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September 13, 2006

Short video interview concerning ontology and epistemology today

This is an ad hoc interview carried out by Jon Stevens in the University House cafe, using the camera built into his new MacBook. He hs a friend in Germany who wanted some advice on the relative positions of ontology and epistemology in recent continental philosophy. This is my rambling reply to Jon’s well thought out questions.

It was accompanied with the following text:

Ontology: concerns that which has no further potential for difference, that which is finalised, i.e. Being.

Epistemology: concerns acts of connecting and exploiting latent potentials, surplus values of code, for novel and non-final effects, i.e. Becoming.

How then can these be reconciled?

Note: this is an 8mb file. Click to start downloading, then click the play button at the bottom left of the frame to start playing.

May 28, 2006

Research Notes: The addictive synthesis in theatre

Follow-up to Research Notes: Rosi Braidotti on addiction and ethics from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Our discussion of addiction with Rosi Braidotti led me to propose a positive, social and ethical form of addiction, which I will now call the addictive synthesis. The following day I discussed this with Jon Stevens of Theatre Studies, who has a wide ranging understanding of theatre, virtuality and actuality.

Theatre is a repetition without finality, a repetition/rehearsal (same word in French). The most effective theatre approaches the limit and retreats, taking the audience on that journey to the edge.

In the Spanish Tragedy, Hieronymo’s desperation to get his friends to understand his plight becomes so extreme that he actually cuts out his own tongue and throws it at them. Blood sprays across the front row. The horror seems real. The political implications (in the original staging) could well have seen this violence flood outwards from the stage and into a society seething with injustice and censorship. But the play drives on in its own narrative direction, pulling the players and the audience back from the edge of collapse.

Centuries later, when theatre has lost its ability to go to the edge and back, Artaud sought to recover this power (in his essay on theatre and the plague):

Above all we must agree that stage acting is a delirium like the plague, and is communicable. p.18

...conditions must be found to give birth to a spectacle that can fascinate the mind. It is not just art. p.18

The plague takes dormant images, latent disorder and suddenly carries them to the point of the most extereme gestures. Theatre also takes gestures and develops them to the limit. Just like the plague, it reforges the links between what does and does not exist in material nature. p.18

For theatre can only happen the moment the inconcievable really begins, where poetry taking place on stage, nourishes and superheats created symbols. p.18

Like the plague, theatre is a crisis resolved either by death or cure. The plague is a superior disease because it is an absolute crisis after which there is nothing left except death or drastic putrification. In the same way, theatre is a disease because it is the final balance that cannot be obtained without destruction. It urges the mind to delirium which intensifies its energy. p.22

Most importantly, this theatre is a mobile plague, sweeping across the country. The movement of the travelling company from one city to another is not incidental. The programme of repetitions/rehearsal is repeated in a new setting each time, a new audience, a new set of reactions and interactions. As the reputation of the players builds and preceeds them, the audience becomes even more receptive and superheated, in expectation of becoming infected. Imagine what it must be like for the players, repeating their words and moves, and each time anticipating the differences both subtle and extreme.

Now consider street theatre, even more an addiction played out in varying circumstances. And the theatre of cruelty – the programme of repetitions melds with the stage and its agents, a single exposed body stripped bare and made mobile.

The addictive synthesis is the life and drive within theatre.

May 26, 2006

Research Notes: Rosi Braidotti on addiction and ethics

A short note about a seminar given by Rosi Braidotti, and an explanation of my interesting example of an ethically sustainable addictive behaviour.

Yesterday I attended yet another excellent seminar as part of the What is Philosophy? graduate research project. Professor Rosi Braidotti set out to defend Deleuzian research from charges of ethical relativism and providing more efficient control mechanisms for the use of gobal capitalism. This was done with remarkable energy and wit. The result, I believe, was to establish convincingly that Deleuzianism can have a consistent and pragmatic ethical approach to a wide range of situations. However, this requires a rethinking of the role of addiction, [inter]dependency, risk and identities, with an emphasis on positive modes of growth and intensity – an emphasis quite contrary to the prevailing culture of compensation and the valorization of suffering.

Braidotti book
Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics by Rosi Braidotti

That is very much a partial and inadequate summary. If you want to know more, I would suggest joining the What Is Philosophy? project, so that you can listen to the full podcast audio recordings of the lecture and following discussion.

As a taster, and as a record of my own contribution to the discussion, I have clipped a short section in which I respond to the claim that addictive behaviour is necessarily narcissistic. Rosi had presented the concept of addiction on two slightly contradictory ways. On the one hand, there was a discussion of Deleuze’s alcoholism (dealt with in the Logic of Sense). This behaviour was a distinctly self-absorbed testing of ‘what a body is capable of’ (Deleuze’s favourite Spinozism). Deleuze was concerned with how the alooholic repeatedly approached the limit of their addiction, the point at which it approaches incapacity or even death, and then swiftly pulls back from the edge. Such a rehearsal/repetition is only ever a reinforcement of limits. Going beyond the limit passes across a threshold (Deleuze differentiates thresholds and limits) such that the addiction is no longer possible. Such a model is, as you can imagine, not what our critics may happily accept as the basis of an ethical system!

We could, as I think Rosi attempted, redress this by arguing that life itself is about addictions, and that there are some addictions that are positive and sustainable, and others that are destructive and lead into ‘black holes’ (Deleuze and Guattari’s term). The obvious problem with this argument is that an economic system like capitalism is quite capable of creating addictions that are both locally safe in this way (for the individual) and at the same time globally destructive, or oppresive to other classes, races, nations or species. Individuals can quite obviously be manipulated, sustained or destroyed where necessary, through the production and manipulation of their addictions. Even when such behaviours seem to introduce constant novelty (fashion), that novelty is carefully controlled and limited. Consequently, the notion of safe and sustainable personal addiction fails to save us from the charge that Deleuze and Guattari simply provide more efficient mechanisms to the hands of global capitalism.

At this point I got quite excited. I have been looking at a range of addictive behaviours that are neither narcissistic nor exclusive of significant and uncontrolled creativity. These patterns of behaviour are entirely dependent upon an engagement with contsantly differing contexts (people and places). I offered the following example:

There is a man who has a powerful addiction to a series of behaviours. These behaviours are repeated/rehearsed according to a carefully controlled programme. Each time the programme of behaviours is repeated, it is done so in a new context. This variation may be subtle or dramatic, and often means the man travelling to new countries around the world. Why does he do this? Each repetition gives him a new perspective on himself, on his stable set of behaviours. In some cases he is exploring subtle fine detail. In others he is searching for dramatic contrasts. But this is not just about the man himself. He isn’t just using the world as a mirror. Rather, the repetition of behaviour each time gives him a register for understanding a new part of the world, its environment and its people. This is where the example gets really interesting. What really motivates this adventurer is that he finds that the people he meets in these locations also benefit from the relationship that is established between their world and his. They learn, and even break out of their stereotypical lives. The man and his addiction acts a bit like a virus. Often he is able to establish new relationships that endure and grow into something big and worthwile. And so, when nomadized in this manner, addictions can be positive and creative rather than entropic and narcissistic.
* To hear my example, and the following discussion, click on the play button below.

May 25, 2006

E–learning Research: a Deleuzian method for the evaluation of virtual learning environments

In what sense are virtual learning environments virtual and environmental? I argue that they really are environments, and as such the experience and behaviour of learners within them is subject to the same kinds of determining, enabling and limiting factors as in any other kind of environment. Furthermore, these learning environments each assemble discontinuous multiplicities (quantifiable indexable actualities) and continuous multiplicities (qualitative and immeasurable virtualities) in varying combinations, with differing results for the learner. Just as some environments may sustain certain types of life, different VLE systems encourage different types of learning behaviour. Each environment has its own regime due to the varying composition of virtual and actual. The Elab VLE (a loosely coupled CMS/Blogs/Forums web architecture), through a deliberate policy of managed diversity, is biased towards facilitating the virtual rather than over-determining the actual. The result is an environment that is at the same time cohesive and open and indeterministic. I consequently argue that it therefore offers an environment more suited to the kind of learners for which it is designed, and that VLEs of the type represented by WebCT are inappropriate for research based higher education.


A series of questions must be addressed:

  • What is an environment composed of?
  • What varies between different environments to create differing environmental regimes?
  • To what extent is a virtual learning environment (VLE) an environment?
  • How do VLEs vary, so as to create different regimes?
  • Are certain such regimes preferable to others?
Environments are composed of filters

Consider the life of a polar bear, out on the Arctic ice flows. A highly attuned brain guides its bodily actions in a constant and inescapable quest for connections. Unlike the human learner (perhaps), its search seems simple and deterministic: its goals are straightforwards, being dominated for the majority of the time with the need to connect with and exploit a source of protein, and on more rare occassions, with the need to mate. What parameters there are in this life are determined by the environment in which it is played out. What form does this determination take? In this case, the behaviour of the bear is largely a process of filtering and being filtered. The environment may seem to be a desert of uniform whiteness, but even in such a simple case the animal must filter out unnecessary inputs and options. Even the act of staying insulated from the cold is a process of filtration: absorbing heat whilst deflecting the cold wind. And in return, the environment filters the bear, along lines of movement, limiting and directing its behaviour. Within a short timescale, the behaviour patterns of individual bears are shaped by their immediate landscape, and the connection with other filtered flows (the flow of pack ice, the flow of prey). On a longer scale, evolution applies filters to the species, whilst ecological interactions change the criteria with which selection exterts its pressure (the interactions of populations of predator and prey).

In this way behaviour and geophysical processes connect through an environment that is the assemblage of all of these interoperating filters over time. This is more or less true of any environment. The physical built environment is well understood in these terms, but also consider how an online application with a variety of user accessible functions filters a pool of back–end functionality. In return, the end user filters out irrelevant or inaccessible functionality. Over time these functions may even die off through lack of interest or the application of an agile development process that in some ways copies evolution.

The case of the polar bear is presented above in a simplified manner. There are many complications and possible combinations of filters that offer other kinds of environmental regime. Reality presents a range of regimes and blends of regimes, many of which occur across widely differing regimes. For example, in his work on the 'extended cognition' model of cognition, Andy Clark proposes that a kind of mangrove effect may well be a significant assemblage in the generation of new ideas. Clark describes how a new mangrove swamp begins by a single plant floating in the water, with extended roots that may catch hold of both food and other plants. This kind speculative drift is another assemblage of filters that may be a viable regime in some environments. For example, in the online world we may use a blog to float a part–formed notion. Effective use of semantic tagging and discovery tools may attract further content to the idea, allowing it to grow. It may also allow it to connect to other complimentary ideas. Over time as the mangrove–idea grows, it attracts further connections and taps into greater pools of energy.

The mangrove is an example of a regime of filtration that the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari have called rhizomatic. There are many other regimes, many of which are diagrammed in their book A Thousand Plateaus. These regimes include arborescent assemblages, which operate by applying rules of exclusion that form hierarchical branches of filtration; a familiar model in both software design and social anthopology. Other regimes of importance include:

  • Gadgets, or filters that follow a reproducible and generalizable design;
  • Animal bodies (which are gadget–like, but less portable and generalizable);
  • Familial structures;
  • Mythologies;
  • Geological and sedimentary processes.

We therefore have the first of our tools for understanding the construction of environments: regimes of filtration. As has been demonstrated, the principle applies across environments, and in some cases we see regimes re–occurring in quite different settings.

Environments are composed of networks

A second and relatively rare aspect of some environments can best be understood through the behaviour of a more complex animal: the honey bee.

Karl von Frisch
Waggle dance, plume theory, filters

James Gould Cognitive map

some filters are symbolic or digital, redundancy
codings to promote autopoiesis through symbiosis
simulations to accelerate judgement
dissimulation to exploit weaknesses in the simulations of others
the relation between filters and networks is a matter of ecology

Environments are actual

quantification and index
registers of modification
the actual tends to impose limits on differentiation

Environments are virtual

signal can be quantified, the carrier (the assemblage of filters) is more complex and sensitive – a continuum
movement, freedom, creation
whole system evolves continually
different elements evolve at different speeds
differential speeds provide registers for understanding the different elements

Smooth and striated space

Emergent actuality

Instructional VLEs
Research VLEs

May 18, 2006

Research Notes: The conflict between sadism and masochism in Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Follow-up to Research Notes: Bogue on Deleuze on Sade and Masoch from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Relating Deleuze’s analysis of sadism and masochism to travel and Seven Pillars of Wisdom. This starts to make more sene of Deleuze’s Shame and Glory essay on T.E. Lawrence.

It could be argued that sadism and masochism, the formal relations instantiated by each of these conditions, present two different kinds of journey or travel. Sadism as described by Deleuze assimilates every difference to its brutal logic, consuming time, events, into its minimal singularity with an entirely instrumental attitude. The sadist wants to get from A to B without deviation (!), but at the same time must feel some kind of intensity giving matter to the journey. The masochist journey has a plan and material, rehearsed continually. Contrary to Freud’s analysis, the rehearsal is undertaken in the hope of some unanticipated modulation in the script.

The rape scene in Seven Pillars of Wisdom is, contrary to common readings, not some kind of phantasmic product of a sadomasochistic imagination. The continual horror with which T.E. Lawrence recalls the event is genuine. It was in fact a brutal imposition of sadistic practices onto a (moderately) masochistic character. As Deleuze argues, sadism is alien to masochism, hence the terrible effect that the encounter had on Lawrence’s psyche, perhaps ultimately leading to his death.

The clock plays an absolutely key role in the rape scene. To cope with the viscious attack, Lawrence focusses on its sound in order to filter out other intensities. Similarly, in the desert, he focusses on the rhythmic movement of the camel to filter out the pain and the horrors of the conflict. Is this a third mode of travel? How does it relate to Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of the refrain? Minimalism? Rauschenberg?

Research Notes: Bogue on Deleuze on Sade and Masoch

Follow-up to Research Notes: The concept of recirculation from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

In the opening chapter of his Deleuze on Literature, Ronald Bogue focusses on Deleuze's analysis of the conditions of masochism and sadism. These are key concepts linking difference and repetition, circulation and cybernetics, to literary production and psychoanalysis.

Bogue identifies that Deleuze's sigificant claim is that sadism and masochism are formally different conditions, not poles of a single disorder. Sadomasochism is then a 'syndrome' not a disease, a badly analyzed composite of symptoms.

Whereas in Sade erotic scenes are repeated with violent and mechanical reiteration, in Masoch phantasy figures are identified with motionless art objects – statues, portraits, photographs – components of scenes that are repeated in a stuttering sequence of frozen images. Sade seeks the violence of continuous movement and hence abjures the stasis of the art object, whereas Masoch aspires to a world of suspense and waiting, and thus aestheticizes the real as a series of tableaux vivants. p.20

Each is then a solution to the problem of repetition and difference. But they capture and recirculate matter in different ways. Is Sadism closer to mathematics in its relentless application of an algorithm that reduces difference? And Masochism, obviously a theatre focussed on an artistic monument, slowing down differentiation through repetition/rehearsal.

Sade's immediacy – the nomadic war machine? – the desert?
Masoch's theatre – the socius? – the city?
These are conunterposed in Seven Pillars of Wisdom – see my entry on Lawrence and Abu Ghraib

But this is not the phantasm of psychoanalysis. The programme is itself real and complex, with a history of its own. Bogue seems not to see this.

May 17, 2006

Research Notes: The concept of recirculation

The concept of recirculation (repetition/rehearsal and difference) is the key to unfolding Kant, Bergson, Nietzsche, Deleuze, Guattari and T.E. Lawrence.

From an entry on Seven Pillars of Wisdom

The nomads were thus capable of becoming an abstract machine, self–motivated, self–positing, independent but at the same time forming a genuinely connected response to every and any possible experience. The nomad, for example, finds the continuation of the journey as a way of life itself. The journey is the purpose of the journey. The narrower objective being to merely keep circulating within a space that encourages the continuation of the journey, making sedimentation impossible.

And another

This was then a new movement, breaking out of the timeless circulation of peoples and their livestock into and across the desert – a sudden and unprecedented mass carrying with it bodies from the diverse geophysical and social distributions of people into places.

On the will to power

Genetic – quality – affirmative/negative – feedback loops – continuous multiplicity – virtuality

On art and collapse

Art is missing, but why do we need it? My conjecture is this (following, I think, Deleuze and Guattari): 1. That events are organized; this is to say, their repetition and differentiation is controlled by filters of selection. 2. That some of these filters privelige speed and scope of judgement over care and novelty. These filters render the fine detail of events redundant (in the cybernetic sense), so as to cover more ground more quickly. Concepts are such filters. 3. However there is always a side–effect of speed: a loss of feeling (subtle detail). 4. On the contrary, there are filters that amplify detail by taking a set of events and promoting their re–occurrence, emphasing different aspects of the events with each repetition. Artists create such filters. The effect of art is deceleration, or perhaps carefully controlled speed. Art may then prevent the dissociation from the world that is inherent in conceptual activity.

On painting

reduce the world and its vast circuits to a small repetitive loop. In the case of Cezanne, the loop circulates and re–circulates between Mont Saint Victoire, the palette and its oils (themselves reduced to a few greens and blues), the hand, the brush or knife, and the canvas. In this way the artwork is built up over time through a kind of mangrove effect not disimilar to that described by Andy Clark.
Everything is invested – "the artist is already in the canvas" (Deleuze, Logic of Sensation). Then make each run of the circuit entirely dependent upon the last, each time applying a filter modulated by the results of the previous passage (Cezanne, Van Gogh, Bacon and others replace an optical filter with a haptic filter). The circuit carves out an escape route within the imprisonment of actuality. The loops are repetitions, movements between points, but across different virtualities or the infinite and irreducible but necessary slices of reality. This opening up of new degrees of movement is the experiment of the diagram.

On art as monument

The suggestion is that the monument encapsulates a rhythm of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of pleats of matter rising and falling relative to each other, forming tonalities, a whole music of matter that penetrates substance and carries it away into the plane. The monument is then not a static edifice, it is a continual circulation of matter, captured at some point in history, relative to a virtuality which otherwise disappears. It captures a slice of reality, holds it, and then releases it again in the future, in our aesthetic encounter.
Deleuze and Guattari go further: artworks are monuments. All artworks? What does, for example, Cezanne's painting of Mont Saint Victoire commemorate? In paint it captures a circulation of matter ever connected with the mountain. The rhythm of brush strokes is, as Cezanne claimed, the rhythm of the mountain, of nature as he lived it. His method always struggled to capture the tension, the pattern of connections of those rhythms, to make them permanent in a monument.

Next I must relate this to 'the refrain'; the 'journey' of the nomad and its singular rhythm; dematerialization and virtualization; the clock and the rape scene in Seven Pillars; the movement of the camel; and the clockwork running of the engine in Jupiter's Travels.

April 03, 2006

Research Notes: Spinoza and desert asceticism, Kant and the urban sublime

Follow-up to Research Notes: Arabia and the geography of asceticism from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Chapter LXIII, whilst bathing in a mountain spring, Lawrence was surprised by the appearance of some kind of wandering outcast, a desert mystic or madman. Earlier he had considered the "periodic rise of intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia" (p.148). Now again, in this spectacular desert setting, he considers the geophilosophy of Ideas.

Upon the water-cleansed and fragrant ledge I undressed my soiled body, and stepped into the little basin, to taste at last a freshness of loving air and water against my tired skin. It was deliciously cool. I lay there quietly, letting the clear, dark red water run over me in a ribbly stream, and rub the travel-dirt away. While I was so happy, a grey-bearded, ragged man, with a hewn face of great power and weariness, came slowly along the path till opposite the spring; and there he let himself down with a sigh upon my clothes spread out over a rock beside the path, for the sun-heat to chase out their thronging vermin.
He heard me and leaned forward, peering with rheumy eyes at this white thing splashing in the hollow beyond the veil of sun-mist. After a long stare he seemed content, and closed his eyes, groaning, 'The love is from God; and of God; and towards God'.

In the cruel matter of fact world of the desert it would be hard to believe in a loving God, one that deliberately arranges the world for the benefit of humans. This desert wanderer had himself been blinded, rendering his staring looks fitting of someone with a more transcendent imaginary. Lawrence had just experienced the erosion of vision himself, with Sherif Aid suddenly losing his sight to the burning sun.

But here, in an abundant pool of otherwise rare water, it seems possible. The contrast between desert asceticism and the bathing pool, between the pain of driving sand and the pleasure of cool water, between thirst and immediate satisfaction, mirrors that between the desert and its necessities and the town and its free-will. The spring at Shallala sits within a sublime geological architecture. Lawrence's choice of words allies the great Wadi Rumm with the city or citadel:

The hills on the right grew taller and sharper, a fair counterpart of the other side which straightened itself to one massive rampart of redness. They drew together until only two miles divided them: and then, towering gradually till their parallel parapets must have been a thousand feet above us, ran forward for an avenue of miles. p.351

Lawrence, an archaeologist with expertise on fortifications, draws the inevitable analogies. The walls are said to be:

built sectionally, in rags like gigantic buildings, along two sides of their street.


The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than the body of the hill; rather grey and shallow. They gave the finishing semblance of Byzantine architecture.

Wadi Rumm is a citadel, an overwhelming and enveloping cave bigger than man but making sense of man. It is said that the:

The Arab armies would have been lost in the length and breadth of it, and within the walls a squadron of aeroplanes could have wheeled in formation. Our little caravan grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of the stupendous hills.

Wadi Rumm is Lawrence's sublime. Perhaps it is the closest that he gets to Oedipus?

Landscapes, in childhood's dream, were so vast and silent. We looked backward through our memory for the prototype up which all men had walked between such walls toward such an open square as that in front where this road seemed to end. Later, when we were often riding inland, my mind used to turn me from the direct road, to clear my senses by a night in Rumm and by the ride down its dawn-lit valley towards the shining plains, or up its valley in the sunset towards that glowing square which my timid anticipation never let me reach. I would say, 'Shall I ride on this time, beyond the Khazail, and know it all?' But in truth I liked Rumm too much.

But for Lawrence the city, its sublime, and the shame that it makes possible (the invasion of the citadel at Deraa), are not necessary. Ideas, sweeping out of the desert, may go in one of two directions: the Hellenism of the city (and its Christianity) or the surrender to fate, fact and an impersonal God of desert ascetiicisms. The words of the ragged man at Wadi Rumm had reminded Lawrence of this, and of his ambiguous position between the two (whilst relaxing in the spring, removing the desert dust and returning to the city): 'The love is from God; and of God; and towards God'.

His low-spoken words were caught by some trick distinctly in my water pool. They stopped me suddenly. I had believed Semites unable to use love as a link between themselves and God, indeed, unable to conceive such a relation except with the intellectuality of Spinoza, who loved so rationally and sexlessly, and transcendently that he did not seek, or rather had not permitted, a return. p.356
…expressing the monotheism of open spaces, the pass-through-infinity of pantheism and its everyday usefulness of an all-pervading, household God. p.357
Christianity had seemed to me the first creed to proclaim love in this upper world, from which the desert and the Semite (from Moses to Zeno) had shut it out: and Christianity was a hybrid, except in its first root not essentially Semitic.

This is followed by an exposition of the differing origins of the religions, and their routes out into the world. An academic exposition, but one written by someone at the border of these two great Ideational generators.


Spinoza and desert asceticism, Leibniz and urban excess? Just a thought.

March 29, 2006

Research Notes: deserts, nomadic war machines, smooth space and the maritime model

Follow-up to Research Notes: Akaba is real and not a phantasm from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Chapter LIX of Seven Pillars of Wisdom sees Lawrence again pausing to consider the nature of nomadic war. This is one of the most important texts in the theory of guerrilla war, and has interesting parallels with the chapter in Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus on the Smooth and the Striated.

Smooth space and striated space – nomad space and sedentary space – the space in which the war machine develops and the space instituted by the State apparatus – are not of the same nature. A Thousand Plateaus p.474

…initially the Arab nomadic war machine and the Turkish state are different in kind. The task of the rebellion is to break down the discontinuous multiplicity of the Turkish state into a continuous multiplicity into which it can flow and overwhelm. To achieve this, the nomadic war machine must intensify and multiply the striations of the State, rendering it into pulp or pushing it across a threshold of intensity that makes every striation unique and hence the assemblage a flow of pure matter without identity. Not every nomadic formation is a nomadic war machine. It only becomes such when there is necessary relation to a State. The nomadic war machine and its opposing State apparatus thus operates as a translating machine, deterritorializing-reterritorializing, cutting and connecting, between the sedentary and the nomadic…

No sooner do we note a simple opposition between the two kinds of space than we must indicate a much more complex difference by virtue of which the successive terms of the oppositions fail to coincide entirely. And no sooner have we done that than we must remind ourselves that the two spaces in fact exist only in mixture: smooth space is constantly being translated, transversed into striated space; striated space is constantly being reversed, returned to a smooth space. In the first case one organizes even the desert; in the second, the desert gains and grows. ibid p.474–475

…this breaking down requires an outmanouvering and out-acceleration of striations and strategies, such that the nomadic war machine is always disappearing before engagement takes place, thus driving the State apparatus into a frenzy of reaction. Such speed and mobility is achievable with the adoption of the "maritime model" as Deleuze and Guattari say. At liberty to either engage the enemy or dissolve into the desert, guerrilla warfare as non-battle. Lawrence on the maritime model of desert warfare…

In character our operations of development for the final stroke should be like naval war, in mobility, ubiquity, independence of bases and communications, ignoring of ground features, of strategic areas, of fixed directions, of fixed points. 'He who commands the sea is at great liberty, and may take as much or as little of the was as he will.' Seven Pillars of Wisdom p.337
And we commanded the desert. Camel raiding parties, self-contained like ships, might cruise confidently along the enemy's cultivation-frontier, sure of an unhindered retreat into the desert-element which the Turks could not explore.

…was it Montgomery or Rommel who, after the El Alamein, described desert war as more properly modeled along maritime lines? Anyhow, Lawrence was there first. And to what ends?...

Discrimination of what point of the enemy organism to disarrange would come to us with war practice. Our tactics should be to tip and run: not pushes, but strokes. We should never try to improve an advantage. We should use the smallest force in the quickest time at the farthest place. p338

…war against the organism, attacking without reason or pattern anywhere at any time…

The distribution of the raiding parties was unorthodox…we aimed at the widest dissipation of force; and we added fluidity to speed by using one district on Monday, another on Tuesday, a third on Wednesday. Thus natural mobility was reinforced.

…sending the enemy organism into defensive reactionary spasms and deranging its command hierarchies and communications, rendering it as a Body without Organs, returned to a materialty without difference in kind, such that it can be pulled and manipulated, drawn and pressurised…

In a real sense maximum disorder was our equilibrium.

…their order was in chaos…

The internal economy of our raiding parties achieved irregularity and extreme articulation. Our circumstances were not twice similar, so no system could fit them twice: and our diversity threw the enemy intelligence off the track. p.339

…the derangement of the enemy is intensified through planting a terrifying Idea: invisible but omniscient battalions stalk them at all times, let their own imaginations do the work…

By identical battalions and divisions information built itself up, until corps could be inferred on corpses from three companies. Our strengths deoended upon whim.

March 27, 2006

Research Notes: Akaba is real and not a phantasm

Follow-up to Research Notes: Arabia and the geography of asceticism from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Desire seems to be a paradox. In obtaining that which is desired, the object of desire is fundamentally altered, and consequently unobtainable. Is desire doomed to lack from the outset and in its finality? Is such lack a cruel conditioning sublimated by a deeper originary dialectic? An originary psychic act, a fixation, an unconscious product of a series of acts to be regressively analysed retreating in time to the big fixation: oedipus? In his geophilosophical campaign, T.E.Lawrence discovered an answer to the paradox of desire, one without lack or originary schism. But at the same time one founded on schisms, differences. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I argue, is a work of schizoanalysis fundamentally uanavailable to psychoanalysis.

1. Desire is the production of the different in kind by the different in degree. That which is different in kind is said to be changed in nature by any act of division or analysis. An un-bounding perception or possession of that which is different in kind, an attempt to become materiality continuous with it, serves only to differentiate itself from itself as a qualitative not a quantative difference. It is thus experienced as a discontinuous multiplicity rather than a continuous multiplicity.

A long march through the desert, much negotiation with uncertain tribes, skirmishes with the Turks, and the Arab army entered their goal victorious:

Through the whirling dust we percieved that Akaba was all a ruin. Repeated bombardment by French and English warships had degraded the place to its original rubbish. The poor houses stood about in a litter, dirty and contemptible, lacking entirely that dignity which the durability of their time-challenging bones conferred on ancient remains. Chapter LV page 314
For months Akaba had been the horizon of our minds, the goal: we had had no thought, we had reduced thought, on anything beside, Now, in achievement, we were a litle despising the entities which had spent their extremest effort on an object whose attainment changed nothing radical either in mind or body.

The virtuality or "mind's horizon" that was Akaba as imagined from the desert to the East, was in becoming actual in fact ruined. Consequently, there had been no transcendent unity of the imagination of the army and the body of the city. There were only cold brute facts to be despised.

In the blank light of victory we could scarcely identify ourselves. We spoke with surprise, sat emptily, fingered upon our white skirts; doubtful if we could understand or learn whom we were. Others' noise was a dreamlike unreality, a singing in ears drowned deep in water. Against the astonishment of this unmasked-for continued life we did not know how to turn our gift to account.

The gift then seemed value less, unable to be turned to account. Life continued as it was, a material extension of the desert force down to the sea. No difference in kind, Lawrence's phantasm unveiled:

Especially for me it was hard, because though my sight was sharp, I never saw men's features: always I peered beyond, imagining for myself a spirit-reality of this or that: and to-day each man owned his desire so utterly that he was fulfilled in it, and became meaningless.

The fall in intensity from the heights of the Idea of the revolt follows a multiplicity continuous with the desert geography, camels and the hungered bodies of the warriors. "Hunger called us out of our trance." For the Englishman, it is diverted into patterns ill-atuned to the nomad life:

The asiduous food-habit of a lifetime had trained the English body to the pitch of producing a punctual nervous excitation in the upper belly at the fixed hour of each meal.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a book of hunger. But is it therefore a book of lack? Much later (Chapter CIII) Lawrence reflected upon desire:

When a thing was in my reach, I no longer wanted it; my delight lay in the desire. Everything which my mind could consistently wish for was attainable, as with all the ambitions of all sane men, and when a desire gained head, I used to strive until I had just to open my hand and take it. Then I would turn away, content that it had been within my strength. I sought only to assure myself, and cared not a jot to make the others know it.

The defeat of Akaba is one of the few true thresholds in the book. The slaughter at Tafas is another. Deraa is a third. At these times, differences in kind become naked facts. Akaba is ripped apart by the entrance of the Arab army. Akaba becomes something different again in kind upon the material extension of the nomads through its walls. This is an event or threshold. The virtual is actualised violently. Lawrence states clearly that he is a seeker of limits and not of thresholds. His aim is to reach the edge of the event, assess its force, and then let the intensity fall away. Not a destruction of the different in kind, not a badly analysed composite in which material extension annihilates difference in kind, but rather a careful appreciation of it (he is foremost a writer and creator of concepts). Lawrence seeks to escape the fate of the Idea, forever in lack. His defence is the lightness of the concept. He feels the hunger of the Englishman, the conditioning of the Idea of the meal (breakfast, lunchtime, tea, dinner). But he strives to achieve a more immanent and liminal mode of desiring:

Arab hunger was the cry of a long-empty labouring body fainting with weakness. They lived on a fraction of our bulk-food, and their systems made exhaustive use of what they got.

Concepts are like this "Arab hunger". A concept borders many limits (components), setting them at ease with each other. Whereas the Idea disrupts all components, plunging them across the threshold into catastrophe . In this way the virtual can become repeatedly actualized, nomdadically carried across terrains:

There was a special attraction in beginnings, which drove me into everlasting endeavour to free my personality from accretions and project it on a fresh medium, that my curiosity to see its naked shadow might be fed. The invisible self appeared to be reflected clearest in the still water of another man's yet incurious mind. Considered judgements, which had in them of the past and the future, were worthless compared with the revealing first sight, the instinctive opening or closing of a man as he met the stranger. CHAPTER CIII, Book 9

This is the desire of the nomad (or travelling writer). A desire that extends materially, a continuous multiplicity, whilst at the same time actualizing and refreshing discontinuous multiplicities.

March 06, 2006

Research Notes: The aim of art according to Deleuze and Guattari

Writing about The artwork as monument, active memory, time of the artist from Art

Why artistic creativity? A new perspective on the world? A recording of events. Or a new world? The creation of events.

Painters and sculptors go to extraordinary lengths in order to create the "monuments" to their struggles, their works. In creating, capturing and preserving the "time of the artist" they carve out a slice of their chaosmos, cut from their plane of immanance, relative to a virtuality. This may all cease to exist at any time, and may even be destroyed by the artistic act itself – a painful surgery or self-mutilation (Van Gogh). The surgical method is this: reduce the world and its vast circuits to a small repetitive loop. In the case of Cezanne, the loop circulates and re-circulates between Mont Saint Victoire, the palette and its oils (themselves reduced to a few greens and blues), the hand, the brush or knife, and the canvas. In this way the artwork is built up over time through a kind of mangrove effect not disimilar to that described by Andy Clark.

Everything is invested – "the artist is already in the canvas" (Deleuze, Logic of Sensation). Then make each run of the circuit entirely dependent upon the last, each time applying a filter modulated by the results of the previous passage (Cezanne, Van Gogh, Bacon and others replace an optical filter with a haptic filter). The circuit carves out an escape route within the imprisonment of actuality. The loops are repetitions, movements between points, but across different virtualities or the infinite and irreducible but necessary slices of reality. This opening up of new degrees of movement is the experiment of the diagram. It is a high risk operation. With so much vested in a small and critical set of functions, catastrophe is always near at hand. In his treatment of Francis Bacon, Deleuze quite rightly argues that painting is the artform that takes this risk to its most extreme. This is true. The consequences of architecture, for example, are too great. Few architects are prepared to go there (Libeskind?). Perhaps only in improvisational jazz does music reduce everything to catastrophe or the sublime. Otherwise there are too many chances of a second take. Bacon happily destroyed botched canvases, but it was almost too much for him both artistically and financially.

What then drives artists to the edge of disaster or beyond?

1) There is the attraction of the unknown and unknowable, the promise of a critical passage across some absolute threshold. Beyond this pure event, the world would be transformed. Something impossible would come to pass (surrealism). Behind this drive is the knowledge that this passage must have already happened at least once: the artist and the world as it is having come alive. But also the belief that it can happen again. The creation of substance, the irreducibly different, sharing no attributes. The impossible as possible. The artist thus seeks to create something new and substantial for themselves and the world. Joan Miro, for example, explored a rarifying seriality in order to create art as new substance: As Andre Breton commented on Miro's Constellations:

"They belong together and differ from one another like the aromatic or cyclic series of elements in chemistry. If one considers them both in their development and as a whole, each of them assumes necessity and value like a constituent in a mathematical series. And finally, they give the word 'series' that special meaning by their uninterupted and exemplary sequence." Miro by Janis Mink, Taschen 2000.

Felix Guattari described this creation of artistic discovery, and the mutant subjectivities that it makes possible, as akin to the rarifying seriality of chemistry, creating something substantial and necessary:

"In this conception of analysis, time is not something to be endured; it is activated, oriented, the object of qualitative change… A singualrity, a rupture of sense, a cut, a fragmentation, the detachment of a semiotic content – in a dadaist or surrealist manner – can originate mutant nuclei of subjectivation. Just as chemistry has to purify complex mixtures to extract atomic and homogeneous molecular matter, thus creating an infinite scale of chemical entities that have no prior existence, the same is true in the 'extraction' and 'seperation' of aesthetic subjectivities or partial objects…that make an immense complexification of subjectivity possibile – harmonies, polyphonies, counterpoints, rhythms and existential orchestrations, until know unheard and unknown." Chaosmosis (page 19)

Seriality and rarefaction is similarly employed by other painters, inlcuding Cezanne and Bacon. Also common to these artists is the prevailing terror of plunging into one of these cycles only to find no way out, that the filter or diagram no longer applies to the product of the cycle: the catastrophe.

2) And more commonly, there is an incremental investigation of objects partially apprehended at the limit. An often shy and nervous peering into things. But sometimes a full-on and clinical dissection of orders and lineages (abstraction). This investigation is often undertaken with a degree of altruism. Whether the aim is to reveal more clearly some necessary aspect of Being, or simply to help us to see objects with greater clarity, the artist may act in the interests of our perceptual powers and faculty of judgement.

Kant gives us these two modes of art in the Critique of Judgement. The artistic event as trans-liminal, as a virtuality (the sublime) eventualizing actuality (the time of the transcendental subject or artist). And the event as a series of dispatches, taken from a view of the edge, passing freely over infinite modulations of intensity, but always staying firmly this side of reason – communication, a sense in comunis, a beautiful passage.

Questions for Deleuze and Guattari's aesthetics:

  • is it underpinned by this distinction?
  • do they consider the creation of new substance to be the role of art? – if so, what does this mean, is it feasible, how does it work?

Also, see the essay by Isobelle Stengers for Deleuze's discussion of the difference between the limit and the threshold.


This paper can be discussed on the What Is Philosophy web site.

March 01, 2006

Research Notes: The artwork as monument, active memory, time of the artist

In their What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari claim that the artwork is a "monument". What does this mean? What is "monumental"? Why do all artworks have to be monumental? How can a painting be a monument? For this aesthetic theory to be meaningful, these questions must be addressed. But as will be demonstrated, an effective answer requires that we reconsider the relationship between artist, artwork and "viewer", adopting a position that sees them as much more intimately connected across space and time. This result in an approach to aesthetics that, unlike many, is concerned with the process of creation rather than consumption. The "viewer" is not excluded, but rather enters into that ongoing process which itself exists permanently in the artwork.

Firstly, put aside preconceptions about the nature of monumental art and monuments. We are not saying that the artwork has to be a massive stone edifice. It can be small or large, occupying any form shaped from any substance. Or more precisely, the monument is insubstantial in that its monumentalism acts as an open deterritorializing force, capable of forming a plane of consistency with all-comers. This is what Francis Bacon called the "matter of factness" of the painting, its materiality. Substances are materials locked into a determination that rejects connections and deterritorializations. The monument overflows substance in a hyper-connectivity with matter. The distinction is made more clearly in A Thousand Plateaus. I suggest that we read "abstract machine" as synonymous with "monument" (or perhaps the monument is a genus of abstract machine):

An abstract machine in itself is not physical or corporeal ( Guattari - it is an incorporeal complexity enabling possibility or freedom of movement ), any more than it is semiotic; it is diagramatic (it knows nothing of the distinction between the artificial and natural either). It operates by matter, not by substance; by function, not by form. The abstract machine is pure Matter-Function – a diagram independent of the forms and substances, expressions and contents it will distribute. A Thousand Plateaus, On Several Regimes of Signs p.141

What does it mean for the abstract machine or monument to "function"? A function is an operation of conversion or transformation. As they say in the opening of Anti-Oedipus: "the machine only functions when it breaks down" – that is, the machine functions by breaking down matter locked into substances, de-substantializing, deterritorializing. The monument or abstract machine is therefore a deterritorializing agent.

Returning to the common understanding of "what is a monument?" – it's not size or form that matters, but rather it is the active memory contained in the monument. Monuments are intended to remind, to recall an event, or more usually a life. Monument-momento. An effective monument goes further, re-awakening some distant aspect of that which is remembered. It may well be some actual detail of the commemorated life that the monument is intended to stir, but in order for that actuality to have sense, we must accept and share in the virtuality (the real but inactual extension to potential infinity of the plane of immanence, "a slice of chaos that acts like a sieve") of the commemorated life that is a condition for the possibility of that life.

The monument is threfore a portal, allowing us to move into a different world, and for that world to move into ours. To view an artwork then is an active process of being deterritorialized. Deleuze (in Logic of Sense, and with Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus) seeks to show how the abstract machine may be inscribed with a diagram illustrating or coding the route through the portal, the lines of deterritorialization, of matter cossing transversally out of substance. They say that the diagram makes a suggestion pulling us out of a determination towards something otherwise impossible. So it is more than just a edifice, a block of percepts and affects. It is crafted so as to deterritorialize, to attract matter into it and carry it away to another plane. One enters an artwork through the path suggested by the diagram. The monument calls upon us to add to the active memory present in the artwork, we step into the artwork, rather than percieving it analytically from afar.

Could the momument then be some kind of time machine? This is a serious claim, or at least a claim made by serious philosophers. Perhaps its re-presentation of the past offers a logic of resolution to make sense of the present? Recall Hegel's monument, which forms the centrepoint to his Aesthetics – the Tower of Babel, universal translator of forms. The architect Daniel Libeskind is familiar with the consequences of this monumentalism. In his Chamberworks, Architectural Meditations on the Themes from Heraclitus, he talks of his work to overcome this error:

When time itself is rendered meaningless by reversing its irreversible presence, then the practice of architecture becomes the case of the false pleading the cause of reconcilliation. The Space of Encounter, p.49

This leads to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which is certainly not a false reconcilliation. It is deliberately not a monument in which a single sense is made of a re-presented history. Rather, it draws in and abstracts further a vast collection of histories (matters of facts, names etc), it acts as a convertor between the planes, and becomes immanent to them, that is to say, is of the same material plane, adding further to the complexity of those virtualities. It remains a monument in the sense described above, a portal between disconnected planes.

What emerges in differentiated experience is architecture as an index of the relationship between what was and what will be. p50

…index :- diagram, graph, portal?

The Museum is a success in that it reaches out beyond its site, connecting two vast virtualities (Jewish Berlin, modern Germany and Europe).

Architecture as a practice of control has projected over itself an immanent frame sufficient to reveal something without. p.49

We have then discounted the notion of the monument as some kind of dialectical tardis. Lets not be sentimental about it. But we still need to understand its diagram, how it works to deterritorialize and connect differentiated substances, pulling us out of one virtuality and into another. Again Libeskind has a suggestion drawn from his practice:

If one thinks of music, what could be more immaterial, what could leave less of a trace in actual experience than music? On the other hand, of course, architecture has always been associated with weight, with matter, with public activity. p.51

The suggestion is that the monument encapsulates a rhythm of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of pleats of matter rising and falling relative to each other, forming tonalities, a whole music of matter that penetrates substance and carries it away into the plane. The monument is then not a static edifice, it is a continual circulation of matter, captured at some point in history, relative to a virtuality which otherwise disappears. It captures a slice of reality, holds it, and then releases it again in the future, in our aesthetic encounter. Libeskind seeks the musical within architecture, within his monuments. This seems to be a paradox, but is merely the task of a great artist.

(Note, a building is an abstract machine for living – a monument rich with music and incorporeal complexity.)

Deleuze and Guattari go further: artworks are monuments. All artworks? What does, for example, Cezanne's painting of Mont Saint Victoire commemorate? In paint it captures a circulation of matter ever connected with the mountain. The rhythm of brush strokes is, as Cezanne claimed, the rhythm of the mountain, of nature as he lived it. His method always struggled to capture the tension, the pattern of connections of those rhythms, to make them permanent in a monument ( more on Cezanne ):

This is what one must achieve. If I reach too high or too low, everything is a mess. There must not be a single loose strand, a single gap through which the tension, the light, the truth can escape. I have all the parts of my canvas under control simultaneously. If things are tending to diverge, I use my instincts and beliefs to bring them back together again. Everything that we see disperses, fades away. Nature is always the same, even though its visible manifestations eventually cease to exist. Our art must shock nature into permanence, together with all the components and manifestations of change. Art must make nature eternal in our imagination. What lies behind nature? Nothing perhaps. Perhaps everything. Everything, you understand. So I close the errant hand. I take the tones of colour I see to my right and my left, here, there, everywhere, and I fix these gradations, I bring them together. They form lines, and become objects, rocks, trees, without my thinking about it. They acquire volume, they have an effect. When these masses and weights on my canvas correspond to the planes and spots which I see in my mind and which we see with our eyes, then my canvas closes its fingers. It does not waver. It does not reach too high or too low. It is true, it is full. cited in Cezanne by Ulrike Becks-Malorny, Taschen 2001

The painting captures what the artist David Burrows has called "the time of the artist". It is a monument to that time. It draws us into that time and the rhythms and tones that constitute it's plane.


This paper can be discussed on the What Is Philosophy web site.

February 28, 2006

Research Notes: Arabia and the geography of asceticism

Follow-up to Research Notes: T.E. Lawrence and Abu Ghraib – the necessary consequences of war from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

One hundred and fifty pages into Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence, with the Arabian campaign fully open, a wider and still relevant geophilosophical perspective is ever present.

In the opening chapters of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence foretells the geo-ideational forces arising when the Arab army is released from its territorial and tribal divisions, into the delirial existence of nomadic desert fighters. Contrary to the myth and the movie, many of the constituent parties of the army, accounted for meticulously in the text, were not Bedouin desert dwellers, rather having come down from the hills of the Hejaz or from the more comfortable coastal plains. This was then a new movement, breaking out of the timeless circulation of peoples and their livestock into and across the desert – a sudden and unprecedented mass carrying with it bodies from the diverse geophysical and social distributions of people into places.

As the great Arab army of Feisal embarks upon its first significant campaign, across inhospitable desert terrain, Lawrence again revisits the geo-ideational effects of the desert upon those who adapt to it. The momentum towards battle is stayed briefly with a consideration of asceticism, as exhibited by one of the many tribes within the march.

The Wahabis, followers of a fanatical Moslem heresy, had imposed their strict rules on easy and civilized Kasim. In Kasim their was but little coffee-hospitality, much prayer and fasting, no tobacco, no artistic dalliance with women, no silk clothes, no gold and silver head-ropes. Everything was forcibly pious or forcibly puritanical. p.148

A significant point in understanding Lawrence is here, in that this rejection of the will to pleasure, by a fundamentalist sect, is not posed as anti-nature. Rather, Lawrence conceives it as being immanent to the geographical, meteorological and cosmological plane in which it grows. Lawrence the map maker seeks to draw a cartography of ideation.

It was a natural phenomenon, this periodic rise of intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia. Always the votaries found their neighbours' beliefs cluttered with inessential things, which became impious in the hot imagination of their preachers. Again and again they had arisen, had taken possession, soul and body, of the tribes, and had dashed themselves to pieces on the urban Semites, merchants and concupiscent men of the world. About their comfortable possessions the new creeds ebbed and flowed like the tides or the changing seasons, each movement with the seeds of early death in its excess of rightness. p.148

There is, in this natural phenomenon, a desert aesthetic. The asceticism of the desert is a kind of unchecked delirium of the senses, that is to say, a movement so light and without relation that the only remaining sense is that of the movement itself, without distraction. And at the same time the movement becomes almost imperceptible, thus bearing the mind down more anxiously upon its continuation and progress. Distances are far, out on the gravel plains and in the dune fields. Looking into these horizons, the eye covers innumerable grains of reality in an instant, whilst the body traverses the distances so slowly as to become absorbed to the point of almost being part of the desert itself – just another grain of sand, but with a will to overcome casual drifting. A will all the more powerful in response to the enveloping power of emptiness and geological flow.

Seemingly it was a plain, with an illimitable view downhill to the east, where one gentle level after another slowly modulated into a distance only to be called a distance because it was a softer blue, and more hazy. p.245 Chapter XLII
The Fejr Bedouin, whose property it was, called our plain El Houl because it was desolate; and to-day we rode in it without seeing signs of life; no tracks of gazelle, no lizards, no burrowing of rats, not even any birds. We, ourselves, felt tiny in it, and our urgent progress across its immensity was a stillness or immobility of futile effort. p.246 – Chapter XLII

The nomad must, by necessity, travel with few social connections and possessions. But at the same time must enter into this plain with a single strong possession – a belief in the journey, a righteousness of the path. At the extreme, the body and its immediate functional extensions (camel, cloak, water container, dagger) becomes one of five reference points, along with the sun, the earth, the day and the night. At its most extreme, travel by day becomes impossible due to the extreme heat, and so darkness removes even the earth as a point of reference. The passage into the desert may then work to transpose the traveller from the un-fathomable chaos of urban life (a virtuality of which he will never be master), into the immense but conceivable chaos of desert (a virtuality over which skill can be obtained).

Doubtless they must recur so long as the causes – sun, moon, wind, acting in the emptiness of open spaces, weigh without check on the unhurried and uncumbered minds of the desert dwellers. p.148

A plane of immanence is found, acting as a powerful generator of distances, reducing all within it to simple principles of survival, whilst necessitating a determinism and determination the repetition of which suggests a transcendent mastery. And this suggestion of transcendence is the germ of its own death identified by Lawrence. When the tide of asceticism reaches the rocks of the urban, it becomes dissipated into a virtuality entirely different to that which made its life possible.

Earlier in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence indicates that the great wave of Arab nationalism that he helped to release would be followed by further, possibly greater, waves. Perhaps he could see that in becoming the massed nomadic war machine of Feisal's army, the force would be effected by the desert, washing back into the urban with more impact than any of the smaller recurrent tides? Perhaps even a tide that might succeed in converting the urban into a kind of desert?

A link to consider:

  • The page in Logic of Sensation in which Deleuze talks of the diagram, a great zero from which intensity "descends".
  • Francis Bacon's painting of a face with, as Deleuze says, "the distances of the Sahara" within it.

Later in Seven Pillars, Auda explains how the desert forces a kind of group interdependence:

…Auda was glad to rub into a townsman the paradox of tribe and city; the collective responsibility and group-brotherhood of the desert. contrasted with the isolation and competetive living of the crowded districts. p.256 XLIV - After retrieving Gasim from the desolate plain of El Houl

February 16, 2006

Research Notes: T.E. Lawrence and Abu Ghraib – the necessary consequences of war

I have just read the first few chapters of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, quite a stunning and vital work. The consequences of a political delusion are becoming clear in Iraq (Abu Ghraib and elsewhere). The war machine is incompatible with civil society, even if it is a necessary condition for its possibility. The logic behind these mistakes was explicitly the subject of Lawrence's book. The revolting images aired today could have come from the torture chambers of the Ottoman Empire, as easily as from the orgiastic simulation of liberated desire that is now America (as Baudrillard described just after Gulf War I). Lawrence must be studied.

A note on the myth

A failure to understand T.E. Lawrence is commonly symptomatic of a failure to understand the nature of the war machine and its incompatibility with the beaurocratic machine of civil society. He was not a leader, but rather an advisor who recognised that, given favourable conditions and a few appropriately selected techniques, a powerful idea could sweep across fronts far out of proportion to its physical force.

It was in fact the idea that was the hero of the story. And the idea was no ordinary one, but rather a special type of idea capable of taking on a life of its own. What we might today call an "abstract machine" following the terminology of Deleuze and Guattari. To see Lawrence's work as successful leadership, as the imposition of a chain of command and control, is to misunderstand both Lawrence and the war machine. Both were sucessful when they attained a velocity and immediacy requiring no such beaurocracy. Indeed they were successful only when they broke free from beaurocracy. As soon as they become sedimented, they become bored and subject to delusions and perversions. Any reading of Seven Pillars of Wisdom would render this misinterpretation impossible. Perhaps the author of this should actually read Lawrence.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

T.E. Lawrence placed himself within a nomadic war machine of the kind exclusively possessing the power to destroy regimes and constitue a new earth (nations, religions, whatever). He demonstrated just how far these forces must separate themselves from civil society in order to attain the required freedom of movement (physical, cultural and moral), and how that separation may result in extraordinary horrors and pleasures.

The relationship between the Arabs and the Turks is of critical importance. Lawrence analyses it early on in the book. The Turks represent a decaying empire. But more importantly, they stand for a machine that has no self-motivating (self-positing) idea. No one within the empire knew of a reason for the empire, other than it just seemed to always have been there. Occassionaly someone would discover a new way of making a short term gain (the New Turks for example), but that would quickly be lost in the corrupting mass. In comparison, the Arabs were capable of attaining ideas that could whip them into a frenzy. They were, Lawrence claimed, people of the idea, always making a fresh start, always looking to move into a new desert.

This is how Lawrence defines the difference between a nomadic war machine and an empire decaying into its own beaurocracy and inertia.

Is there a moral distinction? That's the big question to pose to Lawrence, who would normally be taken to favour the nomad. As a literary writer he has ambiguities. As a historian, the conclusion is simple: the empire is doomed. But the villain (whether desired subliminally or despised) is most usually the urban. In the second chapter he talks of its diseases and overcrowding. In the desert he remains inviolate. In the town he is raped. The urban sedimentation is the place in which filthy dark forces accumulate, and convoluted perversions grow: Abu Ghraib. In the desert there is no time or space for such development. Everything is essential and laid bare.

Blood was always on our hands: we were licensed to it. Wounding and killing seemed ephemeral pains, so very brief and sore was life with us. With the sorrow of living so great, the sorrow of punishment had to be pitiless. We lived for the day and died for it. p.31

The nomadic force thus became a register upon which intensities of sorrow and pleasure could rise and fall, while all the time being absorbed and dissipated internally by the unit, with no lasting effect or principle. There was simply no time for the intensities to be assigned a greater principle or meaning, other than their subservience to the idea. And the idea was itself to attain a speed of movement capable of escaping principles. As in Kant's Anticipations of Perception, judgement is at the mercy of and a product of speed.

The nomads were thus capable of becoming an abstract machine, self-motivated, self-positing, independent but at the same time forming a genuinely connected response to every and any possible experience. The nomad, for example, finds the continuation of the journey as a way of life itself. The journey is the purpose of the journey. The narrower objective being to merely keep circulating within a space that encourages the continuation of the journey, making sedimentation impossible.

Each individual nomad had his revealed religion, not oral or traditional or expressed, but instinctive in himself…The desert dweller could not take credit for his belief. He had never been either evangelist or proselyte. He arrived at this intense condensation of himself in God by shutting his eyes to the world, and all the complex possibilities latent in him which only contact with wealth and temptations could bring forth. p.41

In the interior deserts of Arabia, according to Lawrence, the Arab nomads had found a space that would keep them necessarily circulating – self-perpetuating circulation. Few customs and conditions were accumulated. There was a simple rule of hospitality, which itself shifted as required.


A war machine cannot be a police force: it is far too fast and indiscriminate. When a war machine becomes sedimented, boredom and indifference sets in, opening up room for all kinds of dark horrors to be manifested. The power of the war machine, the sophisticated and brutal weapons necessary for its speed, take those perversions to frightening degrees.

But at the same time, only a liberating force is capable of constituting the break, the new earth, from which a nation can be built. And so a war machine of some kind is necessary. This is the politicians dilemma, as it was also that of Lawrence.

We should consider, as perhaps Lawrence later did, whether the nomadic war machine (or revolutionary force) is equipped with such brutal weapons out of necessity, or as a means to develop and test tools for the decaying empire? – the revolutionary force as a threat to be held perpetually against civil society.

November 16, 2005

Research Notes: what would an anti–humanist conception of science be like?

Follow-up to Research Notes: Merleau–Ponty, humanist and anti–humanist science from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

To reiterate, a humanist conception of science argues that there is some ineliminably human aspect to scientific activity. An anti-humanist conception must show that all aspects of scientific activity could occur independently from human activity, for example as the result of the behaviour of an assemblage of non-human processors and networks.

Key features of scientific activity that are commonly thought of as being essentially human are:

  • Attending to certain phenomena to be observed, quantified, classified, manipulated;
  • Collecting and isolating phenomena into experimental arrangements;
  • Postulating connections between phenomena as models of reality;
  • Hypothesing and seeking the existence of objects not represented by presented phenomena;
  • Prioritising and valuing certain instances of the above over other instances;
  • Planning the execution of all of the above.

I don't think it is implausible that these activities could occur without human involvement. Note that an anti-humanist does not need to demonstrate that a single clearly individuated intelligence, a robot scientist, need be responsible for all of these activities. It is just as valid, and perhaps more realistic, to argue that some of them are carried out by widely dispersed agencies (networks, environments, ecologies).

An anti-humanist conception of science is certainly plausible. To prove the point, do we need to point to an activity that includes all of the above processes, but without human intervention? Or perhaps it is enough just to show that each of these processes could be carried out by a non-human agency?