1. Doug Rice begins his compelling new collection, An Erotics of Seeing: The force of photography as philosophy’s broken sentence, with a clarification: It’s a “(A collection of photographs found on the streets and words found in sentences).” The next sixty pages advance as a story of women’s faces, engaging, ignoring, and challenging the camera.
2. By highlighting women in the crowd, Rice captures individuals at the edge of an erotic system.
3. There is a vein of thought, first articulated by Gilbert Simondon and adopted by Étienne Balibar that frames the human experience as a shared experience within a system of individuals. In this schema, the process of constructing human individuals reflects the modes of crystallization associated with Illya Priorgine’s writing on meta-stability. Instead of stable equilibrium, human individuals reach a “meta-stability” emerging out of an unknown pre-consciousness through the constant exchange of information/social affects. The human experience is therefore essentially iterative and socially defined within a system at a constantly individualizing edge. This system of individuals reflects a common or “transindividualism.”
4. According to Balibar’s reading of Spinoza, inside the human experience individuals strive towards the preservation of life, and the ongoing process of individualization. Spinoza called this process of striving conatus. Individual bodies represent the outward fringes of conatus and individualization.
5. Erotic desire is an aspect of this striving towards the preservation of life. Spinoza characterizes desire as an appetite, or compulsion, accompanied by the consciousness thereof. Sight and seeing informs self-perception, and perception of other, and drives a compulsion founded in lack.
6. Eros directs conatus, the drive at the edge of the social experience, but there is life and death in this social compulsion. Georges Bataille wrote extensively on the pairing of life and death in erotic compulsion. He says, “We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity.” From a necessarily individual experience, humans seek to encounter continuity in moments of transcendence or unity.
7. In An Erotics of Seeing, Rice writes: “Men everywhere carry too many dead people with them. The very idea of pleasure has rotted away. Rivers weaken, become tranquil, as if they had outlived their usefulness. Ghosts haunt the streets, the alleys. Words replace people. Names. Only their names remain in the world. You say the names of those people who have gone, thinking that saying their names can make them appear. Praying that a name had some magic in it. The word made flesh. So you say their name until your voice wears thin. Most times, a word never becomes more than a shape to fill a lack.”
8. The onward social movement of individuals at the boundary of the human experience reflects a system of exchange; such systems are necessarily founded in spaces of surplus and spaces of lack.
Just as an erotic exchange between two individuals is founded in desire and lack, the ongoing shifting social exchanges between all individuals is founded in a forever growing and shifting system of attributes, with all the necessary aspects of any system (entropy, clinamen, surplus). The human experience is unfinished business.
9. Rice’s project shines most brilliantly as dispatches from the social erotic. There’s something sexy about social experience, and something utopian as well; the shared social experience ripples across our discontinuous bodies. This sampling presents a clear ideology founded in a share experience. According to Rice, the work is essentially anti-capitalistic. In an interview with the California State Hornet, he said: “My inspiration is (also) a way to critique capitalism, which merely wants us to consume and believe in their false myths.” To see so many faces, all negotiating the system, the crowd, is to stumble upon that familiar revelation, that our bodies are part of a shared experience. This common or transindivualism only makes our current social order seem that much more insufficient.
10. Rice hones in on the edge, the crowd. Eros rules the crowd, the busy street, from Jeanne Moreau in Elevator to the Gallows, or Corinne Marchand in Cleo from 5 to 7, to Benjamin and the silken veil that reappropriates the city, Moldy Poldy on the strand, or La Maga and Oliveira on a bridge. These samplings from that space, imposed within a very specific constraint, gaze, burst with joy, excitement, fear, and longing.
11. Rice interrogates our everyday, and shows us a shared everyday. In an interview with 580 Split he writes, “In an hour, we will forget what our bodies experienced walking down Market Street, or Mission Street, or up Clay Street. We will forget what we were thinking about and feeling. I like to open and stop this time of forgetting by capturing these moments, which are not meant to be remembered. The never of always.”
Rice destabilizes blasé seeing, and interrogates the compulsions that drive us forward towards life and death.