To be more involved with the world than we would like, or think we should be, is often the sensation theorized to be at the heart of the viscous encounter. It is an affront to an ethics, puts things out of whack, disturbs the sense we serenely construct of “things” on the one hand and “me” on the other. As Sartre famously theorizes in a passage of writing that forms an important basis for this book and which I will discuss at length in chapter one, to touch slime is to risk, it feels, becoming slime. What is crucial, here, is the elongated sense of risk the viscous excites. At the core of this sensation is the fact that we never become slime, but continue feeling that we might. The slimy encounter locks us into a state of becoming, or rather the becoming of an un-becoming. We start to wonder that maybe there is no “world,” just a monstrous congregation of different matters and textures, variously throbbing.
Published today at punctum books, Freddie Mason provides a view through novel substance in The Viscous: Slime, Stickiness, Fondling, Mixtures. This monograph oozes into print and digital open access at punctumbooks.com.
Slime, goo, gunge, gloop, gels, sols, globules, jellies, emulsions, greases, soaps, syrups, glues, lubricants, liquid crystals, moulds, plasmas, and protoplasms – the viscous is not one thing, but rather a quality of resistance and flow, of stickiness and slipperiness. It is a state of matter that oozes into the gaps of our everyday existence, across age groups, between cultures and disciplines.
Since the large-scale extraction of petroleum in the 19th century, the viscous has witnessed a proliferation in the variety of its forms. Mechanized industry required lubricants and oil distillation produced waste products that were refined to form Vaseline. From this age, new viscous forms and technologies emerged: products from plastic (and plastic explosives) to cosmetics, glycerine, asphalt, sexual lubrication, hydro- and aero-gels, and even anti-climb paint.
Based on unique and wide-ranging research, The Viscous is the first major investigation of encounters with and possibilities of the viscous over the course of the last century, not simply as a material state, but also as an imaginative event. We enter into a story of matter at its most wayward, deviant, hesitant, and resistant.
From asphalt lakes to industrial molasses tanks, from liquid crystals squirming in our screens to milk fetishes, The Viscous discloses gooeyness as a peculiarly modern phase of matter. “Everything oozes,” as Beckett’s Estragon famously proclaims in Waiting for Godot. Viscous dynamics are exposed as not only hugely various in a post-industrial age, but particularly useful ways of thinking, feeling, writing, and making in a time of ecological anxiety.
Freddie Mason is a writer, researcher, and filmmaker living in London. He is a doctoral candidate at the Royal College of Art, where he has been researching the history and futures of semi-states and gooeyness. Before The Viscous, he published Ada Kaleh (Little Island Press, 2016).
“Immersing us in a cosmos of grease, Freddie Mason shares his observations about everything sticky and squirmy. This highly tactile, wonderfully personal book is so sensually written that it seduces readers to stick their fingers right into the text. Provoking squeals of delight and revulsion, we are drawn into a protean realm where slime mould cities and factories knee-deep in molasses, overturn our expectations of materiality, technology and design thinking like a stone.”
— Rachel Armstrong, Professor of Experimental Architecture, Newcastle University
“The flow states of late modernity, we are told, range from the liquidity that courses through our markets to the frictionless psychic slipstreams of the TED-Talk eudaemonists. Enter Freddie Mason, who takes his readers on a deep dive into viscosity. Follow him into the sticky, slick, slimy goo, and watch as he gums up the hydraulic fantasies of our moment and lubricates new conjunctions of subject and object. Proof that a live mind is a very special viscoelastic jelly.”
— D. Graham Burnett, Princeton University
“The Viscous is a glorious exploration of that most neglected of media: slime. In this wide-ranging and often profound treatment, Mason makes it clear that we live in a universe of processes, not things, and that viscous materials can help us to understand life, bodies, minds and ourselves.”
— Merlin Sheldrake, author of Entangled Life
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