Numbing the Pain: Aesthetics and Anaesthetics of Global Mexico
Organizer: Maximillian Alvarez, University of Michigan
Co-Organizer: Marcela Romero Rivera, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
“Being ‘cheated out of experience’ has become the general state, as the synaesthetic system is marshaled to parry technological stimuli in order to protect both the body from the trauma of accident and the psyche from the trauma of perceptual shock. As a result, the system reverses its role. Its goal is to numb the organism, to deaden the senses, to repress memory: the cognitive system of synaesthetics has become, rather, one of anaesthetics.” – Susan Buck-Morss
In reevaluating Walter Benjamin’s famous Artwork essay, Susan Buck-Morss pores over the ghostly premonition embedded in Benjamin’s closing lines: “[mankind’s] self-alienation has reached such a degree that it is capable of experiencing its own destruction as an aesthetic enjoyment of the highest order. So it is with the aestheticization of politics, which is being managed by fascism.” The synaesthetic system is “open” in the extreme sense; we could think of it as the nervous system itself, but only by accepting the nervous system as a circuit of sensibility not confined to the seemingly finite contours of the rubbery brain, the fleshy body. “As the source of stimuli and the arena for motor response, the external world must be included to complete this sensory circuit.” The aesthetic is the realm in which we are in-/de-creasingly open to the world, in which we sense, feel, experience, respond. And the “uncivilizable trace” of the senses is part of the core of the “biological apparatus,” whose indispensible drive is that of self-preservation, for the individual and the group. For Benjamin, as for Buck-Morss, as for us now, it is precisely this drive that is being cut off.
The aesthetic condition of (post-)modern life is a “crisis of perception.” Our sensorium is constantly “shocked” by technological mediation and manipulation, by controlled spectacle, by fashion, by our routinized saturation in phantasmagoria to the point that our synaesthetic system “reverses its role” and anesthetizes the frayed nerves. Pharmaceuticals don’t only numb us to the overload; they allow us to become spectators of a world we are in but no longer feel. It is under this general anesthesia that we can watch the world burn and be disappointed when the explosions aren’t big enough. We propose this crisis of perception as an analytic context through which to frame new, and reframe old, issues of “global Mexico.” Dealing with political/perceptive realities in Mexico, on/of the border, ways of relating to Mexico “from outside,” and Mexico as concept, we invite papers that deal with any range of topics, such as: media and technology; literature; art; the body; drugs; cultures; (pre-)linguistic regimes; sexuality; sensuality; materiality; cognition; “nature”; inside/outside; etc.