"hyphos is the tissue and the spider’s web"

Tag: Subjectivity

The Life and Death of a Subject: On Dance Gavin Dance’s Instant Gratification

Who are you? What are you all about? Tell me about yourself.

In these and many other colloquial requests, what is interrogated is none other than the “self.” The self is what each one of us has, but no two are exactly alike. Your self makes you a unique individual, although the structure of selfhood is common to all. This structure is what I would call subjectivity. One has subjectivity (meaning, one is a subject) by virtue of being a unique individual (that is, having a self). While the notion of self may not be controversial in itself, its precise domain has eternally been unsettled ground.

There are those who maintain that the self is what stays constant amidst our changing experiences. For our entire lives, we harbor the same self within us through to the end. However, there are experiences that chip away at our faith in an eternal self. A common experience is looking back at ourselves as we were in the past. Who has not seen a picture from their childhood and thought: “Was that really me?” Yet the past is not the only realm in which one’s self seems precarious. The experience of the “uncanny” in the present can lead one to feel out of step with oneself. This feeling of being at odds with oneself can also occur in our anticipation of future events. The anxiety associated with an imminent break in routine can make one feel the poverty of one’s current self. Nevertheless, each self adjusts, in one way or another, to every novelty.

The occasion for these comments on subjectivity is the recent release of Instant Gratification, the latest album from Dance Gavin Dance. The album provides a timeless meditation on the manifestation and annihilation of subjectivity. The “you” referenced in many of the songs is none other than the subject’s dialogue with itself as it struggles to make sense of the world. While the lyrics are conceptually dense (contrary to what one popular critic believes), they resonate with the form and style of the instrumental sound.

Our current task is two-fold. First, we must clarify how Instant Gratification deals with selfhood and subjectivity in general. Second, we will underscore the contribution that the album makes toward a new theory of subjectivity. Given the fact that the album follows the chronological life and death of a subject, I have chosen to follow the same order from the first to the last track. The album reveals no less than the transcendental structure of subjectivity as it is grasped from the subject’s point of view.

Album Art

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Poppin’ Xanax: On Lucki Eck$’s Body High

Lucki Eck$’s second album, Body High, is only the most recent work within a milieu that has been slowly coming into focus. One might say that this milieu (known here as disavowalist works of art) first became visible in Charles Baudelaire’s prose poem, “Be Drunk!” However, this was only the first manifestation of a tradition that has always been clandestine; radical disavowal is akin to an untranslatable secret, like those (un)covered in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Having just been released this month, now is the perfect opportunity to look more closely at a contemporary example of this tradition.

In this album, we find the mutual manifestation of challenges to the sovereignty of the autonomous subject, projected “lines” of escape through drugs, and the search for a community of those who have nothing in common. Eck$ leads the listener on an outlandish Bildung in which the transgression of law is only the first act. We float along with him, at different rates of speed and slowness, like drunken boats who dance on savage waves. The light at the end of this bizarre trip is not the lighthouse guiding us home, but the illumination of transactions yet to come. Read the rest of this entry »

The Disavowalist Manifesto

We will never know how many discourses we inhabit at once. Words like “socio-political” must be uttered in an ironic sense because any notion of strict division between discursive spaces is a fiction. One must remember that a “hyphen is never enough to conceal protests, cries of anger or suffering, the noise of weapons, airplanes, and bombs.” Any and all distinctions are contingent, acting like hinges, where one component is not clearly distinguished from the other, but also necessary for the operation of the apparatus. It is not each discourse that produces meaning, as is commonly believed, but is actually that which produces a general meaninglessness. Above all else, the Disavowalist wants meaning. The only path to meaning is away from every black hole of signification. It is the disinterested wandering away from discourse that will be the coalescence of meaning: a complete refusal to avow; a disavowal.

This strategy is sometimes represented in the political realm as anarchism. Is not an-archy a complete disavowal of the State, hierarchy, gods, and masters? An-archists would certainly believe so. Yet it is this strategic disavowal that leads to the ultimate avowal of anarchism. So, it is a similar case with any discourse that introduces itself as a prefix. One finds affirmations and affinities everywhere in anarchism, dormant like razor blades in apples. However, it is not the positive, anarchist projects that adopt a stance of avowal in the sense that we are concerned with. A collective never hurt nor helped anyone. Implicit in the naked disavowal of arche is an impulse that can surface as crude naturalism or frigid utilitarianism or any disease you could imagine on your lunch break. The Disavowalist wants to disavow everything including her own position. The evening news is trite and every book has been read: the Disavowalist is fiending for new intensities.

The first step to making your own disavowal: determine the field! We are not here to vomit three critiques about the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Disavowal is a step away from what is to what is not. Some would call this metaphysics, but those people are not Disavowalists. We do not want to give you philosophy, political theory, self-help, or pornography. You already know where to find them; you already are them. We can only offer a constellation of images. These images will appear to form a coherent structure in an immanent matrix, but, like all constellations, each image is light-years away from the others. The question of structuration, that very event where the constellation becomes what it is, will be left open until the end, where one will rightly find the beginning.

Some philosophers have argued that our relation to the world is innately sexual. Either our bodies are always complicit in a sexualized energy of mechanico-biological connections, or sexuality underlies every thought and action as the genital property of power itself. What is overlooked far too often is that this sexuality always already entails production. The sexualized subject can only exist when it apprehends a sexualizing object. Therefore, sexuality is grafted on to the subject and this procedure has been naturalized throughout history. Yet at every moment, the subject is primarily asexual before encountering the means of sexual production. The desire to spread sexuality as much as the productive localities of sex itself is a discourse of avowal. One must be weary of the counter-attack that posits anti-sexuality or abstinence as solutions; this is not what we are interested in. The Disavowalist becomes becoming by closing his account at the economy of becoming-sexual.

How does one become a Disavowalist linguistically? It should already be clear that the No is a trap. The No is an avowal of the negative; it is inextricable from that which is Yes. We have no pledge or principle. A strong distaste resonates equally from culture and counter-culture. The Disavowalist distrusts language because it affirms being over becoming. Yet, as Cratylus had done, one cannot simply give up language. Even this marks a return to negation. The Disavowalist is a black body radiator in the vacuum of language.

The Disavowalist sometimes adopts a name, but only to disavow it in the end, to give it up, to die. Hamlet became Disavowalist in his indecision to kill Claudius. This allowed him to ponder his fate, despise country and capital, and scorn vanity. The decision brought complications. All at once, Hamlet enters bio-chemical, political, social, historical, literary, and militant discourses. He is forced into the conclusion of all avowals: the death of the subject. And so, Hamlet’s dying words solidify his predicament: he voices his opinion on a political election. Hamlet was a great Disavowalist, but Bukowski was greater. In Bukowski, one finds a critique of everything that is both clear and concise. Value-constellations of politics, sexuality, culture, art, etc. are dissolved to their most fundamental contradictions. Beneath it the reader finds a sincerity that is intentionally absent from all other writers. However, in the catacombs of Bukowski’s style, one is bound to realize his hedonism. It is an avowal of the beautiful that takes the form of Mahler, Lawrence, and the woman in 4E. Certainly, we must forgive Bukowski whatever joys he could find under the dirty covers of a rented motel room, but it was his disavowals that made him great, that inched him closer to the divine emptiness and the yawning spirit. We forgive Bukowski to read him again; we read Bukowski to not end up like him. However, Bukowski’s failures are not that far from another great Disavowalist. It is Bartleby’s mantra that could lead any Disavowalist to purified reflection, if such a thing existed: I would prefer not to. Is this not the goal we have been aiming at: to prefer not to do anything? Linguistically, Bartleby discovers a world of disavowal, but it is his practice that is lacking. In his radical disavowal, Bartleby forgets what he is still avowing: a particular spatial position. Bartleby engenders a critique of work and law that would not resurface until more than two hundred years later. He is also a reminder of what radical disavowal encompasses and where the Disavowalist needs to take caution. We do not want to be catatonic! Disavowal is an active becoming; any stasis is a negation of its principle.

Disavowal leads indirectly to a peripheral subjectivity. The subject is a foundational position, which is prior to objectifying apparatuses and discourses. To be clear, if such a thing is possible, we do not desire to reaffirm the classical role of the subject. Individual and pure values are inextricable from the discourses they inhabit. We seek a world beyond value. It is here, at this point of no return and constant return, that the subject becomes identifiable, but only as clearly as a corpse. The subject is not a goal or end; it is what remains after radical disavowal. The subject’s position in the world is always contingent. It involves a coming out (of the closet, of consciousness, etc.) to the Other and the world. One finds multiplicity only in a return to singularity. Radical subjectivity necessarily composes radical alterity. The radical subject is not absolutely present or coherent, but is merely a subject in-and-for-itself. Our goal is to disavow the Other in our-self in order to discover the Other as itself: “We can only remember that seduction lies in not reconciling with the Other and in salvaging the strangeness of the Other.” A disavowal need not lead to any particular configuration, but it is always already a becoming-subject in the face of alterity. The subject is only inherently valuable insofar as it is in relation to the Other. Yet the Other is already everywhere; it is discursively produced in a perverse space overflowing with contradictory values. The Other, in its relation to the subject, which is always already murdered by discourse, is a pure Other for-itself. The Other emerges on a plane of disavowal along with the subject. Disavowal is necessarily a movement: it meanders toward the Other and meaning. One must not remove oneself entirely as Bartleby does. What constitutes this movement is a new topic for each person. Disavowal is a violent conquest directed at parts of the map that do not exist. With every new horizon, one must be cautious of avowals that blossom everywhere like landmines.

Slogans for Walls and Wars:

Don’t Try

I Would Prefer Not To


To Be Or Not

Lego La Nada A Nadie


Alterity and Architecture

Most revolutionary strategies notoriously lack concerns about metaphysics, but focus entirely on ethics and politics. This blind-spot has done more damage to theory than is currently realized. It is certain that freedom involves the unmediated exercise of subjectivity and that the opposite of free action necessarily involves the appropriation of subjectivity through coercion or blatant violence. The first task in formulating a plan of liberation is to recognize the threats against the lived body in everyday life. Prior to institutions and others, one finds that it is the environment itself that militates against the subject. This aggression materializes in the existence of the building.

On Entering Buildings

When walking up to the doors of a building, just before crossing the threshold, there is a perceptible nausea. This existential angst is a foreshadowing of the metaphysical violence that awaits a person beyond the doors of any interior. To understand this feeling as a type of awe before a great edifice would be a grave mistake. Similar illusions are accompanied with other events that appear as radical breaks in the flow of everyday life: falling in love when one is only falling into bondage, joining a particular manifestation of the class struggle when one is only renouncing their individuality (e.g. the ability to join), and so on. These cases should not be taken as absolutes, but only failures of these institutions at a particular moment. The building, however, offers no dialogue like a lover or revolutionary council might. Its overwhelming threat of absolute appropriation of the subject (triggering an ontological conversion from subject to object) is perpetual. As one enters a building they become a cog in the machinery of the edifice. The possible withers away as the person is thrown into a limited space of pre-determined actualities. The nausea of entering is never a joyful experience and is always a distress call from our subjectivity.

Buildings as art; art as buildings—this is the greatest lie of modernity. The nausea of entering is sometimes confused with an appreciation for art, greatness, or Beauty. The only accessible aesthetic qualities of a building are seen from the desk of the architect. This space beyond spaces is the true center of the structure; a center that is non-center. From his desk, the architect weaves the grand narrative of the building with paths that facilitate flows of desire and engineered methods of moving. Due to this, the architect is always already a metaphysician in cognito. The art or style of buildings is always beyond the perception of the subject; always too high, large, distant, or ambiguous. The essence always escapes the inhabitant because it reconfigures her, but is immediately obvious for the narrator of steel and glass, the person at the desk, the architect.

When a photon particle gets close to an atom there is a fundamental shift in its behavior. It ceases to be a particle and becomes a wave. The building attracts us like the photon particle to the atom and we undergo the same metaphysical transfiguration. Hallways, rooms, corridors—these structures mimic the electron shells of the atom. It is wrong to say that the subject exists because the room is always prior to his birth.

The building’s main function is to appropriate subjectivities to fulfill the plan of the architect. This planning is most egregious in spaces like business towers, schools, prisons, and clinics. It represents the first act of terrorism in civilization. Today, capital and authority control and maintain the means of construction. The violence of the building is indistinguishable from the violence of the State. To reclaim life one must begin with the lived body which is always already situated by coercive forces. This will require a terrorism against the building.

On Destroying Buildings

The strategy against buildings can be neither destructive nor constructive. To participate in either of these methods would be to reduce oneself to the universal dialectic instituted by architecture of building/non-building, inside/outside. Physically destroying the building is a speech act in the discourse of buildings. Therefore, the terrorism to be waged against the building is beyond the universal dialectic and its practice of violence. The new terrorism is not productive and nothing new must be formed or made. The revolutionary has a simple, but difficult, task: relearning how to traverse spaces. Since the building stands for the appropriation of subjectivities, the only mode of being against this appropriation is the exercise of subjectivity through space. This process finally puts an end to the nausea of the building, but must be constantly reaffirmed, recognized, and re-established. For all of history, spaces have determined subjectivity, but now the transcendence of this hierarchy must be realized through the subjective determination of space.

We will call the expression of subjectivity through/in/as space a subject-space. Subject-spaces are direct responses to the dual-colonization of space as concrete and liquid. Geographical and mental spaces encounter the unremitting conquest of desks, advertisements, chalkboards, highways, screens, restaurants, flowers, radios, and sewers. Concrete colonization is the physical dominance of the object on the subject, while liquid colonization is the extension of an object through a subject. Where will we find the subject-space? Only in resistances to spaces of liquid colonization. To revolt against the concrete would return the subject to the destructive/constructive dialectic of the building and only further ingrain her. Liquid spaces are ripe with the intensities of subjectivity and must be subverted. Reclaim space to reclaim your-self.

On the Aesthetics of Subject-Spaces

The spontaneous creation of subject-spaces requires new architectures that facilitate the free flows of desire through liquid spaces. This unique aesthetic must exist outside of presence, material, domination, and colonization. It will call for a new conception of the room and even the most functional of everyday living spaces will be transformed without remorse. Architecture will be liberated as an art and the grand narrative of the architect (supported by the capitalist and politician) will be obliterated. Picture a whole city of people wandering the landscape transforming spaces as they go: Fourier without the communal localization of the phalanx. Every subject-space is a small pool of imagination reaching toward infinity.