All 106 entries tagged Philosophy Research

Research notes in philosophy, from my current PhD work.

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December 12, 2007

The Gypsy in Me by Ted Simon – review

Walking is simple, surely? We all have feet. 1500 miles across Europe? Hard, but not unimaginable. But this isn’t ordinary walking. This is no ordinary walker. Ted’s journey re-discovers a different mode of walking, of travelling. A gypsy kind of journey; travelling against the grain of thousands of years of European history. But perhaps a mode of walking, of being, that offers a radical answer to the violence and pain of European history?

In his book The Medieval Traveller, the historian Norbert Ohler estimated that a person travelling by foot, as most did at the time, could expect to cover between 15 and 25 miles a day. A surprising multitude and variety of people were on the road in this manner; whenever war, pestilence and the climate of the time allowed. There were well established routes, often leading to popular places of pilgrimage. For example the Pilgrim’s Way through Kent to Canterbury, along which I once managed to hobble a few muddy miles. There were also more adventurous types out on the road, cutting across these paths, or even escaping altogether, beyond Europe and Christendom. How far we have come since then? A few years ago in Silicon Valley I rashly decided to walk between a train station and a nearby business centre. Walk! For a start no one could give me directions that would be viable for a pedestrian. As I tramped off in the direction that I had assumed to be right, the inevitable road crossings were met with everything from disbelief to aggression. I wonder how many thousands of cars passed me in that hour? One could easily believe that the total number of miles travelled by pilgrims during the entire middle ages would easily be surpassed by the total number of miles travelled by motorised vehicles along the roads of a major city in a single early 21st Century day.

The act of walking is not, in the contemporary mind, in itself heretical. It is the purpose of the walk that matters. Walking for therapeutic or spiritual reasons is considered noble. Walking simply for leisure, given that leisure time now is the sacred, is similarly exulted. But walking out of necessity? Walking as a mode of transport or labour? Walking as a way of life? Walking through urban and post-industrial landscapes, far off the leisure guide’s map – tramping? How offensive does that word sound to us? ‘Tramp’: in reality one of the many terms for the itinerant travellers who walk out of necessity. ‘Gypsy’ is another such word. This prejudice no doubt extends to other lesser forms of transport. In Ireland there is a small but entirely respectable travel industry based upon tourists travelling by horse drawn ‘gypsy’ caravan. And yet who are the most despised, the most abused of Europe’s minorities? – those for whom that is a way of life. The title of the book under consideration, The Gypsy in Me, might at first seem a little odd. It could be read as the story of a diasporic jew’s return. There is indeed an element of that. But the book isn’t The Jew in Me. Ted has a keen and sometimes comic interest in pigs and (organic) pork products; assuring there’s no devotion to orthodoxy or racial purity here. It is an encounter with gypsies, in Romania towards the end of the book, that retroactively adds sense to the fragmented events and sensations of the journey: it is a gypsy journey; the un-constrained, joyous, irreverent, landless, journey of a gypsy; a very different kind of walk, a very Other kind of walk. A journey as old as Europe, and as old as the European paranoia that has repeatedly driven the continent to extremes of persecution and violence.

The Gypsy in Me is travel writing with a radical undercurrent. It contains many propositions that challenge our dangerously cosy Euro dream. It is the story of a man walking, tramping even, across a large part of the continent; not only the picturesque and fertile lands of the Euro dream, but also post-Communist urban and agro-industrial wastes, which seem more determining of the journey’s character. Ted Simon is perhaps more a migrant who writes than a conventional travel writer (although he is brilliantly skilled as the latter). And so travelling is for Ted serious work; sometimes fun, sometimes grim, but always engaged with fully. But there lies the tension in his writing, in his travelling. Successful travel writing is necessarily eventful. That’s its work, that’s what he has to offer to us the readers and to them the subjects of the story amongst whom he travels. He presence makes things happen. But at the same time he must travel lightly, with low social impact, never seeming to be a threat. Finding ‘work’ to do, but not ever threatening the local order. Eventful and ordinary. Magical but familiar. Is such a gypsy journey possible in Europe today?

The journey begins with Ted and two companions. It quickly transforms into a solo effort – as Ted the migrant/writer comes to the fore. It’s never an easy journey, but is throughout reported with good humour. Fun is even poked at some dangerously sore feet (definitely not a leisure walker). It certainly is not a comfortable journey. Which is good. The reality is that Europe is an uncomfortable place for anyone who must walk out of necessity. Europe does not like ‘tramps’, and perhaps never has. The fabric from which it is woven is incompatible with the tramp. It has been that way for a very long time. Think back to those medieval travellers. As Ohler establishes, travelling was even then already part of a highly regulated business. Travelling, by foot, horse or boat, was very much necessary. But already that necessity was qualified by noble motives: for the spirit and for the church. A whole network of hospitality extended to ease the pilgrim on their way. Did this network extend to travellers with other motivations? Surely its purpose was abused by merchants and opportunists (Chaucer gives good account of them). But those who travel out of necessity have always been seen as suspicious. My informed guess is that there is a binary valuation at work in European history, culture, geography, deeply embedded in the European mind: the tramp and the pilgrim, or more recently, the migrant and the tourist. Furthermore, it is a continuum. The identity of the pilgrim slides into that of the tourist, then into that of the merchant, and then, inspiring the kind of fear that drives pogroms, into the ‘racial infiltrator’. This ambiguity, its paradoxes and confusions, are at the base of our confused European sense of self, and I believe, are there in Ted’s book as the problem worked over by the journey. Like most if not all of us Europeans, he is a potentially uncomfortable mixture: Jewish, English, German, Romanian…pilgrim, gypsy, immigrant, migrant, tourist, travel writer.

But then much of Europe is also populated by people who never travel. People who’s people have never travelled – or so they assume. On his journey, Ted finds many of these. In Kaliningrad, it is as if the rotting Russian occupying force, and its commander (Ted befriends his family), had always been there. Almost all traces of the former German town of Konigsberg have been erased and replaced by a new Slavic [dis]order. European history is of course a bloody mess of invasion and occupation. Perhaps it enriches the soil. Nonetheless, the foundation of communities and lineages by fresh migrants must be elided. Conventional wisdom declares this to be the only precaution against a relentless cycle of revenge. Communism regulates and limits travel through stifling state controls. Capitalism regulates travel through an assemblage of values, desires, narratives, and circuits: the travel industry. Even when migration does occur, it is perceived more as a form of eternal holiday (the villa in Spain). In both cases, the required effect is to make the sedentary population feel secure. They may have thousands of people moving through their land, but it’s OK, they are just tourists. The real colonisation is well hidden by the perpetual peace of the happy holidaymaker.

But if a community forgets how to travel, how can it adapt to change? How can an up-rooted farmer move on, ripped from the soil of his cultural and agricultural roots? The elision of travel, of the experience of migration, adds to the pain. Perhaps there is another way? A way of travelling in space and time that avoids conflict and pain?

Ted embraces the fact that travel, of the most primitive and unregulated kind, walking, is a political response to the cycle of revenge, to the ebb and flow of territorialization and deterritorialization. It is the absolute opposite of the blitzkrieg. A person walking can be observed slowly approaching, and thus assimilated physically and mentally by the observer. A car, motorcycle or Panzer, on the other hand, arrives far too quickly. Furthermore, one may see the walker’s face immediately. Individuals on foot tend to seep into consciousness. Could they represent a less threatening means for encountering the political or psychological Other? The book is punctuated by an idea, a very significant notion that seems, even to Ted himself, to be rather eccentric. But given these thoughts on the nature of walking, and the history of walking in Europe, it might not be that mad after all. There’s a dark shadow falling across the whole of the journey, cast from a land to the south: Serbia and Kosova. The atrocities were very much public. As public as the failure of NATO and the UN, with all their vehicles, to stop the killings. Is the idea now obvious? Perhaps the conflict could be seen as a continuum of the tensions between territory and migration, land and travel, repeated throughout European history? In which case the best response might be to subvert the very grounding of that conflict. The proposition was thus: a people’s walk, not a march, an unthreatening gypsy-like joyous drift of thousands of ordinary people, into the war zone.

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.




July 10, 2006

Research Notes: A desert delirial materialism in Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Follow-up to Research Notes: Spinoza and desert asceticism, Kant and the urban sublime from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

From Book 7 of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. This is one of the most interesting passages of the book.

Into the sources of my energy of will I dared not probe. The conception of antithetical mind and matter, which was basic in the Arab self-surrender, helped me not at all. I achieved surrender (so far as I did achieve it) by the very opposite road, through my notion that mental and physical were inseparably one: that our bodies, the universe, our thoughts and tactilities were conceived in and of the molecular sludge of matter, the universal element through which form drifted as clots and patterns of varying density. It seemed to me unthinkable that assemblages of atoms should cogitate except in atomic terms. My perverse sense of values constrained me to assume that abstract and concrete, as badges, did not denote oppositions more serious than Liberal and Conservative. The practice of our revolt fortified the nihilist attitude in me. During it, we often saw men push themselves or be driven to a cruel extreme of endurance: yet never was there an intimation of physical break. Collapse rose always from a moral weakness eating into the body, which of itself, without traitors from within, had no power over the will. While we rode we were disbodied, unconscious of flesh or feeling: and when at an interval this excitement faded and we did see our bodies, it was with some hostility, with a contemptuous sense that they reached their highest purpose, not as vehicles of the spirit, but when, dissolved, their elements served to manure a field. p.468


May 31, 2006

Partial Objects

A few scraps of mental shrapnel:

1) Pierre Boulez defined three forms of electronic music:

  • sounds that mimic non-electronic sounds;
  • sounds that are pure invention, with no relation to pre-existing sounds;
  • sounds that take non-electronic sounds and extend, distort, deterritorialize – these are the most interesting.

2) Synthetic versus analytic cubism – what is the concept of synthesis?

3) Rauschenberg’s artwork as a mirror (relation to D&G’s monumental art), minimalism, the “gap between art and life”. Escape from shame into zero intensity. Re-emergence from minima – Lawrence and the clock in the rape scene.

4) A geophilosophy of shame should be written, demonstrating that the shame/glory mechanism (of rising and falling intensities) is not a product of some foundational ontological truth, but rather a product of space, history and theatre (the theatre of battle, the theatre of the Idea, the theatre of cruelty). In my entry on Lawrence and Abu Ghraib I ask whether there is a moral distinction between the nomadic war machine and the state war machine. Lawrence seems to claim that the former exists without shame, the latter sadistic system imposes a moral of shame/glory. And what of Lawrence’s theatricality and masochism? How is that an attempt to escape the state war machine? And the there is the conflict between the writer and the war, the eloquent creator and the illiterate destroyer. WWI as the most brutal and direct manifestation of the states glory/shame machine.

5) Concepts – historical events, conceptual components are historical (can disconnect and reconnect with each other).


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 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: Concepts and monuments, philosophers and artists

Follow-up to Review: Naked Punch (versus Collapse) – first thoughts from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

A correction on the matter of 'concepts speed and judgement'.

I recently wrote that repetition and difference are governed by "filters", and 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.

Actually I think that D&G, in What Is Philsoophy?, try to rescue philosophy and its concepts from this, aligning philosophical concepts more closely with artistic monuments in the way in which they capture, decelerate and recirculate matter through a network of actual conceptual components. The philosopher (or conceptual personae), following Nietzsche, is then a kind of artist.

At some point in WiP, they attack marketing, the communications business, opinions, etc – all the traditional enemies of philosophy, and all responsible for the priveliging of speed and scope of judgement over care.


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.


May 16, 2006

Research Notes: The double event, force and the will to power

Reading Ronald Bogue's Deleuze on Literature. In the first chapter he uses Nietzsche and Philosophy to show how literary texts are constituted from forces, of memory and forgetting, of continuity and differentiation.

But forces would never enter into relation with each other if there were no dynamic element within forces that engendered relations. That element Nietzsche calls "will to power". The will to power "thus is added to force, but as the differential and genetic element, as the internal element of its production. Bogue, Deleuze on Literature, p.11

In the first instance, a force is a naked event, experienced as an absolute loss. But a force has two aspects:

  • Differential – quantity – dominant/dominated – discontinuous multiplicity – nothing shared – can be divided without changing.
  • Genetic – quality – affirmative/negative – feedback loops – continuous multiplicity – virtuality – that which changes in being divided or in adding novelty, must have been there, shared from the start – memory – hence genetic.

Bogue – interpretation concerns the differential, evaluation concerns the genetic.


May 12, 2006

Review: Naked Punch (versus Collapse) – first thoughts

Follow-up to Review: COLLAPSE – Journal of Philosophical Research and Development from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

3.50 is a good price for a small collection of essays. Naked Punch is the bargain that I struck this morning, and I think it is a worthy and profitable one, with several important topics covered by the likes of Wim Wenders and Keith Ansell Pearson. It did, however, force me to consider again the motivations behind a similar but very different publication: COLLAPSE And more significantly, the relation between philosophy, writing and art. Here are my first thoughts, having only read the introduction.

Naked Punch started life as a vehicle of intellectual hope; as a belief in the possibility of a field of open discourse, where disciplinary boundaries are no longer a bar…

This seems a little too vague. Is it perhaps a border–zone between entrenched disciplines? – a site of trade, adventure or even colonization? It is, we are told, a "brave new discourse on philosophy & art" – yes, so an interface between disciplines that have in some way each lost themselves: artistic craft having been surpassed by electronics, becomes "conceptual"; philosophy having lost ground to science, becomes "aesthetic". In either case the familiar 'disruptive technology dissipation' business model is applied, with the old decaying enterprise establishing, begrudgingly, a parallel business in order to explore foreign territories and new markets – mutant limbs that can easily be severed if the experiment goes wrong. A brief examination of the content reveals little of the "art" partner in the equation – there are many more 'blocks of sensation' than one would find in a conventional philosophical journal, however, they are all just so heavilly overcoded and filtered by a conceptual–linguistic machine. It is, as so often, an engagement in which philosophy allows in a little sensation, a little experience, rather than sensation itself necessitating the conceptual.

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.

Is art then the medicine that philosophy sometimes needs? Perhaps. Or maybe it is a drug to be abused, sensation always inevitably overcoded with the conceptual.

Further on in the introduction, the editors raise a question familiar to anyone seeking to write an escape from the conceptual overcoding that is philosophy:

Two years on, we are still undecided as to whether to call this printed space a 'magazine' or a 'journal'; and we urge you to treat it directly as neither.

I remember having such a discussion with the editors of COLLAPSE which I think was a conscious effort to attack the division, although I suspect that it never really mattered, for a very interesting reason. The distinction between the two formats/genres is explained by Naked Punch:

  • Magazine: "glossy lust for entertainment";
  • Journal: "strictly expository journal".

The editors signal that they are in fact looking to produce something else. But what? Perhaps it would help if they consider that any point on the magizine/journal continuum is still only a mode of the consolidation of a territory, or its controlled expansion. We pick up a magazine when the serious business has been done. Imagine the philosopher as [s]he relaxes at home. They never have TVs. So instead perhaps they pick up a lightweight publication? But what? Radical Philosophy? Cosmopolitan? Rubber Weekly? Whatever, it serves its function delivering light relief in between the more severe work (punishment) of writing those journal articles.

Is there a vector other than the magazine/journal continuum? I think COLLAPSE was and probably still is creating this alternative.

What is a 'collapse'? It is an infolding of layers, a concentratory dispositif. A collapse is not yet settled, but moving in a definite direction. Niether teleological nor teleonomical, but still directional. It is an 'open discourse' of the kind that the editors of Naked Punch seek. And as such it is more exhilerating than representation and expansionist exegesis. Great writing is so often generated by a collapse. For example, Seven Pillars of Wisdom documents the collapse of miltitary models, imperialism and an Oxford academic over a vast and hard territory. It is not the habit of a creature embedded in a well balanced ecosystem, but rather the desperate opportunism of a wider ranging scavenger. Having found carrion, it leaps at the kill, reorders its entire existence and mode of operation in adaption to its find. Writing from the collapse, from its forced migration, creates minor literatures. The question is, what publishing format is appropriate for such writing?

Let us anticipate the publication of the new COLLAPSE


April 07, 2006

Review: COLLAPSE – Journal of Philosophical Research and Development

Bored? Tired of the same repetitive academic rut? Want a new set of concepts? Fancy a bit of an adventure? Then get COLLAPSE, out soon.

Collapse

COLLAPSE is just so...[can't choose exactly the right adjective, but "vital", "exciting" and "connected" would be in the vicinity]. Perhaps you have been unlucky, never having encountered this publication? They say it is a "Journal of Philosophical Research and Development", however its creative conception of any of those six words is in itself part of the adventure. No publication has ever been quite so tangential and at the same time so concentratory.

"It aims to force unforeseen conjunctions, singular correspondences, and cross-fertilisations; to diagram abstract sensations as yet unnamed."

"The journal COLLAPSE exists as the explosive, perhaps fragmentary, product of the passion for thought, unrestrained by any thematic or formal constraint, any justificatory relation to any agency whatsoever."

Academia averse to risk? Not in COLLAPSE. Ceaseless regurgitation of its own grey matter? No.


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.

And:

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.

Idea

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.