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.

Advertisements

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)…

Foreground:

Background:

Thrift, Darwin and Affect

Image

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.

Possible Next Steps

This is the first in a series of suggestions/arguments for what we should read next.  Current possibilities on the table are:

  1. Eugene Holland, Nomad Citizenship: Free-market Communism and the Slow-Motion General Strike
  2. James Holston, Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil
  3. Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social:An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory

They all seem like great options.  James, Sush, and Mark will be reading the Holston for sure, so that could be folded in to Becoming-Poor, or operate as a side project.  My thought on the Latour is that Thrift is quite taken with him, and ANT is a kind of operational hub around which lots of the vitalist theory rotates (the say-yes-to-life crowd as opposed to the critical dialectics crowd).  And this is, as I understand it, Latour’s most comprehensive statement on ANT, and it is even a sort of retrospective after he had developed the theory somewhat.  So the idea was this would be a good follow up to Thrift, a going back and investigating an important source for Thrift’s non-representational theory.  Thrift is so secondary, and so this would be a way to get more primary, in a sense.

That said, for my part I would be tickled to read the Holland as well.  But I will let Cheryl say more about that, given she has met the man.

Reading Plan for Thrift

Our next book is Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect, by Nigel Thrift.  I think we said we want to read it in three chunks.  If so, it seems the best plan would be:

Chapters 1-4, 88pp.

Chapters 5-7, 81pp.

Chapters 8-10, 82pp.

Sound OK?  Make comments below.

Our first meeting for this one is scheduled for August 17, 2:30, Gould 442.

 

Reading Schedule and Writing Plan

Today we finished The Coming Insurrection, and decided to continue in that vein by reading Agamben’s The Coming Community starting in July.

Then we will move on to Thrift’s Non-Representational Theory in late June/early August.

Today we also worked out a writing plan: after each meeting about half the group will commit to writing a reflection on the reading/discussion (roughly 800-1000 words), and the other half will offer comments on one or more posts.  For today’s session, Keith, Cheryl, Mark, and Amy will write reflections and Shannon, Sush, and James serve as commenters.  Stay tuned for those!

Everyone also agreed to create an ‘about’ tab for him/herself on the main page.