Ruukku Journal, Nr. 11. http://ruukku-journal.fi/issues/11
Let’s consider ‘something’ in the context of performance art and other performative speech-acts. This exposition is about something – something finite and transitional – something that isn’t nothing. Something may be in crisis and part of systemic cycles; something may be in a signal or terminal crisis. That something which is finite in performance may cease to exist and may turn into something else. For instance, there might have been ‘something in the performance’ that puzzled me or affected me in unclear ways, but afterwards I might find a reasonable connection or solution for understanding what it was that puzzled me. The context for this exposition includes the loose connections among economy, performativity and philosophy in performance art. Does something have an economic reason that is being performed in a performance? Does something create a leeway for metaphysical interrogation to enter performance art? Does something remain anything or become nothing in the finitude of performance? Poststructuralist philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze may propose we regard something in terms of aliquid sense. In the post-Kantian view, we may turn critical towards the ‘in-itself’ of something, and prefer Laruelle’s decisionality ruling on philosophy. Decision cuts off something, transcends something. Something may serve as a marker for gnosis in terms of the gnostic tradition, or it may hint at paranormal activity in the performance. Or it may be différance of the performance, and not the thing-in-itself; something that is infinitely deferred from our understanding; something that is being captured with a noun.
When we experience something in a performance, something that doesn’t signify anything, is that something more of the same, more of the something that we experience outside the performance? Or is it, in Monty Python’s words, now something completely different?
Or is it something completely different that is differing from the different?
The first aspect of something in a performance is that it always remains merely something. It’s not nothing, but neither is it already a thing. The performer may turn this indeterminate something into the essence of the performance, as it is for someone like Marina Abramović in her claim of ‘presence’. Alternatively, the artist may foreclose the significance of it, as Tehching Hsieh does when he calls his one-year performance merely a matter of ‘wasting time’. Still, particularly at the level of the artist’s practice, there always remains some ‘stuff’, an experience of something that leads us towards a mode of speculation. This may manifest as a thing, a form of sense, but not yet as an idea, or a constative statement as to what this something indicates. Nevertheless, this something is performative. Something happens. It’s our understanding of it that comes too early or too late. Something’s in the air, as if the performance were an atmospheric phenomenon. Still, these speculations are posterior to the something, and when we recognise and distinguish this something, we may say to ourselves, ‘Ah, that’s what it is!’’ The performance has been reconstructed, turned into a metaphysical detective novel.
The second aspect of something is that it appears in the process of the performance. We are thinking with and not yet about something. We might even say that the performance is something thinking. In this process we retain elements, from the matter of something, that interest us. We could describe this something as aporia or an interval. It is something that is between matter and consciousness: an interval we perceive as being chased after, or lacking coherence. The interval is our perception of matter and time deprived of something. In the process there is a thing that is deprived of something, so that we may regard this thing as lacking something. Or along with the process there is a thing that we may have not yet distinguished as such – a kind of virtual thing. The actualisation of the virtual is an operation that produces a whole, where the only thing left to contemplate is nothing.
That something has become, has come to exist. We are
using of something for something,
as Heidegger regards the handling of a thing in Being and Time. In the performance process, this work is dependent on materials. This is where an environment is discovered and encountered through tools. The handling of stuff has the ‘readiness-to-hand’ that we cannot discover or understand theoretically. Heidegger writes how the handling has its own ‘sight’, where ‘[d]ealings with equipment subordinate themselves to the manifold assignments of the “in-order-to”’. This sight is circumspection, an awareness of how we look around before we decide what to do next. Circumspection informs the readiness-to-hand of stuff and how we handle stuff in the artistic process.
Paolo Virno thinks of performance as comprising all human activity that is performative in the Austinian sense, and envisions a performance based on the distinction between labour (poiesis) and political action (praxis). Where poiesis is performative and taking place in the process of making a final product, there in praxis
the purpose of action is found in action itself.
There are two directions in the process of performance: the readiness-to-hand in poiesis has to accommodate a pull from the different direction of praxis, where the sole purpose is in the action itself, in the absence of a finished product. In the nihilist sense we come to terms with the nothing in the performance instead of the something in the performance. This is Virno’s vision: in the absence of a finished product, the performer is the product, and she is not separate from the production. She is the performance, and in conjunction with my proposal in this exposition, she is both something and nothing. This something is not reflected upon, but is only regarded as the given essence of the process of performance.
The model for what Deleuze calls the ‘image of thought’ is recognition. Our necessary and natural affinity with the image-of-thought of something needs to be based on the universal principle that we know what it is to think. The image of thought is constative with that which describes and defines, instead of performs and etiolates. In this case, when we know and accept that performance requires a capacity for thinking as a conventional actualization of memory, or as a reflection through recognition, then performance and its image of thought reiterate something we already know. We know what it is to think, and we know what performance as thinking already is.
We have a sufficient idea of what that something is in this world, and how it makes sense. Each thing in the something is a part of the labour of thought that constitutes the truth and matter of the conventional image of thought. Still, something at least partially escapes the constative, and part of the image of thought is etiolated. It is the something of the proper image of thought. It is not constituted as a thing, the truth of the matter, a fiction or a narrative, but let’s say it is merely something. There is no image of thought for something being etiolated, but it is only deferred, like an empty tomb, oikesis in the ‘economy of death’ for Derrida. To be precise, it is not in-between the propositional and the performative, since it is the mode of cutting itself. This deferred notion of something in performance is a-consistent and foreclosed — something to describe what performance as thinking would be, and beyond our ability to articulate in constative statements. Now, though, we have replaced the something with the deferred différance, or we have accustomed ourselves to regard it in aporia. Something is not an image of thought, but a deferral.
In the Logic of Sense, Deleuze argues that the fourth dimension of the conventional propositions of denotation, manifestation and signification is sense, which is only the possibility of truth. Sense is something that is aliquid,
which merges neither with the proposition or with the terms of the proposition, nor with the object or with the state of affairs which the proposition denotes neither with the ‘lived’, or representation in the mental activity of the person who expresses herself in the proposition, nor with the concepts or even signified essences.
Describing this something as neutral or deferred, as something that exists neither in things or in mind, is already a constative statement. Can we regard something only as a performative of the aliquid? As something in the performance that does not exist but subsist, that does not merge with propositions of denotations, manifestation and signification? Deleuze argues that ‘sense’ does not depend on good sense or common sense: these are already propositions of denotation, manifestation or signification. Sense is this aliquid, or something, that may still have an image of thought — etiolated from the speculative articulations of what it is, of that something which subsists.
One of the most controversial arguments of the non-philosophy of François Laruelle is his position that all philosophical thinking is decisional. Such a ‘decision’ cuts through the aforementioned propositions of denotation, manifestation and signification. A decision slices both through and behind the phenomena, not only to make sense, but as presupposition of a thought. For Laruelle, decisionality is the ‘originary’ thought, the way we dissect phenomena into parcels and rations. Decisionality is not only the mode of analytical philosophy, but Laruelle regards all philosophy as decisional. This insight sometimes cuts all too well: see, for instance, Ray Brassier’s discussion of Laruelle, a discussion that notes Laruelle’s negative characterization of philosophy as too ‘loose-cut to fit’ philosophy. To make this negative characterization, Laruelle himself seems rather philosophical in his decision.
This isn’t the place to go deeper into the details of Laruelle’s critique of philosophy. We could, however, sustain the proposition that decisionality is part of the something in the performance and in the different ‘senses’ of that something. Decision is reductive and reflective. It is an instrument of the image of thought and creates a position to view what is in that something. We make distance and take positions. It seems only natural: we need to make distance so we can make sense of what is happening in the performance. Let’s say we are practicing a performance with an obscure electronic sound instrument, the Theremin – an instrument that you should not touch in order to make a sound. What is that distance – and that position between the material and the consciousness – with this instrument? We reflect, even though it is not properly ‘philosophical’ thought. At the same time, in a somewhat instantaneous and ‘natural’ way, we brush aside that something, since it won’t fit the image of thought about the Theremin.
Decisions cut off and generate simultaneously. They generate the world but decide to leave something unnoticed, because decisions create positions through differences. Yet even différance is a decisional and philosophical gesture. We decide at each instant we open our eyes. Still, Laruelle claims that non-philosophy isn’t interested in doing philosophical turns in the vein of Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, who all in their very different ways sought to suspend the natural assumption of the world. If we follow Laruelle’s gestures of thought, the world is not in our interest. Instead, only those specific gestures of thought that we call philosophy are in our interest, so that what remains to be something for philosophy will be nothing for non-philosophy. For the radical immanence of the universe, all gestures of thought are in unilateral relation, and we cannot claim any philosophical knowledge about that something.
The decisionality of artistic practice is diametrically opposed to philosophical reduction and reflection. We approach something as we would approach an accident, or a line of flight. The something is indeed an accident. An accident is greeted by a decision, and therefore, in Brassier’s words, the decision
is a formal syntax governing the possibilities of philosophizing. Yet it remains unrecognized by philosophers themselves; not through a lack of reflexive scrupulousness on their part but precisely because of it. It is philosophy’s hyper-reflexivity that prevents it from identifying its own decisional form. Decision cannot be grasped reflexively because it is the constitutively reflexive element of philosophizing.
But it seems that what the accident reveals is something only as an effect of the decision. In the practice of performance work, the accident is nothing, or nothing as something, so that we ask ourselves: ‘What has happened?’ We look for ways to see if that accident in the process has revealed something essential about the work or practice. The decision leads to revelation and production.
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.
These lines from The Tempest are spoken by Caliban, the son of a witch, and he calls upon the clouds and nightmares, which are like a fog of revolt. He rebels, as Silvia Federici phrases it, against his masters’ acts of ‘primitive accumulation’. Sycorax, the mother of this bastard son, was so powerful that she ‘could control the moon, make flows and ebbs’. She may control the nightmares and the indeterminate ‘something’ of the knowing – may control that something of a fog in the knowing, where the fog helps form the mares of the night only on the provision of hiding them, just as the clouds open to reveal riches that vanish on waking.
In the performance Escape (1999) I locked myself in a studio for five days at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. There was no audience, but only the haze of some sense, the fog of some knowledge of what I might accomplish. The escape was performed as an attempt to rebel against the all-freezing power of the gaze of the imaginary audience. I fasted on bread and water while spending my time writing on the walls some lists of things. It was a hallucinatory and transcendental practice. In resisting the all-freezing power of the image-of-thought, this act, like many other performance artworks at the time, aimed for unconscious conjunctions. There is always something in the room when there is no audience. It seems that the standards of performance might become even stronger. The standards are what decide how to control this transcending fog and metaphysical liminality. The transcending fog is exhausting, because it is constant mobilization and a paranoid-schizoid war-machine. It is a moment of revolt, because such transcending performances resemble the practice of ascetic philosophers, but the performances will simply turn into yet another form of knowledge production if we don’t recognize that they also create a moment of accumulation. For primitive accumulation, an exchange is necessary. In this particular example, the transcendental practice of my performance did not translate well into tokens of fame, reputation or more material items. My sense of failure was part of the process of self-annihilation and violence, both of which are necessary aspects of primitive accumulation in the context of cognitive and affective labour. The sense of failure encases the mystical experience of the individual with a gnosis of the universal and metaphysical truth, but in this way the process of modulation is liquidated with exchange.
We can also regard fog in slightly more affirmative way, as the witch mother of Caliban would do. A fog is a material and immaterial energy system of modulation, a system that precedes subjectivity. Gilbert Simondon depicts the individuation as an operation that causes the structure to appear in the actualization of potential energy, and if
to mould is to modulate in a final way; to modulate is to mould in a continuous and perpetually variable way.
A fog has plasticity and internal resonance with the intensity of modulation. A fog is not outside, but is something within any system or process. It needs no ascetic withdrawal from the world. Ferreira Gullar writes on Brazilian neo-concretism in his text ‘Dialogue on the Nonobject’ and responds to neo-concretist works by Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica and Gego with the observation that
[t]he nonobject does not have opacity … the nonobject is transparent to perception.
The non-object has no façade to perceive. Mónica Amor, in her book on South American neo-concretism, writes that the nonobject can suspend knowledge, and that this serves as
a sort of identity crisis of the artwork.
But the suspension of identity is not required to pursue the reactionary movement towards transcendental and metaphysical practice. It can also host in advent the ‘something’ in the system and the process, in order to accommodate that signal and even terminal crisis of the present standards for the practice and production of knowledge.
The standards of performance as thinking would be in a complementary and simultaneously indeterminate relationship with philosophical gestures of thought. This is the crisis of philosophical thought. I’m not claiming to regard philosophy tout court as decisional and aiming to philosophize anything. I will argue, though, that there is no equality between ‘performance thinking’ and philosophy, no unilateral relation in the classical sense. Performance thinking is not thinking in terms of good sense or common sense, but it is not nonsense, either. It is something, but not about something.
Though neo-concretism holds a slightly contrary position, performance is opaque, at least to the extent that it is not a thing or an object, not in-itself. At the same time, performance is pure performativity without any originality. It is only postures or poises and etiolations: a something with no correspondence with truth. It is always a surface without depth, and at the same time performance is unilaterally opaque to correlation with the transcending thought. The something of a performance is radically nothing – is radically immanent and opaque nothingness. Performance does not exist in things or mind, but it determines these propositions and things.
Performance (thinking) may change its positions, postures and approaches to the real, but it is something that is infinitely indeterminate and foreclosed. We may regard this thinking as being like quanta, like the particle-and-wave of thought. We may not postulate what performance thinking ‘really’ is, or what performance thinking would be in-itself, without mirroring the transcendental operation being disclosed at the same time. We regard these uncertainties as operational qualities of the variables themselves.
The metaphor of a dream or a fog seems to creep in again. A fog is the first connection to absorb the environment, the mixed and impure world that does not make sense. Slowly we develop a vision of the world, a sufficient understanding of reality, where our cognition and experiential knowledge function like a beacon that gives light amidst the roaring oceanic waves. We can see how a thought is a twinkle of light in the fog, rather than a flash of reason that guides us to overcome the previous, incomplete stages of knowing.
Gnostic thought, when it approaches the something of such a fog, regards each individual as a stranger in the world, where life has no transcendental but only generic attributes. Such a world is alien and negative in itself. But from here Laruelle takes a step further away from the Gnostic concept of life, and says that life is an anthropological imagination, which always
sets in its centre man as knowledge [or] positing that Life is found in itself […] without ontological consistency […] lived (vécu) as the radical immanence is ‘lived-without-life’.13
The ‘lived’ is inconsistent and has no philosophical sense. Humans – and to be consistent, all possible creatures – are strangers to this world. From the radical immanent nature of being lived, a stranger is deprived of all essence. A stranger has no hope or fantasy of salvation, but only experiences that it has lived, separate from the world. The radical heresy of Laruelle is a kind of radicalized version of Gnosticism, and proposes that each of us is a stranger without a cause or reason to exist.14
In his critical reading of this non-philosophy Ray Brassier writes: ‘to think oneself according to an inconsistent real which punctures nothingness itself means to think oneself as identical with a last-instance which is devoid of even the minimal consistency of the void. The real is less than nothing – which is certainly not to equate it with the impossible (Lacan) or with Sarte’s nihilating “for-itself”.’ The real does not negate being; it is not in opposition to anything. It is a degree zero, which cannot be presented or it will withdraw from presentation.
Still, transcending thought reinstates the world, like a twinkle of light. Performance (thinking) can be seen as the practice of twinkling within the degree zero, like the something in the opaque nothingness. It can be the immanent practice of the lived.
For a while now, my research project has included experimentations with the Theremin. The Soviet scientist Lev Termen invented the Theremin in 1919. It was one of the first electronic instruments created, and it remains singular in some ways: it isn’t tempered and you play it without touching the two antennae of pitch and volume. At first Termen called this instrument an ‘etherphone’. He accepted the widespread belief of the time that aether waves existed as a pseudo-medium for radio transmissions, and he thought these waves also caused the magic of the Theremin (even though, by the 1920s, the aether wave notion had already been questioned by Einstein and James Clerk Maxwell). In other words, he firmly believed that the player of the Theremin was controlling not only the metal rods, but also the indeterminate something of the aether.
To hear and see the Theremin being played is hypnotizing and magical. Beyond the instrument’s gimmicky effect, its timbre is similar to a human voice — a skilled soprano. It suggests the uncanny utterance of an automaton, and there is something demonic in the Theremin. The mesmerising quality of its sound resembles sirens conveying the aural consistency of a fog or a burst of electricity, where material, immaterial and metaphysical alliances are re-created. Since the Theremin has this uncanny aspect to it, it’s also rather comical. A British journalist, witnessing the presentation by Lev Termen at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1927, wrote how it was ‘a process which to a layman could only be compared to that of a man testing the heat of a boiler with his naked hand’.16 It is easy not to respect the experienced thereminists, or to regard their skill as rather quirky and useless. It’s a skill that is close to nothing, at least by common standards. The Theremin is like an etiolated version of a violin, cello or coloratura soprano: it performs by cloning these standardized gestures. The Theremin is like a poser of skill and beauty, but without any basis in authenticity.
Still, we can postulate that the Theremin thinks, in the same way that we’ve earlier described performance as thinking. The Theremin’s thinking does not, however, resemble human thinking. It is indeterminate, raising the unanswerable question, ‘What would this be?’ and we should not try to imagine what it might be. We simply postulate that the Theremin maintains equal gestures of thought with the performer and with the audience. At the Savoy Hotel presentation, the selected audience might have believed in the aether waves being played by this awkward Russian invention. Yet even today, that something in-between the body of the player and metal rods of the Theremin is what we transcend with the image of thought. The non-standard posers adhere to the proper gestures of thought.
When we look at the cropped video documentation of the Savoy event, it focuses only on the Theremin’s pitch antennae and on using the instrument with one hand. Still, even the video’s truncated presentation alludes to the labouring hands of force and precision. We may create a mimetic correlation between this allusion and the conceptual video work by Richard Serra, ‘Hand Catching the Lead’, from 1968. The repetitive movement in the video transcends while we watch the hands: the precision and violence on display are necessary parts of the relationship between the labouring body and the tool — here, a piece of lead or a metal rod.
Given our human obstinacy against the transcending thought, or the handling of objects, the object and the hand are in an expropriated relationship with each other. A subject that controls these forces is not a specialist, not the philosopher of a professional, but a generic man, with a generic performance always etiolated from conventions and standards. A man performing is always posing or a poser (with poise). Simultaneously, that hand catching something only grasps thin air. The performance (thinking) has the capacity to imagine and transcend — but it also has the capacity for lying, feigning, posing and fabulating. It is posing for the people to come.
The different is that which is being deferred with another kind of temporality. If performatives are actions that make a difference in the world, it is the different that is being differed as something. The difference is not based on resemblances with the past.
There is an immediate interval in all gestures of thought. There is an interval between gestures and response, but the interval in the gesture of thought need not refer ‘in the wake of’ something. The interval of thought has some similarity to a syncopation, where it signifies both-and, instead of the either-or of rational thought. The gesture of thought is not an indexing gesture for something, or for intentional manifestation.
Labour & Action
That which each person, both experts and manual labourers, sell. The whole package is her labour force. Her capacities are her property, which she dominates and sells, but the work result, such as the event of performance, is not her property. Artistic research is founded upon these epistemic instances of progress, positionality, point of view, reflection and withdrawal. The conditions of unity, compatibility and composition are to be fulfilled in the event of research and action, which requires some extent of organization.
When practice, production, reception and reproduction are blurred into an event, then the amount of extortion, force and violence that is being necessarily used in the production is blurred as well. A mode of organization is necessary for any production. All production needs to be iterative and reproducible, and must also meet the standards for value and exchange.
There are no standard conceptions of what this properly is. Performance thinking is the force-(of)-thought a priori for theoretical, practical or aesthetical determination.
Laruelle claims that decision is the invariant structure of philosophy. A decision performs its own transcendental reality. It is what links performance with artistic practice as a potential, philosophical decision.
The decisional nature of thinking changes when we move from the reflection of thought to the diffraction of thought. If we regard reflection of mirroring and resemblance, then diffraction is not the same as refraction or displacement. It maps where difference appears.
The decisional apparatuses of dramaturgy, composition, editing and improvisation are axioms that administer the accident. All modes of practice need settings in advent for controlling the accidents.
The long history of capitalism, since the early city-states of Venice and Firenze, consists not so much of innovations but variations on the territorial and financial modes of organisation utilised in each hegemonic struggle for primitive accumulation. The economy and violence are the ways for capitalism to use expropriation and primitive accumulation to produce both subjectivities as free moving labour. It is renewed in every present moment. The logic of the capital is to stay on the move and remain in a state of continuous becoming. For both the immaterial labour and the physical exploitation of the worker, the axiom is defined by Silvia Federici (2014, 141): “[t]he body had to die so that labour-power could live.” Primitive accumulation is always connected with production-reproduction, and this connection continues in the contemporary context of immaterial labour.
When Erika Fischer-Lichte argues that there no longer exists a separation between the work of art, the creator and the recipient, but only an event, then it concatenates with the dissolution between immateriality and physical labour. The political effects of such conflations are immense, and fit well with the new labour formations.
A standard is a necessary item for all systemic formulations, their changes, contestations, collapses and transformations. All systems are finite, but can be modulated. For instance, the creation of the Bretton Woods agreement on the World Economy in relationship with the Federal Reserve and the US Dollar – a system that Richard Nixon later ended by taking the dollar off the gold standard – was not a terminal crisis for the global economy but a revision of that economy, designed to reinforce American efforts to impose an era of US hegemony.
Image of thought
Performance-as-philosophy has a set of functions that define the connections with corresponding thoughts, extensions, concepts and objects. The essence of performance-as-thinking is based on the universal principle that we know what it is to think. The world is appropriately human and sufficient, and philosophizable. Thus, performance thinking is not actualized in sufficiently reasonable terms. Performance thinking is a posture of performance and not an image of thought.
Particle and wave
The double-slit experiment was performed initially by Thomas Young in 1801 in the context of Newtonian mechanics, but it has become one of the critical experiments illustrating the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, which do not follow Newtonian physics. Light can display characteristics of both waves and particles at the same time, where photons seem to have appeared at two separate positions simultaneously. In 1924 L.V.P.R. de Broglie proposed that matter has characteristics of both a particle and a wave. In his research he determined that a ray of light was not only a wave but that the diffraction effects of the light were the result of the more conspicuous forms of matter. Still, there cannot be one experiment to test both the particle and the wave at once. This duality introduces the quantum particle, which does not fit the classical system of physics. This also signifies that the same double-slit experiment done with electrons and separately with macroscopic elements will give totally different results.
Laruelle’s concept of ‘force-(of)-thought’ [force (de) pensée] has a relationship with ‘labour force’ [force de travail]. It is an organon and the force of decisionality. The force-of-thought poses an inquiry on how to resist the expropriation of a lived body.
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 Deleuze 1990.
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 Jonas 2001.
 Hsieh in an interview with Adrian Heathfield, 2017.
 Deleuze 1991, 112.
 Heidegger 1962, 100.
 Heidegger 1962, 98.
 Virno 2004, 56.
 Derrida 1982, 4.
 Deleuze 1990, 19.
 Brassier 2007, 132.
 Brassier 2003, 25.
 Shakespeare, The Tempest, III.ii.138-146. Wells & Taylor 1988, 1181.
 Federici 2014, 107.
 Shakespeare, The Tempest, V.i.273. Wells & Taylor 1988, 1188.
 Simondon 2007, n.p.
 Amor 2016, 6.
 Brassier 2007, 137.