THE SET UP:
A girl sits at a desk in front of a camera that’s hooked up to a live-feed.
The camera’s view is focused on the space in front of her and screened from a TV alongside her.
She has a bag of clay and a book.
An audience is present.
She starts to speak,
So I work a lot with attention and distraction,
I mean, obviously, every body does right?
…but I guess I’m interested in what comes out of distraction, or in-attention,
as I believe there’s a utility to it that’s potentially shape-able somehow.
If I’m honest my focus on attention is because, personally…
I have to deal with my own distractibility.
I’ve always had an ability to get easily distracted by stuff.
At the moment however I seem to be distracted by just one thing.
Perhaps not surprisingly this one thing is sex.
Now, I’m 30 (ish) so maybe it’s an age thing,
I mean don’t get me wrong,
It’s not that I’m broody… I’m just horny,
…which might not sound like a problem, but,
to put it in perspective I’ve not actually been this bad since I was a teenager,
and maybe thinking back, you can empathise with that.
Anyway bearing this in mind my partner decided to buy me this book:
She brings a book into the video camera’s view so its author and title can be read from the screen, Wilheim Reich, The Function of the Orgasm [i]
I don’t know what you know about Wilheim Reich,
people seem to be engaging with him again and I believe for good reason.
Anyway he was quite a controversial psychoanalyst who started practising in the 20s
but split from Freud and the early psycho-analytic school
over some pretty fundamental differences in approach.
His project was inherently socialist and written with the urgency of being anti-fascist.
Much of his theory was developed around ideas about the function of the orgasm,
and as the title suggests, these are outlined in this book.
Considering the somewhat open format of a salon
I asked the host for some limitations in terms of what I might present.
She gave me parameters of fitting within a 10 minute slot
and of being ‘self-contained’.
Bearing in mind I get distracted
I’d appreciate if someone with a watch could call time.
She shoots a glance at the event’s host who acknowledges it and starts a count down.
I will set these points as the bounds of my containment.
A proposition by Reich:
She takes the book from in front of the camera and begins to read from it.
‘Instead of a systematic presentation, I want to describe the theory of the orgasm in the way in which it developed. This will enable the reader to grasp more easily its inner logic. It will be seen that no human brain could have invented these relations.’ [ii]
She places the book on the desk and places her hand on the bag of clay
A fact about the giant squid.
The giant squid has a brain shaped like a doughnut so that its food can pass though it,
from the mouth, on the way to its stomach.
This is obviously an evolutionary development that has capitalised on the organism’s malleability.
How this relates to the automatic is something I’m still trying to digest.
She announces the works title, and begins,
SOME NOTES ON THE AUTOMATIC (STILL FORMING)
A brief aside to the audience,
Please bear with me if I stumble
this is literally like patting your head and stroking your gut,
which has never really been my forte.
She takes the block of clay and places it in front of her on the desk,
Reich suggests that the orgasm is a vital function of the human organism,
critical to our happiness and biological well-being.
As she speaks she begins to cut slices from the block, seven in total,
and places them around the edge of her work space,
His research charts where problems in obtaining ‘orgastic potency’,
which he frames as ‘the capacity to surrender to the flow of biological energy’, [iii]
normally caused by repression and trauma,
results in various forms of neurosis,
in the individual, but also in society at large.
Approached bluntly, the orgasm results from our primary drive towards pleasure,
while allowing for a necessary release of energy or bodily pressure
and like any other chain of energy, this has many knock-on effects.
Now in a kind of radical update that flips this idea of trauma and its relation to sex,
or certainly the point of trauma,
Reza Negarestani suggests that sexual pleasure, exemplified in the orgasm,
is actually a smoothing out of a much deeper trauma or crisis.
One that’s far more fundamental. [iv]
Said as a side note to the audience,
Reza is an Iranian philosopher who I’m going to be borrowing off a lot here as I’m still chewing over some of his theories.
It’s hard to do them real justice but if you’re interested,
I’ve got some essays and a recent seminar that I can pass on after.
She picks up a slice of clay and starts to form it into a ball,
Anyway to flesh out this fundamental crisis.
Reza starts by going back to a very simple physical fact, or truth.
That starts with matter,
She places the ball in front of her,
She pushes her thumbs into it,
and its relation to the orgasm.
She scrapes it from the table and rotates it,
Basically one ‘thing’ can not be in two places at the same time;
She picks up the camera and films the thumbed object,
each ‘thing’ would be a different ‘thing’,
She moves it and places it beyond the camera’s view,
as we identify ‘things’ by their point in time and space.
She replaces the camera,
She takes another slice of clay,
two ‘things’ can not be in the same space at the same time,
at least with out resulting in a catastrophe
She folds the slice in half,
She folds it again and starts to roll it into a cylinder,
To take a very literal example of where we actively try to do this
we need only think of atoms, and our attempts to force them together.
Obviously this induced crisis results in an immense surge of energy,
She takes the clay cylinder in both hands and squeezes it hard,
and forgive me for being literal,
but if we apply that at a biological level we might relate it to the orgasm.
She places it down so its tip leads down from where the first object sits on the desk,
So we might suggest that the energy of climax
is a result of the catastrophe of two things trying to occupy the same space and time,
She picks up the camera and at close range moves it up and over the clay objects,
and that the pleasure that’s derived is a pay-off,
She pans the camera back down,
as otherwise we’d not court this chaos in the first place.
and replaces it in front of her.
[BREATHE & TAKE STOCK]
This simple space/time issue,
and the organism’s need to respond to it,
She takes a slice of clay,
or through it,
drives a lot of stuff in terms of an organic development
which subsequently adopts ever more creative resolves.
She starts to form a tube from one of the clay slabs,
Reza gives the evolution of the tube as an example.
So in instances within the body
where we need to have multiple things inhabiting the same space and time,
She places it in front of her so the camera looks down it,
for example food in the case of digestion,
She points to her stomach, visible through the clay tube,
or someone else’s genitalia in the case of reproduction,
She raises slightly from the chair so the view through the tube focuses on her lap,
This problematic is resolved by tubes within that system.
She takes the other slice and starts to form a second tube,
Tubes allow something to pass through
rather than occupy the same space/time as another thing.
She stands the two tubes up so they frame the sides of the camera’s view,
It’s a compromise evolved over time
requiring the kind of biological malleability
that gives rise to circular squid brains.
She takes another slice and starts to roll it out into a thin length,
This is all great but obviously, where it starts to get really interesting
is when these developments in physical bodies and their capacities
influence thinking and we get this kind of double moulding,
She uses both hand to roll as the length of clay extends across her work space,
as inevitably such shifts in knowledge also re-influence the body’s use.
She inserts her left index finger into one of the standing tubes
and squeezes the clay around it so it attaches to her hand,
Opposable thumbs are perhaps the most obvious example
of a physical development that’s changed the fabrication of thought.
She inserts her left thumb into the other tube
and squeezes the clay around it so it attaches to her hand,
(I’m borrowing from Reza again.)
She takes one end of the length of clay her right hand fingers and ties it in a loose knot,
For one thing their evolution brings about the ability to tie knots.
She shows it to the camera,
And put simply the knot is the fundament of a trap.
A temporary tube perhaps, a tube that grips at that.
She places the knot down and takes the other end folding it over and in on itself.
Once she’s twisted it through and over itself again,
she starts to mould the length’s two ends together.
All of a sudden we don’t just need brute strength
and a heavy blunt object to catch prey.
We can become cunning and tactical.
So we move beyond a reliance on explicit force
and our knowledge accelerates to incorporate the benefit of that.
She holds the knot formation up for the camera,
This one’s a continuous knot or mental trap.
Mathematicians still think through them today.
and places it down at the side of the work space.
[BREATHE & TAKE STOCK]
She starts to squeeze and crunch the clay attached to her left thumb
so the tube collapses and it extends and flops,
So back to the giant squid
which has a brute strength amassed by its size
but it’s also a pretty effective trap,
in both its overall design and in a predatory sense.
She stops moulding and brings her hands together to demonstrate the squid’s shape,
Obviously it’s got a flexible tubular body
that it siphons water through in order to propel itself forward.
Sucking it in and pushing it out,
She motions with her hands to demonstrate the action
of a squid propelling itself through water,
taking advantage of the impossibility
of having two things in the same place and time
She starts to squeeze and crunch the clay attached to her left index finger
so the tube collapses and it extends and flops,
by converting this fact into a pulsing force.
Now as a trap it has eight arms and two tentacles that pull food in towards its mouth,
She returns her hands to make the shape of the squid and wiggles her eight free digits.
The lengths of clay attached to the other two hang down to the desk.
and through to its stomach via the ‘o’ of its brain.
She rests the two lengths of clay in her right hand,
These tentacles are long and account for much of its body length.
At the end they have all these really powerful suckers
She pulls a bit of clay off the end of one length and sets it down,
which they attach to their prey.
She pulls a bit of clay from the end of the other length and starts to mould it into a ball,
The circumference of these suckers are lined with a serrated ring, almost tooth-like.
She sticks her finger into the centre of the ball and rolls it round forming it in to a cone,
They’ve found deep lesions on the skin of sperm whales,
where the force of the suction is so hard.
She takes the remaining bit of clay from the desk and does the same to that.
For a long time a lot of what was known about the giant squid’s size
came from assessing the marks they left on the skin of other organisms.
She takes a cone in each hand and holds them up at nipple height
But anyway these suckers pull in prey and leave a mark.
Sorry that’s a really cheap gag,
lets put them over here,
She places them at the front of the desk, closest to the audience, one half on top of the other
eating… or screwing each other.
[BREATHE & TAKE STOCK]
She rolls up her sleeve to reveal her left biceps which she then sucks on
resulting in a love bite,
So, where are we?
Right, marks as a way of tracing bodily events, or events between bodies. [v]
She picks up a slice of clay and folds it over placing it on the back edge of the desk
You see, this sense of tracing bodily reactions and reflexes was pretty critical to Reich.
Especially in terms of inverting the role of seemingly automatic responses
towards primary functions that have organising effects.
She drops down behind the desk and lines her left biceps up with the edge of the table
His study was often focused on the muscular
but for our purpose here we’ll stick with the bruise.
She begins moulding the clay into a mound that traces the shape of her biceps
Bruises are caused by blood leaking from damaged capillaries.
They are a contained leak trapped below the skin.
As the haemoglobin breaks down it changes colour,
in an odd creative process that’s visually observable.
Obviously, this essentiality results from the same basic crisis
of not being able to have two things in the same space at the same time.
The result of an impact.
She punches into the mound with her right fist.
Reich was also trying to trace the impact between physical and emotional feelings.
To get visual evidence of how this might operate he invested in the oscilloscope,
a relatively new technology at the time.
They are a device with two electrodes,
She holds up her left hand with the two lengths of clay still attached,
dangling from its index finger and thumb.
that can monitor and measure electrical energy, creating wave forms from its pulses,
She repeatedly punches the clay mound with her right hand,
that can be plotted to give simple visuals of reactions and their timing.
She moves the camera to show the resulting indentations in the clay
before placing it back at the front of the desk,
These are graphs of the female anus reacting to sexual excitation,
and opening the book to show two images of oscilloscope graphs, [vi]
the right image
and depression – the picture on the left.
She props open the pages with the two cone-like clay shapes
and scrapes the clay mound from the back of the desk.
So they are attempts to chart automatic responses,
or internalised phenomena
She forms the dimpled clay mound into a tube (indentations on the inside),
and positions it in front of the camera before removing the book
in order to situate them as part of an external and more complex social rubric.
She takes another slab of clay and starts rolling it into a tube.
She maintains eye contact with the audience;
Now as a side note,
Reich was highly criticised for encouraging his patients to masturbate,
just to put that out there.
She gives a knowing nod while her hand pushes and rhythmically rolls
I’d support his case, that all that rubbing was needed to enact a creative friction,
testing the bounds of compromise where two things struggle for one point, but must settle for close proximity, in an albeit hotter situation.
She handles the clay length flipping it over,
shaping it and being particular about its length and girth
The main point of controversy back then
was how this upset the conventions of the patient/carer contract,
however I’d like to read it another way and to focus on how, if presented as a tool, the orgasm might have the ability to challenge other internal relations.
Maybe by shifting their economies beyond individuals and out into the realm of social.
She removes the indented tunnel out of camera shot standing it end up on the desk
[BREATHE & TAKE STOCK]
I want to carry on pursuing it through the squid’s circular brain.
She joins the ends of the two lengths of clay still dangling from her left hand,
As I want to believe that the sexual organs are a part of the brain
She lets this touch the desk,
and raises and lowers her hand to change the circular shape that forms.
and that the brain is a flexible entity.
I’ll enter with an example from a social space,
and a suggestion made by a mate of mine that
‘all blow jobs are inherently generous’.
She holds the clay length in her right hand at one end.
She curls it back on itself to form an ‘o’.
Now it was said light-heartedly but as a phallocentric claim,
I’d like to work it through an alternative economy that focuses on the tubular.
So what if it’s about the mouth?
I’m not even going down the taste
She bites off one end and spits it out onto the desk.
and protein line.
She bites off the other end and spits it out onto the desk.
You remember the teenage banter?
The ‘Hey – you want lunch?’ ‘Go on love it’s good for you. Honest.’
She opens the book at another graph and positions it in front of the camera, [vii]
Anyway, here’s the mucus membrane of a lip reacting to tickling.
She points to her lip,
She points to the lip of the indented tunnel (still standing end up on the desk),
though the oscillograph actually reads their mucus indiscriminately.
She points to her lip,
She points the camera to her lips, and her finger to the screen,
Anyway here’s the lip thinking and organising through its sensory
contact with the world.
She curls the ends of the length up to meet each other in an ‘o’
and starts to smooth out the join.
Now there’s an obvious line of control here if we take the mouth,
or the sucking subject, as the organiser of the scenario.
She flops it flat onto the work surface,
Is it generous to take control of something, or some other body?
and uses her finger to indent it at intervals,
smoothing the clay outwards and to the desk in a series of firm little flicks.
Obviously the control of our pleasures and their manipulation
is arguably the grand narrative of capital
She continues to work her way around until she has completed the shapes outer edge.
and Reich’s sometimes been miss-read as simply using
the orgasm as a liberating tool that might intervene at that point.
However this really cuts him short – makes his work a blunt tool
She picks up the second object she made (a gripped cylinder)
and shows it to the camera,
susceptible to a wider trap.
She picks up the knot made out of clay
and shows it to the camera,
I mean we all know through hindsight the limitations of the liberal projects,
and so can see how this reduced equation might make such momentary liberating gestures,
She picks up the camera and films down on the last shape she’s made,
just consumable points of deviance.
I don’t want to get stuck here.
She scrapes the shape off the board,
Nor did Reich who had other ideas,
but by the 50s had to head towards what seemed like science fiction
in order to imagine the potentials that the politics of his project needed.
She pulls to remove the clay from the thumb and finger of her left hand,
(due to suction this is an effort). She discards it.
He moved towards a theory that detailed how aliens could temporarily penetrate humans
resulting in them being permanently disturbed from earthly space and time.
She flips the shape face down.
While, throughout his practice he’d worked to dispense of the body mind binary,
this stepped well beyond it,
with the consequence of a lot of people dismissing him as mentally unstable.
She inserts her fingers into the back of it, pushing
them into the clay so she can manipulate its shape.
At this point within him and his work
there’s a sort of shift from harnessing the control of biological energy,
towards addressing its uncontrollability or the point at which it leaks.
She raises the book to cover her face.
As she reads from it she mimes the words with the clay shape
which now acts as a rudimentary puppet that is suggestive of a mouth.
‘The spontaneous discharge of electroscopes in non-ionized air,
the phenomenon designated as a ‘natural leak’ by physicists,
is the effect of atmospheric orgone and has nothing to do with dampness.’
‘The […] Northern lights, the so-called St. Elmo’s fire,
and the bluish formations recently observed in the sky by astronomers
during increased sun-spot activity are also manifestations of orgone energy.’[viii]
Now the leak is never a loss.
Using her mouth she picks up one of the pieces of clay she bit off previously,
The leak too has an impact.
Using her mouth she picks up the other piece of clay she bit off previously,
And I wonder where this form of leaking might link us back to distractibility.
She adjusts them in her mouth and then carries on with talking.
To give it form I’d like to go back to teenage sexual distraction.
In particular its physically obvious moments typified by the effects of involuntary seeping.
I’m thinking back to what it is to be a young girl
And touched on the out side by your inside for the first time.
She reaches for another slab of clay and starts to roll it,
That very precise moment where a bodily production, or slippage,
comes forward to permanently shift and change the process of your thought.
She starts to dribble,
I mean ‘Hello arousal.
Who’d have thought you’d be material?!’
[THE 10 MIN TIMER GOES AND DENOTES THE END]
Well thanks, that’s me done.
Someone from the audience suggests that she swallows
TAKEN FROM PART 1 OF ‘THE LEAKY LECTURE SERIES’
INSTANT PUBLISHING / AUTOMATIC WRITING
FRIDAY SALON, ICA LONDON, 10 MAY 2013 [ix]
This is the first part of a lecture series that will develop in segments over time.
It was constructed for, or perhaps more accurately at
a salon on instant publishing and automatic writing.
Having been established through the live scenario,
what features above is a transcript of the thought forced through by that event.
Rather than being scripted before delivery,
a vague path through some key concepts had been pre-plotted.
Its delivery was then assisted by a series of gestures and ‘notes’ made in clay.
The ‘notes’ made while talking jogged the speaker’s memory
but also split her concentration, acting as a distraction.
[i] Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm, Sex-Economic Problems of Biological Energy, Volume 1 of The Discovery of the Orgone, (trans. Vincent R. Carfagno), London: Condor Books/Souvenir Press, 1989. First published in German, 1968
[ii] Reich, p.101
[iii] Reich, p.6
[iv] Reza Negarestani, seminar, Spring Meeting, Performing Arts Forum (PAF), St Erme, France, 4 April 2013
[v] The original performance was preceded by a video work by Camilla Wills that took the bruise as a motif (Foreign Experiences, 2013, video, 4 mins). By leeching off this it was hoped to question how the body might utilise the automatic in a way that’s generative and far from passive.
[vi] Reich, p.389
[vii] Reich, p.393
[viii] Reich, p.384
[ix] ‘Friday Salon: Instant Publishing/Automatic Writing’ was organised by Louise O’Hare and Duncan White and included work by Caroline Bergvall, Riccardo Iacono, Fiona James, Erica Scourti and Camilla Wills. The ‘salon’ developed themes from a series of videos installed at Publish and be Damned, 2013, which also included work by Clunie Reid and Anne Tallentire.
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