Brian Whitener has worked as a sports photographer, dishwasher, music reviewer, adjunct, and in a prison. His most recent projects include False Intimacy (Trafficker Press), De gente común: Arte, política y rebeldía social (Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México), and Genocide in the Neighborhood (ChainLinks). He edits Displaced Press.
We live in a world of experience, of worlding, no longer (just) a world of representation. What I mean by this is that “experience” (in quotes) or work on the realm of the possible (which shapes the actual), on “being” (in quotes) itself or worlding, has overtaken prior cultural formations predicated primarily on representation and “breaks” with (prior) representational schemes. One banal example (of many) could be the last Bjork album which is distributed across multiple platforms, more an environment (an operation on the virtual) to be lived, moved through than an “album,” (of photos, of “representations,” of discrete pieces of aural structures) as if Satie’s music had become not just like the furniture, but had wanted to become the walls, light, and time as well.
If the classical figure of early twentieth century capitalism was the street-walker, who directly sells their body as a commodity, one figure of labor today is the camgirl, who sells an experience, access to a psyche, likes/dislikes, personal information, who creates and sells (not just) a body, but a worlding (not yet a “world”). If the classical figure of early twentieth century capitalism (ironic emphasis on the repetition) was the worker, who sells their labor power, one figure of “labor” today is the redundant surplus briefly integrated into the circuit of production only to be then discarded, shunted beyond the edge of the human on the other side of an ontological gap, into another world, desaparecido, which is another worlding, equally dark.
If the classical figure of early twentieth century war was shell shock, which outed as fatigue and disconnection, the figure of war today is post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that is located somewhere between the mind and body, between matter and spirit, that draws a new line between the material and immaterial; that is, one that acts neither on the body (discipline) nor the mind (ideology) but on a (new) total complex. In the medical literature, no one can figure out how to treat these new forms of trauma as they sometimes out as physical, sometimes as mental (can we conclude then that it is neither? But rather a new line, a new “body,” a new demarcation between the virtual and actual?). Look at all the traumas around you: natural disasters, crimes, wars. Where do they come from? Is it crazy to think we live in a world that is being disciplined by new forms of catastrophic experience, by trauma. Meaning that both the category of what counts as a trauma has been amplified and that more potent vectors of application have been created, making us exposed at every turn to sensations that used to be reserved for the most far off battlefields (as the “shocks” of WWI were coterminous with the rollercoaster, the animated cartoon, cinema). Note that the term catastrophe only takes on its current meaning (mathematically) in the 1950s and then (more generally) with the onset of financialization: catastrophic risk (a black swan, a risk that cannot be foreseen, the catastrophic event realized on the vector of trauma). We live in an all or nothing world, a world of no return.
Turning to “our” world, a literary world: Have you noticed that no one is celebrating the 100th anniversaries of literary modernism? Is that because there’s nothing to celebrate, because we find ourselves in the same tragic position of individual souls facing a systemic crisis? Or because we live in an “intensified” world following a different vector, one of worlding, trauma, and moves to new forms of innervation, and not representation, shock, and the bodily apparatus of cinema? Is what has been called chaos cinema, post-continuity cinema (the end of classical Hollywood editing in blockbusters like Transformers) a symptom of the end of one bodily apparatus of cinema and the slow invention of another that prepares a new mind/body unit (a new line between the material and immaterial) for trauma, for the loss of the prior referent?
Literature’s strongest links remain with representational and anti-representational schemes (two sides of a single coin) and the bodily sensorium attached to the apparatus of the book. The question is not how to leave behind “representation” but rather how to connect literature’s devices, knowledges, and affective relationships to an edge that would match the new problematic of experience, of worlding, of trauma, of this new line between the concrete and abstract.
We don’t have much time today, so allow us to speak in images, as if written on walls: Through the waters of history cuts the prow of a ship known as financialization, on one side is inscribed “war,” on the other “communization.” To not out as war, literature must find ways to connect with the latter.