Supercharged Genealogy

Currently knocking up the first chapter of my dissertation on the history of contemporary modified-car culture. There are a number of interesting thought-problems I have been playing with regarding the nature of historical inquiry, genealogy, and the contemporary.

First, part of what I am doing is offering some background for readers of my dissertation who have no idea about modified-car culture. I am thinking anyone who marks my thesis will have no idea, so it is an obvious strategic move. Second, I investigate the emergence of contemporary modified-car culture with the emergence of street machining. I locate the emergence of street machining in the context of broader shifts that were occuring in the ‘parent’ culture regarding changes to class structures and other events from the mid-1970s on in Australia.

The major chunk of my primary source material for the history of contemporary modified-car culture comes from car magazines. The first part draws on Van Wheels and Street Machine magazine and regular readers of my blog will know all about this. The next part looks at the rise of the Fours scene with Hot 4s and Fast Fours. Next on the hitlist I am calling ‘the rise of the imports’. Here I am looking at Autosalon magazine and a few others from Express Publications.

What has had me stumped is how to think the connection between the brute facts of what I find in the magazines, the tendencies that I am abstracting from these brute facts, and the relation between these tendencies and broader cultural shifts or formations. On one level it is a history, in the sense I am representing the past, but it is also a problematic history as I am opening up the events which become serialised as a history. In this sense it is a genealogy. One way I have been thinking about it is in terms of a history of modified-car culture as a genealogy of general car culture. The below is an extract from early in the (very much an unfinished rough draft!!!) chapter where I get hot rods out of the way:

It is with the event of planned obsolescence – regular models of limited ‘superficial’ differentiation and the resultant high turnover in a relatively saturated new car market – that produced the first substantial second-hand car market and junkyards full of worn out and broken cars. However, even before market of second-hand and junk cars reached such a number, which allowed for the counter-production of jalopies, another prior event needs to be taken into account. The Fordist assembling-line mode of producing cars with regulated, interchangeable parts not only meant that cars could be built faster and cheaper, it also herald the emergence of a more tactical mode of consumption that relied on the inherent interchangeability of car parts. The high numbers of car parts and cars on the second-hand and junk markets, because of planned obsolescence, and their interchangeable nature as products of Fordist manufacturing methods were the two necessary conditions for the emergence of the jalopy-cum-hot-rod.

Of course, I am using ‘event’ in a particular way. What I have found very useful is a brief essay by Colwell on Deleuze and Foucault: Series, Event, Genealogy. It is written in the ‘French’ style, i.e. without proper Anglophone referencing, so that is annoying. Anyway, Colwell engages with Foucault/Nietzsche’s method via a Deleuze-eye. Conclusion to his argument is thus:

History, as opposed to genealogy, is the ordering of events in a single series that repeats those events within narrowly defined limits; it is for all intents and purposes the repetition of the Same. History is a narrative that reduces the problematic nature of the events it addresses to problems that have solutions; solutions that are also repetitions of the Same; solutions that re-impose or attempt to re-impose the values imbedded in a long history of errors. History is the reproduction of a social memory that reproduces the tradition and imbeds it in our psyches, our social relations and our institutions. History actualizes, materializes that tradition.

Genealogy is the attempt to re-serialize events. Again, genealogy does not invent, discover or emphasize new or different events nor does it re-interpret events in order to discover hidden or sedimented meanings that have been neglected by the tradition. It is the attempt to counter-actualize the event, to return, in one form or another, to the virtual structure of the event in order to re-problematize the event. The goal is not to find a new solution, to ‘fix’ history, to offer a better or truer history or account of the past. The goal is to make the problem problematic, to make it a real problem once again, a problem we no longer know the answer to but for which we are compelled to find solutions.

Oh yeah…

What happens when you create a sacrificial history for the sake of producing a problematised genealogy if no history already exists?

I use the events of general car culture to think contemporary modified-car culture and then feed the tension between the two — exactly what is different in the differential repetition expressed as the actualisation of a shared event — back into the ‘parent’ culture. I am inspired by the old school subcultural theory, but I am taking it on a tangent through a Deleuze/Foucault nexus so it is supercharged — ‘event style’!

post-romance romance?

I am writing something that may be co-authored with another person and which gathers much of my blog writing on sex/sexing, kissing, the event (here and here) and an ethics of care towards the shared/social(romantic) event.

It is on Paul Thomas Anderson’s third film Punch Drunk Love. I am aiming for an absolute cracker. Organising concept: “post-romance”. Here is a brief extract from the undercooked draft:

Paul Thomas Anderson’s third film Punch Drunk Love captures some sense of romance in a post-romance world. It is not surprising it opens with a car crash for the film takes romance on a post-Crash detour. Crash – both as film and novel – serves as an exploration of surfaces and desire in a world at the intersection of the accident. Jean Baudrillard, in his infamous essay on Crash (novel), dwells on the repositioning of the accident:

Is no longer at the margin, it is at the heart. It is no longer the exception to a triumphal rationality, it has become the Rule, it has devoured the Rule. […] Everything is reversed. It is the Accident that gives form to life, it is the Accident, the insane, that is the sex of life. (Baudrillard, 1994: 113)

After the SUV rolls over, a taxi pauses long enough to drop off a harmonium – a cross between an organ and a piano, but smaller than both. The harmonium is a harmony machine; it breathes and wheezes to gather potentiality consonant sound waves of heterogeneous frequencies and to produce a unique musicality of multiplicative resonance. No reason is given for the harmonium in the workings of the plot. Another accident without any explanation, like the SUV crash, but this time it is an accidental harmony-machine. The accident is a disorganising collision of excess force, while the accidental harmony-machine is a synthesising organisation of force. One produces only abolition, while the other produces a multiplicative affirmation.

Baudrillard’s ramblings are strangely suited to discourses emerging around the idea of emergency either a ‘state of’ or in terms of time or governmentality, etc.

The exact definition of ‘post-romance’ is very Deleuze-o-centric and will have to wait until the final product! But I am sure you get some idea from the above to the line of argument I (or we?)shall develop. I did a little on romance genre in a feminism unit as an undergrad so I am going over some of the old books.

EDIT June 12: No, I’ll be writing this one alone. lol…

Death to the Home: War

EDIT: Ok, due to a complaint over my craptastic blog writing-style expression, I have rewritten/restructured this post so it makes more sense.

Sydney is going to need a mobility paradigm shift to sustain productivity and quality of life for the majority of its inhabitants. The current automobile-centric culture of mobility is — quite simply — unsustainable in the long run. As I have touched on elsewhere this is a very complex issue (in response to the anti-V8 laws, unsustainable cultures of automobility, problematics of hoon-centric governmental policies, etc). To come at it from the side, a useful way to think about the problem of mobility in cities organised around neo-liberal economies is in terms of scales of mobility. This breaks the hegemonic grip of centre-periphery geographies of habitation currently dominant in Australian cities. It recasts the debate by thinking about mobility on the scale of an individual’s lifetime rather than the popularist problem of everyday mobilities required to facilitate the current hegemonic geographies of habitation.

This is a change in my thinking as I am beginning to realise that problems of mobility cannot be addressed unless the structural problems (by ‘structural’ I mean instantiations of social structure or structurations that have a duration beyond normative human frames of temporality) are properly addressed. So I need to account for geographies of habitation. By this I mean I need to address the problem of technologically and architectually embodied constellations of affect that express a territory, which we call ‘home’. To dislocate this connection is the radical inverse of the argument forwarded by David Suzuki. It flies in the face of his argument that: “[The spiritual conection to home] is not foolish nostalgia but a hint of a new spiritual relationship with our homes that is of far greater value than anything economic.” The maintenance of ‘home’ does indeed reproduce economic stratifications and preposterous regimes of mobility/habitation. The problem is that such structurations of materially-embodied affect exist within a temporal series that exceeds the human. ‘Home’ is a reproduction that does not just resonate within a single lifetime, but exists across generations. ‘Home’ on different scales, from suburb to city to state to nation, that demands a fidelity from its constituent population to reproduce the constellation of affects that express a territory. Instead of a lifetime of mobility we need to cultivate a mobile life.

What do I mean by constellations of affect expressing a territory? J. Macgregor Wise on milieu, home and territory:

As practised, our life-world is flooded by the variant radiance of the milieus. Each milieu opens up onto others; indeed, it is these connections with other milieu beyond the immediate place that give the markers their resonance – ‘the identity of place is in par t constructed out of positive interrelations with elsewhere’ (Massey, 1994: 169). An encountered photograph glows with memories (though not necessar ily nostalg ia) of experience, of history, of family, friends. What creates that glow is the ar ticulation of subject (homemaker) to object (home-marker), caught up in a mutual becoming-home. But that becoming opens up onto other milieus, other markers, other spaces (distant in space and/or time). One’s apar tment opens up onto a distant living room in a house far away, or onto a beach with those waves. But it not only ar ticulates with a then (memory-space), but nows (that building has been pulled down, he’s now living in Phoenix, she’s in law school). The milieu opened up to is not just memory, not just the ‘real’, but also imagined places (where one has never been, photographs of objects that never existed, at least in that way). And it is not just photographs that open up in this way (see Bar thes’ Camera Lucida), but all marker s. A small . gurine – a Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god – sits on the shelf above my desk. Its milieu-radiance comes from associated meanings (Ganesha helps one overcome obstacles, an empowering reminder while at work), a childhood in New Delhi, my father who purchased the idol, and so on. No space is enclosed, but is always multidimensional, resonant and open to other spaces.
What creates the territory is an accretion of milieu effects. Each milieu affects the space, bends it, inflects it, shapes it. Compound these effects, but then make these effec ts expressive rather than functional (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 315): The resultant space is the territory. Territories are more bounded; milieu markers are arranged to close off the spaces (even while they themselves open up onto others), to inflect a more common character on that space. ‘An open system integ rates closure “as one of its local conditions” (closure enables, without preceding, “the outside”): and closure and openness are two phases in a single process’ (Morr is, 1996: 393, following from Massumi, 1996). Terr itor ies are not milieus. ‘A territory borrows from all the milieus; it bites into them, seizes them bodily (although it remains vulnerable to intrusions). It is built from aspects or portions of milieus’ (Deleuze and Guattar i, 1987: 314). A territory is an act, territorialization, the expression of a terr itory. The car with its rhythm, discussed earlier, creates a terr itory when the space it moves through does not just react to it, but when the car and its music expresses something. Though some objects are unique in the resonance they provide (the only photograph of a great-grandparent, a cherished childhood toy), what is most impor tant for the milieu is the effect of the object rather than the object itself, the effects on the space. In terms of terr itory, what is impor tant is how the object expresses (e.g. a home). So one might rid oneself of all one’s possessions each time one moves, but might recreate a similar space, a similar home, with a similar feel (a sense of light, of leisure, of tension) in the next place, drawing around oneself an expressive space from a var iety of markers and milieus. One makes oneself at home (and, indeed, is often asked to do just that).

The 1970s Autonomous movement in Italy developed from a working class defined by its mobility (see the excellent intro to Virno’s Grammar of the Multitude (online), and my rambling musings on Negri’s ideas in Time for Revolution). The response to the power of a mobile working population — a population that could change jobs to seek out the best working conditions — are the regimes of ‘flexible’ and ‘casualised’ labour in which most people I know currently find themselves. There is a parallel between mobile workers and mobile ‘inhabiters’. In fact, this can be traced back to the pre-capitalist land-owning aristocracy. It is a war that should be reinstigated.

There is a divide between what some call the asset-rich and asset-poor. From the perspective of job insecurity, Mel Gregg has discussed this problem on her blog, but I think she is coming at it from wanting to belong to the ‘asset-rich’ category. Not that there is any problem with that :). What I am interested in is breaking the hegemonic grip this mode of habitation (and lifestyle) has on the Australian imaginary particularly in articulations of ‘home’. Traditionally such problems have been discussed in purely geographical terms, ie of density of habitation. However, this only addresses one aspect of the Australian dream of having a house in the suburbs.

By increasing my macro-scale mobility (long and intermediate term temporal scales) I can not only decrease my small temporal scale (short term) mobility on the scale of the everyday, but I can work towards breaking the hegemonic grip the ‘assest-rich’ have on habitation reproduced as sedimented affects of territory in the ‘home’. The solution is not to ‘own your own home’ but for everyone to own a house that is rented out to somebody else. There are many problems with this approach I am advocating, in fact it would involve much sacrifice, but so does any war.

A strict focus on automobility and the system of automobility is taking the question of mass mobility in the wrong direction. However, any wholesale change to the way mobility is facilitated in contemporary Sydney society has to come from the grass-roots ground-up. One possible solution I would be lobbying for would be to introduce a ‘youth fare’ for public transport. Make it exactly half the price of adult fares. Two reasons for this.

Firstly, the only way to make sure people don’t die on the road is not to have them there. Obvious. This introduces a whole lot of other problems regarding violence on public transport, etc. Simple response to this problem is to ask the question: How many people died/injured on public transport compared to the roads and road users?

Second, to produce a culture that relies on mass transport systems for mobility means there has to be a culture enveloping it. There is no culture of mass mobility at the moment, not for most people in Sydney anyway. For example, Sweden has such public transport fare pricing. As well as our child, student/concession and full fares, they have a ‘youth fare’ that can be purchased until the day you turn 26. By the time people hit 26 they have already organised their lives around a use of public transport as have most of their friends. Most of the people I got to know in Sweden did not drive. Actually only one person out of about 50 had their license. Even ‘Mr A’ the executive producer of the Getaway in Stockholm series of films (who I interviewed) does not have a license! This subtle change in fare pricing could bring about wholesale changes in not only cultures of mobility, but in corresponding geographies of habitation.

Sydney is not Stockholm, and the sprawling suburbs of Sydney would not benefit, at least not in the short term, from a reduced ‘youth fare’. This is simply because the public transport system servicing the intermediate and outer suburbs is shithouse. I know this because of my brain-snapping three-train and one bus two-hour trips from Harris Park to Bankstown when I was tutoring at the UWS campus there. The only reason there would be no benefit to those implicated in the current situation is due to the geographies of habitation and forms of mobility that service these (centre-periphery) geographies. If a better option became available (much cheaper public transport for youth) then I think you would slowly see a change in geographies of habitation. Intermediate and large-scale time frames of mobility (moving house, moving jobs, moving cities, etc) would increase to decrease small-scale mobilities facilitated on everyday temporalities.

I am talking about something much more radical and yet so very simple. An example. My real estate agent miscalculated recently when he attempted to put my rent up. I view the concept of the ‘home’ as an outdated romantic myth that people like me — a postgrad and probably someone who will continually be ‘on the move’ for most of their working life — cannot hold. The idealised Australian imaginary of owning one’s ‘home’ is simply nonsense for people like me. However, this does not make me sad for some lost myth that I never had. The power of my mobility means that I can simply uproot when my real estate agent wants to increase the rent. No arguments, no explanations. Beyond the fact I will not let my relative sedimentation and rootedness become commodified. Or, better, I refuse to let my reactionary desire to (conservatively) maintain constellations of affect expressed as territory so it can be overcoded by capital. My ‘home’ would implicate me in a libidinal-political economy of habitation in which I am exploited. Someone said to me recently they hated people with mortgages. She already has a place, so I dismissed her argument out of hand. However, now I understand how the non-privileged (so-called asset-poor) can resist rather than simply dismiss.

Refuse it. To war!

Death to the HOME!

The Gambler

He said, son, I’ve made a life out of readin’ people’s faces,
And knowin’ what their cards were by the way they held their eyes.
[...]
Now ev’ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
’cause ev’ry hand’s a winner and ev’ry hand’s a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.
[...]
You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.

What is this knowledge that Kenny Rogers speaks of?

It is partially experiential, determined by years of gambling practice. A sedimented knowledge of gesture and code. However, if every hand is a winner and a loser, then there is a way of knowing that is immanent to the act of gambling itself. Knowledge immanent to the roll of the die or the dealing of a hand. Yet such knowledge is not contained within the die or the cards themselves, otherwise certain hands or rolls would be ‘winners’ (which, in reality, certain rolls or hands are, but lets keep it on the analogical level of the song). The knowledge is produced ‘by the way they held their eyes’, which is, literally manifest on the surface of what is happening, between what is happening, and, in fact, it is the ‘happening’. The positioning of the eye is determined by a relation between at least two probabilities and is one leading edge of a feedback loop the modulates the event of gambling.

Or, perhaps it is better to speak of it not as a knowledge — ie as an operation of retroactive overcoding backformed from the cessation of the event’s unfolding duration — but as a cosmic and modal posturing that speaks to a monadal relation to the world. It is from within the event that faces are read as indicating a postured relation to the world determined by the way others hold their eyes (if everyone is a gambler, which they are not, but, again, lets keep the analogy going). The only skill a gambler has — different from the knowledge of the game — is to control the way in which the gambling event is actualised, that is, manipulate the passage from the virtual to the actual.

The disciplining of the gamble-event speaks to the act of conditioning probabilities to a desired outcome. I am assuming that gamblers ostensibly want to ‘win’. From wild distributions of the relative weight of cards — ie some cards are ‘better’ than others — or the fall of the die to an either/or of winning or losing (or ‘running away’, that is, disengagement). Because gamblers have (ideally) no control over the random act of distribution (the deal or roll), the conditioning of probability is facilitated by a modulation of the gambling event. Of course, this is much more successful in card games and probably not even possible in games based on the roll of dice or the spin of the wheel. This capacity for skill within card games is what differentiates such games from other forms of gambling.

Rogers’ analogy of ‘gambling as life’ holds until the logic of the win/lose outcome is questioned. Not because people do not want to ‘win’ — sure? why not? ::shrug:: — but because people are playing different games within a singular gambling-event. Not everyone is following the same rules. Different codes and gestures pertaining to different conceptions of the present actuality and the contemporaneous temporal manifold ‘counter-actualisation’ of future-past virtuality. That is, the non-synchronicity of life rhythms adds another dimension of (im)probability that has to be calculated into the immanent feedback loop of knowing.