Tools for Critical Epistemology: Part 3

Deleuze and Guattari explain minor sciences are “itinerant, ambulant sciences that consist in following a flow in a vectorial field across which singularities are scattered like so many ‘accidents’ (problems)” (372). Bonta and Protevi explore the concept of a minor science in this way in their book Deleuze and Geophilosophy. They write “Deleuzean problematics of ‘minor science’ establishes the existence and distribution of singularities in a manifold, thus laying out the complex structure of multiplicity” (26). Closer to Foucault’s approach of engaging with the archive – what he called eventalization. It involved a number of methodological steps. First, mapping the distribution of ‘statements’ – utterances that characterised a field within which a given utterance had a certain truth value. Second, examining the institutional context or changes in the institutional context within which the truth of these statements had authority and the character of this authority.

Or in Deleuze’s philosophical, as outlined in Difference & Repetition, to isolate a problematic field and treat with the distribution of singular points condensed as a ‘concept’. Deleuze is actually scathing of anyone who misrecognises ordinary points for being singular points, an activity which he terms ‘stupidity’. The ‘idiot’ is a friend of philosophy as he or she treats another philosophy in a naïve or ironic fashion to approach it in terms of its singular coordinates rather than attempt to reproduce it as an image of thought.

So the problem that I would like to present is regarding how to think the relation between these two epistemological methodologies and the way I am framing this problem today is with regardless to the location of the necessary aesthetic dimension required when attending to singularities and correlative phase-spaces. Thinking about the singular points and becomings and so on of aesthetics is relatively familiar, what I am trying to get at is the functional art of technical knowledge

Tools for Critical Epistemology: Part 2

In the fragments from his estate’s papers translated and published as Technical Mentality Simondon focuses on the event of human invention, how it was unified with the artisan, but then becomes dispersed in the industrial age. He describes this in terms of the distribution of information and the distribution of energy, where they do not overlap. He suggests, “industrial modality appears when the source of information and the source of energy separate, namely when the Human Being is merely the source of information, and Nature is required to furnish the energy”. He continues a little later, “Unfortunately, the entry of information that comes into the work is no longer unique in the way it is with the artisanal gesture: it happens through several moments and at several levels.”

Simondon describes four moments of the entry of information 1) Invention, 2) construction, 3) learning to use and 4) operation. I’d like to add a fifth, repair. Simondon should be celebrated for focusing squarely on the role of the technical object in the constitution of the technical reality. He writes:

“Technical thinking has by nature the vocation to represent the point-of-view of the element; it adheres to the elementary function. Once technicity is admitted into a domain it breaks it up and starts a chain of successive and elementary mediations governed by the unity of the domain and subordinated to it. Technical thinking conceives the operation of an ensemble as a chain of elementary processes working point by point and step by step; it localises and multiplies the schemas of mediation, always remaining lesser than the unity.” (421)

Different subjectivities are distributed through this chain in many ways and for Simondon this is unfortunate. The separation of subjectivities arranged through this chain of mediations of the technical reality of a singular object is manifest in the character of socio-technical discourse through which each of the subjectivities apprehends the technical reality. In most circumstances the operation, maintenance and repair of a technical system demands participation in this technical reality for the human that is actually divorced from the abstracted scientific theory and the pure automatic incorporation of Ellul’s ‘technique’. The ‘technical reality’ is like ‘technique’ in that describes a reconfiguration of subjectivity appropriate for functioning at an appropriate moment between thresholds in the chain of the technical reality. This is similar to the actor-network theory of ‘black boxing’ but at each moment in the entire mediative chain of technical reality for a given socio-technical object. Simondon argues there is no organic totality or unity between the mediations.

For the thinker of ontogenetic accounts of the individual clearly there must be an organic dimension at each moment in the chain of mediation whereby the correlative subject is co-individuated with the ensemble of the socio-technical reality. Simondon also briefly discusses the way consumers of socio-technical objects, such as consumers of the automobile, are kind of suspended between the symbolic dimensions of the object and its functional aspects. The point being that are alienated from the actual technical discourse through which they could be individuated as a technical subject able to participate at other moments in the mediation. The solution to this problem is to not regard knowledge as ever totalising but as a partial development determined by the process of individuation. This partial, situated knowledge is better understood in terms of singular points, phase spaces and thresholds of understanding, or what Deleuze and Guattari called a ‘minor science’.


Tools for Critical Epistemology: Part 1

The emergence of the ‘policy recommendation’ as an appropriate research output for humanities scholars and academics appears to be a relatively recent phenomena of the last three decades or so. ‘Appropriate’ in this context means judged worthy by funding bodies, politicians and bellicose media commentators. In some cases the recommendations are based on research that mirrors the extent of research belonging to the relevant scholarly field or even exceeds it. For example,  the (in)famous case of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s work for the Canadian government on the ‘condition of knowledge’ was on the leading edge of late-1970s post-structuralist accounts of epistemology. Or, closer to home, the Arts and Creative Industries (2011) report produced by Justin O’Connor is similarly on the leading edge of research exploring the relation between the culture and economics of the arts and the creative industries.

Another trend I’ve noticed however is regarding the way specialist or technical appreciations of a given policy problem are reduced to be suitable for ‘report’ form. There seems to be an over-reliance on the presentation of information as ‘facts’ within a very weak analytical framework. The sector I’ve noticed this in relates to cultural practices using communication technologies and I am not sure if it pertains to other areas. The distribution of understanding across multiple stakeholders creates an uneven effect. I’ve been in presentations that consisted of information I already knew combined with information that could be easily searched for online. This is not that much of a problem, except that the questions being asked that framed the presentation were also overly simplistic.

The simplistic research presentation was a problem, but it is not the main problem. If those making policy decisions know less about a given area than those making policy recommendations, then a different relation to knowledge is required than one which is ‘functional’ or ‘sufficient’. Or, to reframe this in a slightly different way, what is needed is an appreciation of knowledge not blinkered by one’s own lack of appreciation of the conditions of knowing. As much as we develop appreciations of knowledge, these appreciations are developed along with situated relations of epistemological myopia. Gilbert Simondon, the thinker of individuation and ‘technics’, described this mode of appreciation a ‘technical reality’.

Virilio and Vision of the Self-Projectile

[This is an extract from a lecture on “Pics or it didn’t happen”.]

For Virilio dromoscopy is the art of the dashboard, which “displays inanimate objects as if they were animated by a violent movement” (105) and becomes “in some ways a video game of speed” (111). (Here is a translation of one of Virilio’s ‘dromoscopy’ essays. That essay is similar, but different to the text I am referencing below which is the dromoscopy chapter of Virilio’s translated book Negative Horizons.)

Virilio uses the literal and metaphorical concept of a dashboard to think about how 20th century technologies of movement have changed relations of visibility. Central to this is the emergence of a privileged actor — the voyeur-voyager. The voyeur-voyager ceases to be transported or the subject of displacement and instead becomes the locus of arrival. The pure projection of the voyeur-voyager inverts the passivity of the cinematic apparatus to become the pure immobilization of ‘polar inertia’. Virilio writes:

“In the speed of the movement the voyeur-voyager finds himself in a situation that is contrary to the of the film viewer in the cinema, it is he who is projected, playing the role of both actor and spectator of the drama of the projection in the moment of the trajectory, his own end” (106).

The voyeur-voyager is enabled by the technology of the dashboard; the dashboard both frames the screen and provides an immediate array of informational content. What is the sensory and semantic information allowed through the constraint of the screen (passenger window)? It is a “stage [scéne] where the signs of the places travelled through move past in the mise en scene of changes in the scenery from the change in the rate of speed” (107). Speed and its maintenance throttles the arrival of sign-places upon the screen. The speed of the voyeur-voyager dissolves the distance to the horizon or destination (108-109, 111) and modifies the regulation of appearances (114-117). Virilio discusses both of these in a negative sense; the relations of perception to the outside are diminished by speed. What matter or is counted are the opportunities for insertion — the ‘entranceways’:

“With the excess of speed, vision [la vue] becomes progressively the way [la voie], the entranceways [la voie d’acces], to the point that daily life seems to have become an ‘optical watch’ where vision [la vue] replaces life [la vie], as if, in waiting in front of the audiovisual device, hoping that the dromovisual device will attain in its turn the instantaneity of ubiquity…” (116)

I want to push this fertile concept of the voyeur-voyager in a slightly different direction, one that retains Virilio’s preoccupation with violence and thinking about the self-directed voyeur-voyager but in the context of the project of the self in a networked context. We use multiple dashboards not only to track what is happening in the world through various feeds, but we also use them so as to mount a campaign of the self. Following Virilio’s logic, this project of the self becomes a self-projectile. There are at least two consequences of this.

The first consequence of this is that the play of appearance and disappearance is premised on the speed of insertion in the complex media ecologies of multiple dashboard-enabled perception-feeds. The art of the dashboard shifts from making inanimate objects appear as if they are animated by a violent movement to an example of what Virilio calls chronologistics. Chronologistics is the orchestrated logistical effort of producing and participating in a “montage of dromoscopic sequences” (119, 118). The presentation of the online self is a logistical art of not only display, but also timing. For those who have worked as social media communicators where you post and participate in a corporate or institutional ‘voice’ (posting for a brand or service, for example), you will know the art of tracking engagement and posting at various times during the day to maximise engagement.

The second consequence of the project of the self thought as self-projectile is that for the voyeur-voyagers there is no singular destination as such, but multiple loci of activity. Virilio prefigures this in what he calls the accident of dromoscopy: the “catastrophe of collision [telescopage] arises from the fact that the arrival seems to counter more and more frequently the departure” (114). Or put another way “the departure for the meeting has come to an end, it is replaced by the arrival of images on the screen” (115). The passive relation to this is the “wait for the coming of what abides: the trees file past on the screen of the windshield, the images that rise up on the television” (115). But there is an active relation, one that Virilio does not discuss; playing the role of actor and spectator, but instead of the the end (or telos) is replaced by the target (or skopos). To follow Virilio’s preoccupation with military metaphors, the dashboard becomes a targeting apparatus of the scope.


Writing a Research Essay

Students in my third-year undergraduate unit Communication Technologies and Change have to prepare a ‘research essay’. As there are many students who are studying in the unit who have not written a research essay (some from the media arts program or the marketing program, for example) I have offered to meet with any student who would like to have a meeting to discus and plan their essay. This means I meet with a large number of students one-on-one. There are 240 students in the unit this semester and there were about 160 last year; I see about a third of these.

In meetings I walk the students through three steps:

  1. Isolating a suitable ‘research problem’ based on your interests and/or work already carried out. This will give a sense of direction and a way to approach how you are going to develop an argument.
  2. Developing this into a draft essay outline/structure with possible examples that you want to explore. This will give us a sense of your overall argument and thus the gaps in your argument.
  3. Lastly, we will then look at what sort of literature review you need to carry out. This will enable you to provide evidence for your claims in the argument and demonstrate your understanding of the course content; And at the same time giving you a direction in terms of carrying out research to ‘fill in’ the gaps.

The ‘research problem’ is constructed from two (sets of) questions. One question faces ‘outwards’ and is asked of the world. The other question faces ‘inwards’ and asks a question of the scholarly field(s). To get the students thinking along the right way I normally prompt them to discus some examples. My unit is very ‘theoretical’ so students are sometimes overwhelmed or feeling anxious, but I encourage them to recognise the practical dimensions of what we discuss in lectures and tutorials. Crucial here are examples or case studies as they enable students to, firstly, demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the topic, and, secondly, enables students to show extent and relevance of research (both of these are part of the marking criteria).