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?

2 replies on “collective intelligence #1”

  1. I’ve no reason to believe Levy has read D&G just because he’s francophone. The almost total lack of critical perspective in his work, as well as broader discussions of collective intelligence (including the business wisdom of user-generated content), seems to indicate otherwise.

  2. hej Anne!

    Oh the francophone comment was just about the timing. The translation was published 1997, from what I can figure out the original french was 1994. This means that all the major D&G texts individual and solo had been published. Sure if Mr English published a book in 1994 that so explicitly used D&G concepts and didn’t include some indication of having read WiP?, D&R or LoS or something else, then I would wonder. I forget the French have a different sensibility towards referencing. But this doesn’t account for the utter perversion of D&G thinking into an explcit cartesian model!?!?! He has taken certain D&G concepts (lots!) and used them in the stupidest way.

    The first joke is the location of the body and affect in his conception of ‘collective intelligence’, ie seemingly absent. This is a major problem. The second joke is that D&G conceived of the individual as a mutliplicity. The way Levy conceives of the media and subjectivity doesn’t quite gel for me. The most telling slip is early on in the book when he uses ‘distributed intelligence’ instead ‘collective intelligence’. There is an important difference here.

    The chapter on angels renders me incapable of saying anything nice.

    I am intending on doing a follow up post just outlining the absence of body/affect thing in relation to the coherence of his argument. The impression I was getting while reading Levy, is that Massumi could be thought of as an antidote. I have a feeling from Massumi’s comments (in PotV) the other Levy book (Becoming Virtual) is better.

    The best thing I can say about the book is the Levy explains some D&G concepts very clearly with little or no variation (such as the ‘collective voice’ derived from D&G’s concept of collective assemblage of enunciation, pg 66-69). Of course, the way he does it is by stripping the concepts of any scholarly pretence.

    How is this dude at Paris VIII?

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