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04 August 2010

Resonance and Utopianism

I've been thinking a lot in the last few days about Levi Bryant's and Tim Morton's concept of resonance  - particularly in terms of the pragmatics of social change.  The problem is that, while I was considering it, I found myself very quickly falling into a utopian mindset.  This is something I'm prone to anyway, but I think there was also something in the idea of resonance - at least as I was thinking it - that lends itself to an almost idealistic utopianism.  I think part of the problem was that I extended the metaphor beyond what Levi and Tim are trying to convey.  For Levi, resonance is "the ability of one object to perturb, irritate, or stimulate another object and therefore refers to the sort of openness an object has to its world or environment."  He says later:
"The first question the orator should ask herself is whether she or what she says and how she says it exists in the environment of her audience. Lacanian analysts are very sensitive to this. The entire theory of Lacanian interpretation is premised on the idea of resonance or the opportune moment (kairos) where a speech act can finally resonate in the unconscious of an analysand. The analyst doesn’t have this power at the beginning of the analysis, but only acquires it gradually over the course of analysis."
For whatever reason, I started thinking about how individuals and ideas might be able to resonate with a wider population and generate widespread social change very rapidly.  Not that a certain object or idea was resonating with a certain other object or idea (which is what Levi and Tim mean by the term), but that the population as a whole was resonating - this is where I think I extended the metaphor beyond what Levi and Tim intend.  I think this is a potentially distracting element of the metaphor, since this kind of thinking borders on teleology and ignores the work that must be done to implement social change.  But I think that the metaphor is still good, and the idea of "existing in the environment of another" is very profound.

Right now I see a lot of small scale experiments with new ways of living, new ways of building associations.  The problem is that they all seem to remain small scale (that is, few people engaging in them) while large scale consumer capitalism goes on unabated.  It seems to me that, in order for any of these experiments to effect the widespread social change that's needed they will have to be able to resonate with a lot more people - in the sense of becoming part of their world.  As in Lacanian analysis (and I haven't read any of Lacan's work yet, but clearly ought to read more) this is something that must be acquired over time.  But there's no way of knowing beforehand what sets of associations will resonate with the larger population.  There's no way of saying what or how our actions will exist in their worlds.  So it seems to me our best strategy remains to generate as many new sets of associations as possible and hope that one finds its way into the worlds of a larger population.  And maybe it's not a single resonating set of associations that we want, but rather a multiplicity of different associations, which taken together undermine the singular Capitalism.  I'll have to think about it some more

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