Events are always passing; to experience an event is to experience the passing. But how do we perceive an experience that encompasses the just-was and the is-about-to-be as much as what is actually present? In Semblance and Event, Brian Massumi, drawing on the work of William James, Alfred North Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze, and others, develops the concept of "semblance" as a way to approach this question.
It is, he argues, a question of abstraction, not as the opposite of the concrete but as a dimension of it: "lived abstraction." A semblance is a lived abstraction. Massumi uses the category of the semblance toinvestigate practices of art that are relational and event-oriented--variously known as interactive art, ephemeral art, performance art, art intervention--which he refers to collectively as the "occurrent arts." Massumi argues that traditional art practices, including perspective painting, conventionally considered to be object-oriented freeze frames, also organize events of perception, and must be considered occurrent arts in their own way. Each art practice invents its own kinds of relational events of lived abstraction, to produce a signature species of semblance.
The artwork's relational engagement, Massumi continues, gives it a political valence just as necessary and immediate as the aesthetic dimension. Massumi investigates occurrent art practices in order to examine, on the broadest level, how the aesthetic and the political are always intertwined in any creative activity.
About the Author
Brian Massumi is Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences at the University of Montréal. He is the author of Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation and A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (MIT Press, 1992).
"Semblance and Event is a book about the smallest things, and the biggest. Brian Massumi effectively overcomes what Gilles Deleuze once described as the 'wrenching duality' of aesthetics. Massumi brings together action and contemplation; he finds the extraordinary in the everyday, and vice versa. This is a book about the life in art, and the art in life: a political aesthetics for the twenty-first century."
Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University; author of Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics
"Brian Massumi practices an 'activist' philosophy indeed, as his writing craft produces an intensive indiscernibility between the abstraction of philosophical concepts and the activation of aesthetic experience associated with art. This amazing book induces a participative thinking-feeling that does not criticize but rather sweeps away the deadening disjunctions paralyzing the adventure of experience."
Isabelle Stengers, philosopher of science, Free University of Brussels; author of Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts