Interview with Saul Newman

Couldn’t figure out how to reblog this.  Pretty pedestrian until the ending part…

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The Syntheses

Since I spent a lot of time on Friday attempting to get language and my brain to collaborate, I decided to work through the discussion of Deleuze’s syntheses of time in Difference and Repetition in relation to the syntheses of D & G’s Anti-Oedipus. Some of this is my own thoughts, some comes from paraphrasing James Williams’s text…  It’s also a rough articulation, so if something seems wrong- please correct me

Syntheses

1st: Living present. Defined by expectancy through habit; contraction

The past is synthesized or contracted in the present as a behavior towards the future. There is an inherent linear projection of time with this synthesis. Past experience informs the present condition, so that a future may provide an expectation of what is to come. Fundamentally, or teleologically.

An active consideration of a thing presupposes the passive synthesis. Williams uses the chair as example, where he states “syntheses can be ordered in terms of priority, in the sense of which are presupposed by others.”

1. Passive synth of time as condition. Any contraction through repetition presupposes that a series can be contracted into the present.

2. Repetitions of sensations into a sense. Sense is an ‘umbrella’ thrown over many sensations. Synthesized as they are repeated to form the sense.

3. Sensations into a sensation of a thing. Different sensations associated with a thing are brought together so that we may sense the thing as a whole.

4. Active. We operate consciously. We apprehend and consider the object in front of us. The chair, we consider the chair and judge it in relation to our preformed idea of the thing, which may be defined by a shape or quality that is already registered in our understanding. This activity is directed from past to future via expectancy (‘is this sixties polystyrene purple blob really a chair?’) The active consideration involves synthesis of different sensations, in this case, materiality and form. Each of these individual sensations is itself the synthesis, individuals but also through generations, of prior ‘quasi-sensations’ into a fully developed sense. (In this case, we could consider these as partial objects, in which we create an assemblage of sensations to arrive at an understanding of the thing in front of us.)  For Williams, without the passive synthesis, there would be no chair to consider. We could not formulate an idea about the shape, the usage, or the material. It would be one discrete entity among a sea of entities, and its ‘thingness’ wouldn’t even stand out as being something to consider as a unique thing.

As with most things, there is a positive and negative way in which to regard a thing that stands before us. The past can serve to overcode any perception and acceptance (I’ve never understood/liked modern art, therefore I cannot fully apprehend this abstract painting in front of me; I’ve had a bad experience with another race, therefore this experience will be no better.) Positively, we can consider each sensation as an assemblage, allowing the form to cohere as a collection of partial objects, without overcoding them based on held assumptions.

In relation to AO- Connective synthesis: connecting with everything, legitimate production of production, would seek to connect based on partial objects in relation to the particular spatio-temporal location, I like this brush stroke here, and this color there, rather than connecting to preconceived ideas of a ‘whole’ identity, or, I like all Modern Art. I think this is a superficial example, but to be able to view a painting in terms of its qualities and identify/connect with one quality in one painting, while a completely different quality in another would enable one to appreciate an atmospheric Turner painting and also Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase.

2nd. The present that passes. Backward looking, archival, memory

The present and future is understood as a dimension of the past. That which passes can be considered ‘lifeless’, but it is still open to return to the present as something from the past. Williams states this is somewhat counterintuitive. But. Our present condition and future opportunities are considered in relation to past occurrences, which doesn’t seem very counterintuitive in relation to AO and the Disjunctive Synthesis: if I allow myself to be defined by my mother and my father, their subject positions then predetermine the possibilities I see for myself. I am a homemaker, I am a military personnel, I am a republican, etc.

Deleuze insists that there is a pure past, in which all objects and events exist, regardless of their trace, physical or in our memory. The positive orientation would thus be, I am all the names in history. My individual tastes and affects are recorded onto me from many exterior forces, not those simply defined by my parents. That we might possess an antagonistic disposition may be defined less as a reaction to the parents, but perhaps more to an event witnessed that shifted one’s orientation to obedience. In terms of AO then, the illegitimate recording would foreclose the nature of external forces that have affected me by conceiving of them in relation to the mommy-daddy-me triangle; whereas the legitimate recording would allow for the multiplicity of variations that have produced a rebellious individual.

3rd. Conditions of the present as possible future. Transcendental. The conditions of a given thing.

The present given thing is a manifestation of all the past conditions. We can never know all the past conditions that have determined its existence, but its existence is determinable. This conclusion doesn’t negate what isn’t known, but completes the determinable. In this instance, we can understand an assemblage as being influenced in visible ways, but the hidden forces that may have had an impact aren’t negated, simply because they aren’t visibly manifested. Well-determined doesn’t translate into ‘completely known.’ All of the unknowns are still operative and can manifest themselves in unknown ways at a later date, what Holland calls incorporeal transformations. Allowing all the potential past conditions to exist within the present becomes the virtual, which is distinct from the actual condition. If everything remains operative in the present, the possibilities of the future maintain its openness; the field of partial objects remain full, rather than a field of ‘wholes’ that are limiting, the ability to connect and join up in new ways is also maintained.

The positive orientation allows one to connect with everything, not foreclose unimagined possibilities. So instead of the painter saying ‘it’s all been done before’, the partial objects of qualities and intensities of painting can continue to form into different assemblages, the potential future is only limited by the creative work of artist who experiments.

Inherent in allowing the pure past to exist in its entirety threatens a sense of continuity. If we don’t hold on to the ‘wholes’, like our own nuclear family, and only pursue new connections, there is a danger acquiring a nihilistic attitude (and the loss of ritual), in which nothing holds ‘meaning’ for long because future is full of as possibilities as we allow ourselves to see. In it’s extreme, we would fail to see the consequences of our actions and how they impact those around us.

3 characteristics of the 3rd synthesis

Drive towards the new. A cut in time, cuts us off from the past in order to have a new orientation toward the future. This can be seen as a before and an after, but without continuity of causality. This assembles time, so that an event can be conceived as a radical break, ie, nothing is the same after September 11. The past is severed from all events of the future. This presents a series: those events which cannot return and are consigned to the past; moments that can be understood in relation to the ‘cut’ regardless of their temporal relation to it. Thus the ‘return’ of an element can never be an identical return, as each return has a different set of relations. An annual festival serves as one example of this: it returns each year, but it can never return identically. The assemblage is different. If we go to a festival and look to reaffirm past experiences, go to the same food stalls, the same rides, we fail to see the uniqueness of this particular moment in time. While the present moment is measured against past experiences that provide a continuity, if we measure the present against past experiences, we predetermine or limit the future experiences to come from the present moment. Severing the past experience (I always eat mini-donuts, I never eat cheese curds) and allowing oneself to have new experiences (the smell of deep frying in this humid air makes me want to try a cheese curd.)

In terms of AO, the schizophrenic thus offers a productive model of orientation, for each present is regarded in the moment, not predicated on the whole of the past. Each element or partial objects on its own is whole or ‘full’, not lacking any component that would make it ‘Whole’. The schizo makes new combinations or connections in relation to the intensities at that moment in time, without reason stepping in to point out that there might be a break or rupture, “I can’t believe you are eating a cheese curd! You’ve never wanted one.” The illegitimate conjunctive moment then forecloses future possible connections, because the past cannot be severed, the continuity must be maintained. The danger, then, is the struggle against the hold of the past when the present desire demands a break a from it. The positive Conjunctive Synthesis is and … and … and … and … and, there is no choice between which past experience to maintain. The past is severed from contracting the present condition through habit and expectation of possible future.

Ultimately, the ethical component in all of this is the active synthesis, in which we are embodied conscious beings and we perform actions based on consideration of a present situation. Having a more ‘open’ orientation to that consideration is where being truly schizophrenic is no longer productive but can be quite damaging. The danger of ‘nihilism’ is then specific to the individual that questions or challenges their own continuity, where the dangers of ‘relativism’ are not inevitable, but only one possibility of allowing pure difference to exist.

“Is desiring-production transcendental?”

I’m just now becoming acquainted with the Kantian foundation of Deleuze’s thought, via Difference and Repetition, and Joe Hughes’s helpful secondary source on it. In fact, the idea that the syntheses have both an empirical and transcendental aspect was news to me as recently as Wednesday. Nevertheless, I think I’m getting something of a handle on it. I proffered the hypothesis that desiring-production was transcendental yesterday during the discussion — thinking that it was — and wrote “is desiring-production transcendental?” in my notes; I’ve since uncovered what I believe is the answer in the affirmative:

“In what he termed the critical revolution, Kant intended to discover criteria immanent to understanding so as to distinguish the legitimate and illegitimate uses of the syntheses of consciousness. In the name of transcendental philosophy (immanence of criteria), he therefore denounced the transcendent use of syntheses such as appeared in metaphysics. In like fashion we are compelled to say that psychoanalysis has its metaphysics — its name is Oedipus. And that a revolution — this time materialist — can proceed only by way of a critique of Oedipus, by denouncing the illegitimate use of the syntheses of the unconscious as found in Oedipal psychoanalysis, so as to rediscover a transcendental unconscious defined by the immanence of its criteria, and a corresponding practice that we shall call schizoanalysis” (Anti-Oedipus, 75).

reading deleuze

From my own blog…. but in contemplation of reading/re-reading AO with 2.0…

I’ve been experimenting with ‘how’ to read Difference and Repetition. I think this meta thinking about an approach stems from a couple things: to date I’ve read a fair amount of his work as well as a good deal of secondary sources. I worry less about my ‘comprehension’ of the material, as my interpretations seem in line with those put forward by established scholars. But given that I am, purportedly, in the home stretch of this degree, efficiency has become a reoccurring thing. Not just turning pages quickly, but more importantly, maximizing the amount of comprehension on the first read.

I’m under no illusion that we can understand everything on the first read. Each reading reveals different levels of understanding, new exposure to the text, but also the external forces/influences that we have come into contact with between a first reading and a second. So qualitatively, there is a real difference between engagement. And somewhat ironically, I am saying this while reading D/R itself, though these ideas are not informed by this first reading…

So, one tactic has been to read the text first, slog through, line by line, attempting to synthesize as much as possible as I go. Another tactic has been to read quickly, just to see what he has to say, and then do a close reading. A third tactic has been to read a secondary source first (ie, in relation to the chapter) and then read the text.

This morning, I opted to first read a section of Williams’s guide, then read the corresponding section in D/R. What seems striking, when reading through the actual text, is the way the material radically opens up, almost instantly. I traveled great distances in the first 20 minutes or so (though it’s truly hard to say how much time had passed), linking up to different understandings and conceptions, whether it is figures like Bergson or Spinoza, my reading of them, my reading of D’s reading of them, my reading of later work like the Cinema books, thinking about our discussions in Becoming Poor, the continual returning to the bundle of wills- squiggles- that Mark always draws on the board…. I could go on, but I think it suffices as an example. I traveled great distances and pages were turned; time was flying, I was having fun and covering a lot of ground.

Then I looked down and saw that I was at the bottom of the second page.

Double pincer, or, what’s next

Just to centralize the email discussions:

Becoming Poor: 2/8, 2 pm, Gould 442. Reading Chapters 5 and 7 of Harvey’s Rebel Cities, and Holland’s essay on the Occupy movement and the slow motion general strike. I emailed this to everyone but won’t post it here since it has yet to be published, but email me if you need a copy. We’ll also take a look at the responses the OSU students post and will discuss and respond, as per the discussion last time. Holland is sending me their contact info early next week, so we can get a website up and running.

BP2: 2/15, 2 pm, Gould 442. Reading the first 50 pages of Anti-Oedipus.

Latour: Why No Nietzsche?

We (OK, I) complained about Thrift offering a thoroughly Nietzschean argument without engaging hardly with Nietzsche himself.

Latour takes this curious fault to new heights.  In general, and especially when he talks about the disassembling of the subject, he is making a deeply Nietzschean argument.

At times the influence runs to phrasing, such as in this resonant echo:

…the way is open for new versions and refinements of the soul-hypothesis; and such conceptions as “mortal soul,” and “soul as subjective multiplicity,” and “soul as social structure of the drives and affects,” want henceforth to have citizens’ rights in science (Nietzsche, BGE, I:12).

and

For such an encounter with objects to take place, other circulating entities have to be granted back some rights of citizenry, so that they, too, can have a seat with the older members (Latour, Reassembling the Social, p. 235)

This echo is not hard evidence, of course, but the degree to which Latour depends on Nietzsche is tremendous, and yet he never once mentions Nietzsche in any way.  Similarly, Latour’s argument parallels Deleuze and Guattari so closely as to sometimes use precisely the same phrasing, and yet D&G are never mentioned.  (Only Deleuze’s book on Leibnitz is mentioned in the references).  Of course one could claim that Latour is so similar to D&G because he shares the fascination with Tarde, but still, really?  You so closely parallel such a well-known body of work (D&G), work you certainly have read and were clearly influenced by, and yet don’t see the need to acknowledge or even mention them?  And he is not operating like Foucault, referring to people without saying so explicitly; he is very careful to cite and give credit to many obscure studies of, say, markets or architects or newspaper clippings.

This is all true, by the way, of how Latour treats Spinoza too–never mentions him.  Really?  I am starting to see why there are such yawning and inexplicable gaps in Thrift’s scholarship.

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: 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.