autonomy

 

A constructed state of autonomy


 

ln an age where the mobility and versatility of the labor force has conquered the entirety of our lives, where the unknown, the 'outside', no longer exists, it is worth questioning whether there is any possibility for an individual or collective exodus; whether an 'outside' can be imposed on the 'inside'. How can someone claim a state of autonomy, when most of our life is under a condition of heteronomy? In an essay written in 1565 called 'strategy of refusal' Mario Tronti is protesting against the capitalist system, using refusal-to-work as a weapon. Today such an act has become much more difficult, as in order to protest against something, one has to be able to see it, understand it, and at the same time understand his own individual value and collective power against the power of the ruling system. The organization of the present system has become much more complex; a game of life where life is becoming an invisible and indivisible commodity perceived as reality. Capitalism has blurred the boundaries between labor and free time, This 'reality' is continuously innovated, adding new rules which one has to learn and follow, if he wants to become a link of the evolution of the system. 

As a result, we cannot establish an understanding or distinction between a stable 'inside' and an unknown, uncertain 'outside'. 

 

The permanent mutability of the 'way of life' and the training needed to confront it, leads us to a direct and continuous relation with the world as such, with the imprecise context of our existences. In order to escape from this reality, one has to decode its rules and alter them. So, where is it that one can find unconditional refuge? Kant answers: in the moral 'I' since it is Precisely there that one finds something of the realm above the mundane. 

In a way, for someone to establish a behavior 'away from' the system, he first has to detach himself from it -maybe not fully, but at a certain extent- to isolate. This attitude will give him the necessary time and space to think. ln one of the writings of Aristotle, the 'Protrepticus', the life of the thinker is compared to the life of the stranger. 'Thinkers must live estranged from the community, must distance themselves from the buzzing activity of the multitude, must mute the sounds of the acorn's'. This severance does not mean refusal to social or political life, but deliberate detachment for a period of time, to evaluate his way of being, This isolation is necessary to place someone in a position not only of social criticism, but mainly of individual awareness.

After the separation from the public (individualization of the life of the mind), one has to seek for a process which first of all will give him pleasure and reason to pursue; an activity which finds its own fulfillment, its own purpose. Formulating new rules of an alternative way of behaving is the key to exit to something truly private, This particular way of behaving, forms an individual way of verbal and behavioural communication, one's own language. The 'making' of such a language requires the formation, a closed system, a body of doctrines within which the elements develop logically. This closed system has its own reality; the interaction between the subjects and the rules of the reality constitutes the basic principle on which a new language is structured.

 

 

At this point I would like to focus on specific examples of invented languages as the path for an exodus. The authors of these languages are not simply authors of systems, but formulators.These new languages are created, in order to form new relationships or to reform relationships; they can be provoking, necessary to stimulate happiness, pain, or a divine interlocution.

 

Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, born in the 17th century, was a French aristocrat and writer of philosophy, often becoming violent pornography, His philosophy was of extreme freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion or law, with the pursuit of personal pleasure being the highest principle; he is the inventor of a language of erotic pleasure. The 'Sadian' setting is unique in its isolation; a place where people immerse to shut themselves away, Usually a chateau hermetically shut, detached from the world by a series of obstacles. The emphasized enclosure is, according to Sade, necessary in order to shelter the group involved away from the world's punitive attempts, where they can enjoy the quality of their existence, the sensual pleasure of being, In the Sadian world everything is exposed; what happens there, has no reason to be hidden.

But this isolation has another impotent function; the group and the setting form a basis of a social autarchy. Members of the group (libertines, assistants, and their subjects) once shut in, constitute a total society with its own economy, morality, language, space and time are articulated into schedules, labors and celebrations. So, the enclosure permits this imaginary system to exist. It is clear that Sade, attempts to create a complete organized space within this framework, where beings are identified by their functions, and behaviors are regulated according to a detailed scenario. An attempt to schedule an everyday utopia with timetables, dietary programs, clothing, etc, based on the pleasure principle.

Within the total Sadian society there is a clear distinction between the two main groups; the libertines (masters) and the victims. But these groupings are not definite, because the pleasure principle is totally personal; the erotic order is self-established, the master can become a victim and vice versa. AII 'labels' and functions can be interchanged apart from speech. Speech is the only trait the masters possess and never share. The master is He who speaks, who disposes of the entirety of language; the object (victim) is he who is silent, who has no access to discourse. In this way the interchangeability of the roles' that happens along the erotic act is determined by the masters. They have the right to imagine and materialize their imagination. So a fundamental key to the Sadian language is the understanding that the agent is not he who has the power of pleasure, but he who controls the direction of the scene, or the direction of meaning.

Having this a guiding rule, Sade carefully determines the units of the erotic code (posture, operation, figure, episode and scene). All these units are subject to rules of combination. In a way, they determine the grammar of socio-politics within the Sadian city. In each of the units, the members of the group are called to behave in a specific way and interact. Their way of behaving, their common language, create a world of its own rules and rhythms; of its own 'reality'.

 

A new language can also be invented and used as the path for someone to follow in order to achieve transmission of mental experience. Ignatius Loyola lived in the 15th century and was the principal founder and first Superior General of the Society of Jesus. He formed a set of meditations, prayers ant mental Exercises, which were designed to be carried out over a period of 28-30 days as a tool to strengthen a person's experience of faith. Loyola's text is purified of any contact with the seductions or illusions of form; the spiritual Exercises are based on writing and are prescriptions of a new language. The text of the Exercises is a structure of meanings; a system of relationships. It involves Ignatius himself, the director of the retreat (where one isolates himself to follow the divine path), the exorbitant, and the Divinity. It is a structure of interlocution where each of the four interlocutors is a sender and a receiver. Ignatius himself is the author of this divine language and at the same time the exorbitant (Roland Barthes, Sade, Fourier, Loyola, The johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, page 31)

The exorbitant in this structure is a subject speaking in ignorance of the end of the sentence upon which he has embarked; interlocution is not given to him. And this is in my opinion a fundamental principle of Loyola's language. He sets the general framework of the Exercises, but the most crucial part of it, the chosing of the spoken chain, is left to the exorbitant to conquer it. He is the one who must invent a language in which he must address the Divinity and prepare his possible response. The exorbitant, becomes in his turn a potential constructor of a language.

Loyola aimed to a totally new approach to the method of praying. For him it was a matter of technical elaboration, of an interlocution; a new language of interrogation between Divinity and exorbitant. His structured process of praying became much less mystical than rhetorical. The whole organization around his language is designed in order to find, assemble and construct arguments to reach the interlocutor and obtain his response. It is a system of question and response, supported by a whole set of rules that prepare for the moment of findings; the path or invention, the creation of a personal language by the subject in order to capture a sign by the Divinity.

The invention of a personal language by each of the interlocutors is the aim of the Exercises, and around this aim, an entire set of apparatus is established, with extreme attention to the detailing of regulating days, schedules, postures, diets, etc. Initially, the one who wishes to follow the Divine path has to retreat to an isolated place, solitary and operate according to the strict code, which organizes his entire time from waking to sleeping (organizing not only the meditation process, but also all ordinary occupations: dressing, eating, laying down, etcl. These prescriptions, which tightly organize the time of the exorbitant, are necessary to determine a field of exclusion. Exclusion from the 'reality' one is coming from, removal of any other language he used to use. The exercises have the function of creating to the exorbitant a kind of linguistic vacuum necessary for the elaboration and the triumph of the new language.

Another fundamental principle Of Loyola's text is that everything is divided, separated, or articulated in units. Some of them are temporal: weeks, days, moments, times; others are oratorical: exercises, contemplations, meditations, tests, prayers, etc', and others are metalinguistic: annotations, additions, manners, etc. In this way, the text occupies the entire mental territory of the exorbitant and utilizes to the extreme, one's capability to receive an image; this image is a unit of imitation, (the imitable material'. The way that this image is transported through the network of units is characterized by a divided continuity, assembled through repetition and narrative into a system of paradigmatic oppositions.

The idea of imitation is a particularly important element of the language during the cultivation process of the exorbitant; 'This very development in the retreat follows the story of Christ::' he is born with Him, travels with Him, eats with Him, undergoes the passion with Him'. The exorbitant is continuously required to imitate what he imagines.’

Another element of Loyola's grammar was the reordering of the hierarchy of the five senses. In the middle Ages, the most refined sense was hearing; sight came in third place after touch. Loyola placed the image (sight) as the leading unit in the language he constructed. Before him, the image was thought to represent something barbaric; for him it was the product of guided imagination and became abiding material of his Exercises. With the use of images mental experience becomes more rigorous and concentrated. In a way, through the Exercises, Loyola injects images into the dry and empty spirit of the exorbitant, to introduce him to a culture of fantasy.

The Exercises are concluded by the third text in which the exorbitant, in possession of the language of interrogation, attempts to obtain a sign from the Divinity. But the whole secret into the language is not to wait for the ‘moment of choice’, but to extract the meaning from the process itself. By the third text the exorbitant is required to possess a quality of balance and perceive the process he has been through as a process that raises questions and does not lead to an answer. The expected sign from the Divinity should be perceived as God's silence and treated with respect. Patience and repetition are the only tools of the exorbitant.

 

 

Another inventor of a new language was Francois Fourier who lived in the 10th century. He was a French utopian socialist and philosopher, who believed in a world of cooperation ant brilliance; sensual brilliance, the brilliance of food and love. In his reality, people are organized in communities called ''phalanxes''. In an ideal form, each of these communities should have 1620 people (amount based on the diversity of passions and characters).

The motive and organizing principle behind the Fourierist construction is a reality of pleasure; a behavior based on someone's passions or manias (feelings stand out as a response to a hypocritical society). The whole ethos behind his writing is the organization, distribution and sustainability of pleasure. Work or any unpleasant act, is converted into something attractive and unique.

In Fourier's harmonious world, wealth is magnified. In order to elevate his feelings and surrender to his passions, someone must first be fully satisfied in material things. Money in his world is not a mere representation of power, but relate to the senses. Money is metal. Fourier attempts to rethink the love for wealth; a love of money can be a passion, after a redefinition of the relationship between the subject and the object. In his act of opposition, Fourier is deciphering the rules of the existing reality to produce his ‘unreal’ one, or what he calls 'the marvelous reality’. An individual is at the same time behaving according to his passions but also respecting the individuality of the others. This, in no case means that Fourier's attempt, is to group people with the same passions or manias (with mania being the essential quality of every passion and the unit from which attraction is determined) together so that they can comfortably coexist. On the contrary, Harmony's goal is not about reducing individual differences, but emphasizing them without hindrance to anyone. Passions can be split in three main sections: passions of feeling (five senses), of honor, friendship, love and family and the three distributive passions. Where the first nine passions are derived from classical psychology, the final three are the Dissident: a passion for intrigue, the Composite: a passion for excess, and the Variating: a need for periodic variety. These, are a fourierist invention and together with art constitute the drupes of the game. These rules are precisely the ones society rejects, as they are thought to produce corrupted characters. Naturally there is a thirteenth passion called: 'Unity-ness', which is the individual's tendency to reconcile his happiness with that of everything around him and every human type.

Another fundamental invention within the Fourierist language is the so-called Nectarine. The Nectarine is the transitional space from one class to another. It forms a class, or a state of its own within the system (an exodus within), as it is not defined to a detail. It is the place in which everything that attempts to escape clarification is swallowed up. The transition is to be enjoyed by the one who does not belong to the average.

According to Fourier, the party is the 'highest form or exploration of pleasure' and the most important ceremony of social act. The topography of a phalanstery traces an original site, which is broadly that of palaces, monasteries, manors, building types in which architecture and urbanism reciprocally withdraw in favor of an over-all science of human space, the primary characteristic of which is no longer protection, but movement. The phalanstery is a retreat where someone hovel's.

The organizing structure is based on communication, movement is constant as being the tool for sustaining pleasure, and it is organized according to time units (regulating schedule, diet, even weather conditions are organized to the detail). The principal business of a harmonious day is love. By organizing the day in such a way, Fourier does not want to create a ''consumer society'' of love, but to make desire function in its contradiction; to 'fufill perpetually'.

 

 

From 1057 to 1S72, the artistic and political movement known as tithe 'Situationist international' developed an ideology against the one of the Western world. The group attempted to develop an alternative way in which people would perceive the city and their individual role in it. They turned against the created ‘spectacle', which were calling the collapse of reality into streams of images, products and activities, navigated by business and bureaucracy. They accused the system for reducing people's independence and creativity and claimed that the isolated inhabitants of the city see their lives reduced to the pure triviality of the repetitive combined with the obligatory absorption of an equally repetitive spectacle. The Situationists thought of architecture as the tool for articulating time and space, modulating reality and engendering dreams. They tried to think of a formula which would revolutionize everyday life and release the ordinary citizen into a world of experiment. They did not try to invent the principal elements of their language but to form a language which would be rooted on the existing reality, extracting the potential richness out of it. For them, the proposed tool used along this individual transformation was the 'drift'. The 'drift' was an act of wondering around the city without any destination, where one is conquered by a feeling of disorientation.

The 'act of drifting' would be considered by the temporal economy as a waste of time, as drifting does not include work or consumption; it is an act of social intercourse; a clear attempt to reform the term “time is money'' into ''time is play and experience'' and alert the people of their imprisonment by routine.

So, 'constructed situations' could be the organizing process reforming the city. Constructed situations could provide an ambiance of such power that would stimulate new types of behavior, a glimpse into an improved future social life based upon human encounter and play; they would treat all space as performance space ant all people as performers. The Situationist city would be planned on the principle of dignitary Arianism. A network of constructed situations between which the inhabitants would drift endlessly and dynamics would not be driven by capitalism and bureaucracy but by participation and interaction. The Situationists envisioned a city or urban setting, composed of fragments. A complex of quarters where each one will tend towards harmony. A unitary architecture embodying a passionate social harmony.

 

Constant, (member of the Situationists) attempted to form a utopian world called renew Babylon'' according to the formulas and principles of the group. The space-frame of the city would be of transitory, amorphous architecture where the inhabitants could enjoy a life and play, drifting within the different sectors. Life in the New Babylon would be an endless chain of encounters between mind, body, space, and architecture.

 

 

Another attempt to create a language of escape mainly based mainly on a behavioral difference was proposed by Danish director Lars von Trier in the film the Idiots'' (1998). He presents a group of adults who spent their time seeking for their 'inner idiot' in an attempt to release their inhibitions. All members conform to a set of rules, defined by them, each according to his individuality. Their behavior is a self-defeating attempt to challenge the establishment through provocation. The Idiots seek for a new way of self-expression which becomes a language they all share. Body movements, sounds, facial expressions and most important the dual characters they all develop (different behavior when they are by themselves and when they interact with the public) become the basic elements constituting the grammar of the ‘spassing' language. The members of the group live all together in a house detached from the rest of society. The house is like 'their island'. Within this territory one could say that they have collectively claimed a state of autonomy. As they were feeling repressed living in the given reality, by isolating and sharing their common belief into the ‘spassing' behavior they organized a whole system of relationships in order not only to coexist, but also to feel happier and free. The fact that the political organization of the group is totally different, even contradictory to the one followed by the general public, is evident whenever there is an encounter between them. The result is a clash; a defensive (or even offensive) attitude from both sides, a clear distinction of friends and enemies, of an 'inside' and an 'outside'.

As we can see, the aforementioned attempts to formulate a new language, independently of the different reality proposed, all follow a similar process of articulation (excluding the Situationists -but not Constant's New Babylon. who attempted to reform the existing actuality). Isolation to a retreat, decoding the rules in an attempt to alter them, division and detailed organization of classes, programs, schedules, diets, etc are some of the common elements we can identify in most of the cases. Language has thus been used in several cases throughout history as an exodus to an ‘ideal somewhere' away from the given reality. This attempt is not to be criticized on its merits as an alternative way of being, but accepted as a form of ‘escape', an escape from within. It does not clash with the ruins of the system per se, but challenges its organizational backbone.

 

The above essey was written under the supervision of my tutor at the AA, Pier Vittorio Aureli.

 

Bibliography sources

GRAMMAR OF THE MULTITUDE: Paolo Virno, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2004

Sade, Fourier, Loyola:  Roland Barthes, The Johns Hopkins University Press,  Baltimore andLondon, 1997

SITUATIONIST CITY: Simon Sadler, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1999 

The society of the spectacle:  Guy Debort, 1995

Films 

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom:  Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975

The Idiots: Lars Von Trier, 1998