collective intelligence #1

So I finally got my hands on Pierre Levy’s Collective Intelligence and I am making my way through it. However, I am disturbed by the 20 or so pages I have read so far. The explicit Cartesianism of Levy’s argument combined with his obvious D&G influence is bizarre. Utterly bizarre. As Levy is a Francophone I am assuming he has read most if not all of D&G without having to wait on translations (a lot of the key solo texts from Deleuze especially were published in English after or around the same time as Levy’s book).

Did Levy actually read the introduction to What is Philosophy?!?!?! Here is my extract and extended comments (orig. posted here). :

Their last co-authored text together sought to wrest the practice of creating concepts from “computer science, marketing, design, and advertising, all the disciplines of communication” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 10). Cultural Studies has always walked a fine line between being complicit in “digital capitalism” and taking a critical stance towards it. Worse is the prospect of authoring a text that is thoroughly ‘Deleuzian’ for the sake of a scholarly cultural industry, as McKenzie Wark writes:

Among other things, philosophy is a tool to be used to escape from the commodification of information as communication, but only when it escapes the commodification of knowledge as education as well. […] [Deleuze and Guattari’s] version of escape from history can easily take on an aristocratic form, a celebration of singular works of high modernist art and artifice. These in turn are all too easily captured by the academic and cultural marketplace, as the designer goods of the over-educated. D+G all too easily become the intellectual’s Dolce and Gabbana. (Wark, 2004: 283, fn. xix)

In a book co-authored with Deleuze, Claire Parnet railed against such “relationships of force” that combined writing practices with the cultural industry, or as she put it “writers or intellectuals have passed into the service of journalists, or become the servants of journalists, journalists of themselves” (Deleuze and Parnet, 2002: 26-27). It is ironic that Deleuzian enthusiasts are serviced by an academic or scholarly cultural industry in such a fashion that is not dissimilar to the way enthusiasts of modified-car culture have their constant supply of publications, scandals, and festive events. Perhaps, critically speaking, some aspects of Cultural Studies come from the other side of the coin, that is, as Theodor Adorno might have said, from the “intellectualization of amusement” (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1996: 143)?

OK, so I am collapsing two gripes that have already emerged. One may be a non-gripe, ie Levy as an ‘entrepreneur’ of the publishing arm of ‘digital capitalism’, I shall have to wait for the rest of the book’s argument to play out. The first 20 or so pages really does read like a dot-com start-up prospectus!!

However, the other gripe, regarding the explicit Cartesianism, remains; how could Levy possibly argue such a position after all the feminist interventions regarding the ‘body’ and more recently (admittedly after this book was written, but not removed from D&G’s concerns) regarding ‘affect’? Maybe Levy reconciles this aporia in following books? Anyone else have similar problems? Or not?

RIP Bike: Stack

Had a stack on my bike today. Actually it wasn’t so much a stack as a technological malfunction. The crank snapped at the point where the pedal is screwed in.

It was a relatively low speed stack as I had just gone around a corner, but I was powering up and therefore had my full weight on the pedal as the crank snapped. I was also on my way to the gym for the day, which meant I was dressed in gym clothes, ie shorts and a singlet. Yes, this meant a skidded along the road on my bare arm and shoulder. Again, I am lucky it was a relatively low speed accident, otherwise I would’ve been severely injured. Here is a shot of some of the damage to my arm. I am glad I was wearing my helmet.

I have already returned the bike. It was a piece of shit. The young woman behind the counter was a bit shocked by weeping wounds. My wounds were being self-righteous for me. I was being very patient. I didn’t want any more hassles; I just wanted to get rid of the bloody thing.

Clif has told me that he has an old mountain bike I can have, but it needs new tyres and stuff. I guess I’ll use the money I got back from the other bike on stuff to fix up the ‘second handy’.

I’ll miss having my bike in the mean time; I was enjoying it!

EDIT: 30/03/06

So I was having some problems keeping crap out of my wound. At the gym it was problematic getting sweaty and stuff. I was down at the shops and there was a promo woman there. She was hawking Elastoplast brand bandaids and stuff. I just happened to be wearing a short sleave top, so I was like, “Hey, what can I do with this?” And I thrust my fucked-up arm in front of her. She wasn’t expecting to be giving actual medical advice. I figured this out as she tried to go into a song and dance about the respective benefits of each product (she had a range). I was like, “Hey, I just need to fix my fucked-up arm.” She ran off to find the biggest stick-on bandage thing, like the kind you got when you were little and had a skinned knee. I was like, “Hey, that shit isn’t going to be big enough, look how fucked-up my arm is.” It is fucked up. So I spied this spray on bandage thing, I was like, “Hey, I’ll take that one.” And off I went pushing my trolley investigating the 57 cent off fruit juice.

Little did I know however that this shit is actually a derivative of superglue

It stung.


Anyway, it is weird to think that I have superglued myself back together.

Thesis Troubles #1: Redux

Looks like I have to read up on another thinker, Pierre Lévy (these two books). Massumi makes a brief reference to a book of his in Parables of the Virtual (p.71) in the football (soccer) section in the chapter about the political economy of belonging: “collective individuation around a catalyzing point.”

Here is a short essay on his ideas (Google cache). The author of that paper seems stuck on the idea that there is something wrong with Lévy’s thinking because he discusses the formalized conditions of the game of football (soccer). (Perhaps he should read some Paul Corrigan!) Anyway it is exciting that he writes:

Lévy asks how we can pass from a group mentality characterized by a modern notion of the mass (and with that, mass broadcasting) to a collective intelligence wherein persons may remain individual and singular. In order to illustrate this problem, Lévy goes to the work of Michel Serres and his analysis of objects and group formations in the soccer match. Throughout this section Lévy is attempting to distance his reading of collective thought in the age of global electronic networks from those classical modernist readings of community which base community in social bonds built around sacrifice and exclusion (in the manner of René Girard’s analysis) or around such bonds characterized by identification and a transcendental relation to law (as in Freudian psychoanalysis). Within a late modernist framework, Lévy must do this in order to avoid linking electronic communities to fascist or proto-fascist forms of organization and in order to promote the new networks as counter-forces to modernist fascism. 

I raised similar issues here; where I write:

“There seems to be two levels of recognition operating. One defines a group under a singular term, which normally imposed by the ‘outside’. The other level belongs to the individual and the collective of individuals, the mass.” 

My solution to this problem is to use the concepts of the ‘scene’ for the enthusiast’s sense of belonging (not identity) and ‘market’ for the cultural industry’s reconfiguration of the same elements. Both the ‘scene’ and the ‘market’ are particular condensations or representations of the ‘totality’ of the respective assemblage. It is not so much a totality, although it is ‘actioned’ as such, but a selection of those elements that are relevant. A third perspective can be found in the governmental perspective.

Anyway, regarding the section of my thesis chapter I am now going to separate the set of ideas laid out here into two sections:

1) The catalysing potentialisation (territorialisation) of a heterogeneous set of elements, their arrangement into assemblages organised around the ‘world-glue’ of affect, and the becoming(-together) triggered in such an assemblage. The various scales of this assemblage constitutes the ‘scene’ of the activity/enthusiasm in question. The ‘scene’ is an affective mapping and a spatial territorialisation. It is the enthusiast’s representation of the assemblage as a ‘totality’.

2) The intervention into this assemblage of commodified media representations that align flows in certain ways that produces a consistency across the affective relations of the assemblage. The media representations potentialise certain objects, practices and events over others. This selective potentialisation produces a modulation of the affective relations that hold the assemblage together. The modulation in affective relations triggers variations in the assemblage to the benefit and maintenance of particular arrangements in the cultural economy. These particular arrangements of the cultural economy in question can be called ‘markets’. The market is the cultural industry’s representation of a given assemblage. (One of the problem’s with Adorno’s cultural industry stuff is that he does not imagine more than one market, and what the existence of a plurality of markets does, i.e. resonance, dissonance, etc.)

I need to read Levy but from what I can figure out he is going to be useful in the first of the above sections, and maybe the second. He writes about the internet and collective intelligences, etc. My stuff is about (pre-internet) collectivities, but which are quasi-fascist in their organisation. The problem is that the democratisation is premised on, and privileges, a technological participation. There are certain thresholds that need to be crossed. However, from what I have witnessed, this is not so different to contemporary ‘info-tech’ or ‘cybercultures’ that Levy is discussing…

Massumi Paper: ¥€$ to Futurity 2

Found this very interesting paper by Brian Massumi last night, The Future Birth of the Affective Fact. He actually touches on quite a number of issues that have concerned me and which I have taken up here on my blog.

One of them is the status of the relation to futurity in neoliberalism and the subject of my thesis which he calls ‘interest’ (and which I am exploring a stronger version,’enthusiasm’). His discussion of ‘interest’ is couched negatively in terms of risk and fear (which is not surprising as it correlates with his previous work):

Neoliberalism defines freedom as the right of individuals to act according to their personal interest, as rationally indexed to the needs and opportunities of the market economy that sustains them. Market forces will “naturally” coach the interplay of interests toward a peaceful coexistence in a state of dynamic equilibrium. A dynamic equilibrium is a punctuated equilibrium, appearing uncertainly between periods of crisis and haunted by their spectre. The market as a self-regulating system is metastable: it achieves provisional equilibrium, within limits and between thresholds, dogged at each step by conflicts of interests, irrationalities, and deviances, little dangers that might suddenly combine weights and tip the system into chaos.

In terms of the provision of ‘needs and opportunities’ to consumer-citizens it also relates to Lindsay Tanner’s recent talk about the role of the State, which I have written about here. In my thesis I discuss this ‘provisional equilibrium’ that Massumi writes about in terms the consistency of the assemblage, part of this consistency is the affective dimension, which Massumi elsewhere calls ‘world-glue’. I argue that subcultural media manipulate and exploit the affects of an enthusiasm (or interest), not as a means directed to an ends, but as a way to generate activity. This activity has a temporal rhythm (certain car shows, days of the week, etc). Tanner’s talk is much more appropriate for the role of the government in the Australian context than Massumi’s paper. Dare I say it, but Tanner’s talk also delves a little further into the complexity of neoliberal governmentality than Massumi’s seemingly superficial survey of things that Bush has said.

Neoliberal governance acts around the autonomous activity of a process. It acts peripherally, then observes collaterally to assess the damage or benefit of its actions. Its novelty, in taking interest as its “object,” is to have invented a mode of power that in fact has no object. What it has is pragmatic adjacency to a process. Having no object as such, it does not constitute itself as a subject of knowledge. It knows only consequentially, by reading the indicators for collateral damage. Its knowing is perpetually deferred into indications for the future, the meaning of which only the unfolding of the process will tell.

I actually explore his in terms of the relationship between Street Machine magazine and the Summernats festival. Anyway… In relation to similar concerns in my first ¥€$ to Futurity post, Massumi writes:

An indicated trend will eventuate if certain conditions hold, in particular investor and consumer confidence. If future conditions remain grounded in economic principles as currently understood – overall, this means governed by rational self-interest venturing calculated risks — the systemic response to whatever corrective measures are undertaken following the guideline of minimal governance should be more or less predictable.

BTW, this relation to futurity of finance capital is the strongest actual evidence that I have come across on the actual reality of something like Negri and Hardt’s ‘Empire’. This relation, int he current society, is properly machinic. There has been more discussion on investment capital elsewhere in the blogosphere at Long Sunday as part of the Tronti symposium (which is another story, this time involving people who cultivate ‘school marm’ personas on the internet, lol!).

I locate the mechanism for the interest-excitement of enthusiasm in the rhythms of excitement and boredom of the mass-culture industry, these are, in some ways, a positive set of affects. Massumi dwells on fear/threats, so his equation for an ‘affective fact’ is:

Affect, as a mechanism of linkage or a component of passage, is in a position to play an increasingly crucial role.
So what is an affective fact? The mechanism is quite simple:
Threat triggers fear. The fear is of disruption. The fear is a disruption.
The mechanism is a capacity that affect itself has to self-effect.

My equation would be: “Boredom triggers interest. The interest is the agitation. The interest is an agitation.” I am reading ‘disruption/agitation’ as referring to a disruption of the provisional equilibrium in the market economy. The ‘equilibirum’ is not balanced in the sense of a normal equilibrium; an agitation would be a trigger to activity, the sort of activity that the market economy may very well demand. For example, a trigger to cheer for one’s team on television (desired!) or to smash milk bottles (not desired!). Smashing milk bottles is of course Paul Corrigan’s example of “Doing Nothing”, which is precisely the limit case to all this.

Lastly, Massumi raises an example of an airport closure, which is a situation we have also experienced in Australia. He writes:

And what if the fog is a cloud of white powder … quick, close the airport! The airport must be closed just in case, to assuage the fear. The closure of the airport induces fear. Men in white decontamination suits descend. Police swarm in for crowd control. Far-flung airports with originating flights due to land are affected. The media amplify the alarm in real-time with live news bulletins. The fear of the disruption has become the disruption.

I am surprised he doesn’t mention Paul Patton’s discussion of Deleuze’s events with using airbourne toxic event in Don Delillo’s White Noise as an example.

Anyway, check out the paper. There is some cool stuff.

EDIT: 27/03/06

For another take on Foucault’s 1979 ‘La naissance de la biopolitique’ lectures see this paper by Thomas Lemke.