I will be conducting a seminar on Onto-Cartography this Spring through The New Centre for Research and Practice.  You can find information for attending here.  The New Centre has a great line up this Spring, including seminars by Nick Land, Reza Negerastani, and Peter Wolfendale, so be sure to take a look at their website.  Here’s the description for the Onto-Cartography course.

Since the revolutionary work of Immanuel Kant, Continental philosophy has been dominated by the idealist or correlationist paradigms wherein it is argued that mind structures and constitutes reality. In 20th century Continental philosophy, this correlationist turn has been manifested in the thesis that it is language, signs, discourses, or narratives that structure reality. This thesis has also harbored the emancipatory promise of liberating people from oppressive conditions through a critique and deconstruction of various discourses and symbolic systems that structure social relations.

Through the disclosure that forms of subjectivity and identity are not intrinsic properties of persons but are social constructions, these identities and power-relations are revealed to be contingent, and it becomes possible to build new forms of subjectivity, identity, and social relations. Such is the political import of the work of Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and those influenced by Lacan. The emancipatory achievements of the semiotic turn are not to be underestimated nor minimized; however, they have obscured another form of power, non-discursive power, that arises from materiality as such. Power issues not simply from signification and how we signify, but also how the world of objects about us is organized.

Through a reading of Bryant’s Onto-Cartograhy: An Ontology of Machines and Media, this seminar explores both the being of material objects and how they contribute to the organization of social relations through technologies, infrastructure, living beings, and features of geography. Over the course of the Spring seminar, students will be introduced to the ontology of machines, relations between machines, and how they influence the form that societies take. The seminar will explore machinic ontology, adopting a functionalist perspective that argues all beings, regardless of whether or not they are fabricated by humans, are machines, and will investigate nonhuman, animal, mineral, technological, institutional, and semiotic machines. Special emphasis will be placed on how worlds are structured and the ways in which power functions within these different worlds. Students will learn techniques for mapping worlds so as to better devise strategies of resistance and escape from oppressive formations.

REQUIREMENTS
Each seminar session will consist of lectures over the material assigned that week, as well as class discussion. Students are expected to participate in class with contributions of their own in the form of questions and observations. They are required to attend all four sessions of the online seminar. Over the course of the week there will also be message board discussions in regards to the material. Students taking the course for credit will write a 3000-3500 word essay, applying the concepts drawn from the assigned readings in the analysis of how a region of the social world is structured.

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A review of Onto-Cartography by Bryan Bannon can be found here.  The review is mixed, but generally positive, I think.  He speaks of difficulties in individuating machines, yet as I argue, machines are individuated both by their powers and their history.  I’ll have to reread OC to see if I develop this point explicitly there, but it is developed in The Democracy of Objects, here on the blog, and in published articles.  At one point in the interview he makes the odd claim that “[t]he Deleuzian position on this subject is more sensible: the virtual is wholly indeterminate and is made actual in the specific relations a machine enters into.  In many ways, Bryant develops his view out of what I take to be a misunderstanding of Deleuze and Guattari’s position on relationality.”  Here it’s worth quoting Deleuze, “…far from being undetermined, the virtual is completely determined” (Difference and Repetition, 209).  This is a central point of chapter 4 of Difference and Repetition where the concept of virtuality is most thoroughly developed.

solar-eclipse-annularIn philosophy and theory there is always a struggle with language.  While new coinings occasionally take place, the norm is rather that terms must be wrested from ordinary language and put to different uses.  There is always a danger here, for the terms continue to carry the connotations of ordinary language, yet theory also attempts to sever some of those connotations and also send the terms in a new or different direction.  Aristotle took the Greek word kategorein, meaning “to accuse” and gave it an entirely different inflection far from this connotation.  We can imagine how perplexed his audience was and that they said things like “but those aren’t accusations!” as if ordinary language should be a guide to philosophy.  Heidegger takes the German term Dasein, meaning to “exist”, and transforms it into an account of being-in-the-world.  Theoretical language does not treat ordinary language as a normative authority defining proper and improper use (Wittgenstein’s shameful idea), but instead struggles with the language it is thrown into– for it must work with something –so as to liberate a concept that departs from ordinary language.  If ordinary language is the house, not of being, but of doxa, then theory is, in part, a struggle against the doxa housed in ordinary language.  Often theory loses in this struggle with ordinary language.  Doxa has its day and swallows up the concept through a triumph of common connotations.  That’s how it often goes.  But there’s no other way.

So it is with the term “ecology”.  Ecology is relegated to the status of a regional ontology and is therefore only of interest to philosophers and theorists who work on climate, environmental issues, nature in literature, etc.  Ecology, ordinary language says, is an investigation of nature, the environment, climate, and what is green.  Those theorists interested in politics, the nature of knowledge. science, art, ethics, literature, society, etc., therefore have– the thinking it goes –no need to attend to ecology.  It’s outside their research area.

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Mirage1Materialism is paradoxical in two ways.  I cite these paradoxes not to criticize materialism, but to attempt to circumscribe the material and how it differs from other orientations of thought.  First, it defends the thesis that the being of being is material, the physical, and therefore other than thought, but can only do so through thought.  Materialism proceeds through concepts, yet attempts to grasp that which is other than the concept.  The material is that which is anterior and posterior to the concept, thought, phenomenality, affect, the lived experience of the body, and signification.  It is without meaning, beyond all meaning, and certainly outside of all phenomenological givenness.  There is, for example, a radical difference between the lived body (the body of phenomenological experience) and the physiological (material) body.  The physiological body can, of course, affect the lived body, yet the lived body is no reliable guide to the material or physiological body.

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This article by Clive Hamilton, I think, marks what is at stake in the New Materialisms and some of the Speculative Realisms.  The issue is not some hackneyed attempt to champion the sciences and objectivity over meaning, but to draw attention to the material dimensions of how we dwell and live.  Today, more than ever, we need to reflect on whether the tools of deconstruction, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, Marxist critical theory, and semiotics are adequate to thinking the world we dwell in and how these theoretical orientations might erase the fundamental materiality of existence.  This erasure is so thorough that it’s difficult to even discern when working within these theoretical frames for, after all, one can only see what one can see, and being is here reduced to meaning.  This critical reflection is not undertaken to erase these methodologies– quite the contrary –but to mark their limits, note their blindspots, and develop a theoretical frame capable of both preserving what is vital in these forms of thought and of moving beyond those limitations.  This is what is at stake in the critique of correlationism.  Materiality is not phenomenality, a lived experience, a meaning, nor a text– though it can affect all of these things –but something with its own dynamics and forms of power.  We need a form of theory capable of thinking that and that avoids the urge to treat everything as texts, meanings, and correlates of intentions.

interior-nature-plant-art-design-architecture-living-roomI will be giving a talk entitled “Machine-Oriented Architecture:  Oikos and Ecology” for the Architecture Lecture Series before School of Architecture at Texas A & M on March 9th, at 5:45 PM.  Machine-oriented architecture explores architecture from the standpoint of operations, acts, and movements, treating the building as an entity that functions, distributing the forces of the cosmos and creating interfaces through the formation of membranes– physical and semiotic –between the broader ecology of the outside and the ecology of the inside.  Machine-oriented architecture traces the way in which, through material and semiotic operations, oikos acts on plant, animal, and human bodies, forging, as outputs, various forms of affectivity, life, and interrelations that reflect everything from the living’s relation to the cosmos, to our relations to economy, each other, gender, etc.  As is so often the case with the venues where I’m asked to speak and the themes upon which I’m asked to think, I clearly am not an expert on architecture, nor even a dilettante, so hopefully my audience will find something of value in my thoughts.  I’m truly honored to be given the opportunity to think on such matters, no matter how crudely I do so. Please join us if you’re able.

Despite his greatness in so many other areas, there’s a deep shame in Wittgenstein’s declaration that philosophy is what happens when language goes on holiday.  Far from being a mark of shame from which philosophy should be cured, the proper response is “yes!”  In philosophy, as in the sciences, mathematics, the arts, and poetry, there is an athleticism of language, an inventiveness that challenges and disrupts what the analytics call “ordinary language”.  Philosophy breaks language from its moorings, sending it flying in new trajectories.  In this respect, it is what Deleuze and Guattari called a “minor language” and stuttering.  It’s left handed.  To be sure, philosophy draws on the connotations of ordinary language, but only to send them flying in new and unheard of directions.  When Plato utters “eidos” it becomes something other than mere shape.  When Aristotle utters the term “category”, it becomes something other than an accusation.  When Heidegger utters “Dasein” it comes to mean something other than mere “existence”.  All of these connotations are drawn upon, but they become something quite different.  Maybe this is why the language of philosophy is always a bit grotesque and shares a resemblance to science fiction; even before science or fiction existed.  There is no criticism more shameful in philosophy than the criticism that this is not how people normally use these terms.  Quite right.  And in this philosophy resembles poetry– as Bertrand Russell noted –while also being a sort of mathematics or science.  Philosophy is one way in which ordinary language– which is one form power takes –is made to stutter.  Like the poet, but a poet that has a taste for mathematical demonstration and formalism, good philosophy strives to be tectonic with respect to the plates that compose ordinary language.

Initially the shift to conceiving societies and cultures as ecologies seems slight.  After all, in the traditions of social and political thought, societies have largely been thought both in terms of relations and processes.  If ecology consists not in thinking nature but in thinking beings of any sort in terms of relations, then it would seem that describing culture as an ecology changes nothing.  And in some ways this is true.  All that was there before in social and political thought remains.  It is not so much that something is lost with this move as the domain of entities relevant to culture is significantly expanded.

In Book III of the Ethics, Spinoza resolved to treat the emotions as phenomena of nature and to investigate them accordingly.  Something similar happens when cultures are treated as ecologies.  Thinkers such as Latour have argued that modernity is based on a split between nature and culture.  Nature is one kingdom, with its own laws or principles; and culture is another kingdom with its own laws and principles.  Generally nature is treated as the domain of causality, while culture is treated as the domain of meaning, the sign, or the signifier.  Under this model, investigating nature amounts to investigating causes, while investigating society means investigating meanings.  A wall is thus erected between nature and culture.

Like Spinoza, I want to investigate culture as a phenomena of nature (though as I’ve argued elsewhere and can’t get into here, this means transforming our understanding of nature).  Put a bit differently, in thinking cultures as ecologies I want to think societies in nature.  This doesn’t mean that I want to reduce things such as signs, signifiers, and meanings to biology and neurology like the evolutionary sociologist or something silly like that.  Meaning has its own manner of functioning as meaning; and while dependent on biology so far (perhaps AI’s are on the way that operate with meaning), cannot be explained in terms of biology.  Meaning has to be understood as meaning qua meaning, according to its own principles.

No, understanding culture as in nature means something quite different than giving reductive explanations of all cultural phenomena.  It means breaking down that wall between nature and culture.  Culture isn’t just meaning, but involves all sorts of natural elements as well without which it couldn’t exist as it does.  In other words, ecological conceptions of society are premised on the thesis that there are certain material conditions for the existence of culture.  Here we must take care, for “material conditions” immediately brings to mind Marx and his famous account of production as the ground of society and the forms society takes.  These are, indeed, material phenomena, yet in the ecological conception of society the material conditions of culture are not anything themselves produced by culture; at least initially.  These material conditions include things such as the existence of an atmosphere, fauna and animals of all sorts, energy in the form of calories and of others sorts to power tools, gravity within a certain range, temperature within a certain range, etc.

I am not, of course, saying anything new in pointing all this out.  Other theorists have articulated it as well.  Then again, here I am not interested in saying something new but in saying something true and playing some small role in drawing the attention of others to it.  Cultures, like organisms, I want to say, are material beings that interface with a broader physical world, both drawing matters from that world and releasing matters into the world.  And here I wish to say these material factors exercise a power of their own on the form that social relations take that often goes unspoken in our critical theories.  Yes, meaning is a key component of culture.  Yes meaning is something we need to investigate in our social and political thought.  However, we also need to attend to this broader dimension embodied in technologies of all kinds, infrastructure, features of geography, and the larger natural world in which cultural worlds are embedded in manners similar to Amazon rain forests and coral reefs.

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