All 5 entries tagged Active Memory

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March 01, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…index :- diagram, graph, portal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

June 23, 2005

Deleuze, active memory, living germinally

Follow-up to Spirit and the virtuality of concepts and their personae from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

I'm now into the second chapter of Germinal Life, which turns its attention to Gilles Deleuze's early work Difference and Repetition. After a few difficult pages in which it is placed in relation to the a broad range of other thinkers (including interestingly Merleau-Ponty and Satre), this superb passage...

The aim of this new art of living is not to identify with the line, though madness and suicide always exist as a risk, since this would destroy all thinking and life. Rather, the task is to both 'cross the line' and make it endurable and workable; in short, this is the line of life cracked by death and concieved as germinal. The 'outside' is the line of life that links up random and arbitrary events in a creative mixture of chance and necessity. Ansell Pearson, 1999, p.85

…note the allusion to Jacques Monod's book…

A new thought of the outside, and a new way of living on the outside, involves drawing new figures of thought and mapping new diagrams, in short, an intensive and vital topology that folds the outside into the inside. The passion of the outside is the passion of germinal life, releasing the forces of life from entropic containment and opening them up for a time to come. ibid p.85

Or as I previously wrote, the virtual of active memory works on the singularity so that a "trait can be extracted, picked up and carried onwards….traits that give a sense of the possible, a future, a continuity, a return".

If you have something interesting to contribute to this, please contact me

June 21, 2005

The ethical character of Bergson's method of intuition

De Landa's A Thousand Years of Non-linear History left me with a sense that Deleuze and Guattari have the most effective and exciting practical approach to creating active and dynamical models of the world. But that book is one of examples underpinned with a few key concepts. It aims to show how far those concepts can be taken. I suspect that it intentionally leaves unsatisfied philosophical challeneges. A niche that Keith Ansell Pearson's Germinal Life: The Difference and Repetition of Deleuze fills more than adequately. Here's my thoughts on reading the first chapter.

The 'ethical' character of this method of philosophy resides, therefore, in the cultivation of a 'sympathetic communication' that it seeks to establish between the human and the rest of living matter. Ansell Pearson, Germinal Life, 1999, p.33

Keith's emphasis on the 'ethical' dimension of Bergson's method of intuition is very significant (and he notes, few others have made this link). The significance for me follows from the idea that the ethical dimension requires a consideration of something beyond any singular act or entity (as the sufficient reason of the act), but which does not assume any kind of totality or finality. I'm not usually interested in talk of Being (with a capital 'B'), although it is often more effective than counting sheep. But there is something in this angle on it that has made me take it much more seriously. And that something is in the negative ethical implications of thinking becoming without Being.

The argument seems to demonstrate how a concept of Being is an essential precursor to an encounter with duration, the key concept invented by Bergson. These encounters with duration connect us with the temporal problematics that (it is claimed) drives all activity and differentiation: real time or the asymmetrical synthesis of the sensible – that is, the sufficient reason behind the richness of the world.

Importantly, the encounter with duration is not singular and purely metaphysical, to be done in one philosophical-historic-eschatological event (it's not Hegel). Rather it is a pedagogical method that must be re-applied, with the aim of leading us away from conceptual confusions ('badly analyzed composites'), along lines that differentiate but at the same time follow virtual tendencies, to an understanding and acceptance of specific differences in kind – for example, to apprehend historical singularities (as De Landa does so brilliantly).

Even more importantly, we should recognize the active nature of this method. It takes us away from a passive relation between a subject and an object. It is an act of perception, intelligence and consciousness, but one that is always an active operation on and in the world. Keith provides a great sample on this from Bergson:

to percieve consists in condensing enourmous periods of an infinitely diluted existence into a few more differentiated moments of an intenser life, and in this summing up a very long history. To percieve means to immobilize Matter and Memory p.208 cited in _Ansell Pearson, Germinal Life, 1999, p.34

The method of intuition is therefore both a means of leading us to a comprehension of differences in kind and at the same time through its immanence to the world in which it perceives, actively creates new differences in kind. It is a method that places thought absolutely in the world. We should always remember that the return of thought and philosophy [in]to the world is really what Deleuzianisms (or neo-Bergsonisms) are about

But this then raises the big question: why philosophy? – why this tendency towards conceptual activity and the apprehension of differences in kind? – wht this method of intuition? The answer to this varies slightly but importantly between Bergson and Deleuze (but the principle is the same). Philosophy is the perception of nature, or nature’s own perception (later Deleuze will see perception as a property existing beyond the human). Differentiation is never a simple or ontologically foundational act, but rather is already complex. How the world differs from itself is not reducible to a mechanism or dialectic. In each case the actual mode of its differentiation is that which is indeterminate in its differentiation (the radical difference). If it were otherwise, nature would never differ from itself. There could be no asymmetry, no drive to overcome and reconnect, no real time, no elan vital, no life. The indeterminacy introduced by this radical difference is essential:

The crucial element that Bergson wishes to grant to life is not a mysterious force but rather a principle of 'indetermination'. It is this indetermination, and with it the capacity for novel adaption, that he sees as being 'engrafted' onto the necessity of physical forces, so as making possible a 'creative', as opposed to a purely mechanistic or deterministic, evolution. ibid p.48

But at this point we risk losing any connecting principle between the differentiations. Does radical difference leave us with an absolute becoming? In what sense is there anything to differentiate from? The world has lost itself, cannot perceive itself, is inert and lifeless. In Bergson’s terms, the elan vital is gone. Saving us from this undifferentiated becoming, we have the ‘ethical’ turn. It is an ethics that seeks to posit some principle of reconnection beyond the differentiation. Some exchange and interlocking between the differences. Some expression that carries content across between the two differentiated worlds. A principle assumed in both sides (but not itself outside of the world) that acts as a virtuality in which the differentiation is played out: a Being that they assume.

The important point to realise is that it is on the virtual plane that unification is to be sought. The 'whole' is 'pure virtuality'. Moreover, differentiation is only an actualization to the extent that it preseupposes a unity, which is the primordial virtual totality that differentiates itself according to lines of divergence but which still subsists in its unity and totality in each line. ibid p.67

For me this is where Being gets interesting: being virtual. For a virtuality always has a technics, the coding and decoding mechanisms of intelligence. As Keith indicates, a technology is the solution to indeterminacy, a virtuality that operates in parallel to real time. At this point technology, ethics, philosophy and metaphysics conjoin. And most importantly for me, creativity is shown to be underpinned with technology.

The next question is this: to what extent is this virtuality contained within and maintainable by an organism, an internally differentiating germ? And to what extent is it always reliant upon a third term, an externally constituted and relatively autonomus viral plane cutting transversally across? Both are true to an extent in different specific situations. Here Deleuze discovers an ethology of such types of differentiation: abstract machines. From an ethics to an ethology.

And I will coninue reading Germinal Life.


If you have something interesting to contribute to this, please contact me

May 16, 2005

Spirit and the virtuality of concepts and their personae

I am making some progress at last, and feeling a small sense of recovery. Deleuze does make sense from where I am.

I will start with a simple fact: my friend has gone, and that has left me feeling that something immeasurable is missing. It is an overwhelming sensation. Disorientation. There is no way in which that can be repaired. She is irreplaceable. That is why she was so valuable, as a totality. Vividly and quite obviously a unique person.

But out of that singularity, traits can be extracted, picked up and carried onwards. That is what a vivid and unique person offers. There is something about them that makes a difference, and carries on making a difference. It is very much part of them, but at the same time is powerful enough to continue, to travel, to live on. These traits are the virtuality within the ever disappearing present, persisting beyond its immediate and constant passing and differentiation. Memory, an active memory. Or what before Nietzsche we called a soul or a spirit. They are traits that give a sense of the possible, a future, a continuity, a return.

As Deleuze would say, a trait can be taken up by a concept. It is as such the tool or weapon that is carried to guarantee survival, to re-orientate after the event, to regenerate, to carry the person onwards as a conceptual personae. Irreducible to a simple procedure or rule, a concept nonetheless carries (expresses) an arrangement (content) that sees the repetition of a local equilibrious state from a far from equilibrium event. A return.

So at least I have an idea, a concept out of which a future can grow. Some possibility of survival.

March 12, 2005

Noise against visual imagination, and the refrain (or how Leibniz would like cinema)

Against noise

Faced with white noise, a void, extreme intensity or excessive speed of modulation, a refrain offers some relief. It is an expression, but one that operates in a tightly closed loop. In the case of a typical human refrain, a song, the singer sings the refrain back to themself. Its content is the human organic form, deterritorialized into the simple, familiar and predictable form of the song. It may continue at great length with little effect on either the singer or the song, until exhaustion sends them to sleep. It is in this way a closing-down, a retreat into simplicity and predictability, away from the world (into the baroque house, for which the harmony and melody of the song build the impenetrable facade): an expression yes, but only just. Almost zero.

The refrain is a desperate defence, a second-level immune response to the failure of the visual imagination. A defence against the penetrating incursion of the sonorous plane, passing through the blockade of the visual imagination. To understand this, first consider how that sonorous plane penetrates and defeats visual defences, how it passes through the image (Bacon's screaming pope).

The defensive imagination

The image, which can be re-presented instantly and switched at will, provides an effective and impenetrable barrier to the exterior, as with the portrait, the image of the ascending head, or the church steeple in Kafka. Deleuze and Guattari argue that these images act not as simple memories, reactivating the past, but rather as means for handling the encounter with uncertainty or the future, finding strength in a certain relation to at least ine object that may be assimilated (the end of the desire):

…it acts as a childhood block, and not as a childhood memory, strengthening desire instead of cramping it, displacing it in time, deterritorializing it, proliferating its connections, linking it to other intensities.

The image acts as a block in both senses: a block as an element or screen that can be placed upon a new territory and onto which connections can be territorialized or projected, carrying away desire into a concentratory dispositif; a block to the chaotic and disruptive effects of that proliferation of connections, a delay, a spacing-out. Its power as such lies in four aspects:

  1. the speed with which the image can be conjured, with all of its points present almost imediately – how all that is needed is a few suggestive points, lines and colours;
  2. how it is constantly rescanned and reconfirmed in perception;
  3. how an image can appear solid and enclosing, blocking out and constituting an exterior;
  4. how the image creates an expansive but delimited territory of co-ordinates, in which expression or a procedure of desire (deterritorialization and reterritorialization) may play (the baroque house).
The scream cuts across and penetrates the image

In Kafka, Deleuze and Guattari say of the image (portrait or figuration):

But that's not important. What's important is the light music, or, more precisely, the pure and intense sound emanating from the steeple and the castle tower: "a bell began to ring merilly up there, a bell that for at least a second made his heart palpitate for its tone was menacing, too, as if it threatened him with the fulfillment of his vague desire. This great bell soon died away, however, and its place was taken by a feeble, monotonous little twinkle." Kafka D&G p.4

Whereas the image acts to concentrate, focus and strengthen the desire within a delimited space, sound is said to interfere with order, connecting with 'vague' or minor expressions that are not oriented towards the reconstitution of the territory of the image. Unlike vision, sound leaks through spatial structures, resonates throughout the body, and concentrates into the ears. Its passage through the meat and chambers of the bodily organs overrides their functions: the stomach now is equivalent to a double bass in terms of resonation – suddenly the voice, the location of human sound, is displaced by a more animal sonic body (think whales):

It's curios how the intrusion of sound often occurs in Kafka…Music always seems caught up in an indivisible becoming-child or becoming-animal, a sonorous block that opposes the visual memory. Kafka D&G p.4–5

The cinema is the place for experiencing this effect. (It is the baroque house of The Fold.) The cinema is constructed as a radical interplay of the sonorous and visual planes. Visual imagination is territorialized upon the screen or perceptual block, both cutting out the exterior, offering a concentration of light and colour, whilst spatializing and slowing down (into the narrative of the film, which is spatial not temporal). But at the same time, sound penetrates the body in deep surround-sound rumbles and piercing dolby screams.


Of course any sensible movie director knows not to leave the audience immersed for too long at the point of this schizophrenic collision of visual and audio fields. As the scream fades away into the night, a more familiar pattern of notes rises from low down in the auditorium, as if from the galloping hooves that carry us safely from the scene of brutality. Sing the refrain back to the world, which doesn't expect it, doesn't ask for it. But the refrain sure makes us feel more easy sleeping at night. Sing yourself to sleep.