It has recently come to my attention that a quasi-economic study by Pierre Klossowski entitled Living Currency (La Monnaie Vivante) is in the process of being translated by Reena Spaulings, to be published by Reena Spaulings Fine Art. This is particularly noteworthy due to its author’s influence in the history of theory: Pierre Bal-Blanc praises the text for providing the missing link from Bataille to Baudrillard and from Lacan to Foucault and Deleuze. Living Currency was originally published in 1970, only two years prior to the publication of Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and four years prior to the publication of Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy (in which the work of Klossowski plays a key role), so it will be most interesting to compare and contrast these authors’ respective theories of political economy.
Bal-Blanc (who has hosted a long-running art exhibition of the same name as the text) summarizes Living Currency as follows:
The book’s introduction posits very simply the initial perversion as the first manifestation in a human being of the distinction between reproductive instincts and voluptuous emotion. This first perversion distinguishes human from mechanism, and will later be found to be the definition of human thought. Then, ideology appropriates perversion as “false or foul thinking”—the industrial and capitalist system, in organizing the production processes towards specific and policed ends, closes them down in the same gesture as it expels everything that overruns for being perverse. For example, a tool is used for doing only one thing. It is perverse to exceed, to overrun. This is the limitation at the foundation of the capitalist division of labor. Thus the drive behind the “open form” or the “open work” becomes to explode and dismiss these limits, to multiply possibility. These practices, so typical of the 1970s, work to invert or reverse the industrial system, which borders on perversion, instrumentalizing it. One can also go back to Charles Fourier,…who tried to offer a theory of impulses be [sic] distributed in another organism, taking into account their necessary variety….
Likewise, the online poetry zine The Claudius Appbriefly describes the book in the following terms:
A magisterially paranoiac and prescient investigation of libidinal economy and economies of affect, Living Currency updates Fourier for a post-Fordist era: a para-cybernetic flowchart by Sade’s “neighbor” linking the processes and products of art and industry through their human, all too human medium of exchange. From the trade in bathos to spot-priced simulacra and the orgasms they unfailingly blow out like O-rings: enjoying your symptom means pricing your fantasm. Raise a glass with Juliette, to the open market—may it never close its legs.
The same zine has published the two last sections of the English translation, the latter excerpt serving as part of its introduction. (See above for the link.) It may be worthy of note that for the rest of his life following the publication of Living Currency, Klossowski’s efforts were near-exclusively devoted to painting, his artwork having since achieved some renown in the art world.
[I wrote this a couple of years ago for a sociology class I took, and it has been my best ideological film interpretation to date. Though AMX is somewhat dated now, perhaps this will allow a more detached perspective for readers unaccustomed to ideological critique, allowing them to notice details that would otherwise have been taken for granted. Each section (separated by the picture) was an answer to a separate question, the latter being a 'reflective' question, hence the autobiographical elements, which I leave in because I imagine that the mindset I display is fairly general. I still have not studied racial politics extensively, but as I eventually delve into postcolonialism and Fanon, the topic will likely pop up here more often. On the whole, this critique serves as an excellent prelude to my more long-term study of differing types of libidinal economies and the social conventions which instantiate them.]
Though the film made very clear its message of hatred being “baggage”, the film also contains the implicit message that instead of hating people because of their race, people should vent their hatred upon more socially acceptable targets, namely, promiscuous women, the obese, and the elderly. In the opening scene of the film the viewer immediately sees Stacey engaged in coitus, passive except for her continual yelps of pleasure. The viewer is immediately repulsed by her and continue to be throughout the film, as they are as well with the unnamed “blond girl” who is introduced to the audience as dirty, drunk, and begging for Danny. Secondly, the character Seth is deliberately portrayed as repulsive; as well as his bigotry, the director induces comedy by having him beg to be fed as well as pouring a bowl of jellybeans into his mouth. Seth has absolutely no positive qualities; he is childish, vulgar, disloyal, et cetera; in essence, the audience’s negativity is displaced onto him, presumably in order to help viewers to forget the atrocities that Derek performed in the beginning of the film.
Finally, the character Cameron Alexander is the main human antagonist of the film, being the leader among the neo-Nazi subculture in the story’s setting, as well as a (former) father figure to Derek and his comrades. Furthermore, he is portrayed as an embodiment of evil, with absolutely no sympathetic nuances to his character; the audience becomes convinced that he is rigidly set in his ways, fossilized into an outdated mindset which has thankfully been abandoned by the mainstream, with such atavistic blights as Cameron being the only obstacle to genuine progress. The negativity of these characters cannot be denied, nor can the fact that much of this negativity plays off of existing stereotypes about promiscuous women, the obese, and the elderly: Stacy is shown as having being blindly accepting of whatever Derek says, but later on is shown to have absolutely no loyalty to Derek when he abandons racism; Seth is shown as having absolutely no sense of self-control, as is seen with the jellybeans, as well as incapable of having any real feelings, most notably when he instantly turns a gun on his Derek, his best friend, because Derek no longer wants to participate in racial hatred; Cameron is a shameful remnant of America’s segregationist past, incapable of seeing beyond the scope of his outdated values, and bringing nothing to the younger generation but corruption of values which could be used in much more productive ways (as seen in the case of Danny’s well-researched book report). Racial hatred has been passé since desegregation; the film urges its viewers to ‘get with the times’.
The film is certainly extremist, in that the vast majority of viewers can in no way directly identify with its content. I am genuinely concerned about the ideological biases that have been instilled into my perception of others, and try, though I have had little opportunity, to place such paradigms within conscious control. I found it interesting that the film managed to posit an entirely hedonistic reason for not discriminating; its concept that ‘hatred is only baggage’ presented the notion of bigotry to each individual in a manner that is, to be frank, entirely self-concerned. This method is extremely fitting when considering the moral state of the contemporary world; externally imposed commands (Thou shalt not…) are, if followed, done so either grudgingly or unthinkingly. In order to instill the film’s moral within its audience, the directors have felt it necessary to present a moral solipsism—individuals are not asked to try and empathize with those who are discriminated against, nor are they asked to go out of their way in any form, they are simply asked to ‘look out for number one.’ I personally find it interesting that such methods as the solipsistic morality mentioned above are the lengths to which people must go in order to acquire a veneer of morality. As much as I would like to gloat over my moral superiority, I cannot help but wonder whether my own attempts at acceptance of diversity are any different. After all, I care very little at this point in my life about most ethnicities, except for abstract nuances such as Asian collectivism, predispositions provided by language toward viewing the world a certain way, and intellectual & political histories of specific nations. Even if I wanted to, I simply cannot learn enough about each culture to be sufficiently able to empathize with them, therefore it seems that solipsistic morality will have to suffice for now until I can find a better method of empathy.
diagrams of intensities
at the intersection of all the scenes of the possible
choreography of desire’s throw of the dice
on a continuous line since birth
becoming irreversible of rhythms and refrains of a
I dance not in the place but I dance the place
the body weather
~Guattari, excerpt from ‘Présentation du programme de danse Buto de Min Tanaka’ (AH 159).
This and this group butoh dance are both interesting, however, if for no other reason than being sublimely fucked up. I’m not normally one to use strong language, but no other term will suffice. Both dances are by the troupe Sankai Juku. I’m totally pulling out these moves the next time I’m at a nightclub.
Does this mean that Warhol was a Keynesian? Further evidence:
(Philosophically, Andy was a liberal Democrat, although he never voted because, he said, he didn’t want to get called up for jury duty. He did, however, offer his employees bribes of Election Days off if they gave their word they’d vote Democratic.)
~The Andy Warhol Diaries, pg. xvi (Introduction by Pat Hackett)
Sunday, June 19, 1983
And I’ve been thinking about these people who sell things on the street, because I watched on TV and this newscaster was just beaming doing this story about how the city confiscated $485,000 in street vendors’ merchandise. But I mean, there were these black people out there working, trying actually to sell, and now they’ll just start stealing! I mean, vendors are messy and dirty and they slop up the streets, but they’re trying to do work! And here they’re beaming on TV that they put them out of business. And they have the store owners on saying they pay big rents and it isn’t fair, but I mean, do the stores sell the same stuff as the people on the streets? Not really.
~ibid; pg. 507-8
Perhaps the latter has something to do with Warhol’s desire to “put carpets in the streets.” Speaking of Keynes, though, it seems that he’s out of vogue now:
- Economists (including Bernanke) admit that the stimulus has brought little improvement
- Bernanke decides not to print any more money
It’s a fascinating time to be studying economics.
Above all I want to mention that the rays (nerves) of the upper God, when they are thrust down in consequence of my nerves’ power of attraction, often appear in my head in the image of a human shape. I am by coincidence in the fortunate position to be able to point to a really existing picture instead of having to describe these things in words; this picture is surprisingly like the picture I often see in my head. It is the painting “Liebesreigen” by Pradilla contained in the 5th volume of MODERN ART (Berlin, published by Richard Bong); in the left hand upper corner of this picture a woman is seen, descending with arms stretched before her and folded hands. One has only to translate her into a male person to get a fairly accurate picture of what appears in my head when the nerves of the upper God come down. Head, chest and arms were distinct; the arms swung to one side, almost as if these nerves were trying to overcome an obstacle to their descent―the nerves of Flechsig’s soul crowding the heavenly vault―see Chapter 8. The rays of the lower God (Ariman) also quite frequently create in my head the picture of a human face which (as soon as soul-voluptuousness is present) starts to smack its tongue, like human beings when eating something they like, or in other words, if they have the impression of sensual enjoyment.
~Schreber, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, pg. 228
The Schreber case seems to me a striking example of how language (i.e. in this case, reading the Memoirs as a book) is inadequate for depicting the real. The following are links to artworks inspired by Schreber, which help to capture the experience of his madness. Lacan hypothesizes that the fear provoked by horror movies is because they somehow express the inchoate, incomprehensible Real; it is far too easy to ignore the eeriness of Schreber by categorizing his book as ‘literature’, even when reading him for psychoanalytic reasons, and I feel that the following, particularly the films, capture nuances which allow for fuller comprehension of Schreber’s affliction. All of these works serve to underscore the one crucial fact that this actually happened, even if by no other method than creating ontologies (put more formally, diegeses; put less formally, fictional ‘worlds’) on lower planes of ‘reality’ than that of Schreber’s book, and hence make the Memoirs seem more real by comparison.
- Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (film; 2006) (trailer) (IMDb) (interview with director)
- Dark City (film; 1998) (trailer)
- Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (short film; 2006)
- Kippenberger, Martin - Portrait of Paul Schreber (abstract painting; 1994)
- Jason Thompson – Hyperborean Woman (Daniel Paul Schreber), Enamel Paint & Varnish on Plywood (abstract painting; 2010)
- Nayland Blake – The Schreber Suite (mixed media; 1989)
- Radio Schreber, Soliloquies for Schizophonic Voices, by Richard Crow (audio, mostly German; 2011)
- Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik, a gymnastic art video based on the work of Schreber’s father, by Jesse Aron Green. (Needs a password, and the artist has not responded to my email for it.)
- Shock Head Soul: The Life And Work Of Daniel Paul Schreber, a documentary/dramatization of Schreber’s experiences by Simon Pummell (in postproduction).
There is one more point of general application which I should like to add, though, strictly speaking, it has been included in what has already been said about animism and modes of working of the mental apparatus that have been surmounted; for I think it deserves special emphasis. This is that an uncanny effect is often and easily produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality, or when a symbol takes over the full functions of the thing it symbolizes, and so on. It is this factor which contributes not a little to the uncanny effect attaching to magical practices.
There’s something particularly interesting about the new single from Cobra Starship, entitled ‘You Make Me Feel…’. How radically different its psychology is from most popular music can be noticed through Jean Baudrillard’s book Seduction. Baudrillard analyzes in detail the power relations of discourse and sex between men & women, and one of his points can be described in the following statement: in order to seduce someone, one should not say “I desire you,” but rather “You make me feel good”―this way the person is given the status of subject rather than object. Grammatically, at least, this is true.
The fact that popular culture objectifies people has been a cliché for decades, a phenomenon up to now having no end in sight. This song breaks with that tradition, and perhaps represents a significant shift in the way people are interacting with one another, which these artists happened to pick up on. (Artists tend to be very sensitive, on an intuitive level, to these sorts of shifts.) The kind of social perception that this non-objectification could bring about is a de-emphasis on personal qualities (e.g. beauty, humorousness, vivacity) taken as independent factors, emphasizing instead the interplay among these qualities, to the point where people are judged as a whole, rather than on whichever quality is judged in a given context. (It is not your good looks and sense of humor that make me feel good, but you, as a whole, that does so.) Philosophers might call this a shift from focusing on quiddity (‘whatness’; the qualities that make an object identifiable as an instance of a class of objects) to focusing on haeccity (‘thisness’; the qualities of a thing that make it unique) in social relations.
Extending this de-emphasis of personal qualities, perhaps we can expect a decline in consumerism, i.e. the urge to conspicuously consume brand names and fashionable ‘looks’ in order to associate certain qualities of these with your persona (e.g. I wear clothes from brand X because I want to seem edgy, but still formal). This song is a good sign for the future of discrimination as well, since ethnicity/nationality is one such quality that is merely a quiddity, but not a haeccity. As McLuhan says, contemporary people do not want fragmentary specializations, but want to have a role in life, reminiscent of the Sartrean idea of authenticity, where one need not adjust one’s way of acting to suit one’s context, but can rather act the same way all the time: you make me feel good, not just the way you act when you’re with me.
It is difficult to figure out whether this shift from emphasizing people’s qualities to emphasizing each person’s singularity fits into modernism, postmodernism, or something entirely different; while postmodernism emphasized fragmentary identity, modernism emphasized the ‘cash value’ (William James) of qualities (in James’ case, one’s beliefs) within the world. Perhaps Nicolas Bourriaud is right in saying that we have moved into a brand new stage of history, which he terms ‘Altermodern‘. At the very least, it would appear that we do live in a Deleuzian century after all.
**Note: After seeing the lyrics on a different Youtube video, it seems that it is never expressly stated exactly what ”you make me feel.” Nevertheless, the above argument still stands, so I will leave it unmodified.
I have lately, on a whim, been reading The Andy Warhol Diaries, and have been wanting to write a philosophical/psychoanalytic analysis of Andy Warhol, but it turns out that another fellow, Christopher Schmidt, has written it for me, and titled it From A to B and Back Again: Warhol, Recycling, Writing. From his references to numerous theoreticians (Austin, Barthes, Bataille, Kittler, Lacan, Wilde, Wittgenstein, even tacit traces of Bourdieu), the essay is gorgeous, and extremely well-thought out. It’s uncanny how Schmidt’s theoretical foci are so similar to my own (e.g. resisting intellectualist doxa; the way Warhol’s favored medium―the tape recorder―affected his thought; Warhol’s libidinal economy & fetishisms), similar enough that I’m obliged to shelve my hopes to analyze Warhol, at least for the time being.
My one major complaint about Schmidt’s essay is his conjecture that Warhol was illiterate; this is groundless speculation, and is flatly contradicted numerous times in The Andy Warhol Diaries, particularly when the editor points out that Warhol often (along with his autograph) wrote inscriptions dictated to him by fans; the editor’s inclusion of this fact likely was explicitly aimed at refuting accusations of Warhol’s illiteracy. From this mistaken conjecture it is clear that Schmidt has no extensive knowledge of McLuhan, who provides a much simpler explanation: Warhol was simply more attuned to the audial paradigm, and was uncomfortable with intense literariness. Besides the latter complaint, my only others are that there is an odd disjuncture between the initial part of the essay (a typical review) and the latter part (an intense theoretical analysis of Warhol), and that Schmidt’s ‘wild’ psychoanalysis gravitates toward ‘pop’ interpretations, seen acutely in his two-dimensional, cliché versions of the ‘anal’ personality and of narcissism.
To any theoretician even vaguely intrigued by Warhol, I highly recommend this essay. Schmidt does a magnificent job tying together seemingly disparate conceptual threads (particularly the bottom paragraph of pg.  with an earlier quotation by Warhol, which is not made explicit, but left for the reader to make on his/her own) and diverse theoretical perspectives. Schmidt has written a wonderfully ‘writerly’ text, the open-ended tangents of which provoke intellectual excitement and sparks of creativity in its readers.
Some of Christopher Schmidt’s Writings:
From A to B and Back Again: Warhol, Recycling, Writing
The Waste-Management Poetics of Kenneth Goldsmith
The Raw & The Cooked [a review of several books of poetry]
“Baby, I am the garbage”: James Schuyler’s Taste for Waste
**Note: Just in brief to explain why I think Warhol is worth taking seriously as a thinker: he exposes & sidesteps the proclivities of literary intellectualism, he foresees the vast implications of consumer society, and he deftly utilizes a quasi-narcissist ethos to countervalorize his working class habitus.
P.S. Happy birthday, Andy. You would have been 83 today.