Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Where the Garment Gapes: The Slit Aesthetic and Jouissance in Fashion

This semester, Philippa Jackson - a guest lecturer for my undergraduate unit, Fashion and Society - introduced me to the term “slit aesthetic” for the first time. The term was coined by Maureen Turim in her article ‘Fashion Shapes: Film, the Fashion Industry, and the Image of Women’. Turim describes the slit aesthetic as being a gap in women’s clothing that reveals the wearer’s skin, in particular the “neck, shoulders, back and breasts” (1983). While Turim’s discussion focuses on the representation of female actors in a specific moment in Hollywood film history, I would like to take up her brief discussion on desire and how this relates to the work of Roland Barthes in his own analysis of desire, wherein he uses a similar example.

In The Pleasure of the Text [1973] Barthes alludes to the arousing nature of what is not visible when he says: “Is not the most erotic portion of the body where the garment gapes?” (1975, p.9). He provides an example of the gap between the end of a woman’s sleeve and the top of her glove, revealing a tiny glimpse of her wrist.

He describes this process as “the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance” and explains how an opening reveals something that attracts the subject by creating a kind of window (ibid.). This offers a taste and yet conceals so much more. An obvious contemporary example would be the flash of a woman’s leg appearing through the split of a dress. What is conceals alludes to a promise. This may not be ‘a promise’ in the vernacular sense of the word, but it is not totally dissimilar: what is concealed, though not visible, is suggested and it is the desire that this instils in the subject, and the subsequent response, that we can describe as jouissance.

In terms of the slit aesthetic, Turim sees the desire as being oriented in the male gaze, but she also explains that this gaze becomes fetishistic in that in these instances the film’s editing appears as a “cutting back and forth between the gazing male and the female body he looks at” (1983). This fetishisation then turns this slice of flesh into an object which, hence, stands in for the whole female. However, Barthes’ interpretation is different. Barthes explains how it is the “seam” which is erotic (1975, pp.7-8). It is the boundary, the join, the incision that disrupts normal textual flow and opens up a domain of polysemy. But this space is required to remain in abeyance in order for bliss – jouissance – to remain. In other words, and as it would be for Turim’s male audience, they will never ‘have’ the female actress.

In her article 'Beyond the Jouissance Principle' Jane Gallop says: “If jouissance is celebrated as something that unsettles assumptions, it becomes ineffective when it itself settles into an assumption.” (1984, p.112). The condition of the space of bliss relies on the lack of conjecture. Assumptions, knowledge of the outcome, and emotional investment in the conclusion avert jouissance. Bliss continues until the subject 'knows'.

In A Lover’s Discourse [1977] Barthes explains how the lover’s absence can be manipulated. He describes it as an “active practice” (1979, p.16) in which the not knowing of the whereabouts of one’s lover creates doubts and desires: “This staging of language postpones the other’s death” (ibid.). Barthes explains that “to manipulate absence is to extend this interval, to delay as long as possible the moment when the other might topple sharply from absence into death.” (ibid.).

While, Turim’s example sees the wearer of the slit aesthetic as representing the “phallic woman” (1983), Barthes sees that gap as jouissance and plays with the space in which the lover has not yet returned by extending the interval: when will the lover return or might it be that the lover never returns…

Barthes, Roland. 1975. The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. by Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang).
Barthes, Roland. 1979. A Lover’s Discourse. Trans. by Richard Howard (London: Jonathan Cape).
Gallop, Jane, ‘Beyond the Jouissance Principle’, Representations, 7, (Summer, 1984) pp. 110-115.
Turim, Maureen, ‘Fashion Shapes: Film, the Fashion Industry, and the Image of Women’, Socialist Review, 71 (13), (Radical Society Ltd, 1983) pp. 78-96.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Non-Representational Theory - Part 2: 'Challenging Ossified Systems of Power'

Edited by Candice P. Boyd and Christian Edwardes, Non-Representational Theory and the Creative Arts has just been published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2019.

Below is an abstract for my own chapter in the book - a photo essay - 'Psy(co)motion: Anti-Production and Détournement in Affective Musical Cartographies'. And below that is a list of contents for the book:
This chapter discusses the musical compilation series psy(co)motion in the context of a Guattarian analysis. It introduces the set of psychogeographically-oriented CDs within the mix-tape/CD phenomenon while situating it as a form that challenges ossified systems of power. The chapter goes on to discuss whether psy(co)motion manages to successfully recuperate itself through the molecular creation of the object, and via its virtual and physical dissemination.


Non-Representational Dreams
Nigel Thrift
1          Creative Practice and the Non-Representational
Candice P. Boyd and Christian Edwardes
Part 1  Situated Practices in Art, Craft and Design
2          Geo/graphic design
Alison Barnes 
3          Geologic Landscape: A Performance and a Wrecked Mobile Phone
Veronica Vickery 
4          Micro-Geographies of the Studio
Christian Edwardes 
5          Making, knowing and being made: hand-stitching beyond representation  
Emma Shercliff 
6          Feeling Queer Art in Public:  The Gay Liberation Monument
Martin Zebracki
Part 2  Artistic Engagements with Geography
7          Affecting Objects:  Enacting Gesture Within a Performative Research Enquiry
Sarah Bennett
8          Circadian Rhythms, Sunsets, and the Representational Thresholds of Time-Lapse Photography
Kaya Barry
9          ‘Call That Art?  I Call It Bad Eyesight’:  Seeing or Not Seeing in the Context of Responsive Art Practice
Annie Lovejoy
10        Forward, Back, Together – and the Materialities of Taking Part
Simon Pope
11        Where Does ‘Your’ Space End and the Next Begin?  Non-Representational Geographies of Improvised Performance
Candice P. Boyd with Yan Yang, Juana Beltrán, Clinton Green, Jordan White, Carmen Chan Schoenborn, Elnaz Sheshgelani, Chun-liang Liu, Michael McNab, and Ren Walters 
Part 3  Geographers Exploring Artistic Practice
12        Making Theatre That Matters:  Troubling Subtext, Motive, and Intuition
Ruth Raynor
13        Creativity, Labour, and Captain Cook’s Cottage:  From Great Ayton to Fitzroy Gardens
Tim Edensor 
14        Material Conditions in the Post-Human City
Andrew Gorman-Murray 
15        Attuning to the Geothermal-Urban:  Kinetics, Cinematics, and Digital Elementality
Matthew Shepherd 
16        Thresholds of Representation:  Physical Disability in Dance and Perceptions of the Moving Body
Michelle Duffy, Paul Atkinson, and Nicola Wood
Harriet Hawkins and Rachel Hughes
Part 4  Sound, Music, and Creative Mobilities
17        Audio Recording as Performance
Michael Gallagher
18        Psy(co)motion: Anti-Production and Détournement in Affective Musical Cartographies
Tina Richardson 
19        Walk with Me
Jeffrey Hannam and Lawrence Harvey 
20        Imaginal Travel:  An Expedition in Fine Art Practice in Search of the Loneliest Palm
Gayle Chong Kwan 
21        Fragments (formerly Tales from the Asylum)
Thomas Jellis and Joe Gerlach
22        On Edge:  Writing Non-Representational Journeys
David Bissell
Sensing the World Anew
Barbara Bolt

Sunday, 24 March 2019

The Real/Rael of Psychogeography

The Real/Rael of Psychogeography:
Urban Walking as a Method of Ameliorating Castration Anxiety in Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

I will be presenting a paper at the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting in Washington DC w.b. 1st April 2019 in the Lacanian Landscapes session. Here is the abstract:

Rael is not real, but he is a popular culture representation of a real individual who is a stranger in a new city. As a recent immigrant to New York, Rael has to negotiate the alien space that has suddenly become his home. Part hero, part graffiti artist, part urban explorer, we witness our protagonist traversing the physical landscape of the city and that of his own psyche.

This paper explores the Lacanian concepts of castration anxiety, lack, the Other, and the real, in the context of the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Genesis, 1974). It examines the anxiety displayed in the character of the story and his attempts to work through this by using the landscape of the city as a vehicle for his own self-therapy.

By analysing Rael’s behaviour in the story, Richardson demonstrates that by taking a psychogeographic approach to the physical space of the city, and the abstract space of his own mind, Rael manages to work his way through the aesthetics of living in New York, as a foreigner, by facing his own troubled past.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Urinary Segregation: Jacques Lacan on Sexual Difference

“It is Freud’s discovery that gives the signifier/signified opposition its full scope: for the signifier plays an active role in determining the effects by which the signifiable appears to succumb to its mark, becoming, through that passion, the signified.” (Lacan 2002, p.274). 
This blog introduces Lacan’s theory of sexual difference by using his ‘anecdotal’ example of urinary segregation. It is available here to use as a study tool.

Firstly we have Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic sign (Saussure 1966, pp.66-67) (above), which forms the basis of Lacan’s model. With his model, Saussure assigns the concept (the top level) to the signified, and the sound pattern (the lower level) to the signifier, explaining that their association is arbitrary (Saussure 1966, p.67).

The above image is Lacan’s topography of the unconscious (Lacan 2002, p.141). Note the similarity with Saussure’s, to whom Lacan attributes it. However, Lacan demonstrates the importance of the signifier by reversing the hierarchy here in his own algorithm. The signifier, the unconscious, cannot be a true representation of the signified, because no direct exchange exists.

This is Lacan’s illustration of “urinary segregation” (Lacan 2002, p.143). Lacan’s anecdotal graphic demonstrates how “the signifier in fact enters the signified” (2002, p.142). His aim here is to show how the signifier becomes materialised in reality. His example is based on the traditional “faulty illustration” (ibid.) but here he uses associated binary terms. Lacan explains that from the train windows the children in his story experience a different physical perspective due to their seating arrangement: the boy believes they have arrived at “ladies” and the girl at “gentlemen” (2002, p.143). So, what in fact is happening for Lacan is that the railway lines represent and actualise the bar in Saussure’s model, becoming “a barrier resisting signification” (Lacan 2002, p141). Thus, the real signifier here (the toilet doors) creates for the children an ideological binarity positioning them in opposing domains (Lacan 2002, p.144).

Related Links:
On Knowledge and Phalluses

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1966. Course in General Linguistics, ed. by Charles Bally, Albert Sechehaye and Albert Riedlinger, trans. by Wade Baskin (New York, Toronto and London: McGraw-Hill).
Lacan, Jacques. 2002. Ecrits: A Selection, trans. by Bruce Fink (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Co.).

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Why Amartya Sen Remains the Century’s Great Critic of Capitalism

By Tim Rogan

Critiques of capitalism come in two varieties. First, there is the moral or spiritual critique. This critique rejects Homo economicus as the organising heuristic of human affairs. Human beings, it says, need more than material things to prosper. Calculating power is only a small part of what makes us who we are. Moral and spiritual relationships are first-order concerns. Material fixes such as a universal basic income will make no difference to societies in which the basic relationships are felt to be unjust.

Then there is the material critique of capitalism. The economists who lead discussions of inequality now are its leading exponents. Homo economicus is the right starting point for social thought. We are poor calculators and single-minded, failing to see our advantage in the rational distribution of prosperity across societies. Hence inequality, the wages of ungoverned growth. But we are calculators all the same, and what we need above all is material plenty, thus the focus on the redress of material inequality. From good material outcomes, the rest follows.

The first kind of argument for capitalism’s reform seems recessive now. The material critique predominates. Ideas emerge in numbers and figures. Talk of non-material values in political economy is muted. The Christians and Marxists who once made the moral critique of capitalism their own are marginal. Utilitarianism grows ubiquitous and compulsory.

But then there is Amartya Sen.

Every major work on material inequality in the 21st century owes a debt to Sen. But his own writings treat material inequality as though the moral frameworks and social relationships that mediate economic exchanges matter. Famine is the nadir of material deprivation. But it seldom occurs – Sen argues – for lack of food. To understand why a people goes hungry, look not for catastrophic crop failure; look rather for malfunctions of the moral economy that moderates competing demands upon a scarce commodity. Material inequality of the most egregious kind is the problem here. But piecemeal modifications to the machinery of production and distribution will not solve it. The relationships between different members of the economy must be put right. Only then will there be enough to go around.

In Sen’s work, the two critiques of capitalism cooperate. We move from moral concerns to material outcomes and back again with no sense of a threshold separating the two. Sen disentangles moral and material issues without favouring one or the other, keeping both in focus. The separation between the two critiques of capitalism is real, but transcending the divide is possible, and not only at some esoteric remove. Sen’s is a singular mind, but his work has a widespread following, not least in provinces of modern life where the predominance of utilitarian thinking is most pronounced. In economics curricula and in the schools of public policy, in internationalist secretariats and in humanitarian NGOs, there too Sen has created a niche for thinking that crosses boundaries otherwise rigidly observed.

This was no feat of lonely genius or freakish charisma. It was an effort of ordinary human innovation, putting old ideas together in new combinations to tackle emerging problems. Formal training in economics, mathematics and moral philosophy supplied the tools Sen has used to construct his critical system. But the influence of Rabindranath Tagore sensitised Sen to the subtle interrelation between our moral lives and our material needs. And a profound historical sensibility has enabled him to see the sharp separation of the two domains as transient.

Tagore’s school at Santiniketan in West Bengal was Sen’s birthplace. Tagore’s pedagogy emphasised articulate relations between a person’s material and spiritual existences. Both were essential – biological necessity, self-creating freedom – but modern societies tended to confuse the proper relation between them. In Santiniketan, pupils played at unstructured exploration of the natural world between brief forays into the arts, learning to understand their sensory and spiritual selves as at once distinct and unified.

Sen left Santiniketan in the late 1940s as a young adult to study economics in Calcutta and Cambridge. The major contemporary controversy in economics was the theory of welfare, and debate was affected by Cold War contention between market- and state-based models of economic order. Sen’s sympathies were social democratic but anti-authoritarian. Welfare economists of the 1930s and 1940s sought to split the difference, insisting that states could legitimate programmes of redistribution by appeal to rigid utilitarian principles: a pound in a poor man’s pocket adds more to overall utility than the same pound in the rich man’s pile. Here was the material critique of capitalism in its infancy, and here is Sen’s response: maximising utility is not everyone’s abiding concern – saying so and then making policy accordingly is a form of tyranny – and in any case using government to move money around in pursuit of some notional optimum is a flawed means to that end.

Economic rationality harbours a hidden politics whose implementation damaged the moral economies that groups of people built up to govern their own lives, frustrating the achievement of its stated aims. In commercial societies, individuals pursue economic ends within agreed social and moral frameworks. The social and moral frameworks are neither superfluous nor inhibiting. They are the coefficients of durable growth.

Moral economies are not neutral, given, unvarying or universal. They are contested and evolving. Each person is more than a cold calculator of rational utility. Societies aren’t just engines of prosperity. The challenge is to make non-economic norms affecting market conduct legible, to bring the moral economies amid which market economies and administrative states function into focus. Thinking that bifurcates moral on the one hand and material on the other is inhibiting. But such thinking is not natural and inevitable, it is mutable and contingent – learned and apt to be unlearned.
Sen was not alone in seeing this. The American economist Kenneth Arrow was his most important interlocutor, connecting Sen in turn with the tradition of moral critique associated with R H Tawney and Karl Polanyi. Each was determined to re-integrate economics into frameworks of moral relationship and social choice. But Sen saw more clearly than any of them how this could be achieved. He realised that at earlier moments in modern political economy this separation of our moral lives from our material concerns had been inconceivable. Utilitarianism had blown in like a weather front around 1800, trailing extremes of moral fervour and calculating zeal in its wake. Sen sensed this climate of opinion changing, and set about cultivating ameliorative ideas and approaches eradicated by its onset once again.

There have been two critiques of capitalism, but there should be only one. Amartya Sen is the new century’s first great critic of capitalism because he has made that clear.Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.