BY WARREN NEIDICH
Rehearsing Futures Past, an oral blind folded performance, which takes place in front of my Duende Neon.
First Turning: I enter from the stage left and stand in front of my neon sculpture The Duende Diagram. My assistant moves to center stage, takes hold of my shoulders and turns me 360 degrees twice leaving me facing my neon sculpture. Blindfolded I project the red dot of my laser wand upon the words Taylorism and Hebbinism. She recites from the other neon-illuminated terms that surround these words pronouncing Cultural Capitalism and Cognitive Capitalism. Se turns me 180 degrees so that now I am facing the audience and my back is towards the neon I place the megaphone up to my mouth and begin to recite the contingent terms that create the diagram inside my skull.
Diagram of Cognitive Activism, © Warren Neidich
So what do Taylorism and Hebbinism mean? Before describing them I want to first address the entire diagram. What this diagram, this distribution of terms, this auto-poetic system of ideas and thoughts is referring to is the generalized conditions of new labor in our new information based internet driven economy. What is sometimes called the information economy, cyber economy, communication capitalism, and today what I will designate as cognitive capitalism. At the top of this map are the words, Taylorism and Hebbinism, which represent bridging terms connecting the illuminated map below and the hidden imaginary one above. Why is it absent? Because form follows funding. Simply, I did not have enough funds for the completion of the entire diagram that I had first drawn on a piece of music composition paper and which served as the model that the neon fabricator reproduced. The Museum Quartier residency in Vienna that had sponsored my installation in the Freiraum, where I first exhibited this work, did not have the funds to complete the entire work, to make a whole diagram, so I had to leave something out and I decided to leave out the top section. Now this top part of the map, had it been there, was going to fill the space above these words, I point to, Taylorism and Hebbinism. It would have used the same style and font as the rest of the neon. I want you to close your eyes and imagine what should have been there together with me. So first it would have consisted of a number of different terms invented by Michel Foucault and rescued here to talk about what he called a disciplinary society and later on what he then undeniably understood as related to the information economy. Even before Deleuze would understand the need for a new vocabulary to comprehend the process of subjectification in the information society, what he labeled as the Society of Control, Foucault understood that the term disciplinary society was not adequate. But still Foucault’s lexicon was prescient. Terms like political rationality, like mentalité, like consensus are very useful as probes to understanding the idiosyncrasies of our current dilemma referring as they do to a new system of state related codes of power. Processes or apparatuses that were axiomatic to a process of thought normalization in which political economies and values imperceptibly insinuated themselves into a subjects own belief system. They came to form part of his or her system of rationalité, what he called the political rationalité, so that when an individual thought he or she was making self determined decisions, he or she in reality was making decisions in line with the codes of power that had been internalized. What initially constituted the order of objects and things and their relations, their epistemological concurrence, and which existed outside the subject constituting the regimes or laws of the sovereign were now internalized. The subject in the process became self-disciplining. I want to extend this argument by suggesting that this self-disciplining is embedded in a neurobiological configuration of ontologically sculpted material mappings that form the basis for habits of thinking. This interiorization of what is externalized, as mapped codes of culture are syntagmatically restaged as memory assemblages.
But today I am going to talk about the middle of the diagram. I am going to get back to Taylorism and Hebbinism but a little bit later. But as you see below those words, you see a white illuminated triangle and in that triangle, there is an X and superimposed on it is the word Internet. To the right is written cultural capital and to the left is cognitive capital. Below are written the distribution of the sensible, or DOS, and the redistribution of the sensible, ReDOS. What do these terms mean? How are they related to information economy and communicative capitalism? And how can we understand them as a way of creating what I am referring to as the cognitive turn in cognitive activism?
First of all, let me say that cognitive capitalism is a new form of capitalism. It is related to post-Fordism but it has a number of distinguishing characteristics. As opposed to Fordism or what is called secondary capitalism profit is no longer tied to the industrial factory of the 19th century or its 20th century manifestations. It is not longer a place where cars, radios, or bombs are fabricated. What I am arguing in fact is that there has been a major shift in the sites of production in the 21st century, which is now the brain and the mind. The brain and mind are tied together to produce ideas; as sites of syntagmatically creativity reproduction. That is not to say that these earlier forms of production are no longer with us. Rather they have been subsumed by informatics which, on the one hand, has optimized, customized and valorized their forms of production in our global economy and on the other hand has displaced these older forms from their former position as the Uber producer of wealth and prosperity to a secondary rank. Companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Apple are some of the wealthiest companies in the world today not Ford or General Motors. We also that the internet is supporting those older industries by acting as shopping platforms as well as marketing centers and data collecting hubs. Searching something on Google creates a search history that operates something akin to a signifying chain, to use an older Lacanian terminology. Specially designed algorithms track a multiplicity of such choices and constitute a personality profile for the voracious appetite of the customize consumer economy. How many of us have been suggested books on Amazon.com or vacation hotels on Booking.com. Our feelings are tracked to. We know that on Facebook, our social networking, our friends, what we like and dislike, how many likes and dislikes we receive for a post, what we support, are also tracked. In Europe laws on such tracking are seen as assaults on individual privacy. These empathic networks provide the staging for the narration of our avatar like biographies. Parametric algorithms entangling multiple streams of data are our new task masters formulating business models that play havoc with worker lives and their futures as was recently highlighted in a recent New York Times article concerning worker complaints at Starbucks.
Now having said this what is the history of this recent manifestation of capitalism? Where does it begin? And we have to say that most of the pedagogy written around this subject finds it roots in what is called the Italian Operaismo or Workerism movement. Their position found its beginnings in Karl Marx’s Grundrisse especially his The Fragment on Machinery in which the possibility of technological rationality linked to scientific knowledge was first delineated. This idea of the Italian autonomy emerged in cities in Northern Italy and was composed of activists and theorist like Raniero Panzieri and Sergio Bologna and later disseminated by the likes of Toni Negri, Christian Marazzi, Franco Berardi, Paolo Virno and a number of other people who have written extensively about these subject. A recently published book by Yann Moulier Boutang called Cognitive Capitalism dates the beginning of Cognitive Capitalism around 1975. At around this same time we witness the commencement of conceptual art as outlined by Lucy Lippard in her Book, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972. I bring this up because it helps us to understand what immateriality means and helps me to describe the basis of my own work shown here as a work that links conceptual arts’ earlier concerns with those of today which deal with immaterial labor.
Generally speaking immateriality in conceptual art in its initial stages was predominately involved with the object and not the laboring, although some filmmakers like Jean Luc Godard and Michael Snow understood the apparatuses of immaterial labor as key. Also maybe the repetition in Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Yoko Ono could be linked to it if somewhat marginally. What early conceptual artists were critical of was the relationship between the object of art as a material entity that could accrue value and the new burgeoning art market what the British critic Edward Lucie Smith in 1962 famously described as in a crisis of frantic speculation. Conceptual Art was partly a desire to subvert that art market by making objects that were immaterial, that could not be collected and lay claim to another import of art making as a space of cultural value and resistance. Resistance then was a value many in the culture shared. Douglas Heubler started using documentary photography, which was at that time, believe it or not, was not considered valuable or collectable, as precious objects. On Kawara used postcards. Artists like Robert Barry started making work with radio waves and releasing gases in order to investigate the unperceived and unknown qualities of objects. Sol Lewit borrowing from Norbert Weiner’s book Cybernetics made works formed by successions of rules. I mention this too draw attention to the very different ideas of materiality that were being experimented with by artists at this early moment of conceptual art and to mention that this is very different then the kind of immateriality that the members of the Italian Operismo were concerned with. I also want to mention in passing that conceptual art today is much more engaged with the issues of the latter then the former and my blind folded lecture is a form of conceptual art that concerns immaterial labor as I recount from memory my diagram. Performative work is an essential part of labor today in the communicative capitalism. This emphasis on immaterial labor constitutes what I consider as post or neo conceptual art.
In the early 1970’s computers, the Internet, robotics, algorithms were not yet part of the commons or the general intellect. The Adobe Photo was invented in 1988 and even though the precursor of the Internet Arpnet would be invented in 1966 it did not become commonplace in the mid-nineties with advent of Netscape. Part of the genius of Workerism was there ability to look into the future to predict how these technologies, yet to come, would have important effects upon the proletariat transforming her/him into a cognitariat. This transformation of the proletariat can be described as an early and late stage of cognitive capitalism.
But what is the early stage and how does it differ from its contemporary position. First of all the early stage of cognitive capitalism is described by four or five different concepts which indicate the way labor and the workers life and security has been transformed. These terms are not on the diagram but can be understood rather as imaginary concepts that orbit around it. This performance reconstitutes them as real and as such the diagram is part of a form of extended and embodied cognition in which the neon terms spark my long-term memory in the process of remembering. First is precarity, which describes labor as somehow creating a dangerous and uncertain life. The precarious laborer is a part time laborer with no benefits and no retirement package who is on edge waiting anxiously for his or her next text message or email. When it doesn’t come he or she feels a kind of panic of disconnection. But in cognitive capitalism this precarity is also the result of two memory systems that impart to reality a schizophrenic countenance. Here Baudrillard’s idea of the simulacrum is helpful as is Fredric Jameson’s idea of ecriture. This is especially true for Internet immigrants who have had to make an adjustment from a world constituted by real things and relationships to one made of virtual counterparts. Virtual or branded images are engineered images and as such are, in the terminology invented Paul Virilio, more phatic or emphatic then their real counterparts and therefore have an advantage in the competition for the limited neural space that constitutes the microscopic and the molar connections of the brain. I will return to this in greater somewhat later as I orate other parts of the diagram. Now I would like to suggest that artificially produced objects and relations create sensations that are more tuned to the processing proclivities of neural networks and therefore become memories or short term potentiations easier then those of their less phatic natural counterparts. Today one could argue that a mediated world of images has subsumed its real counterpart in the distributions of sensibility and the market place of ideas almost totally obliterating the former. But in Internet immigrants, because they grew up prior to 1996, this schizo-mnemotechny plays a powerful role in the reproduction of post-Modern alienation. In other words two parallel memory systems exist together precariously. Thus the precarious worker operating in the world of unreal subsumption in which all life is work and he/she is never certain of the world he or she is operating in as well as how effective his or her choices will be. There is always a lingering uncertainty. Secondly, today we are always working. It has no boundaries. What Jonathan Crary and others have called the 24/7-work day. How many of you really take weekends off anymore? We carry our I Phones with us everywhere and we are constantly answering emails or communicating on Facebook or doing Google searches. This 24/7 reality has to do with real subsumption, which is also on the map, to the right, in relation to formal subsumption. Formal subsumption defines working as something you do while in the office or the factory. Your intelligence is linked to the machinic intelligence of fixed capital. Once you leave, your time becomes your own. Real subsumption defines the condition in which life itself becomes labor. Everything you do becomes labor. There is no defined space of the factory any more. Laboring is happening in everything we do and everything we think is producing something else. As we saw earlier when we search the web we are laboring although we are not being remunerated for it. The third category of early cognitive capitalism concerns the financialization of capital, which according to Christian Marazzi is linguistic in nature. Unlike others who consider the financialization of the economy as the shift from a real economy to a speculative one for Marazzi it deals with the events in the nineteen eighties when worker compensation funds were invested in the stock market. This represented a shift in which the workers and their bosses invested in the same institutions and the safety of governmental regulation was forsaken. The 2007 stock market crash made this all the more real. The forth condition concerns valorization. An object’s value became linked to its ramping up by the processes of communicative capitalism like advertising, branding, and public relations themselves performative in nature. The product, as it traveled from it place of production to its place of selling, wearing and becoming gains attention as more eyeballs watch and notice it. In cognitive capitalism the product itself is not completed in the factory but in the collective consciousness of consumers mind and brain. Finally labor in cognitive capitalism is performative and theatrical. So these are some of the most important categories of contemporary laboring that help us to understand this first wave of cognitive capitalism. Recently another aspect of cognitive capitalism has become important. As I mentioned above the brain and the mind are in fact the new factories of the 21st century where profit is produced and wealth accumulated. As such it behooves those people in power to produce a more optimized brain, to create a brain that can be more efficient. A brain that can be smarter, faster, more intelligent and can pay attention better. Maybe a brain that does not sleep and could be always attentive. This need leads to the later stages of cognitive capitalism in which the materiality of the brain, its firmware and software, itself is the focus of capitalistic research and exploitation. Especially important here are three basic mechanisms. A term I call neuropower understands that power itself is no longer focused on populations of bodies but brains. Neuropower’s operations and mechanisms of control are directed towards the brains neural plasticity especially during critical periods of language learning but all through out life. The brain has the potential to change and the economic, social political cultural habitus impresses itself upon this plastic brain that is flexible but at the same time creative. So its’ not something that is only receiving impressions but also produces modifications in the cultural landscape that help shape it further. It produces objects, things, buildings and alters their relations in the existential world that first effect its distributions of affordances and sensorial flows which later has implications for how the brain might be sculpted. Secondly the scientification of labor as it was found in Taylorism in the 19th century industrial factory in order to produce a more efficient laborer is now directed towards the optimization of efficient neural networks in populations of brains something I have been calling Hebbinism after the Canadian neurobiologists D.O. Hebb who first discovered the relationship between neural efficiency and the simultaneous firing of adjacent and contiguous neural elements. Finally, the pre frontal cortex has become the dominant neural organ to be complicit in neo liberalism. Many of the characteristics of post-Fordist labor and now labor in cognitive capitalism like prognostication, creativity, flexibility and reactions to new environments are also qualities that have been found to be part of the repertoire of properties assigned to the prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain found most anteriorly located just above and behind the eyes and forehead. This is basically what cognitive capitalism is and I’d like to continue by understanding how the rest of this diagram operates in relation to it.
First of all the term cultural capitalism, which appears behind to my right and forms the superior angle of the diagonal structure with cognitive capitalism. In its original definition by Pierre Bourdieu it described the implicit advantage aristocratic children, brought up in an aristocratic home, had over those not so fortunate. What he discovered was that values and knowledge considered valuable in French society, which were taught in school, reflected those values held sacrosanct by upper classes whose children had already been exposed to naturally in the home. That knowledge was transmitted and learned in the natural course of their rearing and was reiterated in the early school curriculum. They already had a natural familiarity with that required knowledge and therefore had an advantage over those who did not, race as seal economics played a role here, and therefore excelled. Today, cultural capitalism is quite different. It reflects a particular cultures disposition to change, flexibility and modification. At the margins of society autonomous artists are producing non-institutional heterodoxic artwork that are in opposition to the normalizing activities of institutional regimes. Cultural capital reflects not only these activities but also their ability to insinuate themselves into the cultural norms sometimes changing them. This very process alone helps to equal the playing field addressed in Bourdieu’s work because knowledge is always changing and becoming and no longer is restricted to the lifestyles of a few. For instance, this constituted the power of Pop when it first emerged because it brought what was considered low culture into the high culture that eventually found its way into the museum subverting the regimes preceding it.
What is also really interesting about cultural capitalism today is how what was formerly a great discrepancy between the labor of the artist and the proletariat in modernism has disappeared. Formerly the artist’s lifestyle and work ethic was marginalized. The artist as an independent freelance worker with a free schedule was considered bohemian, slovenly and unproductive. Many of you may remember Maynard in the TV series Dobie Gillis living in a garage playing his bongos. His or her whenever work schedule, playing at night, painting on weekends, schmoozing at openings and producing many works simultaneously in the studio was a form of laboring outside the normal heterodoxy. Its like Willie Nelson’s song ‘mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.’ could be understood as ‘mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be artists’. Because what could be worse?’ If you had an artist in the family you didn’t talk about it. What’s been really interesting is that this category of cultural capital, in the regime of cognitive capital, has become embraced as a preferred and adapted role model for work today. The precarity of the artists life, the 24/7 work day, the valorization economy in which surplus value is a rule, the use of public relations and other facts of distributing artist production are all the very distinguishing characteristics of neo-liberal cognitive capitalism. In fact, these values and the attitudes of artistic or creative laboring have been subsumed under the term creative classes. In fact the artist way of life has been adapted and recuperated as a way of stimulating capitalism. Alterity, the otherness, the spaces of heterodoxy and heterotopia that artists create now became places of difference, territories of difference, deterritorialized spaces in which new kinds of products, new kinds of ideas, new formations can emerge to be recuperated by the dominating hegemonic forms of cognitive capital. Especially so when the materials of art making are conceptual and idea oriented. Artist lifestyles and production has been inextricably linked to the generalized economy. The strategies through which artistic knowledge practice creates dissensus, in cognitive capitalism, has weakened. The surging prices occurring in the art market has put the final dagger into the heart of artistic power.
Secondly on the bottom of the diagonal are the terms DOS and ReDOS, which stand for Distributions of the Sensible and Redistribution of the Sensible. The question then becomes what can these terms mean and how do they function within this regime of cognitive capitalism in which they are important in initiating the cognitive turn? Distributions of Sensibility and Redistributions of Sensibility in Cognitive Capitalism are customized and knowledge based. Many people have argued for and against Rancière’s ideas of the distribution of the sensible- as a kind of existential materialistic theology. What about the distributions of the insensible? How does insensibility work? Where is potentiality? Are we only affected by things that are manifest, material, existential, that are there in our face? In cognitive capitalism the distributions of sensible become powerful tools in the hands of hegemonic sovereign regimes to sculpt the cultural habitus on the urban designed space but also to sculpt the neurobiological architecture. This is the key to the way that these distributions police the senses, the perceptions they lead to and the thoughts they modulate in the end normalizing thought and understanding. Homogenizing the brain implicit heterogeneity and differences. I would like to wait a little bit more to unpack this because the rest of the map is there and I want to right now be spun again and we can talk about that and I’ll bring back some of those ideas. So can I be spun again?
Second Spin. Assistant comes to the front and spins me again. This time the laser pointer falls (incomprehensible)
Some of you may be wondering, why am I doing this performance blindfolded? What is the purpose of it? Couldn’t I just speak to you with my eyes open? Couldn’t I point to the various labels and various categories and terminologies that make up this diagram? What I’m arguing by doing this blindfolded is that that my memory of this diagram that I made is similarly a distributed non-linear type of memory that mimics in certain ways the neon. I’m not using linear, analogue or hierarchical memory, where one idea fits into another, the syntagmatic chain of signifiers that so defined modernism. I am also not using standard logical or deductive arguments with formalized languages that so much of American philosophy is based upon. I am coming from a more continental philosophical position of Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida, which is historical and rejects the natural sciences as the only way to find truth and understands that human agency can change the contingencies that define the truth. The diagram is one such method of understanding that depends on intensities and is important for Gilles Deleuze. He talks about it in his book on the famous English painter Francis Bacon and demonstrates how the diagram is a powerful tool for him and our understanding of his work. So it is in my work as well as in my brain. I have memorized this map so that even though I don’t see it, I am able to envision and imagine its form and network structure. I can picture it spatially and recite it in time. I can understand it is a non-linear dynamic system where different words acting as hubs resonate more or less powerfully at different moments. That is, from moment to moment, different parts of the diagram manifest different intensities. It is something that is fluid. It’s not static, even though it is made of glass, its dynamic. The ideas themselves are constantly percolating, constantly moving.
Before I was talking about the distributions of the sensibility and the redistribution of the sensibility. Why is the cultural habitus so important? What could it mean, the distributions of sensibility and what could it mean, the redistribution of sensibility, and what could they have to do with how the neurobiological architecture of how the brain is formed? Let us open up this discussion right now.
Today, according got Jacques Rancière, we are all experiencing a institutionalized, produced, styled and designed sensorial perceptual environment that creates forms of belonging and aesthetic self-fashioning. As today more and more people are moving to the city the design urban environment is a significant milieu for this common and shared sensorial perceptual exchanges to take place. As I mentioned before this shared design environment is creating a normalizing set of relations, which are policing our sensibilities and what we perceive and think. Art in its political enunciation reorients perceptual space and thus consensus and forms of belonging. Institutional regimes and sovereignty distribute the sensible with this in mind consciously or unconsciously but artists redistribute the sensible. Delinked artistic production, that production not made with the market in mind using their own methodologies, apparatuses, materialities, spaces and temporalities mutate the conditions of the built urban space. I am not referring here to medium specificity because in my model everything is porous and connected. They might for instance change the gestalt relationships of objects or the foregrounded attention networks produced by branding. They might use subversive language to disrupt the institutionally inflected and conscripted political and social conditions that constitute the culturally derived meaning of objects and their relations that may, for instance, support neo-liberal policies. Instead they may mutate the sea of contingencies that populate a particular cultural habitus with alterity thereby changing what is considered salient and important. Thereby breaking up consensus thereby disrupting social distributions. As seen in the bottom of my diagram noise and improvisation are two ways that artists might mutate the conditions of the sensible. By creating anarchy through noise and improvisation the structure of the distributions might be broken apart or might create non-sense that requires reinterpretation and social realignments and emancipations. Ranciere understands this as a way to disrupt the natural order of who rules who and who can speak and who has the privilege to think. This non-sense allow for new relationships to be artistically recuperated, which might be interpolated by small groups of individuals who form autonomous groups and counter cultures. Of course in Neo Liberal Cognitive Capitalism the possibilities that these autonomous groups might provide the conditions for new outputs of creativity and sociality which over time might also require what Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello call recuperation. But art has the power to recuperate what has been recuperated. It does and can stage this double recuperation. What I am suggesting further is that to understand Ranciere’s ideas we must understand what effect they might have on the brain itself. Distributions of the sensible and the self-governing and self-disciplining they create are related to their effect upon an extending and embodied cognition. Political dispositions acting as forms of externalized memory imbedded in cultural memory so called exogramic assemblages are linked seamlessly to contingent memories lodged in the long term memory and activated in working memory where political systems now theatricalize their power. This then is the site of activation of neuropower. Let’s go look deeper into this matter.
A number of theoretical models which are now accepted in the cognitive neuroscientific field like Gerald Edelman’s Theory of Group Selection, Jean-Pierre Changeux theory of selective stabilization or the so called manifesto of neural constructivism by Steven Quartz and Terry Sejnowski share, in spite of their differences, a common thread in which something called the brain’s neuroplasticity is acted upon by the environment. A In the times of prehistoric man it was nature that scripted and sculpted this neural plasticity. Today it is culture. As we have learned from Catherine Malabou this interaction is complex and is not one simply of molding but producing and destroying as well. . Neuroplasticity is a terminology that is becoming more and more accepted not only in neuroscience, but also as a tool in philosophy, archeology, and other fields concerning the mind. Importantly is the work of Lambros Malafouris and Colin Renfrew in the field of archeology in which they elaborate a theory of material engagement that understands the external world and the internal mind as mutually constitutive. What is the brain’ s neuroplasticity? Basically our brains at birth are largely determined as a result of instructions communicated through genetic materials passed onto us from our ancestral relations like apes as well as our parents, and that brain has certain functions that are from the get go there for us. The cough and sucking reflex, patterns of feeding and digestion and searching behavior are wired in. But the brain foundational anatomy is already in place ready to begin to learn. Having neural plasticity is in fact a genetically determined property of the human mind and brain! A certain predisposition to seeing and hearing is wired in. What particular language we learn is not wired in but the predisposition to learn a language is. That which in the early development of the brain is not genetically prescribed is left open to form in the context of specific environmental contingencies; something loosely called epigenesis. The brain is becoming a brain. It is a brain that changes, that develops. It develops in relationship to specific environments we live in. Today we live, at least in America, Western Europe and some parts of Asia, in a cultural environment that is more and more urban, customized and informatically based. Of course there are people who still live in Afghanistan on the mountaintops and there are people who still live in rural communities in the jungles of Brazil, where they live off the grid/ network, whether they chose it or not. The capacity of the brain to be epigenetically altered is a characteristic of all brains and no race has an advantage over any other in this respect. The importance of early education however cannot be overemphasized, as is the necessity of universal education for all genders. Obviously in the cases above between the cosmopolitan brain sculpted by the contemporary mediated world and the one still living in nature will create discrepancies and disputes. The recent discovery of neural genesis in the adult brain gives us a greater window with which to modulate some of those early effects. Institutional regimes especially religious indoctrination is hip to the ethics of early neural modulation. What I want to argue is that arts’ role in redirecting the distributions of sensation especially in urban environments is growing and that in fact this has implications for the distributions of the dynamic energy circulating in the brain.
As I mentioned before the model for labor today is more and more mimics the bohemian artistic lifestyle. Performative labor based on the model of the artistic virtuoso in which speaking and language are key components is becoming preponderant. Poesis and praxis are becoming indistinguishable. As evidenced by the rage for Apple products design is becoming more and more important to the way we dress our living environments. Artworks are also going for astounding amounts of money and the art market is now becoming a place for investment by hedge funders and money marketers. Because of their increased value stories about art are appearing readily in news outlets as business, media and society pages. My point is that the majority of human beings are living in urban centers that as a result of certain market factors and the ascendency of the creative industries the artists lifestyles, work habits and works of art are becoming more and more important in the general public and intellect and engaging and redistributing distributions of sensibility and sociability. That these redistributions have implications beyond the world image, picture cinema and actually effect the dramatization of memory in the various narrative construction occurring in what is referred to as working memory or as it sometimes referred to the mind’s eye. Now these changes of course can also be recuperated.
Numerous forces are working to weaken the power of art as a space of dissensus or the production of breaks in the natural order. Equality does not mean everyone is equal but rather that everyone has the chance to express his or her full potential as a human being. The artwork as a space for dissensus is being weakened and that forms of instrumentalized artistic creation, those that are functional and linked to science like neuroasthetics of Seymor Zeki, and the market are outcompeting those emanating from inventiveness and radicality. Nothing seems to have changed, as it seems we have returned to the days of Michelangelo Buonarotti and Pope Julius II. However as we have also learned every artwork is a complex entity available to a multiplicity of interpretations some of which are not even intended. The artwork is a socially engaged becoming entity whose significance changes. It is this otherness implicit in it that creates the possibility for dissensus and marginalization. The social body is a heterogeneous monadic population in flux where the possibility of a multiplicity of interpellations is still possible. Especially when this artwork, instead of creating order, creates noise and anarchy. I am calling this role of art as a modifier of the distributions of sensibility in the world but importantly in the brain as well as the power of art.
The power of art is two fold: First through its role in redistributing the sensible by for example enlivening it with new gestalt relations, it creates new conditions of attention and perception which when repeatedly experienced have the chance to cause selective stabilization and long term potentiation of the complex synaptic entities that populate the neural networks of the brain. For instance an advertising company might pick up a new artistic trend like Pop in the sixties but which is only is happening in the limited space of the gallery system and disseminate it through the culture by piggy backing it on an advertising campaign in which it is the dominating style. Pop is a color schema, a mode of repetitive and cinematic presentation, has a close relationship to comic books, photos found in magazines and newspapers, stardom. Sure Pop has institutional allegiances and promotes American commodity culture. However importantly Pop constituted a way for low culture to find its way into the high culture of the museum and become part of the sacrosanct archive. This archive plays an important role in constituting cultural memory, which as we saw before, has the potential to effect what is seen as important or salient in the cultural landscape and as such is a powerful neural modulator. Pop seemed to emerge de novo and was so radically different then abstract expression that it was difficult for critics like John Canaday of the New York Times to make sense of it. Canady was suffering from a kind of neurobiological sublime. He called it an art circus in a way to demean it. But really the older generation of critics had not been influenced in the same way that younger artist had been. There brains were sculpted by the social, political, economic and spiritual relations of high modernism and were not up to the task of perceiving and understanding the new objects, things, architecture of post-Modernism and pop. This is analogous to Fredrick Jameson’s first encounter with the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. He states that he himself, as a member of an older generation did not posses the perceptual and neurobiological hardware to make sense of the new world that was coming. It would be necessary to wait for the emergence of a younger generation whose habits of perception had been sculpted by the new worlds of post-Modernism with its preference of space over time, its flatness, its nostalgia and pastiche. This sculpting would create new possibilities and venues for thought itself the result of travelling along novel pathways of degenerate networks linked to that new world. The mind would first decode, transcribe and verbalize these new connections and then create its own thoughts. The history of these recurrent trans-generational modifications distinguish themselves in the cultural habitus as cultural memory. Cultural memory is the materializations of the trans-generational experimentations in art and architecture that are left as traces of the general trending of historical materialism. Historical materialism itself is an event structure that occurs in the world and is tethered to analogous changes in the brain. Thus historical materialism is a condition of the world but the brain as well. POP ‘s ability to blur the lines between low and high culture is significant in this respect.
The second characteristic is also illustrated by the diagram and has to do with the phrase Culture as a Generator of Diversity. What does that mean? And how is that significant? This variation in the culture milieu is matched by an equal amount of variation in the brain. The various and analogic forms of variation are coupled and not correlated to each other. This is significant because rather then simply order and style producing the neural architecture disorder and the unknown is.
The brain at birth even the brains of twins are not the same. This variation occurs at the micro-anatomical level and consists of morphological and functional differences of distributions and efficiencies of neurons especially their axons, dendrites and synapses. This variation results from differences in the parents genetic make-up, the history of the species as well as events that may have taken place in the mothers womb during pregnancy do to things like starvation, illness or drug and alcohol intake. This variation gives certain members of a community different adaptive advantages and capacities to respond to different permutations of the environment they might encounter in their lifetime. Think here of the 6,700 different languages on the planet earth that the child has the capacity to learn. He or she has no idea, which one will need to be learned. For instance a baby born to Asian parents in London can learn English and if not introduced to their parents language will never acquire it. The brain is left unspecified and this is a powerful adaption that lets the brain become whatever. Artistic production is also diverse and the variation in the unspecified brain is up to the task of coupling to this cultural variation. Thus the brains variability gives it another quality essential to us here. It is not totally prespecified and can therefor react to a constantly changing and evolving world. An evolving world linked to artistic production. The variability of the nervous system gives the organism selective advantage to adapt to a changing environment. The epigenetic sculpting of the brain to this diverse cultural environment gives it another source of variability. The path and journey of each life is different then every other. The decisions, encounters and events of each persons life sculpts the heterodoxy and multiplicity that each person experiences upon the neural network configurations of his or her brain and the subtle musicality that is each persons mind.
Lets for the moment look at the unique assemblage of social political relations that mark what Derrida referred to as the epoch. The objects, the forms, the costumes people were wearing, the foods, the odors- the whole sensorial environment differ from each other. . The whole architectural landscape was very different then we find today. The world of the 17th century especially in America with its Tudor and Gothic styles looks very different than the world of the 21st century with its infinite curved spaces and volumes. And some of those differences as well as the similarities, resulted from artistic actions that were deployed in the lifetime of those creatives and which were left for future generations to appreciate. Social, technological and political actions were also important. That assemblage of collaged relations is what the emerging brain of the newborn will encounter. I need to stop here for the moment.
As I was saying before, how is the redistribution of the sensible and the distribution of the sensible pertinent to this discussion of cognitive capitalism? The terms I was just pointing to, which is to my left, your right, are pertinent to this answer. The assistant called out the terms transparent alienation, the neurobiological sublime, culture as a generator of diversity, cultural attention and attention economy. Even further to my left would be the issue of neuroplasticity bounded below by the neural bios and above the neural Zoe. Witness that the line is drawn through neural plasticity going from the neural Zoe to that of the neural Bios. These terms are adaptions from terminology used originally by Aristotle to designate the individual who expressed bare life or the citizen who was part of the political community. I am utilizing these terms to talk about the brain of bare life that has been sculpted by nature or the mother’s womb and that brain that has been modified by interacting with the political world.
Before moving on I first of all should mention that this whole diagram is made up of smaller micro diagrams that are micro assemblage within a macro assemblage. These assemblages are self-generating, self-cycling, regenerating machines. That’s really important. So even though I am talking about, for instance, this idea of the neurobiological sublime and this idea of transparent alienation, which I will define for you in a few minutes, one can also understand there are connections between these assemblages. For instance that opaque alienation and the psychopathologies of cognitive capitalism way over here are connected in ways to the neurobiological sublime way over on my left your right and above. I have memorized this whole diagram its terms and its relations and they are sparking off a similar but different sets of relations in the interstices of my working memory the place where I visualize in my mind’s eye the contents of my long-term memory. This internalized memory, that I am using, is a distributed type of memory. One must understand this memory is non linear and that it has intensities. When I mention a word, a term like psychopathologies of cognitive capitalism or neurobiological sublime, sublime alienation, whatever I mention, for that moment, that part of the diagram lights up and become intense. It becomes a node of mental reflection in which all these other distributions flow in that direction, what is called a basin of attraction. When I mention a term, it becomes a basin of attraction for the energies and ideas from the other parts of distributed memory of the diagram to flow towards.
Okay, lets get into this. The assistant mentioned neurobiological sublime and he mentioned transparent alienation. What is transparent alienation? What is opaque alienation? What is this psychopathology of cognitive capitalism? How does it relate to redistribution of the sensible? And how does it operate and function within the context of neuroplasticity? Let us understand that neuroplasticity is the ability, the flexibility of the neurobiological structure to change. What is changing is its relationship or connection to the outside world. As Gerald Edelman once told me the modulation of the neuroplasticity can actually happened in the uterus as well, in the development of the embryo, intrauterine, but in the context we are talking about here, and I want to focus on that, we are talking about a process by which neurobiological elements, their structure, the dendrites, the synapses, and how efficient the synapses become, are related to the ability of these neurobiological systems to change and to be modified by the external environment. This is the magic of embodied and extended cognition and is an essential part to material engagement theory that understands that material conditions of the world influence material conditions of the brain that the brain is a bio-artifact operating at the brain-artifact interface. I don t agree totally with Thomas Metzger’s and Ray Brassier idea of illusory self-hood and rather take a less radical point of view in which brain and world together produce consciousness even though it is transparent. We can’t see our brain working like we can see our hand working. Today the material world is being generated by neoliberal communicative capitalism. Understanding that, understand also that this environment has the capacity to create its own forms of alienation. Now this is a very different type of alienation than the one we know about from Marx, from Hegel, this idea of alienation of the subject who is alienated because his true subjectivity has been modified by religion or government and the kind of subject he or she is allowed to become within the context of that institution is different from the kind of subjectivity that if it was released to be free, left to be developed on its own, would occur. And that disparity between the purity of the full-blown development of that subjectivity and what that subject could be and what that subject is because of the tyranny and normalization process of governmentality, is the essence of a Hegelian type of alienation. Marx takes it one step further and argues that the 19th industrial capitalism creates abstract labor, a labor that is not fulfilled; it doesn’t produce an object anymore, just a partial object. And that alienation is a labor that is left unfulfilled. The laborer of industrial labor himself or herself does not get the chance to manifest the full potential of the product of his or her labor as a singular and complete entity. A product like he or she was able to create in labors early artisanal or agricultural phase. Of course this idea of abstract labor and alienation finds a counterpart today in in cognitive capitalism where that Marxian idea of alienation mutates to become a collective alienation, in which through the valorization processes, operates through its own collectivity, as a result of how many eyeballs pay attention to it and process its message, complete the products full excessiveness. For the created and fabricated desire of the herd behavior so much a part of behavioral economics is what is playing out. The fictive worth of the product of cognitive capitalism attains its value, i.e. valorization, through the unreal and algorithmicized intersubjectively contrived truth. That being said, in the context we are talking about here, the neurobiological sublime, transparent alienation, relate to another kind of definition of alienation. In cognitive capitalism especially in its later stage cognitive capitalism has undergone a cognitive turn. A new form of alienation is formed, one that partly relies on a neurobiological explanation. Not in a deterministic or reductionist sense. This alienation is not the result of an innate unfolding of a cognitive neurobiological entity that is already a priori assembled and which does not allow it access to change in relation to the information it receives from the world. Rather this neurobiological entity reflects a developmental and ontological process, one might say an historical process, in which the here and now and the past, are collaged together. Fragments of cultural memory are first assembled on the stage of the present to sculpt the neural plastic potential of the becoming brain entity. It is in this sense that the subject’s neurobiological architecture has been formed and we can begin to understand the true intention of Fredric Jameson’s account of his first interaction with Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles; the idea of the neurobiological sublime. This term is somewhat related but different to his own idea of the hysterical sublime in which the burgeoning technological field is too expansive to allow for the human conceptual system or its perceptual apparatuses to grasp it in its entirety. He states that his habits of perception, and presumably the neurobiological apparatus that undermines it has been formed in another era; that of modernism. That this brain has been sculpted by an alternative system of relationships which are Euclidean, another system of gestalts, another system of curves and dimensions and temporality very different from the infinite curved space and topology of post-Modern hyperspace. That a neurobiological architecture sculpted in this modernist context may not up to the task of understanding and comprehending a new cultural landscape which has been built using these new and contemporary spaces and time.. This is transparent alienation. It is not severe. The differences that are occurring are doing so because of the differences in the logics of capitalism and is experienced as a thin film that depresses the relationship of the subject with the world but is not sufficient enough for that individual to seek medical attention. These changes produce the alienation of the neurobiological sublime which is a not as severe as those of opaque alienation formed as a result of an epochal mismatch which produce the more severe form of the psychopathologies of cognitive capitalism. To reiterate then, when the conditions of the cultural logic is not that different from the logics that sculpted the early developing brain a condition of the neurobiological sublime occurs leaving a thin film that covers all of that’s individual’s perceptions, experiences and understandings. When those changes in the environment are so great that the neurobiological architecture which had been already sculpted by the previous generational output finds itself inadequate to understand and act in that new world a severe alienation is experienced by that individual. This lack of ‘superimposability’ leads to an opaque shadow that is draped over the psyche. For instance, in our moment of cognitive capitalism and the associated attention economy a tremendous amount of attention is required to operate as a perfect consumer citizen and many a brain is not up to the task. The brain and mind experience an attention deficit. The brain and the mind cannot adequately focus on the world to follow its trajectories. They are left inadequate and frustrated. They cannot adapt adequately. But more importantly the brain is not up to sampling the distributions of the sensible consistently. The brain is also inadequate to couple with the anarchy that might find it an exit. The intense frustration and the anxieties they produce may require pharmaceutical intervention. These two conditions are ones of degree. The neurobiological sublime is to transparent alienation as opaque alienation is to the psychopathologies of cognitive capitalism. Opaque alienation being much more difficult to deal with. Of importance is that these forms of alienations may be a source of freedom in the sense that their relative levels of disconnection make their brains less accessible to the codes of neo-liberal cognitive capitalism.
I need to stop now as my brain is spent. Assistant comes and removes mask. Performance is over.