TT Journal, ISSUE 5, 20th January 2023
By Michal Klodner
I am sitting in a meadow, where children play in the grass. So many flowers, so much space to run. You know how wonderful it is.
But sometimes they get a tick.
The tick was a famous example that Jacob von Uexküll used to explain biosemiotics. He described how this eyeless animal finds the way to the top of a blade of grass, how the smell of butyric acid, which emanates from all mammals, together with their temperature, work on the tick as a signal to fall towards their host. Then, through the sense of touch it finds the least hairy spot on the warm and soft tissue.
There are two daughters, about the same age and a younger boy. My partner, when she was studying social work, said we were a patchwork family. The daughters were from her and my previous relationships. With our son, we were a family of five. I learned about Uexküll from a philosophy professor at the university where I was finishing my Ph.D. that spring.
Biosemiotics, a part of my dissertation, studies the pre-linguistic making of meaning, production of signs and codes and biological interpretation processes. The carriers of significance of the tick are odor, temperature and hairiness. Of course, a tick doesn’t read these characteristics like letters in a book, it is inevitably attracted to them. It is affected by the sign, which directly leads to motor action. In philosophy, this connects to affect theory, from Spinoza to Gilles Deleuze. Functions of embodied cognition, representation, desire, emotions and agency can create rigid codification, despotic power and authoritative unity.
It is best to remove ticks as soon as possible before they get deeper.
I am sitting in a conference room. I’ve been summoned to an educational committee. Or maybe disciplinary committee. My son did something that required me to attend a hearing. He started studying pharmaceutical chemistry three months ago at this high school.
There are several teachers and deputy director at the other side of the table, all women. Me and my son next to me. He is a 15 years old teenager, short coloured blonde hair, black clothes.
Turns out he wrote into the exam worksheet some vulgar notes instead of answers. He is often vulgar and tone of the notes they are showing me is also aggressive to women, there is a mother figure depicted next to the ejaculating penis. It starts with „I am stupid“ and it’s all pretty much creepy.
I remember those hours and hours of him playing loud hip-hop music with masculine lyrics and macho poses that almost gave me a headache, endless playing badass GTA, reading the Death Note comic series. I understand that. But they don’t, they do not want such things in their new sustainable school building with glass walls and doors.
Within 10 minutes he receives the director’s reprimand and I can go.
And I agree with them. He ignores me mostly, smoking, loitering at night, he needs some boundaries on how to behave. He sees only his own interests, tries to confront authority, fortunately mostly verbally. All I said was “Well, it is not tolerable, but seemingly, he turned trans not long ago and it brings these undeveloped masculinity problems.”
Yes. I am proud of the young boy for his achievement after only three months at school, but I also remember that he once was my cute little girl.
Coincidentally, Franco Bifo Berardi, my favourite philosopher, just shared his last text, as if to answer my situation. It is in Italian, titled „On the mutation of desire“, and I start reading:
… the engine of the process of subjectivation is desire. We must stop thinking in terms of ‘subject’, we must forget Hegel and the whole conception of subjectivity as something pre-packaged that is simply a matter of organising.
There is no subject, there are streams of desire flowing through organisms that are at once biological, social and sexual. And conscious, of course.
But consciousness is not something that can be considered pure, indeterminate. Consciousness does not exist without the incessant work of the unconscious, of this laboratory that is not a theatre because a tragedy already written is not played out there, but a tragedy traversed by streams of desire we are constantly writing and rewriting.
As a cameraman, I was invited to make a recording of two discussions at Prague Pride festival. Discussions, organized by law support organisation, are about the legal status of LGBTQ people in connection with physical assaults against them because of their sexual orientation. Our post-communist law still does not recognize such personal characteristics as a status worthy of better protection. This is not surprising, as these communities are at the very least politically marginalised and at its worst attacked by bigots appealing to “traditional” values.
Social research is presented on screen, which says the majority of population is tolerant to LGBT, but says their orientation is their private matter, which should not be expressed publicly. Said as such the majority can express their sexuality while others are expected to hide it. Conservative wing ombudsman remarks that his role is to maintain equality of people, not exclusivity of some groups.
In other presentation and the following discussion it will be noted that older age gays and lesbians often do not identify the LGBTQ community, especially in smaller towns, because they did not know it before and are not personally in connection with anyone organizing for political rights.
The concept of desire serves as a key to explain the waves of social solidarity and the waves of aggression, to explain the explosions of anger and the hardening of identity. In short, desire is not a good, joyful boy; on the contrary, it can twist, close in on itself and eventually produce effects of violence, destruction, barbarism. Desire is not a natural datum, but rather an intensity that changes according to anthropological, technological, social conditions. Desire is the factor of intensity in the relationship with the other, but this intensity can go in very different, and even contradictory, directions.
I shot this recording a year before my teenager’s transition, not knowing this will become my personal and family matter soon. And this frames how people around me usually see this issue. Patriarchal heterosexual majority’s rigid stereotypes imposed upon victimized under-priviledged minorities.
I am often advised look for trans support groups or “gender dysphoria” treatment. But my boy does not identify with LGBTQ, feel any dysphoria and apparently, he loves stereotypes of masculinity. I think he deserves the joys of his identity and not to be treated as somebody not conforming to standards, destined for doctors. Wouldn’t that be the exercise of majority hegemonia? Besides, this is happening more and more often.
In the past, it has been difficult for trans people to come out. They didn’t have words for their feelings. Now more often teens have the necessary language skills, and with growing social acceptance comes a new generation’s confidence in the authenticity of their gender identity. They may not need medication or surgery to transition, as was usually the case with previous generations. Those who say they identify as trans may also feel “gender non-conforming” because they do not identify as a transgender man or woman.
We have a cupboard full of Lego models at home. That was an era. The children liked it, for any birthday there was a box, then came the large Lego Technic vehicles and programmable kit. Now they don’t even notice. It’s been lying around for years, so I have asked the younger one to take apart the models so we can give them to someone with smaller children. We even have the original boxes. It’s like a colourful geological layer. Imagination that was to be instrumentalized to proper technological and social productivity, by these pieces of plastic.
Marvel Avenger movies, I know them all.
Once upon a time, excited with building, or almost any activity, we also used to go out, go on hikes, read books together, attend painting courses, visit theatres or exhibitions. Today they are mostly into their mobile phones and computer games. They don’t need me anymore, with their age (12 and 15) comes a developmental stage where their identity develops independently and separates from their parents. They need opposition, independence. Social isolation and homeschooling during the pandemic deepened the attachment to digital devices. We became roommates.
In particular, we need to reflect on the mutation that has affected desire, taking into account the trauma that the pandemic experience has produced in the collective psychic. The virus may have dissolved, the infection may have been cured, but trauma does not disappear overnight, it does its work. And the work of trauma manifests itself in a kind of phobic sensitisation to the body of the other, especially to skin, lips, sex.
The meaning of the world is then replaced by the functionality of signs that allow us to obtain operative results, starting from the reception and interpretation of signs that are devoid of any affective depth, and therefore of any intimate certainty.
As a parent, I am fighting with perfectly tailored and tempting corporate media products profiled on attention data of thousands of children and teenagers.
It is therefore a question of problematising the concept of desire in the context of the present epoch, an epoch that can be defined by neoliberal acceleration and digital acceleration.
The neo-liberal economy has accelerated the pace of exploitation of labour, especially cognitive labour, connective digital technology has accelerated the circulation of information and consequently intensified to the extreme the pace of semiotic stimulation which is at the same time nervous stimulation.
This double acceleration is the origin and cause of the intensification of productivity that has made the increase in profit and capital accumulation possible, but it is also the origin and cause of the super-exploitation of the human organism, particularly the brain.
We therefore have the task of distinguishing the effects that this super-exploitation has produced on the psychic balance and sensitivity of human beings as individuals but above all as collectivities.
Who’s cooking the dinner, lads?
I remember the day my then daughter was born. I was doing some VJing and streaming at the time and there was a concert of a Marilyn Manson revival band in Roxy club. I’ve talked to the frontman a few times before about the projection. It was quite strange, it was about simply playing one videoclip from the DVD for one of the songs. He asked nervously whether anything could go wrong. I said no, just… my girl is expecting a baby, you know, but it is unlikely to be this date.
That evening I was in NoD gallery, one floor above Roxy, where we had a streaming radio. I received a call that our baby could be coming. I went downstairs where the concert was prepared, the videomixer, DVD player, everything connected, the concert about to start. Then I received another call that it really is happening. I left everything there and I rushed home.
At the time I was also VJing with Bruno Ferrari. If anything was queer on the Prague club scene, it was this band. Every song was different style, from 8-bit Japanese disco to country. Samir Hauser, electro chansonnier equipped with exuberant masculine housework roles like “Kitchen samurai”. “I’m your steak”, always charming and attentive to women of all kinds. Concerts rife with decadence, glamour, mystic atmosphere, passion, trash, loss of innocence, carnality, wonderful vampire lolitas girls wearing moustache or waving big penises.
The very first Bruno Ferrari song “Invite me to come in” was visually accompanied by characters and cuts from Pink Flamingos movie, starring the countercultural drag queen Divine. Other seductive girls and boys were from Alejandro Jodorowski’s Holy Mountain, B-movies, horrors, experimental cinema. For one concert in Roxy and its wide stage I made circular screens at the sides with background projections from cameras, working as realtime video mirrors. Oh, the dancers had their boudoirs, the scene was decorated with film fundus and I got a keyboard as a stand for my projection on stage. I could feel like David Bowie of Vjing.
I never gave it much thought but I guess I’m not a believer in rigid roles. My first musical idols were Edward Ka-Spel from Legendary Pink Dots or Genesis P-Orridge. At house and techno parties, I played with pop girl images from music videos, dissolving them in noise and other image distortions, keyed them with colourful inner life. I guess I burned quite some of it to the visual cortex of a generation. Several years later, the distortions became known as a “glitch“. While Bruno Ferrari started in 2004, the first Prague Pride didn’t come until 2011.
Am I father or am I mother?
I spent 12 years of my life on children’s playgrounds, all of those in our neighbourhood were centers of gravity in my everyday psychogeography. After my younger son’s mother chose somebody else, I was mostly alone for everything at home, cooking, taking kids to kindergarten and school, making sandwiches in the morning, hanging in the playground in the afternoon, reading fairy tales, bringing down their fever at night. I’ve learnt so much from them!
The older boy, who was still a girl then, was coming over only every other weekend: Again our post-communist model was perfectly made and enforced to prevent any meaningful relationship, caring or emotional sharing. You see the child like one day and then nothing for two weeks. He came back after 9 years as an angry young man.
Not complying with gender stereotypes, I was mostly isolated, some chat here and there, I also had to move on to other social territory and differentiate my relations in some better way.
Only the discourse on suffering, humiliation, loneliness, and despair can account for the phenomenon that now characterises the majority of world history in the phase of exhaustion of nervous energy, and in the expectation of an extinction that increasingly presents itself as an inevitable horizon.
I find childcare mostly relaxing. For me all of it was quite natural. Children are amazing. They were my companion, my entertainment. One year, we went on summer holiday to the Cévennes mountains and south coast of France, for nearly two weeks. I had to prepare everything, clothes, food, plan the trip, drive the car. Before we left, the home had to be perfectly tidy and clean, because it was an exchange. Good people from a mountain village house from France were coming to our place in Prague. It was a masterful achievement to do it single and it was beautiful. We climbed Mont Lozère barefoot, with a rainbow above our heads, we swimmed in the Mediterranean sea, we saw flamingos and white Camargue horses, we walked by ancient dolmens and menhirs, we had our village house where we watered plants and where goats and sheep ran around every evening.
Am I grandmother, baking a strudel? Am I mother, singing to a child falling asleep in my hands? Or am I just a plain father? Too naive, or too feminist?
The generation that is bitterly ironically referred to as the ‘last generation’ (or also the ‘zeta generation’), the generation that has learned more words from a machine than from the voice of its mother, or another human being, has been formed in an increasingly intolerable physical and psychic environment. The communication of this generation has almost only developed in a techno-immersive environment whose consistency is purely semiotic.
Maturing out of childhood dependency, gender performance, affective hyper-semiotisation… what will come later with their romantic relationships? Will they even be romantic?
Carl Gustav Jung, the father of analytic psychology as well as the guru for psychedelic researchers, said we have an archetype of the opposite gender in our minds. Animus is the male archetype deep in a woman’s mind and Anima is the woman hidden inside a man’s psyche. Maybe that’s why there are nonbinary people feeling like – or being – both.
Jung also distinguished four types of female and male archetypes. For psychosexual development, not only the main identity has to flourish. When the inner gender remains undeveloped, stiff or infantile, it still determines the basic character despite conscious personality efforts. So we have 16 combinations of inner dynamics and meeting another person multiplies the interplay even further.
Personally, I think each individual has a specific and unique gender and sex. Multi faceted roles and imaginative emotional positions are my playground.
I like my masculine body, I want to be strong and resilient. But the next moment I want to be flowing like water, going around prejudices and hatred. Is that feminine? My childhood hero was supposed to be Bruce Lee and after all „be like water” was his ultimate fighter mantra.
I’ve been introduced to feminism in the beginning of 90’s with Eva Hauserova’s sci-fi novel Feast of Mutagens and I continued with underground Vokno magazine and feminist texts of Mirek Vodrážka. Now I connect to feminist digital communities running their own digital infrastructures and networks. And I love feminist cinema, women directors, feminist experimental video, performance. Feminism for me is not about women taking the positions of hierarchical patriarchal power, but about dissolving them, together.
Jung also explained psychic projection, how people impose the experience of gender identity and stereotypical behavior on others in a form of affective image. I’ve experienced a lot of trauma with getting punished for being that image, or for not being that image…
And I’ve been through just enough to worry about it, I make fun of it when I can.
It is hard to say whether we have the liberal „identity à la carte“ and we can choose whatever is comfortable. For many LGBTQ, the body with different identity or sexual orientation is not a choice. The forces of genetics, transgenerational transfer of trauma, not being accepted by society, everyday bullying, psychosomatic embodiment of tension, are all stressors leading to depression and suicide in elevated rates.
Franco Berardi says psychology won’t be enough. With Félix Guattari as a longtime friend, he suggests schizoanalysis to escape the barracks. To confront the powers of collective gender imaginaries, body politics, manufactured desires and hatreds, the artificially multiplied, perceived enemies in an affectively heightened epistemological disorder we need completely new discursive strategies, disentanglement and desertion, re-wiring of the cognitive paths from toxic flows, connecting to naturecultures and collective body of more than human care. Schizoanalysis: also trending as #ecosophy, #micropolitics, #rhizomatics, or #nomadology.
Teenagers have a short for people behaving predictably and automatically without their own awareness, calling them NPCs. Non playable characters from games, psycho-zombies following explicit corporate hypnosis in what to buy, what to use, what to like.
Maybe there will no longer be romantic relations, they will be supplanted by schizoid ones.
[lovingly] Never mind, I’ll be badass snowflake, welcome to my biogender, my little schizoid gender playfulness.
On the mutation of desire. Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. Nero, 2022
Michal Klodner‘s practice moves between the field of audiovisual live performances and experimental film to forest gardening, building livinglab. With a background in information science and coding, he was among the founders of node9.org digital community server and online gallery, which he now also curates. His practice involves writing on online activism, digital curation and postmediality, as part of creating networks based on trust in those fields. In the recent projects on the role of artistic research in sustainability he explores computational aspects of media art in relation to ecosystems and more than human natureculture communities, trying to develop livinglab as an interdisciplinary method of nondestructive living-research in nature and wilderness.