Metamorphosus Interruptus

On Performing the University of Disaster, Part Five

It's fairly easy to become a spy, really. All one needs is to secrete a few signifiers: a fake moustache here or a change of clothing there, an assumed name and a few passports to get through the checkpoints. Perhaps the skilled agent will modulate language in spoken or written form, while the truly gifted spy might go so far as to adopt a new gait altogether (Keyser Söze understood this best). The point is to both fashion and perform an identity, one that will allow passage between spaces of more or less regulated sovereignty. In other words, it is a will to movement that in its very becoming creates opportunities for critical investigation and possibilities for social change.

Spy Signifiers

For a purportedly "secret" agent, Bond's identity was perhaps the worst kept secret in the spy game. Whether at the hotel registration desk, the baccarat table, or the cozy confines of the martini bar, the naming was always the same: Bond. James Bond. Square jaw, smoky gaze and cool Britannia. Tall and tuxedoed, shaken not stirred. There was nothing subtle about it, nothing secretive. One supposes this is because Bond performs himself at every moment the actor also performs the character into life, but at some point the theatre must become a bondage, no?

Of course there was always a second identity that haunted Bond from his very birth: 007, the numbering name of Her Majesty's Secret Service corporeally registered with every case mission assigned as an asset in the field. Clerical object of Moneypenny and spectral threat to a veritable constellation of villains: 007 was as well known in the spy network as Bond himself. Singular corporeal punctum and reductive technology to invisibly mark his body, the nexus between skin, gesture and inscribed identity never more apparent. This numbering name of 007 is not a counting number — it is never additive, much less multiple.

When Bond made love to 006, in other words, it's not as if 0013 was anywhere to be found.

The Spy's foot begins to vibrate. Shoephone, naturally: a smart technology for navigating the spy game's networks of lust and mistrust. As Ronell points out, one shoephone always implies another, always implies a relation, for what use is a single receiver on its own? Shoephone technology also presumes the walking, mobile agent, however, one whose gesture meets language in the everyday gait of the spyworld. His will to movement exists as an uneasy compromise between the perceived waves of affective tonality and the particulars of linguistic signification.

The Agency has his number too, of course: administrative numeration for organizing the field of potential. But perhaps also an unsecure connection, for our footings are always uncertain in these networks of flux. Someone might be listening to the call, or touching in synchronicity. Warily, he retrieves the message from the Colonel:

Nomad

 

<code> FRIST LWA FO MDIEA: TEH SLEF SI TEH FAOCL PONIT -- COL.
. . . . .
<code> wtf? -- Spy.

 

As with the shoephone, the spy identity also exists in relation. Like all techniques of living, the signifiers of identity spring forth from the body in processes of co-emergence before folding back to re-form anew. Hence the birth of an identity is first and foremost an expression of violence: it demands a certain tearing away from existent relational fibres towards the adoption of newer signifying forms (this was one of the first lessons the Spy learned from the Colonel in basic training). But this violence brings with it liberation and empowerment: we get comfortable in our new skins, so to speak, and as we move into new relational forms we sing out to others who might likewise possess similar elements of performativity.

Co-emergence: this selfness is selfless, if not necessarily free of selfishness.

Eventually, these new rhythms and selves give birth to the name of the name, which we thereafter understand as the identity category. But this, categorically speaking, is where a different tearing occurs, at once an abstraction from the relational processes that gave birth to the identity proper and a parallel shift that sediments or stratifies its remaining fibres. Dogma and hygiene set in. Identity is policed. Fluidity is compromised. And the one thing feared most by any agent in the field of potential is to become compromised.

Simon Critchley illustrates the political importance that identity categories may possess in galvanizing a movement towards action and, potentially, change on a subrevolutionary scale. The name and its performance can be a rallying cry, "inauthentic" yet for a fleeting instant powerfully lived. Agency writ large: the question of how to live is simultaneously the question of how to die.

But this question also seems to concern the flip. When do the structural conditions of empowerment and possibility mutate such that they invert and become the conditions for repression? Or to phrase the question differently, is the identity category itself a choreographic object around which its associated part-subjects orbit, rearrange and otherwise flip in a movement from dominant to dominated (and/or submissive) positions?

Another vibration from the Colonel. The Spy hits the Submit button:

 

<code> FUOTRH LWA FO MDIEA: MDIEAITON SI TEH FOLW FO MDIEA -- COL.
. . . . .
<code> lol -- Spy.

 

"Mediation is no longer a deal between partners or a communication following established rules, but an innovative process of media to which we belong. In such a mediation there is not even the goal of mutual understanding, because the flow needs breaks. Dissent is the salt of mediation and designed to eliminate anthropocentric arrangements, the mafia practices of humankind" (Schirmacher).

The Spy hangs up his shoephone and considers the interface between gesture and language. He considers the binary of love and hate when brought together linguistically in oppositional expressions of relation: "I hate that I love you," or "I love that I hate you." There is no counterbalancing of sentiment between the two expressions: the antagonism between action verbs in each sentence is such that the speaking predicate — the "I" — becomes enclosed by abject misery in the former instance or appears monstrously callous in the latter. Hate always triumphs in this conflict, semantically speaking; it cannot be negated simply by love alone.

For love to emerge triumphant the situation requires pure will, or more accurately, pure will not: "I will not hate that I love you," or "I will not love that I hate you." In both cases the semantic structure has been modulated — not inverted, mind you, but rather emptied of its vitriolic sense. This should not be considered a second negation in addition to love's attempted negation of hatred, but instead a refusal: exodus walking together hand-in-hand with antagonism.

Language games, nothing but language games.

The University of Disaster is precisely such a language game. Has it not been from the outset? Given that traditional material infrastructure is largely absent from its constitution, save for the most skeletal required elements, we must indeed consider it a ludic architecture that has been performed into existence — a rich node of communicative action that errs largely on the side of spoken rather than written language. The very reason it "works" is due not to its facilities but rather to the produced intensity of experience in one's faculties: a relentless excursion in the mountains pushing its students and spies to ever-new possibilities. If operated as a traditional academy it would fail miserably.

Yet it succeeds. Process philosophy meets pedagogy meets praxis.

Despite our example of love and hate considered above, those in the spy game know that the situation is anything but binary. As Victor Vitanza teaches us with the language games of Lyotard, and with the specific example of Tegwar, the machines are always modulating with each move. Love and hate infold in flux: there is no time to remain sedentary. This fact assumes even greater significance when one considers the rich node of communicative action — that is, the balance between speaking and writing — that constitutes the University of Disaster as sovereign institutional form.

If the University of Disaster errs largely on the side of the spoken word, with all the perishability that implies, we might ask what respect it holds for its relation with the listener? What laws govern its sovereignty and ensure justice for its subjects if the tradition is primarily oral?

As Schirmacher points out, Lyotard's call for "just gaming" was itself an ambiguous play on the word just: "to take life lightly and at the same time insist on justice for the working of language games." Those in the spy network should not want to fall in love with language: in fact, they should be distrustful of its claims. But sometimes language is required to communicate the nuances of relation, of love, of hate — in other words, for me to express myself to you.

And so we play, we take life lightly.

In this sense, "lol" operates at the threshold of text and image: both an acronym for dark, sardonic, wicked humour (Critchley's third way between melancholia and mania) and a hands-up icon of powerlessness before the sovereign. I surrender, with a wry grin touching the very corner of my lips.

Can one play the game with style? Is there justice?

Metamorphosus - Colonel - Photos courtesy of Barb Fornssler, 2009

 

<code> TRHID LWA FO MDIEA: SYLTE SI TEH MDIEUM FO ATCOIN -- COL.
. . . . .
<code> kthxbye -- Spy.

 

"Style is a self-evolving activity producing a gaze and opening the ear. It is not the author's viewpoint, or his or her aesthetic judgment that style expresses. Style is a game playing with time and language in which you discover and forget the self. Style is neither an identification tag nor a tool of power but a composition never made before, in a language free of fixed meaning but still meaningful to you" (Schirmacher).

Massumi+Manning are back in the game. Great timing. Are they a deal between partners, or a multiplicity? It seems to be the latter: they do not make 007 or 006, or even 0013, but the more-than that is produced by the eventedness of relation and its perishability. Call its numbering name n+1 — or hesheheshehe returns!

Style, vision, sound: fine, in theory. But let's not dance around the important questions. Where is the touch? Where is the politics of touch, more precisely? And for that matter, where is its pedagogy and praxis?

Touch is where the spoken of the ear meets the written of the gaze. Each must be considered as relational forms. A speaking body is met by a listening body, the threshold or interface between the two at the skin of the tympanic membrane; a writing body, on the other hand, is met by a reading body, the threshold between the two at the skin of the archive.

The skin is a surface, however. It wraps around a volume, encloses gesture. Speaking and writing must be considered variations of a topology emerging from gestural expression, each of which transforms differentially in time and space depending on the performance of the relational bodies in question. Gesture is time in the always-becoming of volumetric embodiment and the space in which a touching body is met by another touching body.

Whither style in this relational context? Massumi+Manning analyze this precise question with deeper consideration to find that style is the sum of movement modulations between all agents in co-resonance that allows the skilled player to gain an advantage. But style is also a provocation to the referee. A penalty may be called, or new rules introduced in response to the modulations. What if one is in the peculiar position of being both the person who must play the game with style and also adjudicate the degree to which the other plays stylishly as well, however: can one call a penalty against oneself? As Critchley reminds, following Agamben, Schmitt and others, we must define the sovereign not by the power to constitute the law, but rather by the one who determines the state of exception.

Massumi+Manning point out that naming and institutionalizing a dynamic process challenges the ethics of said process at every turn. If the dynamism of the process is born primarily through the process of speaking, as with the University of Disaster, then should we not always keep the ethics of the speaker in question? And if the communicative act is always relational, should we not also do the same for the listener? Finally, if naming and institutionalizing an identity are precisely that which offered agency in the first place, then once again we ask: when does the flip take place?

It appears to be when the generative violence implied by the birth of the identity no longer serves the agent but rather detaches to exist as a repressive technicity of the image. If the function of power in disciplinary societies served to produce docile bodies, its correlate in the societies of control is to produce docile identities, which may also include docile bodies. As such, we must escape the violence of the image.

Exodus or antagonism? Exodus and antagonism? If the passage is preordained, is there truly the possibility for agency?

Perhaps the agent in this case is the one who ruptures the preordained passage from one identity to the next, confusing the threshold. Consider this form of rupture or refusal consonant with a project of skin tectonics: the shifts and rumbles between various integumentary layers (dermis, clothing, architecture, digital profile) that may at times rupture or crack the "surface". The logic of skin tectonics suggests that the moving, gestural body — always already a political body — will never be fully captured by the tightness of its spectacular skin, for there will always be a slippage between integumentary layers. It is this slippage that constitutes the contemporary zone of opportunity, of resistance, and of indifference.

And if the nexus between skin, gesture and inscribed identity has never been more apparent, then perhaps we might also consider style to be a contouring of the Word — at once a transversal flight of the witness through doxa and a terrifying yet liberating movement to create interstitial distance between the law and the state of exception.

Did the referee even notice?

Metamorphosus - Agent - Photos courtesy of Barb Fornssler, 2009

 

<code> SCENOD LWA FO MDIEA: PREOFMRCANE SI TEH SGINARUTE FO TUTRH -- COL.
. . . . .
<code> cul8r -- Spy.

 

Mission is a go. Homo Generator is meeting him at the rendezvous point and bringing reinforcements.

"This second law of media asks you to sign your name to the event, with no credit given for the hidden agenda. Media babies nurtured by shows, soaps, and trash movies live happily with collage, parody, and pastiche characteristic of the realm of performance. … Media has to seduce and open up a field of action which has no goal other than playing life, rearranging a never fixed lifeworld" (Schirmacher).

Once upon a time Bond staged his own death in the play of life. Though the physiological signals were indeed remixed, this is certainly not a biological death we are describing but rather a death of the image. 007 flatlined to 000, with no new data-deltas in the process of manufacture. It was perhaps his most convincing engagement ever with the question of performed identity.

Bond is dead! Long live the Bond!

Bond's maneuver was significant in that it offered him a new opportunity for movement — not simply for passage between identities (that is, life and death), but for a temporary suspension of the passage itself. This movement in suspension sounds paradoxical if one assumes the fixed perspective of the medical gaze and its unitary subjectivity, though when understood as a renegotiation of the link between corpus and image and its multiple relations, the idea begins to make more sense. Bond unperforms his normative performance to challenge the body-image link of his fixed identity and complete the mission. Or at least to gain the upper hand in so doing, for eventually he must come back to life and resurrect his pursuit of the evil mastermind.

But what if one could stay in passage indefinitely? Would it be possible to leverage the event rupture and dilate the threshold of passage such that movement always remains a potentiality? As with hesheheshehe, could one understand this as a will not to movement and a language game to the last? Not suspended animation, that is, but animated suspension? Could one keep the predatory fembot drones at bay? Could one die and yet live?

 

(Such traps are everywhere to be found. The question is where. The question is when.)

 

It suddenly dawns on him. "Homo Generator, you're the mole."

"It's General Generator, you idiot." A dismissive wave from his black-gloved hand. "Of course I'm the mole — or the serpent, whatever. It's been Me all along. This pitting of ideologies against one another has proven to be a very profitable enterprise."

"You're the one who's been sending me the messages. The Laws. It all makes sense now."

"Are you so sure it wasn't the Colonel? After all, the messages were from her channel."

(And what makes you so sure we don't have a second channel? If we mitigate its ambiguity, the multiple redundancy flesh resonance offers can help authenticate any code.)

"The first two sounded nothing like her."

"Yes, I will admit that it took us some time to — how shall we say — tap into her mode of linguistic processing? She was quite uncooperative to begin with. Poetic, even. Still, our work was good enough to get you here today."

Searching for a way out . . . "What have you done with —"

"No more questions, Spy, it's time for you to produce, time for you to pass your final test. Are you with us?"

(Could one play the game with style?)

Rupture

The Spy turns to General Generator and looks him squarely in the eye. Playing life, just gaming, and determining the signature of truth under the sign of intensity, for language games such as those played by the University of Disaster demand equally intense conclusions to determine truly just outcomes. (Is any passage always already preordained? No.) He will sign his name to the event and refuse the test drive toward Final Judgment. He will laugh out loud like Medusa and be powerless before the sovereign.

Rapture of the rupture: you only live twice, after all.

Just then the subtle creak of a footstep behind him and the muted blip of a silenced pistol. Searing pain engulfs the base of his neck. (Fuck, philosophy is what happens behind your back! Where were my senses?) The pain spreads immediately to his heart, lingers there as the moment dilates into a flash drive of hazy memories, before consuming the rest of his body with a numbing scramble of icy television snow. Generator's voice fades. A blinding light overwhelms him.

Candida

Whiteness.

___

(for taylor liss, agent in multiplicity.)

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4 responses to Metamorphosus Interruptus

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