I’ll have to be brief as I’m heading out the door soon for Liverpool, but since my good friend Jerry the Anthropologist and I are hashing my machine talk out in comments with respect to my previous post on machine-oriented ontology, I thought it might be timely to say a word or two about my theory of writing. The poet Artaud famously said that the most difficult thing of all is to engender thought within thought. Thought is not something that comes immediately and automatically to us. Rather, it is the result of an encounter and it requires a genesis. This, I guess, is the theory behind my own practice of writing and my unfortunate word choices (“object”, “machine”, “existential ecology”, etc.). I have an imp of perversity in me. I intentionally choose words that I know will provoke. That provocation is not just a provocation towards whatever readers I might happen to have, but towards myself as well. How can I manage to think? How can I engender thought in myself? It doesn’t come naturally or automatically.
My theory of writing and thinking here is based on a hybrid of Deleuze’s theory of the encounter and Lacan’s theory of the analytic act. Lacanian psychoanalysis perpetually struggles with the sedimentations of the analysand’s discourse or what Bruce Fink calls “ego discourse”. The analysand thinks that he knows what he’s saying, that he knows what his intentions are, but there’s another discourse, the discourse of the Other or the unconscious, lurking behind this belief in the transparency of his ego-discourse and speech. Lacanians don’t really interpret. We never say “x means y” or “this is what your forgetting of the umbrella really meant.” It is always the analysand, not the analyst, that gives meaning. Rather, Lacanians instead interrupt. When they speak, they do so in a way that attends not to the conscious intentions of the analysand’s discourse, but to the polysemy, the homonyms, the equivocations, the gaps, the contradictions, etc., within that discourse. Their acts, not interpretations, both suggest that some other desire might be speaking here, one contrary to your ego discourse, and open the possibility of that other discourse speaking rather than being smothered in narcissistic self-image and the purported transparency of communicative ego discourse. The aim is to upset the unity of discourse so that desire might shine through and began to articulate itself.
In the third chapter of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze argues that we never think voluntarily or at will, but we only think under the force of what he calls a sentiendum or encounter that forces us to think. He says that the encounter can be a demon, a temple, Socrates, and to this we could add it could result from witnessing Koshimi primates washing potatoes in the ocean before eating them, or the astounding visual capacities of mantis shrimps. An encounter forces thought, upsetting the habits and sedimentations that populate our mind, allowing something new to emerge.
I suspect that something like this is at work in my practice of writing. I am striving to startle and interrupt myself so that I might manage to think. I’m trying to stutter. Harman says writing should not be clear, so much as vivid. Perhaps vivid writing means writing that startles and that therefore manages to engender thought. “Wait, what, did he just say that everything is an object, even persons and animals, and that objects are so withdrawn that they never touch? But I thought objects and objectification are supposed to be bad?” “Wait, wait, wait, did I just entertain the possibility that everything is a machine, that even flowers, stars, and classrooms are machines, that there is a pan-mechanism, and that rigid machines or automobiles are only a very small subset of machines? Aren’t machines supposed to be evil?” The point of language such as this is not that it is right— it could be entirely wrong –but that it interrupts, startles, and causes us to stutter.
Interrupting and startling aren’t to be valued for their own sake as absolutes. If there’s a value to interruption, being startled, and stuttering, if there’s a value to vividness, then this is because it engenders thought within thought and opens the possibility of critique. In Against Method, Feyerabend talks about how it is indispensable for thought to create an alternative universe with crazy and mad laws so as to see this universe. We’re unable to see anything if we don’t do such a thing because our world is so saturated with habit and the obvious that it’s invisible to us. The responsible theorist is a theorist that forges concepts that are dramatic and that crackle, causing us to stutter. In doing this, we become capable of no longer seeing the obvious as obvious, we become capable of seeing the familiar as contingent and historical, we become capable of critiquing assumptions at the heart of our discipline and institutions. The parallel world brings the lived world into relief, while also disclosing it as contingent or capable of being otherwise. This is the real transcendental epoche, a mad pataphysics, that is also the condition for a revolutionary practice. To see the world as a moth so that the obviousness of what we are might begin to stutter and be called into question, that’s what’s important. It’s important to engender thought within thought, and that requires the production of stuttering. And since institutions and disciplines think no less than people, it is equally important to make institutions and disciplines stutter. “For the time being I shall be an object, a zombie, precisely so that I might see what it meant to be human and a subject!”
Words like “object” and “machine” are meant to prickle like gadflies, causing habit to stumble and, with any luck, engendering critical consciousness in practice. Of course they’re chosen because they’re misleading. Yet the strange thing is that such misleading concepts allow truth to show itself, precisely by bringing forth what was before unseen while being right there.