October 2015

01PutoranaPlateauChapters have beginnings and ends.  They culminate.  Sometimes this culmination will be that of an event in the development of a plot.  In other cases, it will be the culmination of the development of a concept or a theme or a line of argument.  “Now that we have dealt with the forms of space and time”, says Kant, “we can move on to that of concepts”.  You follow a chapter.

By contrast, plateaus are expanses, territories.  Their boundaries are fuzzy and indeterminate.  At what point does the plateau fade into the valley or steppe?  We can’t say.  There’s a zone of indiscernibility between the two, a fold.  There’s a distinctness without determinate boundaries.  Plateaus are textured and differential, with all sorts of geographical features.  You don’t follow a plateau or trace its development.  Rather, you explore a plateau or perhaps occupy it; for a time anyway.  You might traverse a plateau to get to a steppe, another plateau, or the valley through which a river runs.  You’ve been told the fishing is particularly good there.  In this event, you will ignore much of the plateau and that’s fine.  In other instances you might survey the plateau, wishing to explore all of its textures and folds, marveling a the variety it contains.  It’s not clear that we can call a book composed of plateaus a book.  Rather, it is a geography, a world.  As is the case with any world, you have your favorite places, those places you find particularly rich and beautiful, and then there are others that you find rather grim or uninteresting.

Pedagogical strategy for teaching Intro students how to write Philosophy essays:  the essays are evaluating whether or not you understand how to make moves in a particular game.  Both chess and checkers use the same board, but the rules for making moves and the objectives are different.  By analogy, the rules of the Epicurus game and the Kant game differ.  If you’re asked whether something would be moral in the Epicurus game, you’re being asked to make moves to show it is conducive to tranquility, pleasure, and freedom of anxiety.  You play the game well when you’re able to present a set of reasons showing that it would or would not be conducive to that end (eg, why it wouldn’t be wise or “moral” to pursue a degree as a surgeon).  In the Kant game, moves are determined by whether they can be universalized for both an action and its converse (I contend the categorical imperative must always be applied to an action and its converse to determine whether it’s a duty or a custom; no contradiction is generated in the universalization of having premarital sex, nor not having premarital sex so abstinence is a custom, not a moral duty).  The final aim, of course, is to determine what the game allows you to do and whether it’s a good game.  You must understand the game first, however, and why it was devised.

floral-100-mandala-E-HackIf all of being is a dyadic fold, if there is no thing that is not a fold of a field, what then shall we say of knowledge?  First, and foremost, we will say that there is no foundation of knowledge, for if it is true that being is a sort of origami, that everywhere there are folds, then there will be no Archimedean points where the endless folding of folds can be halted, surveyed, and mastered.  Even the cogito is a fold or vortex; a very ethereal and fine fold, but a fold nonetheless.  Every time we believe we’ve found the arche-fold, we discover that there is yet another wrinkle.  Ground perpetually recedes like the movement of so many waves because there is no final fold, only endless waves.  Second, we will say that to know is to know both folds and how to fold.  There is never a knowledge of a thing itself.  There is only ever a knowledge of a thing and its field, of the fold between the two.  To know is to know how the thing correlates with its field, for this is how it is with things:  they are radiant and blooming, not withdrawn, as a function of how they fold the fields from within which they emerge into themselves.  While there is something secretive in every fold, it is nonetheless the case that even the coldest thing is brilliant like a shining star.  All things are expressive or inter-expressive in relation to how they communicate with the field they fold.  Knowing this is itself a way of folding, of folding ourselves into things.  There is always an intimacy in knowledge, a conjugation of ourselves with things.  And for this reason, third, we will say that we can know precisely because we too are folds, folded into the fabric of the world.  We, like all things, are an origami of the world and it is because our bodies are sheathed in the world, because we are folded into the world, that we can know anything of the world.  We always know in and through our bodies, and can only ever know in and through folding our bodies into other things.  The body is the original medium.  As such, knowledge arises through act, not gaze.  It is by touching things, by acting upon them, by grasping and handling them, that they become radiant, that their secretive powers burst forth and we discern something of what they hide or harbor within their folds.  However, it is often the case that we require other bodies to know the bodies that we seek to know (microscopes, telescopes, Haldron collidors, etc).  We must conjugate our bodies, fold our bodies, into these other bodies so as to encounter the radiance of quarks.  We shall thus say, fourth, that techne always precedes episteme and not the reverse, and that it is always on the basis of a praxis that any theoria can be produced at all.

tree-with-rootsThis evening we discussed the Becoming-Animal plateau in The New Centre seminar on A Thousand Plateaus.  I emphasize that this was a discussion; for there was little textual commentary or close reading.  In many respects, I think this was a moment of orienting ourselves in this mysterious and difficult work.  In particular, we discussed issues of the theoretical status of D&G’s work and what sort of politics we might find within it.  This is a deeply ambiguous work.  From the first plateau, Rhizome, we’re presented with a critique of the Book as a picture or representation of the world.  We’re told to map rather than trace.  This generates daunting interpretive challenges, for what are we to make of a philosophical work that doesn’t attempt to represent the world (here we might think of Laruelle)?  Indeed, we might ask whether this is a philosophical work at all.  Put differently, what is the status of truth in Deleuze and Guattari?  I don’t have answers to these questions.  I suppose that I’m too deeply mired in the logic of representation (and a love of D&G) to abandon the claim that they are making claims about the world.

As a strategy for interpreting– already a bad exercise, as Deleuze and Guattari call for a moratorium on interpretation –the Becoming-Animal plateau, I’ve chosen to bracket their positive claims about the nature of becoming (though I intend to return to them), instead looking at what they critique.  Throughout A Thousand Plateaus as a whole there is a denunciation of filiation, descent, resemblance (or mimesis), and, of course, [molar] identities.  This is the famous opposition between the rhizomatic and the arborescent.  With the arborescent we get the tree model where beings are rooted in something more fundamental, while the rhizomatic refers to a field, network, or assemblage of horizontal relations where anything can link to anything else, where being proceeds by linkages, and where there is no transcendent verticality (it’s noteworthy that there are discussions of theology throughout ATP.  Here Shults Iconoclastic Theology is of interest).  This is closely connected with a critique of resemblance or mimesis.  Everywhere Deleuze and Guattari denounce thinking in terms of resemblance and mimesis.  I believe we should be utterly naive when approaching these dimensions of their thought and ask what is objectionable to thinking in terms of trees and roots, mimesis, and being over becoming.  Why are these categories normatively coded?  Alice torments my thought and memories.

1book24Hypothesis 1:  The Ontological Hypothesis:  This just isn’t how it is with being.  Being is neither a filiation, nor a descent.  If we look at biology, speciation proceeds by populations, not from the less differentiated (the common ancestor) to the more differentiated.  The individual, or rather populations of individuals, precedes the species of common aggregate.  The differentiations that take place within populations do not proceed by resemblance or mimesis, but rather by invention.  Invention is a confusion of description and being.  We sort beings into categories according to a system of resemblances, but in reality, nothing ever resembles anything else.  Rather, all beings are a response to the problematic field, the cartography, in which they occur.  Being is creative and differential, not mimetic.  Why should it be any different anywhere else in being?

Hypothesis 2:  The Hermeneutic Hypothesis:  Hermeneutics is based on a logic of descent or filiation.  We trace a text or artifact back to its supposed origin.  Everything is an iteration of the Greeks, or the history of philosophy.  Nothing new under the sun.  In psychoanalysis, all turmoils in the present are reflective of the family setting.  All of Alice’s relations really reflect her fraught relationship with her mother or impotent father.  Her fascination with the kinetoscope never traces a path of escape or flight, but reflects her mother who was lost in media.  The Mad Hatter just reflects her failed father.  Such is the logic of hermeneutics and psychoanalysis.  There is always a logic of filiation based on mimesis that defines what is linked to what, that provides a rule of interpretation.  There is no such thing as production in such a universe.  Rather, all is anamnesis of what is forgotten, a repetition of the same.  Yet as per hypothesis 1, if it is true that nature does not work according to a logic of filiation and descent, if nature does not proceed by mimesis, but rather invention, why should it be any different with cultural artifacts?  Little Hans doesn’t have a phobia of horses.  He dreams of escape.  He is inventing in his becoming-horse.  The horse owns the street.  It is powerful.  It is fast.  These relations are always lateral, horizontal.  They aren’t the vertical relations of the root, of depth.

Hypothesis 3:  And Another Thing:  In his earlier work, Freud taught that libido invests anything and everything.  This is the whole problem with the filiative model.  Deleuze and Guattari say that love is a war machine.  Romantic words.  But it’s true.  Libidinal investment is a becoming.  Again the truth of evolution.  Pirates.  In the Schreber case there is, as Deleuze and Guattari point out in Anti-Oedipus, a rich content that’s completely lost in Freud’s interpretation.  Everything is traced back to the father and the familial situation.  But there is history, nationalism, race, economics, gender.  Are these not so many inventions?  So many creations as in the case of speciations.  Freud halts the becomings of Little Hans, he blocks them, rather than fostering them as a path of escape or an alternative to the suffocating environment he’s trapped in.  Libido not as a mimesis or resemblance to a filiation, but as an invention or experiment in escape.

Hypothesis 4:  Narcissism:  Whatever you might think, familiarity with Freud and Lacan are indispensable.  Why is identity, self, subject, ego objectionable?  Ego is dyadic, a fold.  It is an identification with an image, yet the lived body, the molecular body, never manages to coincide with that image.  Lacan taught that the drives don’t converge on a unified object.  They’re polymorphous perverse by nature.  Paranoia is the attempt to unify that which cannot be unified, that which is molecular and rhizomatic by nature.  As Freud taught, the more we attempt to attain identity or selfhood, the more there is a return of the repressed…  But now in the form of aggression and conflict.  Endless war.  The logic of the imaginary.  If tribe, filiation and self are so objectionable then it’s because they are the domain of perpetual failure and conflict.  So a start.

kinetoscope_largeThere is a time of writing that differs from the time of the text.  The text is a thing.  It is a machine that has come to stand in the world, that has achieved a degree of autonomy, and that now circulates about the world as its own machine.  The text, like a brain, institutes a strange temporality.  Unlike chronos as described by Deleuze, where time is a succession of instants with moments passing away and new moments appearing, the text institutes a folding and stratification of time.  The text preserves, it inscribes traces, and restructures time as a consequence.  In Gramaphone, Film, Typewriter, Kittler remarks that “[w]hat phonographs and cinematographs, whose names not coincidentally derive from writing, we are able to store was time…” (3).  With writing, the past is now present in the present like one photographic image superimposed upon another.  The passage of time is now no longer one of the gradual fading and disappearance of what has been, but rather what has been persists in the presence.

Perhaps every author experiences this; a strange sort of dividuation that takes place as a result of the written.  No doubt this is why the written has so often been associated with death.  The author becomes a sort of walking dead, trapped as they are in the words she has inscribed or in the way she has preserved the flowing purport of thought made matter.  Where writing is a verb, the unfolding of a thought that she has not yet thought, the written is the dead letter, fallen into matter and now present in the world.  She has been dividuated by her writing.  The author is always two.  She is the writing, but also the written that persists after her.  She is responsible for and before the written, yet also not it.  She is responsible for what she has written, for she inscribed those things and made them actual in the world.  “But you said this!”  But already she is elsewhere in her writing and can scarcely even recall that she wrote this.  Continuously she faces the question:  “will I ever be equal to what I have written?  Will I ever write so well again?”  It is easy to lose ones nerve, easy to experience terror before the dehiscence, the spaltung, that is writing and the written.  How strange it is to come across your writing as a reader, having forgotten that you have written this, and to encounter your split, your being as the walking dead, before a text that you produced but don’t recall having produced.  The time of the written is a time of waiting.  One waits to see whether it will register in the world, whether it will exists, while also dreading that it will for already you are elsewhere, beyond the written, after the written, in writing.

read on!


Another great review of Prismatic Ecologies; this time by Nicholas Kankahainen in the Australian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology.

Cohen_Prismatic Australasian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology


university-2What can be said of Halloween as a symptom or form of surplus-enjoyment?  Perhaps that it is queer or a repudiation of what Lacan called the university discourse, or what we might call the dream of a big Other that exists.  It is unfortunate that Lacan referred to this discourse as the “university” discourse, for naturally this evokes connotations of universities (for a discussion of how Lacan’s discourse theory works, cf. the appendix to my article “Zizek’s New Universe of Discourse”).  While certainly we can draw on this discourse to understand what transpires in universities or what Kuhn referred to as “normal science”, it would perhaps be better to refer to it as the “universal discourse”.  Within the universal discourse, we have S2, the big Other or system of signifiers, addressing the objet a or anomalous; naming it and situating it in a system of social categories and identities.  In the universal discourse– a fantasy if ever there were one –there is the idea that everything is and can be named, that there is already a place for all that is no matter how anomalous, alien, or strange it might appear.  The universal discourse is committed to the imperialism of the signifier, of the sign, holding fast to the thesis that all that exists is always already known, even if we are yet to encounter it.  Adam in the Garden and nothing new under the sun.

It is for this reason that the universal discourse produces an alienated or divided subject as it product ($), a “dividual” rather than an individual.  The universal discourses that form always conquers matter; for as Aristotle taught, only form is that which can be thought and copied.  Matter is that which always escapes.  As Lacan argued, the subject is always dividual, divided, because “the signifier represents the subject for another signifier” (S1 –> S2).  In the universal discourse, the objet a, the material, the remainder, is carried up into another signifier, a discourse, a set of social relations and categories that pre-delineate its place in the Other.  It is for this reason that the subject is dividual or divided within the universal discourse.  It is always represented for another signifier, and the objet a which was its last scrap of being, that which evaded all discourse, is effaced in the dream of complete mastery and total representation.  A surveillance state before the surveillance state existed.  All is here surveyed.  Or, at least, that’s the fantasy.

werewolf-01In Halloween, by contrast, we have a sort of marking of the failure or impossibility of this fantasy.  There is a return of the repressed, the objet a, or an eruption of the failure of naming.  This is the event of the queer, of the freaks, of that which does not fit with any system of categories, names, places, or identities.  It is the space of desire refusing to identify with the options offered by the Other.  Everywhere there is the appearance of werewolves, witches, goblins, zombies, mummies, hobos, and an infinite number of other figures of drive.  Halloween circulates in the domain not of desire, but of drive.  Where desire always looks for the signifier in the Other that would name and complete it, drive instead embraces the utter failure of that system of names or identities.  Within Deleuze and Guattari’s framework, Halloween thus alludes to the domain of molecular packs that pulsate beneath the social field, perpetually threatening to upend it.  It is the zone of becoming-animal that contests all Oedipal identities and where becoming-animal knows no descent, filiation, or resemblance.  The werewolf does not resemble the wolf, but is something else altogether; a becoming of desire that cannot be captured in the pinchers of the signifier.  This is why, in the queerness of Halloween, we will have so many different figures of repudiation with respect to the naming of the universal discourse.  The zombie will mark and mock, for example, the mortification that takes place in the universal discourse.  The vampire will signify how the undead– those mortified in the universal discourse –nonetheless feed off and from the last vestiges of the objet a lost in the play of the signifier.  The werewolf will be that which has become-pack, which refuses the entire rotten game to instead run across the steppes.

Perhaps, then, from the standpoint of the health of social assemblages– a health measured in terms of whether or not becoming is still possible within them –we can use the degree to which Halloween has been gentrified and tamed as a measure of where we are at with respect to the big Other or the universal discourse.  At present things do not look good.  We have a deficit of freaks.

A review of Onto-Cartography:  An Ontology of Machines and Media in Italian by Yuri di Liberto.  I’m also pleased to say that Liberto also just completed his MA at University of Palermo where he graduated with full marks and Magna Cum Laude with Mention, where he defended his thesis “One Thousand Machines:  Ontology, Critique, and Politics in Levi R. Bryant’s Deleuzian Realism”.  I ardently wish I could read Italian.

Vague thoughts at the moment:  to read the entire history of philosophy, premised on Presence, as an immunological response to media.  Everything in Parmenides and Plato suggests this.  It is all there in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: the opposition between rhetoric and philosophy, the denigration of labor, the strange suspicion of writing, the privilege of the subject over the collective, and the eclipse of the thing by the concept.  Clearly Derrida everywhere here.  Why this horror of mediation?  Why this horror of the material?

zero-tokyoPassages from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness always reverberate through my mind:  “Consciousness is what is not and is not what it is”.  “Consciousness is a being such that in its being its being is in question insofar as its being always implies a being other than itself”.  I remember the happy days reading this tom(e)(b) when I was young; diagraming these sentences, trying to decipher them like Zen koans.  I remember later reading Frege’s Foundations of Arithmetic.  “Zero is the number non-identical to itself”.  How many zeroes are there?  Many!  But that can’t be right.  By Leibniz’s principle of indiscernibles, two things must always be distinguished by something.  Yet zero is nothing.  There can only be one zero.  All zeroes must be the same.  But if there were one zero, then zero would be something.  A paradox.  No wonder zero was received as a heresy in the theological community; like potatoes.  No, it can only be that which is paradoxically non-identical to itself.  It must be the object that is a non-object.  An object that is the shift or out of phaseness of a being with itself.

And that’s how it is with consciousness.  Consciousness is zero.  It is that which is non-identical to itself and that is condemned to be non-identical to itself.  I wonder if this is how it is for my dog and my cats and for octopi?  Is it like this for elephants?  Do they experience themselves as a non-identity with themselves?  Consciousness is a razors edge, a perpetual shift.  Consciousness is not a substantiality, the ego, or an identity.  It is the non-identity that is in excess of any mirror image, ego, or identity.  It is the perpetual failure of these things.  J.A. Miller.  Suture.  Matrix.  This is the burden of the past.  The past weighs on us because of what we have done, who we have been.  It’s etched.  But there would be a comfort in being able to be our past like the grape that has grown from its soil.  No, perhaps the worst thing about the past is that we are zero or the number that is non-identical to itself.  Difference.  We always fail to be our past.  I will never be as great as I was in my past, nor as terrible. I will never be that person that wrote those things, said those things, thought those things, did those things.  That was another self.  I will always be fallen from that past, and each time yet again.  Will I ever write as well again?  I am this strange zero that both is this past, but is not it.  We can eat our madeleine cakes, yet we will not regain the past.  We are that past, yet are not it.  It weighs on us, instituting a gravitational pull.  We are caught in our signifiers, in what we have said.  Yet we somehow can’t be them.  We are a shift, a perpetual disadequation, a being non-identical to ourselves.

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