“The Dialectic of the Stars Closing: Surfing Countdown” at Zebulon

“It’s not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on the past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent.” This extract from the German philosopher Walter Benjamin’s book of Passages has to do in a sense with the notion of  an event – understood as something which can interrupt a  well-known reality. Today the “fulgurance” of the image needs to be thought of differently. “Dialectics at a standstill” doesn’t seem possible in the context of our fluid societies where the marketplace operates  twenty-four hours a-day and where the circulation of cultural goods never stops. Here the freeway system in Los Angeles as “a coherent state of mind, a complete way of life” – according to Reyner Banham – allows us  to understand the endless movement which governs our life. Of course, this movement  stops when the freeway jams, but this experience shows that the standstill is no more than a disruption: it’s just a block in a global culture characterized by entropy.

In a way, entropy is the opposite of intensity. And it’s unthinkable in a modernity which is deeply linked to intensity. Indeed, modernity is based on the process of classification known as rationality, but it is connected to what resists this movement too. Recently Tristan Garcia explained that intensity is the ethical value of modernity which operates in the world as a conversion into variations and differences instead of identities. Like the degradation of matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity, entropy is thus the negative side of intensity. In a society based on production and accumulation, entropy is the expression of the uncontrollable – the unheroic failure of rationality where intensity is its noble resistance: a wrong Ped Xing, that is to say a crossing sign which interrupts the flux in an inappropriate way.

For me, Los Angeles is fascinating due to its entropic energy. It is a mix of power and of a coolness which short-circuits this power. This reversibility which is here at stake needs to be highlighted. It has to do with the indeterminacy which can be considered as the background of everything. But it has also to do with the notion of simulation that the theorist Jean Baudrillard used for seducing (not explaining) the classical relation between reality and thought through representations. He affirmed in 1981: “What society seeks through production, and overproduction, is the restoration of the real which escapes it. That is why contemporary “material” production is itself hyperreal. It retains all the features, the whole discourse of traditional production, but it is nothing more than its scaled-down refraction (thus the hyperrealists fasten in a striking resemblance a real from which has fled all meaning and charm, all the profundity and energy of representation). Thus, the hyperrealism of simulation is expressed everywhere by the real’s striking resemblance to itself.” In this context, all the contradictions disappear and are replaced with ambivalences. Here the dialectic seems to have been abolished. Without certainty, a very unstable world emerges where all relations are not determined by truth but game-like  appearances. Los Angeles appears as a fantastic playground where all signs try to confirm the existence of reality but run away in another direction at the same time. Drag me crazy.

So why do we feel the necessity to preserve the dialectic? Is it an approach which tries to keep alive objectivity and morality, even the scientific nature of our reasonable interrogations? Not really. We are dealing with art here and if the dialectic is referenced, it’s because it implies tensions and contradictions against transparency and homogeneity. Of course, in its classical form, a dialectic wants to overcome the contradictions to find a final unity. But in the dialectic of the stars, the idea is to shift contradictions, to pass through them to produce multiple coordinates, without resolution. In this logic, differences are not erased nor are  they the expression of the absence of oppositions. They give the possibility of dynamic fields which trace temporary constellations which can  draw trajectories – both spatial and temporal. So the dialectic of the stars doesn’t give  primacy to language and interpretations but to artworks which are material thought. Their physicality is informed by a code – an historical one – and this code – which is an abstract structure – is incarnated in a form – flesh and bones. Bodies2.

So we need now to take distance  from the Hegelian dialectic.  “Philosophy is to turn its gaze away from the stars, learning from Thales perhaps, who fell into a hole whilst absorbed in astronomical contemplation,” explains Nick Land. “In a subtle but vigorous neo-Ptolemaism, Hegel subordinates the stellar moment to the concrete and ordered bodies of the solar system, and these bodies are in turn subordinated to the development of terrestrial life. This is due to the dialectical dignity of particularized actuality in comparison with abstract principle, so that astrophysical laws are sublated into their successively more concrete expositions in geology, biology, anthropology, and cultural history. Yet there is something more primordially and uncontrollably disturbing in the vast and senseless dispersion of the stars, something which is even hideous, like a disease of the skin. What offends Hegel about the stars is the irrational facticity of their distribution; a scaterring which obeys no discernible law” (all the same quotation?). This absence of discernible law is reflective the arbitrariness of life. And art has to deal with this arbitrary as  another way to speak about freedom. Of course, the arbitrary is in a way scary. This is because it has to do with the limitless and the impossibility of justification. But in its whimsical dimension, art is also a fantastic perspective which can poetize our world, that is to say embrace in a flash of lightning power  and its suppression.