THE ECONOMY OF SPONGE
Sponge remains elastic until it is thoroughly worn out and exhausted and as such it is an ideal subject for the contemporary capitalist paradigm. Sponge subjectivity is employable, which implicitly proposes infinite elasticity and flexibility. (Malabou 2008, 46) In the hard conditions of cognitive capitalism, the subject is presupposed to bear attributes of flexibility and elasticity in relation to time, space, performance and abilities. Flexibility “confounds them within a pure and simple logic of imitation and performance. It is not creative but reproductive and normative.” (Malabou 2008, 71-72) The flexible and elastic sponge is:
“the exact opposite of plasticity! While plastic material holds its form and cannot return to its initial state once it has been configured (as happens for example, with sculpted marble), elastic material does return to its initial form and loses the memory of the deformation that it has undergone." (Malabou 2012a, 177)
It is a form, which in caricature represents the desired attributes of a performer in present conditions. However, it is not a fluid or gaseous subject, as Finnish political theorist Jussi Vähämäki proposes for the subjectivity of abstract and cognitive labour. (Vähämäki, 2006) Some forms of capitalism may function like gas, but subjectivity has the form of a sponge: resilient, responsive and firm. It is able to absorb new refrains and mix them in appropriate ways for it to be productive. However, plastic is not only elastic and flexible, but also brittle, rigid, liquid and explosive. Sponge subjectivity is an ideal mode for a cognitive worker, which inexorably holds within itself other aspects of plasticity. When the plastic soul loses its breath, a shadow of flexibility, which has detonative unpredictability, potentially a Semtex-subjectivity becomes activated as part of its essence.
Sponge subjectivity is linked to a “homeostasis of affective economy,” which maintains subjectivity and its identity – the economy of drives, stimuli and their representations. (Malabou 2012a, 29-37) It is an affective economy of sponge subjectivity and one in which we are not aware of our identity being formed by this economy. In relation to this, what kind of subjectivity is produced by the accident or annihilation of some attributes of sponge? Amidst the familiar refrains, repetition with indifference, we are running the course of life, with predictability and an amount of necessary flexibility meeting the bumps and turns life has reserved for us. Our identity is solid like a plastic sponge – resilient, but flexible. Malabou describes: “transformations do nothing but reinforce the permanence of identity, caricaturing of fixing it, but never contradicting it. They never disrupt identity.” (Malabou 2012b, 1-2) When rupture is taking place in the form of an accident or disaster, then an “unprecedented persona comes to live with the former person, and eventually takes up all the room. An unrecognizable persona whose present comes from no past. [...] A form born of the accident, born by accident, a kind of accident.” (Malabou 2012b, 1-2)
When change is taking place in artistic production, this unknown matter is the unpredictable duration of an impasse. It is not a case of normative adjustment but, similar to a trauma, a place, which will leave a ‘mute’ mark on subjectivity and transform it for good. Such a rupture in the course of life or artistic process is always violent and irreversible. The presence of a shadow of plasticity is apparent, while new forms of potentiality are being actualized. In this context, artistic practice does not only release tension, or produce cathartic change, but create irreversible contradictions and establish further rigidity.
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