Spinoza’s Wonder and D & G’s Deterritorialization

Just back from the Deleuze Studies Conference in Lisbon, preceded by the New Urban Languages Conference in Milan… While the Milan conference was a direct draw from my dissertation research, the Lisbon conference was more of an intellectual experiment. A year prior I had the opportunity to read Spinoza’s Ethics with a Spinoza scholar, which has forever changed my understanding of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari. What was particularly intriguing was Spinoza’s account of wonder in relation to my understanding of deterritorialization. Ultimately, what I found most intriguing was that I was unable to find a point where Deleuze took Spinoza to task on his negative relationship to wonder, so this paper explores that intersection. Ultimately, it will inform my dissertation in an oblique way- artists speak of a sense of wonder and the moment of deterritorialization when they first encountered Google Street View.

The text of the talk is here. The footnotes are a bit incomplete.

In Book III of the Ethics, Spinoza states, “Wonder is an imagination of a thing in which the mind remains fixed because this singular imagination has no connection with the others.” When the mind encounters a thing that has no existing idea in which to place it in relation, this aesthetic experience stands ‘alone in the mind’ and resides outside of the affects, as it does not cause joy or sadness. An object that ‘stands alone in the mind’ fails to positively or negatively affect us; it is an aspect of imagination that fails to cohere to even ‘inadequate knowledge’. For Spinoza, this object distracts the mind until another known object shifts the focus.

In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze states, “It is not enough, therefore, for them to propose a new representation of movement…. Rather, it is a question of producing with the work a movement capable of affecting the mind outside of all representations.” This movement ‘outside of all representations’ is a site of potential for Deleuze, whereas for Spinoza, something that ‘stands alone in the mind’ becomes, at best, inconvenience. Throughout Deleuze’s -and I would include Deleuze and Guattari’s- work, there is an interest in the conditions of an aesthetic experience- and I want to suggest a full interpretation of aesthetics- that destabilizes our habitual relation to the world, one that renders singularities in full; sensations that could be said to ‘stand alone in the mind’ and fail to connect with existing ideas through representation, or an absolute ‘deterritorialization’.  This paper seeks to complexify Deleuze’s intellectual relationship to Spinoza in light of the marked difference of orientation toward the destabilizing aesthetic experience as potentiality, examines the role of knowledge production and concludes with a reconsideration of aesthetics within the framework of deterritorialization and knowledge production that may result at the moment of reterritorialization.

Spinoza’s conception of wonder

Over the course of Spinoza’s written works, he formulates more than one conception of wonder. In his earlier work, Short Treatise on God, man, And His Well-Being, he reduces Descartes’s six passions to four, to include wonder, love, hate and desire. His account of wonder is far less charitable than Descartes’s: wonder occurs when an experience reveals a gap between it and held universal conceptions; when an experience does not correspond with a previously held conception, we stand in wonder. This ‘moment’ of wonder demarcates the limit of experience and ignorance. Whereas Descartes conceives of the intellect with a healthy amount of wonder as being prone to desiring the acquisition of scientific knowledge, Spinoza states that wonder does not exist for the intellect that draws true conclusions by way of scientific knowledge.[1] This is a critical departure for wonder as a passion, for the wonder conceived by Spinoza offers no additional positive curiosity[2] or intellectual development for the ignorant who has encountered an experience that challenges their preconceived ideas of the world.[3]

In The Ethics, wonder is no longer listed as one of the primary affects, which are now comprised of Joy, Sadness and Desire. The primary affects still function similar to Descartes’s originary passions, and depend upon the external object or event and the joy or sadness produced in the subject in relation. Spinoza, however, gives wonder the definition of a singular thing being “alone in the mind.”[4] When considering this singular object, the mind/intellect cannot place it in relation to a ‘like’ experience. Therefore, in 2p13, Spinoza states that when we experience two things at the same time or in succession, future recollections will retain that association.[5] Thus, a cognitive problem emerges when we encounter an object that we imagine to be a singular object that has no known relation to any other.

Like Descartes, Spinoza places wonder in the realm of a cognitive function. But rather than treating it as an affect or passion, Spinoza places it squarely in the realm of imagination. For Spinoza, this imagination of a thing stays transfixed within the mind. Given that our mind recollects a set of objects in relation to a previous experience, when an object is alone in the mind, this cannot take place when the thing is ‘new,’ for there is no horizon in which to place the object. Whereas Descartes allows for an opportunity or potential to increase understanding, Spinoza states that our “mind will be detained in regarding the same thing until it is determined by other causes to think of other things.”[6] The state of being transfixed is not the result of an affect that has a stronger cause over our previous state. Because there is no ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ cause to distract the mind of other ideas or objects, for Spinoza, wonder cannot (or should not) be one of the affects.[7]  It lays in limbo, with the distraction a result from “the fact that there is no cause determining the mind to pass from regarding one thing to thinking of others.”[8] For Spinoza, this has clear implications, for if there is no positive cause that produces a shift from one affect to another, our power of acting in relation to the object is precarious, for reason cannot deconstruct the affect appropriately to provide a remedy for an affect that is not active.[9] If we cannot place an object in relation, we cannot begin to form clear and distinct ideas about it; this places the object in the realm of the first level of knowledge as imagination.[10]

Inconsistencies within Spinoza’s thought

Spinoza’s placing wonder in the realm of imagination and his objections to the inclusion of wonder as an affect produce inconsistencies within his overall thesis. Placing an object that stands ‘alone in the mind’ in the realm of the first level of knowledge is problematic. “Wonder is an imagination of a thing in which the mind remains fixed because this singular imagination has no connection with the others.”[11] In Section II of the Ethics, Spinoza gives an adequate account of how he conceives of the first level of knowledge, in which ‘singular things’ and ‘signs’ form the basis of what he calls opinion or imagination: “from singular things which have been represented to us through the sense in a way which is mutilated, confused, and without order for the intellect; for that reason I have been accustomed to call such perceptions knowledge from random experience.”[12] If an object stands alone in the mind of which we have no preconceived notion, how can this function as the first level of knowledge? If it stands alone, this suggests that we lack the language and signification to attach to the object and form ideas about it, however mutilated or confused they might be. This does not represent inadequate knowledge; there is simply no knowledge of the object in question.

Wonder can be seen at the level of pre-knowledge, or non-knowledge, as a bodily response to the sensible. The movement from pre-knowledge to the first level of knowledge occurs once we are no longer transfixed, which might occur as a result of a new external object producing a new distraction. It might also occur if we acclimate our sense to this new sight and begin to then form ideas about the object in question. If we encounter the object a second or third time, we begin to form the associations of recognitions and affections that Spinoza articulates so well in 2p18 and 3p18, as mentioned above.[13] Given the parallelism that Spinoza lays out- all ideas and their finite modes of thought and extension we know through god- it would follow that our knowledge of this new thing demarcates the limit of our understanding, rather than a new mode that is also unknown to God. Rather than in allowing this first experience as a critical layer that enables us to make it possible to form adequate knowledge, Spinoza rejects this experience without much consideration. Ultimately, Spinoza’s logic produces a contradiction that leaves wonder in an interstitial space, where his exclusion seems more harmful than seeking a way to incorporate the ‘a-affective’ state into the larger movement towards the ideal state of the third kind of knowledge. I would argue that it is a missed opportunity in his theory of knowledge production.

Wonder in relation to key concepts

As is well known, Spinoza is a key figure for Deleuze. Deleuze is also well known for his ability to seize some concepts of philosophers by keeping what is useful, while also criticizing where they did not go ‘far enough’. Descartes is too quick, too fast; Hegel presents false problems through the dialectic; Bergson’s thesis on movement stops half way; Leibniz too, in some respects, is not radical enough in his overturning of Cartesian philosophy. Spinoza, on the other hand, seems to emerge unscathed from critical assessment. I would like to argue here that Deleuze himself misses an opportunity for not addressing this error in Spinozism by not asserting the potential of wonder against Spinoza’s larger thesis and the importance this could have for learning and knowledge production.

There are countless examples of ‘tendencies’ or a kind of ‘spirit’ that Deleuze highlights as a site of potential. We see the importance of the oft-quoted Proust phrase ‘a little bit of time in its pure state’, which exemplifies a cognitive break in linear continuity. This break may cause an incorporeal transformation; cause one to see the world in a ‘new’ way; to see pure difference without resorting to representation of ‘ordering’ and assessing the sensation in front of us. In the cinema books, his intense interest in the new image and mode of cinema that overturns time’s subordination to movement and instead offers moments of time ‘in its pure state’, where time can be said to be ‘out of joint’ in our standard conception of linear time. Deleuze’s third synthesis of time allows the virtual to retain its full potential in the present, rather than reducing time to the linearity in which to measure/compare against representations of past and future. The movement towards the future then offers as many possible worlds as the conditions allow.  Deterritorialization serves as perhaps the best example, in which absolute deterritorialization produces an incorporeal transformation, one that can be described as seeing ‘a little bit of time in its pure state’; a line of flight that produces a cognitive rupture within the individual that produces a movement from which a new reality emerges among possible worlds; whether seeing something ‘new’, seeing a familiar thing as a haecceity, as pure difference that shifts our habitual orientation/ relation.[14] All of these cognitive disruptions of our aesthetic experience have both a positive and negative potential, and I would argue function in a similar way to ‘wonder.’

Ultimately, I would say that Deleuze’s interest resides in conditions that sever or disrupt the phenomenological ‘stability’ of our ‘horizon’ that leads to negative habitual behavior. His search for the aesthetic experience that expresses a rupture or break in the dominant visual language is indicative of the conditions from which the sensation emerges; his intense interest in artistic production is as a symptom of the larger societal forces that provide the conditions within which the artists works. Importantly, these practices render these conditions visible or ‘perceptible’ in a way that cannot be reduced to mere representation, something that might possess a “critical and revolutionary power of which may attain the highest degree and lead us from the sad repetitions of habit to the profound repetitions of memory, and then to the ultimate repetitions of death in which our freedom is played out.”[15] Put another way, ‘the search for the means of a new philosophical expression… must be pursued today in relation to the renewal of certain other arts, such as the theatre or cinema’.

Within Expressionism in Philosophy, there are many opportunities for Deleuze to take up this point, particularly in relation to knowledge production and the importance of imagination. While Spinoza is adamant to not list wonder among the affects, he effectively leaves it in an uncertain territory, one that purportedly functions on the same order of imagination but one that doesn’t not receive the same consideration; one that is at best inconvenient within his overall system. Or to capture his stubborn and somewhat hostile sentiment,

“for this reason I do not number wonder among the affects. Nor do I see why I should, since this distraction of the mind does not arise from any positive cause which distracts the mind from other things, but only from the fact that there is no cause determining the mind to pass from regarding on thing to thinking of others.”[16]

In short, we are stuck, cognitively. Is this a bad thing? That we encounter something that reveals to us our limits of our inadequate knowledge seems potentially productive. We could be said to stand in front of pure difference, unable to impose one of the many dogmatic postulates to ‘accommodate’ this expression, the postulates that Deleuze argues to dispose of in Difference in Repetition. Inadequate knowledge is the result of our knowing the ‘effect’ but not the cause of relations, and forming inadequate ideas about the cause as a result; but if we cannot even form a ‘cause’ regardless of its ‘inadequate’ status opens up a break in this causal chain, which seems like a potentially good thing.

To move from inadequate knowledge to adequate knowledge, we must form common notions from the passive affects that increase our power of acting, both the specific notions that result from the external bodies that produce joy specific to us, as well as more general notions that are held in common with fellow man. For Spinoza, the second level of knowledge is the important point from which to pursue (but not realistically obtain) an intellectual love of god. Reason thus produces the base for developing adequate knowledge, as our intellect is able to process the passive affects of the passions and create the conditions to form common notions that rationalizes the passions in another register that allows us both ‘process’ the effect of the affect and control our response to the situation.

This movement between levels of knowledge is rendered more concrete in Deleuze’s explication of Spinoza’s system, and I would argue offers the clearest point for Deleuze to give a critique of Spinoza’s system, given that it is somewhat predicated on representation and privileges knowledge rather than ‘learning’. This formation of ‘common notions’ as they pertain to us specifically are the most important for Deleuze, for they retain the particular, singular nature of our being and how our passive joy might be made ‘active’; not in a larger societal movement, but rather at an individual level as unique finite body that enables us to not succumb to the overcoding that happens as part of the larger dominant movement. The universal common notions are important for maintaining a little ‘continuity’ between us as a society, but the individual active joys introduces variation, connection and heterogeneity into an otherwise striated, homogeneous society determined and dictated by socio-cultural norms.

Spinoza denigrates wonder and grudgingly places it in the realm of ‘imagination’ and inadequate knowledge.  Deleuze is quick to articulate the necessity for both kinds of knowledge within Spinoza’s larger system, without ever taking Spinoza to task for this denigration. Imagination, when bolstered with adequate knowledge, enables us to think creatively about what brings us joy and the common notions. Or to put in Deleuze’s words,

“A gap opens between the first and second kinds of knowledge. The existence of such a gap should not however lead us to overlook a whole system of correspondences between the two kinds, without which the forming of an adequate idea or a common notion would remain incomprehensible…. The variability of signs becomes in this respect an advantage, and opens up to us possibilities that do not belong to understanding on its own account, but rather to imagination.”[17]

So while Deleuze argues in favor of imagination, it is not a critical position against Spinoza, rather, it seems to be a creative or ‘Deleuzian’ reading of Spinoza’s system. This stands in a rather stark contrast to what is considered the companion text, Difference and Repetition, where great care is taken to articulate the difference between learning and knowledge; where learning is the critical spirit with which to approach the world. Deleuze forcefully argues for learning as becoming, rather than the being of knowledge and thus labels ‘knowledge’ as the eighth postulate of dogmatic image. In this text, the kind of ‘knowledge’ that Spinoza celebrates contributes to the rather grim conditions we face within the world of ‘representation’. “Learning always takes place in and through the unconscious, thereby establishing the bond of a profound complicity between nature and mind.”[18] The somewhat rather ‘contingent’ nature of learning stands in contrast in Spinoza’s system, “there is no more a method for learning than there is a method for finding treasures, but a violent training, a culture or a paideia, which affects the entire individual.[19]

And perhaps most importantly, Deleuze carves out a space for learning, against the usual ‘denigration’ given to it in the knowledge system in order to give it space of consideration on its own terms, “Learning is only an intermediary between non-knowledge and knowledge… (BUT) learning is the truly transcendental movement of the soul, irreducible as much to knowledge as to non-knowledge.  Learning is an infinite task; it is learning, not from knowledge, that the transcendental conditions of thought must be drawn.”[20] Thought, and reason, are inextricably linked to forming common notions; thought emerges from a problem from which we begin to form ideas. If we encounter an expression that destabilizes our habitual way of ‘thinking’, might this not be something that deserves additional consideration? While it is important to pause here and emphasize that the explicit language may not yet be produced to articulate these concepts, what I want to argue is staying true to how the concept functions creates an undeniable consistency throughout Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari’s work.

Implications of aesthetic experience

As a philosophy of affirmation, Deleuze’s interest in ‘potential’ traditionally focuses on the production of affects and percepts. The reception of such elements stands well outside his primary interest. Given that the reception of work is a unique experience and meaning should not be coded in a particular way, it stands to reason that this does not figure directly as an element of his intellectual investment.  But the implicit political implications of Deleuze’s work remains, for how can you put forward a new metaphysics, argue for a new ontology, provide a new methodological way to understand the world without it having real political implications, implicit or explicitly stated? The aesthetic experience- what we recognize, is made visible- of our socio-cultural milieu is inherently political, and Deleuze’s focus on an orientation that seeks to open up our ways of engaging the world by allowing ourselves to be more open, less ‘binary’, to make our ‘strata’ more supple, to allow us to ‘perch’, to ‘experiment’, to let go of the bad habits is an implicitly political project. Political with a small p.

As the artist returns from chaos with new signs, the audience too, has the potential to also be deterritorialized, or perhaps to stand in wonder at this new sign that might cause us to see the world anew. As mentioned of the subsequent process of reterritorialization, “That which is reterritorialized is more deterritorialized than the previous state,” the artist’s production is the result of this reterritorialization; the audience that stands affected by these creative works must also be reterritorialized. Ultimately, to produce creative works that exemplifies a larger symptom of the post-war era or exemplifies the modern condition, necessarily puts this ‘production’ into variation with a variety of audiences. The reception of this production has the potential to produce even more variation into the overall milieu, and in the process, allowing wonder and learning to retain some of its productive potential.

[1] Spinoza, Benedictus de. Short Treatise on God, Man And His Well-Being. From Descartes, René, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and Benedictus de Spinoza. 1995. The continental rationalists. Charlottesville, Va: InteLex Corp.,  gp.. 57, p. 100 [3]

[2] Curiosity, in this sense, is defined by the desire to learn or acquire knowledge about the thing in question. Descartes allows for a certain disposition that is motivated to acquire knowledge, when confronted with wonder, and equates the mind of an intellect to have a curiosity about the world that is compatible with scientific knowledge.

[3] Spinoza does not give any additional consideration over the effects this new experience might have on the peasant, for what was previously understood to be one way is rendered in a new way. While this does in fact expose the ignorance of the peasant, this additional new experience is not likely to be forgotten upon the peasants return to his field, which produces a new layer of knowledge, in a fundamental sense. This interpretation is also expressed in Rosenthal, Miracles, Wonder and the state, 237.

[4] Spinoza, Benedictus de, E. M. Curley, and Benedictus de Spinoza. 1994. A Spinoza reader

[5] By 2p18, which states when the body is affected by two or more bodies at that same time, when we encounter one at a later date, we recollect the others at the same time, and by 3p18, states that we are affected by the same joy or sadness when experienced at a later date.

[6] Spinoza, Ethics, 189

[7] 4p7d states “the mind will be affected with the idea of an affection stronger than, and opposite to, the first affection that is  (by the general definition of the affects), the mind will be affected with an affect stronger than, and opposite to, the first affect, which will exclude or take away the existence of the first affect.”

[8] Spinoza, Ethics, 189

[9] He does not state this explicitly (Rosenthal) “he does ‘not number Wonder among the affects’ because it involves a lack of determination to something else.”

[10] 2p40s2 states that the first level of knowledge is imagination and opinion, whereas the second level of knowledge is reason.

[11] Spinoza, Ethics, 189

[12] Ibid, 141

[13] The subsequent exposure to the thing that initially causes wonder, ceases to cause wonder, as we now possess the associations in relation to the object. I will cover this point more fully in the final section. The critical point is that wonder stands as a first experience..

[14] While not an exhaustive account of the various ways in which the texts of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari evoke this particular state, the list here is merely a series of examples that exist within the oeuvres.

[15] Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 293

[16] Spinoza, Ethics, 189

[17] Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy, 294

[18] Deleuze, DR, 165

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid, 166

ANT v. D&G

I’ve been slogging through a newer text by Martin Hand, Ubiquitous Photography, published in 2012 by Polity. Looking at the title, I can’t help but say, ‘what’s not to like about that?’, or, ‘that is obviously spot on’, among other similar sentiments. I’m 3/4 through it, and the inertia is setting in. In the introduction, Hand makes a point to say it was neither a book about images nor was it written by a photographer, rather, he is a theorist engaging STS literature in order to understand something about the pervasiveness of the camera, the shifting boundaries of the photographer, and the role of photographer and the image more generally.  This all sounds good. The first chapter feels like an extended literature review; the second and third do as well. By the fourth chapter, I’m struggling to find original contribution to keep me interested. It’s not that he doesn’t have some empirical research to include, he does. But more than that, he has a series of citations in which he constructs an argument.

Granted, I’m not finished yet. And there have been moments where some really good observations are being made. But I’m frustrated by a couple things: one, he’s not a photographer. Which is fine, but, there are many moments where his narrative would be more efficient, or perhaps more direct, if he was, or if he knew the history of analog photography better, and image making practices in general. He mentions the rise of photographs of the everyday, and I immediately think of the countless still lifes made throughout the history of photography, idle picture making that surfaced in countless ways, either from an intense pursuit of the quality of light or experimentation with new technology, camera or film. While the numbers today are greater, I can’t help but wonder if the percentage has changed that much? The mundane aspect of everyday life is a meme, not a newly acquired interest in the trivial aspects of the day-to-day. How many travel photographs from Italy have we seen to understand the draw of seeing food composed or market stands reflecting the culture?

With the seduction of the image on the screen of the digital camera, Hand argues that this influences our relationship to the image making process, not only in relation to ‘immediacy’, but also in terms of visuality and perception. I think there is real merit in the immediacy argument- and I wish that he could have elaborated on his argument. It seemed to be more of his own work, rather than a series of citations. But in thinking of that, I can’t help but think of the seduction of looking through the first 2 1/4 viewfinder and having a real visual distance of the scene in relation to my own distance of the apparatus. In that instance, it was both the size of the image in the glass as well as the new distance or separation that gave me a new perspective. Or how many photographers were enamored by the large format camera, the polaroids coming out of the camera? How many ‘professional’ photographers have used a variety of cameras to achieve the aesthetic they wanted, rather than observing the imagined clear boundaries between ‘gear’ of the professional and the amateur. I’m not sure those boundaries were as hard as Hand imagines. As a photographer, I have had a rollei, a nikon, a holga, a point and shoot; I’ve used pin-hole cameras and made photograms.

And while the sheer pervasiveness of the camera phone is clear and hard to find an argument, I can’t help but think of the ‘numbers’: how many times have we updated our phones? Is it because the camera is better or is it because we are ‘eligible’ for an upgrade? What drives the statistics of the number of phones with cameras sold is more than just more people having camera phones. It is very much related to the artificial obsolescence of the technology. Whereas professional film cameras (and even better quality consumer cameras) operated more via actual obsolescence, ie I shot with a Rolleicord twin lens from 1966, there is no real need to upgrade that technology;  I also bought it used. So I feel like there are some unsubstantiated claims that need to be considered. Ultimately, I do think that digital photography is radically altering how we interact, see, perceive, and negotiate the world, so I don’t think his argument is wrong. But I do feel dissatisfied with its thoroughness and understanding of how the analog has changed, and whether those changes are ‘narratives’, or derived from research on self-identifying ‘photographers’.  While it’s fine to focus on the amateur or ‘citizen photographer’ aspect, it becomes less solid an argument when the comparison to ‘official’ photographers, whatever that might mean, seems less founded or considered.

That was the first point. Well, it was more like 5, but I’m counting it as one. The second point seems more serious than picking at his argument. Hand relies heavily on Actor Network Theory to articulate the ways in which photograph has spread and altered, radically or in subtle ways, our daily habits and perceptions, how we envision our daily lives, what the implications are for memory, both individual and collective, as well as how the convergence of different technological advancements have created the conditions that have enabled digital photography to take hold to the degree it has.  Now, I think ANT is a very good tool to help uncover how something as seemingly ‘inert’ as technology can travel the way it does, either through ‘novel’ practices or through continued practices that continue to extend existing ones. (and for the record, if I read ‘novel’ one more time… it stops meaning anything when it is offered without example. Novel? To whom? To the photographer? the amateur? the theorist? the scientist?) So on the one hand, I think it gives an adequate amount of agency to technology that it doesn’t normally get. But what I find wholly dissatisfying with ANT as the single theory (which seems to be the case here) is that is simply lacks a politics. Granted, Latour will argue till he’s blue in the face that you just need to let the actors speak. But there is an important layer missing here, these actors don’t speak in a vacuum. In relation to Hand’s text, it lacks a critique of how capitalism helps drive some of these changes, if fails miserably to articulate how the individual is persuaded by continent factors like advertising or peer networks, it lacks a critical assessment of how the neoliberal subject might unwittingly help advance the adoption of the tool through the narrative of individualism and freedom. It fails to give meaningful attention to individual desires and how these desires drive us to make decisions or engage in practices that are knowingly potentially harmful, either out of ease, laziness, the desire to connect, etc.

What Hand’s book lacks is a level of micropolitics. It engages how technology is part of a complex assemblage that evolves in unanticipated ways, but it isn’t able to really give a satisfying account of how or why this happens at the individual level. While technology (camera, film, or otherwise) should be considered an actor in its own right, its adoption is not given, and there are more explanations than a simple, neat convergence that has enabled a radical extension of ‘novel’ practices that have shifted the overall plane. In short, Hand needs D & G to help make his argument. But. I’ll stop there, because that is actually my argument, not his. But it gives me very solid ground to stake out for myself with the dissertation. ANT and technology is easy. It makes sense and offers some valuable conceptual tools and method to sketch out complex topics/situations. But that is not enough. Technology is only neutral in a black box. As the boys say, how it is put into play, how it is actualized, is of utmost importance.

Back from the AAG

After a much needed trip to the land of sunshine, I’m back in soggy Seattle. Our panels of Geophilosophy and the Planes of Urban Experience went really well- and we are really excited by the quality of the presentations. My paper, Plane of Immanence of a Fascist Regime: Google and its Mapping Empire, is located here. It’s currently without citations, but there is plenty of time for that as I work it into the dissertation. And besides, isn’t that what evernote is for?

Fascist Regime

As I was writing a paper last summer that looked at artist practices, it took a dark turn at the end. I began thinking about the enormous ‘latitude’ it seems like we have with Google’s tools, nearly all ‘free’ to use; but their service also dependent upon users to contribute to their larger project, ‘free activity’, as Holland would say.  As we grow more dependent upon their tools (they are so smart! accurate!), we contribute to the structure that makes us dependent. Microfascism. Fascism, for D & G, is first evident in the molecular realm, where divisive, controlling behaviors play out on a variety of scales. It is when these microfascisms begin to really cohere into a larger formation that a fascist regime becomes possible.

Around the same time, my co-conspirator and I were contemplating organizing a panel on geophilosophy for the AAG- and we were looking for a conceptual framework that was broad enough to include both of our projects, while not so broad that it would lack any coherence. I was perusing A Thousand Plateaus to generate some ideas and thinking about planes and how they operate. We finally decided on ‘Planes of Urban Experience’ as a way to organize papers, which would allow different scales but also link them together. While Keith’s topic is a physical plane of organization, mine was virtual (not virtual in the Deleuzian sense), immaterial to some degree, but real just the same.

At the time I was thinking that Google best represented a fascist regime. I found plenty of textual support in ATP as I was browsing it, and it set me off on a path of thinking about Google’s dependence on users to help build a portion of their knowledge- either through countless hours of beta testing, the citizen cartographers that ‘unite’ to map the world, the need for them to maintain their status as the #1 search engine to continue to produce accurate results; this is solidified by enthusiastic users taking advantage of all of Google’s tools and applications that augment the internet experience- and increasingly wholly integrated across applications. One never needs to leave the Googleverse.

I’m currently working on that paper, while also working on a portion of my dissertation. Recently I ran across an outline of their company history, as told by them, and decided that I should build a spreadsheet that takes their milestones and makes that information more ‘accessible’ (compared to the 41 page pdf that resulted from printing their webpage) and ‘useful’, to use their jargon…. I’m about 3/4 through the timeline. What has become incredibly clear is how accurate that initial thought that I had last summer really was. To date, they are laying their own internet infrastructure in select places, powering free wi-fi, their mapping regime covers nearly every element of navigation, modal, temporal and spatial; they continue to invest in clean energy- large scale production as well as domestic systems, they are experimenting with countless environmental ‘stewardship’ models, they have the largest electric car charging infrastructure. That’s just the surface. They have become an important public service during natural disasters, providing communication and satellite imagery. They continue to acquire countless businesses to build models that continue to garner an enormous market share in which businesses rely on Google to make them visible; their positive ‘economic impact’ impact in the US economy was $64 billion in 2010, while also ‘matching’ up to $100 million to ‘jump-start’ the economy. They provide phone service via their email software, youtube is increasingly providing ‘live’ news features, they are willing to fund research that can provide news content in today’s ‘lean’ model. I’m not sure if there is any sector in the economy that they haven’t taken on to provide an alternative model.

Meanwhile, the State (used broadly) continues to take a backseat to much of their efforts. Many governments are too slow and unwieldy to perform and innovate like Google. Recently, some of their more controversial efforts have resulted in policy documents of ‘best practices’ that circumvent not only the court system, but also public participation. The current environment of legislative efforts is ineffective, not only at the State (US) level, but also globally- as each government has its own fractured guidelines. This prevents a clear mandate from taking shape- one that benefits all involved, rather than capitalist interests. Meanwhile, it seems clear that many governments tiptoe around Google’s practices, given that Google has increasingly absorbed the burden of providing many services, and most of them free of charge; a classic neoliberal argument if there ever was one. But it also feels fascistic, to recall the repeated rejoinder “why do we desire our own repression?” Continual concessions are made in favor of allowing Google to continue to ‘innovate’, so that it might make things ‘a little bit better’….  Instead of world peace through capitalistic ventures of the neoliberal order, Google is trumpeting data peace and the democratizing of information… of which they exert enormous control over the ways and means to search the information. How democratic is that? They want to refine my search results so that it continues to reinforce my existing habits. They even want me to personalize so that it can anticipate what I want. I don’t want that. I’m a fickle consumer! But boy, the accurate results and integrated tools are seductive…

While it would be easy to a default to a hyperbolic, deterministic argument here, it also feels almost accurate and fair to simply state that it appears that Google is perfectly poised to take over the world.

inspired after the meeting with Becoming Poor 2.0, where we are currently looking at Anti-Oedipus… I’ve been reading Difference and Repetition for the first time while reviewing AO, and it’s hard to not see aspects of D/R in AO, and I find myself wanting to talk about both texts during the group… So I thought it would be helpful for myself and the group to write out the resonances. I’m sure this has likely been done somewhere, but nothing beats doing it for yourself.

Becoming Poor

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


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…

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only connect

One two different fronts I’m engaging Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari. In my reading group, I am rereading Anti-Oedipus; with my co-conspirator, I’m slogging through Difference and Repetition. I’m sure this intense intellectual preoccupation has nothing to do with the fact that I’m reading D and D & G in nearly every essay on Photography…

Take, for example, Man Ray :
“For what can be more binding amongst beings than the discovery of a common desire? And what can be more inspiring to action than the confidence aroused by a lyric expression of this desire? From the first gesture of a child pointing to an object and simply name it, but with a world of intended meaning, to the developed mind that creates an image whose strangeness and reality stirs our subconscious to its inmost depths, the awakening of desire is the first step to participation and experience.”

or maybe this:

“No plastic expression can ever be more than a residue of an experience. The recognition of an image that has tragically survived an experience, recalling the event more or less clearly, like the undisturbed ashes of an object consumed by flames…”

or maybe even this:

“Each one of us, in his timidity, has a limit beyond which he is outraged. It is inevitable that he who by concentrated application has extended this limit for himself, should around the resentment of those who have accepted conventions which, since accepted by all, require no initiative of application. And this resentment generally takes the form of meaningless laughter or of criticism, if not of persecution. But this apparent violation is preferable to the monstrous habits condoned by etiquette and estheticism.”

What seems more germane is perhaps the spirit in which Man Ray is writing, one that embodies the same spirit of Deleuze (and yes, Guattari too, but I find I respond more to D’s thinking in general.) In each case, each quote recalls moments of the above two texts I’m reading. As Deleuze puts forward a new kind or orientation towards the material world, the virtual and pure difference as a way to get outside of a dogmatic image of thought, D & G continue this orientation through schizoanalysis and the embrace of the schizo’s way of moving through the world. Both instances argue for a need to move beyond representation and the eventual labeling and categorization that makes the adoption of habits or the ‘illegitimate’ synthesis so damaging.

Regardless, it seems that everywhere I look, I see the spirit of Deleuze’s thinking. As I was talking with my friend last night, finding these ‘minor’ voices/positions seems like a pretty productive line as I pull together the dominant lines of the history of photographic discourse.

Representing the ineffable; or, the photograph as haecceity

Yet again. Still. Continuing a line… I seem to be stuck in this photographic line that will inform a key argument in my dissertation topic. Going into the dissertation, I knew that photography would be important to the topic. I mean, Google Street View is a veritable photographic plane. Within the last month or so, however, I’ve come to realize how important the history of the photographic discourse will be in relation to not only an organization of user practices, but also the conceptual framework in which to locate my own critical voice. Previously, I was trying to give the uses of GSV adequate attention, and I found that my voice got in the way. But keeping it out seemed like too much ‘reportage’. And while I appreciate Latour’s work and what it has to offer, I think I was too close to ‘letting the actors speak’, part of a larger problem of Methods. I still think it’s important, but I found myself sitting in front of pages and pages of text saying, ‘so?’, and unable to write anymore.

I think it was an article by Sekula that I happened to come across, along the line of ‘invention of photographic meaning’. I don’t know why I was reading it, but it was in a collection of essays in a book that needed to go back to the library. I was already thinking about the concepts that were being challenged by using GSV, the truth claims of the photograph, conducting research based on the photograph, who was the artist in the artistic uses of GSV, etc. Since I was already familiar with the history of photography, I knew that there has been persistent discussion of the veracity of the photograph, as well as its uncertain status as a ‘fine art’. So when I ran across this essay by Sekula- suddenly everything started to fall into place and how the user practices could be organized along the documentation line and the fine art line.

But then. What really helped things fall into place was recalling one of the dominant points of What is Philosophy, and the importance of the philosophical, scientific and artistic planes. Each discipline has its own unique plane and concepts, but each inform the other planes in different ways. The result is not a hybrid, of course, but rather points of intersection in which each of the planes takes up the problem in different ways. Both the scientific and artistic plane has taken up the problem of GSV in its own unique way. My project thus takes up the problem on the philosophic plane. In true fashion, this problem has no solution. Solutions can be found of course, but what fun would that be, and what would that say about the question posed?

Of course, I started this post thinking I would talk about a quote by Strand, in which he describes Stieglitz’s photographs, and his description has remarkable resonances with Deleuze’s articulation of pure difference, or the haecceity. But the problem: the photograph is a representation of that moment, not the moment itself. So instead, I’ll bookmark this thought and elaborate in part 2.

AAG Schedule

The AAG schedule is finally up-

My co-conspirator and I organized two panels “Geophilosophy and the Planes of Urban Experience” for the meeting. We are really excited about the breadth of the panels- and are looking forward to helping Deleuze and Guattari’s work make more inroads into Geography. The sessions can be viewed here, my contribution here.

and very much looking forward to returning to LA and taking in some of that sunshine.