Cultural Processes: A Quantum Approach

An Interview with Artist and Theorist Johanna Drucker
by Broc Rossell

Johanna Drucker’s newly published work, The General Theory of Social Relativity, addresses the fundamental question of how we are to understand the forces at work in the social world, and presents a radically innovative framework for thinking about social processes. A century ago theories of quantum physics and general relativity exposed the limits of Newton’s classical, mechanical, approach to explaining the forces at work in the physical world. But the social sciences, including critical aesthetics rooted in 19th century political theory, remain caught in a mechanistic paradigm. Drucker’s formulation offers a non-mechanistic approach to the understanding workings of the social world and the affective forces at work in non-linear politics and aesthetics.* Broc Rossell, publisher of The Elephants, spoke with author Johanna Drucker in Vancouver and Los Angeles last month regarding her new book with The Elephants, The General Theory of Social Relativity.

BROC ROSSELL: In Hannah Arendt’s 1958 The Human Condition, her chapter “The Public Realm” asserts that “the reality of the public realm relies on the simultaneous presence of innumerable perspectives and aspects in which the common world presents itself and for which no common measurement or denominator can ever be devised.” How do you see The General Theory of Social Relativity engaging this idea, if at all?

JOHANNA DRUCKER: I don’t know the full Arendt text well enough to know how she is formulating the constraints she identifies. What resonates with GTSR is that the appearance of the world in all of its familiarity allows it to pass as simply “what is,” but that any attempt at creating a method for a full account of how that world appears — let alone how it is — will be woefully inadequate. Of course I agree with this, if that is her point, because the infinite unfolding variety of the phenomenal world is barely accessible to us in all of its richness. The workings of the social world are harder to apprehend than those of the physical world. We apprehend what falls within our cognitive and sensorial realms, but not what is outside their ken (heat waves, force fields, moving charges, processes of exchange). The point of my approach in the GTSR, especially those parts of the book that are directly concerned with proposing the workings of the system, is to try to create a vocabulary for description and analysis of phenomena that I believe can be apprehended but are not adequately served by current vocabularies and frameworks from the human and social sciences. So, if I note that inertia is the strongest force in the social universe, then that has all kinds of implications for explaining what occurs in the “common world” and the way these occurrences present themselves — in the same way that some account of gravity’s force is essential for explaining how an object falls and what are the rules governing its acceleration. But each instance, every occurrence, any event will have in its manifest instantiation some features that cannot be contained in the general or “common measurement” conceived as generalizable. You cannot have all particularities and a common measure that explains or extends to all instances. They are incompatible, since every instance contributes to the sum of the “common” whole. Does that make sense? It is just a logical issue.

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The General Theory of Social Relativity

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Johanna Drucker

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