Ecological, ephemeral

by craigepplin

I’m working on a post about Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep for Urbanities, so I’ll just write a short post here. Perhaps a bit of a self-reflective one.

As I’ve been teaching this course on new media culture in Latin America, I’ve become more aware of a tendency in my own work, of which I suppose I was conscious but hadn’t fully formulated: my preference for works that are dry and cold, rather than viscerally engaging. I’ve commented on this before, and indeed I’m sure that if you scroll through some past posts you’ll know what I mean: a preference for the conceptual, for the highly mediated, for the disavowal of self-expression. To name names, and to stick to the Latin American context: Aira, Bellatin, Alÿs, Katchadjian, etc. I’m not exactly concerned about this preference–I suppose that’s the best word for it, since it’s not really a militant attachment–but I am interested in it. Here’s why:

The attraction, to me, of these sorts of works lies in the way that they foreground aesthetic form. Form is where we most clearly find ideology, as Franco Moretti and lots of others have put it. But the sort of form I see in works like these is the form of the entire art act. It’s their atmosphere in the astronomical sense of the word, to mention one of Roland Barthes’s most beautiful and cryptic phrases. The astronomical atmosphere: the entire universe that makes a work possible. A universe that, in a banal sense, is nothing but the entire universe’s own process of becoming, or in a more significant way, the fragments of the universe that readers and viewers and listeners ascribe to the work. The work’s context–that’s one way of putting it, but I prefer to call it a trajectory, a means through which virtuality becomes actualized, temporarily and sometimes ephemerally, in a work of art.

That’s a diagnosis, simple enough: The idea is that by focusing on this extended form of the work of art (literature or whatever) we can find the most important manifestations of ideology. I think so because this understanding of form is engaged with the making of the work, and the making is where we can place works in dialogue with the productive patterns of the present moment. I guess I like these kinds of works because they seem aware of these patterns, willing to enter into dialogue with them, even if it’s only a matter of indexing them.

I understand all that. What I understand less is why I feel a part of me growing tired of these works. I’m listening more and more closely to music these days, and I wonder if my fatigue owes partially to the particular sorts of music I’m taking in. I feel myself moving into something else, toward a greater interest in the self and its expression, even if it’s not the traditional self: a thoroughly ecological self, an ephemeral self, a self modeled, perhaps, more after dance and less after thought.