Beate Absalon – Capabilities of Passivity: Mediated Through Rope

The next K’ex lecture will be:

Capabilities of Passivity: Mediated Through Rope
Beate Absalon

Thursday 9th March, 15.00 – 17.00
Education Building, Room 220,
Goldsmiths, University of London,
Located by the Library: No. 29 on the Site Map


Rope as a functional tool for carrying, lifting, pulling, fastening and attaching has been used since prehistoric times. Beyond that, rope is also used to mediate a mode of being that has been put in second place by modern western societies: a mode of passivity. We commonly value activity over passivity, freedom over restraint, ability over inability. What I am interested in are practices that blur these binary distinctions and uncover the abilities of inability, the freedoms of being restraint – the potentialities, possibilities and creative aspects of passivity.

Even though rope as a material might appear trivial and ordinary at first sight, it seems to have specific qualities to create these exciting spaces of “potentia passiva”: Odysseus, tied up to his ship’s mast, is allowed to safely listen to the sirens’ song; activists tie themselves to trees as a form of passive resistance; kink aficionados use bondage to explore the erotic but also meditative feelings of surrender; performance artists use rope to become kinetic drawing-pendulums; marionette puppets dance with an elegance no human can achieve… Furthermore, the metaphorical implications of rope are all over the place: connection, communication, networks,…

The talk will present a work in progress and actively\passively invites everybody to wonder and think about rope as a material: what makes it so appealing to deconstruct the duality of activity\passivity? We can discuss theories of passivity from phenomenology to aesthetics to ethics; material-semiotic concepts such as Bruno Latour’s actor-network-theory; the gender specificity of rope usage (why are the mythological female Norns weaving the rope of fate and why is rope skipping a typical “girl game”?); the historical backgrounds of tying with rope and its dark sides (its usage in slavery and execution and how the Japanese art of Kinbaku has been developed out of a martial art’s technique); international differences of using rope and approaching passivity; Deleuze’s concept of becoming and the tentacle-like materiality of rope and how this can be thought with the Cthulhu Cult and Donna Haraway’s plea for tentacular thinking: “Tentacularity is about life lived along lines  (…)  not at points, not in spheres.” So how do the manifold examples of bondage and entanglements reveal to us the benefits of a life lived along the rope?

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Beate Absalon took a break from studying and working at the Institut für Kulturwissenschaft (Institute for Cultural Theory and History) at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin by using the Erasmus exchange program to study on the MA CAT. Her research focuses on strategies that playfully and/or bizarrely rearrange common norms. She loves to share her interest in rope both in theory and in the field, giving workshops in the collective ”luhmen d’arc”

 There are no suggested reading for this talk.


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