Issue #44, 2013
Scene

Unsorcery
Alina Popa and Florin Flueraș in a Dialogue with Corina L. Apostol

Alina Popa has been involved in different dirty practices that she didn’t know where would lead but they surely ended up turning against her. She sometimes writes theory that not many people read but this is in total accordance with the reality of extinction: we now know there will be no one left to read it anyway. If there is someone though, then she/he/it can find about how to acquire a Second Body or how to produce multiple Outsides. Fresher fossil theory deals with dead thoughts, junk selves, world cannibalism, cosmic autophagia, becoming-extremophile and thinking with contradiction. Together with Florin Flueraș she explores a zone of dark thought and an ambiguous method: the more complex these get the more humiliating they become. A whole philosophy and set of practices are being grounded on an unstable and reluctant terra firma under the name of Unsorcery (formerly Biosorcery).

Florin Flueraș during his studies of choreography and psychology and afterwards in his performance activities came in contact with methods such as Body Mind Centering, Feldenkreis, Shamanism, Yoga, techniques of breathing and meditation. He is also contaminated by theories and movements like speculative realism, affect theory, dark vitalism, perspectivism, schizo-analysis, new weird, object-oriented ontology, accelerationism, extinction studies. Inspired but not exhausted by all these concepts and practices he started together with Alina Popa to develop his own philosophy and technique. Through concepts and practices like Second Body, Dead Thinking, Eternal Feeding Technique, he is currently developing performances and theory in the frame of Unsorcery. Unsorcery is the embrace of an impossible cognition and a horrific affect, it is a “via negativa” that starts where the hopes end and the remaining options are rather negative, dark and dead. He was pendulating for a while between art, theory and activism in search for the necessary space for experimenting and developing the Unsorcery method and now he’s ready to make it public.

 

Corina L. Apostol:You launched the Unsorcery project at the Bucharest Salon in the group exhibition Disenchantment Day(February–April 2014). How did you develop this practice, which combines a physical side, with bodily exercises and performances, and a philosophical, discursive one?

Alina Popa:Unsorcery is primarily a method. The format used refers to somatic practices known mostly in contemporary dance such as Body Mind Centering, the Alexander technique or Feldenkreis which have a theoretical side and one involving bodily techniques. These methods which were usually designed as therapeutic practices or come from an obsessive interest in what the body can produce through a persistent research on the movement are now processed and packaged in an attractive manner in order to be offered as a refreshing of the dull working environment or as corporate team building. There is one very popular technique of Gerda Alexander for the spine and there are tutorials on YouTube in which the sitting at the desk is carefully choreographed to avoid deformations and to increase productivity.

You may have noticed that right next to Unsorcerywe placed the TM (Trade Mark) sign to immediately acknowledge our involvement in the instrumentalization of these methods and practices. In this respect, the design that we have chosen intentionally emulates the corporate one. We tried to combine this corporate visual arsenal with our philosophical queries, to create a tension between form and content, to choose forms that undermine the content and nuance it. We are interested in testing the boundaries between theory and new age, between performance and promotion, between concept and brand. In general if we receive any criticism or accusation, such as the queries related to whether Second Body is a “serious“ concept or a new age speculation, we embrace evil wholeheartedly.

Florin Flueraș: Since we are already in an oozy, dirty area, we do not claim purity. Although if we persist in the Unsorcery practices, who knows? At the same time, there are a number of concepts-brands in contemporary philosophy, such as object-oriented ontology (ooo) or speculative realism.

C. L. A.: What part does aesthetics play in the Unsorceryproject and generally in your artistic practice?

A. P.: I noticed recently that the pronunciation of the word aesthetics in the local political circles marginalizes you instantly. Unfortunately, aesthetics is seen only as a production of beauty in art, possibly even in the sense of art for art. That is a very poor vision, especially considering that in the current political and economic context the power acts exactly at the senses’ level, affectively, not only visually, but primarily through the interpellation and reaction of the body. And the aesthetics of information manifests through the performativity of the algorithms, through their actual weight (a clear case where fiction is real), the information also being a sensitive matter (see Simondon). This time last year Luciana Parisi was invited to Bucharest and she actually spoke about power and aesthetics, but unfortunately it wasn’t so much public in the activist or the philosophy field.

There is a tendency to return to Kant and understand the aesthetic judgment as disinterested, free of use, not instrumentalizable. As Steven Shaviro says in an article entitled “Accelerationist Aesthetics“1, this is exactly what should be accelerated, namely, the aesthetics that cannot be understood, reduced to the cognitive field, in contrast with what happens in the current economy through the transformation of emotions “in the data that later can be exploited as labour forms and marketed as fresh experiences and extraordinary lifestyles“.

Therefore, we are interested in aesthetics and we want to dramatize as much as possible the relationship between form and content, between the concept and the way of presentation, between what a body does and what a body says, to change so much the performative register next to what we deliver as a discourse as to exit the immediately recognizable aesthetic field. As Eugene Thacker says in his book After Life(2010), the most interesting monsters are those whom we do not recognize, who belong to a completely different ontology.2 The moment when you do not recognize the object of horror.

F. F.: Or, moreover, the monsters who occur in familiar, ordinary situations, the unspectacular, trivial monsters. Rather, there is a monstrosity of the quotidian, those moments that are there, but we do not have the sensibility to detect them – darkness can occur even during daytime, as described by Emmanuel Levinas.

A. P.: As for aesthetics, we produced the first Unsorcery publication, a prayer book, a pocket book or, if you want, a hopeless self-help publication which you can take with you wherever you go. It will not help you solve your actual problems, but you will find in it others, just as big, paradoxes, pathological thoughts, dark thoughts which can haunt you and drive you away from the world of small turmoil. They can even drive you away from yourself.

C. L. A.: In the introduction to this Unsorcerypublication you wrote that your method is an “embrace of an impossible cognition and a terrible affect [. . .] while the options we have left are negative, black and dead“.3 Recently, the philosopher Achille Mbembe argued that while bio-politics are related to the cognitive horizon of the contemporary capitalist society in terms of the so-called politics of life, todaythe surplus value is based on the capitalization of death. How do you see Unsorceryas a practice that addresses the subjugation of life in the so-called neoliberal capitalist Second World (which includes Eastern Europe), which is becoming increasingly managed by the neoliberal First World?

F. F.: We are indeed living in a time when catastrophes and disasters are increasingly good business opportunities, when more and more investors will make a profit out of the apocalypse. In this sense we see and we will see more and more necro-politics at work.

As for the relationship between life and capital, it would be simpler and better if life was subjugated by capital, but the situation is even more unpleasant. One of the ideas we traced in Dead Thinkingis that life, the concept of “life“ already contains in itself a form of subjugation, exploitation, etc. Life already presupposes incipiently the concepts of property, obstruction, individuation – the concept of “life“ contains a proto-economic thinking, being already contaminated by capitalism (although we have not used this word in our publication).

A. P.: At the same time, the concept of life that we want to discuss and dissect also refers to life seen through a logic inherent to the capitalist conditions of production, especially life as understood by the scientific paradigm since Renaissance (obviously there is research which contradicts both historically and actually this “heroic“ and anthropocentric concept of life). The whole idea of a total subsumption of life in Hardt and Negri, namely, that in this phase of capitalism not only labour is subsumed to the capital (see Marx: real subsumption), but also social and private life itself: our emotional capacities, our knowledge, our way of life, the way we interact and cooperate, our moments of attention and even of inattention, even our sleep. We collectively consume our own social life in a repackaged form.

C. L. A.: A form of autophagy.

A. P.: Yes, in a way. But there is life itself, as conceptualized in these conditions, not only practically, but also abstractly. Life seen as a form of biological success, when in fact life is the least persistent, as Alfred North Whitehead says: “The art of persistence is to be dead.“4 And death, for instance, collective death, the extinction that follows, can be also conceived as a limit in thought: the thought that senses itself thinking of its own nothingness. It is a wall which the mind hits hardly and this collision becomes productive. Specifically, materially, death can also be thought in regard of the decomposition processes, of the trend, conceptualized by Freud, of returning to the inorganic. Decomposition becomes an abstract process, it infects the thinking (see the recent discussions about rotting and epistemology: Reza Negarestani, Ben Woodard, ștefan Tiron). There is a feedback between mind and nature, between the concrete and the abstract.

F. F.: We try to detach from this logic of the external enemy, capitalism, the system, etc. which is above us, while we are oppressed below. Life itself, the desire to preserve life, to succeed in life, all our desires, ambitions, perceptions and behaviours are imbued with a lively and sound thinking, they are present in each of us, not just in the “capitalist exploiters“, we ourselves are the enemy, capitalism. This observation has some very important extensions, by that logic one can understand why the protests and revolutions are not necessarily sufficient, because people in power change, however, others come, with the same “love of life“ or “sound judgment“ and things can only lead to the same type of politics. As with the “communist revolution“ that was felt in these parts, too, things finally only led to a slightly distorted capitalism.

A. P.: In a revolution only the structure changes while the functions remain the same.5 There is no overnight turnaround, apart from natural disasters, global pandemics that can erode life concretely and abstractly – they can dislocate the concept of life so triumphantly linked to sapiens’ success. Functional changes may occur through the global processes of humiliation, but they will certainly not be to the benefit of man.

C. L. A.: During the Unsorceryworkshops you presented the Dead Thinking“ principle as one of the most important directions of this artistic method. Is it a critical form of seeing ourselves as a group of subjectivities zombified under global capitalism – or a transition to a world without people according to recent theories about extinction?

A. P.: Dead Thinkingis an experiment of thinking intensively about extinction. We are not interested so much in the idea of a Hollywood apocalyptic show, but the apocalypse at the unspectacular level of everyday life and of all the familiar things. If imagination that attempts to grasp affectively the notion of extinction triggers an experience of the sublime, how does this future event feed the present human sensory relationship with the world? Extinction becomes an atmosphere, an emotion...

F. F.: Today is becoming increasingly evident how our way of life and the “love of life“ are equivalent to the extinction of life. We are the causes and the center of the extinction. The question we ask is: if most of the current policies are based on success and well-being, what does the idea of collective death, of extinction, that we are facing now bring? This extinction is like a huge gravitational force that bends all thoughts, behaviours, feelings – a force that changes everything, even if we are not too concerned or aware of its presence, as the Melancholia planet in Lars von Trier’s film (2013). We must make a huge and constant effort to ignore it, to take it out of the conscious plan and get on with what we know. It’s a kind of ignorance or delay to insist with the classical Marxist theories that have emerged in a time when everything was going towards progress and development and which are restricted to the area of economic thought. Suddenly, all that commotion involving a certain kind of activism and critical thinking, art, politics, etc. is not really relevant anymore. Maybe we did enter a post-political era in that the organization of power relations and society does not really matter anymore, it’s too late for that; the monster was created and is at the door. The situation has reached a planetary, climate, non-human spread. Now we must address the problem of destruction, collapse, collective death, which is not addressed in the classical leftism’s line. One of our concerns is how one thinks extinction, how to replace the healthy life-imbued thinking with the “dead thinking“.

C. L. A.: Another Unsorceryprinciple is “Second Body“. In Florin’s text about this second body, he criticizes conventional modes of political action – for example, street protests. Instead, he argues that we should also question the life force in the bodies that ally to fight the status quo. Moreover, you wrote that we must activate a different kind of thinking that produces a different kind of body. How can we activate that body, the second body or the secret body, since our bodies are already loaded with capital, with its media networks, and exploited?

A. P.: Second Bodyassumes that we are the spectacle. The spectacle is not only outside, in the society (Guy Debord), but is projected on our bodies. We wanted to question our bodies’ interaction with the world. The body and the concept of “I“ are the product of a semiotics, meaning that they occur as a result of the interactions with the world.

F. F.: For example, the Amazonian Indians see the body as a bundle of emotions, basically a complete reversal of the anthropocentric conception on the body. It’s about a different kind of universe and a different kind of body. Their thinking is based on otherness, not on identity, and it is not imbued with implicitly scientific thinking. It’s an onto-epistemology completely different from the Western one, where the self is actually a bunch of prospects acquired from the Other (see Viveiros de Castro’s notion of perspectivism). Not a multiculturalism, but a multinaturalism. Not an objective world that is perceived differently in terms of cultural or personality differences, etc. Affects organize a different kind of perspective, which creates a different world. Different bodies causing various perspectives articulate different worlds.

A. P.: There is a similar idea in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception6 when the phantom limb formation is explained (the feeling occurring at people who have been amputated a limb and feel like the missing member still exists). The phantom limb is actually part of what we perceive as a result of the interaction with the world, of the fact of being in the world in certain a way that is crystallized in habits. The habit body is different from the objective body, what one sees from outside. The phantom limb occurs when the habit body does not correspond to the objective one.

F. F.: In the text on the second body I address the fact that the bodies we possess are structured around a healthy thinking, bodies inevitably organizing the world in the problematic way we talked about earlier. And since the 60s and the 70s have shown us that it is not enough to “free your body“, this freeing was only a pronounced expression of the clichés and habits deeply inscribed in the body. We should somehow build another body. For this, however, the usual conception of what a body is does not help. We are imbued with a scientific perception, which we absorb since childhood as something natural, according to which man is composed of atoms, cells, organs. But there are other approaches, for example the prospect of the Amazon people, for which the body is, as I said earlier, a bundle of emotions and abilities which structure the bodies (similar to Deleuze and Guattari’s approach). That brings to these populations a number of possibilities that may seem fantastic: halving oneself, building a dream-body, building a second body. For us, such a view on the body allows the construction of a different body type. With Second Bodywe tried to add a second attention, another layer of emotions and skills to the behaviours of the first body. If the first body is built around the healthy thinking that uses the body as an instrument to be put to work, how about an increase in the other direction, an increase in sensitivity in regard of the emotions, the information that comes through the body and usually only remains at an unconscious level? How about a body built around this kind of attention?

C. L. A.: Would you rate Second Bodyas performance art, given that you have organized several iterations on the National Dance Center stage in Bucharest? Or is it more a form of anti-art?

A. P.:Second Bodyhas not started as a performance, as showing something on stage; initially, we wanted to explore what the body does in everyday life. How one does what he does by doing it. How knowledge affects the body and the body’s relationship with the world.

We tried to experience in daily life: eating, wiping the țoor, sleeping, walking, and we tried to turn each of these actions into a performative laboratory. We wanted to produce simultaneously a practice and an understanding of the practice. The performance’s moment was thought in a similar way, by adding new layers to what is already active in a spectacle situation: the relationship between us, the expectations, the discussion, the attention, the look.

F. F.: We are interested in the dynamics that occurs between a certain type of theory and a certain type of practice. When not being nourished by certain experiences or practices, theory can become dry, unconnected with anything, abstract in a uninteresting way. And experience without an effort of conceptualization is usually a blind repetition of what we already know, or worse, of what we know without realizing it. When taken individually, these both approaches have limitations, they hit a wall at some point. Therefore it is very important to conceive a framework for the two aspects to interact in a mutually reinforcing way. We are interested in the dynamics in which practice pushes theory further on, a theory that will give new impetus to practice... it which they move one another. That’s why we thought about this structure for Unsorcery, where each concept: Dead Thinking, Second Body, Eternal Feeding have a theoretical part of conceptual research and a part related to the creation of practices, mostly bodily or related to perception, to sensitivity. As a third layer, in order to enforce even more the dynamism we talked about, for each of these concepts we also build a performance.

C. L. A.: You have recently organized a workshop in which you used this “second body“ in the shopping space of a mall in Bucharest.

A. P.: We tried to test this method in an environment where thinking and instrumental behavior become dense and hard to resist, that is, at the Cocor mall. When we realize how the body behaves in such a determined space, we may try to short-circuit the default behavior through movements, looks, attention, etc. When this set of identity – the body – is accepted, then slightly distorted, displaced, each position becomes abstract, the eyes lose their usual instrumental attention. At one point I didn’t know what I had to do in a shopping situation, I needed to follow people around, to relearn the buyer or the client’s movements at an abstract level.

F. F.: One of the Second Body practices is to add another layer of activity to the daily behaviors. In that case, by adding a second intention and attention to the specific components of shopping, these actions can take on new dimensions. For example, movements turn abstract, besides the usual mental processes that accompany the act of buying something, new layers of experience may open where the same objects and actions become something else, for example, the products are not only perceived in a utilitarian manner, but as forms, lines and colors, as an abstract scenery. Our goal was not necessarily to criticize shopping. As we wrote in the Unsorcerypublication, we need the first body“, this body is necessary because it is adapted to this world. But maybe it’s possible to add something else, and that is what we want with the Second Body, a different kind of body for a different kind of world.

A. P.: The Second Body is a body of contradictions, of paradox, it is a body both human and inhuman, actual, but not representable, always in relation to the cold and unfamiliar world which produced it and which it only can sense in extreme experiences when its own interior is felt as an outside part and vice versa. This is how the horror is conceptualized.7

C. L. A.: You held ​​a number of workshops and organized Unsorceryconferences with participants from Bucharest – in the future you want to become a larger group, a team, or an Unsorceryschool?

A. P.: We haven’t set out in order to become a larger group, but if it happens, it is for the better (or for the worse?!).

F. F.: We noticed that some members of the audience came to several Unsorcery events. I would not mind it all growing into a new sect, method, heresy or even religion. I am glad there are people who ask us if they can join when we practice Dead Thinking or Second Body privately...

C. L. A.: The last principle related to Unsorcery,Eternal Feeding Technique, refers to the inorganic, to death, and also to food, to the organic. I have read in your description a subtle irony on a recent dictum of the art world: Art must be useful! How do you see this dialectic between “the cemetery aesthetics“ and “the survival technique“ you suggest?

A. P.: Eternal Feeding Technique is the most recent Unsorcery practice, it’s a detached recognition of the soil composition, of the decomposing matter which means food and fertilizer for any type of gardening. If we think of the whole planet as an ultra-tomb (see Ben Woodard, On an Ungrounded Earth), we are surrounded by a dynamic cemetery aesthetics. Even at the cosmic level, the stars are in a process of chemical self-degeneration: they consume their own carbon and oxygen, which, by being consumed, produce chemical compounds which become heavier until the star collapses under the weight of its own body.

In recent philosophy there are talks about material culinarism (Eugene Thacker) or the generalized chemical paradigm we are in (Iain Hamilton Grant). We are interested in trying to understand food, the digestive processes, fermentation, decomposition at an abstract level. Let’s see what eating means at a primary level. For example Aparecida Vilaca explains that “eating“ is a primary act of classification, to differentiate between the one who eats and the one who’s eaten, between predator and prey.8 The initial cognitive gesture was the one in which organisms differentiated themselves from the ambient to avoid eating themselves, in order to avoid autophagy. At the same time, one of the most creative acts of nature is a cannibal act: Lynn Margulis’s endosymbiotic theory about the occurrence of eukaryotic (nucleated) organisms through the prokaryote swallowing a bacterium that could not be digested and thus remained fossilized in the composition of its fellow, giving birth to what we now call the nucleus. Complex life (which does not mean it’s superior in any way) thus appeared through a cannibalistic act.

F. F.: On the other hand, all the interest in cannibalism started from the residence I had with the Postspectacle group 2 years ago in Brazil, when I discovered, in addition to Oswald de Andrade’s 1928 Anthropophagic Manifestoall the Tropicalia movement in the 60s around anthropophagy, the cannibal metaphysics of the Arawete or Wari populations described by Viveiros de Castro and Vilaca Aparecida.

A. P.: In the war cannibalism of the Tupinamba population on the coast of sixteenth century’s Brazil, the victorious tribe would take a prisoner whom they integrated in their society and who had an appointed personal guardian who took care of him and killed him in order for the other members of the village to eat him. The guard is the only one who had to fast, mourn the death of his protégé (his victim) and does not taste the meat of his sacrificed enemy.

F. F.: It was a ritual in which it was not meat that was assimilated, they did not eat a body or a subject. What was being consumed was the prisoner’s view, the perspective of the Other. In our case, the Eternal Feeding Technique suggests that what is being eaten is the view of the dead.

A. P.: Yes, and the cemetery aesthetics could be a diagram of the complex processes of decomposition and fossilization, of the cannibal mechanisms in nature, the human cemetery being just part of the experience. Man is part of these processes.

F. F.: Going back to what we observed earlier, the love of life is equal to the extinction of life. The obsession with life is inevitable an attack on the environment. Any consumtion is also self-consumption, is destruction, and eating the food environment is ultimately a form of autophagy.

A. P.: On the global scale, the notion of adaptation to the environment is țawed. Whitehead shows how animals don’t adapt to the environment, but they attack the environment, from the beaver building tree dams on rivers to the man who builds factories and manipulates nature by bionanotehnology. We manipulate nature even when we breathe. And human reason is the most advanced form of attack on the environment. By eating from the environment we eat what produces us, that’s why we talked about a generalized autophagy.

Translated by Alex Moldovan

 

Notes:

1. ‑Steven Shaviro, “Accelerationist Aesthetics: Necessary Inefficiency in Times of Real Subsumption“, e-țux journal #46, 06/2013, published online: http://www.e-țux.com/journal/accelerationist-aesthetics-necessary- inefficiency-in-times-of-real-subsumption/, accessed April 2014.

2. Eugene Thacker, After Life, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2010.

3. Alina Popa, Florin Flueraș, Unsorcery, 2014, unpaged.

4. ‑Alfred North Whitehead, Chapter One, in The Function of Reason, Boston, Beacon Press, 1929, pp. 3–34.

5. ‑Reza Negarestani, “The Labour of the Inhuman“, e-țux journal # 52, 02/2014 http://www.e-țux.com/journal/the-labor-of-the-inhuman-                   part-i-human/, accessed April 2014.

6. ‑Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, London–New York, Routledge, 2013.

7. ‑Dylan Trigg, “Horror of Darkness: Towards an Unhuman Phenomenology“, Speculations IV, 2013, pp. 113–121.

8. ‑Aparecida Vilaca, “Making Kin out of Others in Amazonia“, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 8, No. 2 (June 2002), pp. 347–365.