Dissertation Writing

I have been trying to write abstracts for each of my chapters and I have found it very difficult. This morning I realised that, taking into account that I have less than one year left and that I want to finish in this time, I may have to shift the focus of my dissertation. I think of my thesis as a technology of performance. It needs to satisfy certain conditions, which involves sacrifices compromised in negotiations with imposed restrictions. The resultant portmanteau used is ‘satisficing’. I have been working under the delusion that I could do what I want and still get it done…

I have been resisting this shift ever since I began my research and came across interested people who would ask me about my project. After a short spiel from me, I would inevitably be asked the question, “So you are writing about hoons then?” I would reply with something like, “No, I am not writing about ‘hoons’, because that is what the dominant culture calls ‘them’ and it is a term belonging to the dominant culture.”

Even though I have had this idealised image of my project in my head — involving a genealogy of contemporary modified-car enthusiasm, elaborate expositions of the cultural economy, the role of the subcultural media in this economy, the relations between enthusiasts and broader or ‘parent’ cultures of mobility, practices of enthusiasts (modifying, racing, showing, etc) and lastly the relations between the figure of the ‘hoon’ and dominant enthusiast and non-enthusiast cultures — I now realise that I have been mobilising myself entirely in an effort to account for the ‘hoon’ in all the above. (Even my interviews have been hoon-centric!!)

I really need to talk to my supervisors about this, I know, and they will probably want to shoot me!!!! [sigh…] But perhaps I will have to shift from a proposed focus on modified-car enthusiasm to a much more localised focus on the ‘hoon’. Even though it would not be as cool as my current working title (“Modified: Cars and Culture”), I think I could imagine producing a thesis simply entitled “The Hoon” or something like that. lol! But why this relatively drastic shift? The simple fact of the matter is that all the things I want to say, and which quite frankly need to be said, relate much more to a ‘hoon’-centric thesis than anything else. What I had been trying to do over the last two years was sociological research (stake out the complex social terrain of modified-car culture), but after the activities of the last couple of weeks, I realise that I am certainly not a sociologist. I do cultural studies.

…or maybe I am just shitting myself. Dunno. I need to get it done in a year. To me that means I need to write the thesis that I know will pass and I will be able to complete in a year. This sucks.

Care of the Other/Self

My high school chemistry teacher gave me two pieces of excellent advice. He told me that I always sought to give a trick answer even when it was not a trick question being asked. (This was bad for high school chemistry btw, as it involved heaps of wrote learning and formulaic regurgitation of formula.) Secondly, a party is only as good as the people that are at the party. If you are at the party and you think the party is shit, then the shitness of the party is partially a product of your own actions.

The comment on the party has extraordinary rammifications (and the comment about my ‘trick answers’ partially explains why I have ended up doing what I am doing!). In my thesis I introduce and discuss the concept of the subcultural event (‘party’). I draw on Sarah Thornton’s specific (mis)reading of Bourdieu and the earlier stuff by some of the BCCCS crew, mainly Paul Corrigan. I haven’t quite figured this out yet, but I imagine two basic models of social interaction operating within the party environment. One is premised on exchange and the production of hierarchies of enjoyment. The other is premised on the shared experience/production of an immanent multiplicity that is the event itself. What is interesting about Thornton’s reading of Bourdieu is that she implies the second understanding while explicitly focusing on the first.

Something that I may not talk about in my thesis is the ethics required for the second type of social interaction to occur… even though this may be the most important thing about it. The first one is never ethical. Imagine the smallest party possible with social interaction, a party of two people (sure, sure, one person, but I am talking about relatively normative social situations). If one or both of the party members enters the party with the intention of extracting as much enjoyment from the party as possible, that is, from the other person, then the situation can become incredibly destructive. Example? Pretty much all the actions of the characters of Sex in the City are premised on the narcissistic pursuit of enabled masturbation. K-punk writes (in a post that I can now properly respond to):

The only novelty of the show was to equate heterosexual female equivocation over men with banal consumer choice. Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism indeed. SATC’s Postmodern romantic fiction is pitilessly consumerized. ‘Is HE the ONE?’ (what a question for the sex which is not one to be reduced to posing btw) = ‘should I buy THIS pair of shoes or THAT one… they’re both nice….’ The overwhelming message of the show (in no way diluted by the false note of the final episode) perfectly fitted the anti-existentialism of our times: it is better to be in the anxiety of choice than to actually choose.
SATC relentlessly peddled the postmodern core belief that commitment is a fate, if not worse than, then at least equivalent to, death. To be committed, PoMo assures us, is to have our options closed down, restricted. Hence the grotesquerie of forty or fifty year-olds who still think and behave like teenagers.

Libidinal desire is mapped onto circuits of exchange. Lack is exactly of a big hard cock (Big!). However, this has nothing to do with the anxiety of choice, or it does, but only as a second order manifestation of a social relation premised on the exchange of pleasure and the exploitation (sometimes co-exploitation) of the Other. Relentless consumption. Capital has territorialised the libidinal economy of the encounter. It is not liberating, it is utter and complete subsumption to capital. Or as K-Punk writes in a separate post:

Sex and the City seems to personify the dominant culture just now. The harridans, all of them strangely unappealing, as Penman so rightly points out (the main one looks like the singer from Twisted Sister, and Kim, darling, we remember Mannequin , OK? – ooops, lapsed into popbitchiness), exemplify the McGroot thesis. Their ‘Femininity’ – a voracious, vacuous, unfillable VOID – as the MOTOR of consumer capitalism.

What is the alternative? Rather than one’s own pleasure being the explicit focus of a social encounter, the event of the encounter becomes operative. The party is a positive multiplicity or what Deleuze calls the ‘problematic’… How?

The first model is a strategic assault launched by one’s own libidinal war machine. Territorialise the Other into being another tool of enabled masturbation that can be rapidly consumed until it is spent. Invest in yourself to maximise the relations of exchange and work towards the bigger pay-off…

The second model, firstly, accepts that the encounter is a shared experience, not something that happens to one person. What is shared is exactly what needs care. The Self and the Other are within the event, it happens between bodies. Secondly, the Other becomes primary as a kind of material (in ATP D&G talk about stone masons) that has organised around its own intensities. Care of the encounter requires an affirmation of the differential intensities belonging to each member by its Other. Thirdly, the event is problematic — not in a negative sense — but in the sense that a problem is posited exactly to open up an encounter to shared experimentations and affirmation (or ‘solutions’). Each movement within the event (the encounter) is a solution to the problematic status of the event. Lastly, the fun part is experimenting with intensities to find shared solutions… and the role of the Self, then, is not satisfy one’s nasty capitalist death drive, but to enable the Other.

(Hence, the ‘party’ as positive multiplicity is another name for the multitude…)

e-Affect

It is difficult enough to figure out when people are being serious or not in everyday face-to-face conversation, let alone online or in other ‘nu-tech’ scriptual economies, such as mobile phone texting… The emoticon emerged as a direct result of the lack of easily expressible affect in online exchanges.

The genealogy of the emoticon probably should be traced back to the invention of the iconic ‘smiley face’ in 1963. The circle, arc and two dot representation of a smiling face on the classic yellow background was invented by Richard Ball to help ease “the acrimonious aftermath following the merger of two insurance companies.” The face was placed on a button and punched out in numbers for the workers to wear and feel good about themselves… But from the origins in the depressingly dank hallways of actuarial capitalism, where the game is soley exploiting risk for profit, the smiley face was transformed into an iconic representation of the Anti-Vietnam War protest movement and the general happy-go-lucky debauchery of the Hippie era. Two brothers, Murray and Bernard Spain, knocked up a button that joined the smiley face with the caption “Have a nice day.” (Oh well, this Gumpism is wrong!) They sold 50 million buttons and other smiley products in 1972.

I raise the story of the smiley face (for more see here and here) as it is both an iconic and an indexical sign in Pierce’s semiology. It is an iconic representation of a smiling face (that is pretty obvious). It is also indexical in the sense that, like smoke as an indexical sign of fire, the smiley face is allegedly worn as an indexical sign of goodwill. It is an affective representation. Many signs have affective resonances, but there are very few signs constructed purely for the purpose of the indexical representation of affect. The ‘love heart’ could be another (but even then it is used in a literal non-affective sense, such as on some heart rate monitors). Off the top of my head, I cannot think of another indexical representation of affect used by entire cultures…

That is, until we jump forward to 1982. The 279th all-time greatest grossing movie at the box-office, Porky’s, was released and, on the 19 of September, Scott Fahlman wrote this message to a bulletin board at Carnegie Mellon:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman 🙂
From: Scott E Fahlman
I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:

🙂

Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to markthings that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use

🙁

See this page here and Scott’s own account of this fateful event. There is an obvious difference between the indexical icon of the smiley face button and the sideways (un)smiley face of BBS argot that pertains to the necessary scriptual economy of early ASCII programing language and the demand for an indexical sign of affect that used the available symbols of the QWERTY keyboard.

More interesting things can be said about the emoticon as an indexical sign of affect within collective assemblages of enunciation belonging to the post-internet regime of signs, lol!!… but someone else can worry about that stuff.

One final thought about the explicitly pragmatic nature of emoticons. They express a variation that is affective in nature, so that the emoticon operates as an order-word upon language. That is, they perform an immanent incorporeal transformation of the body of enunciation where the ‘body’ of enunciation is immanent to the expression of the emoticon. More importantly, the emoticon as order-word signals the social machinery (assemblage of enunciation) in which the emoticon is imbricated. An example: I send a smiley face on my phone as part of a text message. It does not simply insert an immanent affective variation, it signals that the enunciation is explicitly affective. It emotes; it is emotive. So what?

The event of the emoticon (sense) cannot be simply delineated according to the territory of the statement and the act of enunciation. The way I use emoticons is different from others, and no two uses of an emoticon are the same… in the sense that each act implicates its own sense. So what is being signalled by an emoticon is not simply the collective assemblage of enunciation in which nerds find themselves, the variation of sense belongs to the person who uttered. This exists as a very low level or even background potentiality of the emoticon; that is, the force of the emoticon is itself in variation. The affective nature of an emoticon is essentially pragmatic. There are fey frowns and cynical or innocent smiles… (via):

 

Q: How do you rank yourself among writers (living) and of the immediate past? 

Nabokov: I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile – some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.

Edit: I am a shit spela and a bad Foucaultian. lol! Plus it is fabulously ironic that Mel posts on the affective nature of texting at the same time!

Badiou is funny and Zizek: The Movie

So Badiou has a sense of humour. This is awesome. Elspeth’s comments re reactionaries and the necessary response from academics are exemplified in Badiou’s article on the hijab and the French situation. My favourite bit of the article isn’t so funny though:

19. There’s no getting around it: thought’s enemy nowadays is property, business, things such as souls, but not faith. What should be said instead is that [political] faith is what lacks the most. The “rise of religious fundamentalism” is but a mirror through which sated Westerners consider the frightful effects of the devastation of minds over which they have presided. And especially of the ruining of political thought, which Westerners have attempted to organize everywhere, either under cover of insignificant democracies or with the sizable back-up of humanitarian paratroopers. Under such conditions, secularism, professing to be at the service of different forms of knowledge, is but a scholarly rule by which to respect the competition, train according to “Western” norms and be hostile to every conviction. This is a schooling system for consumer cool, soft business, free ownership and disillusioned voters.

He also has some interesting stuff to say about militant violence such as suicide bombing and describes Bin Laden as “a creature of the American services.”

Hot the heals of his high society wedding comes, Zizek: The Movie. That kind of speaks for itself, Zizek: The Spectacle.

Badiou via undercurrent and Sandy. Zizek via cultcrit.

how sweet it is…

So I bought a loaf of what can only be described as ‘sugar bread’. That is, a loaf of bread with sugar on it. But it is only half a loaf. 5am? Indeed. Bit of a late night… What else to say?

Except. Tonight can only be described in one word: crazy. What a crazy night… sure… it was good crazy, not crazy crazy or bad crazy. Bad crazy is like that time I ended up getting stiches in my head after being in Sydney for about a month and stacking it in the rain at the Rocks. Crazy crazy is when things get out of control (which can be bad or even fun!). Good crazy is when you happenstance upon an open bakery at 4:30am and buy a loaf of sugar bread for the stroll home and breakfast today morning. Oh yeah…

Crazy. And sugar…

Sweet!