Crowds

Crowds are going to be the ‘in’ academic topic for 2006 and beyond, that’s my tip! See what I mean here and scroll down to the event at Goldsmith’s College on Tarde. Eric Alliez has a paper available for download. A comment on Ted’s blog where I allude to the political economy of affect-capture/spectatorship and crowds has got me thinking about it again. I had begun thinking about the concept of the ‘crowd’ in relation to automobile traffic, which is kind of an obvious direction in which to head, and my principle supervisor Zoe said I might want to start reading Gabriel de Tarde. However, beyond traffic I realised their were greater applications in relation to media and subcultural studies.

A subculture is not a thing, but the cultural detritus organised around the affective dimension of a particular assemblage of molecular elements selected, territorialised, arranged and enveloped. The inflexion from the parent culture is not because of the meanings invested into particular objects (ala semiotic reading of ‘style’), but that these objects are territorialised through a modifying variation facilitated through a change in context or application. Think of the classic Punk example of the safety pin or in the case of modified-car culture there is the panel van transformed from workhorse to fuck truck through the addition of a mattress. A different territorialisation to that of ‘common sense’ instigates a becoming-together that occurs on a machinic scale.

An abstract machine may be developed alongside and within an assemblage like a crane on the side of a building site upon which a skyscraper is to be erected. The skyscraper in culture is the discursive ‘model’, ie what is a ‘real’ hot rod or a ‘real’ punk. Debates around these issues serve as the stage upon which the affective dimension of the assemblage is captured and modulated, not because of some ‘essence’ of the meanings involved, the meanings are animated by the pre-verbal (‘viral’) dimension of language that allows a becoming-together.

Enter crowds. If the job of the subcultural industry is to capture and modulate the affects of a particular machinic assemblage by capturing the ‘pre-verbal’ affective dimension of language in text and imagery, then the text becomes a material mediator rather than informational conduit. What Massumi calls ‘event transmission’ (the event of becoming-together). Really it is just a matter of thinking about Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a collective assemblage of enunciation from the point of view of the culture industry media producers. By this I mean, similar to ‘event management’ industries what is exchanged in capitalist relations in the culture industry is not the text-event, but the spectator-crowd that is its audience.

The concept of the crowd becomes a fascinating way to think about distributed audiences that are collectively individuated by a singular mass-produced text-event. The classic example is the Bible or any other religious text. I am not going to have time to follow this up for my dissertation, but I would love to think about it some more later.

Enthusiasm, Affect

The Very Best of Street Machine, Volume 1, was published in 1986 and represents a point of inflection in contemporary modified-car culture in Australia. It covered the last (7th, 1986) Street Machine Nationals before the rise of Summernats in 1987. It is the tipping point for the transformation of an amatuer activity into something else. The trend could be called ‘professionalisation’, but this only describes the actors who animate the scene rather than the enthusiasts who are captivated by the scene and operate as its motor. There is a mediation around the notion of enthusiasm between a conception in terms of an enthusiast’s extensive participation to a conception of enthusiasm in terms of an intensive engagement.

There are no rules, not among the likeable loonies and non-conformists of the street machine movement. Street machine attitudes and motor cars are not confined to one set of blueprints. Each is spectacularly different.
[…]
The common thread is a fanatical relationship with fast and/or interesting machines. Some folks have the bucks to make dream cars happen. Others, sitting on empty wallets, are lucky to rake up enough to fill the tank once a week.
There are no age or social barriers. Mechanics, lawyers, candlestick makers — they come from everywhere and anywhere, trapped by their obsession with the great god motor car.
And while their customised cars might have originated from Broadmeadows or Fishermen’s Bend, Detroit is the spiritual home of street machiners. The V8 is boss even though just lately there’s a begrudging acknowledgement of the existence of other powerplants. (page 8)

There is a strong, almost-reactionary masculinity and nationalism tied up in this dual allegience to US-sourced cars and the V8 motor, but that is another issue. The reification of the car as ‘god’, the ‘spiritual home’ of Detroit and the description of the relationship to the car as ‘fanatical’ indicates two things.
1) The technology of the car is purified or externalised from social and cultural issues and categories. The ‘god is in the machine’ thesis of enthusiasm enables enthusiast to feel as if their own enthusiasm is beyond their control.
2) The fanaticism of an enthusiast’s devotion to particular automotive technologies selects (car, street), organises (e.g. US ‘iron’ and V8’s over others), and territorialises (through modification, affective variation) the machinic phylum to produce the assemblage of street machining. The role of the magazines, and the rest of the cultural industry, is to modulate this affective dimension to maintain the consistency of the assemblage; that is, to ensure that enthusiasts are still ‘trapped by their obsession’.

Time for the Game

I’ve been walking these streets at night,
Just trying to get it right (Need some patience, yeah),
It’s hard to see with so many around,
You know I don’t like being stuck in a crowd (Could use some patience, yeah),
And the streets don’t change but maybe the name,
I ain’t got time for the game.

Guns and Roses’s Patience may not be on par with a Johnny Cash or Kenny Rogers tune for the philosophical aptitude of the everyday, but I think their track captures a sense of the temporality and affective relationship between waiting and participation. Patience is an important affective complex that I had not really thought about until reading Slack and Wise’s Culture + Technology: A Primer. Their book is part of a technological assemblage deployed in practices of pedagogy. Deleuze and Guattari write:

There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (the book) and a field of subjectivity (the author). Rather, an assemblage establishes connections between certain multiplicities drawn from each of these orders, so that the book has no sequel nor the world as its object nor one or several authors as its subject. In short, we think that one cannot write sufficiently in the name of an outside. The outside has no image , no signification, no subjectivity. The book as an assemblage with the outside, against the book as image of the world. (1987, 23)

Crucially, the ‘outside’ in practices of pedagogy is not the outside of the teacher, but that of the student. Or, rather, it is a double outside, the outside of the student that is inside the outside of the teacher. So, then, how is it possible to write a book as an assemblage, or construct any assemblage for that matter, with the outside that belongs to an other (the reader)?

This is not a small issue. It is a particular example of ‘becoming-together’ as Massumi phrases it, but one where there is some sort of perception that the student comes to where the teacher already is. For me this means there is, in some sense, an act of active waiting on behalf of the teacher. It is a waiting because the teacher is ‘already there’, but also active in the affects (both positive and negative) that guide the student to where the teacher ‘is’. So the teacher may be ‘waiting’ but it is a waiting whereby the teacher travels alongside the student willing her on. Yet, in patience there is also the material ‘letting go’ of waiting that is also an affective ‘holding on’. In short, the conjunctive synthesis of waiting and acting is modulated by the affects (joy of learning, shame of stupidity, interest, boredom and excitement with texts/teachers, and so on) that articulate the pedagogical assemblage with a consistency.

What I realised the other day when trying to knock up some more of my damnable dissertation is that I need to have patience with myself while writing. I ‘know’ my stuff backwards and forwards; having the knowledge is not an issue. There is a holding on that is also a letting go, an urging as I stand at my side that is also a waiting at a place I already am. All these movements are modulated by my current affective attunement, normally articulated through music, coffee, course language and maybe blogging (ok, definitely blogging;).

It is a putting into action of the relation between what Deleuze and Guattari called a ‘map’ and ‘tracing’:

What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real. […] The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. A map has multiple entryways, as opposed to the tracing, which always comes back to the “same.” A map has to do with performance, whereas the tracing always involves an alleged “competence.” (1987: 12-13)

Of course, in terms of my dissertation, the ‘tracing’ is the partoicular representation of modified-car culture in Australia that I am constructing and working from. The map is something else, between the representations (‘the world’) and me-in-the-world, closer to the place I want to get to when writing. I don’t just mean writing something that will be passed, that has never been my intention.

Deleuze and Guattari say that “the tracing should always be put back on to the map” (orig. ital.: 13). What they mean it is necessary to work with both tracing and map, because the tracing upon the map has “organized, stabilized, neutralized the multiplicities according to the axes of significance and subjectification belong to it” (1987: 13). The stabilities and organizations of ‘the world’ that I have selected as representing modified-car culture in Australia actually enables my dissertation writing practice and is absolutely necessary to actually getting something done. It is the disjunction between the different rhythms and different internal representations of such rhythms of ‘map’ and ‘tracing’ that produces a distribution of conjunctive elements which will hopefully be recognisable as a ‘dissertation’ when I have had enough.

I need to have the patience to let myself learn what I need to write.

Lawrence Grossberg Interview

Connecting with a post from last week on ‘stay-at-home’ adult children and the categories of ‘youth’ and ‘student’, here is an interview, “Being Young Sucks”, with Lawrence Grossberg on his new book Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics and America’s Future (via ted @ differences & repetitions).

As a sidenote, there is an interesting lecture by infinite thought on
Fate, Resignation, Persistence, Affirmation, Endurance: Beckett and Stoicism (via anne @ purse lip square jaw). I enjoyed the take on Badiou’s evental ethics. It really reinforces in my mind the radical philosophical humanism of Badiou’s position.