On Deleuze and Guattari, language, and politics after Mexico City’s 1968

I am working through the following paragraphs for my dissertation, ‘Between Repression and Heroism: Young People’s Politics in Mexico City After 1968‘ (more here). I should note that my reading of Deleuze and Guattari on language in A Thousand Plateaus is influenced in part by a 2010 reading group (with Austin Kocher) around Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.

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Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 81) write, “History will never be rid of dates.” This reveals, for them, history’s effectuation of redundancy in society. “Real history undoubtedly recounts the actions and passions of the bodies that develop in a social field; it communicates them in a certain fashion; but it also transmits order-words, pure acts intercalated into that development” (ibid). This transmission of order-words through language in the wake of Mexico City’s 1968 – not just in histories but through literature, film, visual art; in the statements of politicians and also in those of activists – is and has been an establishment of coordinates for action to come. There is a distributive relay between the archive of state violence in 1968 and young people’s politics today; put differently, statements “intervene directly” in machinic assemblages of bodies, and the acts of bodies intervene directly in collective assemblages of enunciation (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 89). This is crucial when considering the political action of young people who did not directly experience the famous Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968 but nonetheless must practice politics in its wake – people for whom “narrative consists not in communicating what one has seen but in transmitting what one has heard, what someone else said to you. Hearsay” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 76).

Deleuze and Guattari suggest that language (as transmission of order-words) is a map, not a tracing. This is to say: language is “entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real,” or that it “fosters connections between fields,” removes blockages (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 12). Deleuze and Guattari no doubt make this claim for language as map on the basis of their recognition that “something always escapes” (1987, 217) – that deterritorialization is primary and the strata secondary (1987, 55-57), that “there are pass-words beneath order-words” (1987, 110). But, when examining the language of Mexico City’s 1968, I am not so sure that an assertion of experimentation can be defended. To be clear, I do not claim that there is an “identity” between the order-words that have established coordinates for young people’s politics and the practices of politics themselves. Rather, there is redundancy (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 78-79); there is a relay between the archive of state violence in 1968 and the repertoire of young people’s politics, one that provides a political logic for young activists today, facilitating and setting limits on what young activists can think, say, and do politically almost five decades after Tlatelolco.

Put differently, the language of 1968 in Mexico City is all too often – despite claims otherwise – precisely that of a “tracing.” To assess the situation this way is not to pursue only a “major” treatment of language, casting a line of variation outside the analysis (see Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 94-95). Rather, it is to acknowledge that a center of resonance has emerged and that the memory of Mexico City’s 1968 is – in a word – an “organized memory” that overcodes experimentation with lines of uninterrupted “filiation” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 16, 25). This “genetic axis” hems in experimentation and imposes a predetermined form on young people’s politics (1987, 12). Using Deleuze and Guattari’s language to diagnose the situation,

[The language of 1968 in Mexico City] has organized, stabilized, neutralized the multiplicities according to the axes of signifiance and subjectification belonging to it. It has generated, structuralized the rhizome, and when it thinks it is reproducing something else it is in fact only reproducing itself. […] It injects redundancies and propagates them (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 13).

A distributive relay between forms of content and forms of expression establishes contemporary activism within the spatial-temporal continuity that, at least since Octavio Paz (1970), has been projected onto contemporary student movement space, and more generally onto young people’s politics. An exclusively “major” treatment of the language of 1968 would discourage attention to the relational spaces of marchas, asambleas, plantones, and so on, which are constantly being animated through practices whose specificities are distorted when they appear as a “final term” in an evolution of activism condemned to an inevitable reencounter with a ‘repressive’ state (see Foucault 1977, 148-149). But this attention to how languages of 1968 function as a “tracing” holds out the possibility of nonetheless placing the tracing “back on the map” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 14) – back within the molecular soup that insistently agitates the overcoded molar aggregates of the post-Tlatelolco regime of representation: “repressive” state, “heroic” students (see Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 215-217).

In my Chapter Four, I examine several sets of artistic and literary practices (e.g., of Ximena Labra, of Thomas Glassford, of Roberto Bolaño) through which, I claim, the elements of Mexico City’s 1968 have been placed in variation and the major language has been “sent racing” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 96-105). Before examining the disruption promised by this minor treatment of 1968 – that is, before examining this mode of “politics,” in Rancière’s (2003) terms, one must first identify the procedures through which, in the wake of 1968, the contours of the visible and sayable have been established. The procedure of “tracing” through which a political framework of repression and heroism has been maintained, and through which – for many young people in Mexico City – the world of politics is now intelligible and practicable, can then be placed back on the map and made open to experimentation.

References

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1977. Nietzsche, Genealogy, History. In, Donald F. Bouchard (ed.), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (pp. 139-164). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Paz, Octavio. 1970. Posdata. Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno Editores.

Rancière, J. 2003. The thinking of dissensus: Politics and aesthetics. Paper presented at the Fidelity to the Disagreement: Jacques Rancière and the Political conference, 16-17 September 2003, Goldsmiths College, London.

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.

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.

Next steps: Holland

I’m reposting my previous post about Eugene Holland’s book below, followed by the official description from the publisher.

Fresh back from Deleuze 2012, one of the most solid presenters was Eugene Holland (see Mark’s mention of his book on Spinoza)… His recent book, Nomad Citizenship also looks to be a (damn) good read.

His talk was broken into two segments, both working through his idea of a “Slow Motion” debt strike, in which we carefully, cautiously, extricate ourselves from the machinations of capital that keep it moving forward. His main emphasis was getting to the foundational structures that provide capital with the resources and ‘starving’ it, rather than addressing the symptoms or manifestations that result. In some respects, it is a robust update to our recent excursion with Harvey, who also emphasized understanding the root causes, rather than simply ameliorate the manifest conditions; and it is a more sober/cautious version of our other recent read, The Coming Insurrection. But unlike Harvey, Holland has clear ideas on how to accomplish this, what it might look like, the importance of doing so, etc. And unlike C.I., it seems to advocate for a slow withdrawal and occupying an in-between territory of the current milieu, compared to the anarchic state of affairs espoused by the C.I. It draws heavily from D & G and their concept of Nomadology, working within and against Debt as it controls and imprisons our desires and ways of operating in the world. Especially salient is the recent drive of the “occupy student debt“, with one of the goals being to write off student debt in the spirit of a ‘Jubilee’, or a government holiday in which debts are waived. My personal take: Holland has good attitude, and really seems to be working in the spirit of D & G; not simply using their language, but thinking through their language and their concepts. I’d like to suggest putting it on Becoming Poor’s reading docket.

From the publisher:
Nomad Citizenship argues for transforming our institutions and practices of citizenship and markets in order to release society from dependence on the state and capital. It changes Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of nomadology into a utopian project with immediate practical implications, developing ideas of a nonlinear Marxism and of the slow-motion general strike.

Responding to the challenge of creating philosophical concepts with concrete applications, Eugene W. Holland looks outside the state to analyze contemporary political and economic development using the ideas of nomad citizenship and free-market communism. Holland’s nomadology seeks to displace capital-controlled free markets with truly free markets. Its goal is to rescue market exchange, not perpetuate capitalism—to enable noncapitalist markets to coordinate socialized production on a global scale and, with an eye to the common good, to liberate them from capitalist control.

In suggesting the slow-motion general strike, Holland aims to transform citizenship: to renew, enrich, and invigorate it by supplanting the monopoly of state citizenship with plural nomad citizenships. In the process, he offers critiques of both the Clinton and Bush regimes in the broader context of critiques of the social contract, the labor contract, and the form of the state itself

Driving in the City

As previously posted, we are currently reading Thrift’s Non-Representational Theory. It has a sexy subtitle: Space | politics | affect, and having just come off of a quarter of tangling with Spinoza, thinking that everything is ‘political’ in general, and being in a program that is decidedly spatially oriented, what’s not to like? There are plenty of good things, to be sure. Some of it feels very familiar; but in many respects, he has a quietly political- political, not Political- message that is important to hear out. (We discussed in our last meeting that the chapters thus far seem to lack a critical, political stance, but perhaps this emerges in the third installment…) We are only a third of the way through the book, so I’m going focus on a particular chapter. Given that the chapters were written at different points as journal articles, and subsequently compiled together, with a substantial introductory chapter (and what I imagine to be a substantial concluding chapter) written for the book, it seems ‘fair’ to critique a single chapter.

In his Driving in the City chapter, Thrift takes the work of de Certeau to task, engaging in the questioning of existing concepts, properly Deleuzian, against the current milieu in order to assess whether the theory still holds true, no longer valid, needs a serious upgrade, etc. The bulk of his argument seems to lie in the fact that driving is an activity that has been fully subsumed into our culture, and as a result, new habits, modes of embodiment, and designs have emerged that have continued to advance said habit/practice, making it all the more subsumed and second nature. As he calls it, “almost a background to the background.” (79) His project is really about bringing the background to the foreground, creating a different sense of awareness, embracing the contingency or ‘onflow’ of life; and presumably, how we can harness this awareness to find a little bit of agency within the current milieu and injecting joy or play into our daily lives. Critical for his argument in this chapter is his feeling that de Certeau is far less relevant than he once was, and that while not offering a ‘disabling’ critique, begs for a different set of questions to be asked today, in order to access the de Certeauian politics that are latent in The Practice of Everyday Life.

I think that Thrift is right to point out how much driving is part of our culture, that we are ‘one’ with the machine, it being an extension of our bodies, the changes of design (though not one mention of ‘artificial obsolescence ” and how that might inform the design process), etc. His citation of the LA study is spot on: reading it, I instantly recalled the days where it felt like I was plying my car down the 60, heading to Riverside, with the very pressure of my foot seeming to urge/move the car forward. It was not the complex computer circuitry and otherwise intricate mechanical system in relation to unleaded gas that got me there; it was the sheer will of my being that made the car move farther and faster down the road. Yes, I did say the 60.

So, in many respects, I think he’s right. But I feel like he misconstrues de Certeau’s overall project. When de Certeau talks about the hidden practices, he is engaging directly with Foucault. Foucault was busy rooting around in the archives, the visible practices that have stood the test of time and bore witness to another time and place. De Certeau explicitly states that the hidden practices don’t make it into the archive, and it’s those practices that we need to understand; not that those hidden practices are the only thing worth paying attention to… While Foucault might reconstruct an enlightening (and accurate) narrative of discipline or madness, he is constructing it from the voices that can still be heard, not the ‘countless thousands’ that are continually rewritten by everyday practices. “We need to be careful” seems to be apt advice. And while it is true that our modern devices track us; our phones let us ‘check in’; GPS tells when to turn right; qualitatively, they simply don’t reveal our affective state; what we were thinking about when the voice said to turn right; nor do they know how to ascertain the meaning when we elect to not check in at one place, but opt to check in at another. Today, I believe these become the hidden voices that de Certeau would seek to uncover. Everything else is just data.

This may seem like a small point, but I think it is critical to the overall spirit of de Certeau’s work that makes him as relevant today as he was when he was writing. The very spirit of this act of seeking out that which remains hidden allows us, the inhabitant, to construct our own meaning out of the monotony that we might be subjected to, regardless of the circumstance. Or perhaps to use Thrift’s language, de Certeau is precisely trying to bring the background to the foreground in order to illustrate that meaning can be made in the most mundane daily tasks.

I also think he misconstrues the overall position that de Certeau would take regarding the automobile. Citing de Certeau’s chapter Railway Navigation and Incarceration, Thrift posits that de Certeau would likely place driving in the automobile in the same realm as being a passive passenger in a train. It seems like de Certeau would more likely place driving somewhere along the lines of the LA driving study that Thrift cites: that automobile drivers construct their own path and in the process, construct their own meaning, in the shortcuts and otherwise tactical driving that do, in fact, occur. I still have very specific memories of tactics (and strategies) of getting through particular areas that were always congested, whether freeways or surface streets, that made me very active and engaged as a driver. It was not that I was simply in my lane and I needed to remain in that lane until I reached a particular exit. Embodying that sort of disposition is in fact, Incarceration. I think Thrift is too quick to place him in the anti-automobile camp, simply because he was so pro-walking. With walking, we can become imperceptible. Driving is still active and requires an engaged driver to navigate other material realities; sitting on a train or bus as a passenger is a wholly different activity. We can change seats, but we can’t make a left or a right on a whim.

To be fair, I do believe that Thrift is trying to retain (resuscitate?) the productive potential that I feel is inherent in de Certeau’s work. But I feel frustrated by his glossing over some of the important points that make de Certeau’s work relevant today, without even needing to ‘upgrade’ him to automobility. The spirit of his engagement is what is important; the content is interchangeable.

Henry Miller’s “superinfantility”

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Reading from Tropic of Capricorn this morning, I came across a line that speaks to Agamben’s account of ‘whatever’, especially as Mark described it in his post on stem cells: “I want to go exactly contrary to the normal line of development, pass into a superinfantile realm of being which will be absolutely crazy and chaotic but not crazy and chaotic as the world about me…I want to break through this enlarged world and stand again on the frontier of an unknown world which will throw this pale, unilateral world into shadow” (145). Part of our last discussion addressed this state of overflowing potentiality, and we asked ourselves whether or not this was in fact a ‘return’ to a previous state or, rather, a mad embrace of the impulse/capacity to become something new. I’m inclined to say that, for Miller at least, time is decidely scattered and anything but linear, so this movement toward superinfantility should be understood as outside linear time, as occuring purely in the realm of becoming, or duration for the good Deleuze-readers. There is no going back, no returning, only a constant involution. For Miller later writes that “the first glimpse, the first realization, of the bright new world came through my meeting…the first mystic I had ever encountered who also knew how to keep his feet on the ground” (146-148).