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The Politics of Architecture, Film and Dance: Impasse

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The question for this paper is how can architecture, film and dance operate to disturb, intervene and disrupt the site of an anterior aesthetico-political scene that I here refer to as the Impasse. That is, how can these practices assist in bringing
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  The Politics of Architecture, Film and Dance: Impasse   Impasse : 1. A road or passage having no exit; a cul-de-sac. 2. A situation that is so difficult that no progress can be made; a deadlock or a stalemate.    Aporia : n.; pl. Aporias (#). [L., doubt, Gr. , fr. without passage, at a loss;  privation + passage.]    Introduction   The question for this paper is how can architecture, film and dance operate to disturb, intervene and disrupt the site of an anterior aesthetico-political scene that I here refer to as the Impasse. That is, how can these practices assist in bringing about a break from perceptions of necessity and an alteration in both the force and tele-technological routing of trace-chains associated with long installed unconscious habits of body and mind? In approaching these questions I first discuss a body of thinking concerning the notion of the impasse as an anterior aesthetico-political scene and its constitutive role for experience and perception. I seek to locate the topos of the meta-psychological anteriority and explore the relation of architecture, film and dance to this topos, and briefly outline how a certain interpenetration between these art-forms may be thought to intervene in the scene of anteriority from which experience and perceptions are managed. What is the impasse? The impasse can be linked to the mnemonics of biopolitical inscription, and the types of psychic activity associated with the inscribed modalities of the sensorium - or what may also be called Ôperceptions of necessityÕ. These are referred to by Deleuze and Massumi respectively as the Ôsensory-motor imageÕ and Ômirror visionÕ. The Impasse is the site of the forgotten aesthetico-political scene and is identified with the formation of a meta-psychological anteriority and instalment of an unconscious that inscripts the conditions of ÒexperienceÓ and makes experience appear as somehow ÒuniversalÓ, ÒnaturalÓ, ÒhumanÓ, ÒempiricalÓ, ÒfactualÓ etc. Numerous names have been applied to the anterior aesthetico-political scene. In general, these names are tied to the problematic of a fundamental social antagonism and unstoppable irreducible heterogeneous pairing (gender, generation, class) or of authority and law linked to the Ôname of the fatherÕ, Ôincest tabooÕ, Ôkilling of the fatherÕ, and ÔseductionÕ, which is the repressed site of social relations and political ordering (see: Lyotard, 1990: 19). This scene links the excessive and categorical moment essential to the constitution of law and authority (that which is the foundation of a political order) to the instalment of an unconscious that is without Ôrepresentational formationsÕ.      To understand the scene of the categorical/unconscious affect and the pure form of address that is bound up with fundamental heterogeneous social antagonisms, it is necessary to resort to a topics, a dynamics and an economy that do not hinge on a subject as its focus, but rather the mechanics of a system of forces and a notion of ÔtraceÕ as pure signification or address. The hypothesis of a primordial scene of inscription necessitates a break from the philosophy of consciousness and the utilisation of a language (e.g. physics and prescriptives) not already given over to the service of vision or of an autonomous subject. It is via this ÒotherÓ language that the scene of the Impasse is deciphered and its mode of temporality and spectral materiality glimpsed. Central to the elaboration of the constitution of the unconscious scene as the Impasse is the language of DerridaÕs notion of the ÔtraceÕ, which may be defined as the excessive yet very minimal level of signification in which a sign signifies itself only insofar as it signifies.[1] In LyotardÕs work it is this same excessive aspect of the sign that institutes the pragmatics of a prescriptive phrase universe wherein the address of the addressor, identified with the excessive aspect of the sign, is identified with the address of the one who commands and is registered by the ÒblankÓ feeling of respect and the affective posture of the sublime. In the LyotardÕs essay LevinasÕs Logic, 'action' is constituted by the executive command, and is described in terms of the powerlessness associated with being bound to the one who commands. It is described as that unconscious mode by which the Obey! is grasped beyond all appearance and as trace (286). Likewise the affective posture of the sublime and the ÒblankÓ feeling of respect and obligation (Lyotard 1994: 126), in LyotardÕs work, is simply that which register the voice disruptive of the natural political order, leaving its addressors possessed by something that profoundly matters while not providing any propositional content (Lyotard 1989: 307). Importantly, for the purposes of this paper, the excess of signification and the fundamental disruption which it involves, entails an irreducible demand and call for attention and response. Or as noted by Agamben in his reading of HeideggerÕs phenomenology of profound boredom, excess of signification also results in a form of captivation that brings the human into proximity with the animal Ð and, as Santner has noted, gives rise to a form of life that is ÒcreaturelyÓ. Creaturely life being that life which is delivered over to something that refuses itself, exactly as the animal, in its captivation is exposed in something unrevealed (Santner 2006: 11). The Impasse and contemporary experience   For Agamben it is Guy DebordÕs notion of the Spectacle that best articulates how the experience of excess excitation and captivation has become the  norm in the contemporary world. Indeed, in the age of the complete triumph of the spectacle in which capitalism not only expropriates productive forces but also, and above all, affects the severing and loss of the referential value of language, human life is exposed to a traumatic dimension of language which is precisely a Ôdevastating experimentum linguae Õ (Agamben 2000: 84.5). This exposure to the excessive yet very minimal level of signification, in which a sign signifies itself only insofar as it signifies, constitutes a form of Ôbare lifeÕ that is human entrancement (the later according to Heidegger registers itself above all in the fundamental mood of boredom) delivered over to an arresting opacity. The wonder that there is something rather than nothing, is nothing but the grasping of the Ôessential disruptionÕ that occurs in the living being from its being exposed in a nonrevelation (Agamben 2004: 65; Santner 2006: 11-12). For Agamben the experience which defines contemporary politics is simply that of an animal that has learned to become bored; Òit has awakened from  its captivation to  its own captivation and this awakening of the living being to its own being-captivated, this anxious and resolute opening to the not-open, is the humanÓ (Agamben 2004: 68, 70; Santner 2006: 12). Santner has noted, [in relation to developing BenjaminÕs notion of Ônatural historyÕ, ÔallegoryÕ (Ôthe symbolic mode proper to the experience of irremediable exposure to the violence of historyÕ) and ÔmelancholyÕ (the affective posture that maintains fidelity to the losses brought about by the violence of history)] that for Benjamin it is the ÒcommodityÓ which condenses and radicalises the nihilistic forces proper to capital. Capitalist modes of production, which constantly withdraw newly introduced goods from circulation, are bound up with the production of Òhollowed out thingsÓ and with the deterritolisation of a distress that leaks into the texture of social space and indeed the very soul of the modern urban dweller (Santner 2006: 78). In this regard urban space of Ôthe modern metropolisÕ has Ôbecomes a locus of extreme petrifaction, excitation and agitation, one in which a fossilised unrest and excess of animation becomes the normÕ (79). Likewise, in the shadow of the commodity and moreso the commodity thought as spectacle or phantasmogria, the Ôlandscape of the urban environment is experienced as a source of ceaseless vertigo-inducing excitations and shocks, as well as an eternal recurrence which knows no developmentÕ (79). BenjaminÕs  Arcades Project   is dedicated to the documentation in microscopic detail of the ramifications of the agitation and uncertainty - the nihilism proper to capital Ð in the physiognomy of the modern metropolis and in the everyday life of modern urban dwellers. On BenjaminÕs assessment the commodity had already attained total occupation of social life at least by the end of the 19th century; the cumulative effect of networks of commodities, which he calls the ÔphantasmagoriaÕ, are given expression in the cosmological allegories of Baudelaire, Nietzsche and Blanqui. For all three what is realised is the sense in which the commodity has left its mark on the stars, reducing the universe to  the universe of the commodity. ÔThe stars in Baudelaire represent a picture-puzzle (Vexierbild) of the commodity; they are the eversame in the great massesÕ (Benjamin, 2003: J62,5). And in Nietzsche Ô[T]he idea of eternal recurrence transforms the historical event itself into a mass produced articleÕ (J62a,2).   The excessive address that is the very minimal level of signification brings with it a melancholic immersion identified with the occultish dimension of the commodity that is the ÔfetishÕ. All at once Ôthe commodityÕs ÔsecretÕÕ and the contemporary form of political domination is disclosed as the key that reveals capitalÕs enchanted realm to thought (Santner, 2006). Importantly, the state of intolerability implied by contemporary forms of political domination do not merely involve a serious state of injustice, but moreso, as Deleuze points out, Ôthe permanent state of daily banalityÕ (Deleuze 1986b:170). With this state of banality comes a break in the link between man and the world which also involves the sensory-motor break of the cinematic image (169). This sensory-motor break, he says, Ômakes man a seer who finds himself struck by something intolerable in the world, and confronted by something unthinkable in thoughtÕ (169). Between these two, he says, Ôthought undergoes a strange fossilation, which is as it were its powerlessness to function, to be, its dispossession of itself and the worldÕ (169). In such a psychic situation, he says, man is not himself a world other than the one in which he experiences the intolerable and feels himself trapped- he is a spiritual automaton on the psychic position of the seer, who sees better and further than he can react and think. Passage in the Impasse   The possibility of a suspension or interruption of the Impasse, and thereby the affecting of a passage and mobility, does not come by believing in a different world, but by belief in a link between man and this world. In love and life to believe in the link to this world as in the impossible and the unthinkable which nonetheless cannot but be thought; a vision of an aporia in which the unthought becomes the power of thought, giving rise to thought ever anew; thought and mobility of thought restored by virtue of a passage through the Impasse as the aporia.   In his book Means without End: Notes on Politics  Giorgio Agamben states that Guy DebordÕs Society of the Spectacle  (1967) and the Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle  (1988) Ôconstitute the clearest and most severe analysis of the miseries and slavery of a society that by now has extended its dominion over the whole planetÕ (Agamben, 2000: 73).    According to Agamben we should approach Debord as a Ôpecuilar strategistÕ whose works ought to be treated as manuals, as instruments of resistance  and most importantly as instruments of exodus  and  passage from the dominion and experience of language and thought constituted by the destructive forces of the Spectacle (74.4). In providing this exodus, Agamben argues, Debord is not only to be understood as a product of the age of the Spectacle, as someone who undergoes the trials of nihilism associated with Spectacle and the commodity as phantasmagoria, but also as someone who takes up the task of using the positive possibility or potentiality that is the excessive remainder of signification (74.5-6).  As Agamben notes, Debord conducts the experiment of ÒsituationsÓ precisely on the terminal point of languageÕs expropriation by the Spectacle, providing access to a political experience which has, as the irreducible condition of human beings, being-into-language itself as pure mediality. In conducting such an experiment the constructed situation becomes a ÒNorthwest passage of the geography of true lifeÓ Ð a passage which according to Agamben leads from a bare life to a happy life, from imperfect nihilism to perfect nihilism, from the aporia of shock and self-referentiality to a euporia (78.9; 114; 115).   Excursive passages in the Impasse   For the remainder of the paper I wish to consider what some ÒSouthwest passages of the geography of true lifeÓ might look like, and I want to briefly indicate how dance as movement, film and architecture might affect that passage, and I want to do this in relation to a consideration of the political significance of Baudelaire and BenjaminÕs notion of the fl‰neur and the SituationistÕs notion of the ÔdŽrvisteÕ.    As described by Benjamin, the Ôbasic experienceÕ of the fl‰neur is one of intoxication and melancholia, an experience of the Òcolportage phenomenon of spaceÓ (Benjamin, 2003: M1a,3) in which Ôeverything potentiallyÕ takes place. It is a space which Ôwinks at the fl‰neurÕ (ibid). For the intoxicated fl‰neur appearances are entered by means of a dialectical image of ÔsuperimpositionÕ and ÔoverlapÕ where what is experienced is not so much A or B, but the dynamis or mere power of signification (i.e. trace) Òtaking placeÓ between A and B.    As defined by Debord, in his ÔTheory of the DŽriveÕ, the dŽrive [literally: ÒdriftingÓ] is a technique of rapid passage through varied urban ambiences involving playful and constructive behaviour and awareness of psychogeographical effects. During a dŽrive one or more dŽrviste Òwould drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their usual motives for movement and action and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find thereÕ (Debord, 1981: 45).   Both the fl‰neur and d•rivisteÕs wanderings are guided by impulses that they do not understand which lead back over and over again to a site of trauma Ð
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