Crandall, Jordan on Sun, 12 Apr 2009 04:01:54 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Something is Happening


an adventure in ass theory

Jordan Crandall

This text is derived from performative lectures given at the Integrated
Electronic Arts program at Rensselaer University; the "Architecture in
Mind: Trans-Thinking the City" conference at Delft School of Design in NL;
the "Cosmobilities" conference at Academy of Fine Arts Munich; and the
Cultural Studies Colloquium Series at UC Davis. It is one form of my
current work on assemblages -- developing assemblage theory an implicated,
embodied way through the use of allegory and anecdote. By way of an
abstract, here is how Michael Century, introducing the lecture at
Rensselaer, described it: "a series of stories describing situations of
everyday event-fulness. The stories? awaken a sense of anticipatory
readiness, the capacity for bodily arousal and immersion in the emergent
present. In a performative mode, the presentation takes us from a brawl on
a street corner to the corridors of a sex club ? probing into the nature of
the eruptive event, its flows and intensities of engagement and attunement.
Informed by (but not couched in the theoretical jargon of) the ethnography
of affect, and philosophies of the event and the assemblage, Crandall draws
out the dynamics of 'presencing' and the workings of desire, within the
intensive ecologies that we now inhabit."


SOMETHING IS HAPPENING just around the corner. In the expanse of an
ordinary summer afternoon, people have stopped on the sidewalk to stare.
Heads are turning, necks are craning. The air is annotated with the
pointing of fingers: Look over there! Without knowing why, I submit to
the happening-thing: I move toward the center of action, as if being
caught up in an energy vortex. I want to apprehend what is happening by
attuning to it, absorbing myself in its galvanizing force.

Even when feeling sluggish on a hot August day like this, there is no
denying the erotic pull of this absorption: at the onset of the
happening-something, one's body instantly revs up. It kicks into gear.
The listless gaze becomes focused, the pulse quickens, and the sensorium is
ignited. The heart and breath adjust to the accelerated rhythms of the
external. The atmosphere always plays a role -- and so the humid, sizzling
air of this particular summer afternoon continues to lend a sticky, sultry
feeling. We are aroused yet slightly irritated -- infused with a bristly
sensuality. Passions flare up, veering between amity and antagonism.
Anything can happen.

I move toward the happening-something. I join the assembling crowd,
glistening with sweat and expectation, synchronized with its pace and beat.
Shouting is audible, but not much is visible. I feel sparks in the air. I
sense something wild, unleashed -- an eruption of hostile and joyous
energies. Is it a scuffle? At the onset of this thought, I feel a rush of
excitement. What is it about the potential of a fight that always whets
one's appetite? Or even better -- a BRAWL? But perhaps it is nothing
much, and I am merely succumbing to anticipation -- that wild force, source
of anxiety and thrill, that stretches forward the space of the moment,
infusing it with the promise of untold adventure. Concepts can rush in to
this space, but they can just as well be emptied from it: one can read
into it, courting words, or one can ready through it, cultivating

Perhaps I am succumbing to anticipation in order to conjure its devilish
accomplice: temptation. How delicious are its torments! It is a
compelling anguish, this anguish of temptation: that generative mechanism
through which familiar routines are destabilized by the unfamiliar, and
enticements can overcome prohibitions, or at least jostle with them,
however briefly. One wants to know what is happening, but one also wants
to suspend the demands of knowledge and instead savor the unknown -- or at
least, a kind of knowingness that can incorporate the irrational. I may
want to visually possess this unknown something, filling a lack, but I
could just as well want to be absorbed into it, channeling abundance.
Something extraordinary is brewing, something that is poised to spill over,
exceed the bounds, and perhaps catch me in its wake -- an invigorating
gathering-something through which I anticipate a release, a discharge,
dangerous and soothing.

I cannot discern anything. A spectator points in the direction of the
happening-something, but I cannot see what he is pointing at. The event
does not resolve to this or that. I can only sense a blur -- a little
maelstrom, a little cluster of chaos. A slight rhythmic divergence. A
moving arm -- was that a punch? (Another jolt of excitement!) How
interesting to compare the gestures: on the one hand, there is the closed
fist of the fighter; on the other hand, there is the pointing finger of the
spectator. A fast-forward thrust; a hesitant gesture. A direct contact
with a body (THUMP!); a directional indicator of its placement (THAT!). If
the open hand, in gesturing, deals with meaning -- a vocabulary of
direction and velocity -- then the closed one, in punching, cuts through
it, eradicating distance and time. They often work in conjunction, in law
as in crime.

Extend the middle finger rather than the forefinger and turn the forearm
upward. The harmless gesture of pointing becomes an extremely hostile one,
whose power is derived from its implied contact. The words F---- YOU can
accompany it, adding force. But speech is not necessary -- the gesture is
enough. As recipient, you feel a wave of anger, as if the finger had
indeed touched you, made its intended contact with the vulnerable flesh of
the ass.

Of course the inciter does not intend to actually follow through with this
implied contact. It would disgust him. There is a certain hesitancy; the
finger only goes so far. Yet sometimes a contact is precisely what is
solicited: the gesture is intentionally geared to incite you to fight.
The proffered finger taunts you. No longer hesitant, it extends an appeal.
It quivers with a need for contact and expenditure. By way of the gesture,
his gang hails your gang. His assembly opens itself out to yours, daring
you, teasing you. Come, let's resolve this! Hostile energies swell up,
demanding release. If you take up the invitation, things will get messy.
Something will have changed; the gang-formations may never be the same.

The happening-something congeals at the fulcrum of our attention. However
it is not a bounded entity over there for it includes the assembled crowd
here. Or rather, the crowd includes it: there is a symbiotic relation,
one bound up within the other. The happening-event is a dynamic formation
that can span formal distinctions like inside and outside, actor and
audience. There is indeed a focus (the fight?), yet the energies of the
event reverberate outwardly in all directions. Undulating, it traverses
the arena of action, loosening social ties and unraveling protocols.

One finds oneself suddenly communing with strangers, brushing shoulders
with them, sharing a bond with them. Absorbed in the gathering, I feel the
sweat of the man next to me, his heartbeat, his anxious pleasure. I feel
someone's hot breath against my skin. A vibration passes through me, which
could become a murmur. We, the gathering crowd, stand close to one
another, closer than we would otherwise be. Something comes alive. A
charge passes through us -- a current that can suspend the dictates of
language and social convention. When we disband, it fades: witness the
aftermath, the uncomfortable exchanges, the half-nods, the cursory
goodbyes, as if we don?t quite know what to do with this strange new
intimacy that has unexpectedly opened up. Social protocols, momentary
suspended at the onset of the event, now seep back in, traversing the arena
like fault lines. We go our separate ways.

After the initial rush, the ripples of attraction and avoidance ebb and
flow, rise and fall. Social codes can be suspended, but they quickly seep
back in, coming and going in waves. There are rumblings, disconnects,
subtle breakages. Destabilizations, then convergences. A woman moves up
behind someone in order to see the happening-event, but then, sensing that
she is too close, she steps back a notch. The man she has bumped turns to
look at her, admiringly; she half-smiles at him awkwardly and then turns
away. Did she find the man repulsive? Or was she simply embarrassed at
the force of her drive toward the happening-thing -- the hunger of her
desire for absorption? How telling are these suspensions and retreats!
One always recoils from a sudden, unanticipated closeness -- "gathering
oneself," adjusting the hair, smoothing the dress. A collapse
spontaneously happens within the space of the everyday, as if the ground
suddenly dropped out beneath us, only to be quickly patched over with a
prohibition -- a culturally imposed restriction. (One shouldn't do such
things! -- what will people think?)

Because of the imposed restriction, the experience can linger in the body's
memory as a strange fascination. A sensation of contact, a smell, a
contour, a rhythm, a texture: qualities that can stabilize as a recurring
fantasy-element, or a sensorial motif. Qualities that can adhere in a
specific form, fade away, or get absorbed into other composites. The
imposition of restriction is the motor of eroticism's enticing anguish --
the motor of temptation's torturous pleasures. It is the alluring tension
of the restraining strap, the ritual, the risque.

Immersed within the happening-event, one does not talk much, as if words
cannot begin to capture the enormity of what is happening, or what might be
happening. Unless it is carefully modulated, speech cannot do it justice
to the eruptive event. It can cheapen it, destabilize the solmenness of
its captivating unity. It can spoil the mood -- as during a funeral or a
sexual encounter, where one relies not on words so much as the
intangibilities of atmosphere, movement, and touch. The sigh, the moan,
the gasp: modulations that flirt with speech but stop just short of it.
Mumblings, murmurs, hushed tones: modulations that spill into speech,
match the situation's rhythms and tones, amplify or diminish them,
reverberate in accordance with them. Conversation is minimized; if there
are words, they don't diagram so much as punctuate, adjust flows.
Expressions and gestures come alive.

Because of this suspension of mediation, the event exerts an absorptive
power. One reaches out through non-linguistic forms of body contact and
exchange, as if opening the body, extending it. One frowns, peers,
expresses concern, worry, or frustration, covers the widening mouth, clasps
the hands. Adrenaline flows, the body heats up, lubricates itself, swells.
What is this but a carnal dimension of anticipation -- an anticipation of
some form of contact between one's body and something else, and
correspondingly, the body's physiological READINESS for such a potential
encounter? Through readiness, the body opens out in expectation, but at the
same time, through readiness, one creates a space or place for oneself -- a
stabilized "I." Bound up with this is the modulation of flow and speeds --
a form of rhythmic adjustment, quickening or slowing the body in relation
to someone else or thing.

There is a mimetic component to this. Sometimes one simply imitates the
gestures of another. Someone points, gasps, murmurs, and I do the same --
as if to say, I understand you, I am with you. I synchronize rhythms in
the service of a social standard, covering ambiguous states of affective
stimulation with culturally acceptable fronts. I filter my jouissance, my
unadulterated, a-categorical arousal. These gestures are not about
meanings so much as modulations -- valves that can channel readiness,
calibrate its flows. As with the suppression of the laugh: worried that I
might exceed the acceptable, I cover my mouth, adjusting the intensity of
the guffaw.

Gesture: a directional indicator (sign), or a modulator of flow (valve). A
gesture, whether unconscious or intentional, that is bound up in whirlwinds
of language and affect, desire and convention, or signification, rhythm,
and intensity. A sign-valve of anticipation or avoidance -- between
opening up to potential contact or limiting the connective glow, lest it be
too much, too soon: overflow. A directional indicator; a modulating
interface. Moving forward in anticipation; retreating in aversion. A
concept summoned or evacuated; an intensity amplified or diminished.

The contacts that we anticipate are like those that we have made before.
We know the score. The body remembers, responds accordingly. Even while
learned and mimetic, this is not just about language. It is about an
affective reproducibility: a sensory experience that hardens into a
template. An affective template, or a formula -- coalescing somewhere
between the imposed and the emergent.

Resonance, coding, and formulation: the bonding and stabilizing axes of
the happening-something. Affectivity, language, and reproducibility.
Energies, signs, and standards.

The happening-event, pulsating with attractive energies, draws me in,
harnesses my attention, my desire. I move toward it, submit to it. It is
like being drawn to an alluring person, and feeling the stirrings of
arousal as they well up in the body. And yet here, within the dynamical
pulls and eddies of the happening-event, it is not really a person that one
desires. It is a combination of things: people, parts, event-components,
and atmospheric elements. Actors, whether organic or inorganic. What
excites us is a mood, a quality of movement, a way of being. When you
desire a person, you focus on specifics -- the lips, the breast, the
quality of the skin -- however it is the entirety of the situation that
matters. A sensory composite, intangible and grand like the weather.

When was the last time we fully grasped that enormity? As a creature of
discernment, one frequently misses the forest for the trees. As a young
child, much to my parent's horror, I would escape the confines of the house
during a summer thunderstorm, running out to the most exposed place I could
find -- an open field, a street, a roof. Once in place, I would remove my
clothes and stand with my arms spread wide, as if inviting the storm
inward, allowing it to swallow me, pass through me, while at the same time
extending myself outward, as if to become its voluminous and fiery
presence. The glistening rain mixed with sweat conducted a liquidation of
the body and generated a lubrication: everything interpenetrable, wet and
sliding. There was no sense of danger (being struck by lightning). There
was only the flirtation with it: the activation of a deep level of
readiness, where desire and fear commingle and sensory activation, intimate
and majestic, is all that matters.


Perhaps is a submissive experience of a certain scale, intensity, and
rhythm that I seek, in order to lose myself and find myself again,
elsewhere -- the anticipated fight (or brawl!) providing one interface, one
modulation of the maelstrom. So it is at this moment, as I stand, in
varying degrees, both within this space of this essay and the space of the
street, on this humid August day, restless and sticky amongst the assembled
-- the glistening, undulating mass, quivering with sweat and expectation,
which yearns to experience the happening-something. Feeling its power
course through us, we submit to the happening-thing, and it submits to us.
The desire, like wind, sweeps us up.

There is a longing for immersion -- for the sense of being "inside" this
combinatory thing. I want to belong to the crowd, inhabit the mood --
caught up within the collective rhythms, inhabiting waves of coordination
and divergence. As on a dance floor, when the rhythm subsumes me, my hips
swaying, arms lashing, hands wild with gestural flux: combinatory moves
that at times resemble the pointed finger of the spectator and the closed
fist of the fighter (the indication and the punch; the hesitant gesture and
the fast forward thrust; the interval and its evacuation), but which
subsume both within larger, rhythmic whirls of signification and intensity.
Hair and breasts abounce, one joins the pulsating, writhing mass,
synchronous and dissonant, at times riding the beat, at times turning it,
breaking it.

There is a longing for attunement -- for the sense of being synchronized
with the happening-thing, caught up in its undulations. A common
attachment, a belonging, a seamlessness that can toy with the boundaries of
the body. This belonging can be understood in terms of subjectivity and
identity. However the happening-event can also be understood as an
eruptive, excess energy that one wants to absorb and/or release. It is the
concentrated eruption of energies, whether understood as hostile or joyous.
An extraordinary something brewing. I sense that it might spill over,
exceed the bounds of the norm -- and this possibility fills me with
excitement. I feel a delicious anticipation of an overflow, a discharge.
And I modulate myself in relation to it: I modulate how much of it I want
to absorb, how much of it I want to channel and release. My subjectivity
is constituted in this modulation -- between receiving, relaying,

Absorption and integration. Absorption and release. At times there can be
a loss of self, dissolved within the shifting material and sensory
composite. In these moments, when I am "inside" it, I can say that the
happening-something appears to be unified, inclusive -- stabilized. Yet
the loss of self is temporary. What follows the absorption is integration.
I incorporate something of the happening-something, in order to retool or
enrich my self -- followed by a separation that is necessary in order to
shore up my individual boundaries. On the one hand there is a soothing: I
am OK, I belong, I am "like that." On the other hand there is a productive
friction: I am "not like that." Through this pushing and pulling, banding
and disbanding, a sense of self -- an identity -- stabilizes. This is a
sense of identity that plays out in terms of signs, but it also plays out
in terms of the modulation of energy: the calibrated interfacing of flow.

This stabilizing and destabilizing dynamic is the very essence of
eroticism: the desire for a disassembling, a mingling, a flirtation with
continuity, as it is always bound up in a dance with its opposite. I want
to be intimate, so close that I can touch the happening-something, feel its
pulse and sweat. Hold it, stroke it, lick it. But not too close. I
unloosen, but not so much as to lose.

I might open one button, but not two.

When we desire someone, what is it, exactly, that we want? To possess
them, consume them, belong to them, to be like them, or to be like the way
they are? One says things like: "I'm so into you." "I could just eat you
up." "He's mine." I see someone alluring, and I am fascinated by how that
person moves -- how they are in the world. Perhaps I just want to absorb
something of them. Not to absorb him, but a way about him. Not to possess
her, but to attune to her atmosphere -- and through that, to the other
atmospheres of which she is a part. What I find desirable in others could
well be their own embeddedness in social atmospheres that I want to be in.
Or, the simple fact that they are in them at all -- that is, that others
desire them. What is desire then but the drive to be incorporated into a
happening-something -- an eruptive collection of actors, parts, and
atmospheric elements? To absorb an atmosphere, and get absorbed, in such a
way as to activate the senses and reaffirm the (neglected) body. To get
absorbed, in order to prompt an affirming rearrangement, setting forth
integration and expenditure. To destabilize, if only to consolidate.

In spatial terms, this is the labyrinthine dance of seduction: a dance of
revealing and concealing, advancing and retreating, stabilization and
destabilization. A swirling, recurrent choreography that plays out like a
striptease. Desire is fueled by the reassurance of ritual and the promise
of untold adventure -- recurrence and potentiality. It needs its routines,
but without the cultivation of the unknown, it evaporates. It is the very
dynamic of the dramatic form itself, where the protagonist must be
challenged, must overcome an obstacle that poses a threat to the self -- a
process that subsequently changes her. Desire is fuelled by duration,
characterized by an element of friction: anticipation's expanse. A
prolonged venture into the twisting corridors of the unknown. I want to
know, but not too soon. I want to wait for my object of desire, work for
it a little bit. But not too much. Temptation has everything to do with
time: too little, and it cannot take root; too much, and it turns into

A man frequents a sex club in New York City. It is dark and mysterious,
with twisting corridors, alcoves, and chambers. For some it is a menacing
construct, no less for its smells -- sweat, semen, poppers -- than its
sense of lawlessness, its potent mixture of desire and threat. Yet one
always seeks a generative danger, and who knows where and how it will
materialize. A low-level porn soundtrack plays continuously, punctuated by
heavy breathing and groans of pleasure. In the twisting and turnings, in
the forward movements and the retreats, the man loses himself.

If not the place, one knows the dynamic: the ambiguous glances signaling
both availability and withdraw; the dark folds of clothing that both expose
the body and cloak it; the combinatory stance, hips forward but head turned
away. The qualified sense of arousal: does she want me or not; in what
way; to what degree? The foundational desire to know: what does he want
of me? What is it about me that is appealing or repulsive? In response, I
check myself. Mirror, gauge, valve. Reflect, calibrate, modulate. Comb
the hair, straighten the clothes, smooth the self. In response to an
imagined query, which envelops me like moisture in the air, I define my

For hours on end, one wanders the metaphorical corridors, blurring one's
sense of time and place, yet doing so through a reinforcement of the
physical -- the igniting of the body's libidinous energies. Fired up and
ready for action, I blur the body, mingle with something else, only to
affirm it by accelerating and maintaining a state of arousal. I am not
here, yet I am relentlessly, passionately here. I know myself by way of my
desire, the way my body swells and lubricates in the anticipation of
contact. Through readiness, I open myself to contact, yet I solidify
myself, center myself. Quickened pulse, flash of heat, warm shiver: this
is how I know that I occupy this band, this spot. Something may happen;
maybe I will get laid, but more than likely, not.

One rarely admits to engaging in such prolonged states of arousal. Partly,
one does this to save oneself embarrassment -- how shameful, wasting all
that time in the pursuit of pleasure, reducing yourself to the state of an
animal, giving yourself over to an unseemly desperation! Or, worse,
demonstrating a particular pathological condition! But partly, you don't
even know yourself why you did it. Words fail. The desire to be aroused
and attuned to the happening-something takes place as a vaguely felt
expectation that does not necessarily resolve to a conscious thought.

Further, if one does manage to summon an explanation, it will derive from a
basis of spectatorship, not exhibition. Called to give an account of
oneself, one reaches for a convenient vocabulary, and spectatorship always
wins out: the voyeuristic condition of the observer is nearly always
emphasized over that of the displayer. Yet the sense of wanting to be "in"
the happening-something -- to touch it, taste it, surrender to it, absorb
its force -- cannot be dealt with in terms of visual mastery. It is not
about possessing something from a distance, but about the evacuation of
this distance: an extreme intimacy, a mingling. It is not about relation
so much as synchronization. One does not look from afar, fortifying the
self, but rather enters into the fray, exposing the self.

This is not to say that spectatorship disappears entirely; rather, it gets
resituated, diffused within the absorptive arena, where it unfolds within a
condition of exposure. Could one suggest that the drive to be "in"
something is more constitutive than the drive for separation? Sameness
more than difference? Immersive exposure more than voyeuristic detachment?

If we answer the question with words, then we will have responded firmly in
the negative. Let us forestall a response and stretch forward the space of
this moment, cultivating a bit of instability -- a little chaotic ball, a
little fight or brawl! Concepts can rush in to this space, but we can also
hold them at bay. We can cultivate intensities; we can show more than say!
Let us undress, slowly, undoing the customary dualities we make of the
world: between observer and participant; inside and outside; clothed and
unclothed. Or even between the button and its undoing. We can conjure up
a little happening-something right here -- an assembling of various actors
whether human, technological, or environmental. A happening-something
that, as always, constitutes both the event and the arousal.

Turn the lights down low. Tune into the vibrations. Allow the mood to
coalesce. Offer permissive expressions. Anticipate contacts.



In the aftermath of such an encounter, a wave of stabilization always
comes. One rights oneself, lights up a cigarette. One may not talk much
during the unfolding of the happening-something -- but afterwards, words
certainly rush in to fill the void. One chats. Cleans up. Restores
order. The lights come on, the clothes come on, and the hair is
straightened. As with the aftermath of the fight or brawl: one tends to
one's wounds, smudges, and torn clothing.

Indeed, temptation is all about timing -- and now it is time for the
payoff. Standing here on the hot pavement, in the midst of the gathering
onlookers, caught up in the dynamics of the volatile happening-something,
my patience is wearing thin. The anticipation is bordering on frustration.
Curiosity vies with a sticky irritability. Is it indeed a fight that is
happening, or is it something else? What has drawn us here and assembled
us in a holding pattern?

I continue to scan the component objects of our absorptive desire. There
is a man who looks angry, disheveled, unruly -- perhaps he is the
instigator! There is another who stands on the street -- is that his
antagonist? However nothing else affirms this. A woman walks down the
street with a shopping bag. A pigeon swoops down to devour a breadcrumb.
A bicycle is chained to a post. A red traffic light pulses. A cluster of
balloons sways in the wind. A wayward child bounces. A truck honks. A
car idles. A dog is wagging its tail. A cluster of magazines is scattered
on the sidewalk. There is the smell of hamburgers and exhaust fumes. A
fluttering leaflet. Did something coalesce into a something -- and I
missed it? Or is the "glue" due to some faint expectation that something
might coalesce? Either the ingredients, once operative, have since brewed
over and transformed into something else. Or the ingredients are still
brewing. Expectation is still in the air. But it might well turn to
disappointment, or something like that.

I spot a cafe across the street with only one person sitting there. A tiny
woman quietly sipping a cola. She is the only person who has not run
toward the happening-something. A holdout. She reminds me of someone: a
visitor from a small town in the American Midwest, who once came to visit a
friend of mine living in Hollywood. It was her first time in Los Angeles.
When she arrived, she could hardly contain herself. The dazzling Eden of
celebrity, at last! But what did she actually want to do once there? She
did not want to "see the sights." Instead, every day, for the entire day,
she simply installed herself at the same cafe. Once installed, she would
proceed to sit there -- watching, waiting. She did not want to "do"
anything in Hollywood; she simply wanted to be "in" it. Her desire was not
that of the mobile consumer, strolling through the glittering colonnades of
stardom. Her desire was not to move acquisitively through this world. It
was simply to sit in it.

She's a spectator, but her spectatorship is not primary. It is not about
difference, repression, or voyeuristic enclosure. Her spectatorship is
diffused within the absorptive arena. It unfolds within a condition of

The happening-something can take place as a brutal interruption of the
norm. One can encounter it unexpectedly, like an accident. Something's
happening over there! But it is also something that one can anticipate,
and patiently await. It is also something that could also take place over
a longer time frame, as a continuous band of low-level activity. Something
like a background hum. One can or position oneself so as to inhabit it
continuously, like listening to a jazz station or floating in a pool.

A dissolution or dispersal of the self is temporarily achieved, and one is
"at one" with something larger, in composite with it, however momentarily.
Like catching the wave, being in the zone or in the groove. Such a state
is not about surrender, but the cultivation and navigation of a productive
friction. One is in the flow, in such a way as to be able to negotiate
differentials, respond to discrete changes. Not so much a meditation as a
state of being skillful or tactful -- a submissive, unselfconscious grace.
Afterwards, one gathers oneself and stumbles on.

As you watch, others watch you. The perpetual cafe-sitter: she stares,
others stare at her. How odd, her blank, lingering stare, hours on end.
As we stand awaiting the happening-event, others wonder why. They point at
us and murmur, What are those people doing over there?

A man and woman walk by me, holding hands. A beautiful woman crosses their
path. The man wants to look at the alluring woman, but he does not want
his wife to know that he wants to look. So he sneaks a glance.
Momentarily, the beautiful woman catches his eye. His wife catches this
moment; angered, she shoots a hard glare at him. The man's gaze softens in
appeasement: his attempt at modulation. Someone else -- someone who knows
the couple -- witnesses the scene from afar. This witness will
subsequently convey to his circle of friends the following observation:
the marriage is in trouble. The marriage-assemblage volleys between
stability and instability, depending on the other social formations onto
which it opens and within which it is contextualized. Location, scale,
timing, intensity, degree of stability and materiality -- all have to be
taken into account, for there is no meaning that can fully capture this

Every one and every thing is an actor, or at least a potential one, in some
happening-thing. Something always has the potential of coalescing into a
something. If only one person is there, staring, we may not stop to look;
however if many others have gathered, looking in the same direction, then
we might stop. At that point, a critical threshold has been crossed: we
say, Oh, something is indeed happening over there. An event coheres,
accompanied by, and seen by way of, a collective atmosphere. The strength
of the happening-something could be understood in terms of the number,
quality, and function of the actors that it is able to corral into it --
and who desire to be corralled into it. It is not just about mass, but a
certain level of internal consistency that arises through the quality and
intensity of the gathered, at whatever scale.

If no one gawks, the event could simply run its course, unnoticed, and
therefore not become a happening at all. Without the mood, the event does
not exert a pull. But there is no mood without the event. The gathered
actors constitute the event, but they also serve to channel it -- acting as
its indicators, its conduits, its gateways, if only by stopping to look at
it, or point at it.

Someone stares, dumbfounded -- does the event produce the expression, or
the converse? The question is not that of linear causality (which came
first?). Nor is it a dialectical question concerning the relation of part
to whole, element to system. Rather, it is a question of critical mass:
when one cluster of elements stabilizes, crosses a material threshold such
that it becomes something else.

There are always a series of smaller happening-somethings within the larger
one -- mini-scenes, small groupings of people, some very small (a woman and
child, spanked) and some large (about ten people, a dog, and a ditch).
Technological actors allow the incorporation of other actors, in varying
degrees of material and expressive presence. A woman points, and several
others look in the direction of her finger. A picture is taken with a
cell-phone, shared with a friend, and then transmitted to another. Two
women kiss, to the dismay of a third. An ugly dog snaps at a stranger.
When someone asks, What is happening?, that person doesn't expect a name in
response so much as an indication of where the event is, its scale or
intensity, and the rhythm of its occurrence. Its degree of stability. The
question refers to the event that has galvanized the most people's
attention -- the one that is of a remarkable scale and resonance.

Even though all of the event-clusters, whether large or small, have
stabilized with some degree of coherency, they might just as well
destabilize, disband, their components re-assembling into new clusters,
larger or smaller, more intense or less intense. Someone steps on
someone's toe, apologizes, and is subsequently drawn into a new
conversational composite. A fight between two men erupts in a bar. Others
quickly jump in, joining the whirlwind of blurred bodies, fueled by the
swell of aggressive energies and emotions. An all-out BRAWL -- at last!
One gets sucked in or stands at the precipice, modulating energies,
weighing repercussions. Someone is hailed and cedes to the call; another
runs away. The bouncer attempts to restore order. A gasp; a shout; a
scream. Thwack! Thump! There! Punching, pointing. Bruises, cuts. A
lamp tumbles over; a glass object smashes. Groups may bond together -- the
kind of bonding that only an immediate threat can produce. But then the
swell of intensity subsides, and people extricate themselves. The warring
camps have dissembled, the clusters rearranged.

What is happening? Well, surely not that, because it's over. What's
happening always exists in the present, with a remarkable degree of
stability. An indicator -- a stare, a pointing finger, a scream -- might
tell us where it is, and give us a hint of the intensity of the occurrence.
There is the hesitant, polite gasp, with hand over mouth. There is the
higher degree of amazement, with the finger pointing. Then there is the
all-out screech, with eyes wide and arms aflail. We might align with the
event, share in it, and conduct it too. We might vibrate with it, but we
might just as well miss it: by the time we look, it might well have

There is the prank you pull on someone when you abruptly say, LOOK! and
point up to the sky. The forefinger again, but this time with arm raised
completely skyward in one intense vector, straining toward the heavens.
With this gesture and its verbal accompaniment, you can generate a
momentary destabilization, a temporary rift, during which you can rearrange
the elements of the familiar. You can slap a sticker that says KICK ME to
the back of your victim's shirt. Even though he has now stabilized,
gathered himself, he has in the process become something slightly
different: he now (inadvertently) anticipates a contact, generates a
back-door appeal, invites a bit of chaos.

Perhaps, through a bit of ventriloquism, this gives voice to a shared,
unspoken desire: the desire to be ravished by the irrational. The
delicious anticipation of something, anything, that could shake up our
world. It is a question of degree: the level of intensity and stability.
One does need to collect oneself and go on. One needs to go on routinely
anticipating the something-happening that can disrupt us from the routine!
The banding together of new composites. The generation of new incitements!

In the expanse of this essay, we have moved between radically different
hand gestures, all of them marking different kinds of actors and
capacities, and different combinations of signification, modulation,
rhythm, and intensity. We have moved between the F--- YOU and the KICK ME
as incitements to assembly. "Culture" are usually understood in terms of
the signifying modulations of the former. Power is thought to come from
there: a confrontative frontality. Yet we end with the unconscious
solicitations of the latter.


To call for a productive destabilization: the working of the ass-end of

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