Slippage and Elision in Massumi and Connor
At first glance, for me anyways, it seemed like the papers submitted by Brian Massumi and Steven Connor had nothing to say to each other. After some time, I found a fertile metaphor in the contentive cliffs partitioning their respective projects. Both papers make and elide gaps. Massumi looks for slippage between action and consciousness. He builds an ever-eroding and reconsolidating sandstone subject out of porous matter. Connor gives the reader gaps and lets them fill his fragmented qualia collection with the cement of subjectivity. These two authors band together against the Enlightenment subject, finding weird agencies in the elided zone between sense and consciousness.
Massumi fills the Libet Lag, the half-second chasm “between the brain activity initiating a movement and the conscious registering of the ‘decision’ to act” (The Crannies of the Present, 1). More like overfills, he saturates this space with reflexive, vectored stuff. The lag receives a world of the half-constructed – the “half-formed memories, inklings of alternative aims, self-reactivating habits” (Massumi, 4). The maw opens into the frenetic, quantum jittering of the qualitative multiple from which consciousness emerges. No void here.
Massumi’s subject surfaces from within the gap, from the registral slippage between consciousness and its half-baked goo. No Enlightenment subject possesses such fractality – after all, how could it endure this blow to its agency? If action precedes consciousness, what room is left for the conscientious? Massumi bellows in protest, rejecting the question. The ‘free will’-thumpers propose a normativity of the rational – a subject is effected as such only in its “accordance with conventional criteria of what is reasonably needed or morally obliged” (Massumi, 7). Instead, agency occurs in the infra-instant – “the essential co-involvement of all places taken and moments made” (Massumi, 11). The rapturous co-contingency of the gap’s contents exercises a stochastic agency. The subject and its capabilities receive a massive makeover.
Connor takes his time. His gaps seem more obvious and more superficial. He writes with gaps, with the surface cracks imposed by sledgehammer blows. Half-ideas, little nodules of accreted half-explorations scattershot his paper. Schreber, Reik, Ihde – Shakespeare, Becket, Charlotte Green. Connor collects things and expresses his love. A Serres scholar, Connor’s style slips into his content and vice-versa. He builds a gappy subject in his rhetorical gaps. Connor’s subject sputters, its tongue slips, it listens to itself slip and senses itself listen.
The conscientious reader might interpret this paper as a cautionary tale – one ought to mind one’s own ears. When one listens, one might take advantage of another’s slippages, or even create their preconditions. Listening can oppress, force another to speak – listening can mean “to demand and extract witness, and to force utterance into testimony” (Sadistic Listening, 1). This is not uninteresting – surely, it inverts the comfortable narrative of listening Jonathan Sterne revokes in his “Audio-Visual Litany.” However, the listener who minds their ears wields agentic power over objects – I find myself face to face with the Enlightenment subject.
I re-read Connor with Massumi in the background. My tongue slips. My ears fail me, literally. Connor describes the “persecutory eye,” and the “inquisitions of the ear” (Connor, 3). My senses lead me to do evil. The subject grows complex, it becomes storm-like. Qualia flood in from different sources, from physical agents of good and evil cordoned off into the body’s organs. What if instead of gently chastising a sadistic subject, Connor actually cautions the sensorium itself? He draws attention to the agencies of physical processes, not the supreme monitor of their activity. Connor’s subject becomes hapless, it sputters in protest. Charlotte Green’s laughter sounds like a fracturing of consciousness. The body crumbles into factions and goes to war. One can hear fractal laughter eliding the gaps between the smurfed voice, the stumbling recitation, their real and imagined hearings, their persistence.
Massumi and Connor fill their gaps with ‘half-ness.’ For Massumi, the halfness of things indicates their kind-of quantum state. One cannot actually examine and locate them, the half-things bear a Schroedingerian resistance to scrutiny. No looking backward – “what is consciously felt to have transpired bears no resemblance to and does not represent or reflect the complex conditions under which it was produced” (Massumi, 8). These things sputter, too – though Massumi rarely characterizes their materiality (how could he?), they seem to consist of flashes, synaptic firings, non-local instants, twitches.
When Connor fills semantic gaps with paralanguage, he fills his porous subject with half-attentions. “By listening for something, I make what I listen for something for me, intended for my attention. At the same time, I force the one to whom I listen to pay attention to my attentiveness. By so doing, I denature utterance into declaration” (Connor, 6). Though Connor ostensibly fights for active listening, the activity seems much more complicated than he lets slip. “A chain unfolds, interleaved and knotted, between the subject and object of listening, between the ears of each and their control-impaired consciousnesses, between ears and tongues and words. Everything escalates in intensity – paralanguage froths with meaning, half-things sputter in and out and have their effects.”
Both texts present weird phenomenologies of the porous subject. Though I initially felt an absolute divide between Massumi and Connor, I filled the gap with erosive half-things, with the reflexivity of having answered one another. Massumi takes Connor’s war of body-parts and shows him the battlefield. Connor responds to Massumi’s irritation with free will and shows him a (para-)praxis of sovereignty. From gaps, commotion.