Emerging Affinities – Possible Futures of Performative Arts
This volume is a response to the growing need for new methodological approaches to the rapidly changing landscape of new forms of performative practices. The authors address a host of contemporary phenomena situated at the crossroads between science and fiction which employ various media and merge live participation with mediated hybrid experiences at both affective and cognitive level. All essays collected here move across disciplinary divisions in order to provide an account of these new tendencies, thus providing food for thought for a wide readership ranging from performative studies to the social sciences, philosophy and cultural studies.
Introduction to chapter in Emerging Affinities: Possible Futures of Performative Arts (please note this is a pre-published version of the text)
Collapsing Boundaries: Ambivalence and Interference
Although the collapsing of disciplinary boundaries might appear to be a theoretically promising move it is not necessarily a goal to aim for without concern for what might eventually emerge. To be sure, perhaps the desire for disciplinary mixture needs to be approached more ambivalently. For example, when art mixes with science the outcome is not always ‘great art’. There is always the potential for much methodological confusion to arise in the relation between art and science in which the aesthetic can become tainted by the rationalizing expression of scientific functions. Indeed, as boundary crossings in neuroaesthetics evidence, scientists can often objectify the aesthetic as a brain function: ‘There it is, inside the brain! Beauty itself!’ If this function is not located in the neuroimage, then ‘how can it possibly be good art?’ Herein the boundary crossings of art and science become part of a particular version of human rationality, which is given as the only starting point and end goal. The problem with neuroaesthetics becomes apparent, as such, in its claim to be able to discern between an objective aesthetic of beauty and the ‘dubious’ imposters of Conceptual Art (Ramachandran 2011: 192– 93). Marcel Duchamp is, as follows, presented as an absurd figure who, as any child in an art gallery can apparently see, parades himself in the emperor’s new clothes. Surprisingly perhaps, it has also been argued that art is not immune to the philosophic concept since when the aesthetic mixes with the concept some of its affective political potency is lost (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 198). Sure, art and philosophy radicals can always try to subvert the rational brains of science, but if this attempt to disrupt function by bringing together concepts and sensations is rumbled as a critique rather than productive rapprochement, then where will the next funding stream come from?
We must further consider the ambivalent politics of collapsing boundaries. On one hand, capitalism works more effectively, it would seem, in the fluidity of borders and often encourages disciplinary mixtures if they offer more value for money. Collapsing boundaries can, like this, become part of an evil stratagem of neoliberal funding mechanisms that close the funding door to shut out criticality in favour of interdisciplinarity and industrial impact. Nonetheless, on the other hand, protective boundaries (from broader disciplines to categorized subject genres) are often negligible lines that are inexorably breached by the erosive flow of events. We cannot ignore these unrelenting events. They come at us like waves, carrying with them a multitude of novel objects that crash into (and often overwhelm) disciplinary defences. It is the interferences caused by these waves that are, at once, like Joseph Schumpeter’s (1976) mutational model of capitalism in the 1940s, creative and destructive. What should we do when we are all out to sea? Should we build new disciplinary defences or surrender ourselves to the ambivalence of the waves while trying to desperately hold on to criticality that might challenge the status quo?
Following such an ambivalent line of flight, this chapter begins by problematizing the notion of collapsing boundaries, focusing on the dilemma it poses in the institutional context of the neoliberal university. In short, the desire for interdisciplinary experimentation has to be considered in light of current conditions in which mixtures are supposed to take place outside of so-called silo mentalities. It is therefore important, before any boundaries collapse, to examine the extent to which disciplines can (or should) productively mix outside of these silos. That is to say, before taking the radical step of replacing boundary thinking with a Whiteheadian inspired notion of nonlocalized interferences, the discussion needs to step back a little to explore the Deleuzian inspired method of the interference which offers various experimental traversals between art, science and philosophy, via the interventional potential of disciplinary giants, conceptual personae, aesthetic figures and swarming demons.
Silo Mentality and Criticality
A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into the air as inexperienced people endeavour to do, he drowns. . . The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up (From Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, 1961 : 160)
Before challenging boundaries and genres, and the disciplinary methodologies and theoretical frames in which they are conceived, there is a need to provide some institutional context. Indeed, there is a new business buzzword that urgently needs our attention, and it is coming to a university near you soon: The silo! We have been told that we have been working in disciplinary silos for too long and it is not good for innovation and productivity. The pressure is on. We need to work across silos and get to the nexus that connects everything to everything else (Stirling, 2014). But the nexus is full of threats. Our internal disciplinary power structures and ways of doing things will be made visible to all, risking exposure to the peril of alien methodologies and external metrics. In times of budgetary cuts and precarious academic labour, being outside of your silo, and consequently wide-open to these threats, could potentially lead to career death.
The collapsing of disciplinary boundaries and the opening up to interdisciplinarity cannot be seen as a simple elixir. This was a point well understood in the university well before the current fashionable idea of escaping silos took hold (Benson 1982: 38-48). In effect, there has always been a well-intentioned, if not somewhat confused concern that we might find ourselves metaphorically emerging from the depths of the silo only to wade about in the shallows of interdisciplinarity. On one hand, in real practical terms, without investment in the time and resources necessary to master the discrete methodologies in which functions, sensations or concepts become manifest, it is argued that academics risk exposure to pedagogical and even intellectual limits (ibid). Indeed, divestment, not investment, is the institutional norm in the arts and humanities today, so we need to consider the argument that the production of so-called shallow interdisciplinarity is increasingly used by the neoliberal university as a marketing tool to promote low-cost content that lacks intellectual depth since it is neither in this nor that silo. On the other hand though, it is perhaps surprising that Deleuze and Guattari (1994), once the masters of disciplinary mixture, similarly contended, in their final collaboration together, that methodological limits are imposed on mixtures between art, science and philosophy. That is to say, by allowing mixtures we risk creating methodological confusion. The neuroaesthetic intervention into art risks, as such, confusing the sensation of artistic practice with a function of science. There is, inversely, a potential methodological limit imposed on art when an artist tries to make a sensation out of a function.
In spite of this methodological confusion, perhaps we also need to concede that it is often outside of the silo, in the inevitability of mixture, that we experience novelty. This is a contrasting sense of creativity that renders the notion of shallowness an ineffective metaphor. It is, as follows, outside of the boundary line, in nonlocations, where many novel genres, methodologies and theoretical frameworks are made. If this is indeed the case, then, the problem is how to collapse boundaries without entirely jeopardising the protection boundaries offer from the current neoliberal condition. One way to proceed is to step outside the discipline and advance with relations of suspicion (Summer 2003). Here I think the mixture of critical theory and interdisciplinarity provides some valuable resources since it interestingly occurs by way of a creative-destructive interference. In other words, via its alien-like presence, this ambivalent mixture might, at very least, disrupt the political status quo in the university. As Jennifer Summer (ibid) argues:
There are a number of commonalities that critical theory and interdisciplinarity share. To begin with, both paradigms are academic outcasts, interdisciplinarity for its disciplinary violations and critical theory for its critique of the status quo.
The notion of allying these two academic “outcasts” promises to imbue the relations established between, for example, art and science, with suspicion. Given the current neoliberal context such an allegiance of outcasts is clearly of use, but here I would like to move on from a mode of criticality established in the distancing function of a conventional critical theory that remains aloof from other disciplines to consider relations in terms of nonlocation. Indeed, what is proposed in this chapter is not a collapsing or distancing between disciplinary lines, but the transversal cutting of lines, or making of new patterns, understood here by way of a theory of wave interferences.
Significantly, wave interferences take into account a new materialist infused approach that does not look to distinguish between science and art in terms of a culture/nature artifice or indeed riven between human ideas and the nonhumans that we encounter in certain scientific experimentations. On the contrary, what might be referred to as non-art, non-science or non-philosophy must all welcome a blurring of the lines between nonhuman interventions into culture, and vice versa, raise concerns about Anthropocenic incursions into nonhuman worlds. To fully grasp the utility of nonlocation in this nonhuman context, it is important not to therefore mistake the relation of suspicion with the idealist’s traditional critical confrontation with a kind of science that is only concerned with natural forces. This is because, in many ways, the critical distance established between the arts and humanities defined, on one hand, by a cultural worldview of human ideas, and by the experiments into nature by the hard sciences and technologists, on the other, has led us to a wasteful theoretical impasse. Any slippage, we are told, toward a nonhuman paradigm in the arts and humanities threatens to open the door to rampant science and technological forces, and will, it would seem, lead to the ruination of human ideas (Krystal, 2014). Yet, as Katherine N Hayles (2017: 130-31) argues, it is surely the aloof position humanists adopt with regard to scientific and technological projects that in many ways ensures that important early collaborations and prior discussion of ethical considerations are missed out on. What is needed now is an alternative to the impasse of scientific and idealist determinism. As follows, wave interferences are not so much a new critical theory of distance established in disciplinary depths or shallows as they are a new method of doing criticality on the surface.