Working paper seminar series

Below is the title and abstract of a paper I shall be presenting this Friday as part of our working papers seminar series. It is based on about the first third/half of a paper I am trying to finish about the garage-assemblage. Actual paper does not really engage with Summernats.

Title: “Show us your tits”: Summernats, Gender and Simondon’s Techno-Aesthetics

Abstract: A genealogy of the Summernats street machining festival must include the mid-1980s historical turning point of where it shifts from the Street Machine Nationals run “By street machiners for street machiners” to the 1987 spectacular Summernats event. The Street Machine Nationals was organised around the display and appreciation of the street machine projects understood as the outcome of the creative labour of enthusiasts. The Summernats event shifted the composition of relations where the elite street machines (still appreciated as above) were used to individuate a much larger market of the interested public. This spectacular mode of car enthusiast festival was pitched as a “party”. A constant critique of this party-like event is its explicit masculine character best captured by the misogynist demand: “Show us your tits”. “Show us your tits” is a demand for visibility and invitation for females to ‘belong’ to the hyper-masculine experience of the event.

In a 1982 letter to Jacques Derrida, philosopher of technology Gilbert Simondon outlines what he describes as “techno-aesthetics” and explores technology and the technical from the point of view of aesthetics. Early in his letter Simondon includes a comment from the architect Eupaulinos (in Paul Valéry’s version of Socrates’ dialogue with Phaedrus): “Whereas passersby merely see an elegant chapel, I see the exact proportions of a girl from Corinth whom I happily loved.”

The seemingly incongruous relation between Simondon’s techno-aesthetics and the misogynist cultural practices of Summernats I shall stake out in this paper involves thinking about the way men heteronormatively aestheticise technology through gendered anthropomorphisation. I shall argue that the libidinal-affective intensities of the female form are mapped onto the non-human intensities of (pre-digital) technology. Later gendered relations to technology map the intensities of war to the non-human intensities of computers, particularly in gaming cultures. I shall read Simondon’s theory of the individuation of environment-subjects in terms of Felix Guattari’s theories of the multi-dimensional subject. The pre-individual field of the subject co-individuated with technology at an intensive level (such as found in the homosocial spaces of enthusiast car culture) transversally connects different experiences from any given subject’s development (‘individuation’). The point I shall make is that in the case of Summernats, the misogynist domination of women is a consequence of the reproduction of heteronormative and intimate relations with technology (and other men) that ward off the anxiety of wayward libidinal-affective desire.

Ontology of events and politics

After reading this on Levi’s blog and this on Ian Bogost’s blog I left the below comment on Bogost’s blog:

I’m glad the focus has finally shifted more to the ontology of events, rather than objects. I find ‘events’ far more interesting on a number of levels. Ontology of events requires a different metaphysics, what is the event ‘to withdraw’? Reality consists more of what happens than what it is. The individuation of elements (‘objects’) in the shooting event occurs across a complex interplay of events that are all happening at the ‘same’ time.

It is midly amusing that Harman talks about ’emphasis’ in theory building as if it is a logical category. It is not. It is a political category. What events — and therefore which individuations of objects — are emphasised and how are such events put to use?

Poverty is a classic example; different sides of politics emphasise different events (biography of personal responsibility vs collective/structural conditions of possibility), both of which involve ANT concerns with distributions of agency and both are individuations in a singular complex event of ‘this’ poverty.

Doctor Who is made for Children and Simpletons

“It’s Doctor Who day!” so proclaimed Hugo award-nominated Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat on Twitter last night. I had already watched the five-part “Pond Life” webisode series through the BBC’s Youtube channel, like many other Doctor Who fans, in preparation of the new series. In Australia we were able to watch the first episode of the new Doctor Who series as soon as we woke up this morning thanks to the ABC making it available on their “catch-up TV” service iView. This is exactly what I did, with a coffee in one hand and my iPad in the other. That it coincided with Father’s Day meant my Facebook and Twitter streams were full of Whovian joy crossed over with accounts of fathers watching the show with their children.

And yet there were also the haters. They were in the minority of course, but one comment struck me in particular; the poster said that Doctor Who “is made for children and simpletons”. Obvious troll is obvious, but, still, the elitist platitudes rubbed me up the wrong way… Doctor Who wears its infantile pretensions on its cross-platform global-brand sleeve. To say it is made for children (and, hyperbolically, for simpletons) is to state the obvious. Doctor Who captures a certain kind of stupid that I want to suggest is desperately needed. Hence, this is a defence of Doctor Who by way of a defence of stupidity.

We live in a world in which stupidities attempt to impinge on our mental and spiritual well-being at every turn. Indeed, I used to think of plenty of things were stupid (and still do to a certain extent): elite sport, organised religion, liberal democratic politics, pretty much everything that someone else is doing. A normative appreciation of stupidity, firstly, locates the stupid in someone else, and secondly, works to trace this stupid as the outcome of some kind of failure; a failure of thought, a failure of imagination, a failure of agency and so on.

The greatest stupid is produced by those who think they are a success. This is a kind of existential stupidity that provides security and purpose. Success as an Australian means policing borders. Success as a savvy businessperson means embodying the will of the market. Success as a moral subject means becoming an evangelist of law and order. Conservatism here is not a political category; the politics is just an expression of the ‘claptrap’ (political speech triggering audience clapping on demand) experienced as a collective pat on the back.

None of this is new. To realise this stupidity as an inescapable milieu is pretty much the only quality that is shared by all post-Boomer generations. Some resist through attempts at withdrawal, but this is insufficient. Like the coffee in a forgotten stove-top espresso machine, strategic apathy percolates into a ‘bitter’ generational cynicism. This ‘burnt’ cynic attempts to ward off being swept up in stupidities, but as a result produces their own. The cynicism of youth valorises the stupid of noseless faces.

The performative knowingness of the cynic is balanced with the performative naivety of the existentially enfranchised. This is more about the earnestness of those who transcend the collective stupidities of the individual and rather than choosing success, they choose the struggle. They are working to transcend the conditions of existence that forever turns inward back to the individualising ‘us’: the individual, the family, the nation. The stupid of the struggle is a failure to realise that resistance is futile; worse, it becomes a resource for the ‘winners’, like two cogs turning against each other.

Three forms of ideal stupidity; actual stupid is a combination of the three. If everything is stupid, how can anything or anyone escape or resist or succeed? Embrace your stupidities. In ancient Greece, Socrates called stupidity ‘ignorance’ and wisdom was the recognition of the way ignorance was an inherent character of humanity. Socrates did not live in our world, however. The possibility of ‘wisdom’ is to smuggle stupidity in through the backdoor under the aegis of philosophy. Although, Socrates was definitely on to something. Kant argued for a higher ‘pure’ rationality that transcends stupidity, but he did not recognise the conditions of rationality as being his own stupidity: the unthought of thought that haunts the modernist project. The stupid is the inescapable outside of thought that conditions the possibility of thought. Kant is the Batman of thought. “Why so serious?”

The fourth response is to follow Socrates, but turn Kant into the Joker, and go ‘meta’ to recognise the limits of the other three kinds of stupidity. The antidote to aggrandised Socratic beard-stoking, while at the same time pursuing an unforgiving self-awareness, is through play. To play is to suspend seriousness in a way that is often utterly serious. Is it a surprise then, that practices of ‘meta’ in the form of play characterise much of the activity found on social networks? “Best cat video.” Or imagining politicians as anthropomorphised animals? This is stupid, without a doubt, but it is obviously so. Almost anything that exists in the online economy of memes is an exchange of stupid. This is an invitation to a playful stupidity that is utterly serious.

Hence, it is a mistake to imagine the audience for Doctor Who as children when it renders explicit its process of infantilising the audience. Using the tropes of popular family-oriented science fiction television, Doctor Who incorporates this outside of thought into an hour or so of accessible television. Doctor Who is a suspension of seriousness that is utterly serious; a playful ‘meta’ of serious television and culture more generally. It is an invitation to become aware of our own stupidities.

Post originally appeared at Limited News.