Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Notes Toward a Sympathetic Approach

From the first of these principles, namely the Law of Similarity, the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely by imitating it: from the second he infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or not. [...] Both [principles] assume that things act on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy, the impulse being transmitted from one to the other by means of what we may conceive as a kind of invisible ether.

-Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough

Why do I find it beneficial to invoke—within the context of a group of artists, writers and curators assembled to consider issues surrounding speech acts and their documentation—a Scottish anthropologist’s theorization of magical practice dating from the early 20th century? First of all, I want to say that my intention here is not to simply replace the word “magic” with the word “art” as a kind of analog for the agency of the art object (although, when considered as a kind of materialist practice, Frazer’s notion of “sympathetic magic” preserves the agency of individual actors within a broader system of exchange). Nor do I wish to substitute the word “artist” for “magician,” thereby reproducing notions of artist-as-shaman, possessed though some inexplicable power by the secrets of the natural world. This kind of mystification would be extremely dubious, especially given the collective work of the Speech and What Archive. Instead, I want to invoke sympathetic magic as a potential way to reconsider the hierarchies that we have inherited from narratives that set the truth of reality against the falsity of its representations.

Frazer’s theorization of sympathetic magic thinks a world in which images/objects do not represent the things they depict, but rather are understood to be valences of them, distributed through a spatiotemporal network of sympathy and contagion. In other words, rather than reduced to a false image or a “mere” representation, the sympathetic image/object (in its life as material and image), is thought to contain something of the thing itself. It seems to me that this is how sympathetic magic can be productive with respect to discussions of documentation. Because, although it accepts causal relations, it resists a strictly ontological understanding. That is, it does not privilege reality over its image, nor the original event over its documentation. Instead, it prefers to concern itself with processes of transmission and translation, material contexts, embodiment and affective response. It is in precisely this way that the notion of sympathetic magic can provide an alternative to the document’s evidentiary capacities and internal problematics of truth/falsity, past/present and subject/object. The same kind of operation can be described with regard to the archive’s function as a representative totality. Instead of exhibiting the anxious drive to record, represent and preserve the way something really was (whether it be a person, an event or an epoch), a sympathetic approach in fact anticipates a fundamental instability, contradiction and loss. Nothing is true, everything is real. As part of a shared space of not-knowing, it becomes a generative framework, relying on the continued articulation of a collective memory, a contagious and excited state of fragmentation and contact. 
Matthew Rana

1 comment:

  1. Hi MDR

    I find your essay fascinating
    I kept reading it over and over
    'nothing is true everything is real' huh!

    at the same time I connected these other things I was reading:

    Phillippe-Alain Michaud from the life of Aby Warburg (about a Hopi snake dance ritual)
    'ritual is not an object of study but an instrument of analysis’'
    'they gave the impression of life, he said, and they lacked only a voice’'
    'In dressing like the doll representing him, the dancer produced an intermediate being between the body and the image and transformed himself into a representation.’
    'The symbolism of the satyr chorus proclaims the primordial relationship between the thing-in-itself and appearance. The idyllic shepherd of modern man is merely a counterfeit.’
    of the sum of cultural illusion that are allegedly nature; the Dionysian Greek wants truth and nature in their most forceful form- and sees himself changed, as by magic into a satyr.' (Nietzsche quote)
    'the.. priests were grouped in threes: the bearer, the cajoler and the receiver'
    'the recording session...the ritual of preservation...were also the instruments of their destruction'

    then I re-read Foucault's What is an author?
    funny thing is I have read it about 4 times before and I only remembered one sentence
    each time I read it I seem to discover something completely different about it
    from the stimulation of you page I saw (let me try):

    'the founding act of a science can always be reintroduced within the machinery of those transformations that derive from it'’

    ‘whereas a discourse ' unlike the founding of a science, the initiation of a discursive practice does not participate in its later transformations...discursivity…refers back to their work as primary coordinates'’
    what he seems to be saying is that the discoveries (if not rejected) of Galileo and Newton are present in scientific thought today
    whereas with Freud or Marx we need to go-back-to them to escape the sullying influence of the present or mismanaged inheritance.

    For this I've always hated' rigor', as soon as you speak, all over the world, people say that's Ranciere! or thats Heidegger! it kind of bans and makes irrelevant a voice for the sake of a discourse.
    This is more exaggerated now, when there is so much knowledge and information but people are so easily silenced.
    so Foucault goes on to say:
    'the author is not an infinite source of significations'
    'impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition and recomposition of fiction.’'
    '(When a historically given function is represented in a figure that inverts it, one has ideological production)’
    which leads me to the only sentence I remember!
    'The authorship is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation if meaning"

    which I remember and often quote as:
    Authorship is the cultural figure we use to represent our fear of the proliferation of meaning.

    we can’t be free to read but not to speak.
    How can a free subject hurtle through the substance of things and give it meaning?
    the individual voice is suppressed but much more so is a conversation of individuals in an unsupervised group

    I’ve thought a lot about 'it does not privilege reality over its image, nor the original event over its documentation'
    as we are overwhelmed by images they gain and lose veracity and perhaps show us that the reality we found so unrepresentable was mainly made of images'.
    It's a step that's hard to make especially when Lacan's ( who I know you think is a bit of a cunt) most famous utterance is not beware but 'be wary of the image'.
    I would like to have offered you something more stupid and easy-to-read but I wasn’t intelligent enough. Anyway I think it’s great page!