Skip navigation

Cultural Studies

  •  
  • Page 1 of 17
Correspondence 1995–1996

“Why am I telling you all this? Partly ‘cause the whole queerness/identity thing for me stretches through everything, absolutely everything. Slipping between straight/gay is child’s play compared to slipping between writer/teacher/influence-peddler whatever. I forget who I am. You reminded me of who I prefer to be.” [M.W.]

“It’s two in the morning. . . I know what you mean about slipping roles: I love it, going high low, power helpless even captive, male female, all over the place, space totally together and brain-sharp, if it wasn’t for play I’d be bored stiff and I think boredom is the emotion I find most unbearable. . . ” [KA]
—from I’m Very into You

After Kathy Acker met McKenzie Wark on a trip to Australia in 1995, they had a brief fling and immediately began a heated two-week email correspondence. Their emails shimmer with insight, gossip, sex, and cultural commentary. They write in a frenzy, several times a day; their emails cross somewhere over the International Date Line, and themselves become a site of analysis. What results is an index of how two brilliant and idiosyncratic writers might go about a courtship across 7,500 miles of airspace—by pulling in Alfred Hitchcock, stuffed animals, Georges Bataille, Elvis Presley, phenomenology, Marxism, The X-files, psychoanalysis, and the I Ching.

Their corresepondence is a Plato’s Symposium for the twenty-first century, but written for queers, transsexuals, nerds, and book geeks. I’m Very Into You is a text of incipience, a text of beginnings, and a set of notes on the short, shared passage of two iconic individuals of our time.

How a Box Changes the Way We Think

We live in a world organized around the container. Standardized twenty- and forty-foot shipping containers carry material goods across oceans and over land; provide shelter, office space, and storage capacity; inspire films, novels, metaphors, and paradigms. Today, TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit, the official measurement for shipping containers) has become something like a global currency. A container ship, sailing under the flag of one country but owned by a corporation headquartered in another, carrying auto parts from Japan, frozen fish from Vietnam, and rubber ducks from China, offers a vivid representation of the increasing, world-is-flat globalization of the international economy. In The Container Principle, Alexander Klose investigates the principle of the container and its effect on the way we live and think.

Klose explores a series of “container situations” in their historical, political, and cultural contexts. He examines the container as a time capsule, sometimes breaking loose and washing up onshore to display an inventory of artifacts of our culture. He explains the “Matryoshka principle,” explores the history of land-water transport, and charts the three phases of container history. He examines the rise of logistics, the containerization of computing in the form of modularization and standardization, the architecture of container-like housing (citing both Le Corbusier and Malvina Reynolds’s “Little Boxes”), and a range of artistic projects inspired by containers. Containerization, spreading from physical storage to organizational metaphors, Klose argues, signals a change in the fundamental order of thinking and things. It has become a principle.

Grain Vapor Ray

We have entered the Anthropocene era—a geological age of our own making, in which what we have understood to be nature is made by man. We need a new way to understand the dynamics of a new epoch. These volumes offer writings that approach the Anthropocene through the perspectives of grain, vapor, and ray—the particulate, the volatile, and the radiant. The first three volumes—each devoted to one of the three textures—offer a series of paired texts, with contemporary writers responding to historic writings. A fourth volume offers a guide to the project as a whole.

Grain: Granular materials add up to concrete forms; insignificant specks accumulate into complex entities. The texts in this volume narrate some of the fundamental qualities of the granular. In one pairing of texts, Robert Smithson compares the accumulation of thoughts to the aggregation of sediment, and an environmental historian writes about the stakes for earthly knowledge today. Other authors include Alfred Russel Wallace, Denis Diderot, and Georges Bataille.

Vapor: The vaporous represents matter’s transformations. In this volume, a political scientist compares Kafka’s haunting “Odradek” to “vibrant matter”; a media theorist responds to poems and diagrams by Buckminster Fuller; and more, including texts by Hippocrates, Italo Calvino, and James Clerk Maxwell.

Ray: A ray is an act of propagation and diffusion, encompassing a chain of interdependencies between energy and matter. This volume includes texts by Spinoza (with a reconceptualization by a contemporary philosopher), Jacques Lacan (followed by an anthropologist’s reflections on temporality), Thomas Pynchon (accompanied by an interpretation of Pynchon’s “electro-mysticism”), and others.

These volumes constitute a unique experiment in design and composition as well as content. The mingling of texts and the juxtaposition of different areas of knowledge represented in a variety of forms express the dynamics of a world in change.

The Rehumanization of Art and Literature

The human figure made a spectacular return in visual art and literature in the 1920s. Following modernism’s withdrawal, nonobjective painting gave way to realistic depictions of the body and experimental literary techniques were abandoned for novels with powerfully individuated characters. But the celebrated return of the human in the interwar years was not as straightforward as it may seem. In Realism after Modernism, Devin Fore challenges the widely accepted view that this period represented a return to traditional realist representation and its humanist postulates. Interwar realism, he argues, did not reinstate its nineteenth-century predecessor but invoked realism as a strategy of mimicry that anticipates postmodernist pastiche.

Through close readings of a series of works by German artists and writers of the period, Fore investigates five artistic devices that were central to interwar realism. He analyzes Bauhaus polymath László Moholy-Nagy’s use of linear perspective; three industrial novels riven by the conflict between the temporality of capital and that of labor; Brecht’s socialist realist plays, which explore new dramaturgical principles for depicting a collective subject; a memoir by Carl Einstein that oscillates between recollection and self-erasure; and the idiom of physiognomy in the photomontages of John Heartfield.

Fore’s readings reveal that each of these “rehumanized” works in fact calls into question the very categories of the human upon which realist figuration is based. Paradoxically, even as the human seemed to make a triumphal return in the culture of the interwar period, the definition of the human and the integrity of the body were becoming more tenuous than ever before. Interwar realism did not hearken back to earlier artistic modes but posited new and unfamiliar syntaxes of aesthetic encounter, revealing the emergence of a human subject quite unlike anything that had come before.

A Useless Guide

Of all the French cultural exports over the last 150 years or so, ‘pataphysics--the science of imaginary solutions and the laws governing exceptions--has proven to be one of the most durable. Originating in the wild imagination of French poet and playwright Alfred Jarry and his schoolmates, resisting clear definition, purposefully useless, and almost impossible to understand, ‘pataphysics nevertheless lies around the roots of Absurdism, Dada, futurism, surrealism, situationism, and other key cultural developments of the twentieth century. In this account of the evolution and influence of ‘pataphysics, Andrew Hugill offers an informed exposition of a rich and difficult territory, staying aloft on a tightrope stretched between the twin dangers of oversimplifying a serious subject and taking a joke too seriously.

Drawing on more than twenty-five years’ research, Hugill maps the ‘pataphysical presence (partly conscious and acknowledged but largely unconscious and unacknowledged) in literature, theater, music, the visual arts, and the culture at large, and even detects ‘pataphysical influence in the social sciences and the sciences. He offers many substantial excerpts (in English translation) from primary sources, intercalated with a thorough explication of key themes and events of ‘pataphysical history. In a Jarryesque touch, he provides these in reverse chronological order, beginning with a survey of ‘pataphysics in the digital age and working backward to Jarry and beyond. He looks specifically at the work of Jean Baudrillard, Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, J. G. Ballard, Asger Jorn, Gilles Deleuze, Roger Shattuck, Jacques Prévert, Antonin Artaud, René Clair, the Marx Brothers, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce, Flann O’Brien, Raymond Roussel, Jean-Pierre Brisset, and many others.

Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa

The history of Tel Aviv, presented for a moment as an architectural history, can be seen as a part of a wider process in which the physical shaping of Tel Aviv and its political and cultural construction are intertwined, and plays a decisive role in the construction of the case, the alibi, and the apologetics of the Jewish settlement across the country.
White City, Black City

In 2004, the city of Tel Aviv was declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site, an exemplar of modernism in architecture and town planning. Today, the Hebrew city of Tel Aviv gleams white against the desert sky, its Bauhaus-inspired architecture betraying few traces of what came before it: the Arab city of Jaffa. In White City, Black City, the Israeli architect and author Sharon Rotbard offers two intertwining narratives, that of colonized and colonizer. It is also a story of a decades-long campaign of architectural and cultural historical revision that cast Tel Aviv as a modernist “white city” emerging fully formed from the dunes while ignoring its real foundation—the obliteration of Jaffa. Rotbard shows that Tel Aviv was not, as a famous poem has it, built “from sea foam and clouds” but born in Jaffa and shaped according to its relation to Jaffa. His account is not only about architecture but also about war, destruction, Zionist agendas, erasure, and the erasure of the erasure.

Rotbard tells how Tel Aviv has seen Jaffa as an inverted reflection of itself—not shining and white but nocturnal, criminal, dirty: a “black city.” Jaffa lost its language, its history, and its architecture; Tel Aviv constructed its creation myth. White City, Black City—hailed upon its publication in Israel as ”path-breaking,” “brilliant,” and “a masterpiece”—promises to become the central text on Tel Aviv.

An Essay on Playboy's Architecture and Biopolitics

Published for the first time in 1953, Playboy became not only the first pornographic popular magazine in America, but also came to embody an entirely new lifestyle that took place in a series of utopian multimedia spaces, from the fictional Playboy’s Penthouse of 1956 to the Playboy Mansion of 1959 and the Playboy Clubs of the 1960s. At the same time, the invention of the contraceptive pill offered access to a biochemical technique able to separate (hetero)sexuality and reproduction, troubling the traditional relationships between gender, sexuality, power, and space.

In Pornotopia, Beatriz Preciado examines popular culture and pornographic spaces as sites of architectural production. Combining historical perspectives with insights from critical theory, gender studies, queer theory, porn studies, and the history of technology, and drawing from a range of primary transdisciplinary sourcestreatises on sexuality, medical and pharmaceutical handbooks, architecture journals, erotic magazines, building manuals, and novels—Preciado traces the strategic relationships among architecture, gender, and sexuality through popular sites related to the production and consumption of pornography: design objects, bachelor pads, and multimedia rotating beds. Largely relegated to the margins of traditional histories of architecture, these sites are not mere spaces but a series of overlapping systems of representation. They are understood here not as inherently or naturally sexual, nor as perverted or queer, but rather as biopolitical techniques for governing sexual reproduction and the production of gender in modernity.

If Marx’s opus Capital provided the foundational account of the forces of production in all of their objective, machine formats, what happens when the concepts of political economy are applied not to dead labor, but to its living counterpart, the human subject? The result is Alexander Kluge and Oskar Negt’s History and Obstinacy, a groundbreaking archaeology of the labor power that has been cultivated in the human body over the last two thousand years. Supplementing classical political economy with the insights of fields ranging from psychoanalysis and phenomenology to evolutionary anthropology and systems theory, History and Obstinacy reaches down into the deepest strata of unconscious thought, genetic memory, and cellular life to examine the complex ecology of expropriation and resistance.

First published in German 1981, and never before translated into English, this epochal collaboration between Kluge and Negt has now been edited, expanded, and updated by the authors in response to global developments of the last decade to create an entirely new analysis of “the capitalism within us.”

Mobile apps promise to deliver (h)appiness to our devices at the touch of a finger or two. Apps offer gratifyingly immediate access to connection and entertainment. The array of apps downloadable from the app store may come from the cloud, but they attach themselves firmly to our individual movement from location to location on earth. In The Imaginary App, writers, theorists, and artists--including Stephen Wolfram (in conversation with Paul Miller) and Lev Manovich--explore the cultural and technological shifts that have accompanied the emergence of the mobile app. These contributors and interviewees see apps variously as “a machine of transcendence,” “a hulking wound in our nervous system,” or “a promise of new possibilities.” They ask whether the app is an object or a relation, and if it could be a “metamedium” that supersedes all other artistic media. They consider the control and power exercised by software architecture; the app’s prosthetic ability to enhance certain human capacities, in reality or in imagination; the app economy, and the divergent possibilities it offers of making a living or making a fortune; and the app as medium and remediator of reality.

Also included (and documented in color) are selected projects by artists asked to design truly imaginary apps, “icons of the impossible.” These include a female sexual arousal graph using Doppler images; “The Ultimate App,” which accepts a payment and then closes, without providing information or functionality; and “iLuck,” which uses GPS technology and four-leaf-clover icons to mark places where luck might be found.

Contributors
Christian Ulrik Andersen, Thierry Bardini, Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, Benjamin H. Bratton, Drew S. Burk, Patricia Ticineto Clough, Robbie Cormier, Dock Currie, Dal Yong Jin, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Ryan and Hays Holladay, Atle Mikkola Kjøsen, Eric Kluitenberg, Lev Manovich, Vincent Manzerolle, Svitlana Matviyenko, Dan Mellamphy, Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, Steven Millward, Anna Munster, Søren Bro Pold, Chris Richards, Scott Snibbe, Nick Srnicek, Stephen Wolfram

Design and the Culture of Board Riding

Surfboards were once made of wood and shaped by hand, objects of both cultural and recreational significance. Today most surfboards are mass-produced with fiberglass and a stew of petrochemicals, moving (or floating) billboards for athletes and their brands, emphasizing the commercial rather than the cultural. Surf Craft maps this evolution, examining surfboard design and craft with 150 color images and an insightful text. From the ancient Hawaiian alaia, the traditional board of the common people, to the unadorned boards designed with mathematical precision (but built by hand) by Bob Simmons, to the store-bought longboards popularized by the 1959 surf-exploitation movie Gidget, board design reflects both aesthetics and history. The decline of traditional alaia board riding is not only an example of a lost art but also a metaphor for the disintegration of traditional culture after the Republic of Hawaii was overthrown and annexed in the 1890s.

In his text, Richard Kenvin looks at the craft and design of surfboards from a historical and cultural perspective. He views board design as an exemplary model of mingei, or art of the people, and the craft philosophy of Soetsu Yanagi. Yanagi believed that a design’s true beauty and purpose are revealed when it is put to its intended use. In its purest form, the craft of board building, along with the act of surfing itself, exemplifies mingei. Surf Craft pays particular attention to Bob Simmons’s boards, which are striking examples of this kind of functional design, mirroring the work of postwar modern California designers.

Surf Craft is published in conjunction with an exhibition at San Diego’s Mingei International Museum.

Surfcraft Layout

  •  
  • Page 1 of 17