Haeceitties: Individuation and Singularization

Extracts from Gilles Deleuze, “Immanence: A Life” in Pure Immanence: Essays on Life (extracts p. 28-32, ital. added):

Between his life and his death, there is a moment that is only that of a life playing with death. The life of the individual gives way to an impersonal and yet singular life that releases a pure event freed from the accidents of internal and external life, that is, from the subjectivity and objectivity of what happens: a “Homo tantum” with // whom everyone empathizes and who attains a sort of beatitude. It is a haecceity no longer of individuation but of singularization: a life of pure immanence, neutral, beyond good and evil, for it was only the subject that incarnated it in the midst of things that made it good or bad. The life of such individuality fades away in favor of the singular life immanent to a man who no longer has a name, though he can be mistaken for no other. A singular essence, a life …
But we shouldn’t enclose life in the single moment when individual life confronts universal death. A life is everywhere, in all the moments that a given living subject goes through and that are measured by // are neither grouped nor divided in the same way. They connect with one another in a manner entirely different from how individuals connect. It even seems that a singular life might do without any individuality, without any other concomitant that individualizes it.
[… //]
A life contains only virtuals. It is made up of virtualities, events, singularities. What we call virtual is not something that lacks reality but something that is engaged in a process of actualization following the plane that gives it its particular reality. The immanent event is actualized in a state of things and of the lived that make it happen. The plane of immanence is itself actualized in an object and a subject to which it attributes itself. But however inseparable an object and a subject may be from their actualization, the plane of immanence is itself virtual, so long as the events that populate it are virtualities. Events or singularities give to the plane all their virtuality, just as the plane of immanence gives virtual events their full reality. The event considered as non-actualized (indefinite) is lacking in nothing. It suffices to put it in relation to its concomitants: a transcendental field, a plane of immanence, a life, singularities. A wound is incarnated or actualized in a state of things or of life; but it is itself a pure virtuality on the plane of immanence that leads us into a life. My wound existed before me: not // a transcendence of the wound as higher actuality, but its immanence as a virtuality always within a milieu (plane or field). There is a big difference between the virtuals that define the immanence of the transcendental field and the possible forms that actualize them and transform them into something transcendent.

Singularities and Language

What is a singularity? It is a simple question, but any answer is not so simple and I am not so sure. There are the scientific answers. Whatever. They are too simple, because they assume too much.

In The Logic of Sense Deleuze isolates the ‘fourth person singular’ as a dimension of language found in the infinitive verb — to walk, to battle, to die. Each singularity correlates to a singular event — a walk, a battle, a death. Think about an infant learning to walk. The infant does not internalise in a conscious manner the biomechanics of the act of ‘controlled falling’. There is no fully thought concept of ‘walking’ present in the infant’s mind before walking. How do I know that? Think of stroke or spinal injury patients who are taught to walk again.

The act of walking is perfectly singular — everyone/every situation has a walk — and immanent to the act itself. Each act of walking does not actualise ‘to walk’ (the third person infinitive) of every possible act of walking. There is always an otherwise to walking that remains dormant as pure potential captured by the infinitive ‘to walk’. Each act of walking belongs to the series of walking. ‘A walk’ is the pure event of this series.

The next problem relates not to the complexity of events — the above example of walking is already highly complex — but to the complicatedness of situations. A ‘situation’, as I am using it here, is a manifold of events, which, for example, may contain millions of events and therefore millions of singularities. How does one talk about the singular dimension of a situation? In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari introduce the concept of Haecceity:

There is a mode of individuation very different from that of a person, subject, thing, or substance. We reserve the name haecceity for it. A season, a winter, a summer, an hour, a date have a perfect individuality lacking nothing, even though this individuality is different from that of a thing or a subject. They are haecceities in the sense that they consist entirely of relations of movement and rest between molecules or particles, capacities to affect and be affected. […] Tales must contain haecceities that are not simply emplacements, but concrete individuations that have a status of their own and direct the metamorphosis of things and subjects. Among types of civilizations, the Orient has many more individuations by haecceity than by subjectivity or substantiality: the haiku, for example, must include indicators as so many floating lines constituting a complex individual. In Charlotte Bronte, everything is in terms of wind, things, people, faces, loves, words. […] A degree of heat, an intensity of white, are perfect individualities; and a degree of heat can combine in latitude with another degree to form a new individual, as in a body that is cold here and hot there depending on its longitude. […] A degree of heat can combine with an intensity of white, as in certain white skies of a hot summer. This is in no way an individuality of the instant, as opposed to the individuality of permanences or durations. A tear-off calendar has just as much time as a perpetual calendar, although the time in question is not the same. There are animals that live no longer than a day or an hour; conversely, a group of years can be as long as the most durable subject or object. We can conceive of an abstract time that is equal for haecceities and for subjects or things. (261)

A haecceity correlates to the ‘thisness’ of a singular actualisation. Although they do not argue it, I want to suggest that their concept of haecceity allows Deleuze and Guattari to deal with the problem of the complicatedness of situations. ‘Individuality’ as used in the above extract from A Thousand Plateaus relates to the singular nature of a “season, a winter, a summer, an hour, a date”. These individuated ‘things’ do not correlate to a singularity but a whole constellation of singularities.

This is not a problem of rhizomatics or the mechanics of complexity, rather it is a problem of language. The most obvious example of a singularity is found in the infinitive verb. Yet, like any mode of representation, any infinitive verb is a reduction. ‘To walk’ surely contains the singularity of ‘a walk’ when actualised or in potential, but ‘a walk’ is constituted by many singularities. Think of all the movements of the body demanded when walking. ‘To move’ is another infinitive correlating to ‘a move(ment)’. There is a fluidity of the body whereby one might suggest that the whole body moves in a singular movement when walking. Why separate the arms from the legs from the hips? Indeed, think of all the movements required of the body when living! Why separate out one particular movement — a walk — from the fluidity of living? Or, for that matter, from the fluidity of the chaosmos? Because we can, because of language, because of sense.

Deleuze’s solution to this problem is partially answered in The Logic of Sense in his concept of death and of the crack-up. Death is a pure event. The ‘crack-up’ is a crack that forms on the surface of all things. It is a little bit of death in everything. I shall write a follow up post to this expanding on this point as my current bed-time reading is “Pure Immanence… a Life”. I have a feeling he will expound the other side of the event.

I’m Excited

I have scanned the Gomart and Hennion piece on what they call the ‘sociology of attachment’ but which also discusses ‘event-network theory’. It is a hard and fast ‘event’ theory influenced by Foucault and Actor Network Theory, but different to Deleuze’s hard-to-explain ‘singular’ conception and Foucault’s ‘historical periodization’ conception of events.

I am pushing for an event-based Cultural Studies so if anyone wants the article email me or leave your email in the comments below and I will email it. I have got the PDF down to about 5mb I apologise if this is too big for your mail server. (I tried turning it into a torrent, but I’ll be buggered if I know how to do it.)

Lastly, a poster I bought of the shortlived Big Kev V8 Supercar racing motorport team. Big Kev was a ‘larger than life’ entrepreneur who died last year from a heart attack. His sponsorship of a V8 Supercar team provides a unique affective congruence. His tagline “I’m Excited” dovetails very nicely into the mode of coverage for motorsport which is organised around the ‘action’. Racing is represented as much as the ‘action’ as event is captured and transmitted into the home or where ever. Big Kev produced ‘action’.

Events and Texts

Nick over at Memes of Production links to an essay (via Crooked Timber) entitled Critical Information Studies: A bibliographic manifesto (PDF document) by Siva Vaidhyanathan. It is a very well written paper. Vaidhyanathan writes:

Critical Information Studies investigates four dynamic fields of scholarly analysis and debate:

1) the abilities and liberties to use, revise, criticize, and manipulate cultural texts, images, ideas, and information;

2) the rights and abilities of users (or consumers or citizens) to alter the means and techniques through which cultural texts and information are rendered, displayed, and distributed;

3) the relationship among information control, property rights, technologies, and social norms; and

4) the cultural, political, social, and economic ramifications of global flows of culture and information.

CIS is not a subfield of Cultural Studies, nor of communication. It is a ‘transfield’ that both cuts across and gathers together scholars in many fields and disciplines.

A few people seemed to be turned off by what can be charitably called the ‘urgent tone’ of the piece. Normally I would locate this squarely in the self-aggrandizing scholarly-arm of the cultural industries, but I think Vaidhyanathan is actually saying something important and relevant.

My only problem with the paper is that it borrows those elements from Cultural Studies that are largely irrelevant to what I am trying to do! I am doing an event-based Cultural Studies, rather than one which is text based. The form/substance of many cultural expressions/contents are not ‘textual’. They require a ‘mechanics of the event’, rather than a ‘reading of the text’. I am currently writing up this section of my dissertation where I construct an ‘event’ for Cultural Studies drawing on Adorno, Debord, Foucault, Deleuze, Deleuze and Guattari, Massumi and others.

Another article in the same issue of Cultural Studies by Gilbert B. Rodman & Cheyanne Vanderdonckt’s “Music for nothing or, I want my MP3: The regulation and recirculation of affect” comes close to what I am talking about. The article highlights how music as well as legal threats affectively modulate a given situation. In the case of music, the example provided is of a dinner party whereby guests took turns downloading songs to effectuate the evening in a particular way. Similar, music companies pursue file sharers not through the courts but by using the atmosphere of fear produce through the threat of court action. Thus they modulate the affective terrain of IP and so on, which is in part Rodman & Vanderdonckt’s argument.

My problem is that ‘music’ (like literature, film, etc) is too easily defined as cultural. The affects of music are easy to understand as cultural as music itself is understood to be cultural. If we work from Raymond Williams definition of culture then there are many aspects of everyday life that are ‘cultural’ without properly being recognised as such. The obvious problem for me is to figure out how enthusiasm, technology and culture all intertwine.

In terms of Rodman & Vanderdonckt essay, the affects of discovering, locating and aquiring music and the cultural practices performed in this pursuit (pgs. 250-251, 255) are not the same affects produced by the music and act of listening itself. Using the problematic terminology of Grossberg, they describe these practices as forming “popular circuits of affective investment” (251) that exist in opposition to the multi-national music company strategies of distribution.

Listening to music and plugging into the various immaterial and material infrastructures that enable and produce a ‘scene’ are two separate dimensions of the singular event, which in this example is ‘finding and downloading music at a dinner party’. To elide the distinction between the different dimensions of this event is problematic because the music itself is largely irrelevant. The music enables a kind of becoming-together between the dinner party guests.

Part of my response to the problem posed by the event is to think about the affective dimension of technology and the cultural dimension of the technical. This is crucial for my work because the difference between working on a car, driving a car and watching someone else do something with the car or whatever involve different affective relations but all may be necessary parts of a singular event. Are these dimensions of the event ‘cultural’? I am assuming they are for the purposes of my dissertation!