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Thomas L. Lynn, Jr. reviews a new collection of interviews with Lady Gaga published by Punctum Books as a contribution to philosophy. Heidegger, Deleuze, and Bourdieu are among those discussed.

Robert Craig Baum, thoughtRAVE: An Interdimensional Conversation with Lady Gaga (Punctum, 2016) 206pp.

A curated series of excerpts from conversation with Lady Gaga, thoughRAVE reflects an ambitious effort on the part of Robert Craig Baum to present philosophy as not merely so much ratiocination, but as a kind of en/action that manifests itself through conversation. The dialogue initiates in 2013 and bridges through the following year. The interval overlaps the release of Gaga’s album Artpop, a detailed review of which forms the penultimate section of the book. It also coincides with a series of controversies that attended Lady Gaga in the media around the manner of her persona’s construction, and her usage of more avant-garde motifs than one might anticipate from a ‘popstar’. From amid her reflections on these happenings, there emerges a statement of the broad conceptual frame within which she situates her artistic project. This is interwoven with Baum’s own thoughts on the matters at hands, thoughts which at times assume a very personal, indeed autobiographical content that grows up around a contextualization of Lady Gaga’s contributions in terms drawn from such thinkers as Heidegger, Deleuze, and Bourdieu. These exchanges are accented with an introduction of George Elerick and interludes by Brianne Bolin.

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Lady Gaga relays that among the motives animating her music is a concern with a cultural problematic or even pathology which she terms the digitalis or corpus digitalis. This is the tendency to constrain the operations of the mind within a merely binary or dyadic space.

…[Digitalis] is a mode of thinking that reduces things to a numerical value or quantity. It occurred with the combination of human thought with binary processing.  In this mode of operation, there are only two options and they are mutually exclusive, which we know is not a viable or accurate way to process the worlds around us since even standing still, as opposed to going left or right , is not only an option, but is already in action prior to the the introduction of a binary process… (thoughtRAVE 27)

Music… and art broadly…can counter the constraining and fragmenting consequences of being disproportionately shunted within the dictates of the corpus digitalis by compelling an intensity of experience or encounter which potentially dissolves those boundaries.  In this connection, Baum invokes a Heideggerian rubric, rendering Gaga’s works, particularly as they occur online whether through downloads or streaming events, as forming worlds for digital Dasein. Now Baum defines Dasein only loosely in a footnote as that particular ‘being-in-the-world’ which is, “a result and function of a ‘thrownness’ – a fact of being born into this world without any say in the time, place, intensity of this birth, this arrival of what will ultimately be called ‘you’.” (thoughtRAVE 24) While fair enough, it perhaps would have been salutary to flesh out certain distinctions around the different aspects of Dasein as delineated by Heidegger himself, especially around the questions of authenticity, and the problems around das Mann or the concept of the ‘They’.  I raise this suggestion in light of that one could plausibly put forth that the disposition of the corpus digitalis itself is a kind of variation on the theme of the das Mann, obscuring, if you will, the transparency of Dasein.

Arguably, this obscuration is not an accident, but itself a mode of response to the encounter with one’s own ‘thrownness’ and also of one’s ‘being-unto-death’: the fragmentation of the corpus digitalis, the truncated world in which it situates itself is a kind of evasion, one that drives us all but ineluctably into an inauthentic space. Whither and wherefore? The twofold impression of omnipotence and immortality that derives from immersion in the ‘Second Life’ of the digital world conceals the crucial dimensions of finitude as component to truth for Dasein. Here it can be of avail  to recall Heidegger’s own characterization of art in his seminal Origin of the Work of Art. Namely, art is truth setting itself to work. As such, we can relay approbation to Lady Gaga for endeavoring to direct her efforts that – to put it in a Heideggerian idiom – they may gather elements together so as to provide a clearing for the presencing of the truth. Or, to put it otherwise, we can commend her striving to dispel illusion, and thereby catalyzing the authentic.

Yet in conjunction with this effort, the conversation also revealed a circumscription that seemed at odds with its more general spirit. Among the features of the conversation between Lady Gaga and Baum is a rendering of human beings as ‘users’ in an extension of a metaphor driven by practices of online or computer usage. Thus, Lady Gaga conveys::

The reason I may refer to a person as a “user” is because everyone here is operating on a remote presence system (e.g., their consciousness is centered elsewhere, and you operate your vessel via a remote way)… (thoughtRAVE 22)

As well as::

In order to view these topics in proper perspective, one must realize that what is viewed as a real terrestrial world is still an online experience, a virtual reality of remote consciousness operation. So your waking “real” self is actually what would be referred to as second life… (thoughtRAVE 41)

In these, and at other moments in the text, there is a recognition of the radical extent to which our identities are constructed, and, additionally, that that construction is powerfully informed by the social worlds in which we are immersed. Lady Gaga then declares her aim to be to create counter-worlds which can conduce to the re-formation of those identities such that they can serve to abet the unconcealment of Being (thoughtRAVE 62). This follows naturally enough from what we’ve canvassed above. Now, numerous tensions arise in conjunction with this effort, a hazard that accompanies any creative assertion. However, I was disconcerted by this further remark:

People are not capable of governing themselves on any real level.It is the responsibility of those who can to do so. You have to remember most users are not sentient. Most are pieces of the confining construct… Background, extras, marionettes designed to dominate the “democratic process” so that no real change can be effected. This subsystem is specifically designed to contain and enslave the mind, to use subconscious powers of the minds present to fight the war for the republic. (thoughtRAVE 37)

In my reading, the ‘subsystem’ being referenced here roughly corresponds to the various apparatuses whereby the narrative of hegemony establishes itself as dominant. Inasmuch as the intent being sketched in thoughtRAVE is broadly subversive of that narrative, broad sympathy can be offered. But, here, that subversiveness takes a lamentably bad turn in dismissing people as incapable of governing themselves, or as deficient in sentience. In fact, this countenances a reassertion of the very premises upon which domination pretends to justify itself. Thus it is rather unfortunate in my view that the vision being outlined elsewhere by Lady Gaga is here sullied by an indulgence of elitism.

Nevertheless, I took some encouragement from the degree to which  thoughtfulness was exhibited as the rule, rather than the exception throughout this dialogue, both in those facets upon which we have already touched, and in others that we have not the space to to consider here (e.g., questions around embodiment/disembodiment, more particular aesthetic reflections, Habitus, etc.). May that thoughtfulness prove to obtain greater currency with the passage of time. Certainly, such a development truly would be something about which to rave.


Thomas Lynn is a thinker currently situated in Cincinnati. Among his preoccupations are the way in which phenomenology can inform questions in current philosophy of mind, the relations between the analytic and Continental traditions in philosophy, and off the beat thinkers such as Jacques Ellus, Paul Feyerabend, or Michael Polanyi. His musings can be found at his blog Notions from Tom. He is also the host of Thinking Thomas, a channel dedicated to critical theory and an interview series with authors in theory and philosophy.

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