Archive for the ‘Causality’ Category

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FROM THE BORDER OF BODIES, TO THE HORIZON OF MEANING

There is always betrayal in a line of flight. Not trickery like that of an orderly man ordering his future, but betrayal like that of a simple man who no longer has any past or future. We betray the fixed powers which try to hold us back, the established powers of the earth. The movement of betrayal has been defined as a double turning-away: man turns his face away from God, who also turns his face away from man. It is in this double turning-away, in the divergence of faces, that the line of flight – that is, the deterritorialization of man – is traced. Betrayal is like theft, it is always double. Oedipus at Colonnus, with his long wanderings, has been taken as the prime example of a double turning-away…It is the story of Jonah: the prophet is recognizable by the fact that he takes the opposite path to that which is ordered by God and thereby realizes God’s commandment better than if he had obeyed. A traitor, he has taken misfortune upon himself. The Old Testament is constantly criss-crossed by these lines of flight, the line of separation between the earth and the waters. ‘Let the elements stop kissing, and turn their backs on one another. Let the merman turn away from his human wife and children . .. Cross the seas, cross the seas, urges the heart. Leave love and home.’ The ‘great discoveries’, the great expeditions, do not merely involve uncertainty as to what will be discovered, the conquest of the unknown, but the invention of a line of flight, and the power of treason: to be the only traitor, and traitor to all Aguirre, Wrath of God. Christopher Columbus, as Jacques Besse describes him in an extraordinary tale, including the woman-becoming of Columbus. The creative theft of the traitor, as against the plagiarisms of the trickster. G. Deleuze and C. Parnet, Dialogues II, 40-1.

We must define a special function, which is identical neither with health nor illness: the function of the Anomalous. The Anomalous is always at the frontier, on the border of a band or a multiplicity; it is part of the latter, but is already making it pass into another multiplicity, it makes it become, it traces a line-between. This is also the ‘outsider…” Moby Dick, or the Thing or Entity of Lovecraft, terror. G. Deleuze and C. Parnet, Dialogues II, 4

What would it take to produce a line of flight as pure experimentation in becoming, and one continuous untimeliness? The effervescently cynical amongst us would no doubt insist that it would first off take a lot of money, lots of time, and a certain high threshold for nonsense. If there is nothing I have learned from people such as Erik Empson, Arianna Bove, Matteo Mandarini, Valeria Gaziano, Liam Campling, Camile Barbagallo, Gerry Hanlon, Simon crab, Gini Simpson, and Stefano Harney it is that materialism begins with the betrayal of cynicism.

After displacing social constructivism

Act in thought, think through action.

And above all, it is objected that by releasing desire from lack and law, the only thing we have left to refer to is a State of nature, a desire which would be natural and spontaneous reality. We say quite the opposite: desire only exists when assembled or machined. You cannot grasp or conceive of a desire outside a determinate assemblage. on a plane which is not preexistent but which must itself be constructed. All that is important is that each group or individual should construct the plane of immanence on which they lead their life and carry on their business. Without these conditions you obviously do lack something, but you lack precisely the conditions which make a desire possible. Organizations of forms, formations of subjects (the other plane), ‘incapacitate’ desire: they subjugate it to law and introduce lack into it. If you tie someone up and say to him ‘Express yourself, friend ‘, the most he will be able to say is that he doesn’t want to be tied up. The only spontaneity in desire is doubtless of that kind: to not want to be oppressed, exploited, enslaved, subjugated. But no desire has ever been created with non-wishes. Not to want to be enslaved is a non-proposition. In retrospect every assemblage expresses and creates a desire by constructing the plane which makes it possible and, by making it possible, brings it about. Desire is not restricted to the privileged; neither is it restricted to the success of a revolution once it has occurred. It is in itself an immanent revolutionary process. It is constructivist, not at all spontaneist. Since every assemblage is collective, is itself a collective, it is indeed true that every desire is the affair of the people, or an affair of the masses, a molecular affair. G. Deleuze and C. Parnet, Dialogues II, 96

For Deleuze, the machine groups independent and heterogeneous terms, developing a topological proximity, which is itself independent of distance or continguity. A topological proximity could be across time/scales, perhaps the more complex resonances always are. To define a machine assemblage follow the shifting centre of gravity along gradients, tendencies, speeds, and abstract lines. An abstract diagram runs through it, seriously.

I am writing on day two of the jury deliberations after the trial of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in the politically charged murder case of Trayvon Martin. A white man racially profiled and shot dead an unarmed African American boy. There are race riots warnings all over the country. On CNN they are asking what’s going on in the deliberations of the jury. The system has transparency says the correspondence. Correspondent: Index of evidence, here is how it could have happened. We don’t know if it was a fight, the defence said that it was a fight. Zimmerman got punched, we know that much.

Martin, who lived in Miami, was walking back to the house of his father’s fiancée at the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community carrying a soft drink and sweets he had bought at a local convenience store. Zimmerman, who worked as a mortgage underwriter, said he spotted the hoodie-wearing youth as he was on his way to buy groceries, then called police to report a “suspicious male”. Somehow, the two ended up in a fight.
Zimmerman was released without charge on the night of the shooting. After a campaign by Trayvon Martin’s parents prompted nationwide protests, Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, appointed a special prosecutor to re-examine the circumstances of the case. Zimmerman was arrested in April last year, 44 days after the shooting. The case hinged on the conflicting testimony of witnesses and the key issue of whose screams were heard on a recording of a 911 call made by one of Zimmerman’s neighbours, which also captured the fatal shot. Martin’s mother, father and brother all testified that they were certain it was the teenager who was pleading for his life. Zimmerman’s parents and a numbers of friends and neighbours took the stand to insist that it was Zimmerman. The earlier call, made to a non-emergency police line by Zimmerman, caught the defendant using profanities that were repeated by the prosecution to try to show he acted with spite, ill-will and hatred, the benchmarks for a second-degree murder conviction. “Fucking punks. These assholes, they always get away,” assistant state attorney John Guy said as he began his opening argument on the first day of the trial. “Those were the words in that grown man’s mouth as he followed in the dark a 17-year-old boy that he didn’t know.” He concluded by telling the jury: “George Zimmerman did not shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to. He shot him for the worst of all reasons, because he wanted to.”

What was the role of race in the murder? The media returns to 1991, and Rodney King, revolving the present into the past of upheavals, as if the populations were trapped in a tragedy/farce dialectic. We of course remember Mark Duggin as well (how can we not after Fahim Alam’s provocative film, Riots Reframed—and I affirm once more, as I did to Fahim the critique of power that is and affirms a revolutionary practice is one that functions in the complexities of topological proximities, not in the arbitrary sign that is identity—we need a practice that while speaking directly to the lived conditions, experiences of value, and algorithmic life of capital can, through that practice, affirm with Gabriel Tarde that to exist is to differ, and in that seize the resources for the untimeliness of revolutionary becoming. “Total madness is losing all identity. Nijinsky constantly asks himself whether he has really gone mad, he makes it the stakes of a wager. The subject who wonders whether it is mad can neither be classed as mad or rational. Such writing goes on to act as gauge in a topology of the mind that cna no longer be localized from that point on” (Kuniichi Uno, The Genesis of an Unknown Body (27).

Back to Emmet Till, and further still. But media spins it positively, rationally, peacefully. But there has always been a race war in Amerikkka, and it is classed and gendered as well, but those are not all the same wars. The movement of movements—their quite specific and yet universal revolutionary becoming—runs, through them, as throwing up new abstract diagrams of an intensive pragmatism that is both transcendental and empirical. “Everything I have written has been vitalistic, at least I hope it has,” said Deleuze. I want a practice that can do more than nod agreement.

Many writers and activists have been attending to this problem of the movement of movements and its relation to revolutionary becoming (not, we should note as a program for a successful revolution, but as a necessary decolonization of the embodied mind). We merely add some observations in the aims of creating diagrams of morphogenesis in radical politics.

[Commnet: To move thought toward the diagrammatic, through experimental diagrams of topologies changing form and expression. Deleuze/Parnet:

But the essential point, in the end, is the way in which all these regimes of signs move along a line of gradient, variable with each author, tracing out a plane of consistence or composition which characterizes a given work or group of works: not a plane in the mind, but an immanent real plane, which was not preexistent, and which blends all the lines, the intersection of all the regimes (diagrammatic component): Virginia Woolf’s Wave, Lovecraft’s Hypersphere, Proust’s Spider’s Web, Kleist’s Programme, Kafka’s K-function, the Rhizosphere … it is here that there is no longer any fixed distinction between content and expression. We no longer know if it is a flux of words or of alcohol, we are so drunk on pure water, but equally because we are talking so much with ‘materials which are more immediate, more fluid, more burning than words’. G. Deleuze and C. Parnet, Dialogues II, 122

What is the abstract diagram that runs through race lived as an affirmation of the body’s capacities in intensive ecologies of sensation (blocs of sensations, durations of mood, patterns of rhythms, a network of assemblages) and the actuality of race as white supremacy (with its own blocs of sensations, social relations, durations of mood, patterns of rhythms, war machines)?

One of the fundamental capacities of the body is to exit. The exit is important in an age after psychoanalsysis. But how to resist spatializing the exit? Follow the movements of the exit. This movement of bodies, their trajectories, tendencies, capacities, resonances, rhythms, and speeds—singularly populational, collectively assembling/enunciating. To leave the scene, which is what Martin was aiming to do. This is one of the capacities of the body that racism has always sought to control, ‘watch,’ modulate, turn into a sad passion, saturate with resentment: To begin again somewhere else, again in the middle, to continue the body’s experiment of the universal implication and the universal explication—this has been the tragedy of joy in Western ethics, politics, philosophy. Hegel accused Spinoza of a certain oriental derivation (not genetically, but genealogically, in his conceptual filiations, as Heidegger might have said), and Deleuze asked what if the West had a grain of Zen added to its mixture. At this stage, it is difficult to say where Zen as a basic philosophy of art-in-life has not affected, let us not forget its ideological resonance with wofe—the collapse of work and life—cf Tim Edkins. But as a practice, Zen is the overthrow of capitalist control of value. (I should mention that I have just begun to read the work of Uno Kuniichi, but I feel already in proximity with his conceptual filiation).

From Andrew McFeaters via Facebook: A couple of thoughts in anticipation of a verdict on Zimmerman: Police are prepared to establish First Amendment Zones so that impassioned protestors can freely express themselves behind fences. Ahhhh, what? Secondly, the media have already foregrounded that any collective actions by people will be viewed as riotous. Language matters: riots, protests, and marches are different categories. By calling something a riot, you are denying the legitimacy of the political actions and expressions of the assembled people.

The jury found Zimmerman not guilty of all charges.

If today we return to the question of race in radical democratic politics, we draw practical, historical, and theoretical topologies of virtual-actual revolutionary becomings. This is not a happy phrase. It is not meant to roll off your tongue, its not meant to be aspirated, but tasted quite literally.

I have been experimenting with Scotch Bonnett peppers. Two peppers, whole cumin, garlic, onion, tomato, brown sugar, and your favorite vinegar, ‘materials which are more immediate, more fluid, more burning than words’ (recipe thanks to Saskia Fischer). The sensation lingers on your tongue while dissolving your tastebuds. Its good, you should try it.

We have seen that the world was an infinity of converging series, capable of being extended into each other, around unique points. Thus every individual, every individual monad expresses the same world in its totality although it only clearly expresses a part of this world, a series or even a finite sequence. The result is that another world appears when the obtained series diverge in the neighborhood of singularities. (Deleuze, The Fold 60)

reticulation 9.6 copy

Abstract: This essay aims to diagram the set of connectivities (or “system of relations”) developing in business outsourcing affective, communicative labor and the value-adding digital image in contemporary Hindi-Urdu cinema. What emerges is a resonant set of nested temporalities constituting a new media assemblage. Throughout, I draw on a set of analyses that has developed the notion of affective labor as a decisive break in the organization of value under capital. In this work by feminist political economists, postcolonial critics, and Marxist phenomenologists, affect becomes the substance of interaction and communication: distinct from “emotion,” affect is defined by its relational, bodily character, and cannot be reduced to an internalized feeling. In that regard, affect is considered pre-individual, operating in that moving strata of being and becoming where the subject and populations meet. Affect is both virtual and actual at once, it is an emergent, incipient space of mutation and potential as well as the site of modulation, control, and capitalist valorization. Theoretical frameworks that have brought together Marx, Freud, Foucault, and Deleuze have conceived of affective labor using terms such as desiring production, and more significantly, numerous feminist investigations, analyzing the potentials within what has been designated traditionally as women’s work, have grasped affective labor with terms such as kin work and caring labor [or “labor in the bodily mode”]. Through an analysis of No smoking (Kashyap, 2008) and Office Tigers (Mermin, 2006), I explore the singular emergence of affective labor in the South Asian context, in pervasive processes that are informatizing (rendering as/through data) various forms of life and work. I correlate the function of affective labor in both business outsourcing and digital media through analyses of two key modalities: the evolving functionality of information in the nonlinear, open system of computer technology; and the modulation of subjectivity in the capacities of attention and sensation of value creation.

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Sensation and its ecologies get us beyond the pleasure-agency / consumption-docility binary that characterizes radical political thought today. This is simply because sensation is not the synthesis of the dialectic, it is not involved ontologically in dialectics at all. Sensation involves the creative mixing of the virtual and the actual. Deleuze writes, “sensation has no [objective and subjective] sides at all; it is both things, indissolubly; it is being-in-the-world, as the phenomenologists say: at the same time I become in sensation and something arrives through sensation, one through the other, one in the other” (Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation 27; qtd. in Elena del Rio, “Alchemies of Thought in Godard’s Cinema: Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty,” SubStance, Vol. 34, No. 3, Issue 108: French Cinema Studies 1920s to the Present (2005), pp. 62-78, 62). Sensation emerges in gradients of intensity, movement, density, synaesthesia, passing through critical thresholds of becoming, complexly mixing in self-differentiating affective processes across value, sense, and force. As bodies and technologies assemble across delivery platforms emergent properties and co-evolutionary trajectories partly actualize virtual futures, repetitively, stochastically. Sensation also gets us out of the morality of the pleasure-agency / consumption-docility binary, a morality of ressentiment and a practice of “good vs. bad” representation. What we need to affirm in media studies and critical theory today is not the pious memory of the subaltern, but the processes (cultural, institutional, economic, subjective) that have been rendered as products in analyses that seek to bring the subaltern to voice. Dispense with subaltern pieties, return to movement, consider its diagram of change, its variable dimensions, its ecology of becoming. If we attend to the function of a bodily event, if we consider such events in the act of exceeding their actualization, we come to consider the politics of the virtual and the becoming of sensation (I owe this point to a conversation sociologist Shilpa Phadke and I had on a feminist response to lingerie ads in Mumbai, India).

We need therefore to pose clearly what method would allow living the chance of a becoming away from the binary between docility and resistance. What Ned Rossiter and Brett Neilson’s article (“Precarity as a Political Concept, or, Fordism as Exception,” Theory Culture Society 2008; 25; 51) helped bring out for me was the set of problems in which one locates one’s practice. For me this set is best analyzed as they suggest in their article as the “movement of movements.” Someone very wise it was who said “Follow the Movements!” Rossiter and Neilson’s frame of reference includes such names as Agamben, Foucault, Schmidt, Spivak, Mouffe, Berlant, Hardt and Negri, and Lazzarato. This is their abstract:

In 2003, the concept of precarity emerged as the central organizing platform for a series of social struggles that would spread across the space of Europe. Four years later, almost as suddenly as the precarity movement appeared, so it would enter into crisis. To understand precarity as a political concept it is necessary to go beyond economistic approaches that see social conditions as determined by the mode of production. Such a move requires us to see Fordism as exception and precarity as the norm. The political concept and practice of translation enables us to frame the precarity of creative labour in a broader historical and geographical perspective, shedding light on its contestation and relation to the concept of the common. Our interest is in the potential for novel forms of connection, subjectivization and political organization. Such processes of translation are themselves inherently precarious, transborder undertakings.

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What is Manuel Delanda trying to do in this reconstruction of Gilles Deleuze’s ontology? He is trying to provide an account of the interdisciplinary basis of Deleuzian philosophy, a philosophy that ranges from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland to Henri Poincare’s topological geometry and beyond. Many things get lost along the way, like the problem of paradox and humor which is very important to Deleuze, but something else is gained—a kind of analytical clarity, which is contrary in some sense to Deleuze’s own rhetorical style. Regardless, what Delanda has done in this “already classic” book (back cover blurb) is to develop a notion of individuation, the virtual, and the actual that attempts a thoroughgoing displacement of Platonic and Aristotelian essentialism. Delanda tries to devalue the very idea of truth; importance and relevance are the key criteria for a Deleuzian epistemology; a problem is well-posed if it captures an objective distribution of the important and the unimportant, or more mathematically, of the singular and the ordinary (7).

Deleuze has a realist (not an actualist [33]) ontology: philosophers who grant reality full autonomy from the human mind, disregarding the difference between the observable and the unobservable, and the anthropocentrism this distinction implies (4). So one of the first implications of this is that Deleuze’s philosophy is not a story “about us”; it is about the world as assemblages, as nested spaces and times, as mutational transformations across timespace. Through a process ontology, Deleuze replaces the essences of entities with dynamical processes, some of which are material and energetic, but all of which remain immanent to the world of matter and energy (5).

            There is an objective illusion fostered by the concealment of process under product (68-9). Any area of the world which is in thermodynamic equilibrium is an area where intensive differences have cancelled themselves out, and hence an area which conceals the virtual without the need for human intervention. These areas of the world would constitute an objective illusion (74).

            In a Deleuzian ontology one must emphasize that the regularities displayed by the different possible trajectories in a given multiplicity are a consequence of the singularities that shape the vector field. Deleuze makes a sharp distinction between trajectories as they appear in the phase portrait of a system and the vector field (28-9). The vector field is the real source of the regularities or propensities in the population of possible histories (33). Unlike trajectories, a vector field is not composed of individuated states, but of instantaneous values for rates of change. Individually, these instantaneous rates have in fact no reality but collectively they do exhibit topological invariants (singularities). Ontologically, these invariants of a vector field are topological accidents, points in the field which happen to be stationary; Deleuze argues that these topological accidents should be given the ontological status of an event (a perfect storm? a scientific concept for this would be stochastic resonance). A key concept in the definition of a multiplicity is that of invariant, but invariances are always relative to some transformation. In other words, whenever we speak of the invariant properties of an entity we also need to describe an operator or group of operators capable of performing rotations, translations, projections, foldings, and a variety of other transformations on that entity. So the ontological content of the virtual must also be enriched with at least one operator. The quasi-cause is this operator and is defined not by its giving rise to multiplicities but by its capacity to affect them (84). The quasi-causal operator creates among the infinite series springing from each singularity “resonances or echoes”—the least corporeal of relations. A quasi-cause, or a relation of quasi-causality could be thought of in terms of the establishment of a communication channel between divergent trajectories that change the distribution of the singular and ordinary within a trajectory.

One of the chief targets of a Deleuzian ontology is essentialism. Essentialism can be understood as a theory of the genesis of form, a theory of morphogenesis, in which physical entities are viewed as more or less faithful realizations of ideal forms; essences act as originary, fully present models, eternally maintaining their identity, while particular entities are conceived as mere copies of these models; the essence of a thing is that which explains its identity, that is, those fundamental traits without which an object would not be what it is. “If such an essence is shared by many objects, then possession of a common essence would also explain the fact that these objects resemble each other and, indeed, that they form a distinct natural kind of things” (6-9).

            In Platonic essentialism or Aristotelian typological thinking, species were examples of “natural kinds”; animal/plant species provided the ideal model of what an abstract general entity was supposed to be. Contemporary evolutionary biologists such as Michael Ghiselin argue in contrast that species are not a higher ontological category. Essentialist and typological thought are rooted in the hierarchy of categories (each level of organism, species, genera representing a different ontological category). By contrast, contemporary science argues that the process of speciation is intensive in the sense that its description involves ideas of population and heterogeneity (in population thinking, using statistical analysis, the average is an abstraction and only the variation is real). For population thinkers genetic variation is the fuel of evolution: without adaptive differences between organisms natural selection would be incapable of yielding any improvements in the population (57-9). More, heterogeneity is the state we should expect to exist spontaneously under most circumstances; while in essentialist or typological thinking uniformity is the natural state and difference is what needs special explanation, for population thinkers it is difference that is unproblematic (71). The norm of reaction replaces the idea of degrees of perfection with relations between rates of change. The forms are thus statistical results of the population individuating itself through differential rates of change: “…the substitution of populations for types, and the substitution of rates or differential relations for degrees” (Deleuze, qtd. in Delanda 59-60). Thus, multiplicities replace essences; a species is defined by the morphogenetic process that gave rise to it; form-generating resources which are immanent to the material world (9). Unlike the a priori grasp of essences in human thought postulated by those who believe in such entities, there would be an empiricism of the virtual (85-6).

Emergent Intensity

Emergent Intensity

Deleuze replaces an essentialist morphogenesis with one based on the notion of intensive difference, which he differentiates from both qualitative difference and extensive difference. He conceives intensive difference not negatively, as lack of resemblance, but positively or productively, as that which drives a dynamical process. The best examples of intensive differences are the differences in temperature, pressure, speed, chemical concentration, color… (6).

            Intensive properties cannot be divided without involving a change in kind, a qualitative change (25). If a quantity of matter in a given state is divided into two equal parts, each part will have the same value of intensive properties as the original and half the value of the extensive properties (69). Intensive properties do not add up but rather average. This averaging operation is an objective operation, in the sense that placing into contact two bodies with different temperatures will trigger a spontaneous diffusion process equalizing the two intermediate values. Thus differences in thermodynamic intensities such as temperature are capable of driving an averaging process of equilibrium in a population of molecules. Unlike qualitative differences, differences in intensity can drive fluxes of matter or energy (69-70). Intensive differences such as temperature or pressure gradients within one body are productive, forming the basis of simple processes of individuation. Soap bubbles and salt crystals emerge from the spontaneous tendency of the molecular components to minimize a potential or intensive difference (70).

There are a large number of physical structures that form spontaneously as their components try to meet energetic requirements. These components may be constrained to seek a point of minimal free energy, like a soap bubble that acquires its spherical shape by minimizing surface tension, or a common salt crystal adopting the cube form by minimizing bonding energy. The point of minimal energy functions as a single point attractor (a singularity). Thus a topological form (a singular point [eg minimal energy] in a manifold) guides a process which results in many different physical forms. This is in contrast to a form of thought that posits the essence of sphericity (circle-ness) which then is realized in the world by soap bubbles. The topological form of singularities is mechanism independent, independent of their physical mechanisms (15).

            Mechanism independence (19-20) is a concrete universality, a concrete set of attractors-singularities (realized as tendencies in physical processes) linked together by bifurcations (realized as abrupt transitions in the tendencies of physical processes). Following Deleuze, Delanda also defines concrete universals as preindividual (before the individuated product) singularities and affects (74). The tetrapod limb would be a concrete universal: asymptotic singularity (a basin of attraction that is never fully actualized because of so many divergent final forms of it) and unactualized capacity (blocked or divergent series of bifurcations; an open set of potential combinations constantly mutating [79]) (77). The universality of a multiplicity is typically divergent: the different realizations of a multiplicity bear no resemblance whatsoever to it and there is in principle no end to the set of potential divergent forms it may adopt. Multiplicities give form to processes, not to products. This distinguishes the obscure yet distinct nature of multiplicities from the clear and distinct identity of essences. Finally, concrete universals are meshed together into a continuum often through feedback loop relations that resonate (the communication channel of a quasi-cause). (21). A continuous space progressively differentiates itself giving rise to discontinuous spaces.  The continuity of a multiplicity is not defined primarily by metric spaces, but by non-metric spaces (e.g. asymptotic closeness; asymptotic stability: small shocks may dislodge a trajectory from its attractor but as long as the shock is not too large to push it out of the basin of attraction the trajectory will return to the stable state defined by the attractor [29]) (22). The example of geometry (23-4): the metric space which we inhabit and that physicists study and measure was born from a nonmetric, topological continuum as the latter differentiated and acquired structure following a series of symmetry-breaking transitions (24).

            Given a cell with a specific history, and a certain inductive signal which can change its fate, the outcome of their interaction will depend on how many other attractors exist nearby in the state space of the network of genes within the cell. Far from directly determining the qualities of a differentiated cell, inductive signals trigger cells to switch from one attractor to another nearby one, guiding a process of qualitative differentiation which follows attractors as so many stepping-stones. This process of stimulus-independence is what defines the signature of the virtual: the traces which the virtual leaves in the intensive. 65

            The three ontological dimensions constituting Deleuzian thought—the virtual, the intensive, and the actual—can be understood in terms of individuals at different spatial scales populating the actual world embodied in discontinuous spatial or metric structures condensing out of a nonmetric, virtual continuum (61). As migration and folding (invagination) begin to yield finished anatomical structures nonmetric relations become progressively replaced by a less flexible set of metric ones (64). Thus, a relatively undifferentiated intensive space (defined by continuous intensive properties) progressively differentiates eventually giving rise to extensive structures (with definite metric properties) (25).

Tetrapod Limbs

Tetrapod Limbs

Multiplicities are obscure and distinct; the singularities that define a multiplicity come in sets, and they are structured through progressive differentiation (16). Singularities lead to an entirely different way of viewing the genesis of form (15). Singularities function as never-actualized (35) attractors for trajectories: a large number of different trajectories starting their evolution at very different places in the manifold may end up in the same final state (the attractor), as long as they all begin somewhere within the sphere of influence of the attractor (basin of attraction); singularities represent long-term tendencies of the system (14).

            A multiplicity is a nested set of vector fields related to each other by symmetry-breaking bifurcations (phase transitions), together with the distributions of attractors which define each of its embedded levels. Phase transitions are events which take place at critical values of some parameter switching a physical system from one state to another, like critical points of temp. at which water changes from ice to liquid, or from liquid to steam…the progressive differentiation of the spherical egg is achieved through a complex cascade of symmetry breaking phase transitions. Control parameters in a state space determine the strength of external perturbations to which the system may be subject. These control parameters display critical values, thresholds of intensity at which a bifurcation takes place, breaking the prior symmetry of the system (18-19).

This separates out the part of the model which carries info about the actual world (trajectories as series of possible states) from that part which is never actualized. What ontological status do such partially never actualized multiplicities have? Multiplicities have a real virtuality which forms a vital component of the objective world, virtuality is their mode of becoming. The virtual must be defined as strictly part of the real object (30). A space with multiple attractors breaks the links between necessity and determinism, giving a system a “choice” between different destinies and making the particular end state a system occupies a combination of determination and chance (35). The four elements of essentialist classificatory practices—resemblance, identity, analogy, and opposition—are displaced by real virtuality. 38 A nonlinear system with multiple attractors continues to display its virtuality even once the system has settled into one of its alternative stable states, because the other alternatives are there all the time, coexisting with the one that happens to be actualized. All one has to do to reveal their virtual presence is to give a large enough shock to the system to push it out of one basin of attraction and into another (75).

            In populations, the coupled rates of births, death, migration and resource availability correspond without resemblance to the differential relations that characterize a multiplicity. A given intensive process of individuation embodies a multiplicity, and the lack of similarity between the virtual and the intensive is explained in terms of the divergent character of this embodiment, that is, by the fact that several different processes may embody the same multiplicity (61).

            The assembly of multiplicities must yield individuals with the capacity to evolve; this process is characterized by intensive properties articulating heterogeneous elements, relating difference to difference (73). Contrast an assembly-line factory with the process taking place within and among living cells which results in the assembly of tissues and organs. The parts of an object put together in an assembly line are fully Euclidean, with rigid metric properties such as sizes, shapes and positions. This limits the kind of procedures possible for their assembly: rigidly channeled transport system, rigid motions to correctly position parts relative to one another. This rigidity also limits their capacity to affect and be affected and thus to mutate. Component parts used in biological assembly are defined less by rigid metric properties than by topological connectivity: the specific shape of a cell’s membrane is less important than its continuity and closure, and the specific lengths of a muscle less important that its attachment points. (Delanda uses topological resources to analyze certain recurrent or typical features of state spaces [14].) This allows component parts to be adaptive (to fold, stretch, or bend: topological connectivity). Components may float around and randomly collide, using a lock-and-key mechanism to find matching patterns without the need for exact positioning. All of this has consequences for the capacity to evolve through mutation and selection, the capacity to differentiate differences (73). In biological assembly mutations do not have to occur simultaneously in matching parts, channels, and procedures in order to yield a viable entity for natural selection. Thanks to diffusive transport, lock-and-key matching assembly, topological and adaptive parts, as well as stimulus independence, evolution has an open space in which to carry out its blind search for new forms (67). The finished product has some geometric properties and some intensive such as entropy or amount of energy; metric properties which expand the concept from structure to function; is characterized by qualities which are metrically indivisible like intensities (68).

Media Assemblages

Media Assemblages

             A multiplicity may be characterized by a fixed number of definite properties (extensive and qualitative) and yet possess an indefinite number of capacities (affordances) to affect and be affected by other multiplicities (71). Deleuze gives a two-fold definition of the virtual in terms of unactualized tendencies or singularities and unactualized capacities or affects (72). A multiplicity will exhibit a variety of capabilities to form assemblages with other individuals, organic and inorganic. The example that Delanda uses is the assemblage which a walking animal forms with a piece of solid ground (surface to walk on) and a gravitational field (endowing it with a given weight). The capacity to form an assemblage depends in part on the emergent properties of the interacting individuals (animal, ground, gravitational field), but is not reducible to them (72). Affects (capacities, affordances) are relational; what an individual affords another may depend on factors such as relative spatial scales; affordances are also symmetric involving both capacities to affect and be affected. (Keep in mind that classifying geometrical objects by their degrees of symmetry is a sharp departure from the traditional classification of geometrical figures by their essences. Groups are not classified by static properties but in terms of how they are affected (or not affected) by active transformations, by their response to events that occur to them. Degree of symmetry is not an intrinsic property of the entity being classified but always relative to a specific (group of) transformation(s) [17].) The interactions which organisms have with the organic and inorganic components of an ecosystem are typically of the intensive kind, an ecosystem being a complex assemblage of a large number of heterogeneous components: diverse reproductive communities of animals, plants and micro-organisms, a geographical site characterized by diverse topographical and geological features, and the ever diverse and changing weather patterns (73).

            One task of virtual  philosophy is to locate those areas of the world where the virtual is still expressed, and use the unactualized tendencies and capacities one discovers there as sources of insight into the nature of virtual multiplicities (returning to the interior of the tetrapod limb) (76-7).

We leave to another post the connection between this intensive ontology and a nonlinear history of institutions. Delanda takes this later question up in the conclusion to A Thousand Year of Nonlinear History. There he writes brilliantly of the BwO (body without organs, plane of consistency, qualitative multiplicity) through which intensive processes actualize various forms.

“Moreover, not only were there several particle accelerators mobilizing trigger flows of different kinds, there were coexisting motion of destratification of intermediate intensity which connected these flows, generating meshworks of different kinds: peasant and small-town markets; symbiotic nets of small producers engaged in volatile trade and import substitution; large cities and industrial hinterlands operating via economies of agglomeration; alpine regions elaborating industrial paradigms different from those of the coal conurbations, in which skills and crafts were meshed together instead of being replaced by routines and centralized machinery. What use is there in moving our level of description to the BwO if we are not going to take advantage of the heterogeneous mixtures of energy and genes, germs and words, which it allows us to conceive, a world in which geology, biology, and linguistics are not seen as three separate spheres, each more advanced or progressive than the previous one, but as three perfectly coexisting and interacting flows of energetic, replicative, and catalytic materials?” (267)

Bergson writes in Time and Free Will: “To say that the same inner causes will reproduce the same effects is to assume that the same cause can appear a second time on the stage of consciousness. Now, if duration is what we say, deep seated psychic states are radically heterogeneous to each other, and it is impossible that any two of them should be quite alike, since they are two different moments of a life-story. While the external object does not bear the mark of the time that has elapsed and thus, in spite of the difference of time, the physicist can again encounter identical elementary conditions, duration is something real for the consciousness which preserves the trace of it, and we cannot here speak of identical conditions, because the same moment does not occur twice. It is no use arguing that, even if there are no two deep-seated psychic states which are altogether alike, yet analysis would resolve these different states into more general and homogeneous elements which might be compared with each other. This would be to forget that even the simplest psychic elements possess a personality and a life of their own, however superficial they may be; they are in a constant state of becoming, and the same feeling, by the mere fact of being repeated, is a new feeling. Indeed, we have no reason for calling it by its former name save that it corresponds to the same external cause or projects itself outwardly into similar attitudes: hence it would simply be begging the question to deduce from the so-called likeness of two conscious states that the same cause produces the same effect. In short, if the causal relation still holds good in the realm of inner states, it cannot resemble in any way what we call causality in nature” (199-201). 

Now this brings us to some of the fundamental shifts that Bergson hopes to achieve in the history of philosophy. First, causality in nature is not the same causality of lived duration. Causality, the principle of logical necessity between cause and effect, is an abiding concern in Bergsonian theory, from Bergson himself through to Prigogine, Deleuze, Massumi, Hansen, Grosz, Delanda, Shaviro, and onward. One might pose usefully it seems to me the relation between Deleuze’s quasi-cause (as elaborated in the Logic of Sense) and Bergson’s non-linear causality of becoming. What is most important in this relation? First, time is an irreducible component of all physical and psychic being, its being in belonging to mixtures of co-evolution. Assemblages only happen in time, although time is not “of” an assemblage (by which we mean that temporal relations cannot give us “types” of assemblages, only statistical probabilities and their indefinable unfolding, patterned but stochastic). In that sense, non-linear causality helps us to pose becoming as an unfolding of resonant processes, which while statistically regular on large scales (robust to shocks), are nonetheless open to chance and mutation at other scales of interactions. This breaks with the notion that causes are fixed, unified, and predictable–they are none of those things in the short (human consciousness) and long (embedded timescales of evolution) run. 

But this brings us to a lingering problem in Bergson–at least in this text (we might usefully compare this to the much later Creative Evolution). Why does Bergson reduce pure succession to lived durations in consciousness? Many times, he insists that pure duration is only so for a consciousness which endures. But does this have to be so? Many today would argue that everything–from a sugar cube on fire or dissolving in a glass of water to the swirling hurricane-like vortex at Saturn’s south pole (see http://ciclops.org/view/2313/Looking_Saturn_in_the_Eye)–endures. Stuart Kauffman asks rightly by what criteria do we say such phenomena (he is mostly talking about dissipative structures like the vortex Great Red Spot on Jupiter, not sugar cubes! See At Home in the Universe 20-21) is or is not alive. There is a lively debate here on the nature of life, and it centers precisely on duration and non-linear causality. 

There are other relations to also keep in mind with the above quote. The insistence that no psychic state can have a predictable causal relation to subsequent psychic states is part of the larger project of grappling with the pure succession “by imperceptible steps” of intensive processes. That time cannot be figured (or pre-figured, as Bergson shows in his analysis of the future in present causality) as space–indeed, once it is figured at all, as symbolical representation, time becomes space–is the central thesis of this thesis (yes, this was his doctoral thesis, sheesh!). Time is a continuous, non-quantifiable multiplicity, and the aim of Bergson’s thought is to aspire to a form of intuitive rationality commensurate with time’s becoming. 

 

Some definitions: endos·mo·sis (en′däs mōsis)noun, in osmosis, the more rapid, inward diffusion of the less dense fluid through the semipermeable membrane to mingle with the more dense

Hylozoism is the philosophical conjecture that all or some material things possess life, or that all life is inseparable from matter.” 

Thus, Bergson glosses a fluid, imperceptible transference as a habit of thought: “We have seen that, though our deepest conscious states exclude numerical multiplicity, yet we break them up into parts external to one another; that though the elements of concrete duration permeate one another, duration expressing itself in extensity exhibits moments as distinct as the bodies scattered in space. Is it surprising, then, that between the moments of our life, when it has been, so to speak, objectified, we set up a relation analogous to the objective relation of causality, and that an exchange, which again may be compared to the phenomenon of endosmosis, takes place between the dynamic idea of free effort and the mathematical concept of necessary determination? But the sundering of these two ideas is an accomplished fact in the natural sciences” (218). Bergson has just suggested that “Here again the mistake made by consciousness arises from the fact that it looks at the self, not directly, but by a kind of refraction through the forms which it has lent to external perception, and which the latter does not give back without having left its mark on them” (217). The aim here as elsewhere is to restore to consciousness pure duration, and to stop treating time “as a homogeneous medium” (220); the obstacle is consciousness itself in its habits of reducing pure succession to simultaneity, difference to the homogeneous, and thus spatializing what ought to be understood as enduring. 

“We have seen that, though our deepest conscious states exclude numerical multiplicity, yet we break them up into parts external to one another; that though the elements of concrete duration permeate one another, duration expressing itself in extensity exhibits moments as distinct as the bodies scattered in space. Is it surprising, then, that between the moments of our life, when it has been, so to speak, objectified, we set up a relation analogous to the objective relation of causality, and that an exchange which again may be compared to the phenomenon of endosmosis, takes place between the dynamic idea of free effort and the mathematical concept of necessary determination?” (218). One could easily object that what after all is “our deepest conscious states”–is it some kind of essentialism of consciousness, and even more troubling doesn’t Bergson assume that he has gotten (we readers) there? Like many of the problematic terms that Bergson uses–purity, for me, most of all–it seems that the deepest conscious state actually turns out to be a confused mixture of imperceptible succession. But, then, could free will be located in something so confused and heterogeneous?

“We can now formulate our conception of freedom. Freedom is the relation of the concrete self to the act which it performs. This relation is indefinable, just because we are free. For we can analyse a thing, but not a process ; we can break up extensity, but not duration. Or, if we persist in analysing it, we unconsciously transform the process into a thing and duration into extensity. By the very fact of breaking up concrete time we set out its moments in homogeneous space ; in place of the doing we put the already done ; and, as we have begun by, so to speak, stereotyping the activity of the self, we see spontaneity settle down into inertia and freedom into necessity. Thus, any positive definition of freedom will ensure the victory of determinism” (219-20). 

What is after all concrete? Does it have a difference resonance in French? We would need to check the French which I have not done…But strikingly freedom is a relation of a body (a perceiving, cognizing, multiplicity) to specific kinds of actions; but this relation is graspable not as a definition but a definite process with a definite, but non-spatial, non-repeatable, singular, and irreversible duration. 

“To sum up ; every demand for explanation in regard to freedom comes back, without our suspecting it, to the following question Can time be adequately represented by space ? “To which we answer : Yes, if you are dealing with time flown ; No, if you speak of time flowing. Now, the free act takes place in time which is flowing and not in time which has already flown. Freedom is therefore a fact, and among the facts which we observe there is none clearer. All the difficulties of the problem, and the problem itself, arise from the desire to endow duration with the same attributes as extensity, to interpret a succession by a simultaneity, and to express the idea of freedom in a language into which it is obviously untranslatable” (221). 

So what then do we do with this undefinable relation, this fact called freedom? It is to insist the the absolutely undetermined event must be the constituted outside of all relations, all actions of the brain or body, the embodied mind, are constituted by this outside folded into the repetitions of its intensities. But note then that the folding of freedom into a process without end, or foreseeable product, is to insist that the aim of life is to actualize this experience of freedom by giving oneself to a given practice. The outside becomes the most intimate, and even the very stability of subject and object breaks down in duration. The outside simply turns out to be the virtual proceeding of the actual. 

There remains the problem of adequation. Is the language used by Bergson–intensity, sensation, sympathy, duration, succession, freedom, relation, action, perception–is this the language which best expresses the idea of freedom? And if it does, has this language escaped the spatializing tendency of symbolical representation? How?

The obvious, if not quite fully satisfying answer, is that Bergson defines this language as without definition, without visual perspective, the done product grasped in vision as opposed to the imperceptible unfolding of the lived duration of an event: a kind of synaesthesia of time. So in that sense the formulation (as translated) of Bergson’s triumphant sentence last quoted has this double sense, of a thought that has not left the desire for adequation, and thus for space, and a dim realization of a method that has found a kind of transcendental empiricism as its practice. To grow old and young in the event at once, to discover the untimely in all things, at every moment as an affirmation of freedom. But perhaps the post-Nietzschean/ Deleuzian experiment with Bergson is our new spatialization (for an attempt to practice something like that for media assemblage theory see: Deleuze, Cinema, and Zen: Break the Motor)? Is it not possible that concepts once monstrous but now part of the machinery of capture and domestication, as they enter the world of philosophy, of sociology, or literary and media criticism inevitably ossify the durational into the spatial, become the product (with their own cultural capital accruing or waning) of that which has already escaped it?  

How to think durational movement without product, space, simultaneity–without telos (goal, aim)? How could such a thought make a claim to 1. thought, 2. politics, 3. the future?

A practical way to go forward here is to compare some of Bergson’s theses on duration to Suzuki on Zen. In his 1951 paper “The Philosophy of Zen” (Philosophy East and West, 1:2, 3-16), Daisetz Suzuki writes that “When I say that Zen is life, I mean that Zen is not to be confined within conceptualization, that Zen is what makes conceptualization possible, and therefore that Zen is not to be identified with any particular brand of ‘ism'” (3). I take conceptualization here to mean symbolical representation, that it comes out of life itself, or what Bergson calls lived duration. Suzuki goes on to say that the experience of Zen is best expressed–again we are to contemplate what forms of expression, language, indeed (non)conceptualization best describes the non-conceptualizable–by the doctrine of sunyata which “means emptiness” but has no direct equivalence in English. It is not a negative term, it “is a positive concept with a definite connotation, but it ought not to be considered an outcome of abstraction or generalization, for it is not a postulated idea. It is what makes the existence of anything possible, but it is not to be conceived immanently, as if it lay hidden in or under every existence as an independent entity. A world of relativities is set on and in sunyata; sunyata envelops, as it were, the whole world, and yet is in every object existing in the world” (4). Sunyata is the experience that reconciles the contradiction between immanentism and transcendentalism. 

When we are out of sunyata we experience the duality of object/subject, but in it we are “in Zen.” “To experience means to become aware of, but not in the way in which we become aware of the world of sense-and-intellect. In the latter case, we always have a subject that is aware of something and an object of which the subject is aware, for the world of sense-and-intellect is a dichotomous world of subject and object. This unique way consists in sunyata’s remaining in itself and yet making itself an object of experience to itself. This means dividing itself and yet holding itself together” (5). Clearly, sunyata would be an experience that would fundamentally call into question causality and non-contradiction, and in that sense Bergson’s notion of the qualitative multiplicity of lived duration before symbolical representation would help us to affirm this experience. But, on the one hand, Suzuki is too categorical in his dismissal of logic. Aren’t there different logics which proceed through the pragmatism of functional mixtures and dynamic thresholds? Topological reasoning would be one example, tactical media (see Race, Perception, and the Institutionalization of Networks) would be another. More, isn’t intuitional reason a kind of logic of sense? On the other, sunyata helps us to critically engage the desire for adequation that marks Bergson’s final passage quoted above. 

Sunyata can help us to focus, to stay focused on the interminable process of a method, that is like one continuous mistake. A practice of the false. “Reasoning defeats itself, finds itself altogether futile, in its attempt to reach sunyata, because reasoning, instead of trying to see sunyata itself in the process of reasoning, strives to reach sunyata as the goal of reasoning, that is, when all the reasoning comes to an end” (6). Suzuki’s Zen and Bergson’s duration converge here on the insistence that one cannot substitute analysis for process-practice without turning time into space. 

But we should not lose site of the fact that for Suzuki, in Zen there is the experience of “sudden enlightenment.” We should not take this too seriously, or too lightly. “When sunyata is awakened to itself or becomes aware of itself, which is ‘knowing and seeing’ itself, we have another name for it: sunyata is tathata. Tathata is everyday thought, it is “an affirmation through and through” (6). But tathata is sunyata, and sunyata is tathata. “A Buddhist philosopher declares: A mountain is a mountain and water is water before a sunyata-experience takes place; but after it a mountain is not a mountain and water is not water; but again when the experience deepens, a mountain is a mountain and water is water” (7).

Nothing special, like a frog just sitting. We are reminded here of another Suzuki, Shunryu Suzuki who in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (New York: Weatherhill, 1970) wrote: “Zen stories, or koans, are very difficult to understand before you know what we are doing moment after moment. But if you know exactly what we are doing in each moment, you will not find koans so difficult. There are so many koans. I have often talked to you about a frog, and each time everybody laughs. But a frog is very interesting. He sits like us, too, you know. But he does not think that he is doing anything so special. When you go to a zendo and sit, you may think you are doing some special thing. While your husband or wife is sleeping, you are practicing zazen! You are doing some special thing, and your spouse is lazy! That may be your understanding of zazen. But look at the frog. A frog also sits like us, but he has no idea of zazen. Watch him. If something annoys him, he will make a face. If something comes along to eat, he will snap it up and eat, and he eats sitting. Actually that is our zazen—not any special thing. Here is a kind of frog koan for you. Baso was a famous Zen master called the Horse-master. He was the disciple of Nangaku, one of the Sixth Patriarch’s disciples. One day while he was studying under Nangaku, Baso was sitting, practicing zazen. He was a man of large physical build; when he talked, his tongue reached to his nose; his voice was loud; and his zazen must have been very good. Nangaku saw him sitting like a great mountain or like a frog. Nangaku asked, “What are you doing?” ‘Tampracticingzazen,” Baso replied. “Why are you practicing zazen?” “I want to attain enlightenment; I want to be a Buddha,” the disciple said. Do you know what the teacher did? He picked up a tile, and he started to polish i t . In Japan, after taking a tile from the kiln, we polish it to give it a beautiful finish. So Nangaku picked up a tile and started to polish it. Baso, his disciple, asked, “What are you doing?” “I want to make this tile into a  jewel,” Nangaku said. “How is it possible to make a tile a jewel?” Baso asked. “How is it possible to become a Buddha by practicing zazen?” Nangaku replied. “Do you want to attain Buddhahood ? There is no Buddhahood besides your ordinary mind. When a cart does not go, which do you whip, the cart or the horse?” the master asked. Nangaku’s meaning here is that whatever you do, that is zazen. True zazen is beyond being in bed or sitting in the zendo. If your husband or wife is in bed, that is zazen. If you think, “I am sitting here, and my spouse is in bed,” then even though you are sitting here in the cross-legged position, that is not true zazen. You should be like a frog always. That is true zazen.”

This is too beautiful not to quote in full, and in any case, as Patricia Clough and I affirmed to each other just before we saw Wall-E with As’sia, my daughter, we only aspire to bring together in a new diagram the force of innumerable quotes!

In any case, Daisetz Suzuki differentiates sunyata-tathata from pragmatism by radically de-linking practice from teleology, and Zen from time. “Time and teleology are interwoven, and Zen transcends time, and therefore, teleology also” (8). But what Bergson has shown throughout his life’s work is that time is teleology only after the done is separated from the doing, the product from the process, that is when time is spaced. But lived duration, and the intuitional reason that gives it its singular dynamism, its pure potentiality, is radically free, and also and for precisely that reason, non-teleological. 

But that is not all Susuki has to say here on time; indeed, he goes on to suggest that momentalistic Zen is not, because each moment has eternity in it. “To Zen, time and eternity are one. This is open to misinterpretation, as most people interpret Zen as annihilating time and putting in its place eternity, which to them means a state of absolute quietness or doing-nothingness. They forget that if time is eternity, eternity is time, according to Zen. Zen has never espoused the cause of doing-nothing-ness; eternity is our everyday experience in this world of sense-and-intellect, for there is no eternity outside this time-conditionedness. Eternity is possible only in the midst of birth and death, in the midst of time process” (8-9). So eternity is the difference immanent to process (of course in Zen Buddhism, eternity is inseparable from divinity). The (non)aim would be a kind of motionless duration, echoing with a future that will only ever remain potential. I would think this potentiality is divinity, if I needed divinity to make this thought, how shall we say, living. But the thought needs nothing, because it is isomorphic with the life it models, enters into mixtures with it, and emerges as multiform expression. Only certain of the expressive forms–narrative, sign, icon, figuration, discourse, metaphor, montage, syntagmatic unit, character–are recognized and legitimated through pedagogical institutions of gridding and exploitative value, even when they are part of movements of counter-actualization (anarcho-Marxism, ecofeminism, womanist anti-imperialism, Maoist postcolonialism, poly-sexualization). Couldn’t we think of a political practice of counter-actualization in various media–from literature to the screen to the cellphone–that begins with a new lexicon: attach and attack the grid in the grid, denaturalize it, and then radically naturalize it. Expressive forms are thus refunctioned, and the political becomes the untimely in the potentialities of co-evolution. By calling into question the stability of the category “political” itself, new gradients will emerge as a froglike practice reassembles media and their intensities. Strictly, nothing special. 

 

I don’t mean to fetishize Suzuki’s Zen, because we know of the use Japanese Zen buddhists made of their practice during World War II. Zizek speaks about this in his talk at Google, and his words are important to think about.