In late September, October, or November this Fall I hope to teach a New Centre course entitled “The Archeology of Matter” inaugurating and outlining a project that might be referred to as “hyletics”. It is often suggested that Descartes is responsible for mind/body dualism; however, philosophy has had a tendency towards idealism and dualism since its inception. Indeed, while it takes different forms, the tendency towards idealism and the erasure of matter is not unique to Western philosophy, but appears to be a cross-cultural phenomenon. Similar in ambition to deconstruction, hyletics explores the conceptual mechanisms and motivations by which materiality is repressed so as to open a space of thought proper to materiality. Far from a scientistic orientation of thought seeking to assert the primacy of the sciences over all other forms of cultural production, hyletics explores the repression of material labor, the living and lived body, the desiring body, the body that hungers, ages, that falls prey to sickness, that is tormented by desire, and the world of things throughout the world of thought. It seeks to determine what imperatives led to the primacy of the concept over the body and thing, the word over materiality, and how these inversions prepared the way for the rise of capital and the anthropocene.
June 27, 2015
Landscape is neither in space, nor is it of space. Indeed, landscape had to be evacuated and erased in order for space to come into being. In this regard, space is a historical fiction that is all too real in its consequences. Space was formed as conceptual space through a historical process that involved the invention of writing, the development of mathematics, and the rise of capitalism and colonialism. Before that there was only landscape. However, while a certain form of humanity is a necessary condition for the emergence of space, landscape is in no way dependent on the human nor any other living being. Where space is a epistemic category, a cultural category, landscape was there well before any humans or any other living beings existed and will be there long after the demise of all these beings. Landscape is in no way dependent on the gaze of the artist nor those that dwell within it.
Space is an abstraction, a subtraction of all difference, and therefore an idea, a system of signification. As a subtraction of all difference, it is the form of form, or the possibility of absolute exchange. The formation of the form of form was a necessary condition for the rise of the commodity. The form of form is the milieu of identity, of the same, required for the institution of generic equivalence as the core unit of being. Through the institution of the form of form as that which renders everything comparable and exchangeable, as that which institutes the brute repetition of the same at all levels of civilization, the infinitude– not withdrawal –that resides in each thing or being is veiled and the attempt is made to tame and master all that exists. Beings are reduced to a handful of variables such as their extension. The obsession with repetition known as “quality control” or the reign of the generically repeated for each instantiation in the order of time comes into being. One place becomes the same as any other, for in reality space is without place. Everything therefore becomes comparable according to a value, even people and all other living things.
June 18, 2015
Since last week I’ve been haunted by a discussion with a friend that I had over lunch about his hostility towards Freud. Mind you, I’ve never been an orthodox Freudian. In particular we discussed Freud’s theory of fetishes. He led me to reflect on why I value Freud and where I diverge. I’ve never bought into the gender stuff or Oedipus in Freud. What’s left? The mobility of desire: desire is not programmed, but rather anything can be eroticized. We all have our shine on the nose, our fix. As he said, there are as many genders or orientations as there are people. The entire world becomes a signifying system, a referential system, in terms of our loves and attachments. The Birds. Alice. It’s all kink; perhaps most of all when it doesn’t look like kink. There’s the theory of the repressed. Our desire, our wishes, our betrayals of ourself always return in some form. Poe’s Telltale Heart. We never escape the truth of our desire. Then, there’s Freud’s respect for the singularity of subjects, for sinthome, for the bizarreness of associative systems as against Jungian archetypes. There is no dream dictionary, only Borgesian encyclopedias created by the aleatory encounters and wanderings of a life. There’s no hermeneutics in Freud because ultimately the unconscious is a singular nonsense, a life, this life, that person’s life. It is a creation of meaning, not an expression of meanings. The unconscious forges, it doesn’t express. And finally, there’s Freud’s Humean Spinozism. We are the fabric of our desire. I’m grateful for that discussion.
June 16, 2015
There is a gravity to language. In the case of physical gravity there’s not an attraction produced by forces, rather a bending, a curvature of space-time, along which another object then falls. That curvature of space-time creates a path defining the vector of the object caught within the gravity well. This is a good metaphor for power. If mountains exercise gravity, if they have a certain power, then this is because they create a path along which other entities move. I could, perhaps, climb the sheer face of the mountain to get to the other side, but this would be both dangerous and would require a great deal of energy. Instead, I move along the contour of the mountain to get to my destination because this is the path of least resistance or perhaps I find a pass, a ravine, through which I might get to my destination. Along the way I see a number of things I would have missed as a result of a more direct route, I encounter all sorts of dangers and boons I would have missed along another path, because the mountain has defined the vector of my movement. Such is the gentle power of a mountain, its gravity. I am choosing the path I take, but nonetheless the mountain has placed that path before me. Was it I or the mountain that chose?
There is no action we engage in that is not supported by the things or beings of the earth. In this respect, all action is distributed. Action does not arise solely from you or I, but is a collaboration of many entities in tandem with one another. Often we don’t notice this because we are so accustomed to the environments within which we act. It takes a special sort of eye, a counter-factual eye, to discern the distributed nature of action. Consider an astronaut striving to walk on the moon.
Notice how the astronaut falls and has great difficulty getting up. It is not simply his heavy backpack that causes his difficulties, though it certainly doesn’t help. Rather, it is the gravity of the moon that causes his problems; for it is about 1/6th that of the earth. His body, at the level of his muscles, bone structure, and size is put together for the gravity of the earth. On the earth we move throughout the world like a fish in water, meshing beautifully with the earth’s gravity. On the moon, however, all of this changes and movement becomes incredibly difficult and awkward.
June 4, 2015
A musical piece composed by Odvk and Seetyca inspired by Onto-Cartography and other works of contemporary theory.
June 3, 2015
So much of the challenge of doing critical theory in the humanities today is that we just don’t know what’s going on and it’s difficult to find out as we seldom talk to the people who are doing these things. When I visit design studios, talk with architects, and talk with to people doing serious IT, I’m astonished by what I see and hear. They’re making things that I certainly would have never imagined; sometimes very beautiful and emancipatory, at others disturbing. As a friend of mine, theorist of technology Heather Wiltse, recently said, we still treat Heidegger’s hammer as the paradigm of technology (a hyperbole, but one that’s not far off mark). Yet all of these things are more or less invisible even though they affect every aspect of our lives.
These technologies are so well integrated in our lives, so seamless and there, that we don’t even notice them. They are persuasive objects. I suppose the investigation of persuasive objects was what I was angling after in Onto-Cartography. Perhaps there’s a rhetoric to these entities, but it’s not the sort of rhetoric we encounter in language where, among other things, a speech-act can lead us to share a belief or develop an identification. Rather, persuasive objects persuade by gently directing our action in particular directions without us noticing it or really attending to it. They exercise what I have elsewhere called “gravity”, my name for power exercised at the level of signs, objects, and features of physical objects.
A group of us had occasion to encounter a persuasive object one bright evening in Umeå, Sweden. We were walking to a restaurant downtown. To get there we had to walk along a trail in a beautiful park. The road we needed to reach was directly ahead of us, yet the trail curled away in the opposite direction taking us away from the road we needed to get to. One member of our group complained bitterly, expressing frustration at how this path takes you away from your destination. The path was a sort of persuasive object. We could have climbed down a steep hill to get to the path we wished to take, but that would have been difficult, especially since one of us had a bike. Instead we were carried along by the path as the direction of least possible resistance, condemned to the fate– I say this tongue in cheek –of a leisurely stroll through the park. It’s as if the path demanded that we slow down and refuse the purposiveness of our business, requiring us to enjoy the beauty of the park. It didn’t do this by instilling a discursive content or belief in our minds, but simply by creating a groove along which we moved. We still exercise our freedom– there is no technological determinism here –but nonetheless amble along the path before us.
That’s how it is with gravity in the specific sense that I use the term. We don’t notice these persuasive objects because we simply move along them. We can stop. We can go back. We can climb down the hill. Yet still, there they are, nudging us in a particular direction. These machines, these persuasive objects, are all about us. The path is a machine encouraging enjoyment of the park despite our own aims (to reach our destination by a direct path). There are all sorts of techno-semiotic machines like this as well. When I do a Google search, for example, the list of links I see is different than the one you will see for exactly the same search. That list is compiled by some sort of algorithm based on my geographical location as well as my past search history. Those links, in their turn, direct me along a particular path. I indeed choose the links, but as Zizek would say, the range of choices is already chosen for me. It’s hard to see the persuasive objects because we dwell so intimately among them and seldom experience alternative configurations of space-time landscapes, yet there they are directing us in all sorts of subtle and gentle ways that reinforce various social patterns. Without a knowledge of emerging technologies how can we hope to understand what is going on? And more importantly, to what degree can we imagine a politics that not only persuades and deconstructs meanings, but that also builds emancipatory environments for life, becoming, and movement?