Nigelians Unite! (NB: not titled “Surely You Geste!”)

CALL FOR PAPERS, AAG Meetings, Los Angeles, 2013.

Geographies of the Gesture (le Geste)

(Organizers: Wendy Chang, Ph.D., Abula Djelil, and Samantha McGibbon-Weinstein, Ph.D)

Geographers have intensively scrutinized issues of performativity and assemblage, but have neglected intermediating processes and concomitant symbolic crises revolving around the gesture (le geste).  This session will advance the claim that a gestural turn is now imperative in geographical scholarship.  

The session takes its point of departure in the work of Roland Barthes whose semiological researches carried forward the science of signs as imagined by Ferdinand de Saussure.  We will, however, seek to move far beyond these essentially structuralist roots and to resituate the geographies of the gesture within a resolutely non-representational context linking performativity and assemblage via  embodied gesturalities.  Derrida attends to related questions of agencement in his work on games as expressions of the unity of chance and necessity. The idea of unity and chance in gestural geographies also opens up a horizon of reflection and critique based on Badiou’s notions of rupture-event and dispositif-encastrement.  In this manner, we may — tentatively — start to build a situated but non-representational theory of the gesture that is sensitive to the force of intentionalities, the magic of geography, and the trembling of history, or, as Vermeulen and Van der Akker express the matter: “a spacetime that is … neither ordered nor disordered” that lies somewhere between “unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity.”

It is hoped in these ways to promote the relatively neglected theme of gesturalities in geography, and, in particular, to interrogate the ways in geographers might e/affectively attend to different modes of embodying, personifying, (en)gendering, framing, (de)coding, and enacting gestures.  

Themes include but are not limited to

  • Gesture and sexualities
  • Gesture and the making/unmaking of place
  • The gesture in urban learning assemblages
  • Performative intentions and the gesture
  • The gesture: between chance and necessity
  • Bodies and gestures
  • The gender of the gesture
  • Gestural regimes in/by/of/through the city
  • Deleuzo-Guattarian gestural machines
  • Mutable mobiles and gestural reflexivity.
  • Sloterdijk, spheres, and gesture.
  • Monsters, hauntings, and spectral presences in gestural regimes
  • Gestural approaches to mobilities research
  • Spiritualities, religion, and gestures
  • Scalar ontologies of the gesture
  • Gestural themes in music, painting, dance, and psychoanalysis
  • More-than-human modes of gesturing
  • Feminist and post-feminist critiques of the theory of gesture.
  • Merleau-Ponty’s gestural phenomenology
  • Rhizomatics and gestural failure or Versäumnis
  • Geography, gesture, and emotion

Please send proposals and abstracts to Dr. Wendy Chang > Papers from the Global South and from unwaged scholars are especially welcome.

Latour next?

We polished off Nigel last night at the College Inn…the experience was, if anything, an affective roller coaster. Sigh.

Moving forward: in order to accommodate as many people as possible, it looks like we should read Latour’s Reassembling the Social next.

I have to be out one Friday per month (10/19 will be the first)  for my commitments in CHID, so I’ll propose 9/28 (Part I) and 10/12 (Part II) as the two dates to discuss Latour. I know that’s a fast start-up, but I’m just throwing it out there.

Shall we autogest in the comments section?

DJ Thrift

Extending Mark’s dissatisfaction of the overall depth/lack of empirical work of Non-Representational Theory, I, too, find much to grumble about (and maybe it’s because I had my hopes set too high? Damn affects.) There are a number of things that I found frustrating, and I’m not going to take the time to number the points neatly, only to thinly elaborate on them. Instead, I’m going to write big sloppy paragraphs, and I’m going to let you, dear reader, do the work. One, because we all know you can and need to, and more important, even if I say what is interesting, you may find that my list doesn’t match what you perceive to be a weakness, or maybe you would make two points out of one of mine. We all know that the reader is an active interpreter. So why the hell does Nigel obsess so much about making sure all his points are clearly labeled? Maybe he’s anxious about his overly vague explication of a new plane of immanence (though not discussed as such) not being properly read and understood by his rarefied intellectual audience? Whatever his reasons, he clearly compulsively lists lists. At one point, I think just one, he describe two independent things that were not listed out, and yes, I picked up on each of them, thanks to the help of the ‘both’ blank ‘and’ blank as an interpretive signal. There is too much intellectual hand-holding, perhaps bordering on an authoritarian, sanctioned ‘take away’ message.

Scholarship. During our last meeting (ch 5-7), one of the things that we discussed was the role of citations, and Thrifts penchant for talking about one author, like Deleuze, and then going on to quote a secondary source. I was thinking aloud when I posited the question, ‘so if I encounter a source via Thrift and later use it, should I cite Thrift, since it was his work that led me to the source?’ In a sense, I was trying to figure out why he would quote so many secondary sources. I mean, surely, he has read Deleuze, de Certeau, etc., if he was using their ideas; so why wouldn’t he cite the actual material, and maybe an end note to point to the original source of inspiration? I suppose part of it was an attempt to figure out disciplinary differences in terms of established norms of citation, curiosity more than looking for an answer. By the last chapter, I found myself really wondering if he had read the material. He talks around Deleuze, and Deleuze and Guattari continuously, but some actual concepts/ideas that they have already articulated may have prevented his stumbling through some explication as part of his larger theoretical agenda. I found my margin notes saying, well D & G would call this ‘transversal communication’ or ‘wouldn’t this be desiring production?’, or perhaps most importantly, his final conclusion includes an attempt to articulate the formation of a new condition (plane of immanence) from which ‘different, more expansive political forms’ can be built. (253) He does not use that language as such, but What is Philosophy is in the bibliography, and I’m not sure how that doesn’t warrant a footnote discussing this concept that runs through much of both D & G’s and D’s work, unless he wasn’t very familiar with the text. I mean, musicians aren’t creating new notes. They are making new combinations. Pointing to this language, I think, would have helped him make clearer points and allow for further elaboration, which the text desperately needs.

In the last chapter, he recaps affect theory yet again and moves to articulate some of the currents that are running through the various schools using affect theory. His second current is ‘spatial thinking’, one apparently associated with Deleuze, he neither explicates what he might be drawing from, other than ‘cf. Buchanan and Lambert’, quotes a secondary source that describes how Deleuze’s thinking has a spatial quality that is neither linear, temporal, reflexive, etc., and then proceeds to say that he will not be using Deleuze, but will use three others. First, it’s fine, don’t use Deleuze. But if you are going to bring him up, then at least offer a reason why his thinking doesn’t go far enough. While criticizing D’s footnoting of Tarde, he dismisses him with a one-liner. But if Deleuze’s explication of ‘sheets of time’ isn’t incredibly spatial and robust… Anyway- I think dismissing the ‘limits’ of Deleuze’s thinking warrants a paragraph of an explanation, at the very least. And I guess my last jab, given that this is a book about ‘affects’ and Spinoza is such an important figure, overall, his absence is egregious (though he cites from the Ethics, he doesn’t have it in the bibliography…). Throughout the last chapter, Spinoza would have certainly helped make his argument far more concise, especially when he attempts to articulate ‘imitation of the affects’, as well as ‘therapies’ that help us deal with them. It has been said, and using existing language seems efficient, given the scope of his project. To be fair, I think he is doing something complex, attempting to sketch out a new theory of the current milieu, which is difficult to prove and all we can do is point to things that support the larger idea being communicated. It does make it speculative, sure. But there should be a host of empirical evidence that would make this less ‘vague’, a little more concrete, convincing. His pointing is at theories that support his argument, but he still needs a concrete world in which to support his theorizing. So, if the concepts have already been articulated, doesn’t it make sense to point to those concepts as part of the broader articulation? This would give more space for pointing to concrete manifestations. Simply stating:
“Fourth, a whole array of corporate internet-related techniques, from websites to blogs have been used to tap in to and work with voters’ concerns. The idea is to maintain constant contact with voters and to mobilize their concerns to political ends.”
The entirety of the paragraph. I want more, something substantive. In fact, as I look through my margin notes, clearly I’ve gotten crabby with him, for it includes too many ‘such as?’, ‘more’, ‘elaborate please’….

I am also thinking about his penchant for absurd block quotes. I realize I’m dogging him, maybe a little too much, but I think it will help me take this post full circle, long and sloppy as it is. His long block quotes, end notes with long block quotes, leaves me, the reader, in a funny position. One the one hand, he holds my hand with all his lists, not trusting me to pull out his main points. But on the other hand, he gives me giant block quotes, expecting me to pull out all of the information that is essential to his argument. If his argument was full of examples, maybe this would be illuminating. As an interpretive reader, I don’t really want to read long snippets from another text; give me a short passage, but elaborate on how it applies to the theory. Synthesis. I’ll read the text if I’m interested. And I’ll read all of it. And I’ll pull out what is interesting, rather than sampling a second hand account of what someone like Deleuze is up to, only to decide his thought is too limiting. There are countless examples, but I’ve gone on too long.

I think my point in all of this, the citations, block quotes, lack of depth, is that his work begins to resemble the work of a DJ. Creative in their own right, DJs actively sample material, and sample samples, to construct a song, album, an overall aesthetic; the material has a little original construction, but the layering of samples blend together to form a coherent whole. Really good DJs create a world through their layers of sounds; the richness of layers takes simple samples and lets them stand as work in its own right. Second rate DJs sound a little clunky, thin or tinny; sure, they have some good passages, but as a whole, it doesn’t quite resonate the way really solid work does. We know it when we hear it. Audiophiles can pick out the layers, pointing to this or that artist; the early DJ movement sampled original source material; new DJs sample everything, including other DJs. Sampled samples. Secondary sources.

Keith calls Thrift a theory tourist, and I think that’s right too. But it’s also reminding me of What is Philosophy, when D & G discuss the role of the philosopher. The role of the philosopher is not to think the thoughts of those that preceded him; but to think like them. Merely thinking the thoughts, or applying them, makes one a functionary; thinking like them, a creative endeavor in which one thinks through existing concepts in order to expand thinking, is a philosopher. This also makes me think of de Certeau, and his chapter “Reading as Poaching” in The Practice of Everyday Life, in which he discusses the agency of the reader, the interpretation and meaning that is constructed through the reader. While the author can attempt to sanction the meaning of their text (ie., lists), what the reader does with the material is both unknown and outside their control. I see Nigel both attempting to sanction meaning of his own text, while at the same time, not exploring the richness of the original material so that he can think through their concepts. His reliance on the secondary sources to encapsulate the work in question limits his work, as the concepts become merely application. The overall whole of Non-Representational Theory feels as it was constructed: disparate articles put together to create a semblance of a whole. But he samples himself by citing articles that were previously written, but subsequently included in the book, repeats key points without giving a shortened version, and his conclusion feels inconclusive- which is likely his preference- but pulling together the themes of the book, its implications for the political, deserves more than 3 pages. He hasn’t constructed an expansive world through his theory traveling, and his application of concepts to illustrate his point falls short without the richness of the details.

Thrift’s Background

I was thinking that this very window I am currently typing in offers a good illustration of the background concept that Thrift talks about (and that I think is one of his most useful aspects).  If you click on the little tab “text” in the upper right of this window, it shows you the html in which this post is actually written.  But of course wordpress cloaks that code in a veneer that allows me to experience more or less a Word environment (which of course also has a similar structure).  In other words, my experience takes place in a foreground that depends on a background I don’t see (but can take steps to engage with if I choose)…



Thrift, Darwin and Affect


I’m one of those people who sees everything in the world through the lens of what they’re currently reading. Of course, certain things stick with me (Spinoza) and others are gone like yesterday’s iphone, but when I clicked on this news story from within my email inbox and saw this photo, I immediately thought of Thrift, who writes:

“For Darwin, expressions of emotion were universal and are the product of evolution. Neither our expressions nor our emotions are necessarily unique to human beings. Other animals have some of the same emotions, and some of the expressions produced by animals resemble our own” (181).

As others have noted, Thrift is indeed an expert at uncovering a wide wide variety of perspectives on whatever he is discussing (in this particular context, he’s describing four different approaches to understanding affect, which is helpful), but perennially fails to explore anything in depth. Nevertheless, I’m trying to “read him on his own terms” — as David Harvey insists we must do with Marx — and take away what feels like snippets of information that might be helpful for me. Sure, in the end Thrift’s book is going to primarily be a reference to much more developed work, but I’m trying to appreciate it for what it is. In fact, upon re-reading this post, I think Nigel would be one helluva blogger.

“You’ll never fail to score points by calling someone “bourgeois” or “neo-liberal,” but from now on we need to do more than score points.”

Object-Oriented Philosophy

I’ve been asked to write a book on Latour’s political philosophy, and have agreed to do so, at approximately 80,000-90,000 words.

It’s too interesting a project to pass up. While there are obviously some political ramifications to Latour’s philosophy, it is not always entirely clear what they are. At the same time, many of the public statements about Latour’s politics amount to nothing but sub-philosophically inane slogans: “bourgeois neo-liberal,” etc.

You’ll never fail to score points by calling someone “bourgeois” or “neo-liberal,” but from now on we need to do more than score points. In order to help raise the level of actual political debate in continental philosophy, we need to end the posturing of continual rhetorical left-flank moves, we need a wider range of positions with a less monotonous range of complaints, and we also need a clearer focus on what is really at stake in political philosophy, both…

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Thrift: Sigh.

It has been an interesting experience over the last few sessions as the group has read two of the biggest names in my discipline.  Harvey (1973) and Thrift (2008), each in their own way, are so large as to warp the disciplinary space around them.  I found that while I was far more sympathetic to Thrift’s position than Harvey’s, I also found myself greatly admiring and appreciating Harvey’s achievement, whereas with Thrift…not really.  The latter seemed less like a leading light and more like a grad student trying to reign in a whole host of ideas he wanted to work with but didn’t yet have the chops to handle.  Whereas Harvey’s chops are exquisite.  Thrift is sort of a Jimmy Page figure: sloppy because he is trying to do too much too fast.  I have certainly not worked out all the reasons why Thrift disappointed me, but I can offer here at least three. 😉

First, the scholarship.  Sooo many secondary sources, very often treated as interchangeable with the original.  He’s writing beyond what he has digested, clearly.

Second, the lack of empirical development of the ideas.  I know, I know, he’s done it elsewhere, or his students have done it, etc.  But the theoretical claims made (e.g. how capital is working to shape the pre-cognitive moment before action) cry out for careful empirical illustration to make the claims convincing.  Thrift assiduously avoids any such illustration (except sort of in Chapter 2).

Third, the politics.  Obviously the orthodox Marxists will accuse this-all of lacking a political edge with which to combat capitalism.  That’s wrong.  D&G (for example) are as politically trenchant as it gets.  But this book does in fact, more or less totally, lack any kind of serious discussion of another politics.  It gestures at it, promises it, and then utterly fails to offer anything interesting.  The number of times he says things like “…which will allow different, more expansive political forms…” and then fails to say anything at all about what those might be (or already are, because they are taking place right now), is so numerous there is no way to qualculate it.

So Thrift is basically restating the vitalist/affective alternative to orthodoxism without ever doing anything with it.  As we have said in group, it feels like we have read all this “a thousand” times.  And that lament sums it up: I fail to see why anyone would take time to read Thrift when they could put that time into reading Deleuze and Guattari (for example) and get far more in return.  (The most comical part of the book is when Thrift, in an endnote, declines to engage D&G due to “significant problems” with their work, of which he decides there are 5: four of which he cribs directly from a secondary source and the other of which is cribbed directly from…a different secondary source.  What a fucking mess.)

With Harvey, you get a frustratingly unapologetic orthodoxy (it has softened only a little over time), which of course has serious limitations, but at least it is done so well you can take from it what works, like the critique of capitalist urbanization, and discard the rest.  (Branden, for example, found the critique to be extremely useful in a professional-planning context.)  With Thrift, we are freed from those limitations, but it feels like we are cast into a sea of chaff with very little wheat.  To be clear, it is not that there is no wheat to be had when we push put beyond the limits of the orthodoxy, it is just that Thrift’s book is not providing it.