Half-formed thoughts, questions really. Perhaps less of a focus on epistemology, on knowing and defining criteria for when someone can be said to know, and more an exploration of what it means to learn. A hypothesis. A system– often these systems are human, but they can be societal, animal, or electronic –can be said to learn when it is able to detect a new signal or set of signals from out of a field of noise (hyper-complex reality) and respond to that signal through cognitive, communicative, or embodied algorithms. Response-algorithms can, of course, be a combination of embodied and cognitive responses.
A comparison between a Freudian psychoanalysand and a jazz musician might help to illustrate the relationship between signal and action. The psychoanalysand– we must say it’s the psychoanalysand as they’re the ones who do most of the work –is one who has learned how to hear themselves in a new way. The slip of the tongue, the bungled action, the joke, the dream, and above all, the symptom have now become signals. Before they would have gone unnoticed, they would have been background noise. They would have been thrown away. Now they signify. And they signal in the speech and action of others as well. But it is not simply that they are noted. The psychoanalysand does not simply note these signals, but knows how to proceed cognitively with them in a vector of thought. They are able to find a meaning in these apparently meaningless events. “I left my umbrella at my friend’s flat. I did not want to leave.” They now practice free association, leading themselves to unexpected places, discovering desire in the innocuous. They have acquired the capacity to discover another thinking within themselves.
While there are clearly cognitive components in the case of the jazz musician, there are embodied ones as well. The jazz musicians is one who is able to encounter signals in the musical play of another without a pre-defined plan. Their capacity or newly won power lies not simply in hearing certain signals in these others, but in knowing how to respond– through breath in the case of brass, and finger and foot in the case of string and key –extemporaneously in a manner similar to the wandering path of a conversation, ceasing something in the process between the two (or more) without precedent.
What is remarkable in learning is how any signal emerges from the noise at all. A signal is something that is encountered as statistically independent. The world as such is hyper-complex. Anything is potentially a signal; which is why the world or noise is noise. Yet somehow signals emerge from this chaos. There’s almost a sort of magic here, for something that wasn’t there at all for the observer and actor now flashes into relief as information, where nothing was there before. How does this take place?
I will be conducting a seminar on Onto-Cartography this Spring through The New Centre for Research and Practice. We will meet online beginning Sunday, the 21st of June and continuing through the following three weeks. 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.
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.
When one finds himself unable to think of anything to write about; or rather when all thoughts worth writing about seem to slip away, perhaps all that’s left is to think about writing itself. The greatness of writing is that it allows us to think things that would be impossible for the meat of our brains and the sonic vibrations of our respiratory system (speech) to think. One really must be a student of Ong, McLuhan, Kittler, Derrida, and Andy Clark to understand this point. Writing in its sheer materiality, as an inscription on paper or in zeros and ones is not simply a representation of inner thought in the meat of our nervous system, it is not simply the externalization of something that has already been thought; it contributes to thought. Like any processor, our meat-minds can only process and operate on so many bits of information at any given moment. Worse yet, thoughts slip away as we think them, lost forever in the stream of consciousness. Writing preserves that which is thought, allowing us to both to return to that which we had earlier thought and expand upon it, but also freeing us from continuing to think this so that we can now think of something else. For example, the paper remembers the earlier steps of a complex mathematical derivation, allowing me to focus on the step that I’m now engaged with.
Moreover, is there anything more posthuman for the human than writing? Embodied cognition focuses on rhyme, plot, and personification as mnemonic devices. If it rhymes I can recite it because the rhythm of language draws me to the next moment in the sequence. If it has a plot involving personified entities, I can remember it because it is interpersonal relations that define me most fundamentally in my day to day thought. Yet with writing, abstraction becomes possible. I can think of simple marks like “1” or “**” and the relations that obtain between them. I depart from narrative, plot, personification, rhyme to enter the realm of abstractions, of that which is beyond the human. It is impossible to conceive of philosophy, of science, of law, of mathematics without writing. These things simply aren’t possible for flesh memory. Inscription is required so that we might surmount the limitations of our flesh. And who knows, perhaps even the fantasy of the soul as that which survives death is something that arises specifically from writing, from that which preserves in the inscription and that reifies a thought allowing us to say something like “being” where everywhere there is really only becoming.
In this regard, it could be said that writing is a perfect example of what Bergson calls “extension” or “spatialization”. Writing is the spatialization of thought. Bergson is hard on spatialization, seeing it as a betrayal of being’s true nature as duration or becoming, as flow. For Bergson, spatialization is death for it is that which halts and fixes the flow of becoming. Perhaps there’s a death in the tattoo, for the tattoo is certainly a monument. Perhaps every writing is a bit of a corpse. Yet as the above attests, there is a poet and productivity in the corpse that isn’t to be found in flow. Or rather there’s a specific flow that takes place in extensity, in spatialization, that isn’t otherwise possible. It’s impossible to imagine Newton’s Principia, Hegel’s Logic, Spinoza’s Ethics, or, ironically, Bergson’s Matter and Memory, without spatialization. The flesh alone simply isn’t capable of such thought and as a consequence writing, inscription, is central to the ecology of all contemporary thought.