Monday, March 21, 2011

reflections on Callois instructions

"If there is to be art, if there is to be any aesthetic doing and seeing, one physiological condition is indispensable: frenzy"
--Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, trans. Walter Kaufmann

"Mature Manhood: that means to have rediscovered the seriousness one had as a child at play" --Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

There is much to talk about and to take issue with in Callois. We already know that we need to focus on reviving the importance of mimicry and ilinx and so I will say little about the other 2 types of games, with which we are no doubt already too familiar.

Because Baudrillard does not engage in extensive citation, it is difficult to realize that the terminology that he seems to make up out of the blue may stem from some crucial passages in Callois' book. For instance, Baudrillard's attention to seduction may have come from Callois' idea about the seduction of games. Callois insists that adults are still "seduced" by games and that the games they play can involve great energy and exertion (66). He goes on to say that "the behavior that is so exalting develops in a separate, ideal world, sheltered from any fatal consequences" (66). Thus, Callois, unlike Baudrillard, seems to not embrace fatal in its second meaning--that of being predestined. I think Baudrillard may be working from this idea and we should do. Other passages support this connection between fatality, seduction, and the games that concern us here: ilinx and, to some extent, mimicry.

The way Callois describes the relationship between mimicry and vertigo recalls the first aphorism from Nietzsche above: "Fatal situation is created by the fact simulation in itself generates both vertigo and split personality [. . .] wearing a mask is intoxicating and liberating [. . .] the association of simulation and vertigo is so powerful and so inseparable that it is naturally part of the sphere of the sacred" (75-76).

This attention to masks is something Callois will develop later—and something I will get into later. But for now I want to look at what Callois has to say about 2 different modes of play that he likens to drives or desires: ludus and paidiea

Paideia is not part of any order—it is “the spontaneous manifestation of play instinct,” the need for disturbance and tumult, but also the way that a child discovers that he or she can be the cause of something (78). According to Callois, this sets off a desire to invent rules and abide by them, which can lead to ludus. In our CATTt, I think we need to pay attention to this idea of paideia (suggesting the ‘seriousness’ of Nietzcshe’s child) rather than ludus.

In contrast to the circus seems to be the “travelling fair.” Callois writes that this is a  universe of vertigo without mimicry. Thus, the fair approximates the carnival more than, say, the circus but “vertigo replaces the mask” (136). He describes the fair in these vertiginous terms: “physical sensations reinforced by related forms of fascination designed to disorient, mislead, and stimulate confusing, anxiety, nausea, momentary terror” (134). In this way, I think one of our instructions may be to substitute for James Dean’s game of “chicken” one of the classic fair rides: BUMPER CARS! When one is in a bumper car, you can hit other people, drive anyway you want, how fast you want, where you want—there are no roads. There is no “agon” in bumper cars because there is no enemy. Road rage cannot exist without a road that leads somewhere. With no fixed direction this kind of ride is seemingly useless play. How can we use this idea of bumper cars to create our figure?

But the question is: Do we need to resignify the mask, restoring its sacred rather than official or merely disguising motives? I think that since we are trying to locate the sacred in our culture and bring it to policy formation, we may want to start with the cultures that do not radically separate a type of mimicry and vertigo as a separate realm of play. Furthermore, these cultures retain the important sense of metamorphosis to the mask but without focusing on deception or illusion. The masked spectacle of the shaman takes both the audience and the shaman working together, much like prestidigitation (recall my reading of The Prestige) (Callois 93).  As with magic tricks, the people kind of “know” there is a trick but choose to believe. When a child reaches the point where he is becoming a man, the elders reveal to him the human nature (rather than the divine) of the mask wearers. For Callois, this eventually leads to a demystification of the mask and thus a loss of power and social order. Since the masks’ initiation system depends on knowledge of the deception once one knows it is an “illusion” its harder to achive the trance and thus there is a fissure in the system (Callois 105). 

However, we as the EmerAgency need to find a way to maintain this fascination with the shaman. Magic tricks and shamanism is one way that we can form cooperation between audience and performer. The audience is not merely an observer, but also a participant—this differs the shamanistic rituals from the circus, which is pure spectacle. Callois writes, “masks are the true social bond” such that vertigo and simulation are not completely absent from ordinary life. In a way, this corresponds to the “corruption” of games that Callois doesn’t seem to like—particularly when it involves the corruption of agon

The corruption of ilinx Callois argues are alcohol and drugs while the corruption of mimicry is when the simulation is not accepted as a simulation (51, 49). By keeping play within its own separate bounds, we prevent this alienation from self. However, if this is our condition today and we not corrupt mimicry and vertigo? Or perhaps we should think of the corrupted mimicry as our current situation—the one described by Baudrillard and that the ‘solution’ if you will would be to rejoin mimicry and ilinx so that, as Waler says, we can “juggle with being.” Callois seems to think this a dangerous idea, arguing that games within the confines of play discipline our instincts (one might use the Freudian term, ‘sublimate’)—left on their own, he argues, they lead to destruction. 

We have lately been looking at the basic human needs intertwined with our accident’s being. Thus, might it be that we need to let our “instincts” guide us to the brink or limit of the destruction of corrupted ilinx and mimicry? Should we use ilinx to allow for a fluid rather than alienated identity?

I found Callois’ last discussion of satire useful. Satire, he argues, “helps subdue vertigo” and moves on to conclude: “This is the introduction into the band of masked divinities of characters of equal rank and identical authority, charged with parodying their betwching mimes, and tempering by laughter what might end fatally in trance and hypnosis, where this antidote absent” (142). 

One could argue that pataphysics—the mockery of physics—and all of the avant-garde is actually satire rather than pure vertigo. Indeed, satire could be the NEW MEASURE we are looking for. It seems as though our society has begun to take satire in its positive rather than negative role—satire that evokes laughter rather than critique, satire that gives us pleasure while we laugh at ourselves and the absurd human condition. But this is a satire that is not based on the sharp edge of reason, but satire of jouissance. Perhaps its related to Freud’s thoughts on wit, which we could relate to this idea of “flash reason.” Indeed, you yourself (Dr. Ulmer) talk about the importance of “aphorisms” for electracy—perhaps we should add the epigram? 

Perhaps satire gives us a way to channel paideia--rather than strict rules and regulations, we can mock them--not from some "point from nowhere" hovering above the situation in the seat of the eternal Judge, but from below--as we undergo our current project. We are not like the tightrope walker who tries to "master" vertigo (for how could we in the dromosphere) by obeying it, but by imposing the measure of mockery, testing all of our ideas on the pleasure/pain axis--the jouissance of laughter.

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