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Compulsion

Medieval chronicles describe several episodes of an inexplicable epidemic running across Europe, with hundreds of people dancing involuntarily and unstoppably, sometimes for months. Considered at the time to be driven by supernatural forces, the dance plague is understood today as a form of mass hysteria or collective mania, a bodily expression of distress in the flesh of the laborers, following outbursts of black death and famine that were too deadly to be dealt with rationally. These phenomena speak of the known role of trauma and pose questions on the still unclear consequences of the current pandemic on mental health.

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Compiled by Isabel Valli
8 Essays
Subjectivity and Automation The history of the last fifty years can be read from the point of view of the relation between subjectivity and automation, the replacement of a living process by a technological artifact whose performances replicate the logical and functional succession of human acts. In the history of capitalism, this replacement has a double goal: increasing workers’ productivity and subduing the political force of organized workers. In the last decades of the...
Today, it seems interesting to me to go back to what I would call an animist conception of subjectivity, if need be through neurotic phenomena, religious rituals, or aesthetic phenomena. How does subjectivity locate on the side of the subject and on the side of the object? How can it simultaneously singularize an individual, a group of individuals, and also be assembled to space, architecture and all other cosmic assemblages? —Félix Guattari 1. Animism and...
1. Mental Institution In the annals of the Arkansas Lunatic Asylum, the very first patient arrives several days before the facility—a multi-storied, Victorian brick edifice—officially opens in March 1883. The state’s first and only public zoo is built next to the asylum in 1926, and at first it houses exactly two animals: an abandoned timber wolf and a circus-trained bear, whose calls carry into the asylum at night. The bear and the wolf. We’re suckers for things coming in...
We live in a moment of profound cultural deceleration. The first two decades of the current century have so far been marked by an extraordinary sense of inertia, repetition, and retrospection, uncannily in keeping with the prophetic analyses of postmodern culture that Fredric Jameson began to develop in the 1980s. Tune the radio to the station playing the most contemporary music, and you will not encounter anything that you couldn’t have heard in the 1990s. Jameson’s claim that postmodernism...

In this impersonal multiplicity, there is no one. What does this “no one” mean? It means a structural impossibility for “one” to be. A comrade is never alone—not in the trivial sense that there is always someone else around, but in the more radical sense that you are always many. You are Legion. This is how you succeed in “the fine art of not getting arrested,” persecuted, or burned alive by the inquisitors of your age. When you are many, you turn your back to the police officer and disappear. Comradeship creates a shield against the witch hunters who will try to catch us one by one, but who will never destroy the whole set of alliances that make up the Great Sorcery International. You know what I mean.

First scene: 1973. 1 I begin a friendship with Gilles Deleuze, whose seminars I have been attending over the past two years or so. With his mischievous humor, he insists on saying that he, and not Félix Guattari (with whom I am undergoing analysis at the time) is my schizoanalyst. He proposes that we work together, offering me a gift and a theme: an LP with Alban Berg’s opera Lulu and a suggestion to compare the death cries of Lulu, its lead character, with those of Maria, a character in...
1. Nervous Systems In 1882 Doctor Paul Emil Flechsig, a brain anatomist with no experience in clinical psychiatry, took up the directorship of the psychiatric clinic of the University Hospital in Leipzig. For German institutional psychiatry, the appointment decisively inaugurated a new episteme. In one move, the era of the soul ended and the era of the brain began. 1 Dr. Flechsig’s project linked neural activity to all of human behavior and thought, a reduction that persists in...
To make machines look intelligent it was necessary that the sources of their power, the labor force which surrounded and ran them, be rendered invisible. —Simon Schaffer If a machine is expected to be infallible, it cannot also be intelligent. —Alan Turing Metacognition in the Twenty-First Century California Adult The idea that “machines think” displays an unintended solidarity with the animism of less industrialized cultures, which have long recognized autonomous...
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