December 2012


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One of the major innovations of Onto-Cartography is the introduction of incorporeal machines.  While incorporeal machines were already implicit in my treatment of Luhmann in The Democracy of Objects, I wanted to make this more explicit in Onto-Cartography so as to account for how a machine-oriented ontology might think about signs, discourses, narratives, etc.  I draw the concept of incorporeal machines from Deleuze and Guattari’s account of expression and content in “The Geology of Morals” and “Postulates of Linguistic” chapters of A Thousand Plateaus (they also discuss it in Kafka, and Deleuze uses it to organize his reading of Foucault in Foucault).  Drawn from Hjelmslev’s glossematics, but significantly reworked to articulate a general, ontological schema, Deleuze and Guattari are careful to argue that the planes of content and expression are independent, autonomous, and heterogeneous, functioning according to different principles.  In other words, content cannot be equated with the “signified” and expression with the “signifier”.  Both signifier and signified are variants of expression.  They don’t belong to the plane of content at all.

Under Deleuze and Guattari’s account, the plane of content is composed entirely of bodies– what I call corporeal machines –affecting and being affected by one another.  The relationship of a smith to his hammer and anvil, for example, belong to the plane of content.  The way in which the interaction of these three machines affect one another differs from the way in which signifiers affect bodies.  The perpetual hammering on the metal of the anvil produces corporeal changes in the smith’s body.  His muscle structure, bone structure, and way of holding himself change over time.  This is not the result of expression or signs.

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Larval Subjects has been fairly successful in the 6 years that it has existed.  It is now approaching 3 million visits.  It grew to this size from about 100 visits a day.  These days it receives about 2,500 hundred visits a day.  How did that happen?  I honestly don’t know.  I do, however, have some hypotheses.

First, the don’ts.

1)  Don’t be an academic.  If your blog entries have footnotes you have a problem.  Blog entries are not conference papers nor articles.  They are meant to be occasional and an alternative to the tight suits of academia.  If you have footnotes in your post, you’re basically saying that you accept the conference/article paradigm of interaction.  You’ve missed the entire point.  It’s one thing to put page number references in parentheses, but c’mon, are you so identified with the academy that you feel the need to use footnotes on a blog?

2)  Don’t put your CV or course schedule on your blog.  Again, this is a form of interacting outside SPEP and the APA.  Again, if you do these sorts of things you’re just showing everyone you’re another academic suit that is much more concerned about what the major journals in your field think than about engaging in any sort of discussion.  Don’t do that.  If you feel compelled to do that, then do an anonymous blog.

3) Don’t be a dick.  Okay, we’re all dicks on occasion, but if your blog posts mostly consist on denouncing others, talking about how wretched they are, how you’ve been wronged, etc., you’re really not worth reading.  Rather, you’re just an unpleasant dick.  Nobody wants to read someone who is consistently an unpleasant dick.  If you’re always whining about how you’re wronged, that’s a problem.  If you’re constantly bitching about how everyone else is wrong, that’s a problem.  Don’t do that.

4) Abandon your scholarship at the door.  Your audience has changed in this medium and your style has to change accordingly.  You’re no longer writing for a journal that is devoted to your pet fetish like phenomenology, Deleuze, or pragmatism, nor are you presenting for conferences devoted to special topics.  You’re writing for everyone, both inside and outside the academy.  It’s one thing to be committed to a particular school of thought or discipline, it’s quite another to write for that discipline.  If you want a large audience you need to speak for a large and diverse audience.  This means explaining why particular questions are important and giving lots of examples.

5) Don’t be a pedant.  This probably goes more for blog comments than posts, but it is a good rule of thumb across the board.  If you find yourself lecturing and correcting, you’re a dick.  It’s okay, we’re all dicks sometimes.  It happens.  But if you’re an academic and blogging and you find yourself trying to teach and lecture other academics at the graduate and professional level, you’re going to make enemies pretty quick.  We didn’t go through all this education to have some idiot on the internets tell us about Kant’s categorical imperative or Aristotle’s four causes.  Shove it.  We’re not your students, we’re your equals.

The Do’s

1)  Be a dick.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know this violates principle 3 above, but let’s face it, controversy sells.  Part of the point of blogging is finding disgruntled dicks like yourself.  The thing with disgruntled dicks is that they think they’re alone.  By publicly articulating your dickishness you’re serving the very important public service of creating a community of dicks.  You’re telling other dicks that they’re not alone.  There’s a lot of ugliness and stupidity in the world.  It’s important to express this so dicks can rise– pardon the pun –organize, and demolish this idiocy.  The thing is that you just need to be careful about not being a dick when you’re a dick.  It’s important to be a dick with style.  Again, if you’re constantly insulting others, degrading them, spitting ad hominems at them, and whatnot, you’re being a cock, not a dick.  Don’t be a cock.

2) Dare to be unoriginal.  Sharing is caring.  Your neurosis might tell you that you must be original on the order of Heidegger or Badiou, but it’s likely that the rest of the public just doesn’t care much about your brilliant insights.  What they might value is your ability to explain difficult thinkers.  Don’t forget that the fact that something seems obvious to you does not mean that it’s obvious to everyone else.  Taking the time to really explain, say, Badiou’s account of the event is really appreciated by folks that have heard of him but who have not read him, or who have read him but who have not read him as thoroughly and extensively as you.   Become a clear commentator on the thinkers you love.  Disavow originality.  Just articulate, share.  Others will appreciate it.  Besides, we can never anticipate being original, we only find out that we were original after the fact when others tell us.  If there is any single reason Larval Subjects has been successful, it’s been that I’ve dared to be unoriginal.  I’ve taken the time to explain points in Lacan, Deleuze, Hegel, Badiou, Luhmann, Meillassoux, and a host of others.  I’ve given examples, illustrations, and outlined texts and arguments.  I’ll repeat, I’ve given examples.  All writing should contain copious examples.  Folks who criticize me say “I’m unoriginal”.  So be it.  I’ll never know whether I’m original or not.  I’m happy to be a radio tower conveying ideas from others so that they might become a bit more present in the world.  I think it’s largely appreciated.

3) Link, link, link.  If you want traffic to come to your blog, you need to link to other blogs.  If someone says something interesting, share it on your blog and do a little commentary on it.  It won’t always be returned, but increasingly you’ll earn the gratitude of other bloggers and you’ll attract more traffic to your blog.  They might even link and comment on you.

4) Share, share, share.  Discuss whatever you’re reading, even if it’s only a passing impression or quote.  Others will appreciate being exposed to things they hadn’t come across and you’ll also be more likely to appear on search engines.  Hopefully your motive is the former rather than the latter.

5) Be generous.  This is hard and is a corollary of being a dick.  Be generous to people.  Interpret their remarks in the most forgiving and rationally charitable light until, after repeated exposure, they prove you wrong.  Forgive them.  Forget when they were asses.  Who knows, they might have been drunk.  At any rate, if you find a smart, well educated person making absurd claims, chances are your interpretation is the problem, not their claim.  If you write a post or blog comment either attributing a stupid claim to them or trying to educate/correct them, you’re being a dick in the bad way.  Generosity is a tough concept to define.  What does it mean?  I can only give a thumbnail sketch, but I think it minimally means these things.  First, you begin with the premise that your intelocutor has good intentions.  They aren’t out to get you.  Second, it means that you begin with the premise that they have pretty good reasons for claiming what they claim.  In other words, you don’t treat them as hostiles and don’t attribute stupid and ignorant claims to them.  If they say something you find absurd, you begin with the premise that they are saying something other than you might have thought.  This is, of course, a moving target.  If your interlocutor is a known racist, for example, it’s okay to suspend this premise.  If you have a repeated experience of “woodeness” with them, it’s also okay to give up on this premise.  The point is that you start here and continue this premise as long as possible.  You try to leave your prejudices at the door.  That’s generosity.

6) Be genuine.  Talk about your personal life– within limits –and what you really love:  hiking, your dog, cooking, your child, documentaries, etc.  If you’re a Derridean that delights in playing Xbox, chances are your relation to Xbox is more interesting than your thoughts about Derrida.  Here is a place where you really have the chance to contribute something to academic and theoretical discussion.  Theorize these things, talk about them, bring them into discussion.  Others will value it.  Don’t be ashamed of it.  That’s part of what makes you the unique critter you are and what makes your blog worth reading.  Don’t overdo it though.  People are alienated in academia, they want an alternative space.

7) Dare to experiment.  Did you see something worth thinking about at a performance art show?  Talk about it and share it.

8) Be fragile and vulnerable.  You aren’t superman.  Express what wounds you, what’s hurt you, what you find painful and egregious.  Yeah, you’re showing your weakness, but others have those weaknesses too.  Often they’ll appreciate that.

9) Be willing to say you’re wrong and to grow as a result of your encounters.  Nothing is worse than a person who always has to be right and who argues their position hell or high water.  Cop your errors and build on them as theoretical opportunities.

10) Write often.  If your blog only updates every few weeks, chances are you’ll lose your audience.  Don’t be afraid to share every half-formed thought that occurs to you.  You’ll benefit from the criticism of others.

11) Delete the comments of trolls and stalkers.  There are a lot of sad people out there and you’ll never reach them.  Just ignore them to the best of your ability.

12) Participate.  Participate in discussions with others.  This is one of the saddest things about one of my internet stalkers, CIP.  Had he just participated and talked with others, had he been generous and hadn’t been a dick, he might have gotten what he wanted.  Instead participation was beneath him.  He thought it was enough to blog without interacting in the blogosphere with the work of others.  If you want relationships with others you should generously interact with them.  You shouldn’t demand.  Your recognition of others will often be rewarded with recognition.  Blogs are like gardens.  You need to water them for them to grow.  Some of that watering involves content and how you conduct yourself, some of it involves how you relate to others.  If you want a successful blog, plant often and tend your garden.

I received this insightful email from R.S. Bakker of Neuropath fame today (reprinted here with his permission).  Others might find it of interest as well:

I just finished reading your post on blogging and I thought I would make a pitch for reinterpreting what you take to be the downside. I would have posted directly on your blog, but (ironically, I suppose) I haven’t been able to post anywhere without feeding the spam-filter ever since Norton last gave my system a good scrub. I’ve been warring on the web in various forms (for years, it was only messageboards) for over a decade now. I could literally write a book about the nastiness you discuss! I’ve been stalked. I’ve been the target of organized smear campaigns by groups of fascist and feminist trolls. I’ve been called names I never imagined possible! I’ve had multiple death threats made against me and my family. I’ve had several young schizophrenic men argue that God put me on earth to write for them!

But no matter how rattled I’ve been, no matter how desperately down, I’ve always reminded myself that all these things are symptoms of success

I admit, I have a peculiar way of looking at the ongoing communications revolution, about what it means, where it’s going. I think, for instance, it’s largely responsible for the resurgence of fascist ideologies across the globe. Before the web, you had to talk to your neighbour if you wanted to work through your self-serving parochial intuitions, you had to listen to someone who in all likelihood disagreed.

Not so now. Feel inclined to starve yourself? There’s an ingroup for that. Feel inclined to assault an immigrant? There’s an ingroup for that as well. One of the things that most worries me about the web is that it provides a like-minded community for pretty much any insanity you can think of. The well of confirmation is now effectively empty. And you can count on Google to keep you safe from contrary opinions.

Another thing that worries me is how it has allowed anti-intellectual sentiment to congeal into an explicit cultural self-identity.

So when I established Three Pound Brain I resolved two things: to make it utterly open to all comments (outside verbal aggression directed at fellow commentators (I consider myself to be fair game)), and to self-consciously seek out periodic ‘blog wars’ with politically extreme bloggers. The thing that many liberal academics don’t realize (even as they find themselves amazed time and again every election) is the degree to which they are losing their cultural war. I mean, I’m a moderately successful novelist, with a moderately successful blog, but when I go to battle against the likes of Theodore Beale (‘Voxday’), say, I’m not simply dealing with someone who openly and endlessly advocates for the forced relocation of nonwhite immigrants in Europe and North America into concentration camps, or for relieving women of the burdensome right to vote, I’m arguing with a blogger who gets tens of millions of views. It boggles unto heartbreak.

I don’t want to minimize what you’ve experienced, because I know firsthand what it’s like to avoid my blog and email for days at a time out of dread, but what you’re describing is literally leakage, the drip-drip of what is a deluge of hatred and inanity. The reason I turned my back on writing literary fiction (which is to say, writing for myself) was simply the idea that our technologies are making it ever-more easy to succumb to our groupish instincts, to hang out with the like-minded – the safe. So whenever the opportunity arises, I evangelize like I’m doing now, I urge academics to get their hands dirty and their hearts bruised, to reach out, celebrate the vitriol as evidence that some small shred of something genuinely critical has slipped through.

To practice, in other words, what I call ‘cultural triage,’ to recognize the unprecedented nature of their age, and the unprecedented dangers that confront us all (in this, a time when high-school students can engineer new bacteria for their science fair!). To do what they can to reach out of their ingroup comfort zones whenever they can, and to see the nastiness as forensic evidence of crimes committed against a terrifying status quo.

What you describe is simply an example of blogging outward, Levi, of being part of the solution. Celebrate it, white-knuckles and all! And please urge others to do the same.

For those who are interested, here’s the letter I received back in August from the person’s lawyer who harassed us about being on the editorial board of O-Zone.  I’m curious as to whether others think this is something I should be concerned about.

Dear Mr. Bryant,

I represent the interest of Crazy Internet Person.  Please be advised that Mr. Crazy Internet Person (CIP) does not wish to have any contact with you or by you through a third party.  To that end, this letter serves as notice that you immediately cease and desist communicating with him either directly or indirectly in any manner.  Furthermore, you and your associates from your journal/blog should refrain from disparaging my client in any manner or contacting his employment, work colleagues or family members.

If you fail to heed this notice to cease and desist I will advise my client to take the appropriate legal action.

I trust there will be no further need to contact you in this regard.

Some facts:  We never contacted this person.  Contact was always initiated by him.  He approached us initially asking to be on the editorial board of O-Zone (a very strange request for anyone who knows how journals are founded).  When we politely informed him, we began receiving harassing emails from him expressing outrage.  He was convinced that I had some personal vendetta against him despite the fact that in a two year period he had posted all of two or three comments on my blog and I initially had no idea who he was.  He felt that somehow I was trying to undermine his chances at tenure by not putting him on the editorial board and that somehow he deserved a position on the editorial board because he had written some posts on object-oriented theology, despite the fact that none of us were familiar with his work.  He then proceeded to harass, under an assumed name, one of the members of our editorial board on the grounds that they don’t belong there.  After this we did contact his chair (the only time I’ve ever done such a thing), both out of concern for his crazed behavior and to get him to desist.  All other avenues had been exhausted at that point, though this is not an action I generally approve of.

After that all communication ceased for about a year and things got quiet.  Then I navigated to his blog one day because someone mentioned a post he’d written.  Within minutes I received a strange and threatening email from him, despite the fact that I hadn’t commented.  I asked him to quit harassing me and that was that.  The next week I received the letter above.  I did not respond at all, preferring to have him out of my life altogether.  The following week I received the same letter again via certified mail.  Since then, whenever a discussion about the tone of SR/OOO online arises, he pops up and makes self-righteous remarks about how awful we all are (and incidentally, me and O-Zone weren’t the only objects of his harassment).  As a consequence, I chose to finally speak publicly about this yesterday because this just continues and continues; though I suspect that I now be hearing from his lawyer again.

I hate talking about this sort of stuff publicly as I think it makes me lo  Nonetheless, I wonder can he really take legal action over any of the things outlined in that letter?  Note that I haven’t talked about him at all publicly since all of this stuff unfolded.  This is the first time I’ve mentioned it.

For anyone who’s interested and who is in the Houston area, I’ll be giving a talk on machinic-ontology and corporeal and incorporeal machines at Rice this Thursday (12/7) at 3PM in Humanities 119.

Meister_des_Maréchal_de_Boucicaut_001Today Adam of An und fur Sich wrote a post on the perils of blogging, discussing some of the nastiness that has characterized SR/OOO discussions on the internet.  While I am an adamant defender of blogging, I do think he raises a number of valid points.  First my views about the good of blogging.  I started this blog on a lark back in 2006.  I had read about blogs in an airplane magazine, and had no idea what they were.  When I returned from my trip– over a Spring break — I searched to see if there were any blogs about Lacan or Deleuze.  I found them and was immediately hooked.  Late one night I created the blog “Larval Subjects”, and wrote my first post on the relationship between Deleuze and Lacan.  The blog became one of my most fulfilling modes of intellectual engagement.  Perhaps that’s pathetic, but I don’t care.

Why did I start the blog?  I started basically because I was in a place of loneliness and despair.  While I have good intellectual friends here in Texas, there isn’t much of what you would call an intellectual community here.  Not that I’ve found, anyway.  Moreover, I was exhausted by academia and publishing and presenting to advance my career.  Originally Larval Subjects was anonymous.  I went by “Sinthome”.  Blogging was a way in which I could form community with other thinkers in a space that explored the sheer joy of ideas.  The “larval” of “Larval Subjects” indicated that these ideas were half formed, simply thrown out there.  It was a space where I could just think and explore ideas for the sake of thinking and exploring ideas.  It was a space free of academic apparatus.  Here I could write simply for the sake of writing and thinking without perpetually thinking about publishing and presenting.  At a time where I felt as if I had failed academically because I was only a lowly community college professor and had not achieved a tenure track position, this was a way of overcoming my despair and simply taking delight in thinking and discussing.

read on!

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goosebumps1This afternoon my friend Michael or Archive Fire and I got in a lengthy discussion about our respect ontological positions on Twitter.  Before proceeding, I should remark that Michael is one of my most valued interlocutors.  While we got off to a rocky start years ago, our friendship, I think, has grown and he’s been a powerful influence on my thought.  If you’re not reading his blog, you should be.  He is an incisive critic, a generous and thoughtful reader, and a highly imaginative thinker.

As I’ve remarked for some time now, it’s not really objects or machines that interest me, so much as what happens, how objects become and develop, when they enter into relations with other objects or machines.  It is this relational becoming that fascinates me and that is the topic of my forthcoming book Onto-Cartography.  The concept of machine is thus only a starting point for me.  Objects in isolation, divorced from context, are, I think, rather uninteresting.  What’s interesting is what happens when they enter into relations with other entities.  For example, after a couple of years of living in Texas I’ve discovered that I now get cold much more easily.  Why is this?  There was a shift in context or relations from Chicago and the north more generally– before Chicago I lived in Ohio –to Texas.  It’s not simply that I got used to the heat of Texas making me more susceptible to cold than I was before.  Rather, this shift in relations produced real material and physical changes in my body.  As a result of Texas’s warm environment my blood literally thinned, rendering me more susceptible to the effects of drops in temperatures.

My body changed as a result of a change in environment.  I became differently than I did up North and thereby developed a different system of “local manifestations”.  This is the sort of thing that fascinates me.  How does a machine change as a result of the relations it enters into with flows from other machines?  These changes can be of two sorts:  becomings and local manifestations.  A local manifestation is the event of a quality in an entity as a result of the relations it enters into with flows from other machines.  When you get goosebumps your skin is undergoing a local manifestation as a result of cold, fear, or arousal.  A local manifestation is not, in my view, a genuine becoming because the powers or capacities of the machine or entity remain largely the same as they were before.  A becoming, by contrast, occurs when a machine or entity gains or loses powers.  When I moved to Texas I also underwent a becoming because the powers of my body upon which local manifestations are based changed.

read on!

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