Care must be taken in treating Ideas or multiplicities as having a greater permanence than they actually possess. When Deleuze speaks of “horizontal varieties of Ideas”, it is easy to get the impression that these are eternal natural kinds that have an atemporal organization. This conclusion easily follows from the example of varieties such as mathematical, physical, and chemical varieties, which are often taken to be intrinsic features of the universe. However, Deleuze’s metaphor of the “throw of the dice” should be enough to dissuade us from this route. Ideas or multiplicities are perpetually being made or unmade in terms of series that are drawn together forming new ontological problems and accompanying solution. This comes out clearly in Deleuze’s discussions of learning as opposed to knowing. Where we exist in a world, a chaosmos, that is perpetually changing by virtue of multiplicities and series being brought into contact with one another, we can only speak of emergent orders and learning, for there is no longer an eternal world that we might represent. As Deleuze puts it, “the Idea is not the element of knowledge but that of an infinite ‘learning’, which is of a different nature to knowledge. For learning evolves entirely in the comprehension of problems as such, in the apprehension and condensation of singularities and in the composition of ideal events and bodies. Learning to swim or learning a foreign language means composing the singular points of one’s own body or one’s own language with those of another shape or element, which tears us apart but also propels us into a hitherto unknown and unheard-of world of problems. To what are we dedicated if not to those problems which demand the very transformation of our body and our language” (DR, 192). It is in this conceptualization of learning that we can speak of an early concept of “deterritorialization” at work in Deleuze’s thought. In the marvellous example of learning to swim, the singularities composing the virtual dimension of the body are territorialized upon the earth. In encountering the water two series come to resonate with one another, forming a new Idea that progressively differentiates itself such that the problem of the body-water Idea becomes increasingly determined, generating a new actuality in the form of a specific style of swimming as a solution or actualization of this differential field and the singularities that populate it.
Series and their singularities are distributed by chance, and new actualizations generate new series that other series must adapt to, generating forever new divergent actualizations moving in all directions. Territories are prepetually deterritorializing and reterritorializing as Ideas or multiplicities come in contact with one another and modify their environment. Here, for instance, we might think of the introduction of cane toads into Australia to fight pests, which had the effect of significantly transforming the eco-system.
On dark days I’ve often found myself attracted to Dewey because of the process orientation of his thought. However, a comparison and contrast of Dewey with Luhmann’s conception of the artist reveal the limitations of pragmatic thought, and illuminates Deleuze’s concept of emergent orders and processes. In Art as Experience, Dewey seeks to account for the relationship of artistic production to lived experience and engagement. This account of artistic production is of interest as it forms a sort of master-key of Dewey’s entire “experimentalism”, by underlining the manner in which patterns of life emerge through engaging with the world about us (rather than thematizing experience in terms of passive receptivity or spectatorship, Dewey thinks it in terms of feedback loops and interactivity with the environment). Along these lines, Dewey writes, “When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement” (Hofstadter and Kuhns ed, Philosophies of Art & Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger, pg. 579). From a Deleuzian perspective this thesis cannot but be appealing, as Dewey here seems to allude to the virtual field or problems in which the work of art emerges as a necessary condition for thinking the art. And indeed, a number of Deleuzians such as Massumi or Hayden have increasingly turned to pragmatists such as James, Peirce, and Dewey for more accessible thematizations of Deleuze’s thought.
However, very quickly problems begin to emerge. A few pages later Dewey writes, “Because of changes in industrial conditions the artist has been pushed to one side from the main streams of active interest. Industry has been mechanized and an artist cannot work mechanically for mass production. He is less integrated than formerly in the normal flow of social services. A peculiar esthetic ‘individualism’ results. Artists find it incumbent upon them to betake themselves to their work as an isolated means of ‘self-expression.’ In order not to cater to the trend of economic forces, they often feel obliged to exaggerate their separateness to the point of eccentricity. Consequently artistic products take on to a still greater degree the air of something independent and esoteric” (ibid., 584). In this passage it becomes clear that Dewey thinks all human productions territorialized on a static lifeworld not unlike the world described by Heidegger and the earth described by Husserl. Everything is to be traced back to this world and any deviation from this world (such as the artist’s “idiosyncratic self-expression” is seen as a deviation). What Dewey is unable to think here is the adaptation of world to adaptations. That is, Dewey is unable to think the manner in which new problems emerge generating new “speciations” or forms of life as a result of new technologies and relations that emerge among multiplicities. Dewey thinks of the lifeworld as permanent, and as a result he’s only able to see the new artist in terms of what is not (the old, integrated artists of organic communities), rather than in terms of what this new artist is as a new type of multiplicity or response to a new problem. Here Dewey’s thought is essentially conservative and nostalgic.
In contrast, the picture of the artist Luhmann gives us in Art as a Social System gives us a picture of the emergence of new identities as responses to ever changing problems. For instance, Luhmann speaks about how the emergence of the non-Aristocratic wealthy middle class also allowed for a deterritorialization of the artist as essentially tied to institutions such as the church and royalty. Insofar as this new middle class sought individualized works of art so as to compete with the aristocracy, this propelled artists to discover personal style which also led to what Luhmann calls “second-order obserserving” or observing how others observe, that led to a fragmentation of the world and eventually postmodern art. Here the artist is not conceived as deviating from an authentic and wholesome collective lifeworld, but as an identity in variation responding to new problems posed at the economic, social, and scientific level. That is, we are given an account of how encounters among multiplicities generate new Ideas or Ideas of Ideas precipitated through new syntheses of differential relations and singular points. On the other hand, Luhmann’s approach still suffers in that it conceives the work of art in terms of an order that is not its own (communicative or social systems) rather than unfolding the metric or organization internal to the work itself. What is important to emphasize here, however, is the manner in which new identities and local spaces are generated in relation to positive fields of problems, so as to guard against false nostalgia at a “world lost”.