Abstraction and Abjection: Formations of Feeling & Knowing in Modernisms and their Repercussions

Investigator: Dr. des. Marius Henderson

My project investigates the relation between abstraction and abjection in artistic practices and modes of knowledge production as well as in non-artistic discursive and affective formations, from the late nineteenth century until the present. Constitutive factors of early industrial capitalism and hegemonic modes of subject formation, along the lines of race, gender, dis/ability, and further categories of social positioning, rely on the concomitance of the creation of abstract categories and the fundamental abjection of populations (e.g. of persons of color) and specific practices (e.g. feminized care work/reproductive labor). I argue that early Western, transnational modernist avant-gardes, in their investment in aesthetic modes of abstraction, conceptually and constitutively often rely on the abjection of Blackness and “femininity.”
In my project, I aim to highlight rarely acknowledged aspects of aesthetico-political practices which experiment with different modes of abstraction, which do not disentangle abstraction from embodiment, and embrace rather than abject Blackness and feminized care work/reproductive labor. These practices need to be discussed in relation to questions of failure, as they ostensibly fail to meet the normative standards of hegemonic avant-garde abstractionism and also fail to meet the expectations which are directed towards the aesthetico-political expressions of marginalized populations.

My project discusses the potential of artistic practice as a mode of knowledge production, as “artistic research,” which implicitly and explicitly challenges normative conceptualizations of scientific knowledge production, as it ostensibly failsto meet scientific standards and treats modalities of failure as a constitutive resource (cf. Moten and Harney 2013; Manning and Massumi 2014; Halberstam 2011, 2014). Thematically, concerning the focus on dynamics of abstraction and abjection, a critical engagement with (mainly racialized and gendered) “passing” is crucial to my project. “Passing” constitutes modes of knowledge production and is closely connected to valences of failure – e.g. via the failure to “pass” or the failure to uphold one’s allegiance with a particular subject position.
Fields of contemporary critical discourse in which my project is situated or with which it interacts are:
affect theory, Black Studies, queer theory, feminist theory, “new materialism.”