A Debriefing

On Performing the University of Disaster, Part One

When one considers the notion of dramatic performance, one is normally drawn immediately to the actor, the one who is capable of shape-shifting identity, the one who infuses a role with a spirit and intelligence and physicality that brings the character to life and makes us believe. But, to borrow from Bachelard, some characters have a destiny of enlargement: they have become bigger than any individual actor who may play the role. These are characters who enact a kind of meta-performance, who perform themselves at the moment the actor is also performing the character into life.

James Bond is such a character. Savvy, sexy, smart, Bond performs a smouldering masculinity in the name of Queen Mother and world stability, in the name of State and Empire. But he also performs the role of himself as spy in both its libidinal and strategic forms. Most important to the latter is the role of translator, fluently switching from English to French to Italian to German to Russian and perhaps Chinese. He switches from tuxedoed gentleman to bloodied rogue. He is a maker of deals, an agent, and secretly so. He knows how to exist within a matrix of surveillance and also how to escape its gaze, how to find smooth, dark space within which to maneuver in an ethical fashion uniquely his.

He infects me with his style.

So does Paul Virilio, the theorist of speed. His style infuses all of his thought, his practice a form of rapid writing that returns to the same themes over and over again, full of wordplay, undulating, ripe with repetition and difference. He paints in broad strokes — the stained glass artist with his painted light — to understand with vision and passion rather than with a determined clinical pursuit for "truth".

I am in shared space with this theorist of the vision machine. Sit as far away as possible and gaze. Remix the perspectives of Quattrocento, Panopticon and Photograph into pedagogical opportunity. Maintain a line of sight at all times — logistics of perception! — and take the measure of the man.

Make eye contact.

For a supposed pessimist of technology, to have such warmth and optimism and energy! For such a grave theoretical position, to live a politics both ludic and joyful! For one so weathered by experience, to invest his whole mind and body in the performance of thought!

Everyone performs at the University of Disaster. Homo Generator plays a lead role, the agent provocateur, challenging Virilio, challenging the translators, challenging the audience, poking relations and prodding relationships, dragging students off the street to spend precious minutes longer with the master, l'un des astres. Others play different roles, questioning, answering, listening, negotiating. They perform potluck-style, through food and drink and fashion and music. They perform through love and like and theory.

Everyone performs.

As they perform for others, they are themselves performed for, this co-emergence of the network as different to each person as there are people in attendance. Power laws of face time, smiles and discourse. Attractions of mind and body rekindled and kindled anew. Asymmetrical to be sure, but one hopes not overly so.

This group or community is a pregnant number, swelling from one to two to several to full complement. Afterward, as the seminar ends and the hangovers subside and the train rides begin, it similarly recedes to several to two to one. An intimacy of engagement and disengagement. A micropolitics of community emerging from holey to smooth space and back again.
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But the narrative is only partly complete. Disengaging intimately with friends at Montparnasse, our number is five to enter the pedestrian throngs of Paris, home of Napoleon and Picasso and de Gaulle and French Theory. We are Space Invaders. Coming from the sleepy seaside community of La Rochelle we are jacked into the hum and throb, the hic et nunc of Parisien life.


Jean-Christophe is ill and burdened with an impending thesis (closed document!) and is unable to join us save for social time on a terrace or over the dinner table. But he intimately engages nonetheless, creating a space for us, sending us to a mixtape of neighbourhoods and locations around the city: Centre Pompidou, Montmartre, Palais de Tokyo, Sorbonne, Clichy; bookstores and restaurants and cafes; by foot or train or image.

He is also a performer in this production, playing the role of Paris, or at least living his theory in the sense of performed cartography, only some of which formally intersects with maps (Metro stations, tourist maps of city arrondissements, gallery diagrams), the rest of which is an embodiment of lived experience (the walking, mobile, social subject). In this we see the affect of the nomad at a moment of intersection with the cartographic form of the state apparatus, a moment freely entered into by each one of our several.

There is no on-off for this pedagogical experience and its intensity. Rather, the tide subsides and we pass through a threshold, the switch point of which occurs as one walks through the door, solitary, belongings in all senses of the word carried on the body to re-enter the conduits of public transit and state biological flow. This is a gradual becoming: we are already disengaging via the network before we depart, and we continually re-engage via the network after leaving. But a flip has taken place, like a moebius strip. Here and now have become now and here, our stereoreality reversed. We surf this flip of moebius strip at the break points of holey space on our return to the state, the nomads with whom we have just taken flight beginning their slow fade to network black.

They will be back, however. They will be here once again.

A debriefing takes place upon my return. Colonel Fornssler handles the duties. Intelligence to be passed to the strategic minds at the University of Disaster, no doubt. Techniques of the military apparatus reappropriated, deterritorialized. I'm exhausted, but Switch is relentless in this performance of the play's final character, that of State.

Babbling. Babeling. Returning to the notebook. What do you recall from your mission, Brown?

Scopolamine or tetrahydrocannabinol? I tell all.

Or do I?

* * *


Whispering through the network, she names me Spy. I perform thusly.

(for the stereoscopic several of la rochelle 2009, those present in space and/or time)


13 responses to A Debriefing

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  1. D says:

    Is there really any possibility of any sort of "black" in the network? (cpl paras. up)

  2. sportsbabel says:

    Yes, so long as one considers black not as absence but as a rich and colourful abyss…..

  3. Colonel Fornssler says:

    What do you recall from your mission, Brown?

    A debriefing -
    James Bond shape-shifter: check
    Homo Generator plays: check
    Intelligence passed to strategic minds: check
    Performative Cartography: check
    The University of Disaster: check
    Techniques of the military apparatus - appropriated, deterritorialized: check.
    Through the door is switch point: check
    Biological flow: check

    Switch as State: check

    Agent Brown you're clear for re-entry.

  4. sportsbabel says:

    Yes ma'am. For Queen and country.

  5. Colonel Fornssler says:

    Openness is not emptiness, it is not nothingness - you must see this fullness of the opening, fullness in the opening!

  6. Ted says:

    "He knows how to exist within a matrix of surveillance and also how to escape its gaze, how to find smooth, dark space within which to maneuver in an ethical fashion uniquely his."

    I like this…but I am thinking of a youth culture intent not on escaping the matrix of surveillance, but on bathing in it. Something far beyond the simplistic critiques I've read of voyeurism and narcissism, though. A public, collective, at once intimate (often embarrassingly so?), and distant. Local (only for MY viewers) and universal (accessed by ALL viewers). What do we make of the panopticon when even under constant surveillance there IS no self-policing? Is it resistance, or more akin to the rats in experimental psychology work who, after being zapped into submission in the Skinner box, simply resign themselves to whatever consequences befall them?

    Also, I am still struggling with the Mobius Strip deal…need more clarification.

  7. sportsbabel says:

    I personally think that the capillarization and internalization of power for the objects within the panopticon is one of the grossest misreads (or at least incomplete) of Foucault, for it neglects to ask what happens to the guard/tower when it, too, is submitted to the same drives for economic efficiency and political docility. This is why Deleuze's work on the society of control is so important.

    My metaphor for what you are describing with the youth culture (and my not so youthfulness, to be sure) is that of the two-way mirror used in psychology (so your Skinner reference is perhaps not that far off!): the network exists at once as a mirror in which we watch our performance of ourselves, but also is a see-through surface in which everyone else is watching. The thing is, we know it is a two-way mirror and we continue anyways. I think this threshold, this fragmentation of the self, is the site of a particular micropolitics, though I can't say what just yet.


    The thing that's important about the Moebius strip is that it is pure surface. We are not talking about "two sides of the same coin" but rather two things that are in fact the same thing, though slightly twisted.

    Paul Virilio talks about the stereorealism of being here in space (in my house, sitting on a chair) and now in the real-time of network communications (chatting with people on the other side of the world, watching live TV broadcasts from another hemisphere), which he suggests has dramatic consequences for our perception of the world and thus our conditions of possibility for knowledge.

    On my trip I am all of a sudden with these people in the here, who are normally in my now. My subjectivity has changed only slightly: I got on a plane and flew to Paris. However, the half turn of the Moebius strip is such that it's all the change in the world. The trip ends, here and now are flipped, yet because of the real-time of the network I carry these intimate relations on with me through the network back in the now.

    Of course, the Moebius strip has great currency in continental philosophy, so perhaps I am just looking extra hard for them and am full of shit.

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