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The Minor Gesture
By Erin Manning
Duke University PressCopyright © 2016 Duke University Press
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Some of the major disasters of mankind have been produced by the narrowness of men with a good methodology. — Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason
The question of inter- and transdisciplinarity has recently opened up in academic circles to what we in Canada call "research-creation." Research-creation, also called "art-based research," was adopted into academic language through the very question of methodology. Starting out as a funding category that would enable artists teaching in universities who didn't have PhDs to apply for large academic grants, the apparition of research-creation as a category was more instrumental than inventive. For weren't artists already involved in research? Wasn't art practice always engaged in forms of inquiry? Wasn't it a mode of knowledge in its own right? The issue was not, it seems to me, one of simply acknowledging that artists were also researchers, but an institutional tweaking of that already-existent research category into modes of knowledge more easily recognized by the academic institution. To be an artist-researcher would now mean to be able to organize the delineations between art practice and research methodology for the purposes of a grant that would then, inasmuch as grants ordinarily function this way, orient the research toward "academic" aims.
The issue here is complex. It touches not only on the question of how art itself activates and constitutes new forms of knowledge in its own right but, perhaps most importantly, incites us to inquire into the very question of how practices produce knowledge, and whether those forms of knowledge can engagingly be captured within the strictures of methodological ordering. While I believe that this is a question that could be posed to all forms of knowledge (following philosophers like Henri Bergson, William James, and Alfred North Whitehead, who all, in their own ways, inquire into the methodological frameworks of science, psychology, and philosophy), here I will focus strictly on the question of research-creation and its relationship to what Moten and Harney call "study," emphasizing researchcreation's inherent transversality.
Unlike the definition used by Canadian funding agencies and propagated in many of our institutions, which sees the research component as extra to the artistic practice, thereby emphasizing what has come to be known as the theory-practice split, I would like to take seriously that research-creation in its hyphenation of research with creation proposes singular forms of knowledge which may not be intelligible within current understandings of what knowledge might look like. Taking as my inspiration the myriad colleagues and students whose work has moved me to rethink how knowledge is crafted, and taking also my own practice as a starting point, I would like to suggest that research-creation does much more than what the funding agencies had in store for it: it generates new forms of experience; it tremulously stages an encounter for disparate practices, giving them a conduit for collective expression; it hesitantly acknowledges that normative modes of inquiry and containment often are incapable of assessing its value; it generates forms of knowledge that are extralinguistic; it creates operative strategies for a mobile positioning that take these new forms of knowledge into account; it proposes concrete assemblages for rethinking the very question of what is at stake in pedagogy, in practice, and in collective experimentation. And, in so doing, it creates an opening for what Moten and Harney conceptualize as the undercommons: it creates the conditions for new ways of encountering study — forms and forces of intellectuality that cut across normative accounts of what it means to know.
New forms of knowledge require new forms of evaluation, and even more so, new ways of valuing the work we do. In the case of research-creation, which inevitably involves a transversal engagement with different disciplines, this incites a rethinking of how artistic practice reopens the question of what these disciplines — anthropology, philosophy, art history, cinema, communications, biology, physics, engineering — can do. Here, my focus will be on philosophy, which has a history of launching its speculative apparatus in relation to artistic practice. How, I will ask, can the rethinking of how knowledge is created in the context of artistic practice become an opening to thinking philosophy itself as a practice of research-creation? How, following Gilles Deleuze, might a resituating of research-creation as a practice that thinks provide us with the vocabulary to take seriously that "philosophical theory is itself a practice, just as much as its object? It is no more abstract than its object. It is a practice of concepts, and we must judge it in light of the other practices with which it interferes" (1989: 280, translation modified)?
To make this move requires orienting the concept of art toward the transversality of study, thereby tuning making toward a practice of incipient thought. This involves a rethinking of the concept of thought itself. To follow through with this proposition, it will be necessary, as I do in chapter 2, to turn to the medieval definition of art — defined as "the way," "the manner" — locating art not at the level of the finished object, but in its trajectory. As regards thought, it will be necessary to reorient it to the relational field of the occasion, refraining from delimiting it to predominant notions of intellectuality which tend to place thought squarely within the linguistic limits of intelligibility. Staging a critique of neurotypicality as begun in the introduction, it will also be necessary to undo thought of its dependence on the human subject. This will mean opening thought toward the movement of thought, engaging it at the immanent limit, where it is still fully in the act.
Four propositions to begin:
1. If "art" is understood as a "way" it is not yet about an object, about a form, or content.
2. Making is a thinking in its own right, and conceptualization a practice in its own right.
3. Research-creation is not about objects. It is a mode of activity that is at its most interesting when it is constitutive of new processes. This can only happen if its potential is tapped in advance of its alignments with existing disciplinary methods and institutional structures (this includes creative capital).
4. New processes will likely create new forms of knowledge that may have no means of evaluation within current disciplinary models.
IMMANENT CRITIQUE 1 — ON MATTER
In Modes of Thought, Whitehead protests what he calls "the bifurcation of nature" (1938: 30). The tendency to separate out the concept of matter from its perception or to make a constitutive difference between "nature apprehended in awareness and the nature which is the cause of awareness" leads to a splintering of experience (1938: 30). What emerges is an account of experience that separates out the human subject from the ecologies of encounter: "The problem is to discuss the relations inter se of things known, abstracted from the bare fact that they are known" (1938: 30). To posit two systems — one "within the mind" and one "without the mind" — is a methodological posture still very much alive in the critical apparatus of the disciplinary model. What we know is what can be abstracted from experience into a system of understanding that is decipherable precisely because its operations are muted by their having been taken out of their operational context. Whitehead explains: "The reason why the bifurcation of nature is always creeping back into scientific philosophy is the extreme difficulty of exhibiting the perceived redness and warmth of the fire in one system of relations with the agitated molecules of carbon and oxygen, with the radiant energy from them, and with the various functionings of the material body. Unless we produce the all-embracing relations, we are faced with a bifurcated nature; namely, warmth and redness on one side, and molecules, electrons and ether on the other side" (1938: 32). The unquantifiable within experience can only be taken into account if we begin with a mode of inquiry that refutes initial categorization. Positing the terms of the account before the exploration of what the account can do only results in stultifying its potential and relegating it to that which already fits within preexisting schemata of knowledge. Instead of holding knowledge to what can already be ascertained (and measured), we must, as William James suggests, find ways to account not only for the terms of the analysis, but for all that transversally weaves between them. James calls this "radical empiricism."
Radical empiricism begins in the midst, in the mess of relations not yet organized into terms such as "subject" and "object." In this mess, everything that happens is real, be it the redness of the fire or its molecular makeup. James calls this field of relations "pure experience," pure understood not in the sense of "purity" but in the sense of immanent to actual relations. Pure experience is on the cusp of the virtual and the actual: in the experiential register of the not-quite-yet. It is of experience in the sense that it affectively contributes to how experience settles into what comes to be. As with Deleuze's actual-virtual distinction, pure experience is the in-folding of potential that keeps actual experience open to its more-than. The virtual is never the opposite of the actual — it is how the actual resonates beyond the limits of its actualization. In this relational field of emergent experience, there is no preestablished hierarchy, nor is there a preconstituted subject-position external to the event. There are only emergent relations. James writes: "Nothing shall be admitted as fact ... except what can be experienced at some definite time by some experient; and for every feature of fact ever so experienced, a definite place must be found somewhere in the final system of reality. In other words: Everything real must be experienceable somewhere, and every kind of thing experienced must somewhere be real" (1996: 160).
To reorient toward the radically empirical is to profoundly challenge the knower-known relation as it is customarily defined. Neither the knower nor the known can be situated in advance of the occasion's coming to be — both are immanent to the field's composition. Nor can the knower-known relation be classified independently of the ecologies that compose it, including those whose register is unquantifiable, such as the quality or affective tonality of experience. Like Deleuze's insistence that the virtual, while not actual, is real, radical empiricism emphasizes that experience is made up of more than what actually takes form. Experience is alive with the more-than, the more-than as real as anything else directly experienced.
James calls the in-act of experience "something doing" (1996: 161). When something does, new relational fields are forming, and with them, new modes of existence. A new mode of existence brings with it modalities of knowledge. These modalities of knowledge are not yet circumscribed — they are transversal to the modes of operation active in the relational field. They are still in-act. This is the force of radical empiricism: it gives us a technique to work with the in-act at the heart of experience, providing subtle ways of composing with the shifting relations between knower and known. It is important to reiterate: the knower is not the human subject, but the way relations open themselves toward systems of subjectification.
Similar to Whitehead's notion of the "superject" — which emphasizes that the occasion of experience is itself what proposes its knower-known relations, resulting in a subject that is the subject of the experience rather than a subject external to the experience — radical empiricism refutes the notion that experience is constituted before all else of human relations. In Whitehead's terms: "An actual entity is at once the subject experiencing and the superject of its experiences" (1978: 43). An occasion of experience produces the means by which it will eventually define itself as this or that. It is an occasion of experience, not the human subject external to that experience, that creates the conditions for subjectivity, a subjectivity that can never be disentangled from how the event came to fruition. A radically empirical approach takes this as its starting point, giving us the means to consider how relations themselves field experience.
To engage the field of relation as an ecology where knowledge occurs, to place knowledge outside the register of existing knower-known relations, allows us to consider the importance of what escapes that register. The ineffable felt experience of the more-than is also a kind of thinking, a kind of knowledge in the making, and it changes experience. That it cannot be systematized or hierarchized does not make it less important to the realization of the event. This is the force of radical empiricism: it propels us into the midst, opening the way for an account of study that embraces the value of what must remain ineffable.
IMMANENT CRITIQUE 2 — ON REASON
The question of knowledge — of its role in experience, of its value, and of its accountability — is, in our philosophical age, still a question of reason. Despite decades of engagement in transdisciplinary thought, disciplines still tend to order knowledge according to specific understandings of what constitute proper methods, policing these methods through long-standing systems of peer and institutional review. Disciplines also tend, in too many cases, to suggest that interdisciplinary research and especially transversal modes of thought are by nature weak because of their inability to secure robust methodologies that prove that knowledge was indeed formally attained. Method, here, is aligned to a making-reasonable of experience. At its worst, it is a static organization of preformed categories. At its best, it is an inquiry into the formation of categories that will, in the future, stand in as organizational strategies for academic thought.
Method's alignment to reason is about setting into place hierarchies of relevance whose work it is to include that which is seen to advance knowledge. The problem is that in this activity of assuming in advance that we know what constitutes knowledge, there is a danger of not hearing the voices that, as Amelia Baggs might say, lurk beneath the words. These excluded voices include that which makes language tremble, the voice of knowledges not yet parsed for the academic establishment. I think here of the call of indigenous philosophy (as story, as performance, as practice) as proposed by thinkers such as Leanne Simpson, Audra Simpson, Peter Kulchyski and others, the call of autistics and other disability activists who invite us to hear what has been silenced by neurotypicality, such as Baggs, Tito Mukhopadhyay, DJ Savarese, Melanie Yergeau and others, especially those whose nonspeaking voices are rarely included in what we understand as knowledge-formation, the call of artists whose work moves us toward aesthetico-political issues within drawing firm territorial lines, despite the political urgency their work addresses, such as Cecilia Vicuña, Elisapee Ishulutaq, Mona Hatoum, and others, and the call of scholars who seek to listen and write across the uneasy resonances of knowledges in the making. It's not that these voices are never heard. It's that what they make palpable, what they make heard, unmoors the very edifice on which method is built. They unsettle thought and, in so doing, question the place reason still plays within the methods that direct our belief in what constitutes knowledge.
In working as an apparatus of capture, method gives reason its place in the sun: it diagnoses, it situates, it organizes, and ultimately it surveys and judges. Methods, we hear, are ever-changing, and this is surely the case. But any ordering agenda that organizes from without is still active in the exclusion of processes too unintelligible within current understandings of knowledge to be recognized, let alone studied or valued. Despite its best intentions, method works as the safeguard against the ineffable: if something cannot be categorized, it cannot be made to account for itself and is cast aside as irrelevant. The consequences are many: knowledge tends to be relegated to the sphere of "conscious knowledge," backgrounding the wealth of the relational field of experience in-forming; the force of change that animates a process is deadened; the uneasiness that destabilizes thinking is backgrounded or effaced completely.
Excerpted from The Minor Gesture by Erin Manning. Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of ContentsPreface ix
Introduction: In a Minor Key 1
1. Against Method 26
2. Artfulness: Emergent Collectives and Processes of Individuation 46
3. Weather Patterns, or How Minor Gestures Entertain the Environment 64
4. Dress Becomes Body: Fashioning the Force of Form 86
5. Choreographing the Political 111
6. Carrying the Feeling 131
7. In the Act: The Shape of Precarity 165
8. What a Body Can Do: A Conversation with Arno Boehler 189
Postscript: Affirmation without Credit 201
What People are Saying About This
"I have been enthralled and held by this book! Erin Manning has given us a new theory of bearing, as well as a new elaboration of gesture, going beyond Balzac’s theory and Agamben’s interpretation of it. She doesn’t lament the loss of gesture but celebrates gesture's minoritization."
"How can we voice the unsayable, unsettle the categorical, reach for that which lies beyond conceptualization? How can we enter that midstream of movement, becoming, and differentiation that courses between the banks of the given, yet from which all perceiving, doing, and thinking wells? In this passionate book Erin Manning answers: by heeding the wisdom of those whom the majority call 'autistic.' From their experience she derives a vocabulary—of attention, inflection, directionality, incipience, sympathy, and the undercommons—that carries forth the impetus of life in the minor key. This is a book for scholars, for activists, indeed for anyone in love with life."