For those who are wondering, my lack of responses lately is the result of the number of talks I’ve been giving as well as the writing of Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media for Edinburgh University Press (the initial draft is due by the end of January). Above all, it’s important to remember here that the onto of “onto-cartography” matters. Onto-cartography is not geography or a mapping of space, but is closer to what Foucault described under the titles of “archeology” an “genealogy”. It is a mapping of relations and interactions between machines or objects, not a mapping of geographical space. It looks more like Marx’s mapping of capitalism and class relations. In short, while Onto-Cartography inevitably discusses spatio-temporal issues (four different forms of space, in fact), it is not a contribution to geographical thought nor intended as such. The term “cartography” does not mean “geography”, but “mapping”. Anatomy and the space of mathematical thought are as much mappings as what’s investigated by geography. I just hit the 150 pg, 50,000 page mark and am pleased by what I’ve written so far. Nearly everything here is new. While some of the language of The Democracy of Objects is retained, this is a very different conceptual universe than the one found there (though building on that universe). There’s a method to this madness that pertains to reasons both peculiar to me and theoretical points.
First, this is just the way my mind/brain works. I draw things together that are disparate, working by a method of “pastiche” and “collage”, because this is how I think and also because I believe that this is how being itself unfolds. Being always pulls together disparate and heterogeneous scraps, things that don’t fit together, things that are divergent, etc. Witness the relationship between our cellular structure and mitochondrial DNA. Observe how evolutionary processes always build on the scraps of previous “designs”. Just as it is true in nature, I think this is true of all theory. This is how our brains are structured. Any theorist that tells you that they are engaged in a pure unfolding according to conceptual restraints is a liar. They are always building out of scraps and detretus of disparate experiences, texts, media, thought, etc. This is what I described under the title of “theory as bricolage” in the introduction to The Democracy of Objects. There is no theory that doesn’t bother from elsewhere, decontextualize, detach. This generates problematic fields for the bricoleur. How to mesh these things together? It’s no different than trying to form an alloy between different types of metals. It’s no different than trying to build a table out of scrap wood. The materials themselves exert their own exigencies that must be responded to and that make the final result aleatory.
Second, there is an ontological point being made here. Following on Harman’s point that all objects are withdrawn from one another such that every object “distorts” and “caricatures” other objects, it follows that every theoretical articulation– itself a machine or object –caricatures beings. As Harman argues in Guerrilla Metaphysics, the best we can do is allude to objects. This needs to be reflected in the style of theory. Theory must perpetually change its style, it’s mode of articulation, to underline the point that no theory– as is the case with all thought, discourse, perception, and relations between objects –ever manages to represent being. Shifts in styles and vocabulary mark the withdrawn nature of objects or machines and perpetually remind us that machines are “operationally closed and selectively open” to other objects.
So what will you find here? Lots of talk about machines, different types of mappings, entropy, events, ecology, and above all a much more enriched discussion of signs or semiotic machines with what I call corporeal machines. In this way I’m able to retain much Marxist theory, Frankfurt school theory, semiotic, and post-structuralist thought, without reducing corporeal bodies or machines to how they’re signified by expressive machines. In addition to this, the social and political is foregrounded much more. What I want to produce– and we’ll see if I’m successful –is not a representation of the world that people repeat and provide commentary on, but rather a manual, workbook, guide, or tool that people take up in their own way and with their own projects producing surprising machines of their own. That’s the aim anyway: something to be used and put to work, not represented.