PhD candidate Newcastle University,
Architecture, Planning and Landscape
Why, for example, are there no studies of cities of tears or laughter which do not approach these subjects as other things?
(Thrift, 2004, p.75)
The simplest answer to the question what are the reasons for the lack in acknowledging the affective turn in the politics of spatial relations possibly is the fact that emotional sphere most often exceeds the representation, due to its fluidity and instability. I would add that the reason is because it is experiential, too. The experience which touches us through our senses may be the most present in the everyday urban life, yet the most difficult to capture. In the same time, Thrift’s argument is that the sensual self is already engineered and hence difficult to be extracted as a pure essence of individual’s emotions (ibid. p.58). Cities are already branded as places of expressive power, where creativity is branded as an asset, the cognitive capital marrying science and emotions. The co-optation of the emotional happens on the level of social relations. How should we, then, approach the argument of taking into account the notion of affect in studying the contemporary urban conditions?
I would like to show that the most important promise of affective turn in the recent scholarship is giving way to a new concept of ‘commoning’ through the affective bond. In commoning I understand not only the sharing of the common resources, material and immaterial, but the creation of the community through a practice of negotiation, contrary to affirming the already existing, homogeneous groups. Hence, commoning is always in the state of ‘becoming’. With the emergence of notion of immaterial labour at present, we cannot anymore ascribe the agency to turn the existing social order to a unique working class or, indeed, any impenetrable community. Rather, working with human subjects inevitably means the production of subjectivity. Thus, this dissolution of labour itself already problematizes the idea of unconditional mutuality of homogeneous community.
I would like to continue with the notion of Jean-Luc Nancy’s idea of an ‘inoperative community’; the one which is not created on the idea of any kind of work; a community which is not produced, but conceptualized (1991). Ideal community is a workless activity. Community for Nancy is not a matter of making, producing or instituting. This unconditional link is the only possible liberational background for a community for him, by creating the hope for a community to come, which will not be instructed. Likewise, the idea of work (and thus tradability of material and immaterial values it produces) as a bond of a community already introduces the problems of condition of the labour in post-Fordist capitalist production. The problem is created in a situation of the mutual indebtedness. We are as much workers as much as we are debtors. The debt being abstract (as delegated through the generations)– and the fact that it cannot be repaid undermines the heroic agency of the individual as believed in the figure of conceptual artist. Nicolas Bourriaud investigates this problem in art already in 1998 in his book Relational Aesthetics. Instead of looking into art piece from the perspective of the production of a sole artist, he researches what are the modes of mobilizing the intersubjective affect in contemporary art. Claire Bishop summons it up in her critique:
Relational art works seek to establish intersubjective encounters (be these
literal or potential) in which meaning is elaborated collectively (RA, p. 18) rather than in the privatized space of individual consumption.
In other words, this is precisely the opposite of what radical film director R.W.Fassbinder portrays in the melodrama of a singular character (often a woman) who, while trying to change the social condition she is in, experiences the crisis of both possessing power and the power being removed from her (Petra von Kant, Maria Brown, Veronica Voss etc.). This melodramatic revolutionary figure is not necessary the source, nor resolution of the crisis, in relational art. But it is symptomatic, since the individual feels both the revolutionary urge and incapability to fulfill its call, as she is equally subjugated by the desires that are already socially produced. This is a magnificent portrayal of the reality of the subject being fragmented and the desires being socially engineered, facing the question not only what is to be done, but also how? This approach to individual agency makes speaking about the commons not only seem irrational matter, but also the only sustainable scene for mobilizing it.
For the same reason of re-approaching the collectiveness in creation of the desire and reclaiming the power to shape them, an art group decides to self-institutionalize themselves in Copenhagen Free University (CFU), 2001-2007. In 2001 they establish a collective in their own flat, out of their own resources, and open their doors to the visitors for living, artist residencies, discussions or simply a chat. In one interview they discuss their motives for it:
It’s always an individualistic relation that is encouraged when really, as it’s been said, desire is in the social structures. It might be negative desire that builds a skyscraper with rabbit hutches for people to live in, but it’s still a desire, there is still some ‘plug-in’, and, in a way, capitalist society does create mass desires. …Perhaps self-institutions can give form to desire so it’s not so much a matter of imposing desires on others as encouraging what Deleuze & Guattari call ‘collective assemblages of enunciation’ and being inspired by the wealth of the passions of others. (CFU, 2002)
By the collective speech act of proclaiming themselves an informal educational institution and actions around the flat they would live and gather in, CFU avoids the authorial autonomy. Indeed, the language itself already regulates the desires as Barthes famously declared. However, they are searching for acknowledgment of the non-representable and not only through language, through the cohabitation and informal sharing of knowledge, against the branding of informal knowledge as experienced in the academic structures.
CFU is an example of living art and intertwining art (work) and life. The ‘operaist’ claim for the refusal of work (Tronti, 1980(1966)) is here impossible not only because we are not speaking about traditional working class, but also as living and working are collapsed into the same condition. Moreover, these artists-workers expose their mutual debt into public. The relationality of the artwork and participation in it becomes contingent to the audience. In addition, the audience represents not only passive collective receptors, but is, instead, imbued with potential for a formation of a community itself, since the viewers engage on experiential basis with the artwork (through viewing, staying, discussing, sharing knowledge), while no conmmodifiable creativity is held as individual’s property.
To conclude, according to Gilbert Simondon, Deleuze’s dear philosopher, the individuation happens in the public sphere. Pre-individual is the common of the collective. As collective practice brings the transformation of pre-individual into individual, accordingly, both Common and the Singular in itself are contained in the ‘subject’ (Virno, 2006, p.35). For Simondon, the collective is neither positive nor negative, but rather in formation, and even the technology is not excluded from it. Thus, the individuation is never complete process. It is the acknowledgment of this collective potentiality for changeability and the interdependence through communication which is not always verbal , thus affective, that creates the setting for the individuals’ emergence.
Acknowledging that the relationships are made commodifiable in the knowledge economy, making the emotions and dependencies tradable, the political question becomes how they are produced. It occurs that in the situation of crisis and mutual indebtedness, the political is not to be sought in the heroic revolutionary’s individual gestures such as Fassbinder’s characters long for, but in the micro-setting of emotional exchange that is the pre-scene for even thinking the individual. Franco “Bifo” Berardi proposes Deleuze and Guattari’s schyzoanalysis as a political therapy for the bipolar economy that completely shapes the idea of our common grounds and collective desires today, after the credit crunch (2009). This economical framework is regarded oppressive, and it is through creating ‘percepts and affects’ (ibid.) that the deterritorialization of this landscape of desires is possible. Re-articulation of our models of relationships happens on micro scale and through emotional sphere of new shared beliefs. These beliefs are conceptualized only in direct, not delegated experience and this experiential emotional bond is the last resort against engineering of collective desires.
Berardi, Franco, 2009, How to heal a depression?, Available from: www.16beavergroup.org/bifo/bifo-how-to-heal-a-depression.pdf
Bishop, Claire, 2004, Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics, October, 110, Autumn
Copenhagen Free University,2002, YOU FORGOT TO PUT YOUR HAIR ON, ‘exchange situation’ between Josephine Berry, Henriette Heise, Jakob Jakobsen and Howard Slater, transcription, in: Variant 15, Available at: http://www.variant.org.uk/14texts/Variant_Forum.html
Nancy, Jan-Luc, 1991, The Inoperative Community, ed. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland and Simona Sawhney, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis,
Simondon, Gilbert, 1989, L’individution psychique et collective: A la lumiere des notions de forme, information, potentiel et metastabilite, Paris, Aubier
Thrift., Nigel. 2004: Intensities of feeling: Towards a spatial politics of affect. Geografiska. Annaler, 86 B (1), pp.57–78.
Tronti, Mario, ‘The Strategy of Refusal’, in S. Lotringer and C. Marazzi (eds.), Autonomia: Post-Political Politics, New York, Semiotext(e), 1980, pp .28 -36
Virno, Paolo, 2006, Transindividuality, technical activity and reification, Interviewed by Jun Fujita Hirose, in: Radical Philosophy no.136, pp. 34 – 43
 For example we can never repay our biological parents the gift of life that indebts us, simply as lifecycle does not allow so. Or, for example my flexible part-time work from home is related to the cheap labour that participated in constructing the elements of the computer I am using. I will never know who and how many participated in producing the single object, and after all – this is not the only condition of work we are talking about. See also Milton Friedman’s explanation of work invested in producing a pencil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5Gppi-O3a8
‘Not a single person can produce it.’ is his claim. But, opposite to his idea that different people from all around the world are brought together through impersonal operation of prices for the harmony of the world, one can object that precisely this logic of production makes us indefinitely indebted and dependable on one another.
 ‘ Language is neither reactionary nor progressive; it is quite simply fascist’ (Barthes, Roland, 1993, Inaugural lecture. College du France’, in: A Barthes Reader, Sontag, Susan, Vintage London p. 457
 CFU regards the creation of individual with a specific knowledge unacceptable concept and rather believes in the perpetual common generating through the social practice: “So I guess knowledge becomes more a matter of the general intellect or a communal construction of knowledge through the social relations rather than specific individuals imparting a pre-formed knowledge.” (CFU, 2002)