The following arises from the research project Acts of Assembly, conducted by Simon Bayly with Johanna Linsley, which examines the pervasive phenomenon of the face-to-face meeting in contemporary public life. The beleaguered meeting is a social formation that is simultaneously acknowledged as perpetually ‘broken’ (everyone hates meetings), and also held out as an idealized path to democratic forms of communitarian solidarity. It is our interim conclusion that face-to-face meetings are iterative performances of contact that produce powerful feelings of relation and non-relation in equal measure. What follows are some notes towards a report on contact, whose form takes part in its own performance of relation and non-relation. The notes are straining against their status as singletons, aiming to relate – or maybe we are interrupting their nourishing solitude with our demands that they add up.
Project explains it all ^^*
Most of the art in this project was posted in note form somewhere else, so we decided to post it all here too. Cause why not? xD
A. Cornershop man (so adorable, can’t get over it xD)
B. Commission trade with <Z~Z-Y>.
C. Custom adopt gift for @swampmonster
D. Do this <again> tri-meme: original thing (this one is so old!x)
E. New version, any improvement?
So, about the collab account. If a bunch would like to do it with us (which we doubt xD) we’ll choose people who we think are great.
That’s it for now. As the projects says though, we might add more art (if we feel like it xD).1
Assembly, as in the forms of gathering and talking directed towards some kind of collective, futural purpose, such gatherings being important in symbolization and constitution of a collective as such (the people, the nation, the company).
If a Better World Is Possible
If a better world is possible, then it seems unlikely that its imposition will be acceptable or even feasible. That world will not have been coded, compiled and then executed into existence via the mother/father of all system re-boots. It will have to be proposed, re-proposed, put on the agenda, discussed, re-formulated, debated, minuted and agreed – analogue style. There will have to be many meetings.
Assembly, as in a form of low-level computer language, specifically required where software manipulates hardware – where digital meets analogue, the interface between the material and the immaterial. Not many people have to write assembly today, or even understand it. Most of us will only encounter it after something has gone terribly, terribly wrong, when the tools and language we normally depend on have let us down, as in:
Process 51829 stopped * thread #: tid = 0x1004a2, 0x000000100000f45 program com.apple.main-thread, stop reason = EXC_BAD_ACCESS (cc00fa7)
Assembly language is dependent on a particular computer architecture, where that is defined as the art of determining the needs of the user of a structure and then designing to meet those needs as effectively as possible within economic and technological constraints. In this sense, assembly is a method or medium for the translation of calculations (call them ideas, values, principles, beliefs) into material effects within a particular infrastructural hardware setup (call that a civics, society, world) . Something like this language is the means by which contact is translated, materialized, formatted, made and making public. Not many people have to write assembly today, or even understand it, although modern life depends on it. Most of us will only encounter it after something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Cat Gives Performance Lecture on Contact
Cat comes for attention, but runs away when human extends arm towards it, returns again, runs away again, turning around in the zone of the arm’s length distance [arm is now withdrawn], coming too close, showing rump, backing off, before settling just beyond arm’s reach. How does cat know what is the distance of a specific human arm’s reach, so as to settle just beyond it?
A desire for assembly is a desire for there to be a form that will solve the problem of living together [nation, party, collective, commune, group, family, circle of friends, network]. The assembly will determine the form, since no-one can live permanently in an assembly. But can form solve the problem? No = a disappointment. But a desire for community, collectivity, collaboration or cooperation, for gathering, encounter, togetherness, being-with, for reciprocal or non-reciprocal relation other or the Other or whatever is subtended by a desire for contact – which does not have a prescribed form (the problem of contact) and is thus a source of political hope – perhaps the only one left.
Discourse of the University
The idea that discourse has consequences in the real = modern science. ‘Man-made’ = made possible by discourse.
The discourse of the university = meeting discourse = assembly discourse = discourse that is with without [social] consequences [something ‘purely academic’]: the postmodern refrain about the lack of social consequence of progressive thought.
Proliferation of assembly discourse [‘we need to have a national debate…’, ‘there needs to be a public conversation about…’] = proliferation of the discourse of the university.
Ivory towers, talking shops, the campus as claustrum. Hence the demand for ‘impact’, off-site.
Adrift in the open sea of networked communication, there is a sense of a low-level, widespread and uneasy hunger for contact – its forms and occasions always elusive, its manifestations often awkward, bristly and desirous, laden with aggression and hostility as much as friendly fellow-feeling.
You send a letter and it arrives in a room full of people and they all raise their heads all together and their eyes light up and they all nod and they say of course! Of course! This is what we’re looking for, yes, of course!
As something once called the public sphere appears to disappear, as forms of mediated sociality reach a degree of saturation and degradation (emails unread, phone calls from unknown numbers refused, Facebook feeds ignored) and a new-found enthusiasm for a street politics of assembly fitfully emerges and then dissipates, reports of contact become necessary, supplying evidence of its continued existence, as if it were in danger of extinction.
Are you working in a cafe, or working in a cafe, if you know what I mean?
Perhaps it’s hoped that someone will compile a comprehensive ‘report’ on contact, the much-awaited sequel to Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge [‘I made up stories, I referred to a quantity of books I’d never read, apparently it impressed people, it’s all a bit of parody […] It’s simply the worst of my books, they’re almost all bad, but that one’s the worst’.2] If that report aimed to demonstrate that knowledge had lost its traction on the contemporary, perhaps the anxiety is that the same fate has now befallen contact, which was what was left after the demise of knowledge. Which is of course ridiculous – as if! – because surely contact is going on everywhere, all the time – why seek to recover or represent something so evidently existing as if it weren’t, as if contact itself had been withdrawn past its surpassing disaster?3
Ideas and phrazes
- you know, you know
- the struggle of the body for rest
- hatred of learning
- we can’t go on meeting like this
- the shame of not being a thing (being non-made)
- self-organization (the organization of the self AND leaderless collectivity), self as disorganized
- (contempt for) the Too-Many
- (contempt for) the Not-All
- left to my/their own devices
- how’s it going? (what is ‘it’?)
- the workplace (when work no longer has a place)
- coffee morning
- new forms of disappointment
- hard culture
- meeting vs meeting up (‘let’s meet up’)?
- debate (never enough proper debate)
- from ‘what if’ to ‘as if’
- the opposite of meeting: thinking alone, introspection, contemplation, navel-gazing.
- c-words: collaboration, cooperation, community, commoning, congregation
- all together now
- tiny publics (Gary Fine book): a lovely oxymoronic phraze: the small group as the organising principle of social life, big society vs. tiny publics
- trust and distrust
- Das Boot – film I am said, according to them, to have forced my family to watch at least 3 or 4 times. Could be possible: submarine crews as the focus of early studies of group dynamics.
- i feel you, fam vs. you hear what I’m saying
- infrastructure/organization as art
- the end of the sentence
Assembly points, points of assembly, as in:
- points of contact – a person as connector across a boundary, an agent of introduction, a face to an interface.
- specific places, locations – objects for aiding orientation: points on a map, trig points, points of the compass,
- the name for a particular place on the field of various sports (cricket, baseball, ice-hockey)
- full stops – temporal markers, points in time, the marking of a gap or caesura between units of sense
- mechanism for changing tracks of trains, rerouting – the weak link in the system of keeping on the rails (trains ‘jumping the points’, comedy films where points are changed and train heads towards disaster, lady strapped to the tracks)
- engine points – which are more precisely, contact ‘The purpose of the contact breaker is to interrupt the current flowing in the primary circuit of the ignition coil. When this occurs, the collapsing current induces a high voltage in the secondary winding of the coil, which has many more windings. This causes a very high voltage to appear at the coil output for a short period—enough to arc across the electrodes of a spark plug.’ [Wikipedia]. A cutting-off of a current/contact that produces a powerfully generative effect elsewhere in the system.
- ‘what’s the point of…’ the particular purpose, meaning, essence of a thing, the reduction of something to its prime function, the current derogatory sense of this question used of other people, e.g. ‘what’s the point of you?’
- point-scoring, to make your point, get one’s point across: an act of individuating, separating aggression
- the deictic [indicative] function [she points at…], an action that draws attention to something other than itself [unless you are a cat]
- the pointing of brickwork: the mortar that holds the bricks together i.e. the glue that bonds the individual unit into a functional collective
- to be ‘on point’ – in ballet, dog [a pointer?] in alert pose
- ‘point man’ – the advance guard
- a text as a set of notes, ordered through a system of sequential points [e.g. 1.1., 1.2, bullet points]
- archaic use: a thread for connecting, usually garments or sails.
Near the beginning of his text Being Singular Plural, Jean-Luc Nancy writes:
Contact is beyond fullness and emptiness, beyond connection and disconnection. If ‘to come into contact’ is to begin to make sense of one another, then this ‘coming ‘ penetrates nothing; there is no intermediate and mediating ‘milieu’. Meaning is not a milieu in which we are immersed. There is no mi-lieu [between place]. It is a matter of one or the other, one and the other, one with the other, but by no means the one in the other, which would be something other than one or the other (another essence, another nature, a diffuse or infuse generality). From one to the other is the syncopated repetition of origins-of-the-world, which are each time one or the other.4.
Yes, but how to phenomenalize, banalize, concretize, exemplify, ground, transpose, translate this purely philosophical description of ‘the syncopated repetition of origins-of world’? And why do that?
Yes, and how to give that repetition another existence, somehow closer to its actual existence in experience where we begin to make sense of one another? Without contact, no ‘we’, where ‘we’ is something other than a problem, an exclusion that must be excluded, but won’t go away.
You are reminded of something you read recently which ‘reminded you of conversation you had recently, comparing the merits of sentences constructed implicitly with “yes, and” rather than “yes, but.” You and your friend decided that “yes, and” attested to a life with no turn-off, no alternative routes.’5
We are standing after the supermarket checkout, one of us is finishing off packing the bags with biscuits, crisps, chocolate, etc. At the next check out, there is another woman doing the same, though her stuff is different and she is very busy packing it. A child, 2 or 3 years old, is sitting in the metal mesh seat of the trolley, looking round. She seems worried, lost and confused. We look at her, catch her eye, smile, make a face that we hope is kindly and consoling. She freezes for a long moment, falling in one of those familiar holes that seem to open up in experience of young children as a blank of absolute uncertainty, and then she starts to cry. She cries very loudly. The woman is finishing the packing, she glances round, scoops up the child into her shoulder, looks directly at us. She’s pushing the trolley towards us, then past us, the child is still crying, the woman is asking: ‘Did you look at her? Did you look at her?’ She isn’t stopping, the question is a quiet fury, not looking for a response. We silently say to ourselves, yes, we are sorry, please accept our apologies, but we did: we did look.
In his twin set of essays Times Square Red, Times Square Blue published in 1999, a few years before the internet existed as a widely available means of communication and sociality, Samuel Delany narrates the marvel of a sexual life lived in the porn theatres of Times Square in the 1970s and 80s to make an unequivocal claim for contact. Or rather, he stakes his (sex) life and the life of a city on its infrastructural capacity to facilitate contactful interclass relations, not simply limited to sexual contact, but not not limited to that either. Delany takes the pedestrian notion of contact first elaborated by Jane Jacobs as the key to the street culture of a viable civic life and thoroughly eroticizes it. The last point, 10.5:
Interclass contact conducted in a mode of good will is the locus of democracy as visible social drama, a drama that must be supported and sustained by political, educational, medical, job, and cultural equality of opportunity if democracy is to mean to most people any more than an annual or quatra-annual visit to a voting booth; if democracy is to animate both infrastructure and superstructure. The supports and guys that stabilize such contact must be judicially enforced and legally redressable. It is not too much to say, then, that contact—interclass contact—is the lymphatic system of a democratic metropolis, whether it comes with the web of gay sexual services, whether it comes through the lanes of heterosexual services (and such gay and straight services include but are in no way limited to heterosexual and homosexual prostitution!), or in any number of other forms (standing in line at a movie, waiting for the public library to open, sitting at a bar, waiting in line at the counter of the grocery store or the welfare office, waiting to be called for a voir dire while on jury duty, coming down to sit on the stoop on a warm day, perhaps to wait for the mail—or cruising for sex), while in general they tend to involve some form of ‘loitering’ (or, at least, lingering), are unspecifiable in any systematic way. (Their asystematicity is part of their nature.) A discourse that promotes, values, and facilitates such contact is vital to the material politics as well as to the vision of a democratic city. Contact fights the networking notion that the only ‘safe’ friends we can ever have must be met through school, work, or preselected special interest groups: from gyms and health clubs to reading groups and volunteer work. Contact and its human rewards are fundamental to cosmopolitan culture, to its art and its literature, to its politics and its economics; to its quality of life. Relationships are always relationships of exchange—semiotic exchange at the base, in a field where, as Foucault explained, knowledge, power, and desire all function together and in opposition within the field of discourse. To repeat: contact relationships cannot be replaced by network-style relationships because, in any given network group, the social competition is so great that the price on social materials and energies exchanged is too high to effect emotional, if not material, profit. If we can talk of social capital (for those who enjoy a truly outrageous metaphor): While networking may produce the small, steady income, contact both maintains the social field of ‘the pleasant’ and provides as well the high-interest returns that make cosmopolitan life wonder-filled and rich.6
The Transformation of Pain
The pain shifted. The pain, shifted.
Delany makes a pragmatically utopian civics out of the pleasant possibilities for contact, one option for which for him was both literally and symbolically destroyed by the regeneration of Times Square in the 1990s: contact is a venerable institution that must be rebuilt anew if the we is to survive past just surviving in the cracks of network.
vs. ‘wild’ swimming. It is wilder, or at least exactly as wild, to swim indoors in public.
Yes, but there is a distance between the beautiful-ugly awkwardnesses of sexual-social contact that fills Delany’s memoir and the serial micro-aggressions and chronic pain caused by unconscious racism that saturate Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. Here, the awkwardness is of multiple and conflicting thoughts and feelings in moments of contact that are themselves at once far too little and way too much, points at which you barely brush past one another but maximum damage is still inflicted. In Citizen, the pleasantness of contact is almost absent, fleetingly present when
Every day your mouth opens and receives the kiss the world offers, which seals you shut though you are feeling sick to your stomach about the beginning of the feeling that was born from understanding and now stumbles around in you – the go-along-to-get-a-log-tongue pushing your tongue aside. Yes, and your mouth if full up and the feeling is still tottering–7
The Shame of Not Being a Thing
You are fully alert to the dangers of objectification and reification – obviously, no-one should be ‘reduced’ to a thing, used as an object. Yet it seems that the problem now is not just that one might be used (employed, exploited, taken advantage of) as a thing for another’s satisfaction, but that one might not be used at all.
Yes, but hidden elsewhere in the text of Citizen, a civics of contact has its careful, distanced moment, experienced as an ambivalent choreography of protection:
Closed to traffic, the previously unexpressive street fills with small bodies. One father, having let go of his child’s hand, stand on the steps of a building and watches. You can’t tell which child is his, though you follow his gaze. It seems to belong to all the children as it envelops their play. You were about to enter your building, but do not want to leave the scope of his vigilance.8
As much as might be hoped for. It’s as if, evicted from the destroyed theatres on Delany’s Times Square, contact and its pleasures have been made homeless and are now forced to live out in the open or underground, where they are vulnerable, policed, surveyed and converted into a social choreography of criminalized suspicion or culturally transmitted prejudice from which they escape only in rare, fitful moments. In the world of Citizen, this world, there’s a desire just beneath the surface that wants everything to work out, a general intellect whose intentions are good. But the contact that is anticipated in fantasy as an everyday sense of liveliness is experienced in reality as fundamentally unpleasant, racialized pleasure and unpleasure checking each other out in asymmetric encounters that generally end badly, in conversations that fail sourly in the very moment of their inauguration. What did he say? Did I just hear that? And, but like you say, that is how it is, isn’t it?
Not attending to the task at hand, or the structure as it’s laid out. Wasting people’s time. A power grab, when few other tactics are available.
At least in that country. Are things different here, or where you are? A fecund plurality of cultures of contact, other histories? The fantasy of civil places where these things are done right, better, differently – counterpoint to the manipulative fear that elsewhere it’s much worse, that we take what we can get. A fantasy that somewhere, there will be just the right distance between myself and the others.
Only happens in meetings: further research required.
We are abandoning the meeting at the sound of a fire alarm, leaving the building and congregating somewhere outside at the designated place.
The meeting was called so we could listen to a report on an earlier meeting which we were not invited to attend.
Gathered there, waiting to see if the alarm is ‘for real’, we understand ourselves as a body of some kind, a totality of an uncertain something, even if only as the sum of everyone who has left the building. Waiting at this point, standing awkwardly, chatting politely, unaccommodated from the formal configurations of our prior engagement (room, chairs, table, agenda, purpose, project, roles, decisions), the bare fact of togetherness is pointed out, points out an ‘us’ utterly different from those we were engaged with inside the building, yet composed of the same bodies that could, we imagine, do something else: an occasion of contact, a disaggregated form of belonging: a dis-assembly point.
Apology [literary genre]
a form of self-defense or self-justification, rather than the expression of regret for some misdeed or mistake.
The Wrong Decisions
Often the difficulty is in the guise of wanting only to do what others want (if only we knew), but whenever or wherever there are still endless choices to be made, even about how to feel and react to outside stimuli and how to relate to our internal worlds. In terms of our own life choices, every one that has been made is felt to be wrong and it is wrong because we made it; if someone else had made the same decision everything would have been fine. We have changed our country of abode, brought up children on our own, have supported ourselves and our sons and daughters financially. They are at university, have relationships and are not taking drugs, and we ourselves have completed several degree courses.9
If a book was promised, it is pathos, a poor excuse – something acceptable, something that might be counted and pointed at, at best a sign hinting that something important had happened. The hope was to bypass writing entirely, aiming instead for a direct connect to the heart-brain-gut complex with various kinds of events and encounters that would result in cosmic bursts of temporary earthen transcendence. The hope was for tiny epiphanies with tiny publics, small crowds gathered in nameless rooms, including – if possible – ourselves. Inducing ourselves, more like, so we would no longer be miserable singletons, left to our own awful devices. Once upon a time, these things were called performance, which is another story. That would have been enough at one time and for a long time it was enough and there was transcendance in some measure. Books and the ideas hidden in them were magic waymarkers, brutal incitements and exhausting inspiration, resistant to further translations or traductions. Reading was the last remaining luxury and remains as such, something that bears repetition in writing. Writing was pure means to ends, the ends being other meanings, full in themselves, writing being nothing, which might as well have burnt itself up after reading.
We are busy preparing a book. We may take longer than usual to reply to your message. Thanks for your patience. [And remember: there will always be Copenhagen.]
Performance: at a standstill. To stand still. The stage as the only place where it is legitimate to stand still. Because nothing matters there.
All of it notes that just wanted to be notes, but always got rhetorically shifted. Painful. Leave the notes alone. No profundities, no aperçus, no aphorisms, no witticisms, no well-made points, no insights. Only notes.
Simon Bayly is a Reader in Drama, Theatre and Performance at the University of Roehampton; publications include the book A Pathognomy of Performance (2011) and recent articles on waste and gratuitous expenditure, the artistic project and the meeting as primary configurations of contemporary work and sociality.
Johanna Linsley is an artist, writer and researcher. She is a Research Facilitator and Research Associate at the University of Roehampton, and a co-founder of the performance collective I’m With You. Her ongoing project Stolen Voices uses eavesdropping as a performance methodology.
Acts of Assembly is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
- Adapted from Scratch user AsukaKittyArtist, ‘Inactivity, Updates and Art’, <https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/43538864/> [accessed 18 May 2017]. ↩
- Lyotard quoted in Perry Anderson, The Origins of Postmodernity (London: Verso, 1998), p. 26, n.25. ↩
- Jalal Toufic, The Withdrawal of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster (Forthcoming Books, 2009), <http://www.jalaltoufic.com/downloads/Jalal_Toufic,_The_Withdrawal_of_Tradition_Past_a_Surpassing_Disaster.pdf> ↩
Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural, trans. by Robert Richardson and Anne O’Byrne (Stanford: Stanford University Press), pp. 5-6. ↩
- Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (London: Penguin Books, 2015), p. 8. ↩
- Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Blue, Times Square Red (New York: New York University Press, 1999), p. 198-199. ↩
- Rankine, p. 154. ↩
- Rankine, p. 149. ↩
- Adapted from Mary Ashwin, Cronos and his Children: Reparation and Envy, (no publisher or date given) chap. 3, unpag., <http://www.human-nature.com/ashwin/chap3.html> [accessed 4 May 2017]. ↩