Ritornellos and the temporalisation of the subject

Authors: George Burdon*, University of Bristol
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: Ritornello, Unconscious, Subjectivity, Temporalisation, Non-representational theory
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Marriott Ballroom Salon 2, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Following disciplinary critiques of the human subject as central in processes of action and cognition, this paper proposes the concept of the ‘ritornello’ (from Felix Guattari via Anne Sauvagnargues) as an alternative way of thinking through non-cognitive processes of spatiotemporal habituation. Beyond the trappings of a psychoanalytically-framed subject, the ritornello encourages us to take seriously the ways in which material forces outside the realm of representational consciousness become expressive of particular modes of life. Secondly, and in contrast to an understanding of a uni-linear consciousness tied to a supposedly one-dimensional time, ritornellos are understood as aesthetic and sensory vectors of temporalisation that express a plurality of temporal inhabitations. Thirdly, sound is privileged as a particular domain through which ritornellos function. Here then, the idea of the unconscious as an obscure but a priori space gives way to an understanding of experience as emergent through temporal processes that exceed but subtend cognitive recognition. Resultantly, the paper attends to two questions: What are those things in the world that, despite lying outside of the realm of rational human thought, temporalise us? And what modes of life do they express? It is with these provocations in mind, and politically, that the paper seeks to challenge what Anne Sauvagnargues (2016: 129) describes as “the phallocratic anthropomorphism of any discourse that thinks a time in general for a man in general.”

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