We can and we may, as it were, jump with both feet off the ground into or towards a world of which we trust the other parts to meet our jump—and only so can the making of a perfected world of pluralistic pattern ever take place. Only through our precursive trust in it can it come into being.
Introduction in the form of a pitch and a loop
How do we undo business as usual? How do we generate new ecologies of funding, in the arts and beyond, enabling new ways of coming together in order to answer the tremendous challenges of the Anthropocene which await us? In order to turn the world into a swarm of living commons rather than self-abstracting, debased corporate entities, we need to engage further into how monetary systems, financial apparatuses and business models actually work. We need to design otherwise types of feedback loops, and imagine other modes of capture that escape the tight grip of reductive economic abstractions and anti-social storing of value. That is: We need to make our economies weird again.
In Dark Ecology (2016), Timothy Morton explains that the word “weird” comes from the Old Norse urth, meaning twisted, in a loop. He argues for a new kind of ecological awareness—something he calls an ecognosis—that challenges linear causality and opens up the aesthetic dimension, orienting us toward a “dark” and resonant place where myriad things loop themselves into existence:
“Ecological awareness is weird: it has a twisted, looping form. (…) Ecological awareness is a loop because human interference has a loop form, because ecological and biological systems are loops. And ultimately this is because to exist at all is to assume the form of a loop.
[T]here are layers of attunement to ecological reality more accurate than what is habitual in the media, in the academy, and in society at large. These attunement structures are necessarily weird.”
Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence, Columbia University Press, New York, 2016, p.6, 159.
Morton’s ecological rendition of the looping form is paradigmatic of the way object-oriented-ontologies describe the withdrawal of objects away from cognition. This mode of philosophical dramatization, however contested it might be (and for good reasons, I believe), proves to be useful when it comes to foregrounding the operational closure of systems and things. By highlighting paradoxes of self-referentiality, especially in what he calls hyperobjects, i.e. entities so massively distributed in time and space that they challenge the very idea of what a thing is in the first place (think of global warming, or plutonium radioactivity), Morton’s conception of ecognosis overlaps in different ways with what Gregory Bateson called recursive or ecological epistemology, or what Douglas Hofstadter’s defined as “strange loops”.1
The question of how we loop new ecologies of funding into existence is at the core of The Sphere, a research-creation project I co-initiated with Saloranta & DeVylder, a framework for collaboration participating in the reinvention of contemporary circus. Inspired by the recent innovations in the field of distributed ledger technologies (blockchain) and P2P contributive economies, The Sphere is a transdisciplinary project funded by Creative Europe for the development of a web 3.0 infrastructure for self-organization in the performing arts—we call it digital soul. It allows for artists, cultural workers, audiences and organisations of different kinds—that is, a wide range of sympathisers and other potential stakeholders—to initiate creative collaborations and implement new funding strategies. The Sphere is particularly concerned with how to integrate the creators, the producers and the public into a burgeoning ecosystem that facilitates the alignment of interests and purposes in a spirit of speculative generosity. The name of the project captures intuitively this encompassing intent.
The development of the Sphere as a digital infrastructure articulates around three core research-creation axis:
The Anarchive: A dynamic, process-oriented and trans-disciplinary (an)archiving of artistic works that operates, among other things, as a digital common repository for artistic knowledge and practice, growing in close relation with circus and the performing arts;
A cryptoeconomic interface, developed in collaboration with Curve Labs, enabling liquid ownership, collective curatorial powers and dynamic governance structures adapted to the coming economy;
A contributive (and, ever more so, prospective) accounting system to facilitate collaboration within decentralized open value networks. Each of these dimensions overlap and open up a variety of explorations and experiments.
As a transdisciplinary research-creation collaboration endeavour, the Sphere is a place of mutually transformative exchanges between artistic processes (art flows) and funding practices (value flows). It aims to pragmatically address one of the key challenges of our times: re-thinking sustainable value production and distribution in an age of deep cultural and ecological transformations. With the Sphere, we want to create a space where the circulation and experience of value is felt differently. A space that enables common risk-taking, trust and collective care compositions beyond what is considered “possible”—or insurable. For we are always already at stake with each other, partnered all the way down. Artists and audiences brought together to distribute the risks and opportunities of making art. How do we transform the traditional modes of value capture and re-open them for the benefit of the community? How do we transform economic loops into social and artistic flows—and back?
One thing is clear: the time for merely complaining about artists’ precarity is over. With web 3.0 and new capacities for collective asset formation, the economy has become a design question. This is the age of monetary experimentation.
The Sphere As Lived Abstraction of Value
The advent of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies is but one new chapter in a long and complex history of record keeping, archiving practices and institutionalized trust that goes back to the origin of writing itself. We often hear that capitalism was made possible by the invention of double-entry accounting (a far from innocent technique that was further formalized in the context of slave trading). What other economic systems can we tentatively prefigure as we explore web 3.0 affordances and recursivities? One thing is for sure: whatever techniques we use in order to keep ourselves accountable, something always exceeds. Anarchic shares will proliferate away from the grid. You can only get a hold on it as long as you pass it on. For we always live beyond our means and our ends; we set them free so they take us with them and this fills us with a strange joy. In other words, and as the authors of The Undercommons like to say: We owe each other the indeterminate.
What I would like to do in this article is to share a few live coordinates and aspirational-conspirational perspectives on the Sphere as a work/adventure in progress. To put it in the playfully poetic and circus-infused ethos of the project, the idea is to take the Sphere from the resolute yet unresolved middle of its swirling liquidity pool in formation. A conceptual form of liquidity bootstrapping, if you may. For we are “seriously past learning swimming in the shallow end of the pool of language”, following Barbara Bissonnette suggestive indication. How do we create the conditions to allow ourselves to think, learn and experiment as an emergent and joyfully disjunctive ensemble? How do we confer on ourselves the capacity to risk and speculate together as we explore ways to digitally and alter-financially empower art collectives? This text is an attempt at describing the Sphere from its immanently overflowing yet operational core (or rather: operational because of its overflow); an attempt at making felt—or at least partially readable—its inner code as we tend to our modes of mutual encryption; an attempt, therefore, at accounting for the formation of some initial quantum of precursive trust, as the Sphere aims to create, curate and capture art flows and value flows otherwise.
The question of organization is fraught with innumerable difficulties and surrounded by endless clichés, all the more so when framed as a governance issue. The voluntarist injunctions to “better organize” resound anxiously and triumphantly across corporate consultant speak and socially progressive milieus alike. How many times have we experienced the intimate, almost impalpable yet very real sense of deterioration and impoverishment of our relational vitality following yet another call to “organize”? How many more times can we afford to be pseudo-professionally handled as dis-organized or not organized enough by the various upholders of generalized governance and management mystique?2
And yet, organize we must. In a world moving toward accrued social fragmentation, the way we create new techno-social modes of coordination has indeed become crucial. The challenge is to terraform new metamorphic passages between the microscale of collective presence and the macroscale of media aggregations in order to leverage potential financial incidence. “How to understand organization,” write Lovink and Rossiter, “in times of neoliberal clouds, personalized networks, and advanced forms of non-commitment? (…) We urgently need new forms and cultural imaginaries to conspire. (…) How can we envisage the radical or post-think tank as a form”?3
I don’t know if the Sphere qualifies as a “think tank” proper, but we sure are engaged in trans- and anti-disciplinary artistic knowledge production, exploring ways of re-thinking the value form with an eye on new artistic asset formations. The co-learning processes activated within our midst represent a core structuring and scaffolding force that are shaping our collective endeavour and connecting it to multiple outsides. In that sense, we can conceive of the Sphere as a contributive co-learning site, that is: a process of collective cosmo-localization around a shared art & finance matter of concern. Learning is always local, that is to say: processes of co-learning generate negentropic localities. The challenge then becomes about how to accompany the forming of such affective and situated localities—digitally or otherwise.
As research lead and fugitive planner for The Sphere, I find myself facing the challenge of creating navigational maps and tools to facilitate the interfacing with the complexity and inherent multiplicity of the Sphere’s alter-financial worlding proposition. The Sphere, just as any collective project, is made of a constellation of practices, perspectives and interests, that sometimes converge, and at other times creatively diverge from one another. The syntagm “Sphere as” is a way of signalling a situated care for our modes of address within this emergent ecology of practices. It is embedded in the very name of our website: www.thesphere.as
In all its simplicity, the conjunction “as” works as a comparative, or perhaps better, a machinic operator that helps to hold open the force-field of differences and facilitate the navigation between the variety of perspectives and prospective claims about the Sphere and issued by it. 4
This modulator of variations is particularly important when considered from a cosmo-financial perspective, that is, a perspective that is concerned with the communication of heterogeneities as such, without collapsing them unduly unto one another. This is, in a way, pointing at the core challenge of re-thinking value against the general equivalence of all things precipitated by markets. Against the formidably operational hayekian idea of the market as an omnipotent processor of information that translates every piece of knowledge into price, what one needs to keep in sight here is that the surplus value that is generated through the machinic assemblages of perspectives isn’t primarily economical: it is first accounted for extra-economically through differential ontogenesis5
—what amounts in last instance to something like the very condition of possibility of encounter between differential ecologies with encoded skin in the game. By operating under the differential premise of “the sphere as,” we hope that during every step of the process, we learn together how to resist the usual flattening of values against the horizon of the economically viable, playfully adopting frontend approaches to navigate the positive unconscious—the financial backend— of social life.
The question of digital organization and its associated protocols for interaction thus imperceptibly evolve into an art of appreciating and appraising differential incorporations of value. In practice, this calls for an art of holding various perspectives together in such a way as to intensify the process as a whole, turning apparent contradictions into generative matters of contrast. Brian Massumi sums up this practice under the term aesthetic politics, building on Whitehead’s understanding that what determines the intensity of an (artistic) experience is the contrasts it is able to hold together in mutual inclusion.6
This intensification process generates compossible tendential unfoldings, or compossibilities. These compossibilities are virtual but real; they charge the event of togetherness with signs of passion that propels the ever-changing collective into differential, partial completions. Joy ensues.
What is being defined here as a field of compossibilities concerns directly the financial realm. Today’s extractive logic of finance is intimately linked to monetization as the mechanism by which social, cultural, economic, ecologic values are rendered commensurable with each other, flattening heterogeneous values-in-formation onto the only unit of account accepted as legal tender—fiat money— according to the principle of scarcity embedded in it. But finance is also essentially concerned with the “to come”: an art of coordinating the future and its emerging possibilities through the design of attractors and the distribution of flows of desire. This financial art of setting and designing attractors for shaping futurity, Martijn Konings describes in terms of leveraging:
Leverage is the way we aim to give our fictitious projections a self-fulfilling, performative quality (…) leverage involves the effort to position oneself as the focal point of the interactive logic of speculation, as an attractor in the social field.(8)
Martijn Konings, Capital and Time: For a New Critique of Liberal Reason, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2018, p.13-14.
This understanding of the performative and speculative aspect of value-capturing and its associated, pragmatic logic of leveraging is crucial if we want to approach financial matters with a weirding poetics of experimentation. Stimulated by the window of opportunity opened up by blockchain technology, we have, alongside a growing number of artists, thinkers and activists, taken up the challenge of re-thinking value from the perspective of the speculative art of harnessing futurial flows and have them loop back into the present. At best, finance would thus present itself as an expressive medium, that is: a practice of opening shared temporal intervals by risking and speculating together, in a spirit of deep mutualism and speculative generosity that redefines the neoliberal subject of self-interest and open up unto renewed practices of co-immunity.
This way of envisaging the futurial power of decentralized, expressive, blockchain-based finance supposes that we go one step beyond the usual critique of capitalism as that which imposes the generalized equivalence of all things. This step is made necessary by the fact that, for how relevant it remains when facing the neoliberal and adversarial gamification of social relations, this critique is actually falling short of the synthetic creativity of contemporary finance. In his latest book, Justice is an Option: a Democratic Theory of Finance for the 21st Century, Meister indeed argues that:
“Optionality of the kind that finance illustrates is more broadly about synchronizing heterogeneous temporalities, indexing heterogeneous cultural discourses, tokenizing the relative rates of change within and among heterogeneous systems of valuing and ranking—the list could go on. Such forms of heterogeneity no longer need to be reduced to a General Equivalent if liquidity can be added through options that can index their changes to those in other, disparate, value realms.” (my emphasis) (9)
Robert Meister, Justice Is an Option. A Democratic Theory of Finance for the 21st century, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2021 (quoted from the yet unpublished manuscript).
This description of how different heterogeneous systems of valuation derivatively relate with one another in a way that challenges usual modes of financialization exceeds the reach of the Sphere project as such. Yet, by bringing emphasis on the inherent multiple temporalities of optionality and indexing practices, Meister points toward a truly ecological understanding of finance and its poly-rhythmic, generative power; or reversely, a financial understanding of the inherent multiplicity of an ecology of practices that resolutely points toward what I like to characterize as cosmo-financial proposal. I will come back to this shortly. For now, I would simply say that the cosmo-financial proposal foregrounds something like the financial time that remains, i.e. the time that it takes for two or more heterogeneous flows or temporalities to unfold their zones of resonance and potential modes of mutual implication.
Meister’s description of an ecology of financial practices is in many ways reminiscent of the notion of surplus value of code. Surplus value of code as presented by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus is immanent to the generative power of machinic assemblages; it embodies the inherently qualitative outcome of the very formation of flows—however magically, technically or poetically engineered they may be:
“A magical chain brings together plant life, pieces of organs, a shred of clothing, an image of daddy, formulas and words: we shall not ask what it means, but what kind of machine is assembled in this manner—what kind of flows and breaks in the flows, in relation to other breaks and other flows.” (10)
Capitalism and Schizophrenia I: Anti-Oedipus, p.181.
This granular—if abstract—rendering of the encoding of flows, that is, code as qualitative interfacing between different chains of inscriptions and the ensuing surplus value thus generated, proves to be a powerful analytical tool for characterizing subsequent economical formations and wealth accumulation processes. Economies are only secondarily conceived of as quantitative aggregates, current-signs and eventually currencies, all deriving from these distributed assemblages of worlding elements.7
Surplus value of code appears in Anti-Oedipus as a way to account for what drives forward the law of reciprocity embedded in the gift economy’s recursive flows of exchange. This event-based and expressive surplus takes place, as Bourdieu pointed out, in the necessary time interval that separates the gift from the eventual counter-gift. This time interval is proto-financial in kind. It is where a “system of collective appraisal and evaluation” in which coding “engineers the coupling between qualified flows” is set into motion.8
The question, then, becomes how to characterize the (qualitative) modes of mutual implication in a way that makes a (financial) difference. How does the ecologization of thought force us to think our ecology of (financial) practices differently? Or in other words, considering that, in the end, we are only interested in problems which demand the very transformation of our body and language,what does differential skin in the game feel like?
The Precursive Art of Imagineering Flows
Somehow inadvertently, the power of the comparative conjunction “as” has brought us to the metastable and speculative heart of finance. I would now like to make one step back and return to the practical—if virtual—challenge of developing navigational tools to collectively interface with the heterogeneous flows and practices constituting the Sphere.. Inspired by Ian Cheng’s Emissaries Guide to Worlding, here is a diagram that was presented at the Accounting Otherwise Lab (May 12–14th, 2021). It tries to capture a series of key terms and practices around which the Sphere revolves as it addresses the challenge of re-thinking value and initiates new ecologies of funding for the arts.
Let me try to rapidly survey this imagineering of heterogeneous practices and flows and how they find their way in and through the Sphere. Please note that this conceptual diagramming is in many ways idiosyncratic. The Sphere lives well beyond any attempt at systematizing it. The well-tempered, symmetrical balancing of the different elements composing this diagram is definitely, at best, a diplomatic vue de l’esprit—or perhaps the beginning of a cosmo-financial arbitraging practice? If anything, I like to interpret it as a shot taken from within our swirling social liquidity pool; an attempt at catalyzing further our collective worlding and bootstrapping processes.
As suggested earlier, it is not easy to bring about new calibrations between the realm of the quantitative and qualitative aspects of living, allowing for a wider range of values and life nurturing practices to gain currency. There is no easy answer to the question of how to resist the financial abstractions commanding our lives at a distance by isolating us in the restrictive form of homo-economicus, the privatized entrepreneur of oneself and self-promoting subject of interests. The Sphere is but one initiative among many that participates in the building of post-capitalist financial and computational, web 3.0 infrastructures to support commons-oriented economies. Without techno-social devices and infrastructures that operate at the protocol level, without digital governances that carry capabilities for reshaping the economic gamespace toward commons-oriented purposes, I believe that we are left without politics, incapable of addressing and intervening in the processes redefining our rapidly evolving and fragmenting future. Yet, the quest for building crypto-scalable commons, that is, cryptoeconomically enabled modes of governance, might be predating upon forms of sociality that have been militantly preserved over the years. We need to balance our techno-institutionalizing powers (Staatskunst, i.e. literally the Art of the State or Statecraft) with a strong conception of hapticality, defined as the capacity to feel through others. This touch of the Undercommons, or anarchival imperative for deep implicancy9
, spreads in different manners; they vary greatly with regard to how we conceive of the speculative power of abstractions, that is, the way abstractions activate our relation to the future, to the futurial presence of what is “to come”. This critical relation to futurial activation is crucial: it is a sine qua non condition for the shaping of any credible, nomadic and decolonial alter-financial alternative.10
When trying to balance and integrate art and value flows, a basic Sphere grammar has started to emerge and sediment. It is expressed along the two axes: gestures-program / fragments-loops. A gesture is a means without end. It is not exactly an “action”, that is, something aiming toward a specific end or objective. It’s more about expressivity as such. In that sense, there is a real tension at play between gestures and programs. Programming, just like coding, is about full explication. Contrary to programs, the function of gestures, their uses, their intentions are not always manifest or obvious. They retain opacities and ambiguities, reserves of untapped meaning and curated equivocations that harbor different worlding capacities. Our gestures know and do more than we do. They are situated at the interface between us and others, at the crossroads of life and art; “they make emerge—through us—constituent processes that go beyond our intentions and our conscious rationality.”11
And yet, no one can escape the imperative of programming. Or better: We too have a code! But it is a hell of a way to run a code: to program that which you will otherwise forget, to generate lived abstractions and loop them back into existence, to seed the memory of current visions into propositional fragments and the beginning instructions for running them, all the while curating—with an anarchival care that nothing should be lost—a metastable portfolio of social obligations and anarchic shares, so as to make yourself irreversibly—and joyfully—indebted.
At the speculative end of the day, the curation of the qualitative calls for a cosmo-financial art of belonging in becoming that foregrounds value discovery processes that are not confined to the logic of the market. For what we owe to one another is not something in particular: it is the very unknown that envelops our existences, the zones of opacity and indetermination delineated by our more or less felicitous encounters. The cosmo- in cosmo-politics/technics/finance refers to the unknown constituted by these multiple, divergent worlds and to the articulations of which they are capable of. Many of these articulations aren’t readily available. Virtual values tend to resist usual modes of categorization. The other as expression of a possible world is always in danger of being generalized, explained away and managed out. Everyone knows how stifling it can be when one is asked to list or enumerate “their values”—for organizational purpose, political correctness or otherwise. Values exist entangled, in relation. They require the patient elaboration of an ecology of fluctuating practices to find their way to expression. They require a welcoming culture of the interstices that depends perhaps less on keeping one’s privileges in check (a necessary practice that at times veers toward a zero-sum game type of mutual over-coding), and more on the animal and prospective art of play-fighting, that is, in the words of Deleuze and Guattari, of “freeing life wherever it is imprisoned, or of tempting it into an uncertain combat.”12
The “Stakes & Shares” corner relates closely to these uncertain games of claim. It is about what could perhaps be conceived of as the pharmakon of ownership. Discussions about the commons and forms of commoning abound. There is, to put it in a conceptual nutshell alluding to Jacques Rancière’s famous little book Le partage du sensible, an inherent tension between the art of sharing the sensible, and its actual distribution. I find particularly thought-provoking the fact that Rancière’s book has been translated as “The distribution of the Sensible” and not “the Sharing of the Sensible”, as I would have spontaneously, i.e. “relationally”, done. The pharmakon of distributed (or perhaps even “attributed”?) ownership is a realist enabling constraint when it comes to think of contributive, responsive and also prospective modes of accounting and organizing that actually succeed in sustaining themselves in duration. The proverbial ethico-financial effect of having “skin in the game” can not be underestimated. On this specific matter, the Sphere wants to speak in gestures. With Spectre, a new platform for fractionalizing (i.e. “spectralizing”) non-fungible tokens (or NFTs), we will soon experiment with the idea of fractionalized artwork as organizational object. More to come soon (Spectre is expected to be released during the summer).
The Sphere as Digital Soul Searching
Mankind lies groaning, half crushed beneath the weight of its own progress. Men do not sufficiently realize that their future is in their own hands. Theirs is the task of determining first of all whether they want to go on living or not. Theirs the responsibility, then, for deciding if they want merely to live, or intend to make just the extra effort required for fulfilling, even on their refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of gods.
Henri Bergson, The Two Sources of Moral and religion
The Sphere is about activating a speculative-pragmatic attitude impregnated with a care for the possible, that is: ways of approaching and characterizing situations that foreground what they are capable of, attentive to the living interstices and fleeting intercessors to which they provide a transitory shelter. In that perspective, having (differential) skin in the game isn’t simply about holding financial interests (or namely, “shares”) in a given (ad)venture. If anything, it is a way of signalling that our attentional and affective capacities are limited and should be put to good use. They should be treated and cultivated as part and parcel of an art of immanent attention that leads to new incorporations of value aka economic spaces aka collective asset formations. How to make flourish the quanta of precursive trust carefully crafted and deposited in our midst? Could the Sphere evolve into a prototype of collective staking machine, constantly readjusting and upframing its evolving stakes as it searches for ways out of the current attention economy (which is avowedly running on addiction), moving toward co-immunizing and schizo-fragile ecologies of attention?
“All our civilization is aphrodisiac”, writes Bergson. It is constantly mediated and immediated by a series of anti-gravitational and metastable atmospheric enchantments. The media theorist and editor of the French journal Multitudes, Yves Citton, reminds us that we live in a world made of virtuous circles of creative self-intensifications, a volatile and spirited world “aspired by aspirations”,13
constantly uplifting itself into existence. Peter Sloterdijk has famously called “spheres” these virtuous feedback loops that generate the cultural atmosphere we live in. His Sphere trilogy (Bubbles, Globes and Foams) foregrounds the essentially climatic dimension of our being-in-the-world, paving the way for an original approach to our environmental and cultural surrounds. The trilogy reads as a differential ontology of media flows developed under the sign of the fecund foam, that is to say, under the patronage of Aphrodite (from the Greek aphros, foam). This aphrology brings us to interrogate not only the mode of procreation of gods, but also the origin of the human from the perspective of “the aerial, the suspended, the mixed and the inspired”.14
From the animation of the spheres’ perspective, the most fragile is also the most real; or what is vulnerable, the most valuable. The Spheres—and “our” little bubble-sphere in the first place—are about simultaneous processes of co-immunity and schizo-fragility, generating protective yet porous membranes as they grow. When discussing the political art of air conditioning of our symbolic spaces, Sloterdijk likes to draw our attention toward a conception of ourselves as atmosphere designers and climate guardians. Beyond what might appear as an exceedingly “light” conception of the political, what is actually hinted at here is a way of conceiving of our intimate and collective capacities to aspire and conspire as something inherently fragile that should not be taken for granted. This is about the weather within and underground—a place where strangely, the infra-individual and the macroeconomic tend to meet.15
The difference introduced by the theory of the spheres I’m interested in here is that it makes us more attentive to “moments of upward movement, of excess and of free drift within the anthropogenic islands”.16
In fact, in a polemic contrast with strands of transcendental miserabilism, Sloterdijk goes so far as to say that “without an explicit concept of upward movement, the original aphrogenetic activity of the human being is not expressible”.17
There are different ways to look after the upward movements and other powers that animate our lives. I like the Guattarian idea that artists act as some kind of virtual ecologists dedicated to the promotion and proliferation of incorporeal species within networks with consequences. Learning to cultivate idiorythmic arts of living together, Barthes would say. Or again, following what was said earlier, we can think of the uplifting excess as surplus value of code, or perhaps what Brian Massumi, in Deleuze and Guattari’s wake, calls surplus value of life. The focus on what exceeds and overflow is central here—it is the key for a renewed interpretation of the entanglement of art and value flows through a prospective and updated understanding of (speculative) gift ecology for our time. It is interesting to note that Sloterdijk has, at times, presented the Sphere trilogy under the guise of a universal history of generosity.
One last thing to say about the care for our capacities to aspire and conspire is that they are not evenly distributed. In a strikingly relevant book for the current endeavour, The Future as Cultural Fact, Arjun Appadurai writes:
“The capacity to aspire is a navigational capacity. The more privileged in any society simply have used the map of its norms to explore the future more frequently and more realistically, and to share this knowledge with one another more routinely than their poorer and weaker neighbors. The poorer members, precisely because of their lack of opportunities to practice the use of this navigational capacity (in turn because their situations permit fewer experiments and less easy archiving of alternative futures), have a more brittle horizon of aspirations.”
Arjun Appadurai, The Future as Cultural Fact, Verso, New York, 2013, p.188–189.
This meta-capacity, the capacity to aspire and conspire, is thus by definition a collective asset.18
I like how Appadurai pragmatically details how we collectively make use of alternative future-shaping scenarios; how we put them to the test through conjectures and refutations; and also how we creatively look for ways to keep track of them and allow them to eventually loop back to inform the present. At this point, one can foresee how speculative, fabulatory gestures are inherent to decolonial endeavours. When invoked and mobilized in relatively adversarial contexts, the meta-capacity to aspire necessarily calls for modes of co-immunity and mutual encryption in order for some divergent, enriched ways of inhabiting the future to find their way into the present.19
These considerations around the care for our capacities to collectively aspire and conspire lead me to my final point. What kind of claim about and with the future of circus, and of performing arts more generally, are we interested in making? How a better appraisal of the powers of performing arts could contribute to bringing ourselves up to the challenges of the great ecological transition awaiting us? Finance is traditionally understood as the transformation of radical uncertainty into manageable risk. But as it prospects for ways of generating surplus-value, the virtual body of capital generates highly qualified relations to futurity that challenges the very limits of our cultures of knowing and forecasting. As I’ve argued in this article, this speculative movement calls for new ecologies of knowledge to account otherwise for our current economic abstractions and transform them from within and without.
Communities, and art collectives in the first place, can be conceived of as risk-generating spaces that nurture and create the protective conditions for the emergence of different types of meta-capacities. One can consider the circus community, for instance, as one bounded by a corporal economy where risk counts as its own reward, where “a risky move is granted immediate value by the creative ensemble”; a community that cultivates “the capacities to direct the flows of life”, in order for them to be “reappraised as a kind of abundance”.20
What is better than circus to make felt a renewed sense of how we hold volatility together, how we collectively manage to engender patterns of speculative generosity even in the most precarious times?
During our Digital commons Lab held in Stockholm in November 2020, Jay Gilligan, a world-renowned juggler who has also co-animated the April 2021 Sphere Anarchive Lab with Joel Mason, created a performance that wonderfully—and non-discursively—resonates with how to organize otherwise, playfully exploring the becoming machinic of the social, and the becoming social of the machinic through polyrhythmic juggling choreographies. May this paradigmatic and most literal art of looping things into existence inform our (dis)junctive attempts at weirding our economies anew.
“It strikes me that our entire social organism—its economy, its social policy, its civil order—that these don’t implode (…) that these are held in alignment, by a yoking to this notion of the Future; and humanity, its gazed fixed on this apparition hovering just over the horizon, is thus herded along the requisite channels, its anarchic inclinations kept in check. Certainly, each brief the Company worked on, every pitch we made, involved an invocation of, a genuflection to, the Future: explaining how social media will become the new press-baronage, or suburbia the new town centre, or how emerging economies would bypass the analogue to plunge straight into the post-digital phase—using the Future to confer the seal of truth on these scenarios and assertions, making them absolute and objective simply BY placing them within this Future: that’s how we won contracts. ” (My emphasis)
Tom McCarthy, Satin Island, Penguin Random House, London, 2015, p.104-105.
“What I mean by “strange loop” is — here goes a first stab, anyway — not a physical circuit but an abstract loop in which, in the series of stages that constitute the cycling-around, there is a shift from one level of abstraction (or structure) to another, which feels like an upwards movement in a hierarchy, and yet somehow the successive “upward” shifts turn out to give rise to a closed cycle.” (my emphasis) Douglas Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop, Basic Books, New York, 2007, p.101–102.
For an analysis of the syntagm « better organized » through a close reading of one of Lydia Davis’ “Varieties of Disturbance”, see my “Like a Tropical Storm”: Exfoliating the Value-Form, in François Lemieux and Edith Brunette (eds.), Going to, Making Do, Passing Just the Same, Galerie Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Montreal, 2021, pp.165-180.
Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter, “Propositions on the Organizational Form”, in Timon Beyes, Lisa Conrad and Reinhold Martin, Organize, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2019, p. 93; 97.
This is indeed what Deleuze and Guattari have in mind when coining the term machinic: “What we term machinic is precisely this synthesis of heterogeneities as such.” Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Capitalism and Schizophrenia II: A Thousand Plateaus, Trans. By Brian Massumi, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1987, p. 330.
See The Power at the End of the Economy, p. 69–70.
The passage between the encoding of flows and their economic expression is fundamentally semiotic. It involves signs as differential or machinic operators, something that concerns directly the design of currencies. The Metacurrency project and its post-blockchain architecture, Holochain, is an interesting case in point. Starting with the idea that “the nervous systems of our organizations, governments, and economies are encoded with currencies”, Metacurrency proposes both a pluralist understanding of wealth living systems, and practical means for the design of new types of scalable, commons-oriented currencies. metacurrency.org
“Hence the code relation is not only indirect, qualitative, and limited; because of these very characteristics, it is also extraeconomic, and by virtue of this fact engineers the couplings between qualified flows. Consequently it implies a system of collective appraisal and evaluation, and a set of organs of perception, or more precisely of belief, as a condition of existence and survival of the society in question—thus the collective investment of organs that causes men to be directly coded, and the appraising eye as we have analyzed it in the primitive system.” Anti-Oedipus, p.248.
Presented at the 2018 Berlin Biennale, the film 4 waters: Deep Implicancy foregrounds the aquatic element and poetically immerses us in “a primordial moment of entanglement prior to the separation of matter evolving into the planet we know”, a time that Ferreira da Silva describes as “deep Implicancy”. e-flux.com/announcements/251881/denise-ferreira-da-silva-and-arjuna-neuman4-waters-deep-implicancy This end of the diagram could also be called “proof-of-withdrawal”, to mark the reluctance to any form of formal encapsulation of value; or “gift ecology”, foregrounding the informal spirit of speculative generosity away from its monetization or tokenization. Note that the anarchive as a processual and performative set of techniques interfacing with the arts is deeply connected with these concerns
For a longer discussion of this core tension set up in the fabulatory context of the 2038 project, see my article “After the Attention Economy: Notes toward a cosmo-financial New Serenity”, in Lukas Kubina (ed.), 2038, Sorry Press, Munich, 2021, pp.100–117.
Yves Citton, Gestes d’humanités. Anthropologie sauvage de nos expériences esthétiques, Armand Colin, Paris, 2021, p. 15.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy? Columbia University Press, New York, 1996, p.171. On the notion of play-fighting, see Brian Massumi’s hallucinatory essay on mutual inclusion and animality, What Animals Teach us about Politics, Duke University Press, Durham, 2015.
The complete passage is a development around Gabriel Tarde’s thesis concerning a growing aestheticization of human societies: “Remembering that “the spirit “, which synthesizes our beliefs and desires, derives its etymological origin from “breath” (souffle) and is part of the same lexicon as “inspiration” and “breathing” (respiration), we could summarize the lessons of volatilization by saying that our societies are, today more than ever, aspired by the aspirations they spread in the minds of the multitudes who compose them.” Yves Citton, L’avenir des Humanités : Économie de la connaissance ou cultures de l’interprétation?, La découverte, Paris, 2010, p.34. (My translation)
P. Sloterdijk, Écumes. Sphères III, Paris, Maren Sell éditeurs, 2005, p.41 (my translation)
This space of encounter corresponds precisely to what Brian Massumi calls “the power at the end of the economy”
P. Sloterdijk, Écumes. Sphères III, Paris, Maren Sell éditeurs, 2005, p.654. (my translation)
Arjun Appadurai, The Future as Cultural Fact, Verso, New York, 2013, p.188-189. The quote continues: “I am not saying that the poor cannot wish, want, need, plan, or aspire. But part of poverty is a diminishing of the circumstances in which these practices occur. If the map of aspirations (continuing the navigational metaphor) is seen to consist of a dense combination of nodes and pathways, relative poverty means a smaller number of aspirational nodes and a thinner, weaker sense of the pathways from concrete wants to intermediate contexts to general norms and back again. Where these pathways do exist for the poor, they are likely to be more rigid, less supple, and less strategically valuable, not because of any cognitive deficit on the part of the poor but because the capacity to aspire, like any complex cultural capacity, thrives and survives on practice, repetition, exploration, conjecture, and refutation.” P.189
“A lot of the ideological work, in fact, of making a revolution was conducted precisely in the spectral nightworld of sorcerers and witches; in redefinitions of the moral implications of different forms of magical power. But this only underlines how these spectral zones are always the fulcrum of the moral imagination, a kind of creative reservoir, too, of potential revolutionary change. It’s precisely from these invisible spaces—invisible, most of all, to power—whence the potential for insurrection, and the extraordinary social creativity that seems to emerge out of nowhere in revolutionary moments, actually comes.” David Graeber, Fragments of Anarchist Anthropology, Prickly Paradigm Press, Chicago, 2004, P. 34.
Randy Martin, « A Precarious Dance, a Derivative Sociality », The Drama Review 56:4 (T216) New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Winter 2012, p.68