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.

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One thought on “DJ Thrift

  1. Sorry, I tried to comment earlier, but the little bubble-comment thingy wasn’t there…I like the reading as poaching idea, or, even better, reading as extracting the revolutionary force of the text, as D&G say. But of course Deleuze won the right to take texts in creative new directions by doing his scholarship rigorously–coming to know Kant, say, intimately before he mutated his thought. I still like my De Niro analogy: he said you have to learn your lines backward and forward before you can improv off-script. Problem is, there is no way Nigel can be a serious scholar of everyone he wants to recruit to his project. Hence my Jimmy Page complaint: he is playing beyond what he has practiced, and faster than he can really play the notes. And the result is sloppiness. Or, rather, since we are all inevitably sloppy to some degree (having not fully digested everything we use in our work), he seems too sloppy, or sloppy in a way that makes you think he doesn’t much care that he is being sloppy. (Jimmy Page!!)

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