The art of tracing IX: Foucan and the birth of the critic

What is critique? What purpose does it serve? According to Michel Serres and Bruno Latour, we are running out of entities to accuse, due to half a millennium of critics on a killing spree. 'Critique has run out of steam', as Latour asserts. When critique discerns, it labels, and when it labels, it creates. God was a critic, executed by his own method (meth OD). Paradoxically, critique may thus affirm what it tries to subvert or deconstruct. Critique, as a modern phenomenon, has been associated with another modernist innovation – revolution.

In its final anticipated overthrowing of the alleged adversary, revolution claims to open the pearly gates to an utopia. This dialectic scheme will unavoidably end in a new totalitarian reign, which, then, in turn, must be overthrown. D & G therefore claims that, for it to have impact on the states it wants to alter, revolution must be constant, and never fulfilled. The persona needed for this operation is the becoming-revolutionary. Kafka is, thanks to his joyous surfing on the waves of Law and bureaucracy, one of this guild's prospects.

The closest one comes to a place of constant revolution without resolution – at least up till now, when the leaking social system is the target for a multinational plumbing operation – is the utopia of the www (beaks pecking the soil for worms, or speakers sending noise up in the atmosphere, or both?). The vast realm of YouTubea is in that sense emblematic. The following composition sets the critic on our philosopher-traceur in the YouTubean maze.

The tracer of the day, Sebastien Foucan, is one of the founding fathers of parkour. In the first clip, Foucan is in dire straits with an angry chicken chasing him. We don't know his crime, only that the ferocious bird is after retaliation.

Perhaps Foucan is a representative of the last category there is to criticize (at least within the rationale of the critical humanist project): the whole of mankind. There is a long tradition of accusing man, but the majority of critical voices of animals has so far been silenced. This particular chick is a determined, street-wise, and cunning anthropologist, something that is evident in its knowledge of city-planning, short-cuts, and the use of escalators. Man built the city, the streets of which angry birds now hold. I bet there is a pissed-off post-humanistic posse of poultry rigging their slingshots outside your house right now!

Foucan is there to show all entities that man will not leave traces to the same extent as before. Rather, and to a greater degree, man will trace in the sense of sketching. By drawing creative, yet ephemeral lines of flight through the city, Foucan demonstrates how an "enlightenment without the critique" could be performed. HypheNation is my nation. The city is a burrow for the becoming-animal of man. By not playing the part of the guilty, and without making counter-attacks, the philosopher-traceur is enhancing a true ecology. Consciousness of umwelt, doesn't have to lead to masochistic asceticism.

Be as it may, with the becoming-critic of the chicken, the next hunt for the traceur moves us to Madagascar, where a fierce fight between a mongoose and a cobra has heated up a bunch of betting men (perhaps this, from a bird's-eye view, was the Foucanian crime in the clip above).

Casino Royale was a reboot of the Bond-series. Daniel Craig's Bond is a freshman, who just earned his license to kill. He is not yet the full-fledged man of taste (and of the world) that we are used to see him as. Intimidated over a loss in poker against Mads Mikkelsen's villain, Bond just grunts angrily at the bartender, who is asking him whether he wants his dry martini shaken or stirred. Bond-as-we know-him would never lose his temper in such a way. The other Bonds are nihilistic, yet tasteful men, i.e. critics, that don't give a damn about what they allegedly protect: empire, queen, state, democracy, etc. But Craig's Bond is still in conflict with himself, as well as with the values he has been hired to defend. He has not come out as a critic yet, and, paradoxically enough, this is what the traceur helps him to do.

Never mind the shitty story, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Bond starts to chase Foucan through shanty-towns, thickets, and finally a construction site. Foucan is always several steps ahead, and an increasingly irritated Bond must use foul tricks to keep track of his elusive prey.

The major, and most modernistic, sense of the verb 'to trace' is claimed by characters like the spy, detective and hunter, while traceurs represents the sketchy, scrying, and minor meaning of the term. The tracker is in it for the game, whereas the traceur, striving only to fuse with the middle kingdom of becoming, refuses to be the prey.

Repeatedly, Bond gives proof to his deconstructive skills, deconstruction being one of the cardinal competences in the critical repertoire. What other place than a construction site could be more suited for an exam in the art of critical deconstruction? The havoc Bond wreaks upon that poor scaffold shows that he is inaccurately named - if there is a bond, he will not cherish -- as Foucan does (tracing out even more bonds out from the present material) -- but, break it.

Where Foucan is climbing the fence, Bond is forcing it with a bulldozer. Where Foucan jumps down the holey facade, Bond violently short-circuits a lift with a monkey-wrench. And finally, where Foucan performs a underbar (which happens to be the word for 'wonderful' in Swedish) through a small opening near the ceiling, Bond fiercely pierce the plaster wall beneath the opening, making a new hole.

This last manoeuvre is the most lucid testimony to where the difference between the philosopher-traceur and the critic lies, and to what the implications for their respective agendas are. On the one hand, the traceur synchronically confirms and denies that the two rooms are distinct from each other. Denial by confirmation. here is A and B, A could be B, B could be A. On the other hand, the deconstructive critic, in his attempt to raze boundaries between two concepts, only affirms the boundary, and thus making it more impenetrable, let alone producing debris for others to clean up. That ugly hole will be filled by tomorrow. Confirmation by denial. A and B are the same! A will never be B...

How long will process and becoming provoke, and elicit the critic in and from, man?


The art of tracing VIII: I move, therefore I think

Who was this 'I'?
It is something everyone knows, unemotionally and as a matter of fact. You only have to pass through a small opening,a blocked corridor, to swing over a handrail or on a balcony high enough to provoke vertigo, for the body to become alert. The body knows by itself how to say I. It knows to what extent I am on this side of the bar, and when I am outside. It judges deviations from normal balance, immediately regulates them and knows just how far to go, or not to go. Coenaesthesia says I by itself. It knows that I am inside, it knows when I am freeing myself. This internal sense proclaims, calls, announces, sometimes howls the I like a wounded animal.
(Michel Serres, The Five Senses, p. 19).

Like the body, the mind needs movement, especially subtle and complex movement. (Michel Serres and Bruno Latour, Conversations, p. 107).

The cartesian cogito has tantalized metaphysicists for quite some time now. To trace is to investigate into what the 'I' may be(come). 'Metaphysics begins with, and is conditioned by, gymnastics', Serres tells us. To careen is to enable thinking. Speed is not the product, but the method. The multitude of conceptual athletes and gymnasts, that has emerged from contin(g)ental philosophers like Nietzsche, Deleuze, Bergson, Badiou, and Serres, bears witness to that.

As Brian Massumi and Erin Manning, by way of Bergson, Whitehead, and Deleuze, inform us: to move is to elude being caught in nodes of pre-formed identities. The 'I' is the sweet uncertainty that is produced when one traces. I trace therefore I think.



The philosopher-dancer Susan Kozel explores the relation between dance and technology. Newly inaugurated as a professor at Malmö University, her coming research-creation, Intuitweet, will tap into this assemblage by studying how Twitter may be used to connect humans as sentient beings. One purpose with this endeavor is to “clarify what intuition is” and also to investigate into incipiency of movement in the array of technological devices, which is at the heart of our informationally dense contemporary culture.


The art of tracing VII: Monster Hug (avoid falling down)

Walking and perceiving, preferrably optically, stand out as the main acts of flaneurhood. Many testimonies bear witness to the flaneur as being one of urbanity's most well-known psychosocial types: Baudelaire, Benjamin, Simmel, de Certeau, Debord etc. The flaneur is a rather delicate and sometimes distant character that strolls through urban realms; Henry Miller creating a smooth space while loitering around in Brooklyn, as Deleuze and Guattari remind us.

In his conceptualization of parkour, Michael Atkinson timely interprets the traceur as a late-modern flaneur. While the modern flaneur was 'sketching' a space for himself (yes, unfortunately, this is just another persona based on an initially, and still hegemonically, male praxis), in which he could 'read' the city, Atkinson conceptualizes the late-modern variety as being capable of Heideriddean deconstruction. The void between houses, sous rature, becomes a void.

avoid falling down

It's inadequate to conceive of the opposite sides of a void as incommensurable, but it's necessary to stress that there is a gap, and that it takes a leap of faith to cross it. Association. Tracing is a micropolitically informed sociology. Life and live in HypheNation. Furthermore, concerning the flaneurie of traceurie, it seems that Deleuze and Guattari's distinction between smooth and striated space could enrich Atkinson's attempt to grasp parkour.

In sketching (tracing) space, the flaneur uses only the utmost tip of his body-brush: the soles of his shoes. The rest of the body is busy with an array of repetitive bodily idiosyncracies, such as smoking, walking casually, nodding, and tipping his hat at attractive and interesting passersby. The difference he makes is not to be found in these simple schemata, in this endless repetition, but in his interpretetive gaze. The optic reading of the city is the prime power of flaneurie. Compared with that, the bipedal itinerancy and meanderings of flaneurs appear as quite lame performances.

Deleuze and Guattari label the city "the striated space, par excellence", and by striation they mean the creation of channeled and hierarchical space, so that movement, in it, is rendered predictable. Striation, as the cybernetics of displacement, is the ordering of identities and positions onto grid-like fields, that are easily surveyed. In striated space, vision and optics therefore have a primacy. This of course relates to Foucauldian panopticon. One might even assert, that, as cities grew more and more entangled, more rhizomatic, and therefore more hard to overview, the proliferation of flaneurs served as a "necessary" distribution of surveillance. Big brother tips his hat at you. Male Gaze, and all that.

The traceur puts a different approach on display as he connects haptically, and not primarily optically, with the the city. The optic primacy of striated space, in smooth space, is inversed to a haptic primacy. A heightened hapticity, is the tactilization of (all) the senses. Although a loosely standardized and sketchy one, the repertoire of movements of traceurs often bear names that are lend from different agile species in the animal kingdom, such as cats and monkeys. And this should not primarily, as Michael Ferrari's analysis might imply, be interpreted as a search for an alleged pristine and savage nature of mankind. Rather, the quadropedal style of traceurs is functional-experimental. In parkour one does not mimic a animal, one is, as Deleuze and Guattari would have it, becoming-animal. One dialect of Agamben's gestural communication in the 'coming community' could definitely be taught by traceurs.

Being a late-modern flaneur, the traceur grasps and embraces his surroundings, rather than putting them on the hermeneutical treadmill. As a philosophical stance, then, tracing is kin to the musings of Bergson, when he -- by way of intuition, rather than through conceptual clarity -- attempts to melt into the phenomena under investigation. Whereas the flaneur perceived and interpreted the monstrosities of urbanism, the traceur conceives the city, in all its denotations; demonstration. Monstrare means 'to show', and -- although tracing might be perceived by pedestrians (modern flaneurs perhaps) as a spectacle -- a show is primarily seen, in that it evokes vision. Monsters are seldom felt; the moment when the monster will reveal itself is always the climax (equivalent to the climax when it is defeated). Once in a while even a monster needs a hug.

And that, is what traceurs do: hug monsters.