Date of Publishing:
March 10, 2016

2016 © Christian Hoffelner

The unexplained “Rest” — Dizziness as a Resource

Karoline Feyertag

“I saw the Statue of Liberty, and — this is weird — I saw it, and I just had it,” he said.

He swiftly decided that he wanted to “spin around this thing.” Orbiting the statue allowed him to move it from familiar to unfamiliar, and back again, to “put it off-kilter,” he said. “But at the same time it’s a physical examination of liberty, of freedom.”

(British artist and movie director Steve McQueen on his Statue of Liberty film “Static” (2009) in an interview with Carol Kino: "Intense Seeker of Powerful Elegance", in The New York Times, January 31, 2010.)

“Useful ideas have come to me while I have been occupied with other things.”

(From the 'Survey Living in a Dizzying World', Benedek, Jauck, Kerschenbaumer, Anderwald + Grond)

Does something work out because it was intended to work out exactly the way it was planned? Or does it work out because my intention and also my attention were oriented elsewhere? After having spent one year thinking about dizziness, I still cannot see clearly. It still feels like “I’m walking into a dense fog”. And by this I mean that I still do not know what dizziness is all about. The good thing about this ignorance is that I know I’m still searching and that there are reasons to carry on with this research, as I can’t yet come to an end. And, furthermore, what seems clear is that manifold semantic and affective relations (affects and percepts, Deleuze) characterise dizziness and that dizziness concerns both the world and the individual at the same time. And that dizziness is what keeps us going.

“So in this case, if we go ahead with our enquiry we may come across something that will reveal the object of our search: we shall discover nothing by just standing still.” (Plato, Theaitetos, 200e-201a)

Here is what I tried to enlist in order to get more clarity:
Anderwald + Grond’s assumptions:

1. Dizziness as resource

2. Dizziness as paradigm

And these are my additional assumptions in order to induce confusion once again:

3. Dizziness as symptom

4. Dizziness as movement

Where are we now? Step by step:

1. Dizziness as resource

“Traces of dizziness are to be found within transformation processes throughout the disciplines.” (Anderwald + Grond)

This sentence describes the basic assumption of the artist duo Anderwald + Grond, as they embarked upon their artistic research project two years ago. It can be seen as a vector pointing in the direction, they hope their research on dizziness will lead them. Could their intention be realised and the assumption be verified? And if yes, then: Why? I would like to answer yes – not only “traces” of dizziness but dizziness itself seems to be at the core of any transformation process whatever the disciplinary framework/limitations might be. Similar, if not the exact same mechanisms are at work in both art as well as in science, when it comes to transformation, innovation and creativity.[1] This last statement is also the answer to the question why this first assumption can be verified. Transformation processes can be observed in all kinds of disciplines as well as within the individual and the world. And there are always traces of dizziness found in those processes. So, at some position and momentum, dizziness triggered transformation, accelerated the process, or slowed it down. In any case, dizziness served as a “resource” as it opened up the process to directions anew. Maybe first of all, we need to have a closer look then on what we mean by “resource” in this context: When I say that the same “mechanisms” work for both, art and science, I could also say that both draw upon the same “resources”. This “resource” is to be understood in the sense of the Ancient Greek chaos and apeiron or in the sense of Plato’s chôra, Nishida’s “field” or Jullien’s “foundation-fount”. It’s the concept of a formless form, out of which forms emerge once again and anew (cf. the Latin origin of resource as “resurgere”, to rise up again). Furthermore, resource is linked with the imageinary of water and air as the basic resources of life. And a resource is – last but not least – linked with money and “fuel”. To keep going. Resourcefulness is requested on creative, affective, intellectual, artistic, emotional, economic, urban, energetic, technical, persuasive and communicative levels. And this list does not pretend to be exhaustive. Now, I want to address some of the disciplines – in the sense of “dispositif or episteme” (Foucault/Deleuze/Guattari) – where those “traces of dizziness” were found so far. That means once again that traces of dizziness are not only found in art practice but that they are a necessity. The idea to do “artistic research” on dizziness – or “research based art” – came to Anderwald + Grond partly from their own experience as artists (e.g. their working process, some of their work and what was said about it, Camera Solaris, The mind’s merry-go-round, Kan Yu…). So first of all, dizziness might not simply be a resource in a material sense or part of a repertoire of cultural techniques, but an experience. Maybe “resource” should be renamed more properly as “experience”. The French notion of “expérience” does mean both, subjective experience within the individual and the objective, measurable “experience” as in a scientific experiment. All this makes a big deal out of the observation of facts through the senses and/or through apparatuses and machines.

One example of another discipline where traces of dizziness were found is quantum theory as I’ve already described it the essay “Get entangled! On positions and momentums”. One assumption in order to explain quantum gravity is that gravity emerges from quantum entanglement (cf. Sonner, MIT). This means that the dizzy swerve of atoms, Lucretius’ “clinamen”, comes before any ordered, directed movement that could be observed and described properly (cf. the observer effect). Another example for traces of dizziness is found in the changing political states of the world. Human history seems like an endless process of crises and intermediary stages of overcoming such crises. Books like “The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914” by Philipp Blom give an account of the destabilising and dizzying factors in the history of humankind.

For more clarity, I will give a list of further disciplines, fields or episteme where traces of dizziness have been found so far:

  • Quantum physics (Lucretius’ Clinamen, Pietschmann’s aporon, Nishida’s field, Heisenberg’s Observer effect…)
  • Thermodynamics, weather phenomena (Brownian motion, Marey, illinx, Prigogine/Stengers, Serres…)
  • Architecture (Vertigo in the City, parts of this research lead into the direction of thrill and excitement that can be associated with dizziness: e.g. States of Suspension in the Vertical City, Davide Deriu; Dizzy Heights: The Exhilaration and Anxiety of Thrill, Brendan Walker)
  • Philosophy (From Plato to Deleuze, Guattari, Jullien, Kofman, from Epistemology to Postmodernism and Intercultural philosophy, …)
  • Pedagogy (the processes of de-connecting and re-connecting when learning)
  • Political science (stasis/civil war as analysed in Nicole Loraux’ The Divided City, an-archism as an-arché in the sense of denying any first principle in an ideological and/or cosmological sense, TAZ/Temporary Autonomous Zones as coined by Hakim Bey)
  • Creativity research (divergent thinking, bisociation)
  • Artistic practice (The notion of “walking into the unknown” when starting a new work)
  • Scientific practice (as being in the “cloud” when getting deeper into a research, Uri Alon)

2. Dizziness as paradigm

“Dizziness as a power of innovation and transformation” (Anderwald + Grond)

Paradigm stems from platonic philosophy. A paradigm served as an expedient to facilitate the understanding of the abstract and inaccessible ideas. For Plato, it had a pedagogical function: First, the student had to train on an easy object, the paradigm, second, he would be able to treat a more difficult object, which resembled the paradigm (an example: when trying to define the Sophist, Plato first compares him with an angler). Interestingly, Plato’s ideas and methods have not only a very long, but also a very contradictory genealogy – it is not at all clear, if Plato meant to describe “doctrines” or everlasting “truths” in his dialogues. One scholar defends “Plato’s multifaceted questionings” against “monological” interpretations by putting the emphasis on “Plato’s own willingness to endure the thunderstorm (Gewitter) of indeterminacy, the inevitable concomitance of clarity and confusion, euporia and aporia, in any human conversation”.[2]

This inevitable concomitance – or compossibility – of clarity and confusion is what characterises any transformation process. Paradigm has been defined completely differently by Kuhn, who made it a more general term for the ensemble of scientific standard “convictions”, or of the scientific “common sense” of a time, with the aim of giving scientific knowledge a history. Paradigm in Kuhn’s sense can only be used in the realm of natural science since social science’s concepts are polysemic. Kuhn tried to distinguish natural from social science by developing the concept of paradigm. Examples of such a strong scientific paradigm, which is characterised by its inability and refusal to see beyond the current models of thinking, were the geocentric model of the universe and Newtonian mechanics. Nowadays, any shift of paradigm in social and cultural science is called fashionably a “turn”: the cultural turn, the linguistic turn, the topological turn, the material turn, the translational turn, the iconic turn, the aesthetic turn – so why not call the next turn the “dizzy turn”?I guess that this won’t work out – at least not in the sense it was intended to in the first place. Dizziness is already about “turning” and spinning around and there is not one dizziness but an indefinite many. The same could be said of perspectives.

Dizziness as a paradigm only makes sense when understood as a basic experience all humans share in this, our world. It has to be part of the conditio humana as Anderwald + Grond already suggested in their initial proposal. Then it’s more of a feeling and a disposition of the mind and the body than an abstract idea. It’s more like a stage that someone – or a system, or the world as a whole – has to go through in order to get over a crisis and leave it with new ideas. It’s more like a “lieu de passage”, a “sas”. So, the assumption, “dizziness as paradigm”, works only in the platonic sense of the term, as an example through which a more abstract idea becomes accessible.

3. Dizziness as symptom

“In an increasingly unstable world, every individual has to deal with overwhelming, dizzying situations on a daily basis, be it on a personal level or on a political scale. Contrastingly to ambiguity, dizziness describes not only compossibility, but also the symptoms of the dizzy subject.” (Anderwald + Grond)

To complicate – or better, to confuse the two preliminary assumptions of Anderwald + Grond, I now suggest understanding dizziness in addition to paradigm and resource as symptom and movement. My hope – or shall I say my intention? – is that the symptom works as a simple “example” or placeholder on which we could train our understanding, before proceeding to a deeper understanding of dizziness. In the next step, dizziness could then itself be perceived as “paradigm” and “example” for the even more abstract and general term of movement.

If we were to play analysts of our time and world and deliver a diagnosis, we could quite easily declare that we are living in a time of crisis, in an “unstable world”. Crisis and dizziness are the symptoms of our time. Furthermore, we can easily claim that this worldwide situation is not only dizzy but also dizzying, entailing dizzy description and observation. The dizziness of the object informs the dizziness of observation.

When we look at dizziness on a medical level, we have to consider symptoms and signs. Wikipedia tells us that a symptom is “a departure from normal function or feeling which is noticed by a patient, reflecting the presence of an unusual state, or of a disease. A symptom is subjective, observed by the patient, and cannot be measured directly, whereas a sign is objectively observable by others.” There seems to be no real effective treatment for dizziness as an “abnormal” bodily function or as a disease. Psychotherapy and drugs like antipsychotics and sedatives are among the suggested treatment.

Speaking of dizziness as a symptom I want to point out the etymological meaning of “symptom”: First it means “anything that happens, a chance, occurrence”. Second it means “mishap, mischance”. Furthermore, it means “property, attribute” and, geometrically speaking, the property of a curve etc. Finally, within a medical context, it means “disease, falling in, collapse”. As a verb συμπίπτω means to “fall or dash together, of waves; to concur”.

Dizziness happens in our world and in our daily routines.[3] As a symptom it’s not yet decided if this event-advent (Guattari) is a chance or a mischance, if it is wēijī (Jullien) and what will be its consequences. As a symptom, dizziness opens up a field of possibilities.

Maybe Jacques Lacan’s understanding of the symptom as “sinthome” helps here a little bit: Freud already conveyed a special status to the neurotic symptom as being on the intersection of unconscious and conscious. When a desire or a libidinal drive has to be repressed, a symptom in the sense of an “ersatz”, a compensatory activity is “invented” or unfolds. For Lacan, this symptom, which he preferred to call by the Latin term “sinthome”, stems from the register of the “Real”. It will only become symbolised in the aftermath and in the register of the “Symbolic”. Actually, Lacan denied that the symptom as a signifier addresses “the Other”. This means that the symptom has no message and one cannot speak about it, even less than of a dream. The sinthome becomes “a way in which each subject enjoys (jouit) the unconscious”, it becomes “a trace” of what gives most pleasure to a singular subject.

In Lacan’s late topology, the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary are held – or tied – together by the sinthome in the famous “Borromean knot”. In other words: At the core of the individual, there is the symptom which is represented by a fourth “ring”, the “Reuleaux triangle”.


Instead of disintegrating the symptom and getting rid of it, there should be acceptance and identification with it. Finally, Slavoj Žižek came to write a book with the title “Enjoy your symptom!” in which he explains that the symptom is the effect of something that will only come into being and into the symbolic in the future. The sinthome would then be understood as “a trace of a truth to come”. “The future is compost.”

This psychoanalytical way to understand dizziness as a symptom gives us the opportunity to consider pleasure, joy or jouissance. Dizziness is far from being an “abnormal” bodily function; besides its negative effects like vertigo, it can provide pleasure and ties together the three registers of the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary in a steady effort of movement. Nevertheless, dizziness cannot provide a stable world nor a self-identical subject because it is unstable itself. This brings me to my last assumption:

4. Dizziness as movement

« Je ne peins pas l’être.
Je peins le passage. »
(Michel de Montaigne, Essais, III, 2.)

I suggest that dizziness could better be understood as poros than as techne in the sense of a methodos which leads to a planned result. The difference between poros and hodos (from which stems methodos, meaning 'following a way') lays less in a difference of the planned result – or whether the planned result was intended as such or not – than in a difference of the approach: poros refers to a vague movement or as Kofman recalls: to a 'watery path', whereas hodos refers more to a 'down to earth path'. Both “ways” or “approaches” deal with movement – but the methodological one parts from the conviction that new insight is to be won from “following” a specific path (experimental scientific setting), whereas the “porological” way parts from unsteady ground whose metaphor is moving water.

Poros is not to be confused with odos, a general term designating a path or a road of any kind. Poros refers only to a sea-route or a route down a river, to a passage opened up across a chaotic expanse which it transforms into an ordered, qualified space by introducing differentiated routes, making visible the various directions of space, by giving direction to an expanse which was initially devoid of all contours, of all landmarks.” (Kofman, Beyond Aporia?, 10)

Dizziness is always a movement. And by the way, that is why Anderwald + Grond try to “capture” it within moving images: “Dizziness is first and foremost the experience and reflection of movement” (quoted from the project proposal).

Dizziness as poros and movement is then a way from the Unknown towards something yet unknown, which will be transformed into something known at the “coming-out” of dizziness, at the moment of “exit”. Dizziness then is a passage in the sense that it describes the movement on the one hand and that, on the other hand, it is the medium in which this very movement takes place. In his scientific experiments on movement, Marey turned from the observation of locomotion in animals towards the observation of the motion of the medium itself, e.g. the turbulences of air or the waves of water.[4] Dizziness tries to capture both of these observations within a double approach.

Following Didi-Huberman and Michaud, any movement can be understood as both, the subject and the object of research: “… the idea of movement, movement conceived both as object and method, as syntagm and paradigm, as a characteristic of works of art and a stake in a field of knowledge claiming to have something to say.”[5]

Studying dizziness therefore is like studying how experience is made – “experience” as the basis of scientific experiments and as structured by language. Going through the state of dizziness and recalling it in the aftermath, because of our capacity to give an account of it within language – either in words or in images – makes it the subject and object of study. In other words: Dizziness is a paradigm in the (post)structuralist theory of signs and constitutes a syntagmatic chain of event-advents all together.

Finally, we can treat the paradigm of dizziness in the scientific, platonic and structuralist approaches as an example and metaphor of movement. Within a semantic paradigm, choices have to be made, for example: Which kind of movement serves as the best metaphor of dizziness? Furthermore, considering dizziness additionally as a syntagm means to consider its creative potential of (auto)poetic – metonymical – combination. This means: What associations could be made to dizziness? Into which kind of epistemic “genealogy” could we insert dizziness?

Speaking of movement I want to recall the Lucretian “swerve of atoms”. Because of the swerving, dizzy motion of the atoms, there is collision among atoms and therefore, there is life. The deflection of these “falling” atoms makes up their “swerve”. This is reminiscent of the “departure of a normal function” which characterises the medical “symptom” and it reminds of the etymological root of the verb, which means to “fall or dash together, of waves; to concur”. Anderwald + Grond point out the indeterminacy of the movement, its undirected aimlessness: “This indeterminacy, according to Lucretius, is the source of the free will which living things throughout the world possess” (quoted from their proposal).

Maybe, I want to suggest at the end of this blog post, dizziness is not only triggering motivation for creative conduct but it is even more, that is: the basis or support of “free will”. I don’t want to end up with the cognitive question of whether there was first voluntary movement or involuntary movement – traces of dizziness seem to be found as well in cognitive brain research as in philosophical-ethical debates – but the question of “free will” is maybe one which could lead us to a more practical aspect of dizziness: How could today’s pedagogical system nourish the free “will to knowledge” (Foucault)? Is the experience of dizziness as a “rite de passage” or initiation necessary for engendering “free will”?[6]


For reasons that would take too long to explain here in detail, I prefer in the following to speak only of “transformation”. Innovation is strongly linked with capitalist economy and profit whereas creativity has recently been revealed as a central paradigm of late capitalism, cognitive capitalism or intellectual capitalism. I try to distance myself from rendering transformational processes profitable and/or interpreting them as instruments for economic growth.

Euporia and Aporia are the two sides of the same coin: The first refers to abundance or insight and the second to a lack or confusion. Euporia is enabling a free passage whereas aporia blocks any passage. P. Christopher Smith, The (De)construction of Irrefutable Argument in Plato’s Philebus, 199-216 in: Does Socrates Have a Method? Rethinking the Elenchus in Plato’s Dialogues and Beyond, ed. by Gary Alan Scott (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press 2002), 199-216, here: 200.

My baby daughter usually wakes me in the morning around 5 am. Sometimes I return to bed for a little while before finally getting up with the whole family, my older daughter and my partner. Preparing breakfast, caring for the baby, dressing the kids and myself, brushing the teeth, clearing the table, putting on the winter coats and shoes, leaving house, taking my older daughter to the kindergarten, going shopping for food, returning home, caring for the baby, preparing food for lunch, putting on the washing machine (especially for the washable nappies), sitting down in front of the computer, trying to be creative, reading, then hopefully writing, taking a shower if nothing happens, washing some dishes or pans by hand if no ideas come up, caring for the baby again, having to eat, sitting down again, writing, writing, watching the time, becoming dizzier as the times seems to run, the time is running away, the ideas are coming to my mind, my fingers are typing onto the keyboard, my fingers running over the letters, time over, I have to leave again, get up, take the – finally having fallen asleep – sleeping baby, get out, get my older daughter, bring her home, have my head full of ideas, no time to write them down anymore, slowly I’m getting distracted again, playing with dolls, preparing dinner, filling in the bath tube with warm water, caring for both children, withstanding a tornado of anger of the three-year-old, feeling very dizzy again when both children are crying at the same time – feeling very calm when both children fall asleep at the same time – returning to the computer, sitting down, trying to concentrate on what was distracted from during the afternoon. Evening time, the day is turning slower, the time is not running anymore, the earth seems to take a breath and has forgotten about the sky. The baby cries again – is it at night, is it at daytime? Circadiem – one daily routine, 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.

Daniela Hahn, "Tourbillons et turbulences" in: ilinx I, 2009, 52.

Georges Didi-Hubermann in his foreword to Philippe-Alain Michaud, Aby Warburg and the Image in Motion (Princeton: Zone books, 2007), 9.

Cf. Jacques Rancière, Le maître ignorant; On “mutual learing” cf. Egon Brunswik and the English-French tradition of the “école mutuelle”, cf.
Anne Querrien, L’école mutuelle, une pédagogie trop efficace?

– See also Inside/Outside.
– See also Get Entangled!.
– Sea also On the Threshold.