On the Decline of the Figure: Editor’s notes on Ultra-Core Anxiety 2023



, #art,
#cinema, #music, #corecore

Some notes and thoughts from άkira palaίs on the latest Becoming release.

Onty’s film Ultra-Core Anxiety has really impressed us, and it has become a defining project of Becoming. It speaks volumes that something so unexpected would could our way and have such an impact on us. We have to thank Onty, not just for the film, and the chance to host it, but for their formative role in the aesthetics of Becoming. Now that the 50-minute sequence finds itself as a permanent landing page fixture, we can observe a hidden quality to the film — now, every time we open our homepage, we are met with a different image, a random one, one without a subject or figure — our website has become a beautiful blackhole of symbolism so densely compacted that it has started composting. 

Ultra-Core Anxiety 2023: The Anti-Authenticity Sequence (UCA2023) is the culmination of a project that explored the concept of “CoreCore”: from a Hardcore to a Normcore, to a Cottagecore, to a Core-Core.
           The Film is a fifty minute sequence of 1 minute cores, each of which, contrary to something like cottagecore, take the notion of core as their own -core. It is a conceptual game similar to the “nessness of -ness”: what is the Raganess of Raga, for example. It is a kind of infinity mirror where in place of any specific obejct of reference, there is a kind of processual fractal spiral of self-negations.
           Alongside the film, the creator published an essay outlining the thoughts behind the work, and one of the most interesting parts for us, was the idea that in putting  “core”, which is, like ness, something defined by a lack of subject (hence the requisite of a determination such as “cottage”, “normal”, “fairy”, and so on), the identity-centered approach to aesthetics are inverted. Instead of being focused around — instead of elobrating myself, I will show my favourite part of the text:

CoreCore must be understood from the outset to be a repeal of ‘-Core’, from which it makes its dialectical leap. The term ‘Core’ predates the internet by a wide margin, via its initial use in the 1970’s ‘HardCore’. Terms like ‘Normcore’ were used as early as 2008 to refer to deliberately bland, corporate unisex aesthetics (Kosalan Kathiramalanthan, 2014). However, the true explosion of ‘Cores’ arguably occurred circa 2014 in the peak of Tumblr’s MoodBoard era – it is worth remembering, to this point, that the first known use of the term ‘CoreCore’ originated on Tumblr in 2020, a year before the term’s first use on TikTok. ‘Core’ can be defined as a suffix which designates its object as an aesthetic category - or, perhaps we could say after Hegel, a determination of the understanding. Thus, for example, ‘cottagecore’ elevates cottage to the status of a category serving to parse or structure experience. The various objects which coalesce under cottagecore -candles, rain on windowpanes, etc.- are authenticated in reference to the identity of the ‘Core’ in question. Candles, wood panelling -whatever- are lent identity, authenticity, essence by virtue of the Core in which they find proximity, they are the phenomenal appearance of the noumenal, essential Core. Crucially, however, the ‘cottage’ which is originally assigned the status of a Core exists as a member of its own set as well as the set per se, such that it assumes a double-meaning. The ‘cottage’ in cottagecore retains a positive identity by virtue of its inclusion in the set, but the cottagecore is elevated to the position of a ‘Zero Signifier’ which refers to the meaning-bearing property of the Core without assuming any particular meaning itself. That everything can be a Core produces an interesting trajectory. As each ‘object’ of Core (e.g. a candle qua CottageCore) becomes its own Core (i.e. CandleCore),  the possible candidate members of Core are cannibalized exponentially into ‘Core’ such that the field increasingly becomes nothing but a void of Cores - to invoke Marcel Mauss, a field of mana without hosts. This is the natural expression of Core's proliferation, despite the fact that it negates its own function of validating particular identities. In attempting to multiply and validate identities infinitely, Core inevitably produces a field with nothing but the means of validation, nothing but a void as ground.
           CoreCore, meanwhile, is defined precisely by a rejection of the logic of the external element which characterizes Core. Rather than identifying and expressing a category of the understanding through the elevation of a ‘Core’, CoreCore pushes into the very Form of this understanding. This marks a departure from the logic of Essence-Core and Appearance-Object and presents instead appearance as appearance. Rather than preserving the division between two opposed poles of Cottage and CottageCore, each of which holds its own self-equality, CoreCore pursues a line of speculative cognition that proposes the dialetheic position of asserting the primacy of the contradiction as constitutive rather than derivative of a relation between identities. The gap between cottage and cottagecore, which qua Core is taken as a sort of epistemic limitation to be asymptotically pursued through the multiplication of subsequent Cores, is directly confronted as the ontological condition of Core through its own self-reflection - CoreCore. We might properly call this ‘dialectical’ in the precise sense that ‘Core’ amounts to the moment of understanding, the first moment of Hegel’s dialectical movement - in which the determinations and identities of ‘Cores’ are preserved through relations of opposition -External Reflection- with their objects. CoreCore is not purely a rejection or repeal of ‘Core’ but is properly its sublation - its simultaneous preservation and overcoming. ‘Core’, on the other hand, is in fact the destruction of Core — as its diremptive method of self-preservation amounts to an infinite multiplication of Cores productive ultimately of a field that lacks the objects necessary for the oppositional relation constitutive of ‘Core’.

In all honesty, I am a scholar of music, just one from a discipline of musicology that acknowledges that a study of music is really a study of sociology, psychology, anthropology, and politics. I am not a thereotician in political theory or in metaphysics, but I am highly attuned to symbolism. Subversion, perhaps most rudimentarily seen in the anti-cross of the anti-christ, often has to do with inverting symbols, either literally through the literal inversion of a Control Image, or in terms of symbolic acts (creating through enactment or utterance difference against a given). An example of what I mean by this is found in a critique of “the stage” as a symbol of patriarchal societal organization. It is quite easy to see why a philosopher might accuse rock of phallocentrism, of a man on stage playing their guitar, ejaculating all over the crowd as they beg and cheer for it. Yet, the critique can extend to the stage in its totality as a concept. Here, we suggest that the stage itself serves only to distinguish between performer and audience, where the stage is both raised up above the audience (symbolic of hierarchical politics), and oppositional to them — the stage, along with its musicians, as the powerful man and his penis, and the audience the desperate vagina who can do nothing but sit and take it.  
           It is precisely the point of Adorno that when we recreate all of these nano-fascistic instances (am I using that term right?) , all these images of Fascism and Patriarchy, we double down on them, we engage with them, we reinforce them and intensify the polarity. It was anecdotal in my last text, but there was the symbolic act of inverting a stage once at The Gathering 2 (2017), and for me always seems like the point was to flip the binary political structure implied by the stage/audience division, so that the peformers look up at the audience. I found it a stunning symbol because at the time I was studying Ontology of Music, and within this field of musicology there is a definition of music that I have been working with as the starting point of my own theory of Musical Ontology:

Music is (1) any event intentionally produced or organized (2) to be heard, and (3) either (a) to have some basic musical feature, such as pitch or rhythm, or (b) to be listened to for such features. (Kania, 2011a: 12).

This definition is a deeply political argument as it actually frames the musician and audience as equal, indistinguishable contributants to a social experience of music — whatever it is that we love about music, it is created equally, simultaneously, by both the one on stage and the ones in the audience. Without learned listeners who are trained in the culture of music, artists can’t express themselves — it’s not one of these cases of finding a balance between masculine and feminine energies, more a case of needing to see beyond masculine/feminine, to see them as the same substance effectively. This, as an idea, can either be linked to the Tao, and the symbol of the Yin-Yang, which presents polar opposites as integrated into each other, and flowing into each toher (depicted with the inclusion of black and white dots in each crescent), or from the work of someone like Tziana Terranova, who insists that there need be no theory of femininity, as it just reinforces the idea of a masculinity, which, effecitvely, does not exist either, but is an appearance conjured up by dark wizards. There are no women, in so far as there are no men — there is no performer, in so far as there is no audience, at least when audience is rendered as something passive and submissive. If there is an acknowledgement of the creativity of the audience, then they are no longer in contrast to the performer, and the two cancel each other out. You cannot do any clever inversions or subversions without some agreement on the version. Most post-Adornian sociologists of music are likely to agree that music, as something that is, like politics, defined as the composition and arrangement of social materials, can be an excellent medium for praxis. Changes in how we practice music would, for Adorno, undoubtedly lead to a change in how we approach politics.
           Another good example of this, briefly, is from Philip Tag, who wrote about “the decline of the figure, and the rise of ground” within rave music, where in place of figures, identifiable positivistic phenomena that appear to stand out of the screen, creating hierarchical distinctions between foreground and background, rave music exhibited a privileging of ground. In other words, the lack of a foreground in rave music composition left only ground remaining, something everyone can step on or into — instead of something stepping out of the music towards you (as individual subject), you step into the music towards the raving-BwO, which, rather than standing out or upon anything, seems to step aside like the gatekeeper of a doorway.
           This has been a long way of reaching the point where I can say that, for me, what The.Ontological.Turnt has done with corecore, feels the same as what I have described — a deeply cynical and subversive symbol that banishes both the object and identity of both the “-core” and its given identity (such as fairy or cottage). It shows that affective audiovisual flows do not need to center around any symbolic images of Phallocentiric Positivism. You need nothing classically positive to express something artistically, not a pro-tagonist, not an object of reference, nor any kind of binding narrative voice that resembles Derrida’s critique of the privileging of speech as the masculine, penetrative mode of expression — you need not, actually, an identity in the sense of the likes of Deleuze & Guattari, where identities, while initially offering liberation, become fixed cages — the more you try to identify as something or someone, the more you restrict yourself — “I cannot do this any longer because I am an X, and X don’t do that”, or, lets say, losing the ability to understand your own interests and needs due to them being mediated by a Image of something else.  In a way, we become subjects of an identity, and that is the paradox a lot of trans people face. Due to the machinery of identity that refuse a transexual position, we are forced to identify religiously, to commit to that identity as to not suffer erasure, but then we become trapped in a cycle of working towards a fixed image, and therefore becoming stagnant. The removal of the object in Ultra-Anxiety Core 2023, in an age of OOO, is radical — it demands that we do not, any longer, need to assume that everything must orient around something fixed, permanent, unchanging, and static — but, it is not just a demand for addressing this problem of a masculinized-subjectivity, it is a proof, that removal of positivistic traditions does not need to nihilism, but rather liberates meaning itself from a stagnant identity. Ultra-Core Anxiety 2023 does not have any specific identity of reference, but it has so much to say, not just about the content in terms of literal symbols on screen, but, as we have explored here, about our culture of art, aesthetics, cinematography, and so on.
           Thank you to Onty for sharing this with us, it’s a fantastic conclusion of your CoreCore arc, and we are here to support you in any future endeavor.

A!kira (editor of Becoming)