on the event mechanics of agency

I have been idly contemplating the role, function and incorporation of creativity into capitalism. The contemplation has been instigated because I now work in a commercial enterprise. For the first time in my life I am being forced to think like a capitalist. There is something liberating and joyful about this. For so long I have basically been at war with a part of myself — my habitus — that was individuated/grown in the capitalist ecology of late-20th century neoliberalism. Many people opt out of this war much earlier in life and dismiss it as teenage fantasy, and some continue the war fueled by teenage fantasy, but I am doing neither. I am learning. This learning is progessing along two main axes. One of which I describe below in an anexact yet rigorous fashion 😉

From my PhD research I already have an account of how human endeavour — no matter how seemingly trivial and banal — is commercialised. I have been haunted by Manuel DeLanda’s comments regarding the uselessness of the term ‘commodification’ in that it is far too simplisitic a term. Indeed, I agree it is far too simple. I have been thinking about the concept of the spectacle and how to invert it to stand it right side up on its material base. The spectacle has been described a number of ways since Debord. I think the closest to my way of thinking come from Jonathan Crary’s remarks on ‘relations of attention’:

Spectacle is not primarily concerned with looking at images, but rather with the construction of conditions that individuate, immobilize, and separate subjects, even within a world in which mobility and circulation are ubiquitous. In this way attention becomes key to the operation of noncoercive forms of power. This is why it is not inappropriate to conflate seemingly different optical or technological objects [in a discussion of Foucault’s and Debord’s respective works]: they are similarly about arrangements of bodies in space, techniques of isolation, cellularization, and above all separation. Spectacle is not an optics of power but an architecture. (Crary 1999: 74-75)

In my dissertation I describe this as an imperceptible ‘structurating expectation’ that is felt in the bodies of enthusiasts. Alongside what Deleuze isolates as two of Foucault’s conceptual innovations — ‘statements’ and ‘visibilities’ — is this third [something]. I am not sure what to call it. It has a far more dynamic relationality than both the ‘statement’ and ‘visible’. Sanford Kwinter isolates something similar in his book Achitectures of Time. I will try to outline precisely what I am trying to talk about.
The first part seems similar to what Deleuze and Guattari call the ‘refrain’ in that it has a catalysing function. A ‘new’ iteration of organisation precipitates across the heterogeneous elements grouped by a given consistency. There is a seemingly silly dimension to this: the elements are grouped because they are grouped. But that ignores the dynamic dimension of how different basins of consistency (I prefer this to basins of attraction, as ‘attraction’ implies a relation between similar elements, when they are purely heterogeneous) are formed and unformed.

Note I have used the Derridean term ‘iteration’ to describe the relation between different consistencies of organisation. This is a problemtic term. The event, in Derrida’s philosophy, is that irreducible element that cannot be actualised and is continually deferred. What in Deleuzian philosophy would be called the ‘pure event’. Without a doubt there is a pure event, that of pure existence, of everything, the cosmos, for all eternity. This is perfectly useless for mundane human affairs. Introduce any degree of spatialisation and temporalisation — so that the pure happening of the cosmos becomes the happening of any discrete composition of elements — and there is a near infinite complexity of temporality, spatiality and causality. The best concept I have come across that attempts to tackle this complexity is that of ‘transversality’.
‘Transversality’ is a term that describes the non-spatial and non-temporal contiguity of elements in a complex system. The character of transversal relationality is what Deleuze and Guattari rather enigmatically, and with a hint of irony (at least for this reader), describe as ‘problematic’. The seriality of the differential repetition of events into iterative organisational consistencies is not linear; it has a ‘problematic’ character. The seriality is transversal. The second dimension of this [something] I am trying to describe is its transversality. The transversal (iterative) seriality is contained within the [something].

A problem that took me a long time to be able to even grasp was with seemed to be the conflict inherent between different interests within a given consistency of elements. In my dissertation this consistency of elements most often appeared as the ‘scene’ of an enthusiasm. How to reconcile the commercial intersts of capital and the subjective interests of enthusiasts born of a complex psychology of identity and so on. Perhaps the simplest way to imagine this is in terms of the conflict of ideology. There is a clash of beliefs at the level of what is perceptible and expressible as signifying elements in terms of what is visible and statements (what can be said at any given juncture). Yet, in a war for example, the conflict has a dimension of participation in that, as the cliche goes, it takes two to tango.

Whitehead’s concept of ‘congruence’ is a way to grasp the asignifying relationality between elements that are otherwise antagonistic. Perhaps this is an echo of human will or any will for that matter, one that does not yet take on the consistency of agency, yet overdetermines the trajectory of elements that have a consistency and the character of this consistency. At stake is the integration of the perceptible — the object world of a subject — and the vast imperceptible transversal relationality of the happening of iteration and the pure event of the cosmos. The transversal contiguity of iterative consistencies has a congruent relationality that is felt, ie as affect, but is otherwise imperceptible to participants. To frame it in the terms of another conceptual paradigm, it is the content of what Kant described as intuition. Congruence then is the third and, at this stage of conceptual development, final dimension of this [something] I am trying to describe.

There is a fourth dimension that with purposeful irony is related to time. I haven’t quite figured out how to formulate this as yet. The specific problem is super complex and relates to different orders of causality (feedback and feedforward loops, for example) within the transversal seriality of different iterations of consistency. At the moment I am leaning towards another concept from Whitehead to describe the processual dimension of this complex causality, what he called ‘appetition’. For Whitehead, this was the integration of prehensions prehending each other into an ‘actual occurence’, basically what Deleuze would call ‘actualisation’. The troubling part of this is the function of human imagination in the form of memory and probabilistic calculation, of how the ‘past’ or felt relationality of crystalised impercibility commonally referred to as ‘memory’, affects the relations of futurity by opening or closing perceptible relations and thus effecting the present directionality of action. It is a feedback loop with a feedforward loop ratified on the level of affect and directly consecrating action into the appropriate and inappropriate. This is what I would call the appetition of the spectacle and pushes Crary’s description of the spectacle as an ‘architecture’ into a fourth dimension.

To return to my opening remarks, what I am learning is how to map the effect of capital within this dynamic through the distribution of effort into the appropriateness or not of action. How to render this process of the distribution of appropriate action perceptible and guide it seems to me to be the location of agency and the purpose of what Deleuze described as counter-actualisation. One positive effect of all this thinking is that the distribution of effort within this transversal iterations of consistency as I understand clearly renders the utter conceptual poverty of the phrase ‘self interest’. ‘Self interest’ is a refrain that consecrates the distribution of effort into actions for the ‘self’ as appropriate and thus ratifying the affects of capitalist apprehension and, in a word, judgement.

3 thoughts on “on the event mechanics of agency”

  1. Perhaps you should become a capitalist in Launceston – heard today that more people own more than one property in Launceston than any other city in Australia. Real Estate is much cheaper than in WA.!! Perhaps a job at a Tassie Uni!

  2. use musicality as a metaphor and practice that operates in different registers as an affect and performance. the soundtrack of a car journo-academic-would be act-visit to connect with a poetic-politic beyond one-dimension – from plot point a to point b; to mad-fax hip bro meets style council, marries kung fu mistress channels librarian. best book ever happened tome/take-the piss

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