Fractals


Via Dailykos:

A few weeks ago, I diaried: What Does It Take to Get a Big Story Told?

Well, one way to get the story told — is to bypass the mainstream media and tell it in the blogosphere. That is just what my Talk to Action colleague Cindy Cooper did. And while I cannot prove it was her story that did it, all available info points to her story as the catalyst for everything that followed.

After she posted her extraordinary story, showing how a fave of the religious right, Wade Horn, was in charge of grant programs doling out big bucks to a group he founded, I took it to the Greater Blogosphere and I was delighted that my modest effort to call attention to her fine reporting shot to the top of the rec list here at Daily Kos.

Cindy’s Talk to Action story was subsequently linked to, or otherwise picked-up on by many others: Crooks & Liars, Feministing, and many more that I can’t recall off the top of my head. I also cross posted at Political Cortex, which is picked up by Google News.

Read the rest here. Since the emergence of the blogosphere here in the States, we have seen a major network news anchor resign (Dan Rather), a major election upset in Connecticut (Lamont/Lieberman, the “macaca” incident), millions of dollars raised in campaign funding, and major stories shown on the news that would not have otherwise been shown. I am not advocating the politics or positions here. I am drawing attention to the medium and its potentialities. The protests leading up to the war fell on deaf ears as protestors, as Baudrillard pointed out, did not take into account new media technologies, the materiality of communication or its existence as an inscribed, repeatable, physical thing, and how their message is moulded through these technologies in ways that exceed their intentions. I am not suggesting that these techniques should be dispensed with or that everything should move to the internet. But there is far more organizational power in this medium than is currently being tapped. Much of this has to do with those who focus too much on the content of arguments– which is certainly important –ignoring the materiality of discourse and issues of dissemination.

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Well folks, it looks like I’ve just been tired, as I feel terrific today. Here I thought I might be experiencing early symptoms of cancer or some other nefarious illness. But after actually getting enough sleep and changing my eating habits a bit I’m feeling much better. I guess I’m not dying after all. A good Lacanian analyst, of course, would be keen to discover why this was the first thought or interpretation that occured to me. I can see Fink now:

Scratches chin, peers at me intently without emotion or any sign of what he’s thinking.

“You would like to die?”

“No, no, I didn’t say that! Would you listen?!? I said I think I’m dying.”

“A doctor told you this?”

“Well, no” a sheepish sideways look on my part.

“You would like to die?”

Changing subject, annoyed by his observation. “I started reading Kittler today?”

“Death made you think about Kittler?”

I make an exasperated sigh.

At any rate, after years of being browbeat by my friend Melanie, I finally have started reading Kittler’s Gramaphone, Film, Typewriter. What do I find in the translators introduction?

A widespread interest cutting across all disciplinary boundaries started to focus on the materialities of communication. At a time when the term ‘media’ either was still missing from many dictionaries or conjured up visions of spiritualism, numerous scholars were attempting to bring into focus the material and technological aspects of communication to assess the psychogenetic and sociogenetic impact of changing media ecologies. Such attempts set themselves the tasks of establishing criteria for the examination of storage and communication technologies, pondering the relationships among media, probing their social, cultural, and political roles, and, if possible, providing guidelines for future use. (xiii)

Somehow Jon Stewart’s voice keeps echoing in my mind, grandly bellowing “Damn you Kittler! Those were my questions!” Well, at least I have good instincts.

It seems lately that I’ve mostly been preserving things, finding scraps of paper here in there, rather than engaging in the synthetic activity of thought. I’m feeling as if my thoughts emerge only to trail off in a series of ellipses. I suppose I’ll go with that and see where it leads. In a beautiful passage from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume writes,

If it happen, from a defect of the organ, that a man is not susceptible of any species of sensation, we always find that he is as little susceptible of the correspondent ideas. A blind man can form no notion of colours; a deaf man of sounds. Restore either of them that sense in which he is deficient; by opening this new inlet for his sensations, you also open an inlet for the ideas; and he finds no difficulty in conceiving these objects. The case is the same, if the object, proper for exciting any sensation, has never been applied to the organ. A Laplander has no notion of the relish of wine. And though there are few or no instances of a like deficiency in the mind, where a person has never felt or is wholly incapable of a sentiment or passion that belongs to his species; yet we find the same observation to take place in a less degree. A man of mild manners can form no idea of inveterate revenge or cruelty; nor can a selfish heart easily conceive the heights of friendship and generosity. It is readily allowed, that other beings may possess many senses of which we can have no conception; because the ideas of them have never been introduced to us in the only manner by which an idea can have access to the mind, to wit, by the actual feeling and sensation.

This passage occurs early in the text when Hume is defending the thesis that all thoughts or ideas originate with impressions. What I find so fascinating about this passage is not so much Hume’s observations about those who suffer from a defect of one of their sense organs, but rather the astute observation about “a man of mild manners” and one who has a “selfish heart”.

Read on
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Over the last couple of days an interesting discussion surrounding religion, Enlightenment, reason, and a host of other issues has been unfolding over at I Cite between me, Adam Kotsko, Anthony Paul Smith, Discard, N.Pepperell and a few others. I’ve been approaching the discussion from the perspective of religion as a material social reality, bracketing questions of whether or not it’s true, and how that reality might come to disappear within the social field. But the discussion has touched on a number of interesting issues surrounding history and the nature of reason and grounding that are worth, perhaps, taking a look at. As always the discussion has been heated, at points less than noble, but I would say that it’s been more productive than other discussions we’ve had in the past.

I’ve found myself inspired by a number of the themes in this discussion, which led me to write the rather underdeveloped post on populations today. I have a difficult time articulating clearly what I’m trying to get at in these meditations. Perhaps it could be summed up with the word “infrastructure” or “assemblage”. Increasingly I’ve come to find myself dissatisfied with ideology critique and forms of political theory that search for the “right theory”. In this connection, I’ve begun to focus on the material dimension of how movements are formed and maintain themselves in time, and also how they pass away… That is, the material dimension of communication. Here I’m thinking about communications that circulate around the public sphere: Political pamplets, newpapers articles, public email exchanges, discussion lists, regular group meetings, blogs, certain repetitive phrases like “I’m an Oscar Myer weenie” that stick in ones head or “Gore said he invented the internet”, media stories, etc., etc. What has interested in me is not so much the content of these things, their truth value or accuracy, but the way they become formative of certain ways of conceiving the world and certain identities. I’ve tended to notice– with the help of N.Pepperell –that theorists coming out of the Frankfurt school and contemporary French political theory tend to suffer from a kind of sickness: Theoretical pessimism. Here I wonder whether this doesn’t arise from thinking about politics in abstraction and at the level of content, and ignoring the material dimension of how messages are produced and disseminated throughout the social sphere, how movements and groups are formed, and how institutions have successfully been short-circuited in the past, allowing for new institutions to be formed in their stead.

These thoughts have been on my mind for a long time… Since prior to the 2004 elections. But they also resonate with me personally having just witnessed such a transformation within my own neck of the woods. Here an utter transformation was made possible through public email exchanges, among other things, that galvanized a group of people and which had the effect of leveraging a tremendous amount of pressure on higher management, demanding a significant degree of change. Here the form of communication– email –had a massive impact on what was and was not possible. Had the very same complaints been levelled in private to management in this organization, no change would have occured as the complaints would have been seen as 1) personal, and 2) as easily swept under the rug and ignored. It was the rendering public that allowed for a collectivization of identity– there was a creation of identity that took place –that had to be recognized and responded to, lest the business explode. This was all made possible by mediums of communication, but also by forms of rhetoric that created a particular collective identity and that worked to transform concerns that might have been seen as personal into systemic problems requiring organizational change. As a result of this encounter, a new identity was formed that didn’t exist prior to this and that is now capable of things that it wasn’t before capable of.

When we treat any institution as a monolithic fact that cannot be changed, we are ignoring the manner in which this institution must perpetually reproduce itself through time through the agency of those that belong to the institution. We forget that the institution or form of social life is just as much produced by these agents as they are produced by it. We then resort to ideology critique and other forms of ingenious analysis, hoping to awaken these subjects from their attachment to the institution. What we don’t do is begin forming other institutions and subjectivities that get discourses on the table in a very public way– not academic, public, accessible –that force existing institutions to acknowledge them and into becoming through that very force. For a long time protests were able to do this but their messages are now too diluted by being filtered through media machines that frame what is heard and not heard, allowing political power to ignore their acts, while complacently reassuring those involved that they’re doing something. More recently blogs have been very effective in producing tangable and concrete results by getting information and certain themes out there to millions of people through linkages among blogs, raising money, organizing boycotts, and organizing letter writing campaigns that are very difficult for politicians and major media outlets to ignore. The impact of these media technologies on major media and politicians has been palpable and profound for anyone who has carefully followed how major stories have been broken and brought front and center in the last three or four years. This is transformation through viral infestation and contamination. I’m beginning to think there needs to be more concrete analysis, almost case studies like what Hallward is doing with his book on Haiti, or what Foucault did, or what Deleuze and Guattari allow us to theorize, and less abstract theorizing detached from context such as we find in Zizek, Ranciere, and Badiou. We need to look at those small skirmishes where profound change has been produced, and look at the mechanisms that allowed for the production of new identities, new institutions, and significant shifts in distributions of power.

The State can be conceived as a series of institutions, but also as a system of categories through which members are named and identified as belonging to particular social categories. In the latter case, the State functions to homogenize and minimize difference by transforming differences into mere noise that can be easily ignored. For instance, we come to talk of “Christians”, “The Enlightenment”, “Men”, “Women”, “Blacks”, “the United States”, etc., as if these groupings all had one monolithic and identical content. All we can think of here are instead tendencies that happen to be more or less dominant in a situation. The question then becomes that of a concrete praxis devoted to intensifying other tendences within a population.

Discussing the process of individuation or the movement from the virtual to the actual in the process of actualization, Deleuze writes,

A living being is not only defined genetically, by the dynamisms which determine its internal milieu, but also ecologically, by the external movements which provide over its distribution within an extensity. A kinetics of population adjoins, without resembling, the kinetics of the eg; a geographic process of isolation may be no less formative of species than internal genetic variations, and sometimes precedes the latter. Everything is even more complicated when we consider that the internal space is made up of multiple spaces which must be locally integrated and connected, and that this connection, which may be achieved in many ways, pushes the object or living being to its own limits, all in contact with the exterior; and that this relation with the exterior, and with other things and living beings, implies in turn connections and global integrations which differ in kind from the preceding. Everywhere a staging at several levels. (Difference and Repetition, 217)

Perhaps one of the central contributions of Darwinian evolution is the shift from thinking in terms of abstract species, to thinking in terms of individuals and populations, where individual difference precedes difference in the species, serving as its condition. Geography here becomes an individuating factor, where relations among different populations, environment, geographical isolation or accessibility, all figure into thinking about the emergence of molar aggregates. That is, the idea of a species functions as an abstraction that covers over all these dynamic relations, such that we must conceive species as only ever being dominant statistical aggregates that “leak around the edges” rather than as being unchanging and self-identical units.
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I once heard a person express wonder and delight at “sharing a world with such creatures” in relation to something that had resonated with her at the level of thought. There is a profound precision and rightness in this expression, such that I hardly know how to capture it at the level of the Notion. The indefinite article hints at a pluralism of worlds and a possibility of other worlds and other fields of individuation, expressing an awareness of the contingency of this shared world and the hope of other worlds yet to come. But the concept of the “creature”, applied to what are ordinarily referred to as persons or humans, suggests singularity, animality, mad and untamed becomings that can no longer quite be classified in terms of subjectivized positions. The creaturely evokes the irreplaceable, and functions in much the same way that Levi-Strauss’ word mana, as an empty signifier that names that which fails to be embodied in language or the contemporary system of signifiers. But above all, to inhabit a world with creatures, would this not mean that there are still things worthy of wonder, astonishment, and admiration?… That there are forces that counter-act our cynicism, holding out the hope for something more? These are powerful and traumatic words to hear… Words that bring one to tremble and fill one with envy. Perhaps the creaturely, as an empty place holder of what cannot be named is nonetheless an end that should be aimed at. This would be the affirmation of a very different Gregor Samsa.

One of the things I will never understand are those who complain privately to one another, yet never speak to those in charge about what vexes them. It seems to me that there are those who believe that they can effect change in the world around them and those who do not. Nor is this an issue of being a realist. Rather, there is a very real sense in when these respective subjective positions are existential structures, perhaps “existentiales” in Heidegger’s sense of the word, or are fundamental ways of relating to the world or “shapes of consciousness” similar to what Hegel describes in the Phenomenology.
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