The Posture of Things

You're shopping for a chair. As you browse the aisles, you note the variety — from backless computer chairs to high bar stools to plush loungers. Some nudge you to sit up straight; some have you poised leaning forward; others have you slunk down and cozy. This is in fact the main criterion for your chair purchase: how does it have you sit? How does it situate you? What posture does it demand of you? 

So it is with all things — spaces, people, nature art. Everything stands towards us in such and such a way and, in so doing, inflects our posture. Nothing is neutral. Sure, some things stand towards us deadpan. And sometimes we stand towards others without interest or investment. But neither of these are neutral per se: they are the assumption of a posture, a very way of standing towards the world.

We know this, whether we know it or not, in social settings. Some people ask to be seen more or less ardently. You can hear their voice across the din of a bar; you can see it as they make the rounds, your eye drawn to them like a moon of Jupiter, perhaps despite yourself. But just as the moons of Jupiter are not uniform, each enjoying its own orbit, so it is with the posture of people. Which is to say, posture is not a just a matter of yes or no, visible or invisible, loud or quiet. The posture of things in the world is precisely the infinite variegation of life. We dwell in the nuance of postures, things leaning in and away, all asking for different things. 

"Big Mouth" by Marilyn Minter. Enamel on metal. 8x13'. 

Look at this painting by Marilyn Minter. Like most people, I assume, I have a strong visceral reaction to this — a guttural gasp. One might be inclined to say, Of course, you want to fuck it. But that's not it at all. The posture of this painting doesn't sit quiet, or even seductive, awaiting penetration. No, this painting is the very act of fucking. My reaction is not one of a subject wanting an object. On the contrary, my reaction is a participation in the sensuality: I am not taking it up, it's taking me up. And yet I'm not being taken per se. I am being taken up in its affect. I may be drawn to it but it's not grabbing me, forcing me, sullying me. Its posture is a frank invitation to its state of always already fucking.  

I think of John Berger's distinction between the naked and the nude. The nude, Berger argues, is almost always a woman who is there to be taken. She is passive, an object for our eyes, desires, and more. The naked, on the other hand, is when the person — almost always a woman — happens to be without clothes. As we take her in with our eyes, she is not passive; she is not there to sate our desires. She is who she is, goes as she goes — she just happens not to have any clothes on:

"To be naked is to be oneself.
To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. ( The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display.
To be naked is to be without disguise.
To be on display is to have the surface of one's own skin, the hairs of one's own body, turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.”

Art tends to seemingly sit still, an object for our gaze. But as you walk through any museum, you experience a wide range of postures, each piece standing towards you differently and thereby inflecting you this way and that. Rothko turns you inward; Pollock turns you outward; Bacon turns you inside out while Picasso splays you. That's why going to a museum is so exhausting: you've been through the ringer, turned every which way.

And yet one's posture is not fixed. It's necessarily circumstantial and therefore relational. How I stand towards you is no doubt different than how I stand towards a woman I fancy, a child, an unknown dog, a Nancy Meyers or Cassevetes film. Each body postures in its way which is inevitably inflected by what it encounters. Think of it this way: a toddler, teen, and old person are all situated differently in a lounge chair as their respective postures encounter the postural demands of the chair. 

So it is with art, films, or people. It happens all the time: you're at a party (do people still have parties?) with your amor. Someone in the room is loud, their laughter and gutturals ringing out. You are immediately annoyed and do what you can to duck and parry that dominating posture. But your amore, well, they kinda like that posture — and, next thing you know, they're hitting it off across the room. You're dumbfounded — until you remember that posturing is a verb, an encounter, and different postures go together better (or worse) than others. 

Consider the role of posture in cooking and cocktails. The chef, or barkeep, navigates the postures of ingredients — the way lemon juice mixes with the booze to create a sour is distinct from how a twist, with its oils, coats the booze. A squeeze and a twist: two different postures. This is precisely the job of a chef or bar tender: to negotiate the postures of the ingredients — and, hopefully, the postures of their intended audience. 

While posture is an aspect of any body, it is not a stable trait. Posture is a verb, a manner of standing towards and with other bodies and forces. Posture is a component of a body's style, its way of going which includes speed, temperature, intensity, and weight (which is mass inflected by a body's environs). One way to look at posture is as the shape of a body's style, a puzzle piece within a cosmic puzzle that relentlessly morphs. Even if bodies are in constant motion, they still have shape — or, perhaps, shaping.  

I think of when an old friend of mine and I would go walking through nature. She'd leave the path, touch everything she could, smell everything she could. Me, I would walk tenderly through the brushes, my hands often in my pockets, my feet on the trail. My posture was one of reserve, of letting the nature around me abound. Her posture was more, well, gregarious, active, her tendrils stretching out to the tendrils of trees — like the person who's louder at a party, she liked to be loud in her conversation with nature. Neither is right or wrong. There is zero judgment here. It's a matter of posture, of posturing.

We carry ourselves in the world in such and such a way which, in turn, inflects and is inflected by other surrounding bodies. The words we use to describe such posturing are demanding, accommodating, passive and active, obsequious, ingratiating. Each describes a manner of standing towards other bodies in the world. This act of posturing is one aspect of our way of going in the world: it's the shape with which we engage things. 


Walking the Talk—and Vice-Versa: On Allison Leigh Holt's "Stitching the Future with Clues"

Allison Holt is an artist, theorist, and teacher working with video, sound, glass, maps, words, and more to present the mechanics, and critical importance, of neurodivergence across all aspects of life. Her 2021 video, "Stitching the Future with Clue," at once explains and performs the enormous complexity of, well, complexity—of the feedback loops and ecological operations that permeate, if not indeed define, life.  Watch a three-minute excerpt here.  You can learn more about Holt's work here. 

Let's say I want to tell you, explain to you, that we live inside of a series of ever emergent feedback loops —as the artist, theorist, and teacher, Allison Holt does (if you'll excuse this temporary reduction of her complex, thoroughly fleshed out position). Or, rather, I want to explain to you that it's not really that you live inside these ever emergent feedback loops — as if you were living, say, in some underwater hotel — but that you are at once constituted by and constitutive of these loops. You are not a guest at that hotel; you're built into its very structure. 

Well, I could tell you as I just did. But here's the thing: written language really wants to move in a straight line. Look at these sentences. They move left to right, assembling sense as they go more or less like a factory assembly line. So when I tell you that you are always already living amid, and indeed as, feedback loops, I do so in a straight line, belying my very pedagogic intent. 

How will you understand non-linearity if all you ever hear is linearity? You'll walk away, thinking me a fool. Or, worse, you'll think what I said is cool, a novelty, and hence feel no need to pursue its effects, its logic, its ability to rewrite you and the world around you. Ah, but if you experience it at the same time, the effects will resound unto infinity. 

No doubt, language is never solely linear. In fact, as Jacques Derrida and so many others have shown us, language always goes astray—it bleeds, proliferates, sprawls in different directions whether you want it to or not. Derrida enjoyed this play of language, creating a mode of reading he called deconstruction which seeks to amplify the drift inherent to any utterance. A long litany of writers have made language move in all kinds of ways, forging new modes of sense that will never have been linear — William Burroughs, Kathy Acker, Douglas Kearney, Lisa Robertson. The list goes on and on. 

But, most of the time, these writers don't explain the play of language: they perform it. That is, as their writing folds and winds, you can go along for the ride. But if you don't get it, you'll jump off before it gets very far. (I no longer recommend Burroughs unless I have a keen sense of the reader.) How, then, can someone explain the non-linearity of life without straightening out the kinks or being so kinky that all explanation frays and evaporates? How can you walk the talk of feedback loops while, at the same time, talking the walk? 

Enter Allison Holt and her astounding video, "Stitching the Future with Clues" (2021). In 14 minutes and 30 seconds, she at once explains and performs the recursive nature of existence. She does this as she's always done throughout her practice: by operating at the junctures where clear distinctions between telling and doing, science and art, knowledge and performance give way to a much richer medium—and hence a more resonant pedagogy. 

Throughout the video, Holt deploys a breadth of tactics—words, animations, images, graphs, lights, sounds. We could say the art "uses" and "incorporates" documentary and science. This, in fact, is the very premise of the film: life is an ever-emerging set of dialogues and conversations between systems of every sort—human, vegetal, cosmic, conceptual, linguistic, microbial. The film, then, is a conversation between science, art, and (for lack of a better description) ethical philosophy. It at once argues, shows, and preaches. No one mode is subservient to another. Rather, they conspire together, a network of sense-making modes conversing with each other.

No doubt, the film talks to us, explaining to us in a linear fashion. Within the film, however, the words are one system, one register and mode of sense making, in conversation with images, diagrams, sound, and performance, which have their own modes of sense making. Just as McLuhan and Quentin Fiore disrupt and refuse any hierarchy between words and images in their Medium is the Massage, Holt's piece places these modes of sense making into a state of play where they mutually inflect each other. 

I hate to use the word I'm about to use but I believe Holt's piece, and her work in general, is important. Why? Because it breaks down the false barriers that keep knowledge siloed and experience a secondary, rather than primary, function of knowing. Art and science remain disparate at their own peril. Their intertwining, which takes up qualitative experience alongside the go-to quantitative will of science and mathematics, promises us the very universe itself. Only by bringing these two into conversation do we begin to glimpse the profound, exquisite complexity of knowledge, of the universe, of life. In "Stitching the Future with Clues," Holt has done nothing less than lay the basis for a new mode of knowing—perhaps just in the nick of time. 

"Stitching the Future with Clues," 2021
Created by Allison Leigh Holt
Runtime 14 min. 30 sec.
Sound: Thomas Dimuzio
Video feedback: Kit Young
Live camera: Paul Helzer
Animations: Allison Leigh Holt, Corey Michael Smithson, Erik Klein Brinke, Yuto Horikawa, Robert Hodgins, Sci Pills, The Daily Mail, and The OPTE Project


The Art of Affect in Film

 Please visit my Medium where I'm posting these days as this interface is horrible >

I talk about Spencer, Inherent Vice, the films of Sofia Coppola and John Cassavetes — and more! The affect of film is not the affect of its characters or story; characters become inhuman affective forces.....


Don’t Teach Classes. Craft Courses.

A “class” is a physical space—static, hence indifferent to the rhythm of pedagogy. A course, however, is a movement—a choreography of knowledge, understanding, revelation, and affect. A course is less a map of a subject than a particular tour through a domain.

Read the whole post on Medium >


Take My Online Seminar on Deleuze & Guattari Starting 9/7. It'll Be Fantastic.

Take my online seminar on D&G. It'll be over three consecutive Tuesdays in September — September 7, 14, & 21 at 5:30 PT/8:30 ET.  Enroll here. 

I could not be more excited to be teaching a live, if virtual, seminar on the great French philosophical duo of Gilles Deleuze & FĂ©lix Guattari for the venerable Renegade University (where I also have a recorded course on Nietzsche). As a former professor in Berkeley's famed Rhetoric Department, I instinctively create course descriptions and readings. So here it is.

Thinking (Everything) Differently: On Deleuze and Deleuze & Guattari
In his introduction to Deleuze & Guattari’s first book, “Anti-Oedipus,” Michel Foucault suggests that the title could have been “An Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life.” Indeed, for Deleuze, and Deleuze & Guattari (this course will discuss the difference), attempts to create a ground that doesn’t move — “big” philosophical questions, identity, reason, representation — erase the difference of things, the thisness (haecceity) of me, you, this or that idea, blade of grass, mosquito. This will to ground life restricts and controls the tumultuous and relentless play of life—it’s a kind of masochism: life hating itself. It's also a form of control, of fascism, much of which we inflict on ourselves via our internal fascist.  

So throughout their writing, Deleuze & Guattari create concepts, figures, and operations that allow us not just to think differently but to think difference itself as it moves through the world, ever becoming, morphing, dissolving. The result is an admittedly strange world—they call it science fiction—in which everything is in motion with everything else, commingling (and not), as geological, vegetal, cosmic, and animal forces flow this way and that as bodies and forms shift and flow and change. The result is a radical reorganizing of everything — of philosophy, knowledge, personhood, logic, politics, freedom. This can make reading them difficult. After all, they never give you a map or overview of their world as no such thing exists: there is no outside the great teem of life. 

In this course, we’ll talk about how to read them (and why they write the way they write) and the worlds they create. And then we’ll dig into some of their beautiful concepts, figures, and operations such as difference in itself (haecceity), repetition, the rhizome, becoming-x, a Body without Organs (BwO), schizoanalysis, immanence, assemblages, lines of flight, territorialization (as well as re- and deterritorialization), and others. It’ll be a wild ride, I assure you, as you’ll be nudged to think in ways you’ve never even imagined existed.

  • Anti-Oedipus, "Preface" by Michel Foucault; "Desiring-Machines"
  • What is Philosophy? "Intro"; "What is a Concept?"; maybe "Plane of Immanence"
  • Thousand Plateaus, Forward by Brian Massumi; "Rhizome"; "Of the Refrain" (maybe some others)
  • Much of Deleuze's book on Francis Bacon


Back on the Unregistered Podcast

Talking about math in a world of undulating flux; how Deleuze and Guattari foment and proliferate difference; Marshal McLuhan's concept of the environment and how the alphabet creates a certain world; and so much more!

The Posture of Things

You're shopping for a chair. As you browse the aisles, you note the variety — from backless computer chairs to high bar stools to plush ...