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Freddie Mason

PhD Work

Textures of Fixation: The Viscous Substance in European Culture since 1850

The viscous is neither solid nor liquid. Nor is it one thing, but rather a quality of resistance and of flow, of stickiness and of slipperiness. My research focuses on the history of this material state since industrialization, tracing and exploring its position in technological and scientific history, as well as in the domains of modern theory and aesthetics. 

With the technologization of the viscous in the 19th century, there has been a proliferation in the variety of its forms, both materially and imaginatively. Mechanised industry required lubricants and oil distillation produced waste products that were refined to form Vaseline. From this age, new viscous forms emerged, products from plastic (and plastic explosives) to cosmetics, glycerine, asphalt, sexual lubrication, hydro- and aero- gels, even anti-climb paint. 

The development of the viscous in the material world over the last 150 years is echoed in the realms of cultural discourse. The viscous has been used both metaphorically and literally by an extraordinary variety of ideologies, theories, artistic movements and practices. It has been feared, enjoyed, metaphorized, ironised, eroticised and even politicised. 

This is the history of our imagination of matter as it sticks, slips, creeps, oozes, trembles, bursts, makes a mess, then cleans it up.   


  • PhD


    School of Arts & Humanities


    Writing, 2015–

  • Research Interests

    My research spans a number of different disciplines and cultural domains, including histories of visual art, philosophy, critical theory, science, technology, cosmetics, literature, cinema, psychoanalysis and cookery.  

    Main areas of interest:

    - The history of viscous technology from lubricants to liquid crystals and 'grey goo'. 

    - The history of cosmetics, creams and soaps. 

    - The use of the viscous in philosophy: Sartre, Bachelard, Derrida, Catherine Malabou, Tim Morton and Jane Bennett. 

    - Explosives technology: glycerine, gelignite, plastic explosives, napalm, flame throwers

    - Stickiness and slipperiness 

    - Viscous affect: disgust, joy, pleasure, indulgence, indifference, excitement, humiliation, ambivalence. 

    - 1960s viscous art: Benglis, Beuys, Cesar. 

    - Mathew Barney 

    - The use of the viscous in transgressive gender politics, notably Genet's use of Vaseline and Paul B. Preciado's testosterone gel. 

    - Poetry, ice cream, and coagulated thinking: Adorno, Wallace Stevens and Maija Timonen.  

    - Smearing 

    - Jelly

  • Degrees

  • MPhil Criticism and Culture. University of Cambridge, 2012–13 ; BA English Literature. University of Sussex, 2009–12