Transgressing Borders: The Aesthetics of Cultural Resistance

    Project Details

    Description

    Any form of cultural resistance, will also develop its own form of aesthetics. The basic premise for this study, is the interconnection between aesthetic transgressions and cultural transgressions. As such, the project is based on a two-tiered approach – one of transgression and one of a connection between the aesthetic and the cultural.

    First, it is not unusual to assume that culture dictates sameness, while the aesthetic represents the different. Cultures tend to define what ties them together, rather than what separates. Aesthetic objects, on the other hand, strive to be unique and individual. Of course, this is only true on the most basic level, and it quickly becomes evident that the aesthetic becomes significant for people within a culture who want to be regarded as individual or different from the norm. this realization leads us on to transgression, where transgression becomes one way to distinguish oneself from the dominant.Transgression, then, is just as complicated as the connection between culture and aesthetics. First of all, transgressing borders is a way of refusing the conditions created by the borders, and those who enforce the borders. We can therefore say that the law of the border is similar to Jacques Derrida’s law of genre, even to the extent that the law also carries its transgression within in. There is a parallel here also to George Bataille’s concept of taboo and transgression, which he defines in Eroticism: “the transgression does not deny the taboo but transcends it and completes it” (Bataille, 63). In other words, transgression is necessary, which means that a dominant culture is dependent upon counter-cultural movements in order to establish itself as dominant.

    Not wanting to privilege one over the other, I will rather point out that the relationship between taboo and transgression – understood as the relationship between border and center – is in fact a power relation. Crossing borders and enforcing borders is a matter of power and resistance. A border is thus not a line but a power relation between people and between texts. My project’s aim is to examine these power relations, focussing especially on aesthetic devices as a challenge to these power relations. Certain devices are more acceptable than others, and certain transgressions are deemed illegal. My argument is that any form of cultural resistance will also result in a specific aesthetic development, folding the aesthetic into the cultural. Aesthetic transgression leads into cultural transgression, and any kind or form of resistance can therefore be seen as testing or crossing a border – whether it is an artistic or cultural border. It is this border crossing aesthetic that my project will investigate in four distinct areas, themselves thus representative of a medial border crossing.

    My first area of investigation will be cut-ups and other automatic/machine-generated literature. While the most well-known example of such generated literature is William Burroughs, there are many other examples of writers who have worked with such experiments. Tristan Tzara and Bill Bryson were the inspirations for Burroughs, and others have since also made such textual machines, such as Jeff Noon’s Cobralingus (2001), which is an invitation to the reader to create his or her own literary works by using the rules and techniques in the book.

    Such literary experiments challenge our perceptions of literature itself, of the author as the authority of the text, and of the status of the text itself. Its role in our culture, and its position within the field of cultural production (as defined by Pierre Bordieu) becomes dubious when it is no longer created solely by the author, but to an equal extent by the introduction of chance, random elements and techniques not usually regarded as part of literary aesthetics. Such generated texts challenge the way we read and understand novels, and so attempt to de-automatize our culture’s relationship with literature.

    This can be seen as connected to my second area of investigation: exploitation cinema. Generally considered films of poor quality, exploitation cinema nonetheless has a strong subcultural following; a following that goes beyond a kitsch aesthetic of ironic appropriation of poorly made films. Employing very specific techniques, exploitation cinema has created a concrete aesthetic which flies in the face of mainstream and art cinema aesthetics. Refusing the conventions of especially Hollywood film-making, exploitation cinema attempts not only to challenge these conventions (many cinematic movements do this) but also forge a cinematic space radically different from mainstream cinema.

    Working particularly from subject matter more than formal, stylistic features, exploitation cinema has developed a catalogue of the ‘unfilmable’ in their fascination with sex, gore, blood and bodily functions. These transgressions based purely on contents has, however, developed into a specific aesthetic, one that challenges what is usually presentable. With the emergence of the Cinema of Transgression, we can even find an interpenetration of low and high art forms, when Nick Zedd and others also attempt to shock spectators out of their conventional ways of viewing.

    Also in the field of music, my third area, can we find examples of aesthetic transgressions in the inclusion of noise into what can be accepted within music. Arnold Schoenberg and Karlheiz Stockhausen introduced dissonance into music, and this has since developed into a very broad field of noise music and noise rock. Musicians and bands such as Merzbow, Destroy All Monsters and Replicator challenge the way that music should sound, and certainly deny that pleasurable music is an easy category. Noise is removed from the simple, typical category of unpleasant sounds, and instead moved into a field of aesthetics, where it transgresses and disrupts typical notions of taste.

    Also, the heavy use of samples is reminiscent of the cut-up techniques, but also more problematic due to copyright infringement. The aesthetic use of samples – whether in noise music or elsewhere – challenges the music industry and the legal borders enforced to prevent the free circulation of music.

    Finally, my fourth area is that of the body, and the transgressions and extensions that people undergo with body modifications. Ranging from simple earrings to elaborate full-body tattoos, people choose to alter and modify their bodies in order to comply with a specific ideal of beauty. Even for simple surgical procedures, this poses the question whether our culture prefers surgical scars to sagging skin, which Victoria Blum points out has a quite obvious and evident answer.

    However, there are more extreme examples of body modification, the most significant being perhaps Olan. Her numerous surgical procedures break down the difference between body and image, continually recasting herself as celebrity, and attempting to change her body to match the images of her. Such extreme modifications questions our view of the body as a coherent whole, and instead shows how the body is as much a performance as a material object.

    As we can see, the unifying feature in these four areas remain the fact that the aesthetic is used to challenge the cultural, and that the aesthetic transgressions all articulate a sense of difference not otherwise possible. Breaking down the conventional aesthetic borders becomes a way of disrupting the cultural norms. My main terminology to describe these processes will be the Situationists concept of detournement, as it is also a terminology that cultural studies in itself has continued in the works of Raymond Williams and Dick Hebdige.
    StatusFinished
    Effective start/end date01/03/200801/03/2011

    Funding

    • <ingen navn>

    Keywords

    • Cultural resistance
    • Aesthetics
    • Subculture
    • Counterculture
    • Transgression

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