I’ve joked on here before that my ability to be permanently 10 minutes early or late seems to be hereditary, or at least a shared one. My apparent temporal aphasia a.k.a. “Lateness” doesn’t just relate to bus times and work deadlines however, but extends out to include a general cultural ‘huh?’ when I hear people discussing that latest Netflix thing, or Hollywood Scandal, song, twitterstorm, or cultural icon, [nb. I only just found out about that whole Qanon conspiracy thing, and now wish I hadn’t.] partly it surfaces as a pop-cultural blind spot owing largely, I’m sure, on owning neither a twitter or a facehack account.
Being late is usually regarded a civic nuisance; as a sign of moral ineptitude – a lack of respect for the social strictures that we live by, or a psychic unwillingness to be a ‘team-player’. In this respect tardiness can range from being a sort of disability to a moral sin. Consider the variety of terms used to describe being out-of-step with the modern world: belated, backward, slow, retardation, missed-the-boat, lagging, dawdling, procrastination, filibuster, cunctation. When compared against Modernism’s need for functionality, delay itself is a form of heresy.
But I wonder if delay could be deshackled from the notion of avoidance, to one of emancipatory experience. Jerome K. Jerome, that famous loafer declared that;
It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.
‘Being late’ for JKJ, wasn’t in the least to do with being workshy – that odious phrase – but was instead an opportunity to develop your own interests and energies, free from constraints. Indeed, another JKJ aphorism posits a delinquent solidarity that any anarchist could be proud of – ‘We are so bound together that no man can labor for himself alone. Each blow he strikes in his own behalf helps to mold the universe.’ Being late to the cultural party might not be an avoidance strategy, but a coping mechanism.
…Which is all a very roundabout way of saying that I have only just managed to get to grips with alterity research, and in particular to hear about the Trans-States conference a full year after it happened.
Aside from the obvious draws of Alan Moore, Alkistis Dimech + Peter Grey of Scarlet Imprint, one of the speakers I’d have loved to hear was Patricia MacCormack. [***ed. dream graduate supervisors: Dr. Tim Ingold @ Aberdeen, Dr. David Graeber @ Goldsmiths, Dr’s Patricia MacCormack & Robert Macfarlane @ Cambridge? Sigh.]
In her development of posthuman theory (or ahumanism) PM seeks to deconstruct the category of human, particularly as it signifies the modernist project; Enlightenment, logocentrism, speciesism, absolutist morality etc. Citing Deleuze and Guittari (with a great spurt of Spinoza in a Lovecraftian dipping sauce, it has to be said) Dr. MacCormack’s ahumanism points us towards the notion that ‘human’ and ‘monster’ aren’t so different concepts, indeed, hybridity, alterity, or what I was talking about with China Mieville’s ‘weird’ might be a fundamental siting-place for all lived experience (I refrain from saying the human experience here because that is precisely what this criticism is all about, that the human isn’t-so human, and there is place where our otherness is more immediate than our functionality).
One of the interesting things about that, methunked, is how it relates to representation, inter-subjectivity and ontology.
One of the features of Modernist Humanism (read: Anthropocene) is that we cannot escape our subjectivity. Our world reflects only us, our experiences are dictated by our conditioning, only transcendental logic will save us from the prison-cell of our own minds. As regards Art; all art is a signification of an interior subjective state or notion, communicated to the outside world. Whether that signal can ever truly be communicated or recieved at all is highly debatable (given that we all live in our own Black Iron Prisons of relative subjectivity).
PM’s ahumanist ethics, and Mieville’s Monsters, is suggesting something entirely different however – that Art, or the primal human experience is in essence a mutable one. It is a site of ecstasy where divisions between self and other dissolve, and instead is a place of exploration and discourse. The very fact that you can ‘grokk’ a picture or a song or what have you – is you joining in that mutable, permeable space where the art and artist and you share in something which is bigger than all of you.
Which leads me to think of a possible ontology for this process: that this is describing self-as-event rather than self-as-unit. In self-as-unit metaphysics (dualism, materialism) we see the human self as an indivisible, intractable whole that cannot neither break out of itself or be touched by another. That Black Iron Prison of your own psychology again. In self-as-event we’re giving back the possibility of communication, understanding, empathy and care because we’re not isolated actors anymore. We’re involved in an event that creates both of us as it happens, perhaps.
If any of this is as interesting to you, gentle reader, as it is to me, then you might welcome the news that the people behind Trans-States have started an Open Access transdisciplinary journal on progressive, transgressive, social and cultural transformation. Monad.
nb. You won’t be surprised to hear that I was late for the call-out for the symposium, back in November 2017.