I just found out that an article co-authored with Roberto Nigro and Gerald Raunig has been published in RADAR - MUSAC’s Journal of Art and Thought two months ago:
Towards a New Aesthetic Paradigm: Ethico-Aesthetics and the Aesthetics of Existence in Foucault and Guattari
The article can be read here in English and Spanish.
The entire Journal issue:
Radar #1 - STRATEGIES IN THE FACE OF THE REAL. Limitations and Challenges in Times of Change
and the full PDF: RADAR#1 - PDF.
Our article in full length:
Towards a New Aesthetic Paradigm
Ethico-Aesthetics and the Aesthetics of existence in Foucault and Guattari
Christoph Brunner / Roberto Nigro / Gerald Raunig
Felix Guattari’s and Michel Foucault’s works on the production of subjectivity investigate the transversal relations of social, political, and ecological bodies in their biopolitical constitution. Both authors, most prominently in their late works after 1980, write in opposition to the conservative backlash that has come to dominate institutionalizing forms of enclosure and impositions of legitimized and impoverished forms of subjectivity.1 For them, the production of subjectivity becomes the very existential territory on which social, ethical, and aesthetic transformations must be negotiated. The subject—or rather a processual subjectivity—becomes the machinic foyer out of which new and more transversal accounts of the socius can be developed. These processes rely on practices of self-governance, forms of practices of the self, and modes of constitution of the subject which are recurrent features of Foucault’s late writings on the care for the self and Guattari’s deliberations on a “new aesthetic paradigm.”
A mode of subjectivation does not create subjects ex nihilo; it creates them by transforming identities defined in the natural and social order into instances of the ex-perience of a dispute. Any subjectivation involves a disidentification, a removal from the naturalness of a place. Technologies of the self or the care for the self are practices to be intended in their very political vocation. Political subjectivation is an ability to produce polemical scenes, conflicts, lines of flight, new modes of existence. It redefines the field of experience and reshapes the organization of a community. Political subjectivation is here to be interpreted as a real political experience or process of experimentation; an experience as a movement that wrenches the subject from itself and from its actual condition, an experience that by acting on the subject changes its ontology. However, this very first movement of de-subjectivation achieves its real consistency only by means of a second movement that, almost simultaneously, comes to overdetermine it. It is what we can define, with the help of Lacan, as a movement of alteration of the subjectivity, consisting of an infinite interplay between the self and an (imaginary) limit that never ceases to move on.
In their consideration of subjectivation, Guattari and Foucault take into account the diagrammatic field of power relations as bounding and capturing agents, as well as the productive aspects of desires and forces as auto-affirming properties of creative production. Guattari in particular emphasizes the transversality under which processes of subjectivation take place. His elaborations in Three Ecologiess are based on the assumption that transformations of the social, as well as practices of the production of subjectivity activating new potentials of formerly harnessed power relations, need to traverse social, mental, and environmental ecologies (Guattari 2008, 28). For Guattari, ecology is not to be understood as an enclosed system but rather as a catalyst for change, a complex open-ended process to be conjured up by different modes of existence (material, social, and mental). All three ecological planes gain new importance in light of the contemporary social and political transformations in the Arab and European revolutions, the continuous increasing machinic production of desires in social media, and the environmental disasters of the present day.
Across these ecological registers, Guattari develops concrete steps to be taken toward a resingularization of subjectivity and its relational status as part of the three ecologies: “The important thing here is not only the confrontation with a new material of expression, but the constitution of complexes of subjectivation: multiple exchanges between individual-group-machine. These complexes actually offer people diverse possibilities for recomposing their existential corporeality, to get out of their respective impasses and, in a certain way, to resingularise themselves. Grafts of transference operate in this way, not issuing from ready-made dimensions of subjectivity crystal-lised into structural complexes, but from a creation which itself indicates a kind of aesthetic paradigm” (Guattari 1995, 7).
For Foucault and Guattari, the concern with aesthetics and its relation to existence has nothing to do with the aestheticization of life from a human perspective or, even worse, with the aestheticization of politics, a project already vehemently dismissed by Walter Benjamin in the 1930s. Guattari’s aim is to grasp subjectivity in the dimension of its processual creativity, instead of objectifying, reifying, or “scientifizing” it (1995, 13). Guattari and Foucault use aesthetics as a way to hint at the creative potential of expression and enunciation that has been silenced by the dominant force of signs and signifiers. In order to allow the three ecologies to traverse the production of subjectivity, Guattari elaborates a threefold development of aesthetic paradigms. The two pri-mary phases (which are still operating as part of current transformations) are 1) “collective territories” of a proto-aesthetic paradigm where creativity is not yet institution-alized but drawn into collective practices of enunciation such as rituals (1995, 101-102); and 2) a modularization of subjectivity, detached from the emergence of values and overcoded by capitalist signifiers (1995, 104-105). While the proto-aesthetic paradigm underlies a prehistorical period, the second phase refers to capitalist structure. In the third movement, which has not yet arrived, we might enter an aesthetic paradigm of processual immanence: “It is a striving towards this ontological root of creativity that is characteristic of the new processual paradigm. It engages the composition of enunciative assemblages actualizing the compossibility of two infinites, the active and the passive” (1995, 116). Guattari explicitly underlines the continued impact of the two earlier paradigms. The processual aesthetic paradigm re-focuses on the production of subjectivity as an aesthetic of existence. In a transversal manner (relating abstract as much as concrete dimensions), the production of subjectivity aims first and foremost to “reinvent social practices” (Guattari 1996, 119). The remaking of social practice goes hand in hand with Guattari’s critique of the ecological crisis that “can be traced to a more general crisis of the social, political and existential” (1996, 119).
From this point of view, the aesthetic paradigm resonates well with the desires and demands of 21st-century activism. In order to develop such activism as part of the new aesthetic paradigm, one must investigate the ecological status and the formation of new subjectivities as part of an aesthetics of existence. For Guattari, the production of subjectivity as motor for the flourishing of such an aesthetic paradigm has to include the active role of incorporeal “Universes of Value” (1995, 99) as much as it includes the function of collective enunciations and things or objects that are pragmatic func-tions of existence (1996, 177). Instead of founding his aesthetic paradigm on a clear separation between objects and subjects or between concrete and transcendent, Guattari folds the dimensions of material and immaterial forces into each other, leaving each of them to a certain extent autonomous and at the same time always relationally entangled with other forces.
The aesthetic paradigm is therefore interwoven with ethical and scientific paradigms: “The new aesthetic paradigm has ethico-political implications because to speak of creation is to speak of the responsibility of the creative instance with regard to the thing created, inflection of the state of things, bifurcation beyond preestablished schemas, once again taking into account the fate of alterity in its extreme modalities. But this ethical choice no longer emanates from a transcendent enunciation, a code of law or a unique and all-powerful god” (1995, 107). The genesis of an enunciation is co-emergent with processual invention or creation, and even in scientific statements forms of subjectivation surface as individual and collective-machinic.2
What Guattari identifies as “chaosmosis” defines a practice and tool of analysis at the same time. It is an immanent activism of ethico-aesthetic relevance taking into consideration and shaping the interplay of the three ecologies. Chaosmosis “is a force for seizing the creative potentiality at the root of sensible finitude–‘before’ it is applied to works, philosophical concepts, scientific functions and mental and social objects” (1995, 112).
The relation between aesthetics and existence in Foucault and Guattari is neither ex-clusively attached to art nor does it involve art as institutionalized practice. On the contrary, aesthetics itself shapes a mode of existence that accounts for the transversal relations between subjects and objects, and between corporeal and incorporeal forces, that together make up the real. Nevertheless, art can function as a useful “entrance” to investigating aesthetics of existence in their ethico-aesthetic impact on how the “real” is constituted (Deleuze and Guattari 1986, 3). Modestly put, there is a chance that art might enable us to surpass antagonisms such as those between orality and writing. Guattari foregrounds performance art and concrete poetry: “… this art doesn’t so much involve a return to an originary orality as it does a forward flight into machinations and deterritorialised machinic paths capable of engendering mutant subjectiv-ities” (1995, 90). From here a new world might be assembled and augmented where new forms and modalities of being can flourish through productions of subjectivity: the deconstruction of structures and codes, a chaosmic plunge into materialities of sensation, an aesthetic decentering of perspectives.
According to Guattari and Foucault, one must account for the transversal and machinic constellation in which all existence is enmeshed. In this regard, aesthetic machines are of utmost importance, because they undermine the general aestheticization of everyday life by generating mutant and heterogeneous blocks of sensation, percepts, and affects. The function of art is one of “rupturing with forms and significations circulating trivially in the social field” (1995, 130-131). Especially in a society where the circulation of images and aesthetic productions of affects and percepts rises, we require renewed expertise in the aesthetic field. The important point is to not consign these modes of creative production to an autonomous domain of art, but rather to consider them in their potential to transform, break, and reinvent trivial affects and percepts. In an essay contemporaneous with Chaosmosis, Deleuze comments in a similar fashion: “Creating has always been something different from communicating. The key thing may be to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control” (Deleuze 1995, 175). For Guattari, in a similar vein, artistic and aesthetic cognition detaches segments of the real and deterritorializes them to become partial enunciators. The effects of these quasi-animistic language aspects of a work of art are both the remodeling of the relation between artist and consumer and the (in-)formation of everyday existence (see Guattari 1995, 131). Aesthetics as an ethics according to the transversal aspect of the three ecologies and the aesthetic paradigm always relates to modes of existence and of life.
Through his notion of “aesthetics of existence” Foucault conceives of the “bios as beautiful work” (Foucault 2011, 162). In his last years, he investigated this question of an aesthetics of existence in the ancient writings on parrhesia. According to Foucault, artists, especially during the course of the 19th century, have adapted the parrhesiatic forms of life of the Cynics. As a first principle, artistic life gains its relevance in the 19th century through the life of the artist as an enabling condition for an artwork to emerge, or even through the life of the artist as work of art giving relevance to the artistic existence of that epoch: “Art is capable of giving a form to existence which breaks with every other form, a form which is that of the true life” (Foucault 2011, 187). The second principle for Foucault lies in art’s capacity for “laying bare, exposure, stripping, excavation, and violent reduction of existence to its basics” (2011, 188). For Foucault, figures such as Baudelaire, Flaubert, and Manet take on the task of constituting “art as the site of the irruption of what is underneath, below, of what in a culture has no right, or at least no possibility of expression” (ibid.).
The relations between artistic or rather aesthetic practices and existence are part and parcel of the way Foucault and Guattari envision the aesthetic paradigm as a paradigm of resingularization. Both thinkers are concerned with existence as a way to enable new tastes of life and for life, to create a novel smoothness between sexes, generations, and ethnic groups–as much as compositions of virtual ecologies of “unprecedented formations of subjectivity” (Guattari 1995, 91). Concerning the invention of new forms of life and existence, Guattari writes in Chaosmosis: “One creates new modalities of subjectivity in the same way that an artist creates new forms from the palette” (1995, 7). Hence, as Deleuze points out in a commentary, to “constitute ways of existing or styles of life …. isn’t just an aesthetic matter, it’s what Foucault called ethics, as opposed to morality” (Deleuze 1995, 98-100). In their overlapping of ethics and aesthetics, ways of existing underlie rigorous immanent criteria: “Foucault even makes allusion to ‘aesthetic’ criteria, which are understood as criteria for life and replace on each occasion the claims of transcendental judgment with an immanent evaluation” (Deleuze 1991, 163). Foucault’s late formulation consists in the risky Cynic practice of parrhesia as a formation of life. He foregrounds the creation of relational fields between singularities over an emphasis on individualized retreat from society. For us the question then is: What happens if these revolutionary ethico-aesthetic practices define not only a political project but a molecular revolution as a remodeling of modes of life and existence? Such a molecular revolution underlines an aesthetics of existence and/or pairs it off with a political project as “constantly renewed work of giving form” to life (Fou-cault 2011, 162), or in-forming a living-collectively. Existence as bios and form of life, as much as cutting across all registers of the three ecologies, defines for us a major domain of future investigation, extending and reconsidering the propositional outlines provided by Foucault and Guattari. In particular, it is the transversal relation between modes of existence that interests us. For Foucault, the turn to an aesthetics of existence as ethical concern defines a new terrain lodged between general aesthetic processes of formation and a metaphysics of the soul (ibid.). An aesthetics of existence always produces and leaves traces of ways of being. Being, then, is not entirely tied to a world of concreteness available for human encounter. On the contrary, as Guattari points out: “Being is first auto-consistency, auto-affirmation, existence for-itself deploying particular relations of al-terity. The for-itself and for-others stop being the privilege of humanity, they crystallise everywhere that machinic interfaces engender disparity and, in return, are founded by it” (1995, 109).
In its machinic productivity, existence is a process and aesthetics becomes an ethical practice of becoming with the overall “worlding” of existence. The production of subjectivity therefore is neither an exclusively human affair nor entirely detachable from society. To account for an aesthetics of existence offers an investigation of prac-tices of attention and insertion at the heart of a subjectivity that is always with the world and existence instead of in the world. To reconsider social practices on the basis of existence requires an ethics and an aesthetics that are always subjec-tive-objective across the boundaries of mental, social, and environmental ecologies.
1 Guattari expresses a striking example of his critical remarks on conservative developments in the early 1980s in his poignant book title Les annés d’hiver 1980-1985 (The Winter Years).
2 In their last co-authored work, What Is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari expose the relation between science, art, and philosophy as different modes that all involve processes of creation and creativity (Deleuze/Guattari 1994).
Deleuze, Gilles, “What is a dispositif?,” in Michel Foucault, Michel Foucault Philosopher (New York: Routledge, 1991), 159-166.
——, Negotiations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).
——, Two Regimes of Madness (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2006).
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
Guattari, Félix, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995).
——, The Guattari Reader (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996).
——, The Three Ecologies (New York/London: Continuum, 2008).
Foucault, Michel, “On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress,” in Paul Rabinow (ed.), Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984: Ethics. Vol. One (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), p. 253-280.
——, The Courage of the Truth (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2011).
Lazzarato, Maurizio, Expérimentations politiques (Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2009).