Towards a pragmatics of digital encounters & sexual networking: experimental directions

This is where I’m at right now:

I wrote a paper for the Selfies & Subjectivities Symposium organised by Kath Albury from Swinburne and Anne Harris from RMIT in Melbourne this month, which I later developed into this short contribution to a special issue of Sexualities celebrating 30 years of the journal

Here is an abstract I put together for it:

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In the era of smartphones and hookup apps, pornography can no longer be confined to the straightforward production of sexual arousal through representational practices(though this objective certainly remains significant). Rather, digital pictures have accrued additional functions in the interpersonal exchanges and self-projecting activities that characterise interaction and communicative relations on these media. So often, the ‘selfie’ of self-pornography operates as part of the grammar of sexual arrangements, whether these arrangements involve online or offline interactivity, or both. This paper seeks to contribute to pragmatist conceptions of sexual media, selfie studies and digital pornography by situating the communication that takes place on  these media, not as mere representations of ‘actual’ sexual practices or the ‘authentic’ sexual self, but rather forms of practical action that propel some version of the self into one or more of the variously formatted and networked arenas of digital culture. They can be situated in this respect as technical constituents of erotic digital assemblages that seek to solicit, collect, process, store, publicise and convey certain kinds of information according to the affordances perceived in their interactive modes, enabling communicants to recalibrate their activities and respond on the basis of specific feelings, attachments and calculations. Once the grammar of digital sex is grasped in pragmatic terms as a performative element in specifically assembled, multi-dimensional platforms, then all sorts of material objects and technical processes can be understood to enter into the labour of sexual self-formation (see Race, 2018). What once might have been read as a two-dimensional form of visual representation elevated to the status of detached self-portraiture can now be grasped as a vehicle for self-articulation, a form of self-experimentation that seeks to participate in the creation of new attachments, and a potential source of practical (self)-transformation.

 

About a week later I read Meaghan Morris’s fabulous piece Sustaining the Festive Principle: Between Realism and Fantasy which resonated in unexpected ways with work I’ve done on gay partying, it’s significance for queer communal wellbeing, the health of countercultural movements, and institution-building. My primary concern in this work (the last chapter of my new book  The Gay Science) is how to adapt and extend the generative energy  of cultural festivity – those playful encounters that make us something else – in-to the present transitional context (which involves, in my hometown at least, invasive policing, nightlife lockouts through licensing restriction, hyper-gentrification and incessant redevelopment, social exclusion from urban spaces, homelessness, insurgent homo-moralism, the Heroization of ‘Clean Living’, etc….

Then on Friday night I read Noortje Marres’ excellent chapter on ‘experiments in living’ in her 2012 book Material Participation which contains a concise and really informative analysis of the different ways that experimental practices and demonstrative activities have been conceived and approached by people who study them as a sociomaterial, world-making activityies  Marres is mainly talking about public experiments, but I’m interested in the sorts of self-experiments that normative morality deems illicit: for example, how publics and infrastructures of disclosure and support get assembled in contexts of prohibition and disciplinary enforcement, in which any attempt to create a public context for one’s self-experiments is quickly quashed, isolated, quarantined, eradicated, denigrated, privatised or shamed.

The concept of intimate experimentation is something we’ve been grappling with in the ARC Discovery Project I’m conducting with my colleagues Dean Murphy, Kiran Pienaar and Toby LeaChemical Practices: Enhancement & Experimentation.  In this work and thinking, I’m especially interested in how the diversely theorised concept of experimentation might be put to work to activate new approaches to chem-consumption and bring out new dimensions of the activities and self-transformations associated with the consumption of  drugs and medications among queer and gender-diverse communities .

This weekend I’ve mainly just been fucking around on Instagram, a medium which I’ve found makes me enjoy and look for beauty and creativity  all around in all sorts of everyday situations and odd places – some kind of f #instaaesthetics of experience

My ongoing enjoyment of this app and how it leads me to engage with the world around me makes me think about how its affordances can be used creatively to bring out startling or hitherto unrecognisable qualities in ordinary things/spaces/people/ everyday scenes through the specific possibilities the app/phone/flaneur assemblage affords: filtering, the possibilities of adopting all sorts of techniques and angles  to frame and mediate and make strange or new those things that capture your attention or suddenly strike you as an opportunity for aestheticism ….

Meanwhile other affordances like hashtags can be used to create associations, attachments, and explore various other self-images, accounts and pages:  activities which often entail encounters with all sorts of people, depictions of their lives selves-in-differing-situ hat you never expected developing any interest in or becoming captivated by ….

I’ve been thinking all these thoughts …rather manically and rhitzomatically… on the run, so naturally I’ve had to work with the platform closest at hand …(Instagram of course).  Basically I’ve been taking a whole bunch of phatic selfies….  < lol>

I’ve accompanied this visual work with streams of lateral thought-association which I’ve articulated as best I can using hashtags that mean particular things for me  (usually connected to my idle thoughts and ongoing work) .. which every so often also generate unexpected associations, new attachments, novel modes of appreciation and interest and engagement, and encounters across all sorts of social, material and mediated differences that can result in surprisingly intimate connections or forms of relation

‘in his 2005 intro to ANT, Reassembling the Social, Latour promotes a method he calls associology, that entails tracing the associations and networks that serve to consolidate particular realities which end up producing certain experts and authorities, conferring as well as shaping specific forms of agency: agencements.

But when I read some of the early work from the  Actor-Network Theory crew, I’m often left with the sense of an heroically masterful (or tragically unsuccessful) Manager of Associations, the clever scientist who is smart enough to put in place relations strategic assurance, skilled in picking the associations that best consolidate the version of reality they have encountered through their specific experiments.

A much queerer approach would be less invested in the strategic enterprise making and tracing associations to formulate predefined structures according to fixed objectives, and much more curious about the modes of pleasure entailed in noticing and tracing the chance events that end up affecting or transforming us  (persons and things) when those things  make themselves available to the encounter. As I discuss a fair bit in the  The Gay Science,  I have in mind the happy, unexpected chance encounters that have the power to take us off into multiple new directions (however subtle, trivial, substantial or world-moving they may at first seem or end up becoming): that produce transformations, the possibilities of which we may want to experiment with

Which leaves me thinking, if we want to experience more eventful, enjoyable, energising worlds and realities, maybe we need to embrace and affirm these moments of random connection, expand our appreciation of the many differences available to us in terms of how we  encounter difference and find things to share with whatever is unfamiliar or strange to us; and most of all how different manners of encountering others generate different realities of material consequence.

What we need, in other words – against or alongside Latour’s associology – is another approach which I’m thinking of right now under the working title: encounterology ….. Encounterology is the enjoyable activity of attending to whatever eventuates from unexpected  encounters and queer or improbable relations…

Let’s extend our festive activities by bringing them into new situations to multiply our capacities of feeling, to create situations and events that are enjoyable enough to sustain entire movements and counter-institutions.  

Keep Partying, Keep Playing!   

 

Kane Race, April, 2018

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Filed under Affect, Books, Devices and technology, Digital culture, Erogenous zones, Eroticism and fantasy, Online meeting sites, Parties, PNP culture, Random thoughts, Uncategorized

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