Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: Benjamin Noys

Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: McKenzie Wark
August 20, 2019
Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: Ben Graham
September 5, 2019
The Exploding Appendix Questionnaire is an ongoing data collecting exercise that, drawing upon divergent public figures from different intellectual disciplines and artistic practices, seeks to create an ongoing and ever-expanding map of ideas. Through this ever-expanding map of divergent views, we seek a kind of dialogue that, in both its overlaps and contradictions, creates a kind of hive-mind, which, in turn, helps contribute to the intellectual unfoldings of Exploding Appendix’s overall mission.
For the Exploding Appendix Questionnaire, we have asked some of our favourite intellectuals, activists, artists, creatives and commentators to contribute to a series of 11 generic questions. The same generic questions have been sent to everyone, and what you read below is one response to this.

 

1. Who are you and what do you do?
I am a critical theorist and I teach at a university.
2. What are your biggest influences in art, literature, music and cinema?
A rough list might run something like Detroit techno (and Berlin/Germany), ‘Jungle’ / drum and bass, John Carpenter’s The Thing, William Blake, George Eliot, Henry James, Malcolm X’s Autobiography, Georges Bataille, Jacques Derrida, psychoanalysis, William Blake, etc. A list that is very much shaped by my age and dispositions and so very limited. There is much more cinema, although for ten years or more I have watched hardly any films. There is some TV, but I wouldn’t watch most of that again. I read a lot, although less these days.
3. What, for you, is the purpose of art and culture?
I’m not sure I know. For me, something like an education that is also a way of enjoying, but an enjoyment that is also a challenge. I tend to like puzzling out difficult things. So, Detroit techno sounded so wonderful and so strange to me growing up in Essex in the 1980s and I wanted to know why. I am still not sure I do. Living in a suburb of London and being working class everything ‘cultural’ was pretty strange (although my parents always had books and music and were and are culturally engaged). I guess a lot of what I do is explaining to myself the things I like or the things that make me anxious. Maybe the purpose of art and culture is to generate anxiety.
4. What makes something subversive?
I’m not sure something is intrinsically subversive and even the notion of the subversive is limited in implying a relation to what it subverts (the same could be said about transgression and similar concepts). In general, I tend to find ‘subversions’ of form most interesting. I also find something subversive that thinks through its own conditions of subversion or displays that condition in some interesting (or difficult) way.
5. How would you approach the task of winning friends and influencing people?
Badly. I have very few friends and I don’t think much influence. I guess I try to be sincere and honest.
6. What does individual freedom mean to you?
Collective freedom. In the sense that individual freedom can only occur in relations with others, all sorts of others (animals, the soil, machines, nature, as well as humans). Also, in the sense that my freedom doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game with others.
7. Is there, for you, a relationship between the personal and the political?
Yes, I think the personal is saturated with the political. I think politics is lived in our bodies, in our dispositions, in our ‘habitus’ (Bourdieu). That’s both a good and a bad thing, or just a thing.
8. What is the root of society’s problems?
A one shot answer would be capitalism, which is obviously bound up with structural forms of power that oppress through gender, sexuality and the construction of ‘race’ (also the violence towards nature). I am interested in how these structural forms are lived, how we ‘bear’ them (carry them and put up with them). In particular, at the level of the body and the material. It seems one of the interesting things at the moment that concerns about bodies and embodiment are deepening, perhaps in response to ‘virtualisation’, but also perhaps because the digital and technological is taking an embodied form.
I should say I don’t think people are bad or evil. In fact, I tend to think people are good. The problem would then be how they go against the good.
9. Will technology liberate humankind?
No. I don’t think technology is a neutral tool and I don’t think it is a path to liberation. The existing relations of production and power shape technology and technology would itself have to be liberated. The usual thing to say is ‘I’m not a luddite’, but luddites grasped the violence of their own displacement by machines and were not simply ‘anti-technology’. I would add that personally I am not particularly technologically capable, but possess the usual devices.
10. Do you have a vision for utopia?
Not really. I have friends like Jo Isaacson and the people at Blindfield who, it seems to me, do an amazing job at finding and developing the utopian within popular cultural forms. It is no coincidence I have worked on the negative as I tend to find it easier to define utopia in what it is not – say a world not determined by value, for example. Perhaps one of the reasons my work is limited is that I find it difficult to make ‘positive’ statements. I think, while inclined to depression, I am not a ‘negative’ person (in the usual sense).
11. Finally, where can people find more of your work?
My work can be found here: https://chi.academia.edu/BenjaminNoys
You can also find PDFs of my books online. I’d start with Malign Velocities, although The Persistence of the Negative is the better book.