www.wired-2There is a gravity to language.  In the case of physical gravity there’s not an attraction produced by forces, rather a bending, a curvature of space-time, along which another object then falls.  That curvature of space-time creates a path defining the vector of the object caught within the gravity well.  This is a good metaphor for power.  If mountains exercise gravity, if they have a certain power, then this is because they create a path along which other entities move.  I could, perhaps, climb the sheer face of the mountain to get to the other side, but this would be both dangerous and would require a great deal of energy.  Instead, I move along the contour of the mountain to get to my destination because this is the path of least resistance or perhaps I find a pass, a ravine, through which I might get to my destination.  Along the way I see a number of things I would have missed as a result of a more direct route, I encounter all sorts of dangers and boons I would have missed along another path, because the mountain has defined the vector of my movement.  Such is the gentle power of a mountain, its gravity.  I am choosing the path I take, but nonetheless the mountain has placed that path before me.  Was it I or the mountain that chose?

There is no action we engage in that is not supported by the things or beings of the earth.  In this respect, all action is distributed.  Action does not arise solely from you or I, but is a collaboration of many entities in tandem with one another.  Often we don’t notice this because we are so accustomed to the environments within which we act.  It takes a special sort of eye, a counter-factual eye, to discern the distributed nature of action.  Consider an astronaut striving to walk on the moon.

Notice how the astronaut falls and has great difficulty getting up.  It is not simply his heavy backpack that causes his difficulties, though it certainly doesn’t help.  Rather, it is the gravity of the moon that causes his problems; for it is about 1/6th that of the earth.  His body, at the level of his muscles, bone structure, and size is put together for the gravity of the earth.  On the earth we move throughout the world like a fish in water, meshing beautifully with the earth’s gravity.  On the moon, however, all of this changes and movement becomes incredibly difficult and awkward.

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New strategies of movement must be developed.

Around the thirty second mark we see that a new type of human has come into existence:  the rabbit-man.  Astronauts on the moon experience a sort of becoming-rabbit.  They no longer walk for the moon does not support walking.  Rather, they hop from place to place.  Even something as simple as walking is a distributed form of action, a collaboration with features of a greater-than-our-body world.  Power, the power or gravity of things, does not simply constrain forms of action and life, but also affords forms of action.

It takes a squint to see or discern this.  Sometimes cinema shows us just how much we depend on the things of the world in order to do what it is that we do.  In his short 1968 film The Flat, Jan Svankmajer presents us with a dystopian flat where nothing works as it should and where all of the laws of matter have changed.

In such a world all of our actions become impotent and we can accomplish none of our aims because the accomplishment of our deeds requires a world that has a certain physics, a certain structure.  The man falls into despair.

There is no less a gravity of language, of signifiers, than there is of things.  Signifiers influence our action not only at the level of our cognition and communication with others, but also at the level of our placement within the social field.  We can always, of course, adopt our own attitudes towards signifiers, but others have their ideas.  The illegal immigrant is caught in the gravity of a signifier:  illegal immigrant.  At the bio-spiritual level she is no different than anyone else.  She has the same intelligence as anyone, she has skills, she’s a perfectly fine person that anyone would be lucky to count as a friend, she speaks the English language fluently and without accent, she is a hard worker, and she has deep and rich friendships with her neighbors.  Nonetheless, regardless of what her neighbors and co-workers might think of her, she is caught within the gravity of signifiers pertaining to the law, creating paths along which she must move, services and opportunities available to her, the ever-present possibility of being deported, and so on.  The signifier exercises its own gravity, exercising its own power, creating paths along which we move.

creepy_lizardsIn this regard, Onto-Cartography:  An Ontology of Machines and Media finds itself moving within its own gravitational wells.  The signifiers “cartography”, “machine”, and “media” all have connotations that suggest that the book is about some relationship between geography and technology and media studies.  Such is the danger of using terms in unusual ways, a danger that philosophy always risks as it attempts to make ordinary language take flight to express concepts.  Philosophy always has to work with the language that it is given; yet like Deleuze and Guattari’s minor language it strives to transform that language from within, leading it to connote in very different ways.  While I certainly hope that Onto-Cartography is of use and interest to media theorists, technology theorists, geographers, designers, architects, and a whole host of others, it really is a work of general ontology and political theory.  The term “machine” is my all purpose term for being or entity.  Rocks, automobiles, computers, stars, plants, institutions, novels, and so on are all machines within the ontology I propose.  The aim here is to draw attention to what things do, to how they act and function, rather than the properties they have, their uses, their meanings, etc.  Of course, meanings are themselves machines as well.  I draw the term “medium” from Marshall McLuhan.  For McLuhan, media are not primarily films, texts, music, etc– though all of these things are also mediums –rather, a medium is anything that extends the powers and capacities of another being.  My eyeglasses are a medium in that they extend the powers of my sight.  Cars are mediums in that they extend the powers of our feet.  The light on my back patio is a medium for the lizards that climb upon the walls of my house because it uses it to extend its power of hunting insofar as it functions as a lure for insects.

Sowers_TerraformingOnto-cartography is not a geographical mapping– though that too –but is a mapping of ecologies of things, of how they function as media for one another creating gravitational relations or relations of human and non-human behavior that afford and constrain what beings are capable of doing.  The aim of such a cartography is to achieve escape velocity.  To escape the gravity of the planet earth we must achieve a speed of 11.2km/s.  To do this we must have all sorts of knowledge.  We must have knowledge of physics, of engineering, of energies, and of how to put all these things together to escape the orbit of the earth.  Once in outer space we must also engage in all sorts of feats of engineering to survive in that hostile environment.  What would it mean to achieve escape velocity from neoliberal capitalism, from climate change, from racism, heteronormativity, sexism, and a host of other things?  What sort of knowledge and engineering is required to escape these things?  Onto-cartography attempts to provide tools to help in answering those questions and to generate practices that would render escape possible.  We need “cartography” to understand ecologies of beings and how they exercise gravity or power, locking us in various assemblages.  We need deconstruction– the second dimension of onto-cartography –to dismantle both physical and signifying assemblages that lock us in gravity defining forms of dwelling, movement, and becoming such as heteronormativity.  Deconstruction in the sense used by onto-cartography is the active dismantling of assemblages that constrain movement and becoming.  However, to engage in deconstruction we must first have good cartographies, good maps of ecologies or media relations between machines that organize movements of other machines.  Finally there is the moment of design in onto-cartography:  terraformation.  Terraformation is the construction of new machines, new relations between machines, new fields of media or new ecologies to render alternative forms of life possible.  Onto-Cartography doesn’t propose solutions because that always requires a specific empirical investigation of a field of media or an ecology of beings.  What it aims to provide is a sort of tool-box that would help us to approach strategies of achieving escape velocity through design in our individual and collective action.