David Bussel

Reality Workshop

At the present juncture, one could argue there are two dominant flows of consensus across the political spectrum regarding the status of contemporary reality: that everything has gone awry or that everything has changed irreversibly. First, if everything has gone awry, if commonly held notions of the way things are—accepted definitions of true and false, right and wrong, good and evil—have been deformed, shattered or exhausted, then what exactly supported ‘our’ understanding of consensus reality’s un-questionability or even its accessibility in the first place? In effect, what made reality real, collectively and universally intelligible, as if there were such a thing as a singular reality at all? Second, why have those things we take for granted radically changed? Has there been a historic revolution or epistemic turn—a breach in space and time that has forever supplanted what we thought was the real now turned unrecognisably unreal, never to be the same again? What has happened to so-called normalcy?

Here a distinction can be made between reality and the real wherein these terms are often understood as equivalent. The real can be characterised as something locatable psychically, or materially in history (class struggle), but is nonetheless stubbornly intractable and inaccessible, a register that balances our sense of self and all our social and cultural moorings like beliefs and values. As Hal Foster suggests “the question of the real is not a matter of its presence but of its position—where it is located, how, by whom, and for what reasons.”1 One could claim then that a third term, realism, must attend these other two. Realism is the adjustable lens through which reality is captured and diagnosed. It is employed to highlight one view whilst dissembling others, advantageous to one group over or against others which in turn frames a reality as a set of relations: of things ‘as they really are’ (or aren’t). This view posits a void, an empty centre that can be filled and contoured accordingly by those in or seeking power through the repetition of techniques of legitimation, or more crudely ‘normalisation,’ through competitive narratives. Legitimation suggests a balanced process of action as opposed to normalisation, which derives from “a prevailing sentiment or structure of feeling,”2 a kind of regime of affects–hopes, fears and desires.

Looking at the emergence of social media-driven so-called alternative realities, Rob Horning has written how their virally distributive logics have gone ‘mainstream.’ He argues how “these realities can now perform the dual function of (a) explaining the world to individuals in ways that allow the individual to keep living, positing a future they see as worth living for, and (b) confirming that reality with the testimony of peers, establishing a collective that one wants to belong to and fears being excluded from. [They] repeatedly demonstrate their fealty to this reality by asserting it in the face of the alternatives and by raising the costs for those who might be tempted to defect.”3 Horning asserts that it is less the content or provability of conspiracies or ‘alternative facts’ that matters than the collective emotional bonds that they create amongst believers, a mobile and algorithmic consensus, and one amongst many others with their attendant possible futures. I would argue that this ecology is structurally akin to something like cybernetics where adaptive organisms feedback on themselves in a self-regulating system of control. But what are the psychic social mechanisms that support this configuration?

Affect and emotion are two other terms often mistaken as synonymous. Affects can be understood as passions or intensities that “constitute the very ground of individuation and what could be called ‘collectivization,’ the constitution of both individual subjectivities and collective relations.”4 They are the loves and hates, fears and hopes we share and feel together, how we identify and how we belong. In contrast, emotions, according to Brian Massumi, have “a subjective content, the socio-linguistic fixing of the quality of an experience which is from that point onward defined as personal. Emotion is qualified intensity, the conventional, consensual point of insertion of intensity into semantically and semiotically formed progressions, into narrativizable action-reaction circuits, into function and meaning. It is intensity owned and recognized.”5 It is the former term, the affective register, which links all of the above: the relation that presents contemporary reality and truth as hacked or as unrecognisable through a collectivising and individualising gaze. It is also the register where contemporary politics is played out.

The logic of affective power means that affects can only be reversed by other affects and not only putative empirical facts and universal truths. As Jason Read suggests: “Fears and hopes, sadness and joy, are not countered by a dispassionate consideration of the facts, but are dispelled only by other intense affects. Only an affect can determine an affect, an imagination an imagination.”6 The dualisms of love and hate, fear and hope, sadness and joy polarise discourse between what is desired by necessity and what is desired voluntarily or willfully, with the latter the more favourable and commanding of the two. Through a kind of passionate mimesis, subjects form deep investments of relation, and specifically division (e.g., ‘negative solidarity’), whether it is with authority (the state, the law) or against authority (left or right extremism), forging ever-new lines of identification and belonging. These divides have recently been reversed such that the need to work, for example, the need to reproduce oneself through the wage relation, has been inverted ideologically as the desire to work: the self-optimising entrepreneur of the self as the “willing slave of capital,”7 a hegemonic operation engineered through competition, consent (common sense) and (soft) coercion. These affective détournements also of course produce lines of dis-identification and un-belonging potentially unleashing counter-forces powerful and pervasive enough to undermine the truly repressive and immiserating structures of prevailing consensus reality produced by and for capital and the state.


1 Hal Foster, “Real Fictions,” Artforum, vol. 55, no. 8, April 2017, p. 169

2 Jason Read, “Affective Normalization: Between Lordon and Trump,” http://www.unemployednegativity.com/2017/01/affective-normalization-between-lordon.html

3 Rob Horning, “Viral Oppression,” https://thenewinquiry.com/blog/viral-oppression/

4 Jason Read, Affective Reproduction: Thinking Transindividuality in an Age of Individualism,” http://www.unemployednegativity.com/2015/10/affective-reproduction-thinking.html#more

5 Brian Massumi, Parables of the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Duke University Press: Durham & London: 2002, p. 28

6 Jason Read, “The Limited Efficacy of Facts insofar as They are Facts: A Spinozist reflection on Fake News,” http://www.unemployednegativity.com/2017/01/the-limited-efficacy-of-facts-insofar.html

7 Read, “Affective Normalization,” op cit.

Starship 16: Cover Klara Liden
  1. Cover print Klara Liden
  2. Editorial 16 Starship, Henrik Olesen, Nikola Dietrich, Martin Ebner, Gerry Bibby, Ariane Müller
  3. In this issue Starship
  4. Interview with Leo Bersani, Berkeley, Oct. 1995 Katja Diefenbach, Leo Bersani
  5. Untitled (Flat finish) Michael Krebber
  6. Man sagte mir, dass das Leben schmerzhaft sei ... Cornelia Herfurtner, David Iselin-Ricketts, John Allan MacLean
  7. Karl Holmqvist Starship 16 Karl Holmqvist
  8. Auf der Flucht vor der neuen Dringlichkeit Hans-Christian Dany
  9. Nilpferdkönig Tenzing Barshee
  10. Animal Farm Karl Holmqvist
  11. I started this column a million times Eric D. Clark
  12. Score for Possible Performance (Alonesome and Twosome for Two or Four Players) Michèle Graf, Selina Grüter
  13. Those ornamentals and these accidentals never they will meet Francesca Drechsler
  14. Access cont'd John Beeson
  15. Cut you down to size Robert Meijer
  16. Things Mercedes Bunz
  17. Die Welt geht unter Amelie von Wulffen
  18. Way Beyond The Pale— (An) Itinerant(’s) Meanderings Scott Cameron Weaver
  19. Mongiardino Christopher Müller
  20. Why the military should be the first client of art Robert McKenzie, Peter Fend
  21. Giraffe Birth Leidy Churchman
  22. Photos: Heinz Peter Knes – Words: Sokol Ferizi Heinz Peter Knes, Sokol Ferizi
  23. Nach dem Referendum / Over Time Pt. 2 Florian Zeyfang
  24. La femme nouvelle Nadira Husain
  25. Being invisible is the new cool? Stephanie Fezer, Vera Tollmann
  26. Octavia E. Butler Octavia E. Butler
  27. A.E.R.I.P. Mark von Schlegell
  28. BOandI Monika Kalinauskaitė
  29. Bonnie Camplin Bonnie Camplin
  30. No Gerry Bibby
  31. U.I. Matthew Billings
  32. G. Luke Williams, Natasha Soobramanien
  33. Refound Poetry Evelyn Taocheng Wang
  34. Ein Auswandererroman Ariane Müller
  35. Comedy of Reading Katrin Trüstedt
  36. Mr. Palomar's Vacation Jakob Kolding, Søren Andreasen
  37. The Scrapbooks of Teruo Nishiyama Jay Chung, Q Takeki Maeda
  38. Reality Workshop David Bussel
  39. Queer Crit Potluck Kaucyila Brooke, Louis Coy, Boz David, Jennifer Green, Blake Jacobsen, Tyler Lumm, Giselle Morgan, Ace Shi, Vickie Aravindhan, AJ Strout, Josh Winklholfer
  40. – Xorri, didn’t get the memo # Hey Majorca! Julian Göthe
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