In Which I Suspect a Larval Thesis

~I do not seek, I find. (Jacques Lacan channeling Picasso in an indirect discourse).

~The ‘bricoleur’ is adept at performing a large number of diverse tasks; but, unlike the the engineer, he does not subordinate each of them to the availability of raw materials and tools conceived and procured for the purpose of the project. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’, that is to say with a set of tools and materials which is always finite and is also heterogeneous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions or destructions. The set of the ‘bricoleur’s means cannot therefore be defined in terms of a project (which would presuppose besides, that, as in the case of the engineer, there were, at least in theory, as many sets of tools and materials or ‘instrumental sets’, as there are different kinds of projects). It is to be defined only by its potential use, or putting this another way and in the language of the ‘bricoleur’ himself, because the elements are collected or retained on the principle that ‘they may always come in handy’. Such elements are specialized up to a point, sufficiently for the ‘bricoleur’ not to need the equipment and knowledge of all trades and professions, but not enough for each of them to have only one definite and determine use. They each represent a set of actual and possible relations; they are ‘operators’ but they can be used for any operations of the same type. (The Savage Mind, 17-18).

I suspect that there is an entire materialistic philosophy contained in these remarks, alluding to the emergence of constellations. I wouldn’t be the first. I shall proceed as a bricoleur, collecting what is ready to hand, without any particular project in mind. Perhaps one will emerge after the fact, apres coup, as a whole arising from the parts and existing alongside the set of parts which cannot themselves form a whole.

    In Which I Discuss Some Things So as to Avoid Getting to the Point

In Difference and Repetition Deleuze writes,

The Idea [multiplicity] is defined as a structure. A structure or an Idea is a ‘complex theme’, an internal multiplicity– in other words, a system of multiple, non-localisable connections between differential elements which is incarnated in real relations and actual terms. In this sense, we see no difficulty in reconciling genesis and structure. Following Lautman and Vuillemin’s work on mathematics, ‘structuralism’ seems to us the only means by which a genetic method can achieve its ambitions. It is sufficient to understand that the genesis takes place in time not between on actual term, however small, and another actual term, but between the virtual and its actualisation– in other words, it goes from the structure to its incarnation, from the conditions of a problem to the cases of solution, from the differential elements and their ideal connections to actual terms and diverse real relations which constitute at each moment the actual of time. This is a genesis without dynamism, evolving necessarily in the element of a supra-historicity, a static genesis which may be understood as the correlate of the notion of passive synthesis, and which in turn illuminates that notion. (183)

In many respects it was this very passage that first attracted me to Deleuze years ago. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we accept Saussure conception of language or Levi-Strauss’ conception of cultural. (I am not accepting either, but trying to pose or outline the contours of a particular problem that emerge whenever we talk about systems and structures). For Saussure language is defined as a system, as a set of differential relations between phonemes. A phoneme is not an individual sound, but is rather an opposition: thus, for instance, we have b/p/c. Much to my sister’s delight, my three year old nephew recently discovered Saussurean linguistics. “Mommy,” he said, giggling wildly, “isn’t it funny that if you use b instead of g you can turn ‘boat’ into ‘goat’ and if you use c instead of g you can turn ‘goat’ into ‘coat’?!?” My nephew, the bright young boy he is, had discovered the principle of differentiality. In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze will argue that sense arises from nonsense. It would appear that my nephew is very Deleuzian in the sense that he has discovered that nonsense or the meaningless oppositions among sounds can produce effects of sense. A simple substitution of sound can produce a different meaning.

Read on

Here we have the infamous distinction between language and speech. At the level of language we have a non-linear system of differential oppositions defining phonemic relations. This is the linguistic structure for a particular language. At the level of speech, we have a “selection” from this system. But how does this process of selection takes place? Supposing that structure is a field of singularities (in this case, phonemes) and their relations, and supposing that this field is a field of potentialities, how is it that some of these phonemes come to be actualized while others remain virtual? What are the processes by which these actualizations take place? It is this process that Deleuze is referring to when he makes reference to a “static genesis”. Here we do not have a genesis that moves from actual term to actual term (from word to word, in the linguistic example), but from a virtual structure to an actual case.

In part, this could be said to be among the problems Deleuze was struggling with during the period of Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense. In this connection, it could be said that Deleuze was struggling to formulate or develop the ontology proper to structuralist thought (whether in biology, linguistics, anthropology, mathematics, etc). How must we think being in order to think the being of structure? Following Levi-Strauss, Deleuze will argue that the thought of structure is the thought of the concrete. Lacan expresses this point well with respect to analysis in his first seminar, remarking that, “…analysis as a science is always a science of the particular” (Freud’s Papers on Technique, 21). I suspect that this is a poor translation of Lacan, for the grammar of the particular is that it is always an instance of the universal, and there can be no case study that is an instance of the universal. It would be better here to translate “particular” as “singular”. That aside, the issue is the same with language or with biological organisms, etc. All languages have their own singular organizations. If all life on the earth were all but destroyed, those life forms that would evolve millions of years hence would share scant resemblance to what we know now. Consequently, if Deleuze’s position is a transcendental empiricism, then this is because we cannot anticipate in advance or a priori what an organization, structure, or system will be like. The liaisons, the relations, the networks, defining an ecosystem, for instance, are absolutely unique, singular, and irreplaceable. Thus, unlike Kant’s transcendental idealism, defined as it is by the a priori categories of the understanding (i.e., abstract and formal universals) and forms of space and time that are to characterize all possible experience and which condition the empirical manifold given through the senses, Deleuze will look for genetic conditions of concrete formations that are no larger than that which they generate. Where Kant, for instance, speaks of the universal form of space and time (a thesis quickly undermined by developments in non-Euclidean geometry), Deleuze will argue that there is no all embracing space or time, but rather local and singular spatio-temporal dynamisms specific to unique constellations. On the other hand, if Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism is a transcendental empiricism, then this is because system, structure, multiplicity– basically all that falls under the virtual –will be the genetic conditions for the actual formations we find in the world.

Second, an ontology proper to structuralism will require something like Ricouer’s description of structuralism as “Kantianism without the transcendental subject.” Take the example of language. As Lars points out so beautifully in an impossible to quote post, language, as a trans-subjective phenomenon, as an ephemeral event that can never be referred to as “language itself”, cannot be said to be in a subject. Deleuze and Guattari will later develop this point under the title of “indirect discourse”.

If language always seems to presuppose itself, if we cannot assign it a nonlinguistic point of departure, it is because language does not operate between something seen (or felt) and something said, but always goes from saying to saying. We believe that narrative consists not in communicating what one has seen but in transmitting what one has heard, what someone else said to you. Hearsay. It does not even suffice to invoke a vision distorted by passion. The ‘first’ language, or rather the first determination of language, is not the trope or metaphor but indirect discourse. The importance some have according metaphor and metonymy proves disastrous for the study of language. Metaphors and metonymies are merely effects; they are a part of language only when they presuppose indirect discourse. There are many passions in a passion, all manner of voices in a voice, murmurings, speaking in tongues: that is why all discourse is indirect, and the translative movement proper to language is that of indirect discourse. Benveniste denies that the bee has language, even though it has an organic coding process and even uses tropes. It has no language because it can communicate what it has seen but not transmit what has been communicated to it. A bee that has seen a food source can communicate the message to bees that did not see it, but a bee that has not seen it cannot transmit the message to others that did not see it. Language is not content to go from a first party to a second party, from one who has been to one who has not, but necessarily goes from a second party to a third party, neither of whom has seen. It is in this sense that language is the transmission of the word as order-word, not the communication of a sign as information. Language is a map, not a tracing. (A Thousand Plateaus, 76-77)

We exist within a murmur, a clamor, a cacophony, that always precedes us. Language is not in the subject, rather the subject is in language. Consequently, the subject is a term actualized in a passive genesis, not a transcendental subject presiding over an active synthesis that produces language. Of course, the first objection that comes to mind is Chomsky’s Kantian deep grammar, but it would appear that linguistic research is eroding even this.

    In Which I Change the Subject and Go in an Entirely Different Direction and am Thereby Led to Wonder if This Shouldn’t Be a Different Post While Simultaneously Enacting, Performatively and Self-Reflexively the Attractor of My Thought

Deleuze’s account of static genesis, actualization, or individuation allows us to explain the movement from structure to actuality or the mechanics and type of “causality” required by structural thought. However, as important as the idea of static genesis might be, it is nonetheless ultimately dissatisfying as while it accounts for the genesis of actualities it does not account for the genesis of structures themselves. It would appear that Deleuze and Guattari recognized this problem as well. In their turn to assemblages, the question is no longer that of how an actuality is generated from a structure or actualized-individuated, but rather how an organization or what Rene Thom referred to as a “structural stability” emerges at all.

How, starting from this domain of chance or real inorganization, large configurations are organized that necessarily reproduce a structure under the action of DNA and its segments, the genes, performing veritable lottery drawings, creating switching points as lines of selection or evolution– this, indeed, is what all the stages of the passage from the molecular to the molar demonstrate, such as this passage appears in the organic machines, but no less so in the social machines with other laws and other figures. (Anti-Oedipus, 289, my emphasis)

All of this has led me recently to torture myself with the work of Rene Thom and his daunting work Structural Stability and Morphogenesis, where he unleashed the mathematics of catastrophe theory upon the world which would play such a formative role in the development of dynamic systems theory or chaos theory. As David Aubin puts it, “In a given domain of experience, Thom’s modeling practice could be summarized as follows: find the shapes that are usually encountered, establish a list of these shapes according to their topologic character, and find the underlying dynamics that govern their emergence and destruction” (Growing Explanations: Historical Perspectives on Recent Science, 119. This text can also be found here in pdf form). This, indeed, is the question. While Thom often focused particularly on shape, the question refers to any organization that achieves structural stability. How is it that these forms come to be? By what processes do they emerge? How do they pass away? When Thom refers to “catastrophes”, he is not referring to destructive events such as a meteor hitting the earth, but rather points in a system where there is a discontinuity from one state to another, where a new organization emerges or comes into being. It would not be off mark to suggest that Badiou is interested in a particular type of “catastrophe” when he discusses truth-procedures.

I cannot say that I understand much of Thom’s Structural Stability and Morphogenesis. The math, primarily topology and what appears to be category theory, is beyond me. However, in my attempt to find some way into his work as I felt the questions he is asking are so relevant to things I’m trying to think about, I had the good fortune to come across David Aubin’s dissertation, A Cultural History of Catastrophes and Chaos: Around the Institut des Hautes √Čtudes Scientifiques. What interests me in Aubin’s dissertation is the way in which his analysis of the history of chaos science proceeds at the level of assemblages that subsequently generate organizations or systems. I apologize for the lengthy quote, but this is simply too good to pass up:

Cultural history of science ought to strive for an understanding of the subtle connections between individual scientific activities and the society in which they take place, not only at a social, institutional, and political level, but also at the more diffuse level of culture, taken in its widest sense. In order to present a compelling argument, it is however necessary to go beyond metaphors and analogies. However appealing some connections may appear at first sight, how can we assess whether enough evidence has been presented? Just how many astonishing coincidences will suffice for a story to be plausible? This often remains problematic. Some historians of science have recently been able to articulate such connections convincingly by focusing on social units naturally well circumscribed. But the study of the cultural resonances brought about by terms, like ‘structures’, ‘catastrophe’, or ‘chaos’, used in mathematics and the sciences but also in wider cultural discourse, requires a much more diffuse framework, a Protean notion of cultural connection.

Are we to fall back on Zeitgeist? Vague notions such as this one have the benefit of attributing the convergences of several types of discourse to a higher level of analysis, a shared set of values, metaphors, and sensibilities, and counter claims of hegemony of one domain over another. However, it is achieved only at the expense of establishing a higher level of hegemony, located in an entity that does not even exist. The mechanisms by which Zeitgeists arise, gain prominence, are sustained, and fade away are rarely addressed. The way they are incorporated into the thinking and practice of individuals remains mysterious. Inspired by recent social and historical studies of science, I choose as much as possible to locate my heuristic tools at the level of actors. This choice displaces the causal agency from discourses to the actors themselves. Instead of passively receiving cultural “influences”, scientists actively forge cultural connections [my emphasis]. Cultural connectors… provide such a heuristic tool that may be useful in describing cultural resonances.

Cultural connectors are more or less explicit references used by actors when they attempt, by drawing on parallels, analogies, metaphors, or full-fledged theories, to argue for a point, to strengthen the meaning of their work, or to increase the legitimacy of their methods and ideas. Cultural connectors carry whole sets of meanings and practices which more ore less happily flow between spheres of culture. Superficially or not, cultural connectors enter widely different types of discourse and acquire their strength through constant reinforcement. [my emphasis]

Cultural connectors therefore have two aspects that need special emphasis. First, they are used at a variety of levels: People establish connections through personal contacts, either ephemeral or winding up in intense collaborations; or by their citations, which are innocuous metaphors or essential concepts for thought or legitimacy; or by borrowing, translating, adopting and adapting whole bodies of knowledge into a new setting; or finally, by associating different cultural spheres in the context of a third discourse, often a philosophical enterprise, or even in the media. All of these levels are important. Second, although the diversity of levels at which cultural connectors are employed is bound to make the connection seem superficial, cultural connectors become more potent because they are used over and over again [my emphasis], and they link durably the spheres of culture they connect. A single instance of connection is not enough; it must be picked on, expanded on, argued for and against, etc. The connection becomes so widespread that an historical account can usefully be given not only for the plugging-in of the cultural connector, but for also its disintegration, not taken as an event, but as a process [my emphasis], in which actors are playing a central role. (9-11)

In its focus on synchrony, structuralism turned the question of how organization, how systems emerge a deep mystery. Indeed, to even pose such questions was considered a fallacy– the genetic fallacy –and to fall into evolutionary, developmental, or humanist traps. The net result of this theoretical orientation was a sort of tragic conception of agency, for since structures had an agency all their own, since they had an autonomy with respect to subjects occupying structure, there could be little anyone could do to change structure. Indeed, one sees this clearly in Lacan’s teaching during his middle period, where ultimately the best the analysand can hope for is to accept their symbolic destiny vis a vis the way it situates one within the symbolic. What Aubin describes here is very different. It cannot be said that he is suggesting that human individuals alone transform systems, that change takes place through individual agency. However, in his focus on processes of intensification, networks, local connections, shared research projects, Aubin outlines those vectors through which local connections gradually take on force, producing communications that become material realities or ordinary furniture of the social world, producing feedback loops that take on self-reinforcing and self-replicating forms of social relation. For instance, the students of the scientists forming research projects now find themselves enmeshed within the webs of the previous scientist’s work through how they are trained and the questions posed to them. They fall into an indirect discourse, a repetition. What we thus find in Aubin is simultaneously the outlines of an account of both the autonomy of social systems, the way we experience them as forces that exceed us and define what can and cannot resonate, and how these systems change and drift through local connections among agents. Such might be a midway point, a third way, between humanism and anti-humanism, between the sovereignity of the individual and the sovereignity of structure.

    In Which I Make a Brief Reference to Wolves

How does one produce a pack?

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