Fragments of unconscious machines

Curator's Note

Shaviro states we ‘scarcely have the vocabulary to describe’ post-cinema. Can we now ethically commit to being new media spectators rather than needing to address new media itself (without its exclusion of course)? Can new media actually herald a more material imperative? Opening to each increment of ‘the film’ to its infinite or infinitesimal (no matter how brief always both) presents an ethics of expressivity. In its post-structural/astructural genealogical context, at worst the post-modern pseudo hedonism-identity resulting from indulgence in metamorphic signifiers, but at best from Shaviro’s suggestion, an adherence to the capacity to express and thus affect, and the capacity to be affected by expression in a Spinozan sense, without easily alighting upon the familiar, the coded, the presumptively causal or contextually consistent. Free floating sensibility is a deeply corporeal sensorial, as effulgent as it is frightening in the realm which demands sense without subjectification and experience without signification – Shaviro’s participation over representation. Youtube coalesces search with finding what we didn’t know, expect, want, accident as experimentation. The clip has no relation to itself as contextualised by a film. Youtube means searching and coming upon random clips, they are not fragments but complete in themselves, scenes without and beyond cinema. The accident is integral to the film experience, it can only exist by accident. This clip is not ‘from’ a film, Youtube offers the fragment for itself, using the full film as referent excuses the fragment. Like the search for recognisable content occupying this scene, the scene contextualised by narrative is unnecessary. Youtube’s fragment spans possible unconscious machines, potentially affected ecstasy, libidinal confusion or boredom or…

This clip is what Shaviro calls ‘expressive…[giving]  voice (or better, give sounds and images) to a kind of ambient,  free-floating sensibility that permeates our society today’. The ballerinas are evocative escaping irritant, witch and child punctum without referent, in a sanguine vascular-corridor trajectory, to where our eye has migrated, now occupying a new sensorial territory, expressive perceiving-affected organ-dissipation. Our harrowed ears emphasised and our attention aching, demanding with no response but the wide eyed catalysation of a tachycardic gesturing. We see nothing, we are affronted with the shard of illumination that blinds, looking without alighting, photophobic warnings to not seek but open to affect, seeing as expression, our belief in an abstracted shape that reveals there is nothing to reveal, what Shaviro calls allure, not always pleasant but irreversible.


Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture


Thanks Patricia. I’m very taken by the last line of your post where you mention “our belief in an abstracted shape that reveals there is nothing to reveal, what Shaviro calls allure, not always pleasant but irreversible” because I have long wondered whether there is a connection between Graham Harman’s concept of allure (and the way it is taken up by Shaviro in Post-Cinematic Affect) and your own work in Cinesexuality on filmy-ness and mucosal perception. The cinesexual encounter (or event as you call it) is always one which involves tactile and viscous acts of desire and as Shaviro explains ““Intimacy is what we call the situation in which people try to probe each other’s hidden depths”.

These moments of cineintimacy between spectators and the filmy-ness of films—where it is fragments-which-are-complete-in-themselves that make demands on us as viewers—are precisely alluring in the sense which Harman and Shaviro use the term: “The inner, surplus existence of the alluring object is something that I cannot reach” and this alluring object “explicitly calls attention to the fact that it is something more than, and other than, the bundle of qualities that it presents to me”.  When Harman writes about sensual objects he is referring to the way that all objects are not reducible to their appearing and that their very inappearance or excessiveness-to-appearance involves a disjunction between their bundle of qualities and their very being. And, as Shaviro puts it: ““What Harman calls allure is the way in which an object does not just display certain particular qualities to me, but also insinuates the presence of a hidden, deeper level of existence … I experience allure when I am intimate with someone, or when I am obsessed with someone or something. But allure is not just my own projection. For any object that I encounter really is deeper than, and other than, what I am able to grasp of it. And the object becomes alluring, precisely to the extent that it forces me to acknowledge this hidden depth, instead of ignoring it. Indeed, allure may well be strongest when I experience it vicariously: in relation to an object, person, or thing that I do not actually know, or otherwise care about”.


Shane Denson's picture

Surface/depth allure

 Great post, and nice approach to Youtube, which resonates with a tendency of my own in thinking about visual media. This discussion of allure helps me to think about this tendency somewhat critically, though, and I wonder what you might think about this. The tendency I’m thinking of is the tendency to look for moments that somehow escape narrative (or continuity), exceed it through self-reflexivity or preoccupation with non-narrative visuality or mediality (whether in Buster Keaton’s "operational aesthetic," in sci-fi special effects, or gratuitous flaunting of CGI, etc). I tend to seek out this excess—which Youtube showcases almost by default—and to address it as a deeper level of medial materiality underlying the discursive construction of the diegesis, a level that (one might say) has an allure of its own, which resonates with the materiality of my own embodied, pre-subjective agency. I’m not ready to give up on this approach, but the talk of allure allows me to think depth and surface as reversible—material depth is at the same time visible surface, narrative Oberfläche is at the same time a dimension of depth created through the images. My quest to become intimate with the material/affective underside of film or other visual media (a quest that Youtube and the digital generally expedite) is, in a sense, something like the tunneling of perception that we execute when we focus on only one instrument within a larger symphony (or maybe listen for audience members coughing in the pauses), whereas the symphony as a whole has an allure of its own, which is no less material, no less embodied, no less animated by an agency that exceeds the intentions of (one or more) humans. This is just to say that decontextualization (whether imagined by me or enacted concretely on Youtube) is one way of acheiving a non-anthropocentric intimacy with a "deep" materiality, but isn’t there an equally non-anthropocentric intimacy to be found in a focus on the surface, in a probing exchange of agencies at the level of the narrative? We might think of the infinity that Levinas sees at work in the encounter between subjects—an alterity that exceeds subjective capture. Might we not find something similar in the film-viewing experience, a sort of too-big infinity that constitutes the allure of the narratively contexted clip, which complements the digital allure of the infinitesimal and decontexted?

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture


This strangeness at the heart of objects and the weird excess which makes them appealing to us reminds me of your cinesexual encounter-event (which is also an experience of intimacy with or desire for something which is “deeper than and other than what I am able to grasp of it”) and how the very filmy-ness of film is also a kind of vacuum seal. There is a fundamental aporicity, it seems to me, in both Harman’s radically withdrawing objects and the filmy-ness found in cinesexuality. And this also brings affect into the picture since the cinesexual embrace is affectively excessive and the spectator (who is a disincorporated subject) participates in this “not always pleasantly” (never painlessly) and “irreversibly” (but always longingly, desirously).  So the way you describe “cinecstasy” resonates with Shaviro’s allure which “reveals” that “there is nothing to reveal”. As you say in Cinesexuality:  “cinesexuality describes a unique consistency that is cinematically ‘filmy’ rather than being about films. […] Every time a concept is teased it affects all other concepts and the total singular whole changes its nature, function and percepts – the territory of which is an event of the production Spinoza sees as the result of affection and affectivity. This book is about cinema but certain cross-over concepts arise”.  Could one of these cross-over concepts be “cineallure” which would describe the way our relation (or non-relation) to the cinematic makes a swerve away from the subjugation of images to narrativity, context, or meaning? For, as you say here, “Free floating sensibility is a deeply corporeal sensorial, as effulgent as it is frightening in the realm which demands sense without subjectification and experience without signification – Shaviro’s participation over representation”. So, in the cinealluring encounter-event, in the conjugations and participations you and Shaviro are imagining (Guattari in The Machinic Unconscious would call these “machinic territorialities”) is the pellicule/skin of the celluloid one we touch without touching? And in this "conjugal territory" (Blanchot) of radical withdrawal don’t we encounter a material which is precisely excessive (tacky and sticky) and sensual in Harman’s terms?


Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

She's in Fashion?

 I have a further comment/question for Patricia about how your work converges with or diverges from Shaviro’s. It is clear enough—on reading Cinesexuality—that The Cinematic Body has been a shaping influence on your creation of concepts and theories of enfleshment. But, I wonder if the moment of Post-Cinematic Affect gives us a chance to assess shifts not just in Shaviro’s work but also your own. Adrian remarks that Shaviro down- or under-plays the Deleuzian/Whiteheadian strand in Post Cinematic Affect. When we think of what the project of Without Criteria was this seems all the more strange. That book successfully staged a philosophical fantasy in which Whitehead’s process philosophy would replace or succeed Heideggerian phenomenology. Yet, and despite the many differences between Shaviro’s philosophy and Harman’s (and the disputes between them can be traced on their respective blogs [Object oriented Philosophy and The Pinocchio Theory] as well as their essays in The Speculative Turn) the emphasis on allure would suggest that it is (Heideggerian/Husserlian) phenomenology which is more to the fore in this recent book (of course Shaviro everywhere problematizes the logic of succession and the post. His concepts of the post-cinematic and post-continuity do not mean replacement but rather a repurposing or retooling). And your own focus on allure above would suggest that phenomenology has taken a more prominent place in your own thinking (indeed the most dominant strand in your own writing has been the Deleuzo-Guattarian one). Of course, I’m not arguing that you and Shaviro are suddenly more interested in phenomenology than Deleuze/Whitehead. But I am suggesting that you are both less suspicious of the phenomenological tradition (suspicious might be too generous a word for your work since Heidegger and Levinas merit just one entry each in the index for Cinesexuality and Merleau-Ponty only just beats them  with two) than up to now. And this may well be signalling a reversal in theoretical fashions more generally. Up to recently, en vogue in continental philosophical circles have been thinkers such as Deleuze, Badiou, Žižek, Lacan, Laruelle, Malabou over against the more unfashionable thinkers from the phenomenological tradition. What is theoretically interesting about Shaviro’s work (and your own) is that they stage potential encounters or unnatural alliances between these two divergent trends. 


Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture


Thanks for a truly inspired post, Patricia! I find the way you describe Youtube absolutely alluring – I caught myself starting to consider its hidden depths and affective magnetism. I have one question, though – Youtube clips are certainly different from films, trailers and excerpts, but are they really a new visual art form? Is it not rather similar to the 1990’s and early 2000’s installation art of, for example Tracey Emin and Matthew Ritchie, where the viewer is getting the impression of watching a random slice-of-life clips and/or confessional and awkwardly intimate pieces of self-expression? Sure, Youtube is online, readily available and open to everybody, which makes the range of material rather different to what you would see in a gallery space, but their affective exchange and  participatory approach seem rather similar to me.

One might even argue that art that features random CCTV clips, like the work of Bruce Nauman, would be even more accidental and conducive for affective unconscious machines, since the Youtube clip will always carry the context of the very conscious act of filming or posting.



Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

Free Labor and Affect

Karin, this brings to mind Tiziana Terranova’s concept of free labor. After all, those who upload, edit and comment on You Tube clips are willingly giving up their time and labor. The following quotation from an interview with her is very interesting in the context of this week’s discussions (especially in the comments on Adrian’s post and the conversation about Gaga) and in terms of post-cinematic affect and work more generally:

"In Marxist terms, what you are asking about is how you pass from the existence of a ‘class-in-itself’, that is a class whose existence as such is given within the objective conditions of production, to a ‘class for itself’, that is a class who is conscious of its unity and able to pursue collectively its goals of shared liberation. If we remain within this framework, then the unity of such class is ‘objectively’ given within the conditions of the current capitalist mode of production. The unity of labor is given by its generalized exploitation that is characterized on the one hand by a surplus of wealth (the excess of pleasurable production, of the investments, desires, knowledge, intelligence and capacity for invention) and on the other hand by its surplus of ‘poverty’ (economic impoverishment, loss of rights and control over the working process, etc). In such context, which Negri and Hardt among others have called ‘biopolitical capitalism’, this passage is problematized in ways that help to understand the difficulties I’m having in answering your very important question. The technologies of production, and the very source of production, are basically affecting and reworking subjectivity. It is as if capital had installed itself within the working subject. It constitutes it at the level of language, affect, perception. 

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

Affective Labor (continued)

 As Franco Berardi has put it, it is as if the antagonism between labor and capital has been interiorized as a conflict within the subject – causing feelings of inadequacy, fear, depression, powerlessness, isolation. The unity of the working class as class for itself in industrial production is given by the collective nature of that work, the disunity of the working class as class for itself in conditions of free labor is given by this interiorization of capital, of competitiveness, individualism etc.

However, I do believe that the conditions for a newly found unity is given somehow within the current organization of production. It is the unity of the network, that is a mutant multiplicity in an endless process of transformation. Nobody can see the future, but I still believe that it is within the form of the network, and the peculiar conditions that it expresses, that new antagonistic relations will be realized. I’m saying ‘potential antagonisms’ because the network is a very open form and it does not mean that it will have the contents that we believe it should have. After all you are dealing with subjectivity, that is with memory, habits, percepts, affects, desires, opinions, feelings, sex etc! There is no historical teleology, here, no predetermined happy ending for the troubled relation between labor and capital, but only an open field of experimentation".


Patricia MacCormack's picture

Territories of need

 Shaviro suggests ‘we do not live in a world in which the forces of affective vitality are battling against the blandness and exhaustion of capitalist commodification. Rather, we live in a world in which everything is affective’ and responding to your fascinating suggestion that this could herald a new kind of phenomenology which sees theory as affective of itself, neither taxonomical nomenclature nor resistant to it. In a way we can come thus to theory itself as approach and allure - tentative, as a promising but enticing libidinal territory. We know we are destined to be unfaithful but as Shaviro rightly points out, it is precisely because theory is neither faithful nor unfaithful to the false dichotomy of affect or/over/against resistance. It invokes Rodowick’s cinema of thought which claimed all memory is resistance a all history is power - both are always simultaneous and it is the very imperative not to choose which is which that makes all approach ethical and all allure irresistable without being felicitous. The clip nature of your interesting examples of fragmentary events bear out Shaviro’s thoughts, because the fragment is always part of a connective consistency just as those cinematic events which masquerade as complete conceal the unnatural participations they are always making with all territories of affect and all affect as territory. The question becomes not whether an affective territory is resistant or, as your wonderful expression suggests, teleologically memorial, but to what extent is it needed at any moment. For this reason, youtube’s clip-ish nature is the need we didn’t know we had because it forces us to take responsibility for the use of the affects of the accidental terrain. 

Patricia MacCormack's picture

A new occultism

 I have very much enjoyed the coalescences of ideas on panpsychicism and magic. It seems what is being suggested in these intersections is what could be called a new occultism that, in a radical reconfiguration of superstition or ordained ‘faith’, terms such as panpsychism and magic are able to be utilised as belief in what is not finally and exhaustibly knowable but is premised on experimental mappings of chaos to catalyse what could have only hitherto been thought of as inconceivable or, more correctly for cinema, imperceptible. I think we may have here a new ecstasy or mysticism which is a deeply ethical project that emphasises affect as activism and so we could add to Foucault’s thought from outside which replaces knowledge only possible within epistemic slaughter of affects the idea of belief (a Spinozist seeking of ethical benefit or good while acknowledging results can never be predicted - thus technically a belief in what we do not yet know, the belief in quality of affect itself, liberated from description or prescription) and hope (perhaps a new methodology of investigation to replace myths of hypotheses). Potentially this is a strange little divergence but recalling Shaviro’s emphasis on new opportunities for emergent vocabularies, these words are no less empirical but through their exquisite sensitivity produce a way to describe projects of affect-ivation


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