“The Paradoxes of Post-Conceptual Thinking” – Irene Alcubilla Troughton
In our last session of Transmission in Motion Seminar, we had the chance to assist a performance-lecture given by John McKenzie and Aneta Stojnic based on what was called “thought-action figures”. This proposition (in lack of a better term) was introduced in an attempt to search for a post-conceptual, post-ideational knowledge that could break down barriers of traditional Western thinking, such as the division between episteme and doxa that still guides higher institutions. Accordingly, they employed different means of expressions: traditional lecturing, a way of ironically show a traditional lecture, movement, videos and even dancing.
In the comparison brought up later in the Q&A session, between post-conceptual thinking and post-dramatic theatre, I could frame in a clearer manner what had just happened before. If post-conceptual thinking (a difficult proposition to grasp for me) resembled in any way post-dramatic theatre, then it was not aimed at abandoning conceptual thinking but at evaluating and levelling the importance of several media to convey meaning. I could get my head around that. However, the mere articulation of their performance-lecture around that specific topic made it more difficult for me to engage with what they were offering. How can we debate about “post-conceptual thinking” if not through conceptualisation? And if that barrier is unbreakable (in the same way that discussions about anthropocentric biases and points of view are being discussed) isn’t that reinforcing a binary between something experiential, outside the symbolic, that cannot possibly be grasped by language, in a sort of psychoanalytic Real?
More questions arose when reflecting on these issues. If we assume that it is indeed possible to conceptualise “thought-action figures” in order to communicate and be able to comprehend that proposition. Then, what is the difference between “thought-action figures” and metaphors? What is their difference with concepts in the way Mieke Bal (2002) proposes them? Concepts that move, that perform, that do things. When we approach concepts as, first of all, an analytical tool and, secondly, treating them with the realisation that they are more than words, that they compose reality, that they articulate our movements, our ideas, our experiences, what is then the difference with “thought-action figures”?
Another complication that I found in order to fully engage in the performance-lecture was the way certain “thought-action figures” were brought up as revolutionary, such as the pussyhats or walking. Especially in the latter, when a visual representation of an over-sexualised and stereotypically feminine figure from a video-game was constantly being shown. As Rosi Braidotti (2013) warns us, the fact that advanced capitalism is able to accommodate a wide variety of changes and does not particularly care for traditional binaries and distinctions does not mean that it is not reproducing the same logics. To be more concise, the fact that capitalism is a post-gender and post-racial system does not mean that it is not profoundly sexist and racist (Braidotti, 2013: 106). In this sense, I believe vital to question not only the way in which we are approaching knowledge production but also with what purposes and with what kind of underlying alliances. Is a performance-lecture intrinsically post-logocentric? Is talking about the Guerrilla Girls as a “thought-action figure” automatically feminist? Straight-forward answers, of course, cannot be given. In the spirit of not falling into grand narratives, probably this type of answers should never be given and I will not attempt to do so. The spirit of constantly reassessing your methods, your intentions and your outcomes, however, should always be there.
- Braidotti, Rosi. 2013. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press
- Mieke, Bal. 2002. Travelling Concepts in the Humanities. A Rough Guide. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.