Brian Massumi

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body, capitalism, motion, philosophy, politics, translation
America, North
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June 10, 2008
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Walking as controlled falling

"When you walk," according to an introduction to an interview with the Canadian philosopher Brain Massumi, "each step is the body’s movement against falling — each movement is felt in our potential for freedom as we move with the earth’s gravitational pull. When we navigate our way through the world, there are different pulls, constraints and freedoms that move us forward and propel us into life." From this point of view our walking is a controlled falling. We cannot overcome gravitation but are not wholly in its power. There is scope for motion - and motion itself is not thought of as static: in navigation of the movement arises freedom, change, hope, scope for decisions and virtuality, from which newness may arise.
In Heiner Müller´s "Hamlet Machine" there is the sentence: "Revolt begins as a stroll". Müller was claiming that in motion - in the motion of thought - there is political dynamite. This belief is inevitably shared by Massumi, as the above notions imply. The following brilliantly formulated sentence is often included in program leaflets and, with the motion of thought typical of the Canadian, encompasses not only individuals but also society as a whole: "An individual life is a serialised, capitalist mini-crisis, a disaster carrying your name."
It is hardly surprising to find out that Brian Massumi has translated the famous work "A thousand Plateaux" by the French thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari into English. A trace of this strong influence on his own thought can be found by German-speaking readers in his contribution to the volume "Charts of the Thousand Plateaux" (1993), brought out by Clemens-Carl Härle on behalf of the Merve publishing company.
Massumi teaches in the Institute for Communication at the University of Montreal, where his research focuses on themes like the philosophy of the virtual, theories of consciousness, new technical means of visual communication, and the philosophy of perception. As an author and publisher he moves away from Deleuze and Guattari in publications like "A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari" (1992) and "A Shock to Thought: Expression after Deleuze and Guattari" (2002). Massumi´s most important work so far has been "Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation" (2002). This bid at creating a theory of culture turns to motion again as offering scope for change and for cultural forces possibly subversive.
To navigate past the Scylla and Charibdis of habitual thought, Brian Massumi took part in the project "Dictionary of War", a "platform for creating notions" meant to limit the general use of notions derived from warfare. Massumi´s contribution was called "Perception Attack" and was presented in February 2007 in the Sophia Rooms in Berlin.
Already the project "Dictionary of War" tried to open a channel between thought in the sense of the "Production of Notions" (G. Deleuze) on the one hand and performance on the other, thus going beyond the usual form of a lecture. This experimental approach was carried on by Massumi in working with the likewise Canadian artist and philosopher Erin Manning in "The Sense Lab" led by Manning. Already a workshop of the "Steirischer Herbst" in 2006, called "If Skin is swifter than Words", focussed on Massumi´s notion of the relationship between motion and bodies, which it explored through choreography. In "The Sense Lab" this experimentation is to be carried further, and the usual distinction between academic research on the one hand and artistic creation on the other is to be called radically into question. Brian Massumi is one of the few thinkers whom one hopes will keep on going and take life and reviewers in his stride.
Author: Dietrich Sagert


A Canadian philosopher, cultural theorist and social critic, Brian Massumi studied French literature at the University of Yale and has translated "Mille Plateaux" by G. Deleuze and F. Guattari into English. He is teaching at the Institute for Communication at the University of Montreal where, together with Thierry Bardini, he is in charge of the "Radical Empiricism Laboratory". He also works with Erin Manning in the "Sense Lab" at Concordia University.


Publications (Selected)

Published Written
(Ed. with Erin Manning). Technologies of Lived Abstraction. MIT Press book series. n/a (Ed. with Michael Hardt and Sandra Buckley. ) Theory Out of Bounds. University of Minnesota Press book series, 1993-2007 (Ed.), The Matrixial Borderspace: Essays by Bracha Ettinger. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007 Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002, second printing 2003 (Ed.), A Shock to Thought: Expression After Deleuze and Guattari. London/New York:Routledge, 2002 Exhibition catalogue. (Ed. with Catherine de Zegher), Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger: The Eurdyice Series. New York: The Drawing Center, 2002 (Ed.), The Politics of Everyday Fear. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993 A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992; fifth printing 2003 (With Kenneth Dean), First and Last Emperors: The Absolute State and the Body of the Despot. New York: Semiotexte/Autonomedia, 1992


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.


Singularities | Einmaligkeiten

(11 June 08 - 21 June 08)


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