February 05, 2006

What is Philosophy? Reading Group: Second Meeting: Notes

What is Philosophy?; Chapter 3 – ‘Conceptual Personae’

This weeks’ discussion began with a consideration of the example which opens this chapter on ‘conceptual personae’ –the ‘idiot’. Deleuze & Guattari identify two manifestations of the conceptual persona of the ‘idiot’, which they term the ‘old’ and ‘new ‘idiot’. The old ‘idiot’ is the Cartesian one (associated with Descartes Meditations) – ‘it is the Idiot who says “I” and sets up the cogito…who wants to think, and who thinks for himself, by the ‘natural light’. The new ‘idiot’ emerges when ‘Descartes goes mad in Russia’, (Dostoyevsky’s Idiot).

‘The Old idiot wanted truth, but the new idiot wants to turn the absurd into the highest power of thought – in other words, to create.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 62)

There was a brief discussion of how appropriate Dostoyevsky’s later work was to this understanding of the new ‘idiot’. The problem of Nietzsche and Nihilism was discussed.

Post-structuralism, as expressed by the conceptual personae of the new ‘idiot’, where sense is constantly pushed to its limits, involves a constant search for the ‘outside’, and a move towards creation. The old Cartesian ‘idiot’ was driven and governed by certain epistemological imperatives and concerns, whereas the new post-Cartesian ‘idiot’ is an ‘ethical’ figure driven to uncertainty and the ‘outside’ of pre-existing sense.

What is the relation between the elaboration of conceptual personae in art (e.g. literature) and in philosophy. For Deleuze & Guattari the two can be intimately connected:

‘The plane of composition of art and the plane of immanence of philosophy can slip into each other to the degree that parts of one may be occupied by entities of the other.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 66)

The emergence of the new ‘idiot’ in literature (specifically Russian literature) indicates a certain role for literature (evident from Deleuze’s Essays Critical and Clinical) – namely as a symptamology of conceptual personae – what a writer takes a good thinker to be, what a thinker should be doing in a certain ‘space’.

There was a discussion of the possible differences and similarities between symptamology and genealogy. Is symptamology divorced from a more historical or quasi-historical cultural critique. For Deleuze & Guattari conceptual personae are irreducible to what they term ‘psychosocial types’. They write:

‘The features of conceptual personae have relationships with the epoch or historical milieu in which they appear that only psychosocial types enable us to assess. But, conversely, the hysterical and mental movements of psychosocial types, their pathological symptoms, their relational attitudes, their existential modes, and their legal status, become susceptible to a determination purely of thinking and of thought that wrests them from both the historical state of affairs of a society and the lived experience of individuals, in order to turn them into the features of conceptual personae, or thought-events on the plane laid out by thought or under the concepts it creates. Conceptual personae and psychosocial types refer to each other and combine without ever merging.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 70)

There was then a lengthy discussion of Leibniz and the role of concept creation in his philosophy, and their possible restriction by the type of conceptual personae he elaborates (later identified by Deleuze & Guattari as ‘the lawyer of a God’).

We discussed the crucial role of conceptual personae in disclosing what Deleuze & Guattari term ‘thought’s territories, its absolute deterritorialisations and reterritorialisations.’ (i.e. its ‘diagrammatic’ function):

‘Conceptual personae are thinkers, solely thinkers, and their personalised features are closely linked to the diagrammatic features of thought and the intensive features of concepts.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 69)

We then worked fairly systematically through the five features of conceptual personae that Deleuze and Guattari identify.

Pathic Features (p. 70) – the aspect of the conceptual personae linked to the sensibility (pathological elements); a difference between the schizophrenic as psychosocial types and as conceptual personae responsible for laying out a plane of thought. (Links here to Nietzsche, Bergson and Foucault). The schizophrenic in the socius moves outside of ‘sense’ and is expelled, the schizophrenic as conceptual personae is analogous to the new ‘idiot’ – a ‘conceptual personae who lives intensely within the thinker and forces him to think’, pushing the ‘absurd into the highest power of thought’.

Relational Features (pp. 70–1) – akin to the Socratic notion of the ‘Friend’.

‘This is not two friends who engage in thought; rather, it is thought itself that requires the thinker to be a friend so that thought is divided up within itself and can be exercised. It is thought itself which requires this division of thought between friends.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 69)

Dynamic Features (p. 71) – the different forms of energetics involved with a conceptual personae, akin to a new athleticism in thought. It expresses the degree to which conceptual personae move into conjunction, into a becoming with external energetic forces.

Juridical Features (p. 72) – jurisprudence vs. universal principles of law. The juridical features of the conceptual personae elaborated by Leibniz, Kant and Spinoza.

‘Should not beings be judged from within – not at all in the name of the Law or of Values or even by virtue of their conscience but by the purely immanent criteria of their existence.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 72)

We discussed the juridical features of conceptual personae in relation to Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

Existential Features (pp. 72–3) – These are to be understood as the emblematic anecdotes of conceptual personae (‘a few vital anecdotes are sufficient to produce a portrait of a philosophy’):

‘These anecdotes do not refer simply to social or even psychological types of philosopher but show rather the conceptual personae who inhabit them.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 73)

We discussed the differences between this particular understanding of the existential components of conceptual personae and the ‘intentional fallacy’.

After discussing the five identified features of conceptual personae we proceeded to briefly examine the notion of ‘taste’ introduced by Deleuze & Guattari:

‘The creation of concepts calls for a taste that modulates it. The free creation of determined concepts needs a taste for the undetermined concepts. Taste is this power, this being-potential of the concept: it is certainly not for ‘rational or reasonable’ reasons that a particular concept is created or a particular component chosen.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 78)

The implicit allusions to Kant’s Third Critique were noted – e.g. the free accord of the cognitive faculties of imagination and understanding, and the singular nature of the aesthetic judgement for Kant. For Kant an indeterminate judgement of taste is not based on a concept, but a ‘feeling’.

We discussed the problem of doxa and urdoxa. The horror of philosophy as doxography, and the difference between philosophy and science, (particularly the relation between concepts, solutions and problems), indicated in the following passage at the conclusion of the third chapter:

‘The concept is indeed a solution, but the problem to which it corresponds lies in its intensional conditions of consistency and not, as in science, in the conditions of reference of extensional propositions. If the concept is a solution, the conditions of the philosophical problem are found on the plane of immanence presupposed by the concept, and the unknowns of the problem are found in the conceptual personae that it calls up. A concept like knowledge has meaning only in relation to an image of thought to which it refers and to a conceptual personae that it needs; a different image and a different persona that it needs; a different image and a different persona call for other concepts. A solution has no meaning independently of a problem to be determined in its conditions and unknowns; but these conditions and unknowns have no meaning independently of solutions determinable as concepts.’ (What is Philosophy?, pp. 80–1)

We concluded by identifying the ongoing post-structuralist problem of philosophy, an ethical problem identified at the end of the chapter:

‘Philosophy thus lives in a permanent crisis. The plane takes effect through shocks, concepts proceed in bursts, and personae by spasms. The relationship among the three instances is problematic by nature.’ (What is Philosphy?, p. 82)

Philosophy is always caught up in a becoming-doxographic, and concepts in a becoming-skeletal. Here nothing positive is done within philosophy. Philosophers and their history and their concepts are brandished like weapons to prevent ongoing philosophical invention and thought.


February 01, 2006

The Diagrammatic – A Witches' Flight

In chapter 3 of What is Philosophy? Deleuze & Guattari talk of the three necessary elements of philosophy, a kind of trinity consisting of:

‘…the prephilosophical plane it must lay out (immanence), the persona or personae it must invent and bring to life (insistence), and the philosophical concepts it must create (consistency). Laying out, inventing, and creating constitute the philosophical trinity – diagrammatic, personalistic,and intensive features.’ (What is Philosophy?, pp. 76–7)

The initial ‘diagrammatic’ function within philosophy (the elaboration of a prephilosophical plane of immanence) necessary for the subsequent creation of concepts has clear resonance with Deleuze’s understanding of Francis Bacon’s creative practice in The Logic of Sensation, and offers a clear example of the type of creative pedagogy provided by art to our understanding of the practice of philosophy. Both involve taking what Deleuze & Guatarri term ‘a witches’ flight’. Deleuze asks in what does the initial pre-figurative act of painting consist for Bacon? For Bacon the initial act of painting is defined by the making of random marks; cleaning, sweeping, brushing or wiping the canvas which serve to clear out locales or zones on the canvas; and the throwing of paint from various angles and at various speeds. Such acts presuppose the existence of figurative givens on the canvas (clichés), and it is precisely such givens that are to be removed, by being cleaned, brushed, swept or wiped, or else covered over, by the act of painting. In the interviews with David Sylvester this is what Bacon called a ‘graph’ or a ‘diagram’. The ‘diagram’ is to be understood as the pre-figural preparation of the canvas (the initial acts of painting) – the series of shades, colours, scratches and layers of material set down prior to the actual delineation of the Figure. In Bacon this process consists of a series of haphazard lines, coloured spots and pitched paint. Such a physical rather than a visual act of painting lays out a ground that is in contradiction with the pre-planned figure. This is an automatic or random ground that threatens to engulf the act of figuration it prepares for. Deleuze claims that the ‘diagram’ is a kind of physical catastrophe that underlies the subsequent production of figuration in painting:

‘It is as if, in the midst of the figurative and probabilistic givens, a catastrophe overcame the canvas.’ (Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation, p. 80)

According to Deleuze the ‘diagram’ in painting allows the emergence of another possible world. The marks associated with the ‘diagram’ are irrational, involuntary, accidental, free, random. They are non-representative, non-illustrative, non-narrative. They are no longer either significant or signifiers, they are, Deleuze claims, ‘a-signifying traits’. Such (almost blind) manual marks attest to the intrusion of another world into the visual world of figuration. To a degree, they remove the painting from the optical organisation that reigns over it, rendering it always already figurative. The painter’s hand intervenes in order to disrupt its own dependence and deconstruct the sovereign optical organisation. Here one can no longer see anything, as if one was in a catastrophe or chaos. The ‘diagram’ serves to disrupt a certain pre-existing ‘sense’ and allow for the emergence of an entirely new ‘sense’. The operation or function of the ‘diagram’ is, according to Bacon, to be ‘suggestive’ of a new ‘sense’. Because such marks are destined to provide the Figure it is essential that they break with the conventional codes of figuration as such. Thus, such marks are not sufficient in themselves to break with figuration, but must provide a function of utility. They mark out certain ‘possibilities of fact’, but do not of themselves yet constitute a ‘fact’ (the pictorial ‘fact’). In order to be configured into a ‘fact’, i.e. in order to evolve into a Figure, they must be re-injected into the visual whole, but it is precisely through the action of these marks that the visual whole ceases to be a purely optical organisation:

‘It will give the eye another power, as well as an object that will no longer be figurative.’ (Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation, p. 81)

The ‘diagram’ evinced within Bacon’s work is indeed a type of chaos, a catastrophe, but it is also a germ of order of rhythm. It is thus a violent chaos in relation to the figurative givens, but it is also germ of rhythm in relation to the new order of the painting, a new and emergent sense. As Bacon says, it ‘unlocks areas of sensation’. Deleuze argues that the entire significance of Bacon’s ‘diagrammatic path’ is the recognition that the ‘diagram’ must not eat away at the entire painting, it must remain limited in space and time, it must remain operative, functional and controlled. The violent methods associated with the ‘diagrammatic’ must not be given free reign, and the necessary catastrophe must not submerge the whole. The ‘diagram’ is a possibility of ‘fact’ – it is not the ‘Fact’ itself. Thus not all the figurative givens have to disappear; a new figuration, that of the Figure, should emerge from the ‘diagram’ and render the bloc of sensation clear and precise. The ‘diagrammatic’ thus begins the act of painting, it lays out the prepictorial plane of immanence, and it is precisely this creative practice bound up with diagrammatic elaboration which is to be understood to form one of the three fundamental elements of philosophy, albeit a non-philosophical one:

‘Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable , rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes , esosteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess…To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 41)


January 30, 2006

Podcast

The podcast of Aislinn O'Donnell's seminar last Thursday entitled 'Shame and the Possibilities of Life' is now available at:

link


January 28, 2006

Research Group Meeting: Aislinn O’ Donnell (UCD) – ‘Shame and the Possibilities of Life’

‘Human rights say nothing about the immanent modes of existence of people provided with rights. Nor is it only in extreme situations described by Primo Levi that we experience the shame of being human. We also experience it in insignificant conditions, before the propagation of these modes of existence and thought-for-the-market, and before the values, ideals and opinions of our time. The ignominy of the possibilities of life that we are offered appears from within. We do not feel ourselves outside our time but continue to undergo shameful compromises with it. The feeling of shame is one of philosophy's most powerful motifs. We are not responsible for the victims but responsible before them.’ (D&G, What is Philosophy?, p. 108)

Aislinn O’ Donnell’s fascinating paper considered the question of “shame” in Deleuze & Guattari’s work, evident from the above quotation taken from the ‘Geophilosophy’ chapter of What is Philosophy?, specifically the ‘shame of being human’. Throughout the paper she was concerned with considering whether their particular conception of shame (as a visceral affect) can assist us in understanding their conception of otherness. Aislinn argued that such a specific consideration of ‘shame’ was undertaken within a much broader concern with Deleuze & Guattari’s resistance to capitalism and the question of why we should respond to the suffering human other.
Thus, the purpose of her paper was to try and think the shame of being human and to reflect on its relation (or non-relation) to Deleuze & Guattari’s concept of the ‘other person’, to their rejection of cliché and their resistance to capitalism.

The paper began by providing a brief overview of some of the ways the notion of ‘shame’ has been thought within the history of philosophy, including Spinoza, Kant, Scheler, Arendt, Nussbaum & Tomkins. This was followed by an outline of Deleuze’s concept of the other person in The Logic of Sense and in Deleuze & Guattari’s What is Philosophy?. Aislinn managed to suggest some fascinating relations between the ideas contained within these texts and those found within Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy. Her account of Levinas’ Ethics of alterity drew upon certain illuminating formulations of Levinas within the work of the Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussel. She then moved to addressing the specific question of the treatment of ‘shame’ in Deleuze & Guattari’s What is Philosophy?, and asking what a ‘shame of being human’ involves and why becoming-revolutionary is an appropriate response to such ‘shame’. She suggested that whilst the first chapters of What is Philosophy? contain a notion of the ‘other person’ as a type of example to elucidate their understanding of the ‘concept’, there is a wider instructive purpose. These chapters, she argued, have strong Bergsonian and Spinozist overtones, specifically in relation to their understanding of planes of immanence in terms of thought-being and in their initial descriptions of the plane of immanence which strongly resembles Bergson’s analytic description of experience as pure perception in Matter and Memory. For Bergson, pure perception is a field of survey of absolute pure consciousness prior to any subject-object. Rather than taking up Bergson’s pragmatic account of the way in which the indetermination of the brain creates a zone of possible action that filters perception, Deleuze & Guattari use the idea of the ‘Other person’ (an a priori ‘Other’) that restructures the perceptual field in order to give an account of the co-genesis of subject and object, self and other. This ‘Other’ is not an individuated or concrete other, but is solely understood as an expression of a ‘possible world’. The other person interrupts us and restructures our field of perception.

Deleuze & Guattari’s problem is not the solipsistic one of the problem of other selves; selves are emergent, relational and interbound. Their problem concerns modes of existence, and Aislinn argued that this was the reason why ‘shame’ is so interesting as it offers a visceral ought, (a visceral affect) bound up with our beliefs, desires, and values, but also indicating an immanent vocation of humans – to strive to create possibilities for life and thought, in particular amongst those complex being with whom we identify. With Deleuze & Guattari’s work there is an awareness of how the singularity of the Other person is annihilated in different ways – through clichés, through capitalism, through the death camps, through consumerist society – that precipitates ‘shame’. The final part of her paper considered the question of shame in relation to resisting these features of contemporary life and thought.

‘Shame of being human’, Aislinn suggested, is not premised upon an identification with the other but a commitment to the singularisation of life. The ‘shame of being human’ operates within Deleuze & Guattari's work as a critical principle – it operates as an immanent evaluation and appraisal of a mode of existence, of complicity in suffering and of the diminishment of life’s immanent possibility for creation without appeal to a fixed ideal for humanity. Drawing at times from Arendt, Aislinn considered the question of ‘shame’ as a critical affect in Deleuze & Guattrai, and the troubling question of why we increasingly don’t feel shame:

‘Utopia does not split off from infinite movement: etymologically it stands for absolute deterritorialisation but always at the critical point at which it is connected with the present milieu, and especially with the forces stifled by this milieu.’ (D&G, What is Philosophy?, p. 108)

Aislinn argues that perception is, as Bergson showed, far from innocent – we choose not to see, we choose to be blind. It is in this respect that shame can be the catalyst to precipitate change as it makes us sensible to dimensions of a situation and ourselves that previously were ignored or accepted, as it can disrupt the narcissistic, habitual and self-absorbed tendencies of selves. Shame is a critical and disruptive affect. Shame is not simply a subjective disposition or experience but registers the intolerable nature of a mode of existence and as such can become both critical and creative. Shame has the capacity to be positive and productive – it creates sensitivity to the richness of the present, to the forgotten histories, excluded others, silenced voices, unrealised worlds as well as to the real potentials of a situation. It ruptures the complacency of our own experience and draws to light the limits of our sensibility. Disparateness and rupture operate on both ontological and experiential registers as rendering a given situation or mode of existence meta-stable and generating real potentials that require the invention of other modes of existence that effect a qualitative transformation of existence. The pre-individual dimensions of the human reveal our singularity, but the possibility for cultivating processes of singularisation of life are foreclosed by cliché, banality, and intolerable modes of existence.

The visceral experience of shame is not one of sublime failure and a sense of our supersensible vocation, but a sense of the diminishment of life, a failure of our sensibility, a failure to respond and to cultivate different kinds of relations, to question ourselves and our complicity in the compromises of our time. Shame as ‘critical affect’. Singularisation is not atomisation but the capacity to weave and create different possibilities and expressions of life. This is, Aislinn concluded, the restoration of immanence.

There followed a lively and engaged discussion which pursued many of the provocations for thought initiated within this excellent paper.

A full audio podcast of Aislinn’s paper together with the subsequent group discussion will be posted on the Project website within the next few days.


Isabelle Stengers' Essay on What is Philosophy?

Paul Bains writes:

'Isabelle Stengers has kindly allowed me to upload a recent essay on Deleuze which I am sure you will find highly relevant to these discussions. It is written in English and is uncorrected.
Best wishes, Paul Bains'

This essay can be found in the members area of the 'What is Philosophy?' website and can be downloaded from there as an MSWord Document

link

Many thanks to Isabelle Stengers and Paul Bains for this.


January 21, 2006

What is Philosophy? Reading Group: First Meeting: Notes

What is Philosophy?; Introduction, Chapters 1 & 2

Taking its lead from the opening remarks in the Introduction to Deleuze & Guattari’s book, the Group began by addressing the question of ‘What is Philosophy?' itself. The significance of separating the act of questioning from ‘doing’ philosophy or from a certain received way of ‘doing’ philosophy was debated. The necessity of taking a non-philosophical perspective on the question of ‘what is philosophy?’ According to Deleuze & Guattari the question itself is rarely asked since it is always in danger of being subsumed by the desire to ‘do’ philosophy. The difference between ‘why’ one chooses to do philosophy is to be differentiated from the question of ‘what is philosophy’ and ‘how’ one is to go about ‘doing’ philosophy.

The sense of philosophy as being differentiated from scientific thinking was discussed at length. Is science a unified field of activity united by the adherence to the principle of falsification? Does philosophy not adhere to this unified principle in the same fashion? The separation of scientific thinking and philosophical thinking as occurring with Francis Bacon.

The separation of the question ‘what is philosophy’ from the tradition of ‘doing’ philosophy. The problem of overcoming the tradition (as one overcomes an Oedipus complex) in order to reach a point of sobriety where the question can be asked. ‘Doing’ philosophy would always seem to presuppose an adherence to a certain way of ‘doing’ philosophy inherited from tradition. The necessity to liberate oneself from such a tradition. The degree to which the question ‘What is Philosophy?’ can be understood as an ‘ethical’ question.

Deleuze & Guattari’s relation to Spinoza, Kant and Hegel was discussed. Why, if Kant is considered to be an enemy of philosophy, is Hegel considered to be a ‘traitor’? What has Hegel betrayed? One answer might be the degree to which Hegel is committed to bringing philosophy into a rigorous and thorough relation to the non-philosophical fields of art and science. Given that Deleuze & Guattari argue for the absolute necessity for philosophy to preserve these fields in their non-philosophical specificity, Hegel is perceived to have performed a reduction of them to philosophy. His philosophical analysis of the work of art, for example, culminates in the philosophical subordination of the sensory specificity of the work of art. The sensory specificity of the work of art is understood as the inadequate expression of the Concept rather than as an independent, autonomous and differentiated way of thought:

‘Hegel powerfully defined the concept by the Figures of its creation and the Moments of its self-positing. The figures become parts of the concept because they constitute the aspect through which the concept is created by and in consciousness, through successive minds, whereas the Moments form the other aspect according to which the concept posits itself and unites minds in the absolute of the Self. In this way Hegel showed that the concept has nothing whatever to do with a general or abstract idea, any more than with an uncreated Wisdom that does not depend on philosophy itself. But he succeeded in doing this at the cost of an indeterminate extension of philosophy that, because it reconstituted universals with its own moments and treated the personae of its own creation as no more than ghostly puppets, left scarcely any independent movement of the arts and sciences remaining.’ (pp. 11–12)

The question of the Infinite speed of the Concept.

‘The concept is defined by the inseparability of a finite number of heterogeneous components traversed by a point of absolute survey at infinite speeds…It is infinite through its survey or its speed but finite through its movement that traces the contour of its components.’ (p. 21)

Comparisons between this understanding of the infinity of thought in Deleuze & Guattari and in Spinoza’s Ethics were discussed.

Thought ‘demands’ the infinite. The infinite signifies a realm that cannot ever be territorialized but functions as the deterritorialising principle par excellence.

What constitutes the ‘plane of immanence’?

The territorialising of the ‘plane of immanence’ by concepts. The degree to which concepts enter into a ‘becoming’ when they enter onto a ‘new plane’. The creation of new relations between ‘concepts’. The relation between ‘Smooth Space’ and 'Stratified Space’ in A Thousand Plateaus.

The question of the ‘autopoesis’ of the concept was discussed. The Concept of the Concept – the plane of immanence. Is ‘autopoesis’ consonant with the notion of the ‘Rhizome’. Are ‘autopoetic’ systems closed or open. It was suggested that autopoetic systems, whilst closed in the sense of being autonomously self-organising and self-developing, remain radically open and able to enter into relations with ‘Others’.

The question of what is meant by the notion of ‘concept creation’? Is it more akin to a type of creative excavation of historical concepts, reformulating them and placing them (in the theatre of philosophy) in new relations, new connections, new juxtapositions.

The question of the Concept of the Other as discussed in What is Philosophy?

‘On what condition is a concept first, not absolutely but in relation to another? For example, is another person (autrui) necessarily second in relation to a self?’ (p. 16)

It was discussed that the account of the Other person here, as another ‘possible world’, introduces a certain understanding of a difference in kind between concepts rather than mere differences of degree.

‘The other person appears here as neither subject nor object but as something that is very different: a possible world…This possible world is not real, or not yet, but it exists nonetheless: it is an expressed that exists only in its expression – the face, or the equivalent of the face.’ (p. 17)

The history of the concept of the Other was discussed, from Leibniz to Levinas.

The Machinic portrait of Kant was discussed. What is its significance? The role of ‘diagrams’ in Deleuze & Guattari’s work?

The discussion concluded by looking at some remarks on pages 58–59 regarding the ‘infinite becoming of philosophy’.

‘It is an infinite becoming of philosophy that crosscuts its history without being confused with it. The life of philosophers. And what is most external to their work, conforms to the ordinary laws of succession; but their proper names coexist and shine either as luminous points that take us through the components of a concept once more or as the cardinal points of a stratum or layer that continually come back to us, like dead stars whose light is brighter than ever. Philosophy is becoming, not history; it is coexistence of planes, not the succession of systems.’ (p.59)

Discussion of the transhistorical nature of creative becoming in philosophy, science and art. A topic that is discussed later in the ‘Geo-philosophy’ chapter of What is Philosophy? Can there be development in philosophy in the same sense that there can be in science? The genealogy of philosophy, art and science.


January 18, 2006

Levinas, Deleuze & Guattari and the Materiality of Art

Eric Alliez in his book on What is Philosophy, The Signature of the World, draws a fascinating parallel between Levinas and Deleuze & Guattari on the work of art. In Levinas’s early philosophical work, most notably Existence and Existents, there is a quite striking discussion of the materiality of art with a stress placed upon the being of sensation involved there. Levinas talks here of the artworks’ impersonal instantiation of a sensation beyond worldly perception – a sensation detached from worldly (meaningful) perception. Through art sensation attains a radically impersonal order – beyond the human as it were.

‘The movement of art consists in leaving the level of perception so as to reinstate sensation, in detaching the quality from this object reference…In art, sensation figures as a new element. Or better, it returns to the impersonality of elements…In art the sensible qualities which constitute an object do not lead to an object and are in themselves as the very event of sensation qua sensation, the aesthetic event. We can also call it the musicality of sensation, for in music this way a quality can divest itself of all objectivity – and consequently of all subjectivity – seems completely natural.’ (Levinas, Existence and Existents)

Levinas explains that the essential ‘exoticism’ of the work of art coupled with the elaboration of an impersonal order of sensation enables us to understand the specificity of the modern arts, which are attempting to preserve the fundamental exoticism and impersonality in artistic reality. Levinas writes – ‘There is the common intention to present reality as it is in itself, after the world has come to an end’. This aesthetic evocation of the end of the world, a world without existents is extremely significant for Levinas. Abstract artistic representation extracts things from the unity of an interested subjectivity and makes us see objects (insofar as they can still be named ‘objects’ at all) in their independence from our projects and intentions. It forces us to confront the apparently useless, obstructive and a-typical, the impersonal, not as a negative excess to be excluded, but as a significant part of experience. Levinas tells us that this is achieved by – ‘… furnish(ing) an image of an object in place of the object itself—what Bergson called a view of the object, an abstraction, and which he considers to be something less than the object, instead of seeing in it the more of what is aesthetic. Even photography functions in this way. This way of interposing an image of the things between us and the thing has the effect of extracting the thing from the perspective of the world.’ (Levinas, Existence and Existents)

For Levinas the value of art lies in the fact that it allows us to step back and see things outside of their worldly context. The worldlessness of such works of art is deeply disturbing and transports us back to an impersonal and undifferentiated field of pure materiality – without meaning or sense. Thus the work of art forces us to recollect the forgotten, untypified, deeply disturbing and fearful materiality of existence – the bare feeling of the ‘there is’ (il y a):

‘The breakup of continuity even on the surface of things, the preference for broken lines, the scorning of perspective and of the ‘real’ proportions between things, indicate a revolt against the continuity of curves. From a space without horizons, things break away and are cast toward us like chunks that have weight in themselves, blocks, cubes , planes, triangles, without transitions between them. They are naked elements, simple and absolute, swellings or abscesses of being. In this falling of things down on us objects attest their power ads material objects, even reach a paroxysm of materiality. Despite the rationality and luminosity of these forms when taken in themselves, a painting makes them exist in themselves, brings about an absolute existence in the very fact there is something which is not in its turn an object or a name, which is unnamable and can only appear in poetry…Here materiality is thickness, coarseness, massivity, wretchedness. It is what has consistency, weight, is absurd, is a brute but impassive presence; it is also what is humble, bare and ugly. A material object, in being destined for a use, in forming part of a setting, is thereby clothed with a form which conceals its nakedness. The discovery of the materiality of being is not a discovery of a new quality, but of its formless proliferation. Behind the luminosity of forms, by which being already relate to our ‘inside’, matter is the very fact of the there is (il y a)…’ (Levinas, Existence and Existents)


January 09, 2006

philosophy, science, art

Philosophy is the wording of Becoming of the 'world'. As Becoming always creates new forms, philosophy has to fabricate new concepts in order to speak about these forms. This is the history of philosophy. Deleuze's philosophy follows the evolutions of late capitalism where Subject (Body without Organs) and Object (Organ without Body) collapse as permanences in time into spatial partialities, where the emergent Self of autopoiesis has lost its organization and breaks down into a multiplicity of micro-entities seeking for a new unity.

Science, in order to transmit its knowledge into technology, has to freeze Becoming and to develop an ideology of pure Being (static permanences, 'Ideals', 'Identities'. This ideology is always provisional (that's why it is an ideology) and science must change its paradigma, its translation of Chaos into a Kosmic Order, every generation. As science is institutionalized (much more than philosophy is) science changes by long intervals, whereas philosophy follows Becoming every second.

Art presents the concepts of philosophy and the technological precepts of science as materialized 'things' framed into some kind of 'canvas' that can be visited by spectators. As put by Heidegger, art plays with the boundaries of 'langauage', inventing new languages, codes, sentences and words, even phonetic units. As art is the work of a craftsman, it is aestheticized and becomes a 'thing of beuaty': as such it generates affects and percepts.


January 02, 2006

What is Art?

The essential affinity between art and philosophy resides precisely in the notion of “creativity,” that is, the creation of concepts in philosophy and the creation of what they term “percepts” and “affects” in works of art. Deleuze and Guattari’s engagement with the arts in What is Philosophy? rests upon the view that “creativity” is primarily a prerogative of the arts, in that within the arts there is a ceaseless process of countereffectuation with regard to the creative reproduction of the phenomenal real, towards a ceaseless experimental thinking, undertaken through material, of the forces of the “virtual” (the conceptless plane of immanence). So their work seeks to emphasise not the conditions under which a specific work of art is created but rather how the work of art can reveal something to philosophy about the conditions of creative activity, of creative practice itself. A constant focus of their attention with regard to the different misosophical fields of art are questions of expression, creativity, sensibility and intuition. They thus privilege in their analyses the specifically “autopoetic” forces and rhythms present in the work of art, that is, what they consider to be the intrinsic self-ordering and creative self-positing associated with the different materials utilised by artists in the fields of art—paint, stone, sound, cinematic movement-image, cinematic time-image and language. Deleuze and Guattari argue that the artist must literally “create” certain plastic methods and techniques for handling the different materials involved in the multiple practices of art in order to engage in an act of “co-creation” with the vital and “autopoetic” forces of immanence. This act of co-creation is common to all the arts, according to Deleuze and Guattari, and is to be broadly understood as involving firstly the “capture” of the virtual and invisible forces associated with the plane of immanence and then the rendering of these invisible forces as something actual and sensible, something visible, audible or legible.

Works of art must capture intensive forces (that is, from the virtual field of multiplicity) as a “bloc of sensations” which are transfigured and transcribed into the different materials associated with each of the specific fields. Specific fields of art, through their own specific material, have to create what they call a consistent “being of sensation.” Each work of art has to become individuated as (using a term borrowed from Duns Scotus) a heacceity—or a material “bloc of sensations” as an impersonal “thisness”. The work of art is thus radically non-human or pre-human yet totally inseparable from human experience. Successful works of art must be capable of standing alone, that is, they must be independent of any specific perception, affection and sentiments linked to the human. Yet they must also be capable of presenting us with an affective “fundamental encounter,” with the transcendentally empirical or the imperceptibly sensible. Thus the work of art produces, through “percepts” and “affects” (the “beings of sensation” that are extracted from the perceptions and affections of everyday corporeal experience) a “bloc of sensations” that we perceive and that affects us beyond the concepts associated with the human. It is these “inhuman” capacities that Deleuze claims the artwork instantiates. In this way the work of art is capable of addressing our nervous system directly; it thereby creates a “being of sensation” that exists in and of itself, outside the habitually human, and as such reveals to us a revitalised state of becoming-nonhuman. This notion of a “bloc” or “compound” or “assemblage” of sensation suggests a sense of independence, a “standing apart from,” a “standing alone,” of sensation. To put it another way, for Deleuze and Guattari the artist must express pure perceptions and sensations (percepts and affects) that are independent of the pre-existing conceptual identity of any given thing. These pure perceptions and sensations (percepts and affects) have the effect of destabilising us, of drawing us out of ourselves, of taking us beyond ourselves by expressing (or bringing to expression) a world, or more precisely, a plane, of potential movements and changes that associate our actual existence with something different or external to it (that is, the virtual field). Percepts are not “ordinary” perceptions: (according to Deleuze and Guattari they are “independent of a state of those who undergo them”)—thus the percept “is the landscape before man, in the absence of man”. Equally, affects do not arise from pre-existing subjects but instead pass through them, revitalising and reconstructing them. The affect is the “becoming-other,” not as a passage from one pre-existing lived state to another but man’s vital nonhuman becoming. Affects are not “ordinary” affections. “Affects are the non-human becomings of man…we are not in the world, we become with the world; we become by contemplating it. We become universes. Becoming-animal, plant, molecular, becoming zero.”

“Percepts” and “affects” become the compositional elements with which an artist creates, elements that the artist shapes and forms on a purely aesthetic plane of composition and renders as perceptible through materials that have now themselves been configured or rendered expressive. So, in the “veritable theatre of metamorphosis and permutations” of modern art, it becomes much more a matter of concentrating upon the way in which the specific material being used, such as paint, can become inherently expressive of sensation rather than merely a vehicle for a pre-existing idea of a specific sensation; thus, it is here that the genuinely “self-ordering” potentials of matter (that is, paint) are able to be “thought” aesthetically. Deleuze and Guattari argue that there are, intrinsic to the different and varied materials of art, certain vital “autopoetic” forces and rhythms; and the matter of the artwork itself is never simply a homogeneous substance that passively receives preconceived forms but is an emergent autopoetic line of divergent becoming. It is precisely these implicit or virtual intensive traits that make the self-formation of all matter possible (its ontogenetic process of becoming as the movement from the virtual to the actual), and which, according to Deleuze and Guattari, provide the means by which forms of matter can be so continually self-modulating and self-differentiating. In painting it is thus the materiality of the paint itself (that is, its multiple virtual material traits) which comes to articulate and express such “forces”—the matter of paint itself becomes the crucial expressive component in the artwork.

(Darren Ambrose)


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