant. “Sand niggers aren't people,” one says. The three of them laugh. You are left stunned, silent. You didn't know how to respond, baffled by the unadulterated racism echoing in your headset. This catches you so far off-guard that you forget you're playing a game and get knifed from behind.26 “Pay attention!” Jim yells at you. You're not winning this game, behind by at least 10 deaths. You know the end is near. You feel as if your death is the tipping point for the enemy team to win. Even though your brain is telling you that the guys have died just as much as you. “So what are you studying?” Dan asks. Here you go, you think, how is a group of military macho men supposed to understand what I am studying? They are just going to mock me, relegate me into a certain category to make it easier for them to understand. But aren't you doing that with them already? 26.

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The experience with these ex-military men happens within two fields. One field is the game, where you all play a game with certain rules, regulations, and limitations. Everyone is on an even playing field within the digital interface of the video game. Then there is the political, in which Schmitt argues that the “the specific political distinction…is that between friend and enemy” (26). This binary understanding of the political is much more complicated through the digital interface of the video game. Here I am playing with people I would never want to be friends with or even interact with. On all accounts these people are everything I am not—racist, homophobic, but through the game we are political friends. We have a common enemy that we must find and kill; because of this we must work together. The publicity of the political is thus exemplified within the digital interface of FPS because disagreement may happen among us as a group, but we still must kill others for the simple reason that they are the enemy, and we are digital soldiers.


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“Black studies and Feminist studies,” you say, your voice is weak. It has betrayed you. “What is that, the bra burning of blacks?” You lost the game. In post-game lobby the tension is thick. You could cut it with a knife through the digital airwaves. This hasn't been your team’s day, you've lost 5 out of 6 games, at least. “Today just isn't our day,” you tell the guys. “What was that back there, Peach?” Even though they know your real name, they call you part of your gamertag, PeachTii3. “She must be sweet like a peach,” one of them said. The boys laughed and you felt uncomfortable. It stuck since. “What are you talking about?” You're on the defensive, are they really going to bring up your game skills when theirs were not on par either? “You got knifed from behind. Come on, what are you a n00b? Listen, you got to keep your guard up, you understand? We can't have that kind of playing on our team—it is sloppy.”27 This infuriates you. “Are you fucking kidding me? You all died just as many times as me.” You hear the anger creeping in your voice. You feel on fire. “It must be that time of the month. It's okay.” Jim placates you. Your blood is boiling. “It's not my fucking time of the month,” you respond. How dare they limit your gaming skills to your biological functions. How dare they assume that I am bad today merely because of the presumption that I might be on my period. “Whoa! Be careful boys, we have one of them angry feminazis.” They laugh. They are joking. Calm down. They are just “playing around.” This is, after all, just a game. Just a game. “We got one of them Gamer Girls!” A Gamer Girl. You give them a Gamer Girl. “So do you all have a girlfriend in your life?” You ask, changing the subject as well as 27.

To understand means two things: “to understand a problem and to understand an order. In the logic of pragmatism the speaker is obliged for the success of their own performance to submit to conditions of validity that comes from mutual understanding.” (Rancière, Disagreement, 45).


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pointing out their rather blatant sexism, you upping your femininity, using it as a masquerade28 and working it to your advantage. “I just broke up with the last one. She was a real bitch.” Dan laughs. You cringe. Perhaps it's that kind of language that made her break up with you? “Never call a bitch, a bitch. Bitches hate that,” you say. They laugh, not realizing you're making fun of them. “I'm pretty serious with my girl right now. I think she is the one,” another says. “How cute,” you respond. You're trying hard not to sound too sarcastic. These boys are wearing thin on your nerves. “She better be, dude, the way she puts out and that ass...” “Yeah, that ass.” You’re sarcastic, getting more and more disgusted with the conversation. You're beginning another game. You all take your positions on the map—it's strategic, something you learned from playing with the guys. You've camped in the far corner of the map, making the other team come to you; your team is incredibly accurate, mostly getting head shots, you all have quick reflexes, and can aim while on the move. You hear the other team gripe, “Fuckin' Campers! Why don't you move out so we can show you how to play.” You all move out, keeping together, knowing full well that this enemy team will be destroyed. “Finally, they're on the move!” You hear the other team exclaim. 28.

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To masquerade femininity is to perform it in order to hold it at a distance. Mary Ann Doane theorizes in Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator, “Nearness however is not foreign to woman, a nearness so close that any identification of one or the other, and therefore any form of property, is impossible. Women enjoy a closeness with the other that is so near she cannot possess it any more than she can possess herself.” We are thus presented with an alternative analysis of the Gamer Girl in relationship to her performative identity. Does she not embrace and foreground the feminine, in style, gesture, etc. which, in its embracement holds femininity at a distance? Yes. Doane continues to argue that, “Womanliness is a mask which can be worn or removed. The masquerade's resistance to patriarchal positioning would therefore lie in its denial of the production of femininity as closeness...” (Doane, 1982).


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You can't help, but smirk. You're overly confident because you know that you and your team are good—great gamers. Despite your rather apparent differences, you play well together. Your coordination is dead on. You let out a gun shot randomly, you know that you've showed up on the enemies map. This is a diversion, let them think you're in one place, when you're really in another. You all continue to walk forward, forcing them to move where you want them. You flank them, two on each side, killing three of the enemy team. You're not sure where the other member of the team is. He comes up from behind, silently, and knifes one of the guys. “Fuck,” you hear one of them say. You turn around. Headshot. Game over. Your team is silent. Usually you all give each other words of encouragement, even the rather obvious “Good game, guys.” But nothing comes out. The tension is thick through the digital airwaves. You sigh. “You all are real assholes and you obviously forgot that you all have moms.” You let them know. You log off. You never play with them again.29

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The political will not disappear once you stop having an enemy team to fight. You'll continue to latch on to a variety of different distinctions in order to motivate yourself to kill the other digital team. You may have learned a lot from those guy gamers, but in the end your political and sociological understanding of the material world was really not meshing well with the game itself—you no longer wanted to be on their team to kill the digital other. You'll find your other social unit. (Schmitt, The Concept of the political, 37–44)


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Bibiliography anonymous. (n.d.). Wikipedia: List of best-selling Xbox 360 games. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_ Xbox_360_video_games Berger, A.A. (2002). Video games: a popular cultural phenomenon. New Brunswick, New Jersey:Transaction Publishers. Bungie, LLC, Initials. Halo 3/Reach online current (03/31/2012) statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.bungie.net/stats/reach/online.aspx Brownfield, Kristi. (2006). Games and gamers: adult female games and identity display. Informally published manuscript, Department of Sociology, Southern Illinois University of Carbondale, Carbondale, Illinois. Retrieved from: http://mypage.siu.edu/kabrownf/the sis_04102009.pdf Brightman, J. (2009, December 14). "NPD: Top 10 games through november reveal nintendo dominance." Retreived from: http://www.industrygamers.com/news/npd-top-10-games-through-november-revealnintendo-dominance/ Doane, M. A. (1982). Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator. Screen, 23(3-4), 74–88. doi:10.1093/screen/23.3-4.74 ESA, Initials. (2011). ESA 2011 study. Retrieved from: www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2011.pdf

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Fat, Ugly or Slutty. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2012, from: http://fatuglyorslutty.com/ Girls Play Video Games?! - YouTube. (HaiLedaBear). Retrieved December 08, 2012, from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HUDbrIy-GA Gamer Girl Manifesto-YouTube. (SexyNerdGirlPresents). Retrieved December 08, 2012, from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrBoeMF4FY


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Matos, X. (2011, August 03). "Activision reveals sales figures for black ops and modern warfare 2." Retrieved from http://www.shacknews.com/article/69577/activision-reveals-sales-figures- black-ops-andmodern-warfare-2 Sinclair, B. (2008, January 03). "MS: 17.7 million 360s sold." Retrieved from: http://www.gamespot.com/news/ms-177-million-360ssold-6184291 Unknown. (2010, February 2). "War games." Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/waging-war/a-newgeneration/playing-americas-army.html Unknown. (n.d.). America's army:faq. Retrieved from: www.americasarmy.com/faq.php Unknown. (2009, November 17). http://www.gamepolitics.com/2009/11/17/america’s-army-extremely-effective-recruitment-tool Unknown. (2008, October 6). "Teen cites america's army game in enlistment decision." Retrieved from: http://gamepolitics.com/2008/10/06/teen-cites-america039s-army-game-enlistment-decision Davis, M. (ed.) (2004) America's Army PC Game Vision and Realization: A look at the Artistry, Technique, and Impact of the United States Army's Groundbreaking Tool for Strategic Communication. San Francisco: US Army and the Moves Institute Graaf, Shenja, Nieborg. "Together We Brand: America's Army." Level up: Digital Games Research Conference. Utrecth, Holland: Universiteit Uttrecht, 2003. 324-38 Jenkins, H. Interactive Audiences? The New Media Book. London: BFI 2002

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Lenoir, T. Programming Theaters of War; gamemakers as Soldiers. Bites, Bandwith and Bullets. The New Press, New York, 2003.


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Bibliography (Cont.): Nieborg, D.B. (2004). "A First Person Analysis: The Three Domains of Gaming," GameSpace nl Retrieved from: www.gamespace.nl Nieborg, D.B. (2004). "America's Army: More Than a Game. Transforming Knowledge into Action through Gaming and Simulation."

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Sinclair, B. (2009, December 28). "America's army bill: $32.8 million." Retrieved from: http://www.gamespot.com/news/americas-army-bill-328-million-6242635


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TRAVERSING DIGITAL LABYRINTHS


Tony Ostrowski


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A fraction of a labyrinth within the digital network visualized.


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JORGE LUIS BORGES WROTE WITH AN UNCANNY ABILITY TO TRANSFORM SHORT STORIES INTO ADVANCED INTELLECTUAL METHODOLOGIES USED TO QUESTION COMPLEX PHILOSOPHICAL CONCEPTS, DEFINITIONS OF “THE AESTHETIC,” THE NATURE OF POWER, AND PERCEPTION OF SPACE AND TIME.

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On the surface, many of his stories can be used to describe phenomena in our current technologically-driven age, but they also provide a platform upon which to philosophize humanity’s current digital condition. He meticulously wrote stories with the intent of disassociating traditional philosophical notions of space and time (which are constantly being challenged by the digital age). Many of these traditional conceptions of space and time were ruptured by technological breakthroughs, ironically around the time of his death in 1986, and the rise of humanity’s increasing dependence on digital networks of data and communication continues to culminate. This rupture is widespread and inclusive of multifarious platforms including (but not limited to) artmaking, business, politics, publishing, entertainment, etc. The rise of digital technologies across multiple spectrums has led to a redefinition of space and time. No longer is human interconnection bound by sluggish analog delivery systems, instead we utilize instantaneous digital capabilities. As a result, space and time are now more easily manipulated by humanity than ever before. While he was likely not intending to prognosticate on


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the future of digital technology, human technology, interconnection, and communication, many of his stories can be used in this digital era to do just that, especially when one considers his constant inclusion of labyrinths, mirrors, and linguistic trickery. While his stories took place in set eras, places and times, the questions posed within their labyrinths of intellect are timeless and realign commonly accepted definitions of time and space, philosophy, politics, and aesthetics ad infinitum. This text will focus on three questions pertinent to our current epoch: was Borges a digital soothsayer? Were his stories warning of both the challenges and the optimism which delineate the circumstances of the digital age? Can his stories be used in a new context to help us better understand how to navigate the politics prominent in our current era? “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” a short and mystical Borges story, interlinks boundless philosophical and political concepts. It is centered on discoveries within an encyclopedia, which describe an academic plot to imagine a world with its own set of unworldly laws. This world, which seemed so ethereal when the story was first published in May of 1940, was based on Borges deep love for physical texts (and encyclopedic volumes). The rise of neo-capitalism, neo-liberalism, and globalization of business (by heavily relying on these digital technologies), has led humanity into a state where the modern economic condition is very different from any in the past. In our current age, the digital network of interconnection and instantaneous communication abilities between humans of all areas of expertise has become a reality. Through the use of advanced coding, digital networking, and hypertext cross-referencing, we vigorously labor toward a singular encyclopedic knowledge. The methods of this labor are played out through the interlinking and publishing of ideas instantaneously in a virtual space (the Internet). Thus, the perception of space as a physical restriction is now less restrictive. Entire markets (especially in the US, Europe, and Japan) are based upon cognitive labor within the virtual space. A prominent ramification of this shift is a change in perception of time and space. No longer are goods manufactured locally. Each piece is physically produced throughout different places around the world, ideas and plans are often created elsewhere, and the assembled good is often


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sold back to the neo-capitalist societies (that increasingly produce only cognitive goods and services). Another prominent result of this shift is the acceleration of our perception of time. As digital technologies speed up humanity’s abilities to produce cognitive goods, a shortening of attention (or, depending on which view one takes: an increasing ability to multitask) has grown exponentially. In the digital age information is conglomerated and hyperlinked with other information ad infinitum. This information has been constructed by millions of cognitive laborers becoming a universal library of knowledge accessible by billions. The physical obstacles of time and space that used to be quite obtrusive in data sharing abilities are lessening and the restraints they once maintained upon human collaboration are loosening in the digital age. Humans have become so accustomed to cognitively laboring, and constantly ignoring the past constraints of time and space, that we often labor for free even when off the clock. A result of this shift can be seen in humanity’s obsession with furthering the universal knowledge of the human species as a whole, ultimately working together to create a ubiquitous library of knowledge, written by all, for all, accessible by all. The contributor is often motivated either by sharing because it is compelling or by wanting to help fulfill a larger mission (contributing to a large tome of knowledge) and not by economic interests. This obsession to constantly cognitively labor and contribute may have appeared otherworldly when “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” was published in 1940, but Borges was obsessed with such a world and this fixation becomes clear throughout the story. Perhaps he did not envision the exact methods of cognitive labor in the virtual space, but his fascination with assembling a universal tome of knowledge written by experts from various fields is a similar vision the digital age pursues. A prominent example of this pursuit is evident in the eruption and popularity of Wikipedia: a living encyclopedia. While giving an interview in 1976 Borges spoke about his love for encyclopedias. During the interview he gave an answer, which stood out as particularly prophetic of the current digital network age. While speaking about what a consummate encyclopedia might look like he stated:


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Then I came to the idea of how fine it would be to think of an encyclopedia of an actual world, and then of an encyclopedia, a very rigorous one of course, of an imaginary world, where everything should be linked. Where, for example, you would have, let’s say, a language and then a literature that went with the language, and then a history with it, and so on. Then I thought, well, I’d write a story of the fancy encyclopedia. Then of course that would need many different people to write it, to get together and to discuss many things—the mathematicians, philosophers, men of letters, architects, engineers, then also novelists or historians?1

In the inner workings of Wikipedia, everything is hyperlinked… language, literature, history; these links are made by millions of different people in constant dialog with the living text. They continually cross reference, check, and edit Wikipedia entries to essentially create discussions on what the universal encyclopedia of knowledge might look like. All contributors to Wikipedia are in charge of editing and publishing. Of course the entries must be referenced to other articles with footnotes to legitimize claims, but surprisingly the information found on the site is often quite unbiased, accurate, and well-rounded. Wikipedia grew to be successful, vast, and inclusive for many reasons, but a main tenet of its success is based in the Borgesian idea that it is the accumulation of “many different people,” and not just of experts deemed worthy of contribution to the encyclopedia of knowledge by a capitalistic publishing pyramid. It based its business model on copyleft concepts, a “copyright license that guaranteed it was always free for anyone to copy, and that any modifications had to be free as well.”2 The recent successes of Wikipedia, and others like it in the copyleft movement, have created rising political tensions between the Read/Only Culture, “a culture less practiced

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2.

“Merely a Man of Letters”, Borges Interviewed by Denis Dutton, Michigan State University, April 1974, Philosophy and Literature 1 (1977): 337–41, The Johns Hopkins University Press Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, p. 157


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in performance, or amateur creativity, and more comfortable…with simple consumption”3 of the past century and the Read/Write Culture, in which individuals “add to the culture they read by creating and re-creating the culture around them…" Culture in this world is flat; it is shared person to person.”4 If an encyclopedia of living knowledge, created by minds of many origins (as Borges envisioned), is ever to be realized, it will be through the political acceptance of Read/Write Culture and its most powerful tool will be sampling paired with remixing. In short, this happens when one is able to copy some snippet of past creativity/research/philosophy, add and contribute to it (effectively remixing it), and republish it into the public domain of knowledge. While the new work (or remix) becomes that of a new author, it truly belongs to a long line of authors in succession before them. Borges was keen to this concept, and that of remix (far before it was ever a coined term), problems with authorship, appropriation, and interpretation Another reading of “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” reveals a common criticism of Wikipedia and Read/Write Culture: the digital era has fewer editorial filters placed on content before it emerges on the publicly accessible network of data. As a result, political realities are increasingly being manipulated by false data. If enough people believe in false data an idea can quickly manifest itself out of the digital realm into the real, with real world ramifications. This is a powerful truth. The challenge of this existence is twofold. On one hand, people are able to access information that may have been previously hidden from them, making decisions for themselves as to how they will formulate their political beliefs. On the other, massive amounts of false information are able to influence the political decisions of humanity much more effectively than ever before. While the freedom to access information contributes to universal knowledge in a constant feedback loop and the ability to congregate digitally are powerful tools to enact change for the good, these same tools can also be used to promote false information resulting in a heightened state of false fright and fear mongering. The political polarity residing within filter free information in the digital era has the potential

4.

Ibid, p.28 Ibid, p.28

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for political factions to use true and false information to further their agendas. This, too, is a powerful political tool. To understand the impact of this phenomena we will take a closer look at two examples that highlight the oppositional nature of the two poles that are ramifications of digital network technology: the “birther movement” and WikiLeaks. While both topics are somewhat controversial and politically loaded, I will not argue for or against either because this is not the point, which is that they could not have existed and evolved into their current state without increased reliance on digital communication technologies. Furthermore, they have become politically supercharged by the constant feedback loop and viral nature of the digital network. The birther movement was born out of an unlikely place: the Democratic presidential primaries of 2008. During Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign, anonymous chain emails began making the rounds among Clinton supporters. They questioned Barrack Obama’s origin and birth certificate. As the emails sampled and looped around the digital network, the call for Obama to prove his place of origin grew, finally culminating in an outcry by conservatives for Obama to produce his birth certificate. In response, Obama produced a 2007 document that indicated he was indeed born in Hawaii, to an American woman, in 1961. Additionally, media outlets produced an announcement of his birth in The Honolulu Advertiser on August 13, 1961. The evidence is clear: Obama is an American citizen, who is qualified to be an American president (he is a natural-born citizen, 35 years of age, and has been a citizen for at least 14 years). Instantaneous communication within the digital network paired with the lack of editorial filters led to numerous explanations attempting to debunk the evidence Obama provided. As a result, the birther movement has been able to thrive, which has led to the manipulation of political choices of millions. Recent polls confirm that this is the case; in a recent CNN poll 41% of GOP voters said they thought Obama was born outside of the US.5 The network of knowledge envisioned by Borges, where men of many intellects simultaneously write the encyclopedias with access by anyone in 5.

Barr, Andy. “41% of Republicans: President Obama Foreign-born.” Politico, 4 Aug. 2010


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6.

http://wikileaks.org/About.html

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the world, has become a dangerous platform for political factions, which seek to peddle false information with hopes of furthering their political agendas. In contrast, there is a place where information that is usually vigorously suppressed can surface and shed light on the dark corners of politics and secrecy. WikiLeaks, a non-profit, international, online organization, was founded in 2006 with the mission of publishing (often top secret) information obtained anonymously. The self-described mission of the organization is, "to bring important news and information to the public... One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth."6 Whistleblower organizations, such as WikiLeaks, existing in the virtual space have created a new and powerful political platform. This organization could not have been as powerful in the Read/Only era because of its inherent anonymity and lack of publishing filters when data is posted to WikiLeaks. In the past, if an organization wished to publish secret information, its sources could be traced, it could be prosecuted for treason, and governments could more effectively disable their operation. In the digital era such stringent control over data dissemination is much more difficult. For better or worse, WikiLeaks has provided immense amounts of transparency and, in turn, has become a political actor unlike any before it. The revealing of classified data is often unwelcomed by those entrenched in power, thus they impose extremely harsh penalties on anyone found contributing classified information to WikiLeaks. In February 2010, Bradley Manning allegedly provided WikiLeaks with an embassy cable known as “Reykjavik 13.” Upon further investigation it was alleged that he also provided the organization with thousands of other classified US war documents, in which many civilian casualties were detailed. Manning currently faces charges brought by the US government alleging that he was “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense punishable by the death penalty. His trial is set to commence in June 2013. I highlight Manning’s relationship with WikiLeaks, because it is probably the highest profile WikiLeaks story to date, and serves as example of how


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fearful the power apparatus is of organizations such as WikiLeaks. By leaking classified US military documents, Manning was clearly in violation of the oath he took in joining the Army, but he could not live with himself without sharing with the world what he knew. He saw atrocities committed by the US military campaign against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan being suppressed from the public and felt the need to expose them. WikiLeaks provided a platform for this exposure and he felt morally obliged to utilize its potential. It is debatable whether or not Manning is guilty and to what extent his punishment should be (if he had not taken an oath and broken it there would be no debate). What is not debatable is that WikiLeaks has opened a door to providing more transparency on the entrenched power apparatuses operating around the globe. Proof of its power lies in the immense interest and action taken by the US government in shutting it down, and the severity of punishment it seeks against Manning. Both WikiLeaks and the birther movement attacked deeply established roots, which have long deciphered the role of the author, publisher, and reader. Borges’ obsession with manipulating the positioning of author and reader becomes hyper-political when the publisher’s role is assumed. The publisher acted as a content filter for false information when Borges was writing, but this is no longer the case. He was envisioning a democratic universal tome of knowledge, crafted by respected experts in their fields…yet in the digital era every reader is also the author and often one deems oneself an expert (because of immediate access to information pertaining to any subject). The role of publisher has been supplanted by the role of feedback loops, where everyone is a critic and content filters are gone. The content published to the digital network is often biased, false, and politically driven. While organizations such as WikiLeaks attempt to establish legitimacy even without editorial filters, the role of false information being constantly disseminated on the network is extremely detrimental to political influence. It can spread faster and have more impact than ever before. Borges, a master of using the creative form of short stories to explore complex concepts, can provide insight into even the most complicated digital technological concepts of our age. In The Aleph he describes a magical object called the Aleph which, when gazed


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into, allows the viewer to see “millions of acts both delightful and awful; not one of them occupied the same point in space, without overlapping or transparency.” Now, if I asked one to describe what the Internet actually looks like, I imagine that one would at first be at a loss for words and that later their description would be an intimate reflection of their experience in the space. Yet, we know that the Internet is so vast that we can never comprehend what it actually is. We can look at linear images of its mapping, but this is not the complete inclusivity of the Internet, it is merely a map of its connections. Borges knew that many things in the human experience are vast and unknowable and that this was a philosophical conundrum for humanity. Instead of describing The Aleph or the Internet, perhaps creative representations are better tools for understanding their scope. While writing about Tlön; Borges, likely unbeknownst to himself, was describing the cyber-world within which many of our cognitive processes reside in the digital age. Tlön, a planet where humanity, “conceives the universe as a series of mental processes which do not develop in space but successively in time,” is strikingly similar to many characteristics implicit in the modern power shift into the era of humanity-as-network7 and the increasing growth of digital cognitive labor. Bifo Berardi writes on the dangerous aspects implicit in this shift: “The acceleration of network technologies, the general condition of precariousness, and the dependence on cognitive labor all induce pathological effects in the social mind, saturating attention time, compressing the sphere of emotion and sensitivity, as is shown by psychiatrists who have observed a steep increase in manic depression and suicide in the last generation of workers.”8 7.

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8.

An era defined by power structures focusing upon connecting energy and information through a web of human beings simultaneously working together, collecting/analyzing/compiling data, by using the digital network. This is the next power shift layering atop Foucault’s notions of previous major Biopolitical shifts. (See: Foucault, Society Must Be Defended p. 240) Berardi, Bifo. “Cognitarian Subjectivation.” E-flux. E-flux, 2010. Web.


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In short, the loss of mental processes within space and the increasing focus on their existence solely in time, has forced humanity into mainly existing in a virtual Tlön-like world. In classic Borgesian fashion the notion of time is much more elaborate on Tlön than the simplistic depiction above. Borges elaborates on this concept in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” writing that, "This passage contains dense and detailed philosophical concepts on the notion of time: time does not exist, identity is unimaginable, and no general categories can exist in Tlön (because time and space are not continuous)."9 Borges uses conceptions of time on Tlön to inspect time as a process/concept all humans think through/about, but can never fully understand or relate to. Via simultaneously theological and anti-theological tones, the text pronounces that humans understand time in multifaceted structures as imminent, prescript, transcendent, dependent, and independent. For the sake of this examination, the most important point is that because of increasing reliance on the digital network of interconnection and communication, previously unopened doors have been opened, enabling billions of people to peer into worlds previously blocked by spatial barriers. The ability for humanity to philosophize on conceptions of time is even more analyzable now than ever before. With the likelihood of increased dependence upon time over space, the digital age has significantly reduced the spatial barriers; the benefits and handicaps of these phenomena resonate throughout the digital age. “The Library of Babel” encompasses multiple metaphors and allegories of commonalities in the hyper-interconnected digital age. At one point in the story Borges describes the library as containing, “the translation of every book in all languages.” Any modestly-versed digital network user can quickly parallel the connections of this idea with current generic web translation technology. If one opens a webpage that is in a foreign language there are multiple ways to translate the page into nearly any language instantaneously (i.e. Google translate, Babelfish, etc.). Thus, the barrier of texts written in foreign languages has given way to a new universal digital language: that of code. But one does not have to learn the computer code to decipher and translate; the computer also does this for us 9.

Sarlo, Beatriz, and John King. Jorge Luis Borges: A Writer on the Edge.


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instantly. It is vital to remember that something is lost in the computer’s translation: the soul/spirit/aura of the artistic essence of the author’s linguistic touch. The computer never forgets and categorizes incessantly, but it is unable to think. Humans must program advanced loop-based code structures to tell the computer which fork in the path of code to pursue; this is not thinking or reasoning, it is only logic. In the Borges story, “Funes the Memorious,” the main character, Funes, has a “biological hard drive” for a mind in which, “anything he thought of once would never be lost to him […] with no effort he had learned English, French, Portuguese, and Latin […] however he was not very capable of thought.” Anyone who has ever translated a webpage using the computer’s language logic algorithm quickly realizes the intricacies lost in its translation. The language nearly always sounds rough, jagged, lacking in poetic resonance, and at times indiscernible. This is because no matter how much humans program the computer to learn words, conjunctions, and grammar, it is unable to think in an aesthetic language. Borges writes: “To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions. In the teeming world of Funes, there were only details, almost immediate in their presence.” By Borges' definition, the computer cannot (as of yet) think…though the realization of advanced artificial intelligence technologies, which may be more capable of these abilities, are right around the corner. Borges wrote with mysticism and deliberately confusing intention that made his stories exist outside of the boundaries of commonly accepted notions of space and time. They are timeless, yet are often obsessed with dates; they are space-less, yet are often littered with spatial references. One can read his stories and extrapolate multiple meanings with each re-reading. His work can be shaped and manipulated to explain phenomena existing in the universe thousands, hundreds or tens of years ago; but can also be translated into our current age. To say that Borges is a soothsayer might be a bit misleading. Nevertheless, at the surface many of the concepts with which he was so obsessed in his writing eerily predict the condition of our current digital age. The philosophy behind many of the concepts in his work warns of the optimism and challenges which constantly lie before humanity, but do not attempt to provide


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answers, only questions. This is because asking questions is key to improving one’s intellectual openness. If Borges gave us concrete philosophical answers or universal truths, his work would not have its impact and longevity. Instead, he gives us timeless questions with which humanity continues to grapple. It is the journey through the labyrinth of interconnection between beings that makes us human, not reaching some pinnacle of knowledge, or finding some definite answers. There is no end to this labyrinth.


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Works Cited: Barr, Andy. "41% of Republicans: President Obama Foreign-born." Politico, 4 Aug. 2010. Web. <http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0810 /40644.html>. Berardi, Bifo. "Cognitarian Subjectivation." E-flux. E-flux, 2010. Web. <http://www.e-flux.com/journal/cognitarian-subjectivation/>. Borges, Jorge Luis, and Andrew Hurley. The Aleph. New York, NY [u.a.: Penguin], 2004. Print. Borges, Jorge Luis, Donald A. Yates, and James East Irby. Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings. New York, NY: New Directions, 2007. Print. Foucault, Michel. Society Must Be Defended. London: Penguin, 2003. Print. Kellogg, Carolyn. "Would Borges Have Been a Fan of Wikipedia?" Los Angeles Times Books. Los Angeles Times, 11 May 2010. Web. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/05/borgeswikipedia.html>. Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print. "Merely a Man of Letters”." Interview by Dennis Dutton. Philosophy and Literature. The Johns Hopkins University Press, n.d. Web. <http://denisdutton.com/jorge_luis_borges_interview.htm>. Sarlo, Beatriz, and John King. Jorge Luis Borges: A Writer on the Edge. London: Verso, 1993. Print.

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Critical Reading: Location and Geosound California Institute of the Arts Fall 2012/Spring 2013


PLACE TO (BE) LONG

Dan DiPiero


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INTRODUCTION: ON BELONGING 1.

CONSIDER THE APARTMENT.

We all understand that we can only access our society through and by the possession of a “place.” It can be anything really—people make do. But to be reductionist about it, let’s say an apartment—a cube of walls that allows us access to a city, and, with the addition of a few other items, to a life. Our place in this case directly secures us to our location, which is simultaneously opened to us. Still, though possession of a place allows this opening (and though we know this fact instinctively, every time the cold sees us pull our jackets a bit tighter), we also know that this place alone is no guarantee of a “place to belong.” Initially, a place to sleep is a tool for survival, the precondition of other considerations. A place may be in any location, and we may take up any of them as our own. “Come back to my place,” you say to a new friend, though you are visiting his or her city, and what you mean is a hotel room. You say “my place” with ease, but you have no place in Tokyo. Your “place” is easily transferable, but a place to belong takes longer in transition; it must be carved each time, out of reticent material.

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2.

A bare apartment carves less of a place for us than a filled one, which is why living in boxes is a state dealt with in the most expedient manner. The place, then, and the objects too: photographs, furniture, the mug collection—the old pieces of yourself which impose their force onto a new place; clearly some part of your place to belong lives in these, as witnessed by their capacity to collectively move it. Now that the apartment is decorated, we are really getting somewhere. But we soon discover that a place to belong is more complicated than we thought—because we must make it rather than find it. This can become the most frustrating element, for no matter how many places we have made in the past, it is a process we must begin each time anew. We have more of a place to belong when our apartments reflect


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ourselves, but I tether myself even tighter to my location by also knowing where I can walk for coffee or bread. Once I have a place in a new place, I can begin inscribing its geography onto my brain and under my feet; a kind of cartography that carves—both an inscription on my memories and a place out of space. And still it doesn’t end. We find that after a time, though much more secure than before, we grow uneasy when, if walking to the bakery or the bar, we are not meeting someone there. So it is the apartment and the objects that fill it, a remembered map, and now interactions with people we know; not (just) people we may have known before, but people we have met. This illuminates the temporal component of a carving of place, which is not something we can simply acquire by accumulating new or old possessions in a locale; it is something we must actively do. And when it is complete, what does it look like? Is our place to belong fixed on a map, or else in the realm of pure metaphor? Or do our minds draw lines of connection between fixed points and people, forming a net that we navigate and which navigates us, following us around like a balloon? 3.

I am uncomfortable if I am alone. I am uncomfortable if I drift without purpose. I am uncomfortable if I don’t at times travel, either to new parts of my town or to other towns. I am uncomfortable if I stay away too long. My place to belong, which I put so much effort into creating, is constantly threatening to vanish. A PLACE OUT OF SPACE 1.

A space is not a place. A space is always a space for, a container of varying size and contents. We see space only by what fills it, or as a lack that will itself be destroyed. Space is always pregnant with its own erasure. PO LY -

For a further understanding, we can do no better than to turn to Georges Perec, and his Espèces d’espaces (Species of Spaces). In


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this detailed account of his personal spaces, Perec ends with the world, but begins with the page, tracing lines and testing limits. “This is how space begins,” he writes, “with words only, signs traced on the blank page. To describe space: to name it, to trace it…. Is the aleph, that place in Borges from which the entire world is visible, anything other than the alphabet?”1 Space is an outline that defines both container and contained. A place fits inside a space, for space makes a space for it. Perec’s mapping begins in increments. He traces space in various formations in order to report what happens there. His documentation, at times bordering on obsessive,2 reveals the contingency of space and the meaning within it: “Space melts like sand running through my fingers. Time bears it away and leaves me only shapeless threads. To write: to try meticulously to retain something, to cause something to survive; to wrest a few precise scraps from the void as it grows, to leave somewhere a furrow, a trace, a mark or a few signs.”3 Perhaps Perec’s awareness of the contingency of being is the impetus behind fixing his gaze on what has been called the “infra-ordinary”; perhaps what fascinates Perec, what compels him to write about that which we accept without thinking, is the particular formation that our lives have taken over any other possibilities, always contingent and temporary. How mysterious that of all the ways of being, it is this that we have, which Perec tries to understand and keep, even as it vanishes. Or perhaps the real project here is not so much to document space at all; perhaps Perec is defining his own spaces, sending out feelers in all directions—from the page to the world—in an effort to locate himself within space. He finds himself in relation to spaces and the places they contain, each varying in its degree of impermanence. This has something to do with the creation of a place to belong.

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1.

2.

3.

Perec, Georges. Species of Spaces: And Other Pieces. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. Pg. 13. See: Perec, “Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Food-stuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Four.” Species of Spaces, 91.


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2.

How does Perec locate himself? First, within the page: “I write in order to peruse myself,”4 he quotes, and we understand why his identification with himself involves writing. Perec is a writer, as the “cows in the pasture, winegrowers in the vineyard” or even “people doing their shopping” are also defined in part by their activities. A place to belong involves space in which to act. To locate oneself is only possible by identifying the borders that contain you. To locate is always in relation to. Perec is defining his borders in order to locate himself, which is why his investigation moves from inside the page (then bed then apartment) to outside the home. He sits on a street and observes “almost stupidly.” He writes down “what is of no interest, what is most obvious, most common, most colourless.” “Carry on,” he instructs us, “until the scene becomes improbable/until you have the impression, for the briefest of moments, that you are in a strange town or, better still, until you can no longer understand what is happening or not happening, until the whole place becomes strange, and you no longer even know that this is what is called a town, a street, buildings, pavement…”5 3.

In his deconstruction of place, Perec understands profoundly what we have here only intuited: our space and its limits constitute what occurs within them, and affect what we do. To locate ourselves within space, therefore, is to find not where we are but who. In this way, we are manifested space, walking and doing inside its mutating limits. This is the first clue that where we are becomes who we are. 4.

And yet this locating practice, as crucial as it is to our identities, does not complete the labor that generates a place to belong. A place to belong must move beyond a spatial orientation. The knowledge “I am here” or even “I am myself” is not enough to create a place to belong; it is a mere signification. Where locating is pointing to, to

5.

Henri Michaux Species of Spaces, 53.

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4.


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place is to make room for. We make space for ourselves by placing. In 1969, I chose, in Paris, twelve places (streets, squares, circuses, an arcade), where I had either lived or else was attached to by particular memories. I have undertaken to write a description of two of these places each month. One of these descriptions is written on the spot and is meant to be as neutral as possible…. I do my best to describe the houses, the ships and the people that I come across, the posters, and in a general way, all the details that attract my eye. The other description is written somewhere other than the place itself. I then do my best to describe it from memory, to evoke all the memories that come to me concerning it, whether events that have taken place there, or people I have met there. I begin these descriptions over again each year, taking care, thanks to an algorithm…first, to describe each of these places in a different month of the year, second, never to describe the same pair of places in the same month. This undertaking…will thus last for twelve years, until all the places have been described twice twelve times…. What I hope for from it, in effect, is nothing other than the record of a threefold experience of ageing [sic ]: of the places themselves,

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of my memories, and of my writing.6

Perec offers us another insight in a sub-chapter called “Places”: Why does Perec require two separate records of each place? Why does he space the records out the way he does? Perec understands that the three experiences of aging in “the places themselves,” his “memories,” and his “writing” (of which the latter could read: “himself”) are intricately entwined. What we come to understand by this example is how memory becomes involved in the processes both of locating and of placing. We locate ourselves by defining spaces and the places within them. The contained places themselves and the borders that contain them are constantly changing; what affects these changes is multi6.

Species of Spaces, 55–56.


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ple (infinite?) but each factor becomes distilled into one marker of meaning, which is the memory. Our memories define the places we go and are—along with our perceptions. We construct vast mechanisms of feeling and thought when we engage a new place or an old place, alone or in company, to do this or that. Our memories tell us how to feel or act in a certain place, and in relation to them. Simultaneously, these places continue to generate new memories each time we visit them under the guidance of our old memories. When we locate ourselves by identifying our spaces, the places within them serve as markers and signposts of memory and meaning. Clearly then, memory is a part of our places, as those places are a part of our memories. (This becomes our second clue.) Memories are also involved in the process of placing ourselves. When we create a place to belong, the objects we bring with us from old places would not be worthy of bringing along had they no memories attached to them.7 Seen in a certain light, it is our lack of memories with relation to a new place that necessitates the work of constructing a place to belong. Memory creation is a part of this process on every level, to the point where the making of memories and the making of a place to belong are analogous processes. In Perec’s experiment, the physical aging of the place is one phenomenon in itself; the evolution of the place in Perec’s mind—both in memory and current thought—is another; finally, his writing freezes in a moment the confluence of these two phenomena in an isolated representation of the interplay that constantly occurs between them. 5.

Given what we have seen here, we can say that in very real terms we are where we “are,” we become where we go, we are in constant co-becoming with our surroundings and its inhabitants. For what is it that makes a place different from a location if not our fingerprints upon it? And is it not the case that, once we have constructed our buildings and met our neighbors, a type of identity begins to emerge in the place itself, which then imprints back to us Think of the painter who paints a portrait of his wife by just painting a chair.

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and to our children a certain way of being? PERSONAL SPACE 1.

Gaston Bachelard writes of this relationship poetically: “The house we were born in is physically inscribed in us…. After twenty years, in spite of all the other anonymous stairways; we would recapture the reflexes of the ‘first stairway,’ we would not stumble on that rather high step.”8 But this relationship has also been understood in more literal terms in the sciences. Neurobiologist and psychologist Bruce Wexler has demonstrated that the plasticity of the brain (especially in early development) enables it to be shaped by environmental stimuli. We know this somewhat evident truth from “nature v. nurture” conversations, but the correlation between humans and the environment, Wexler suggests, goes much deeper. Throughout evolutionary history, the environment created conditions that necessitated and allowed for developments in early humans, such as the invention of certain tools. These tools, then, were used to affect change in the environments (through hunting, etc.) which, in turn, created new conditions to which these early humans then responded. “Homo Neanderthalgensis and Homo sapiens,” for example, “depleted populations of easily killed and harvested game and thus created incentive for later communities to develop more advanced technologies with which to hunt more elusive and dangerous prey.”9 But beyond this type of feedback relationship between the land and the mind, between its animals and our capacity to think technologically, an even more direct influence can be seen: the narrowing of the human birth canal over evolutionary time necessitated that healthy children be born essentially prematurely, in a much more helpless and developmental stage than other mammals

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8.

9.

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press Books, 1969. Pgs. 14-15. Wexler, Bruce. “Shaping the Environments that Shape Our Brains: A Long-Term Perspective.” Cognitive Architecture. From Biopolitics to Noopolitics. Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information, Rotterdam: 101 Publishers, 2010. Pg. 164.


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(whose babies become self-sufficient comparatively quickly). This extended period of nurture in which the still-developing brain is exposed to the environment became, for Wexler, “one of the factors that most powerfully propels the evolution of culture!”10 This kind of shaping leaves visible traces on the brain, and can be seen, as Wexler shows, in the difference between a cellist’s brain and a pianist’s.11 From this plastic moment, we begin to understand the porous relationship between our cultivation of the land alongside our cultivation of the mind. Our language betrays this relationship; the word place is as often used to describe a location (apartment as place, a place at the table) as it is to describe ourselves (I feel out of place, I’m in a weird place), and in these cases the feelings we aim to express seem impossible to articulate without locating them spatially. This becomes our third clue. FANTASTIC SPACE 1.

In Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Toru Okada descends to the bottom of a dried-up well. The first time he does this, he almost dies. The second time, too, although something fantastic happens before his almost death: the wall of the well opens up in a way, allowing him to enter a hotel in some other part of the (a) world, where presumably his wife is being kept. When he returns from the other side, the well is filling rapidly with water. In order to access the state of mind that allows Toru Okada to move between worlds, he must put himself out of reach of the reality of one of them; he must descend quite literally beneath it. Is Toru Okada’s well simply the darkest depth of the subconscious mind? A type of Benjaminean cellar where a “horrible cabinet of curiosities lies there below, where the deepest shafts are reserved for what is most commonplace”?12 Bachelard tells us the cellar is “first and foremost the dark entity of the house, the one that partakes of Ibid., 163. See: Wexler, Bruce. “Neuroplasticity, Cultural Evolution, and Cultural Difference.” World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review, 2010. 12. Benjamin, Walter. One-Way Street. London: Harcourt, 1979. Pg. 46. 10.

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subterranean forces.” “When we dream there,” he writes, “we are in harmony with the irrationality of the depths,”13 and so perhaps it is explicable that Toru Okada is having such a hard time. But this does not account for the fact that each time he enters that well, very nicely located in a geographic reality, his life must be saved by a witness. What is the relationship between this physical well and the fantastic space of either a magical depth or a deeply subconscious mind? The distinction is unclear because in our discussion they become the same. An elaboration of what Toru Okada experienced beneath the earth is not given in the novel because it is beside the point; whatever happened down there happened, and changed the reality of Toru Okada’s life. In this way too, the fantastic spaces of our mind, real or imagined, become a part of the transmissions constantly sent from body to mind to space simultaneously and always. We know this from encountering in reality those places that disturb something deep in our minds, a fantasy of memory from imaging in childhood, or a resonance with the fantastic space of a film. There are those places in the world with these properties—which are either actually fantastic or which awaken in us something like this fantasy. The distinction is lost on us, because the permeation between our imagined spaces and our real spaces is always already indistinguishable.

In / Form

2.

We all have ideas about places we have not experienced, but we don’t really know these places. Our ideas consist of the imaginary. We also have all kinds of ideas about the places we have been to, but we don’t really know these places either. Our ideas are still of the order of the imagined, though the addition of remembered memories enriches our dreams. When we imagine a new place it is one way, and when we are there, it is necessarily different. What happens to the Cleveland of our imaginations when we encounter the “real” one? Is it destroyed or simply subsumed by our constantly evolving ideas about a place? This phenomenon of imagination is rather explicit in recorded sound: when I listen to a recording, what I hear is not the location itself but rather a resonance represented; a sound in a room that was 13.

Poetics of Space, 18.


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captured and which now reverberates in a different space (my car, my cranium); a deconstruction reconstructed only by the memories that tell me I am listening to a cello in a large hall, a creek in a large field. Even when we know a place or see it, it is already a representation like a painting or a dream—appearing to us and our minds and experiences, our multiplicity of daydreams. For what field have we ever looked on without internally recalling all the fields we have ever seen or laid in, without the smell of grass triggering something within us that is both the same and different than all the other significant and insignificant moments we have smelled that smell, accumulated within us in a knot? 3.

A space is a border that defines its contents. A place is only an idea. EXPANDED SPACE 1.

There is well-established language that describes the relations I am attempting to articulate. Deleuze and Guattari write of assemblages, for instance: “A book is an assemblage of this kind,” they say. As an assemblage, a book has only itself, in connection with other assemblages and in relation to other bodies without organs. We will never ask what a book means…we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed…14

A book has neither subject nor object, it only has functions within which it operates and other assemblages with which it operates. A building is the same; there is no meaning in a building, no essence or core. The building is not defined as an object, but rather by its use. We call an apartment building the building to live in; the office Deleuze, Gilles, Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Pg. 4

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14.


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building a structure to work in; the foreclosed home a corpse (or a possibility); the pyramid, a wonder. We understand these spaces not by what they are but what they do, what they allow us to do, and when we do these things we are not just acting on or in a building; the building, an assemblage, also acts on us. We become different people in the apartment building than we are in the office building, in the movies than in the bar. We similarly become different people when we are meeting our friends there or our parents. Everything and everyone is permeable and permeated, to varying degrees and in various ways. But thinking this does not imply a universalist flattening, where meaning is lost. 2.

We are still capable of tracing. RELATIONAL SPACE 1.

To understand a place as an idea. To see it as less concrete and more real for this fact. To trace a border of your own design. To invite people in.

In / Form

2.

I have attempted to establish the notion of a feedback loop that is simultaneously less sequential (from me to the place back to me to the place) and less divided (because the distinction between myself and the place is a foggy, porridge one) than the metaphor usually implies. It involves place as assemblage, of memories and dreams as much as concrete and steel. Furthermore and finally, the place is of people. I have attempted to explore and develop this notion because I believe the knowledge of it affects our experience of it. I believe that if there is a politics here, it is found back at the beginning, with a place to belong made with this new understanding: nurturing a place to belong invests us in what is around us, makes us not simply “interested in” but a part of the spaces we inhabit, the people we encounter, the activity we engage in together.


Dan DiPiero

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CONCLUSION: ON BELONGING Within this multiplicity, this ceaseless connecting of lines, certain sets of relations and functions, through the repeated application of paint (or wearing thin of thread), become colored, worn, marked, identified in some way; these signify our place to belong, and though they are constantly evolving (as their own unstable assemblages, as we are) there remains for a time, Perec’s mark or a few signs. We nest ourselves there, within the hurricane of relations, in order to manage them. We are carrying the places of our lives around inside of us, and the people, too. Each time we create a place to belong we are creating ourselves, defining our limits and interests, our activities and relations, our ways of being in the spaces we inhabit. Simply put, a place to belong is a place to be. We could not be without a place to do so. Our networks of people and places, memories and reactions, objects and art are as much a part of our necessary environment as air and water. What is the significance of this? It is only this: that because we can construct a place to belong anywhere, with anyone, we recognize the contingency of where we have come to be. Rather than diminishing the gravity of the place we now occupy, following this thinking leads to an imperative: to nurture that place and all that is caught up in it for the very sake of this contingency, which simultaneously allows that our place to belong can be anywhere, but that it will never be of the same particular beauty that it is here, in this fragile moment.

December, 2012 Revised: May, 2013 Los Angeles

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Contributor Biographies Chase Stone Chase Stone holds a BA from Oberlin College ('12) in Visual Art with a concentration in Religion. He developed an interest in theory while taking courses in architecture, most recently at the Harvard G.S.D. Career Discovery program. Stemming from this experience, Chase assisted workshops for the Vitra Design Museum (Boisbuchet). The Aesthetics and Politics program at California Institute of the Arts (Class of '13) afforded Chase the opportunity to develop a thesis combining topics in politics, critical theory, and visual studies. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Humboldt University of Berlin (Leo Baeck Institute).

Tatiana Vahan Tatiana Vahan is a multi-media artist whose work investigates the relationship between identity and consumerism while challenging the constraints of traditional artmaking and exhibiting practices. She received her BFA from New World School of the Arts at the University of Florida, and has since exhibited her work in galleries, museums, studios, streets, and front yards, among other places. Currently, she is co-organizing a non-profit independent, press with classmate Chris Brown, as well as preparing work for several upcoming exhibitions/interventions. For more information visit: www.tatianavahan.com.

Chris Brown

In / Form

Chris Brown is a writer, photographer, and theorist whose work explores the psychogeographies of postmodern landscapes, specifically how these environments impact communal creativity. His recent research focuses on forms of aesthetic intervention, cultural resistance, and autonomous political movements. His other interests concern theories of flow, chaos, resonance, and sonic meditation. Chris holds degrees in philosophy and international business, specializing in areas of organizational psychology, environmental sustainability, contemporary existentialism and Eastern thought. He is currently working on several upcoming exhibitions and short film projects, and is also starting an independent, non-profit press (with the help of classmate Tatiana Vahan). Chris lives in Los Angeles where he experiments with words, light, space, and sound.


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Joseph Rihn Joseph graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and a minor in Politics in 2010. In 2013 he is projected to earn an MA in Aesthetics and Politics from California Institute of the Arts, where he has written about neoliberalism, democracy, and the spectacle of American politics. Prior to enrolling at CalArts, Joseph was involved with the Internet radio collective, dublab.com, as well as a series of other musical projects. Joseph is currently working as a communications intern for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), a community activist organization, and pursuing a career in political communications.

Victoria Hungerford Victoria Hungerford is a video game and feminist media critic whose work is featured on the website www.outofhp.com, where she produces a bi-weekly webseries called "Chicks With Sticks" that analyzes the video game community through a feminist lens. She received a BA in Black Studies and Feminist Studies from University of California, Santa Barbara ('11) and is anticipating her MA in Aesthetics and Politics at CalArts. She spoke at the Feminist in Games Conference ('13) on sexual harassment and the Gamer Girl identity. When not playing video games, she works on documentaries for DonegeeMedia and works as a media consultant for Community First Initiatives. Her research looks at the intersections of video games, the digital and sexual harassment.

Tony Ostrowski Tony Ostrowski, born into the technological transition from the analog to digital age, is a current MA candidate in Aesthetics and Politics, California Institute of the Arts, 2013, an experimental artist, and an intellectual remixer. After receiving his BA. in Political Science at University of California, Santa Barbara in 2011, he has been enamored with the remix’s technological impact on creating/re-creating, interpreting/re-interpreting, and teaching/re-teaching. His interests focus on intellectual property rights, copyleft vs. copyright, exponential technology growth, technological singularity, hive-mind mentality, the politics of sampling, ownership of public space, and systems of societal control. Currently, he produces art, music, and teaches remix engineering in the Los Angeles area.

Dan DiPiero

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A 2010 School for Improvisational Music Scholarship Recipient, Dan DiPiero is a musician, teacher, and writer with an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts where he is anticipating receiving his MA. He has worked with many leaders in the creative music field, recorded for Cartoon Network's Adventure Time, and taught in classrooms from gradeschool to college. His educational articles are published in magazine, and in 2012 he presented research at the Jazz Education Network professional conference. His main areas of interest and practice involve contemporary improvised music, non-traditional musical pedagogy, and the notion of contingency in art and politics.


IN/FORM: POLY 2012-13  

POLY 2012–2013 is the second volume of IN/FORM, a yearly collection of writing by students in the School of Critical Studies’ MA in Aestheti...

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