Sound, Sophrosyne, & the “Excesses of Affection”

Over on CUNY’s Digital Labor Working Group Blog, I’m participating in a symposium organized by Karen Gregory on Angela Mitropoulos’s book Contract & Contagion. The book is about “oikonomics,” or Mitropoulos’s reworking of biopolitics through a concept of the gendered, racialized, sexualized, etc., “oikos.”

My contribution focuses on my ongoing work on the relationship between ancient Greek and neoliberal concepts of harmony, and how those concepts each inform a different notion of sophrosyne or moderation. I encourage you to go over there and read and comment. Here are some samples to hook you in: 

The acoustic is algorithmic: contemporary acoustics use algorithms to describe sound waves, just as statistics stole a bunch of terms from acoustics to describe algorithms (e.g., “signal” and “noise”). “The laws of acoustics,” argues economist and music scholar Jacques Attali, are “displa[y] all of the characteristics of the technocracy managing the great machines of the repetitive [i.e., neoliberal] economy” (Noise 113). What acoustics and neoliberal technocracy share are algorithms, especially insofar as both are visualized as sine waves. (I’ve talked a bit about sine waves and neoliberal aesthetics here.)

...So how would algorithmic moderation and self-management work? What counts as algorithmic moderation? What ratio should an algorithmically self-managed practice embody? Algorithmic moderation measures the ratio of signal to noise in a tone, broadcast, or data set. This ratio is not a geometric proportion, but a statistical probability—the probability of finding noise in the signal. It is calculated and expressed as one’s position relative to an asymptote—i.e., a limit. At the level of individual self-management, the asymptote is, as are all asymptotes, “a threshold that cannot be crossed” (Foucault Birth of Biopolitics 136). This threshold is the point of diminishing returns beyond which any attempts at maximization cease to be profitable. As a practice of moderation, the asymptote manifests as the imperative to “somehow push them[selves] to their limit and full reality” (BoB 138) while “governing at the border between the too much and the too little, between the maximum and the minimum fixed for me” (BoB 19). It’s easy to visualize that maximum and minimum as the upper and lower asymptotes of a sine wave. Neoliberal sophrosyne is the practice of distorting oneself as much as possible–being as “loud,” as “gaga,” as manic-pixie-dreamy, as “ludacris” as possible–without upsetting the overall signal. 

Sophrosyne translates algorithms to affect, mathematical propositions to kinesthetic and aesthetic properties. If human capital is “the unfolding of (capitalist) economic logic onto putatively non-market behaviours” (149), sophrosyne explains how market mechanisms can manifest in and across bodies as affects

 There is also a question at the end of the post about Kant, the “as-if” in the third critique, and its role in allowing art/aesthetically judging subjects/geniuses to appear free in relation to labor. I’m having some difficulty focusing or framing that idea, so I’d appreciate feedback on that, too.