Semblance and Event

Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts

Brian Massumi
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Semblance and Event
    Book Description:

    Events are always passing; to experience an event is to experience the passing. But how do we perceive an experience that encompasses the just-was and the is-about-to-be as much as what is actually present? InSemblance and Event, Brian Massumi, drawing on the work of William James, Alfred North Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze, and others, develops the concept of "semblance" as a way to approach this question. It is, he argues, a question of abstraction, not as the opposite of the concrete but as a dimension of it: "lived abstraction." A semblance is a lived abstraction. Massumi uses the category of the semblance to investigate practices of art that are relational and event-oriented -- variously known as interactive art, ephemeral art, performance art, art intervention -- which he refers to collectively as the "occurrent arts." Each art practice invents its own kinds of relational events of lived abstraction, to produce a signature species of semblance. The artwork's relational engagement, Massumi continues, gives it a political valence just as necessary and immediate as the aesthetic dimension.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29819-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    The Technologies of Lived Abstraction book series is dedicated to work of transdisciplinary reach inquiring critically but especially creatively into processes of subjective, social, and ethical-political emergence abroad in the world today. Thought and body, abstract and concrete, local and global, individual and collective: the works presented are not content to rest with the habitual divisions. They explore how these facets come formatively, reverberatively together, if only to form the movement by which they come again to differ.

    Possible paradigms are many: autonomization, relation; emergence, complexity, process; individuation, (auto)poiesis; direct perception, embodied perception, perception-as-action; speculative pragmatism, speculative realism, radical empiricism;...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts
    (pp. 1-28)

    Something’s doing (James 1996a, 161). That much we already know. Something’s happening. Try as we might to gain an observer’s remove, that’s where we find ourselves: in the midst of it. There’s happening doing. This is where philosophical thinking must begin: immediately in the middle (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 21–23, 293).

    What’s middling in all immediacy is “an experience ofactivity” (James 1996a, 161). “The fundamental concepts are activity and process” (Whitehead 1968, 140). “Bare activity, as we may call it, means the bare fact of event or change” (James 1996a, 161).

    In bare point of fact, that is...

  6. 1 The Ether and Your Anger: Toward a Speculative Pragmatism
    (pp. 29-38)

    Pragmatism is often understood to err on the side of the objective. Its dictum that something is “true because it is useful” (James 1978, 98) is easily caricatured as a philosophical apotheosis of American instrumentalism. Objects, it would seem, figure in the world according to their ends: their potential to perform utilitarian functions. The world is a boundless collection of exploitable resources through which the rugged individual moves at will: user in a used world. The extreme objectivism of assuming that the world is a preconstituted collection of objects defined by their functional “cash-value” (James 1978, 32, 169) swings seamlessly...

  7. 2 The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens: Putting the Radical Back in Empiricism
    (pp. 39-86)

    V2_Institute for the Unstable Media* What is central to interactive art is not so much the aesthetic form in which a work presents itself to an audience—as in more traditional arts like painting, sculpture, and video installation art—but the behavior the work triggers in the viewer. The viewer then becomes a participant in the work, which behaves in response to the participant’s actions. Interactive art needs behavior on both sides of the classical dichotomy of object and viewer. Paintings or installations also trigger certain behaviors—from contemplation to excitement—but they themselves do not change as a result...

  8. 3 The Diagram as Technique of Existence: Ovum of the Universe Segmented
    (pp. 87-104)

    “We judge colors by the company they keep” (Lamb and Bourriau 1995, 149). Colors are convivial. “A” color “is an alteration of a complete spectrum” (Westphal 1987, 84). However lonely in appearance, a color is in the company of its kin—all its potential variations. The spectrum is the invisible background against which “a” color stands out. It is the everpresent virtual whole of each color apart.¹

    “I was in a totally white room. As I held the prism before my eyes, I expected, keeping Newtonian theory in mind, that the entire white wall would be fragmented into different colors,...

  9. 4 Arts of Experience, Politics of Expression: In Four Movements
    (pp. 105-180)

    “We must assume,” writes Walter Benjamin, “that in the remote past the processes considered imitable included those in the sky.” People danced a storm. Benjamin is quick to add that the similarity that made it possible for the human body to imitate cloud and rain is different from what we normally think of today as a resemblance. It could only have been a “nonsensuous” similarity because nothing actually given to our senses corresponds to what our bodies and the heavens have imitably in common. Benjamin goes on to suggest that not only can this nonsensuous similarity be acted out, it...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 181-192)
  11. References
    (pp. 193-200)
  12. Index
    (pp. 201-220)