Yesterday, I sent off my final version of a paper I’ve been working on for some time. The question of gender in the context of my existing work is somewhat problematic. Except for a few notable exceptions, I was not entirely happy with the way masculinities have been critically discussed. Clifton Evers work on surfing and masculinity is the primary (published) exception. Clif develops what I’d call an intensive masculinity by mapping the transversal circulation of affect across and through surfing bodies, boards, waves, beaches and a broader ecophilosophical context of beaches in Australian culture. I am aware of forthcoming work from at least one other person who thinks the development of gendered subjects in similar ways. Feminist philosophers (Grosz, Probyn, Driscoll) have been discussing the relationship between affect and becoming-gendered subjects for about two decades.
The paper I just sent off was a thorough engagement with the garage as an assemblage. My focus was developing an account of the passage of masculine action, primarily in the context of men working on cars. The ‘highlights reel’ of the substantive points made in my argument include:
1. The garage is a territory, but the garage-assemblage is a territorialising machine. Classic example is of the roadside repair.
2. Men territorialise technical discourses in intensive or ‘minoritarian’ ways by mappng the intensities of socio-technical objects through a process of anthropomorphisation. Technical discourses become heteronormatively gendered not so much to exclude women, but to enable a sensuous engagement with technology.
3. This produces produces statements, visibilities and ‘tactilities’ congruent with the affects in circulation. (Minor point here about Foucault’s epistemic conception of discourse, I am looking at discourses of techne.)
4. Draw on Simondon’s notion of techno-aesthetics to argue that the vernacular epistemologies of the garage-assemblage operate according to an immanent sense of ‘(mal)functionality’. ‘This’ technology functions in ‘this’ manner ‘here’.
5. Masculine techno-aesthetic competence is valorised through this intensive discourse by articulating a relation between this ‘functionality’ and the subcultural tests of effectiveness by which technological performance is measured.
6. ‘Know how’ is the outcome of ‘figuring out’ the immanent functionality of a given socio-technical object.
7. The homosociality assembled through the garage-assemblage is premised on an economy of respect determined by a subject’s techno-aesthetic competence.
8. Production of ‘know how’ is one passage of masculine action afforded by the garage-assemblage. It draws on the affordances of an intensive technical discourse and the other affects of the garage assemblage.
9. There is another complex passage of action developed through a correspondence between related assemblages (garage and street, or garage and motorsport track, etc.). Masculine ‘appetition’ (Whitehead) belonging to the garage-assemblage is organised around the ‘associated milieus’ (Simondon) of these related assemblages. A mechanical failure on the track, for example, serves to structure the challenge in the garage; it is this challenge that mobilises masculine enthusiast bodies into action.
Overall, my argument is largely a critique of Connell’s structural concept of masculinity, as it is focused primarily on the movements between different assemblages of contingent patterns of affect and bodies ‘in relation’. I’ve tried to expunge as much ‘normativity’ as possible and focus on the processes of (collective) individuation.
Like Clif I have spent some time in the spaces that I am writing about. To give you an example of what I mean by the correspondence between assemblages, below are some images of the last time I worked on my Falcon (that I still own, in storage). I took this shot while working on my Falcon so as to replace a snapped pushrod.
Here is the offending pushrod.
This is the above car just beforehand. I filmed it idling on the driveway.
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.
During my trip last weekend back to Perth for an old school friend’s wedding, I woke up at about 3am in the midst of a jet lag and impending lecture writing anxiety, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I thought this was an appropriate time to read the ‘Carpentry’ chapter of Ian Bogost’s recent book Alien Phenomenology. The forthcoming ‘Nonhuman Turn’ conference is streaming its plenaries, and Bogost is delivering a talk about “The Aesthetics of Philosophical Carpentry”, so I am looking forward to seeing how Bogost develops his thinking about ‘carpentry’ into the aesthetic realm.
Bogost had tweeted that he’d received a 1-star negative review on Amazon.com so I had a look and noticed another reviewer (5-stars) suggested that the book was worth reading just for the Carpentry chapter. The OOOer’s world is full of (post)grad student fanbois who dis/like certain OOOing so I’d take any user-generated review, be it positive or negative, with a healthy dose of skepticism. Unless, of course, it is backed up with a thorough analysis that at least demonstrates that the reviewer has read the book. I was intrigued that this reviewer singled out a chapter as worth the ‘price of admission’ so I decided to return to Bogost’s book.
Yes, ‘return’. I read the first chapter and filed the Kindle ebook away under ‘when I have more time’. The first chapter largely rehearses the OOO ‘origin story’ without any substantial development (something Goldsmiths, something Meillassoux, etc.). I like the rhetorical move of announcing that ‘speculative realism’ is an event and discussing it as such; it is an example of the sort of thing I would do (what I would call ‘event mechanics’, OOO-as-event presents a very straight-forward analysis). Bogost does a bit of discourse analysis, historical analysis, media archaeology and so on.
For example, ‘correlationism’ could happily be defined is a Foucaultian style ‘statement’ configuring the field of OOO discourse. Yeah? Organising compositions of power relations and so on. How? Enter Bogost: “to proceed as a philosopher today demands the rejection of correlationism”. The scholarly field becomes happily organised for OOOers into those who reject ‘correlationism’ and therefore can be regarded as ‘doing philosophy’, versus those who do not, for whatever reason, perhaps because they think the ‘problem’ of correlationism isn’t one. Bogost references Alain Badiou’s ‘decisionist’ conception of the event. (‘Decisionist’ moniker comes from Badiou’s reading of Spinoza, see that Pli essay on it.) I’d argue it is far closer to what Foucault called a ‘discourse event’, a kind of ‘order of objects’. Philosophy itself is transformed through the articulation/enunciation (or denunciation) of ‘correlationism’. What does this incorporeal transformation of philosophy herald? Bogost is clear, “it names a moment when the epistemological tide ebbed, revealing the iridescent shells of realism they had so long occluded.”
Anyway, it is a pity that no one (at least that I am aware of, even from the regular OOO blogs) has carried out an OOO analysis of the OOO ‘origin story’. I would find this fascinating. Mainly because it would force the OOOer fanbois to forego the cult of personality surrounding key OOO figures… unless these figures are ‘objects’ but that would be a waste of an analysis surely, why detour through ‘objects’ at all? Or maybe we’d end up with a kind of analysis of OOO following Alliez’s Signature of the World (following Deleuze and Guattari) where the concept of the ‘object’ has its own autonomy? Or maybe Bogost wasn’t doing philosophy yet, so early into the book. This would be a curious response, in the sense that an OOO analysis of OOO should be possible, considering that OOO is meant to celebrate “stuffs [as enjoying] equal being no matter their size, scale, or order” (Bogost). Maybe OOO needs a non-OOO introduction so as to be sensible to first timers? (A bit like the birth of Monkey born from an egg on a mountain top.) Hmmm. I don’t think my ‘off hand’ point regarding the non-OOO presentation of OOO is inconsequential, however. (As opposed to the ‘ready-to-hand’ critique of ‘correlationism’ bandied about by those who don’t seem to follow or even have read Meillassoux’s argument.) Does irony exist for objects? (Less ‘molar’, Deleuzian: What is machinic irony?) Regardless, this is clearly a case of ‘theory’ irony.
Oh, and the Carpentry chapter. Bogost launches into a critique of writing, in particular scholarly writing, and then develops what he names “carpentry” as the “practice of constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice” which “entails making things that explain how things make their world”. I am currently researching ‘know-how’ as an experience-based form of practical knowledge and in particular the ‘how to’ article as a key text in discourses of ‘know-how’, so Bogost’s invocation of carpentry was at least interesting.
Of course, my PhD was on enthusiasm, the creative industries and modified-car culure, plus having come out of an ‘aspirational’ working class context I actually built a few cars in my late teens and early twenties. That and I worked on a mine site to pay for the cars. I’ve always approached philosophy as a kind of ‘mechanics’, not in the classical physics sense, but an in-the-garage-under-the-hood sort of way. Hence, the title of this blog. I spend a week in my first year foundation unit discussing what these ‘tacit knowledges’ are required for the practice of research. I’ve discussed this a number of times on this blog drawing primarily on Michael Polanyi and then go from there. To be clear, I don’t think Bogost is advocating this kind of ‘tacit knowledge’ approach, even though this is the approach of Matthew B. Crawford in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft, who Bogost cites. Well, I didn’t think Bogost was advocating this kind of approach until I got to the concluding section of this chapter (see below). On the other hand, Crawford is clearly arguing this, i.e. “real knowledge arises through confrontation with real things”. For more on Crawford’s book, see my review from a number of years ago. My position is very similar except I’m interested in a more sophisticated appreciation of experience, and a better understanding of how ‘know-how’ is circulated through media, etc.
It is unclear exactly what Bogost is arguing. Bogost: “The carpenter […] must contend with the material resistance of his or her chosen form, making the object itself become the philosophy.” Ok, kind of Polanyi-Crawford-ish here. And then when he introduces his first two examples of “philosophical software carpentry” he describes them as “ontographical tools meant to characterize the diversity of being”. When discussing the unintended (‘sexist’) consequences of one of these tools, he suggests changing it would lead to it losing its “ontographical power”. What is its philosophical accomplishment? Bogost:
[It’s] philosphical accomplishment comes from the question it poses about the challenge flat ontology and feminism pose to one another. On the one hand, being is unconcerned with issues of gender, performance, and its associated human politics; indeed, tiny ontology invites all beings to partake of the same ontological status, precisely the same fundamental position as many theorists would take ob matters of identity politics. But on the other hand, the baggage of wordly stuff still exerts a political challenge on human experience that cannot be satisfactorily dismissed with the simple mantra of tiny ontology. The [accidently sexist ontographic tool] hardly attempts to answer these questions, but it does pose them in a unique way thanks to carpentry.
Hmmm. The univocity of being is indeed irrelevant for most real world situations. I can’t help but feel Bogost is ignoring the bits of Crawford that don’t fit within the anti-correlationist party line. Take Crawford’s axiomatic statement that “real knowledge arises through confrontation with real things”. Ok, what are the ‘real things’ in the accidently sexist ontagraphic tool example? An image of a Playboy bunny randomly selected from Flickr? The OOO event website with sexist image as viewed by two female scholars? The code of the website? All of them? What is the ‘real knowledge’ produced then? Does a flat ontology privilege the reality of some things over others? No, of course not! That would be entirely against the point of the concept. Yet, there is a clear contradiction here. Crawford’s “real things” are only ‘real’ because of their relationality and implication in the production of “real knowledge” as part of the experience of being a mechanic/carpenter/whatever. This is precisely the kind of position disavowed by OOO as ‘correlationist’.
The experiences of things can be characterized only by tracing the exhaust of their effects on the surrounding world and speculating about the coupling between that black noise and the experiences internal to an object. […]
The phenomenologist who performs carpentry creates a machine that tries to replicate the unit operation of another’s experience. Like a space probe sent out to record, process, and report information, the alien phenomenologist’s carpentry seeks to capture and characterize an experience it can never fully understand, offering a rendering satisfactory enough to allow the artifact’s operator to gain some insight into an alien thing’s experience.
How did the accidently sexist ontagraphic tool gain any insight of an alien thing’s experience? Or is ‘woman’ not sufficiently ‘alien’ for ‘man’? Or is it a case of the ‘alien’ experience of those specific women and the haecceitty of an unfortunately sexist OOO event website? Has OOO somehow managed to overcome relations of alterity? These aren’t fair questions, perhaps, as it would be ridiculous to suggest an OOO version of the differend, as this would make Bogost’s entire project untenable. But what does this ‘carpentry’ do?
Bogost’s I am TIA project sounds pretty cool. Through a metaphorical lens it characterizes (Bogost prefers ‘characterizes’, it seems, as compared to ‘represents’) the experience of a ‘television interface adaptor’ of an Atari VCS. Cool! Now what?
The Tableau Machine example illustrates how a ‘machinic’ perspective of a home “helps deliver the home’s residents out of anthropocentricism” (Bogost, citing Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter 120). Good! So what? Can we infer that Bogost (or maybe Benett) is implying that the residents are transformed akin to Felix Guattari’s introduction of ‘transversal’ practices into the psychiatric institution of La Borde and his hopes for the reconstitution of subjectivity etc?
The concluding section of Bogost’s chapter is titled “A New Radicalism”. He says that “real radicals […] make things” and challenges OOO to “become craftsmanship, challenging us to learn a trade”. Maybe Bogost is not aware of the whole “philosophy as toolbox, concepts as tools” notion from an interview between Foucault and Deleuze, or the development of Serres’s work on the invention of physics into what Deleuze and Guattari called a ‘minor science’ in A Thousand Plateaus. The purpose of mentioning Polanyi above was that he goes to great lengths to indicate how all abstract (‘explicit’) knowledges are premised on ‘tacit knowledges’. Or even Harman has noted that Heidegger discussed the extraction of ‘theory’ as part of a scholastic disposition from experience (in one of Heidegger’s very early lectures).
Bogost then returns to Crawford (his colleague Hugh or Soulcraft’s Matthew B.? I think it is meant to be Matthew B.) in the concluding passage to this chapter:
When people or toothbrushes or siroccos make sense of encountered objects, they do so through metaphor. As Whitehead and Latour suggest, this process requires creative effort, challenging OOO to become craftsmanship, challenging us to learn a trade. We tend to think of creativity as construction, the assembly of something new out of known parts. A novel is made of words and ink and paper, a painting of pigments and canvas and medium, a philosophy of maxims and arguments and evidence, a house of studs and sheetrock and pipes. Perhaps in the future, following Crawford’s example, radical philosophers will raise not their fists but their hammers.
Now I am really confused. Bogost seems to be collapsing two kinds of experience. One that is developed in humans, following Crawford’s axiom “real knowledge arises through confrontation with real things”, and the experience that objects have of whatever (the other objects that constitute their ‘environment’ in the ecological/systems sense?). That is not the confusing thing however. Confusing is, firstly, the suggestion that any objects whatsoever “make sense of encountered objects” as Bogost has not discussed ‘sense’ at all, at least not in any way that correlates with philosophies of sense that I am familiar with (vaguely Frege or Deleuze), and secondly that this sense making is carried out through “metaphor”. Hmmm… Bogost has described how human philosophers have created artifacts that offer a metaphorical representation of machinic experience, not how those actual objects have used metaphor (or some kind of machinic equivalent…?) to “make sense”. I can understand a multiplicity of experiences (this experience is as singular as that experience), but the simple projection of anthropomorphic concepts like ‘sense’ or ‘metaphor’ from the OOO philosophical domain and using them to ‘characterise’ the existence of objects is contradictory (and that is putting it mildly) of what would seem to be the basic tenets of OOOism. What is all this gruff talk about ‘taking objects seriously’ if objects are reduced to being mere vehicles of philosophical metaphor?
I am working on two papers that require a rigorous conceptualisation of the ‘nation’. One is hopefully going to be a group effort from some of my colleagues here and it is about an event space in Canberra. I am constructing a draft introduction so we are have a shared reference point. The other paper develops some of my PhD research and examines a particular episode in the history of Australian modified-car culture, the 1980s “V8’s ’til ’98” media-led consumer campaign. In both cases, a concept of the ‘national’ is required that is in some ways similar.
There are a number of ways to think about the ‘national’ as a concept that can be used in these contexts. Often the ‘national’ is described as a function of identity, both collective and individual. At moments of crisis, such as war or civil unrest, the national is articulated in such a way as to produce a cohesiveness. It normally draws on discourses of the ‘nation’ circulated as an economy of signs and symbols that most members of a nation would instantly recognise. Much attention has been paid to understanding the power relations involved in this process and how the ‘imagined community’ of the nation is produced.
The process of producing the national does not only occur at moments of crisis or in better times during rituals of celebration and purification (such as national days or remembrance days) that sanctify the national imaginary through particular signs and symbols. Often this happens by excluding other signs and symbols or ‘purifying’ the representative frame through which the elements that constitute the ‘national’ are valorised and the ‘imaginary’ sanctified.
The way the national is articulated as part of everyday life is not part of a crisis or celebration. Michael Billigâ€™s (1995) concept of â€œbanal nationalismâ€ is useful for understanding how the ‘national’ is articulated through the practices of everyday life. Billig argues that along with the more spectacular expression of national identity at specific times and places, nationalism is reinforced through a multitude of small and subtle ways that are so commonplace to be otherwise unremarkable. When introducing the concept, Billig remarks that â€œbanal nationalism is not a flag which is being consciously waved with fervent passion; it is the flag hanging unnoticed on the public buildingâ€ (8). I am using Billig’s concept of ‘banal nationalism’ in two different ways in the two papers.
In the “V8’s ’til ’98” paper the historical example of the possible withdrawing of the automotive technology of the V8 engine from the consumer market produces an anxiety amongst automotive enthusiasts. A defence of the V8 is mobilised around broader anxieties relating to the globalisation of the Australian automotive industry. The ‘economic rationalisation’ of the Australian automotive industry was a policy goal of the Hawke Labor government and policies were introduced to increase the market fitness of the industry. It was known as the Button Plan after its chief architect John Button. ‘Economic rationalisation’ was the Australian version of a broader global process of neo-liberalisation in late capitalist societies.
The anxiety around the possible discontinuing of the V8 were expressed in the enthusiast media in terms of an influx of foreign-designed and foreign-manufactured automotive technologies. ‘Asian’ automotive technologies were explicitly identified as a threat and their introduction into the Australian market was discoursed as a conspiracy in some of the most flagrantly racist language I have come across in my archival research. At stake was not so much the technology in itself or the technology as a signifier of a particular identity, but the capacity of the technology to function as part of particular Australian socio-technical assemblage within the system of automobility. This socio-technical assemblage is of a particular automobilised subject of the masculine Australian driver combined with a particular automobile technology of a car powered by the ‘high-performance’ large capacity V8 engine that are used to perform upon (or, better, process) the particular space of the Australian road. The anxiety around the V8 was mobilised to defend the way automobilised Australian subjects could exist witin the dynamic system of flows and spaces of the Australian system of automobility. Other automotive technologies were dismissed in the enthusiast media on the grounds that they cannot ‘hack’ the ‘tough’ Australian conditions.
The “V8’s ’til ’98” media-led consumer campaign functioned as a moral panic about whether or not automobilised Australian subjects would be able to perform a particular Australian (and masculine) form of processual production of and engagement with automobilised time-space. A properly processual conception of the subject is essential for appreciating the capacities for action afforded by linkages with socio-technical assemblages. I am attempting to isolate the subjective dimension of part of a process of what Whitehead calls ‘appetition’. It is a way of avoiding definitions of the â€˜subjectâ€™ derived from structuralist concerns with identity. Brian Massumiâ€™s work is similarly concerned with the processual dimension of experience. His description of â€˜anticipationâ€™ captures some sense of this subjective dimension of appetition:
Orders of substitution and superposition are orders of thought defined as the reality of an excess over the actual. This is clearest in the case of anticipation, which in a real and palpable way extends the actual moment beyond itself, superposing one moment upon the next, in a way that is not just thought but also bodily felt as a yearning, tending, or tropism. […] But the definition also applies to substitution […]. Substitutions are cases in a combinatoric (a system of â€œeither-orsâ€ sometimes conjoined as an â€œandâ€). Not all possible actions are present as perception to the same degree. All of the permutations composing the combinatoric are not actionably present to the same degree in every perception. (original italics, 2002: 91)
Massumi is describing the relation between possible actions and the future as expressed within perception. The â€˜possibleâ€™ is produced through perception as a dynamic infrastructure for immanent future action. The banal nationalism experienced on the road as part of the system of automobility is not only produced through explicit signifiers of nationhood (in Australia, this is exemplified by the Southern Cross stickers on the rear window of vehicles), but in the way the experience itself is produced as a processual relation by the socio-technical assemblage of (nominally) car, driver and road.
To invert the focus of Meaghan Morrisâ€™s analysis of the automobilised drama of Mad Max (in her â€œWhite Panicâ€ essay, which used to be at the Sense of Cinema site, but is no longer there?), the event produced is not of the masculine violence of the car crash as a metonymic event of colonisation and the â€˜white panicâ€™ of occupying â€˜the roadâ€™ as an existential horizon of national purification, rather the event produced is of a kind of mastery of â€˜the roadâ€™ through the magnification of power afforded by the V8 engine. This event still demands a masculine violence, but of domination and competition articulated through a mastery of the flows of time and space within the system of automobility. The event of the crash is an exception within the differential repetition of this other far more common and banal event, which is the event of â€˜trafficâ€™. The panic around the possible withdrawal of the V8 from the Australian automotive market is a panic born of the consequential disenfranchising of Australian automotive subjects from being able to experience the processual dimension the Australian system of automobility.
So I am working away on a few things at the moment. Firstly, I am giving a guest lecture in the winter semester version of the unit I am teaching in second semester. The topic for the lecture is on audiences. I thought I’d start with the Diesel ‘Be Stupid’ advertising campaign from 2010/2011. I’ll post some of the brief analysis work I do to introduce the concept of the audience later.
The very next day I am giving a brief demo to some visiting students about Communication Studies and what they would be doing if they came to UC. It is only 15 minutes so I am going to do a brief practice run of the 3D lecture I have planned for the same unit. I’ll basically introduce them to the concept of the ‘spectacle’. Even if they do not come here to study it is a good concept to know about.
I am also working on a few articles. One on street rodding in the 1970s where I outline the dispositif of the scene and use a modified Foucauldian historical method (‘eventalization’) to begin outling how specialist media modulates enthusiasm as a mode of control. I’ll post more about this today.
The reason why I am writing the above paper is that the other article I am working on derived from my PhD research (on Summernats and Street Machine magazine in the 1980s) tries to do too much at once. It will be far more useful to inroduce some of the concepts for the first paper and then develop them further in the second.
Besides that I am trying to finalise the unit outlines for the two units I am teaching. I am currently trying to sort out an assessment structure.