Sketch of the Event-Commodity: Part One

I welcome comments on the below. It is a condensation of some ideas for my diss I have been playing with lately. Note this is not my diss! It is more a cut’n’pasted note to myself to enable me to think the argument for my diss. Some of the ideas catalysed in response to a question (from Tom O’Regan) I received at the CSAA conference on my paper. Some of the ideas I have been talking about for a long time…

Sketch of the Event-Commodity: Part One

The ‘event’ has become somewhat emblematic of late-20th Century and early-21st Century Western, post-industrial society. From media events to history events and tourism events to war events; everything has become figured as event. The tourism industry has embraced this popularist discourse of the event and the production of ‘events’. Event Management is a common industry in most developed nations. Interestingly, from the mid-20th Century on, there was something of a shift in philosophical discourse towards thinking the event, too. The ‘event’ of Event Management is not the same ‘event’ of philosophical or critical discourse. Event Management is a vocational field concerned with the production of spectacles for consumption by tourist populations. The event of philosophical discourse is a term used as a thinking-tool referring to a number of different conceptions of an ‘occurrence’ or ‘happening’ that can be broadly thought of as a state of being (Heideggerian, ‘a thing thinging’), its repetition as iteration (Derridean), the opposite as an irruption (of the ‘Real’) in the normative (Lacanian), or what happens ‘in-between’ (the ‘sensible’ states of being) as a process of becoming (Deleuzian).

The event of event management and the event of philosophical discourse can intersect at a precise disjunction around the concept of the ‘spectacle’. The ‘spectacle’ is a term developed by Guy Debord to refer to what he called the image-commodity. His purpose for developing the term came from his experience on the consumption-based society. Debord isolates a shift from what Walter Benjamin called the ‘aura’ of an art work to what the later postmodernists called the ‘simulacrum’ of commodity culture (Beller, 1994). The concept of the spectacle as image-commodity is useful for thinking about the event, because it captures how an event circulates and is consumed as commodity.

To understand this process it is necessary to separate the spectacle as image commodity into two temporalities, what Deleuze called the time of history (Chronos) and the time of the event (Aion). Historical time allows us to think the spectacle in a sensible fashion as something involving capitalist exchange; on the other hand the time of the event allows to think what is actually exchanged and that is the duration of the event (within historico-capitalist time) that occurs as the time of the event. In historical time the duration of the event begins not with the exchange of a commodity, but the desire to inhabit and connect with the world or ‘image’ of the commodity. The moment of exchange signals not that an event has begun, because the event has already begun, but that the transformation required to inhabit this world has shifted from being possible (‘if you buy this’ or ‘if you attend this event’) to probable. The probability of transformation is framed entirely in terms of the quality of the commodity. The quality of a commodity is not so much related to essences or material attributes, but the probability that a transformation will occur. This is why commercial reputation is touted as a selling point… At the moment of an exchange threshold there is a manifestation of a contingency, however ‘consumption’ has not yet occurred.

Maurizio Lazzarato’s short online essay on “Struggle, Media, Event” does not make this distinction in the duration of the image(-commodity) between what is possible and what is probable. Admittedly, progressive and revolutionary politics has seemingly concerned itself what is possible, while neo-liberal capitalist enterprises have concerned themselves with what is probable. The task of politics is convincing (or forcing in non-democratic contexts) others to turn what is possible into what is probable. The administration or bureaucracy turns what is probable into an eventuality (‘actualises’ it). The eventuality of an image-commodity is therefore a political manifestation. The logistics of the world herald by the image is on the material horizon of the commodity. If it were otherwise, the commodity (or user/consumer, as the case may be) would get a bad reputation for not being about to live up to reputation and would no longer circulate (or would be shamed). See the examples below.

The work of sociologists and cultural studies practioners who researched practices of consumption found that people were not ‘consumerist dupes’, as had been imagined by pessimistic researchers at the cusp of a mass-consumer society (the Frankfurt School), but interrogated commodities or media through tactical modes of consumption. The tactics of consumption is the work of the statistician in all of us. The guiding question is what event will be probable if I purchase this commodity? The image-commodity itself is not an event. The act of consumption is the event. However, what is exchanged as image-commodity is the probability that an event will occur.

The problem for Event Management is that they cannot foresee the future, and there is no way to guarantee consumers that a particular event will occur. This is a false problem (or it should be regarded as such). In sporting events, the event is not so much what happens on the sports ground, a ‘grand final’ or ‘World Cup qualifying game’, but the ‘becoming-together’ (as Brian Massumi calls it) of a diverse population that is distributed in time and space around a singularity, which in this case is the contingency of the sporting contest. The moniker ‘grand final’ is a quasi-transcendental signal or trigger from the future and what to expect. It operates in a similar fashion to a commercial reputation as both an increase in the probability that the ‘world’ herald by the image (as commodity) of a commodity (as advertisement) can be inhabited. ‘Grand final’ indicates a repeated finality involving an intense set of relations.

The affective tension experienced in the bodies of consumers of a commodity (attendance or spectatorship) and towards the future world which they already inhabit and desire to inhabit increases the closer in proximity one gets to the image-world, or, to put it another way, the closer the contingency comes to being played out and the probability is said to have exhausted itself. The finality is that one team will win, the contingency is who will win, the singularity is the contingency of the outcome. ‘Finality’ above is therefore only a partial finality. There is never any completion in sport only the exhaustion and reinvigoration of contingencies around which spectatorships organise. Another example may be the Evangelical Christian Right’s fascination with the ‘end of days’. However, the image-commodity is not that there will actually be a finality, but that the contingency will never exhaust itself, and therefore one can continue belonging to distributions around this contingency. Another example is of Marxist revolution and the ‘evangelical’ left, ie Zizek and his followers.

The world to be inhabited by a consumer of an image-commodity can be distributed into two main types of transformation that will be required for this world to be inhabited. Either the consumer can be transformed or the (localized) world to be inhabited can be transformed or, as often the case, both happen at the same time. The power of transformation or efficacy of the commodity is often a selling point. A good example is the SUV. What one consumes is not the possibility of ‘going off road’ or even the ability to do this (because as most people sensibly realize more skill is required than mere ownership of or access to appropriate equipment), but the potential for this to occur, that is, the capacity to become an off-roader. The contentious dimension to this beyond obvious problems of sustainability is the instrumentality of the transformation upon the ‘world’ if the SUV is only ‘deployed’ (I think a military term is suitable here) in an urban context. What constitutes the ‘world’ for an urban, SUV driver? Quite obviously it is street-based traffic, rather than ‘nature’-based ‘off-road’. To drive an SUV is to not dismiss one’s fellow road users, but to engage with them in a horrific automobilised war of attrition. It is to literally imagine that the world inhabited is one whereby the contingencies of traffic do not have to be negotiated through a shared sense of gesture, but through a brutal domination akin to the automobilised technologisation of nature (‘off-roading’). What an SUV owner purchases is the capacity to engage with the contingencies of traffic by domination, rather than negotiation. The related notion of technological performance (of cars, of computers, or any technology) is doubly abstract in this regard. What is exchanged in the image-commodity is the capacity for the capacity to engage with the contingencies in everyday (business, social, etc) life and is normally expressed as an excess of time represented by the technical efficiency of a technology. This is another issue…

[End Part One.]

Badiou and Zizek

Robin over at Irrational Numbers has superb posts and photographs on a recent conference (“Is the politics of truth still thinkable?”) that included Badiou and was organised by Zizek. My favourite line is one of Robin’s:

Anyhow it did serve strikingly to take me right back to AntiOedipus: oh, how marxists and lacanians alike flinch violently at the very suggestion of some positive desire – as if torching cars isn’t fun! As if there were something positively indecent in the idea, that pleasure could admix with political anger.

Oh, chortle…

I have also been meaning to post links to two of Robin’s other posts that should be read (here and here). I wish I had the capacity to engage in some intelligent way.

Can anyone host the two sound files one of Zizek’s talk and one of Badiou’s?

Blogtalk Paper Redux

Came across this blog that mentions my Blogtalk paper The Evental Potential of Blogs (the way it was written on the Blogtalk website and conference program as ‘Eventual Potential’ was wrong and so was my name, ‘one-n’ Glen, not ‘two-n’ Glenn! These minor errors have been rectified it seems, but the page is really slow to load for some reason!!). ANyway, the blog is owned by Dr Gary Sauer-Thompson who has an institutional home at the Philosophy Dept. at Flinder’s Uni. I welcome the engagement, but I think Gary has missed one of my key points. It is a good question because if I ever write the paper into a proper journal article I will be able to address his qualm directly.

One of the problems with my paper is that I tried to come up with a sufficient conception of media events that could account for blogs using what I would consider to be ‘first principles’ of any event-based work Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense. If I had read Mckenzie Wark’s book on global media events, then I would’ve had another level of differentiation with which to compare Dayan and Katz’s book on Media Events rather than trying to explain highly complex Deleuzian philosophy to a bunch of non-Deleuzians!! Suffer the little autodidacts indeed…

Dayan and Katz’s work sits on one end of a continuum with an explicit historical teleology at play in their conception of media events. Media events as the ‘real-time’ reporting of history. ‘History’, that is, events that exist on a properly ‘historical scale’, becomes represented and synthesised as the simulation-like media event.

Wark’s book, on the other hand, takes a properly poststructuralist angle on ‘history’ and ‘media events’. HIs is a second generation mass media studies and properly postmodern work on media events. Instead of ‘history’ being determined by sedimented symbolic structures of power and having ‘media events’ simply produce a double of this ‘history’ in the media, Wark’s conception of media events is principally concerned with the newsworthy efficacy of the event. The complicating factor in this is that the newsworthiness can be self-perpetuating and self-emergent (there is an ‘internal’ feedback loop). There is no ‘history’ beating down upon a media milieu and forcing the media to pay attention. Attention itself is freed from the symbolic and historical links that once anchored it. I would call this sort of attention ‘enthusiasm’.

What blogging does is have the POTENTIAL to exist within the MEDIA EVENT, what I tried to capture in the title as the EVENTAL POTENTIAL of Blogging. So you can see where having the wrong title for my paper may drastically change things…

Gary’s reading of my paper suffers from not fully appreciating what I meant by ‘potential’. I certainly did not say that all political events are determined by the media and that bloggers had a hand in such events. This is what Gary assumes I am arguing from selectively quoting my paper. Such an argument would be nonsense. I deliberately selected an event (US presidential election) that could be considered a media event or a composistion or manifold of discrete media events (as many scholars have argued), where blogging clearly played a role in the media event. I went to extreme pains to argue that blogging may not have actually affected the outcome of the election (the historical event) and only affected the media reportage (media event). The purpose of my paper was to think of a way whereby blogs could be discussed alongside the mass-media without reducing it to a direct comparison or in terms of ‘media effects’. I wanted to understand the relation between the mass media and blogging, the concept of the ‘media event’ is a very good tool to enable this discussion.

I am not too sure why Gary chooses to debunk my paper with an example that he says himself doesn’t involve bloggers!?!?! I agree with his example, but I don’t think it is relevant to my argument. Quoting Gary:

You can see thae speed of the feedback loop in the way the Howard Government’s mandatory detention policy has been unravelling of late. It is changing because the events around this policy are encoded with political meanings and the Howard Government’s political responses (eg. to allow mother and new born babies to stay ouside the camps) are a reaction to those meanings).
The Howard Government understands that it has to appear to be compassionate and humane in terms of its administration of mandatory detention.This is illustrated by the release of Malaysian woman Virginia Leong and her three-year-old daughter Naomi, born in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre.
Bloggers had no role in any of this. This was largely done through the ALP Senators digging away at DIMA at Senate Estimates, the media running with the comments, the PM’s office seeing how the politics was playing against them, and then responding. Where were the bloggers? Nowhere. We don’t make the news.

The fascination that media scholars have with this notion of ‘making news’ is confusing to a poor cultural studies person like me. Anyway, to underscore that my paper was a deliberate attempt to debunk the myth that bloggers have any power at all beyond affecting the ‘media event’ of historical events (Dayan and Katz) or what I would now call the ‘media event’ as a historical event (Wark).

OK? Cleared that one up? Good.

Giving Conference Papers and all that jazz

So the CSAA conference is in a few days. I think I might start writing my paper again (3rd time lucky!). Who is going? Who will be at Prefix? Hurrah!

Yes. Yes. After all the online grumpiness I think it is time for a few soothing ales. Do I hear any seconders?

Has anyone else ever had the problem where they could write and argue so many different things that they feel stumped, or, worse, that everything they write is crap? Everything I write just feels so animated-swiss-cheese holey! My problem is that whenever I attempt to directly elucidate what I have been concerned with in my research it sounds like self-absorbed rubbish. That is one problem…

…but on a related problem I need to work on my “comedian’s face”, I think, so I never lose character when presenting a paper having thoughts like, “Fuck this shit is rubbish.” I had that problem at the blogging conference of a while back. I thought what I was saying was rubbish as I was saying it and I fell to bits in front of the conference crowd. (Although, as a sidenote, I wish I had read McKenzie Wark’s book before giving that paper!!)

I can’t quite figure out if it is a confidence/nihilist thing or if it is actually because I think it is crap. I don’t think it is a confidence thing, because I know I know my stuff. Self confidence and confidence in what you are saying are two separate things though. I have plenty of self confidence, lol! If I think I am saying total bullshit, even though I know it back to front, then that is a problem. But it isn’t bullshit as much as it is the stifling feeling that I should clarify and express the limits to my statements/arguments as I am saying them. I have a feeling I am letting my pomo nihilist side of me come out in these situations where all I can think is how meaningless it all is in the big c(ha)osmic scheme of things, but how on a pathetically humanist Glen-in-the-world level it is all probably important to have a cogent not-so-pomo idea in your head.