Graduated in the Fine Arts (BA Hons) 2010 at Goldsmiths College London. Masters in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths. Work at the University of Lincoln in the Art & Design department. Working on two books at present; 1) a philosophical treatise on subjectivity, beauty and language. 2) an existential work based on Christian themes of redemption, sin and the characterisation of Christ.

In this informal chat Johns continues his thoughts on the threefold of experience (Heidegger) and the constant conflicts of concepts which create productive difference (Hegel’s dialectic). Johns suggests that the contemporary ‘subject’ is determined by societies power to employ it as yet another object of value within its system of arbitrary value. Johns explains that this operation functions on the false notion of reality as tautological (pragmatist) and the subject as tautological (the subject as tool).

In this informal chat Charles Johns, editor of The Neurotic Turn, tries to describe his two philosophical terms ‘neurosis’ and ‘assimilation’. He also tries to explain why he thinks these descriptions become necessarily disclosed and why they are necessarily prevalent in our current epoch (for example the exclusion of the definition of neurosis in the 1980’s within the D.S.M created a repressed symptom, or, the uprise of mass-conformism and iphone narcissism shows a larger more acceptable state of neurosis etc).

Here is an interview I (Charlie Johns) did with The Moscow Museum of Modern Art about my latest editorial work The Neurotic Turn. I decided to be more historical and psychological than philosophical/metaphysical in this discussion. It charts a trajectory of neurosis from the 19th – 21st century through its relation to technology and the proliferation of stimuli found in the modern urban environment (what georg simmel had called the metropolis).

Read the article here

What am I assimilating?
What is assimilating me?

What does this mean?

In the first person phenomenological conscious register that we accept, we can divide thinking into two directions: the first is a kind of Heideggerian notion: what is our thinking directed towards? Why do these thoughts have special purchase for me? The second direction is the awareness that consciousness flows through me hence I am in a sense in the middle of thinking; I am already affirming a train or mode of thought when I am thinking; if I am worried about my friend Emma I have to ask skeptically what the value of emma means, whether she is indeed an object for this thinking etc.

Note that these two directional ways of thinking do not deal directly with the problem of an external world or even a substantial self. This bracketing is hence phenomenological in character. The questioning is Wittgensteinian in style also because any metaphysical nominalism of a realm beyond the human or an external real world is simply characterised as whether such content can be mobilised within the sphere of assimilation (within a sphere of meaning and use). Assimilation is only ever charting the developments or unfoldings of meaning as use through tracking the processes that such meanings and uses disclose in first person consciousness.

To be assimilated by thoughts is somewhat the standard in philosophical discourse since Wittgenstein, Heidegger and others (conceptual shot-through-ness). However, to assimilate thought is less acceptable. In the act of thinking – similar to the appropriation of thinking – it is not so much the content of the thought itself (content qua content) but rather why or how such content of thought finds form, meaning and use through the ‘subjects’ ownership of that thought. This at first may sound simple; thought is made meaningful when a subject uses it to her/his advantage. Yet it is not always for our advantage (sometime it is to our detriment like the neurotic).

Also we cannot separate the subject from the thought itself; there is no cause to do this philosophically. Instead we have an immanence whereby all our thoughts already seem to be formed as ours whether we want or acknowledge such. We soon find that there is no character of thought that is not always already complicit in an act of becoming actual. When we say becoming actual we do not wholly mean in a Deleuzian sense. What we mean is more quasi-psychological; thought needs to involve itself in a mechanism (the subject) whereby it brings about a meaning and use at the same time as it exists. Thoughts have to be assimilated, accretions have to have information actively charged within themselves. This could be an argument for an absolute relativism; every thought necessarily must relate to another thought or the trajectory that it itself has hypostatised. There is a nice wink to Freestone here as this suggests that any thought about something outside of thought is itself carnated with an active use or potential to it (returning itself back to the dynamics of assimilation (or accretion)). Yet not all assimilations have to have direct contact with another. The sensuous experiences of the qualities black, red or rough only have to relate to each other by contiguity (or conjunctive synthesis) through the assemblage of my own mind; they do not actually relate anymore than I relate to Neptune.

This is where the theory of the narp comes in (neurotic accretion regional processor). The narp is always in the face of at least one disjunction; the belief in the assimilation (the belief that I am interacting with a world where the thoughts in my head have purchase in or towards a reality) OR the refusal of it. Either way, the assimilation will take what it can get hold of. Notice that believing in the assimilation does not necessarily mean believing in a solid-world or a reciprocal world, it only means that the subject believes in the process of meaning-as-use.

When we accept assimilations of thought and its effect upon objects and such we then rely less on the initial impetus of the assimilative thought and more on the nominated objects whos job it is to reflect such thoughts back to us (‘accretions’ in my terminology). ‘Objects’ become pointers for concepts, caricatures of concepts that almost always need developing, reworking/re-assimilating.

Can these pointers affect other pointers? In other words can quasi-autonomous signs (or objects) affect each other? The question has already in a sense been answered; if the idea (the assimilation) has been made whereby such could be the case then things will appear to function through that belief.

This philosophy leaves space for a myriad of phenomena even though it initially is split into the two dynamic poles I stated at the beginning of this text. What if a prior assimilation still feels worthy of meaning when an individual or society has deemed it redundant?

Touching an object (i.e interacting with assimilations and further assimilating) is like playing with fire. At the peripheries of the object the assimilation will transcend it. Meaning-as-use- now has no need for its ‘physical’ restraint and can signify to the subject in horrific ways (the neurotic). Don’t forget – the mind ‘itself’ is meant to be assimilated as an ‘object’ yet its assimilative qualities always far outstretch it!!!!!

Ideas seem to get away with murder. We are asked what ‘Happiness’ is and we all either accept some Platonic Universal  description (Quasi-Objective) or the exact opposite; what ‘we’ believe/want to see happiness as being (in this sense it is a use term meant to bring about an effect). Joe Bloggs works in a 9-5 office day job but when he finished on a Friday night he goes out clubbing. He associates this with happiness. What does this mean? There is a psuedo-objective claim on ‘clubbings’ part that advertises happiness (and other concepts such as freedom and sexual promiscuity). Maybe Clubbing is happiness? This claim is not necessarily objective but more historical and concrete; clubbing was/is an assimilation that brought about a feeling of happiness (even if we see it as a forced assimilation – as in the taking of drugs which literally give you happiness effects). The terrain of happiness expanded and changes during the 80’s (incrementally with the first assimilation of ‘dance’ in various cultures, all taking on different assimilative effects). But we have all been in a club before at 2 am feeling alienated, anxious and tired haven’t we? Why is the assimilation not working? Do I need to ‘plug in’ more? Is my neurosis of an ex-lover ruining my participation in this assimilative dancefloor?

To assimilate can be both an unconscious process; the moving of bodies, the rhythm of steps and notes, a history of semiotic mechanisms that orient a body, value, practice, culture, etc. But it can also be very conscious in the tacit sense; in order to assimilate the drinking, discourse, steps of the nightclub one has to play its game and partly know its effects. Joe Bloggs once watched a film where two woman were in the backseat of a sports car, being chauffeured by a young attractive male, letting their hair down and laughing (‘uplifting’ rock music was playing in the background). Now when Joe gets invited into a car at night he rolls the windows down, sticks his head out and laughs. He tries to assimilate what has been represented as freedom … and 3,2,1 .. it kind of works.

There is no spatial, chronological or privileged difference anymore between the real and the concept it mirrors. The real is imaginary and the imaginary is real. It is the closing of this distance that creates a flat, immanant and blindly operational space which I call assimilation. We cannot even relapse into older physicalist notions of the real such as external space and time: an action figure toy does not breathe-in the atmosphere of such a ‘space’, it’s context does not refer to that context shared by physical bodies in space and their social-political narrative.

King Kong is no less real than the chair you are sitting on. Both can be represented in external or eidetic space, Both have a use tem in language (i.e “have you seen King Kong?” or “where is my chair?”). Both have other relations that differ from their present use; King Kong is identified through various relations, contexts and histories such as Science-fiction, the toy industry, the film industry, exoticism, the place Skull Island etc.

Reality – the sum of experience – is not weird, funny nor horrific, ‘It’ simply is. The only other capacity that can achieve this indifference, this reality, is neurosis (hence equating neurosis with experience). In Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle neurosis is the only thing that escapes designation (goes ‘beyond’ it). Content in the mind is designated as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘pleasurable’ or ‘painful’ but neurosis is the condition which produces content in the brain; it decides, through repetition, whether X will appear bad or good. In other words, the neurotic capacity to repeat and fixate (i.e to simulate experience) is found in both sane and insane experiences, both happy and sad ones. Ergo neurosis is this indifferent reality that we speak of (or at least the condition for it). The ability of this Expressivist (Deleuze) or Contructivist neurosis is precisely what Baudrillard is talking about when he observes the relative autonomy of simulation and simulacra (from army training courses to Disney Land); that the real is manipulable based on the relatability of signs, and it is only ‘use’ (and the conventionalising of use) that separates the reality of Disney Land from the reality of a romantic relationship, a 9 – 5 job etc. To be sure, there will be simulations (assimilations) that appear without your consent (what has been ontically found in traditional psychological neurosis); your mind will try and make a reality out of something, a web of designations that one could live within. Based on generic and personal dialectics between general concepts (their ‘shareability’) and your experience, such tensions will spark semantic tensions, but this doesn’t have to be exclusively psychological; a man’s fear of nudity might stem from him encountering his parents having sexual intercourse at an early age, but other symptoms can occur simply by living in a restrictive society. The idea of getting up at 6am the next morning is semantically implicated by the state of drunkenness I am in at midnight. These are not neutral concepts changing under circumstances of the individual; they are concepts that have their own pleasure principle, their own likes and dislikes, their own preferable assimilative processes. 

Similar to psychology, however, there seems to be a heuristic difference between process and form; the almost vitalist force of un-designateable reality, of infinite neuroses and assimilations, that only take on meaning when formed and chafed by humans (or living creatures), that become representations amongst other representations like some form of atomistic idealism. The designation of meaning is superimposed onto the domesticated world through our practices, and we inherit these meanings as they enjoy dominion over us or become ‘challenged’ (Nietzsche). The usability of the concept has always carried a correlate of desire with it (the need to be used) and hence concepts cannot be severed from the desire for designation, ergo, concept traces will always tell you more than what is designated on the surface (see Graham Freestone – ‘Spider-Spit’). We always knew this sensitive fragility in the ‘human subject’ (the psychological subject) but now its time to look at the concepts ‘themselves’, as artefacts of the incoherence/incommensurability of present day human.

The first dictum of psychology ; one should never blame themselves for themselves.

It is in many ways tautological that a philosopher is not only a thinker of reality but also gradually makes reality a product of his thinking. So here we go –

I look at my guitar in the corner of the room. I am looking at it as a present-at-hand object. I really shouldn’t say object, more accurately I am looking at the guitar as a guitar. This is important for me to say this because I believe every unique (or singular) thing is not neutral but has a way of being seen imprinted on it (by this I mean simply what the thing is meant to ‘be’ or ‘do’/ the imprint of the concept/use upon the material/ the way it has been assimilated). As a philosopher of assimilation I would ask – in what way have I been assimilated to experience this specific object? I am not playing the guitar, singing love songs with it or passing the time idly with it. No, I am assimilated toward it as something to be analysed and something that is presented (the power of presentation is not dissimilar from viewing an artwork (it is of a similar assimilative structure)). Simply via visual analogy a chain of various signifiers of ‘guitar’ whiz through my head. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether the assimilation of all these guitar signifiers have come from me (neurotic processing), the guitar (a site that activates this chain of signifieds) or whether both myself and the guitar are pawns in an assimilation unfolding (after all, I did not set my sites on the guitar and start talking about it by accident i.e it was all set-up for me in the first place and through the narrative of history). Whichever assimilation it came down to we are now experiencing an assimilation in front of our very eyes; I see different images of guitars from different points in time and areas of space. Some are from magazines, experiences, personal photographs, memories and cultural information (‘Jimi Hendrix’ etc). Most of these I have no direct relation to yet my mind watches the assimilation of them anyway, leading from one to the other simply by visual analogy, then by the analogy of what age I was, and then what city I was in. Each image wants to assimilate beyond its scope (one image wants me to start thinking about throwing T.V’s out of a hotel room (Led Zeppelin/Spinal Tap)). Each pop-culture image can only assimilate the visual qualities (as I was not there to directly interact with the material of the guitar, the tones etc). These less ‘useful’ sensations don’t need to be assimilated for the task at hand but if we were to push further than the ‘visual’ there could be a whole world of tacit and carnal assimilation relating to one another.  Proximity and size determine the visualisation of memories (as well as present assimilation’s with objects). Embodiment is crucial for determining the assimilation’s we have as humans with particular sized objects. I consider my reflections on ‘guitars’ as information; not only has this experience occurred in-formation (the subject is in-formation with the object and the images have occurred in-formation) but also the manifestation of the various ‘guitar’ images do not solely lay claim to an external object (represent it) but express much more content that that (affectivity, concepts, history).

In a neo-Hegelian manner it was probably the concepts that set-up this assimilation in the first place i.e the tautological structure of reality describes a world where human concepts and use are imposed onto ‘material’ (‘material’ is yet another tautology, so dont consider me a materialist). So what happened was that I encountered the concept of guitar in my room, and because such a concept has wide historical and accretive denotations (and that such a concept can link quite easily to other concepts such as ‘instrument’) the initial concept I encountered sparked an assimilative chain (purely by the self-negation/identity of the concept or by the production of differences that ensue).

The concept of territory (or proprietary) also comes into play when one momentarily forgets the universally commensurable world of free-floating concepts and starts to create a personal relationship with a certain object (this personal relationship seems to go beyond language games i.e ‘this is my guitar’ etc). I see an indentation where I dropped my guitar at a gig one time, I see that one string is missing, I think of all the songs I have written on it etc. Because these personal concepts can easily become assimilated into the world of free-floating concepts (that famous mark where rockstar X banged his guitar etc), because they are neither subordinate nor more important than all the other assimilative concepts, because these personal concepts do not merely represent an external object or world in their very being, they qualify as forms of information (in-formation) that accrete and soon become propelled on a new assimilative journey.