Peter Pál Pelbart's 'Cartography of Exhaustion' Is Exhilarating

This is a sunny, revitalizing book, despite its ostensible focus on exhaustion and nihilism.

Cartography of Exhaustion: Nihilism Inside Out

Publisher: Univocal
Length: 300 pages
Author: Peter Pál Pelbart
Price: $26.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2015-12

Explaining his theoretical background, Peter Pál Pelbart writes: "More than two decades ago, parallel to my academic activities in the University in São Paulo [Brazil] as a professor of Philosophy, I started a clinical activity in a Psychiatric Day-Hospital. The first time that I stepped foot in that institution, by chance, was in the company of [Felix] Guattari himself, whose institutional supervision I had the task of translating... I cannot deny that Guattari's theorizations regarding schizophrenia, the machinic unconscious, transversality in the institution, his experience at La Borde, the way he smuggled fragments of his practice into the philosophical and micropolitical domains has inspired me enormously over all these years."

While this confession comes more than half-way into the book, the influence of Guattari, as well as other notable theorists, such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Georges Bataille and Giorgio Agamben, to name a few, is evident much earlier on. If, as has been said, books by these thinkers are meant to be guides to anti-fascist living, then Pelbart's book must be included in the genre.

Written in a conversational tone and replete with numerous personal anecdotes, Cartography of Exhaustion is probably not meant for a general audience since it presupposes some familiarity with the thinkers listed above. Yet, his summations of these theorists' key ideas, which he will use as intellectual footholds, are so clearly articulated that they should put even intimidated readers at ease. Indeed, working my way through the book, I found some of the theoretical clouds that had been lingering since graduate school start to dissipate, and give way to clear bright skies, if you will.

This is a sunny, revitalizing book, despite its ostensible focus on exhaustion and nihilism. Anyone who has felt rejuvenated reading Nietzsche, or experienced the excitement that accompanies new pathways being forged in their lines of thinking after having read Anti-Oedipus or A Thousand Plateaus will have an idea of what I mean. Unlike other recent maps of our contemporary milieu, this one gives you hope.

If for Albert Camus the question was how to live as neither victim nor executioner, for Pelbart it is how to live collectively without falling prey to "despotic socialitarianism". "How to create a structure of life that is not an apparatus of life? How to live together and escape tyrannical gregariousness? How to reject forms of living together that suffocate singularity?" These are the same questions that his influences grappled with, but questions that still plague us, because we are all exhausted by too much training, too much discipline, too much stimulation. We just cannot take any more; in part, because we have taken to imposing it all upon ourselves.

Key to understanding the modus operandi of biopolitics is the notion of "bioascesis". "Bioascesis is a care of the self, but different from the ancients, whose care was directed at the good life... Our care aims at the body itself, its longevity, health, beauty, good shape, scientific and aesthetic happiness... We shall not hesitate in calling it, even under the modulating conditions of contemporary coercion, a fascist body."

"If before, we still imagined that we had spaces that were protected from the direct interference of the powers (the body, the unconscious, subjectivity), and we had the illusion of preserving in these areas some independence, today our life appears entirely subsumed within those mechanisms of modulating experience. Thus even sex, language, communication, oneiric life, even faith, none of these still preserve any exteriority in relation to the mechanisms of control and monitoring. To summarize in a sentence: power is not exercised from outside, nor from above, but more as if it were from within, steering our social vitality from head to toe."

What is especially appealing about Pelbart's book is the ease with which he transitions from so-called "high theory" to concrete experience. Deleuze and Guattari's "Body-without-Organs" is fine as a conceptual means of resistance, but how might it be reified and practiced in day-to-day life? Pelbart's chapter entitled "Inhuman Polyphony in the Theater of Madness" may serve as one reply.

As the book's literal and intellectual fulcrum, the chapter is the best of both worlds, like having all of the philosophical insights of Deleuze coupled with the clinical praxis of Guattari in a single essay that documents the power of fiction and theater to bring about "a suspension in the automatism of comprehension". It's a thrilling chapter about the joyous explorations made possible by art, as well as a blueprint for resistance against the exhausting tyranny of the norm.

"We are the Ueinzz Theater Company, established in São Paulo, Brazil seventeen years ago. Lunatics, therapists, performers, maids, philosophers, 'normopaths' -- once on stage no one can tell the difference." If Artaud called for a "theater of cruelty", Pelbart's troupe creates schizophrenic situations. Their unpredictable performances deconstruct distinctions between "art" and "audience". Actors storm off the stage mid-sentence, or enter upon others' scenes, reinventing the script in front of the audience. As Pelbart puts it: "we witness disconnections that make so-called normality flee, along with its linked automatic reactions; and also the evocation of other possible bonds with the world."

What we need most today are more opportunities like these, experiences that transform us. "Now, this means that thought, without a prior Model of how to think (for example: thinking is to seek the truth), opens up for other adventures (for example: thinking is creating)." However, these new lines of thought are rarely tolerated by society, despite protestations to the contrary. What fuels the Standardized Testing movement in the US and UK if not the desire for control and for the circumscription of knowledge?

Still, if our world is overwhelming, banal, oppressive, it's also true that it's socio-historical, which is to say: capable of being changed. "Both nihilism and biopolitics obey the logic of a Moebius strip," Pelbart claims, and "in a reversibility that is intrinsic to them -- under certain conditions, they reveal their opposites... an affirmative element." When we are utterly exhausted, when nothing is possible, suddenly everything becomes possible. "By whom? Of what? In which direction? We don't know. It is a collective cartography, unfinished, moving, from the inside out of nihilism..."

Partly an homage to Deleuze and Guattari, partly a personal memoir, Pelbart's Cartography of Exhaustion is above all a superb introduction to an exhilarating thinker through the lenses of philosophy, madness, art, nihilism and exhaustion. Hopefully this book will pave the way for future translations (John Laudenberger and Felix Rebolledo Palazuelos have done a fine job here) of Pelbart's works.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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