Abstract, second draft

Here is another abstract, this time organised around the ‘thesis’ of my dissertation (previous chapter by chapter summary version here). It is too long and contains too many ‘glenisms’. I am posting it here because it is a very good summary of my argument for those who have been wondering wtf Glen has been on about since I started developing this line of the research two and a half years ago. I sat on the couch for about half an hour before sending it off just thinking about how much work I have done and feeling a little stunned. But I knew it would be too long. OK, third time lucky…

Modified: Cars, Culture, and Event Mechanics

This thesis investigates the enthusiasm, scenes and cultural industry of contemporary modified-car culture in Australia. Enthusiasm is often thought of as a charismatic relation of durable excitement between the enthusiast subject and the enthusiast object modified cars. This thesis argues that the simple charismatic relation of enthusiasm is a reduction that allows the enthusiasm of a given scene to become a resource for cultural industries servicing that scene. Instead of a simple charismatic relation, enthusiasm is understood as the event of a singular complex of affects that exists on transversal scales from the personal to the scene and beyond.

The affects of enthusiasm may be felt in the enthusiast body, but this thesis argues that affects belong to a subjective dimension of the event of enthusiasm. The event of enthusiasm is defined by the subjectively experienced impersonal affects that circulate across bodies and which are actualised in the capacities of enthusiasts, the objects engaged with, and practices performed. The movement of affect is controlled through the different consistencies of organisation at the level of the cultural events of modified-car culture. The cultural events include cruising, working on cars, racing, showing, and consuming or participating in the enthusiast media. Enthusiasts deploy a social ‘know how’ of the different cultural events of the scene to navigate their various capacities for action. These cultural events serve as the locus for the differential repetition of the event of enthusiasm, which is rendered durable through the bodies of enthusiasts and the infrastructure of the scene.

The scene is defined by the character of the cultural events which populate it and the enthusiasts that participate in the events. The cultural industries and social institutions enable the enthusiasm by investing in the infrastructure of the scene and facilitating the existence of cultural events through sponsoring or practical support. The power relations between enthusiasts and various dimensions of the infrastructure constitute the dispositif of the scene. Archival research of enthusiast magazines allows me to map the transformations to these power relations between the state (governmental regulatory bodies), social institutions (online and offline car clubs, and federations), cultural industries (magazines, event promoters, and later importers) and different populations of enthusiasts (from interested public to highly skilled and devoted enthusiasts). The periods roughly delineated are the street rodding era (the 1970s), the street machining era (1980s through to the present) and the import era (mid-1990s through to the present).

Transformations to the scene arguably occurred in the context of broader social changes exemplified by the processes of globalisation. National automotive industries and markets have been transformed over the last 30 years and these transformations have been felt through correlating transformations to the cultural identity of scenes and enthusiasms. The historical example of Australian street machining saw the emergence of a reactionary nationalism in the mid-1980s linked to the technology of the V8 engine. This thesis maps some aspects of the relation between culture and technology of this reactionary enthusiasm and that belonging to the ‘rise of the imports’. The event of enthusiasm is repeated in different ways across the transversal scales connecting the subjectively experienced affects of cultural events to effects on the scene by the global-scale transformations of the automotive industry.

For enthusiasm to become a resource, the event of enthusiasm has to be reduced to the simple charismatic relation between subject and object. The cultural industries and social institutions attempt to control this relation by controlling the cultural events of enthusiasm. I contrast the scene dispositif of the three eras of contemporary modified-car culture in Australia: the militancy of the street rodders, the emergence of the synergistic spectacle of the street machiners, and the immanent online-based sociality of current enthusiasts. This thesis argues that the militant representational social structure of the street rodders was displaced by the spectacle of the street machining era; yet, the rise in popularity of online clubs and forums serves as a new and different form of social infrastructure that complements the spectacle.

The spectacular cultural event is organised around enthusiasm reduced to a charismatic relation. In the context of 1980s street machining, I examine the way elite level vehicles built by highly skilled enthusiasts following spectacular ‘head turning’ styles of modification are used by event promoters and magazines to collectively individuate a population of the interested public. The head turner is a singularity within modified-car culture. It organises the social space of the street, of car shows, and of the discursive space of magazines. Through the example of Street Machine magazine and the Summernats festival, I argue that the emergent synergistic relation between magazines and event promoters is organised around the labour of skilled enthusiasts and the capacity of ‘head turners’ to mediate relations between different populations of enthusiasts.

This thesis draws on fieldwork research with an online-based car club – where I participated as an enthusiast – and archival research of 30 years of enthusiast magazines and other texts. I develop a post-Kantian event-based conception of enthusiasm by drawing on the limited amount of previous scholarship on modified-car culture, including the exemplary work of Bert Moorhouse, read through post-structuralist theories of the ‘event’ and ‘affect’, and with reworkings of other notions such as the ‘scene’ and ‘cultural capital’. The oeuvre of Gilles Deleuze is a key theoretical influence on this work, which also draws on the historical method and philosophy of Michel Foucault, a ‘practical’ reading of Pierre Bourdieu’s cultural capital, the problematisation of the social by Bruno Latour. It develops Theodor Adorno’s work on the cultural industry by examining its biopolitical dimension. The conclusion surveys the broader cultural context of enthusiasm and the utility of the concepts of ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘scene’ interrogating how the cultural industry invests in various scenes to cultivate enthusiasm as a material and cultural resource.

Shaviro on the ‘New’

Steve Shaviro posted another draft chapter in the book he is writing about Whitehead (amongst other things). The chapter is called: Interstitial Life: Novelty and Double Causality in Kant, Whitehead, and Deleuze. He also has other draft chapters available here. I have written up some notes on Whitehead’s book The Concept of Nature here.

Shaviro engages with the seeming paradox of Kantian ‘efficient cause’ as the purely determinable relation within materiality (or what Deleuze calls ‘bodies and states of affairs’ in the Logic of Sense) and ‘final cause’, which is slightly more complex. Novelty can’t reside in efficient cause, because everything is of a determinable relation, rather it is the differential repetition (Deleuze) or ‘life’ (Whitehead) at the heart of a post-Kantian ‘final cause’, which I think is Deleuze’s ‘quasi-cause’ (Logic of Sense) (although I am not entirely sure?), that is, in part, the thrust of Shaviro’s answer to the question, “Can we imagine a form of self-organization that is not also self-preservation and self-reproduction?” (12). His answer is actually more complex than this as he uses Whitehead to think about the rhythmns of different causality at play in the concatenations of the virtual and actual.

Below is an extract from Shaviro’s paper wherehe discusses appetition.

When an entity displays “appetite towards a difference” – Whitehead gives the simple example of “thirst” – the initial physical experience is supplemented and expanded by a “novel conceptual prehension,” an envisioning (or “envisagement” – 34) of something that is not already given, not (yet) actual. Even “at a low level,” such a process “shows the germ of a free imagination” (32).
This means that it is insufficient to interpret something like an animal’s thirst, and its consequent behavior of searching for water, as merely a mechanism for maintaining (or returning to) a state of homeostatic equilibrium. “Appetition towards a difference” seeks transformation, not preservation. Life cannot be adequately defined in terms of concepts like Spinoza’s conatus, or Maturana and Varela’s autopoiesis. Rather, an entity is alive precisely to the extent that it envisions difference, and thereby strives for something other than the mere continuation of what it already is.

I think Shaviro’s reading of Whitehead’s concept is actually more productive than Massumi’s notion of ‘anticipation’ briefly developed in Parables of the Virtual. Both attempt to account for relations of futurity, but Massumi’s is organised around the superposition of one moment upon the next, and this, it seems to me, elides the relation of contingency that makes possible demanding the impossible. Massumi’s ‘anticipation’, or as I prefer to call it ‘expectation’, may provide the conceptual infrastructure for the future, but the future still has to be actualised. The pull of quasi-cause is more like the anticipation felt of the body, rather than the expectation of the mind. In sports you anticipate, not expect; a parent expects and anticipates her child; religious fanatics expect, and find it everywhere. Anticipation of the body is not the science (or religion) of expectation.

The problem of real continuous novelty versus the discrete commodified novelties of capitalism is the real problem of the cultural industry. Adorno et al focused too much on the (Kantian?) subject-object distinction instead of the events herald by the practical use of commodities. The whole Cultural Studies triumphantalism around ‘everyday life’ and how consumers actually use commodities was a complete waste of time. Of course people don’t use commodities how they were ‘programmed’, or the programming is just another form of cultural and social expectation built into the discursive materiality of objects. The capitalists cannot commodify real contingency, and therefore ‘life’ in Whitehead’s sense, because life moves so much quicker. Capital will never be fast enough. The only hope is to make life slow enough… couch potato? Or valorise certain contingencies over others (real tv, extreme sports, gaming, etc.)

Kenneth Surin in his chapter on ‘Force’ in the recent ‘Key Concepts’ book (ed. Stivale) articulates some sense of this distinction between the singular novelty of life and the life-sapping novelties of capitalism:

Deleuze has in several works connected the notion of force with the concept of a singularity, primarily because it takes a libidinal investment, and thus the activation of a force or ensemble of forces, to constitute a singularity. If the universe is composed of absolute singularities, then production, any kind of production, can only take the form of repetition: each singularity, as production unfolds, can only repeat or propagate itself. In production, each singularity can only express its own difference, its distance or proximity, from everything else. Production, on this Deleuzean view, is an unendingly proliferating distribution of all the myriad absolute singularities. Production is necessarily repetition of difference, the difference of each singularity from everything else.
Capitalism, however, also requires the operation of repetition. A capitalist axiomatics, at the same time, can only base itself on notions of identity, equivalence and intersubstitutivity, as Marx pointed out in his analysis of the logic of the commodity-form. This being so, capitalist repetition is perforce repetition of the non-different, the different in capitalism can never be more than the mere appearance of difference, because capitalist difference can always be overcome, and returned through the processes of abstract exchange, to what is always the same, the utterly fungible. Capitalism, and this is a decisive principle in the Capitalism and Schizophrenia project, only deterritorializes in order to bring about a more powerful reterritorialization. When capitalism breaches limits it does so only in order to impose its own limits, which it projects as the limits of the universe. The power of repetition in capitalism is therefore entirely negative, wasteful and lacking in any really productive force. Capitalistic repetition is non-being in the manner setout by Spinoza. Any collective subjectivity constituted on the basis of this form of repetition will not be able to advance the cause of emancipation. The challenge, at once philosophical and poltical, posed by [Deleuze and Guattari] has therefore to do with the supersession of this capitalist repetition by forms of productive repetition that are capable of breaking beyond the limits imposed on emancipation by those who rule us. (27-28)

mobile phones and traffic congestion

From slashdot:

“In an interesting and innovative way Bangalore city, India, has come up with a way to monitor road traffic congestion by monitoring the density of mobile phones. This can give users quantitative and directional information of traffic flow without significant additional infrastructure investments. The congestion data is already available online.”

Yes, yes, all well and good, but it doesn’t say what the nature of the delay is, or if it will be cleared up in 10 minutes or 10 hours.

Someone needs to develop a subsciption service whereby information regarding any traffic accidents or delays within the radius of a given mobile phone tower is relayed directly to drivers in cars. It would be a subscription service with an annual fee or something and a per message cost. Connect the phone to the sat nav system and it would be able to update route delays and plot a different route in ‘real time’. The information relayed would be provided by emergency service personal at the base of operations, which is in continual radio contact with the emergency service personal in the field. Or depending on the popularity of the service, ‘spotters’ could actually be hired, maybe even using the military-grade unmanned drones… lol