Thesis 1. On Advenience

An advenience is the ingression of an appearance. An appearance is the luminous partiality that strikes one’s sensorium. The advenience of an appearance is thus the bodying forth of a luminosity that affronts our regard. As an effrontery, as an intensity of interface, the advenience of an appearance is an event of resistance.

BY “ADVENIENCE” I REFER to the capacity of things to stand forth or affront the spectator and, through this bodying forth, to strike at one’s perceptual milieu. An advenience is the projecting outward of an appearance: a sound, a sight, a touch that, though perhaps always available, becomes obstinately perspicuous at the moment of its bodying forth. The challenge—both aesthetic and political—is to come to terms with this perspicuity. That an appearance advenes because of an intensity of projection means that we cannot rely on preexisting norms or criteria for making sense of the appearance. Indeed, the making sense of an appearance is precisely what the advenience denies. To regard an advenience is to allow the possibility of an absorptive be/holding (“Thesis 2: On Be/holding”) that disarticulates our subjectivities from the structures of interest that conduct our habits of sense making. The advenience of an appearance interrupts the linear necessity of cause and effect.

An advenience is not an epistemic object: it has neither attributes, nor qualities, and there is nothing substantive about it. To handle an advenience as an object of epistemic interest, or even as a representational object whose nature it is to index something in the world, is to deny it its emergent luminosity and, thus, to deny it its singularity and its friction. It is, moreover, an attempt to affirm that adveniences belong to us, that they are for us. This is the conceit of the hermeneutic pursuit of meaning. To designate an advenience exclusively as an epistemic object (i.e., as a substance that appeals principally to our cognitive, meaning-making faculties) presumes a compellant must that affirms sense making as a validity criteria. This is the necessity of interest espoused by an epistemic mode of handling adveniences.

But to affirm the interest of an advenience is to concede that the function of appearances is to represent. Our narratocratic impulses are such that we treat appearances as referential substances.[1] “This painting represents a house” or “that image reifies our subjectivity.” But before an object engages our cognitive capacities, it interfaces with our sensorialities. In short, before an appearance may be said to refer, it advenes; and at the level of its advenience, the appearance does not afford instructions for designating its own reference.

The advenience of an appearance exists prior to the “this” or the “that” of political judgment. Paradoxically, an advenience is the a priori that denies a prioris their power of privilege. When an appearance advenes, it does so in such a way that it cannot be either classified or categorized according to established criteria. The advenience of an appearance thus emerges in the interstice between sensation and reference. This is its political ontology. An advenience has an intangible punctuality about it. It touches us with a hapticity that cannot be reciprocated; and its touch is at once undetermined and unexpected (“Thesis 6: On the Noli me tangere”). Indeed, we can say that it is precisely the intangible hapticity of an advenience that disturbs our indexical prurience, our desire to scratch the itch of referentiality.

Consider a photograph. Roland Barthes says this: “I should like to know what there is in it that sets me off. So it seemed that the best word to designate (temporarily) the attraction certain photographs extend upon me was advenience or even adventure. This picture advenes, that one doesn’t.”[2] The term “advenience” has a brief half-life in Barthes’s text as it is quickly replaced by his famous punctum, about which he has much to say and about which much has been written. But whereas the punctum emphasizes the strikingness of an appearance (it is, after all, a wound that pricks or bruises us; that is, a violence that dislocates our subjectivity), an advenience regards the pure fact of appearance, regardless of its effects. For something to advene means that it is an incomplete becoming, or an emergence that strikes without designating. An advenience is at once wholly present and always partial—one might wish to call it a perspicuous no-part (see “Thesis 4: On Aspectuality”).

It should be of no surprise, then, that Barthes’s little volume on photography is as obsessed as it is with hapticity: the hapticity of handling and the hapticity of looking. The photograph handles us by touching us, and we handle it by wanting to put our finger on the detail of its punctum. The insufficiency of indexicality is also why Barthes affirms that he will not be guided by the consciousness of his thoughts when engaging adveniences, though he is “determined to be guided by the consciousness of my feelings.”[3] Barthes is, of course, well aware that such exercises are fraught with failure. The willfulness of our minds is powerless at the interface with an advenience. We cannot touch the advening appearance in the manner in which it touches us. We are tempted to do so—in fact, this is our most basic instinct. We want to confirm the shareability of a “there it is, do you sense it, too?” This desire to confirm the presence of an intangible aspect is also why, in another important moment of Barthes’s little book, he affirms that “I have always wanted to remonstrate with my moods; not to justify them.”[4]

To remonstrate with one’s moods suggests an order of handling not available to epistemic indexicality. We will never know what there is in the advenience that strikes us. And that is because there is no criteria or norm that determines what is striking in any appearance. Paradoxically, then, an advenience does indicate: but it does not refer. The advenience of an appearance is an emergent source of dislocation that neither commands nor determines a mode of attention. Simply put, I cannot remonstrate the allure of an appearance with any accuracy; this is despite the fact that my conviction of the appearance’s singularity is absolute and unflappable. Hence the nonnecessity of having to justify one’s moods.

This is what aesthetic disinterest ultimately means: the absence of a structure of interest that would guarantee a necessary causal relation between an advenience and a referent, between a cause and an effect. To be clear, disinterest does not correspond to the positivist aspiration of value neutrality. On the contrary, disinterest refers to a temporal interval that suspends the binds of interest and initiates a state of abeyance when peoples, things, and other entities are no longer subject to conventional criteria of appraisal. Disinterest is, in this regard, the disarticulation of the constancies of correspondence that would or could afford value a representational structure. It is a pre-judgmental interstice.

The advenience of an appearance is thus an intensity of resistance to the a priori of interest—cognitive, political, economic, or otherwise. Whereas an armature of interest is such that it assigns a privilege to the knowing of things, the advenience of an appearance resists the privileges of the proper affirmed by practices of assignation and designation. Thinking of Cayce Pollard’s (from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition) curious allergy to corporate logos, we might make our point this way: an object becomes a commodity (i.e., instrumental and useable) if—and only if—it exists within a structure of interest. The moment when that structure is lanced, the commodity status of the object is dislocated. By grinding away the logos on her jeans and other CPUs (Cayce Pollard Units), Cayce wants to “disinterest” objects.

Such considerations help explain why an aesthetics of politics cannot rely exclusively on the cognitivist critique of ideological stultification. The theory of stultification always already determines the structure of interest that conducts the arrival of an advenience (i.e., as an epistemic object), as well as the subjectivity of spectatorship (i.e., the knowing or duped subject) and its power of interest (i.e., domination). For the theory of stultification, all objects are necessarily commodities, and all sensing is fetishism. But politics is not exclusively the subjugation of power on the powerless, and aesthetics is not reducible to the truth/falsity distinction that the episteme of stultification sustains. To put this slightly differently, an advenience is not an object of cognitive interest; indeed, it has no-part in interest. As such, we cannot possess an advenience, nor does it capture us. The best that is available is an absorptive be/holding.