Softness

Softness might not be a discursive term but rather – as an adjective describing a specific shape or quality for example in contrast to other qualities – a presumption or a tool; an ingredient for informing/shaping/configuring a hypothetical form.

Softness could potentially be advice for an attitude or an intention towards social behavior. It could be a temper to influence or shape a discourse or a relationship, but it could also be a conflict within myself.1 A mode of radical vulnerability as letting-go of boundaries one installed within the subject through socialization, maybe.2

One idea is that vulnerability, or fragility, is a life-preconditioning constant, excluding nothing material whatsoever. The harder matter is, the less vulnerable it is in its molecular structure. Human beings are very soft. They consist of skin, muscle, fluid and some bones. While softness is always already there, hardness seems much more learned. It is unclear whether this always has to be a dichotomy.

Cybernetics of our time takes isolating distinctions very seriously. Software and hardware are subject to completely different rules. Perhaps the cybernetics of the future will be what feminist sci-fi writer Octavia Butler writes, in describing the spaceship in the Xenogesis Trilogy3, as a subjectivated-organic technology. A technology that can never be wholly hard because it is itself one integrative and boundless organism. Or, as my friend Inka once said: “A ship that doesn’t thrive on destruction.”4

Reading up on the physics of soft matter, I learn that softness comes along with additional concerns: Certain behaviors arise from soft matter in ways that cannot be predicted, or at least are not easy to predict from its atomic or molecular components. Examples are blood, muscular tissue, milk, juice or jello.

On this note, I suppose that softness, as a preconditioning of a state of mind, comes along with contingency. Softness can be a virtue of the biggest parts of our bodies. It is making us similar with others in a non-predictable, though not necessarily random, and therefore interesting way. Thinking of something that makes us similar but in an uncontrollable way is probably a very good starting point for a conversation within any relationship. Of course, I do know that to sustain an acceptance of contingency is one of the hardest tasks of being alive.

Social behaviour, discourse and relationships change continuously, and every time we feel that they lose their (fixed) forms, fear and other strong reactions can arise. Considering softness in this way, security, as mode of hardness, constitutes the dichotomic counterpart. In this way it comes as no surprise that the politics of our time seek to exercise control by the administration of security and fear.

The fictional spaceship that is not out for destruction, but for integration will face new problems I assume. In parts I can see them already. “But I had the startling impression that I was looking at something intelligent!”5 This sentence of Ann Truitt – describing the desert landscape of her home  – came across my way while reading and thinking about love today. And this might be one interesting point in terms of softness as well as intelligent organic technology, a spaceship from the future: it must have learned to bear uncertainty, vulnerability and jeopardy within the self – and this soft exercise might be a crucial one.

  1. See Sarah Lehnerer, Soft Strands Chicks (Munich: Hammann von Mier Verlag, 2017).
  2. Sarah Lehnerer, “Subjektivierungen,” interview by Nick Koppenhagen, Kunstgespräche, September 1, 2017, audio, 24:47, http://kunstgespraeche.com/sarah-lehnerer/.
  3. Octavia E. Butler, Dawn (Open Road Media, 1987).
  4. And also wrote about it: Inka Meißner, “Papercuts,” in Post-Apocalyptic Realism. ed. Tonio Kröner, Laura Preston, Tanja Widmann (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2018), 57.
  5. Anne Truitt, Daybook: The Journal of an Artist (Penguin Books, 1984), 10.