Talking about world views

In the latest Partially Examined Life podcast on Thomas Kuhn’s notion of scientific progress Mark refers to the previous Deleuze and Guattari What is Philosophy? podcast and makes a connection between Kuhn’s notion of ‘paradigm’ with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a ‘plane of immanence’. Below are some rough notes on this connection to push it a bit further into some of Deleuze and Guattari’s other works and so as to connect Mark’s reference to ‘planes of immanence’ in the context of Kuhnian paradigms with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of ‘collective assemblages of enunciation’.

I have roughly transcribed the section from the podcast below (between the time code references):


[Discussing how the term ‘paradigm’ has entered into non-technical discourse to refer to what could be called a ‘world view’. ‘Technical’ in this context means following Kuhn’s definition.]

Wes: Most people use it as synonymous with ‘world view’, which… there’s an argument for that, but really it’s more like ‘exemplar’; it’s an ‘example’.

Mark: I would just like some more systematic language — some philosophy — to tell me how to talk more intelligently about ‘world views’ in this nebulous way that we actually want to talk about it. There perhaps a modern [inaudible] evolution of this idea in the Deleuze [and Guattari] book that we read, When he’s talking about ‘planes of immanence’ there’s a certain commonality — granted he’s talking about ‘planes of immanence’ as what defines a ‘philosophy’ and what defines a ‘philosophy’ is defined by the concepts and once you have the ‘concepts’ established maybe you could see that as providing a paradigm for science, which remember [Mark shifts to his wise-cracking smart-ass voice] he sees as just providing ‘functions’ its just mapping one value onto another as if you’ve got the mapping rule already stored in your paradigm there and your plane of immanence…  and so science on that model is just what Kuhn is describing normal science as — is just filling in the details, is finding out what each question maps to in your set-up. [But] the plane of immanence that we had so much trouble with… maybe its just my desire to make some sense out of the Deleuze retrospectively, [Wes: Well..] but maybe paradigm is a good start for that…

Wes: That sounds like more a conceptual scheme which I think is different to a paradigm. [Mark: Hmmm] A conceptual scheme includes — yeah — a set of concepts for talking about the world and certain assumptions, but a paradigm I think as an example gets at some of the more less conceptual stuff, some of the tacit knowledge, some of the ways… maybe it’s more like — what’s Wittgenstein’s phrase?

Mark: Mode of life?

Wes: Yeah, and part of it’s about what’s relevant to people, so its not just about what concepts they’re deploying, but what’s about what’s interesting and relevant.


I have taught Kuhn’s work to first year undergraduates in a large introductory ‘research methods’ unit that is taught to every incoming student to our faculty of arts and design. The purpose of the unit is to introduce students to ‘research methods’ in the humanities. I draw on Kuhn’s work so as to illustrate how the practice and meaning of the word ‘research’ in a contemporary Australian university context is largely determined by scientific discourse. I indicate the connection between our university’s policies on research to the federal government’s policies to the guidelines provided by OECD’s Frascati Manual in the way that ‘research’ is defined.

The contemporary Frascati Manual is an interesting document as it attempts to bridge the gap between the ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ research of the sciences (p. 30) with a non-scientific research of the humanities. At stake is the distinction between the practice of what could be described as ‘routine work’ and the practice of ‘research’. ‘Research’ in this context is any practice that is worthy of non-routine investment funding. Why is this important for the OECD? Because research in the humanities can have productivity outcomes. “For the social sciences and humanities,” the manual suggests, “an appreciable element of novelty or a resolution of scientific/technological uncertainty is again useful criterion for defining the boundary between R&D and related (routine) scientific activities” (p. 48).

When introducing this to to my first year students I use it to talk about what this ‘resolution of scientific/technological uncertainty’. I frame this discussion in terms of matching certain kinds of research practice with certain kinds of epistemological uncertainty. The students already do research to address a certain kind of uncertainty. What films are showing at the cinema this weekend? What gift should I give to someone dear to me? This work of everyday research relates to the kinds of tacit knowledge that I think Wes was referring to. I introduce the notion of ‘research’ in this manner so as to help students realise that the epistemological process of working to resolve uncertainty is not some special thing that academics do, but is something we are all familiar with as part of everyday life.

The next manoeuvre is to posit undergraduate research as part of a process of becoming familiar with another set of professional practices for identifying the ‘uncertainties’ that belong to a given scholarly or research-centred field. I teach Kuhn’s notion of paradigm in terms of being one way to describe (make ‘sense’ of) an epistemological process for the resolution of uncertainty. The ‘paradigm’ is the set of agreed upon practices and assumptions for reproducing the conditions by which such uncertainties are identified as such (‘certain uncertainties’ to riff off Rumsfeld). From my lecture notes, I note that ‘paradigms’ are compositions of relations that:

Create avenues of inquiry.
Formulate questions.
Select methods with which to examine questions.
Define areas of relevance.

I define ‘expert researcher’ for my students as someone who knows exactly what they do not know and who belongs to a ‘scholarly field’ that has specific methods for defining what is not known in terms of what is known. (One reason for this is to try to shunt students out of the debilitating circuitous logic of gaming education for grades and resurrect a sense of wonder about the world.)

The ‘reproduction’ part in defining paradigms is therefore important as Kuhn also identified the so-called political aspect of scientific paradigms: they are not simply sustained by the quality of the knowledge produced by research, but the professional conditions by which that knowledge and producers of that knowledge are judged worthy as belonging. This has been a roundabout way of getting to the substance of this post, which is Mark’s reference to Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a ‘plane of immanence’. Rather than a ‘plane of immanence’, I think perhaps a better connection is to Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a ‘collective assemblage of enunciation’. 

A ‘plane of immanence’ is the ‘quasi-causal’ grounds by which thought is possible. (That is an esoteric post-Kantian pun.)  ‘Quasi-cause’ comes from Deleuze’s work The Logic of Sense. It is an attempt to address the problem of how ‘sense’ (the logic of meaning) arises from what is basically the cosmological nonsense of the universe. I won’t pursue this too much, but the way humans make sense of the world normally implies some kind of realism. This ‘realism’ is in itself not natural, and can be described as a collective system of reference.

In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari characterise ‘science’ as the creation of what they call ‘functives’; a ‘functive’ is the basic element of a function and it describes some aspect of the way the universe works. What makes thought possible is the complex individuation of a thought through the body of a sentient being. Cognitive science is doing its best to resolve this problem. Individuation in this context follows a causally normative path of individuation. This leads to that. The process of cognition.

What makes thought sensible is a philosophical problem. The seemingly counter-intuitive movement of thought in the context of the expression of thought, whereby the future affects the present. That is lead by this. In Difference & Repetition Deleuze draws on Nietzsche’s notion of the ‘dark precursor’ to describe this movement. On the surface, non-linear causality seems like a radical idea. In practice, we do this work everyday. Instead of creating momentous existential crises most of the time we delegate these causally circular movements of thought to metaphysical placeholders. We collectively describe these as ‘assumptions’.

Indeed, Deleuze separates the cosmos into bodies and the passions of bodies (causes) and expressions and the sense of expressions (effects) and associates two orders of causality. (Or ‘two floors’ in the existential architecture of reality in The Fold.) One which belongs to the world and is shared by every single thing (body) in the world. One which only can be inferred by implication in any expression of sense. Deleuze’s concept of the event is an conceptual attempt to group together the dynamic quasi-causal expression of ‘sense’, which is why the ‘event’ is central to The Logic of Sense. 

Language and culture imply a shared sense of quasi-causality for those thinking beings who belong to that culture and use that language. Cultural expression can therefore be understood as an elaborate method for the dissemination of assumptions. Interesting to think about in this context is ‘poetics’ as a research practice  — that is, poetics as a method for identifying or discovering new assumptions. For those who work in the creative industries perhaps it is worth thinking about what assumptions are you helping to disseminate.

The detour through ‘quasi-cause’ was necessary to explain the notion of a collective assemblage of enunciation and why it is difficult to explain how a new paradigm emerges from an old paradigm. The notes to PEL podcast on Kuhn describe this as an ‘evolutionary version of Kantianism’. But the problem with this is that the new paradigm does not emerge from the old paradigm; the point of the notion of the paradigm is that it describes practices that ward off the development of new paradigms. Hence the non-scientific problem with the concept of the paradigm: the difficulty of describing how a new paradigm emerges from the new paradigm before that ‘new’ paradigm exists in actuality.

In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari develop the concept of ‘agencement’, which is translated by Massumi as ‘assemblage’. There are two sides to every assemblage: a machinic assemblage of bodies and a collective assemblage of enunciation. There are two orders of causality to every assemblage. The linear movement of causal relations belonging to bodies and the ‘quasi-causal’ relations of thought. Each fold of ‘thought’ in this context is the process of transversal distribution of sense in the world. Sense is distributed from the future; it is the superposition of one moment upon the next. One way to think about this is that every paradigm (as a concrescence of singular points) already exists quasi-causally.

A ‘world view’ therefore has two ontological levels: the world and the view. Language is important because each singular expression implies a monadological view that can be inferred. More important is that even though sentience can be defined by the existential capacity to make assumptions. As Nietzsche was at pains to point out, it is a seemingly unique human trait to delegate this capacity for making assumptions (or what he called ‘truths’) to our culture. Nietzsche was worried about the manifestation of ignorance as the acceptance of such assumptions as well as admiring the near-suicidal pursuit to overcome such assumption-producing cultural mechanisms. 

Which leads to the question, in what ways are humans not sentient? Is your world view making you non-sentient? If non-sentient life is defined as the delegation of the capacity for making assumptions to genetics, then what are the assumptions we have delegated to our biology or through our biology (by way of evolutionary ‘fitness’) to our environment? 

I have purchased but not yet read Isabelle Stengers Thinking with Whitehead. I suspect it shall address, at least peripherally, some of these issues.

Modulating Appetite

From Mary Wyman’s 1960 book on Whitehead is this example of creativity as part of a general process of concrescence (as becoming):

This actualization of potentiality as an ingredient in something real might be illustrated by the experience of Otto Lilienthal, pioneer inventor of the flying glider. Process here is obviously considered on a scale of some magnitude. The initial stage for him may be his preoccupation with winged creatures and their manner of flight—the inflow of the material world. The potentiality of the past probably includes for him also inherited mechanical and engineering ability. As process continues, we may imagine his concepts of gravity, equilibrium, and control intermingling with his observations on the flying of birds, possibly in part derived from them. The lure, which guides the how of feeling, would seem to be particularly associated with Lilienthal’s novel belief in the superiority of a curved rather than a flat surface for the flight of machines heavier than air. Here also the element of contrast is introduced. A driving urge or purpose, which we ascribe to the persuasive power of the lure is intensified by contrasts, and results in the satisfaction of producing a flying glider covering distances up to 1000 feet. The glider then as a novelty passes into objective immortality; but its value in a material world has been chiefly its lure to further progress in the evolving of the airplane. (23-24)

She later describes the general dimensions of this process using Whitehead’s philosophy terminology:

In expressing a subject’s concern for a selected portion of the universe, the term feeling is synonymous with positive prehension or the appriation of data to serve as components of a subject’s concresence, the growing together of its formative elements in the process of becoming. Important too is a negative prehension that eliminates incompatible elements from feeling. It should already be clear that feelings, in accordance with the idea of physical and mental poles in an occasion, may be physical; arising through the senses from the actual world, or conceptual, involving ideas derived from the actual world. Often a combination of the two types of prehension, and is called by Whitehead hybrid or impure. Examples of conceptual feeling are appetition and valuation: the first, awakening purpose and allied with God’s immanence in the world, he has described as “an urge toward the future based on an appetite in the present.” Valuation is the subjective form or how of feeling, which in its decisions, purposeful or otherwise may increase or diminish intensity. Consciousness comes with intensity of feeling, with a comparison of what may be with what is not, or with a yes or no judgment on a proposition. The union of physical and conceptual prehensions is seen comparative feelings, where the datum to be entertained as a lure for feeling may be a theory or a proposition. Feelings or prehensions of whatever type are subject to the persuasive power of the lure, and are causal links in the successive phases of concresence that should end in satisfaction. Feeling is thus a central factor in the process of becoming. (28)

The relation between Lilienthal’s earth-bound existance and that of flight is the relation between two milieus. Lilienthal’s apprehension of the technical function of the curved bird’s wing is derived through a creative process of discovery; what Michael Polanyi described in the context of  exploration practices as the “daring anticipation of reality”. For Whitehead the curvature of the bird’s wing and its translation into technical knowledge represents the process of concrescence whereby the ‘eternal object’ of the curved wing is potentialised in practice. In Deleuzian philosophy Whitehead’s ‘eternal objects’ are instead termed ‘singularities’. Milieus that are integral to the process of individuation, which in this case is the individuation of the technical object of a glider and the technical knowledge of gliding as a practice of flight, Gilbert Simondon calls “associated milieus”. An aesthetics of the composition of singularities that can be ‘immortalised’ as objective technical knowledge is premised on the intermingling in experience of ‘feelings’ from one milieu to another. I am interested in the way knowledge is developed through the creation of relations between milieus and the function in the contemporary era of media assemblages to facilitate (or constrain) such relations. Compositions of tacit and explicit knowledge commonly circulate in everyday life through various genres of media content.

Whitehead’s “lure of feeling” serves as what Deleuze calls “quasi-cause” for a current action implicated in a future event that is nevertheless already happening, such as the intermingling in experience of the future event of flight. The process of concrescence or individuation proceeds according to a complex virtual architecture of such ‘lures’. I am interested in the polical economy in the niche or subcultural media for the (re)presentation of material dimensions of such events. A great deal of enthusiast practice is mobilised through the presentation of ritualised (and therefore valorised) events that produce a relation between one milieu, for example belonging to the suburban garage, and the event(s) of an associated milieu, such as the event ‘to race’ of the milieu belonging to the racetrack.

The relations between milieus are necessarily transversal in character. There is no direct correspondence between actions belonging to bodies of different events except through a conceptual or theoretical valuation of the ‘feelings’ that belong to each of the milieus. This is a complex ever-shifting exchange of causality between the present and the future (recently dramatised, for example, in Looper). Ultimately, what is at stake is not the recognition of value as per the practices of judgement associated with the sociology of taste developed by Pierre Bourdieu, but the actualisation of value as a creative practice through as aesthetics of technical practice. The condition of possibility for judgement, where judgement is still an essential element in this process of valuation, is appetite. By turning to Whitehead it is possible to finally do away with the notion of disinterested interest (inherited from Kant). Appetition for Whitehead is not a quality of the sensuous or necessarily affective character of bodies, but the joining of a physical state of affairs (hunger, thirst, restlessness of an earth-bound body) with a conceptual prehension (to eat, to drink, to fly). Spinoza is clear on this; from Ethics:

When this striving is related only to the mind, it is called will; but when it is related to the mind and body together, it is called appetite. This appetite, therefore, is nothing but the very essence of man, from whose nature there necessarily follow those things that promote his preservation. And so man is determined to do those things.

Between appetite and desire there is no difference, except desire is generally related to men insofar as they are conscious of the appetite. So desire can be defined as Appetite together with consciousness of the appetite.

From all this, then, it is clear that we neither strive for, nor will, neither want, nor desire anything because we judge it to be good; on the contrary, we judge something to be good because we strive for it, will it, want it, and desire it. (III P9 S)

Specialist media circulate cultural capital not for the pursposes of mobilising judgement, although this is certainly a consquence, but for the commercial advantages of modulating appetite. The shift from print-based media to online web-based and platform-based media has affected the composition of relations between milieus, the character of knowledge that can be circulated, and the capacity to modulate the aspirational ‘active’ affects of enthusiasts mobilised to engage with the purpose of events as they populate a given scene. The Code2012 paper I am currently woking on finishing discusses the impact of the democratisation of practices of valorisation in the mobilisation of enthusiasts.

Of gap-sense: On Morton’s Of Planet-Sense

Tim Morton gave a talk at NIEA, Sydney, August 25, 2012 “Of planet-sense”. He offers a reading of the film Avatar as the successful completion of modernity, rather than its (hippie, environmental, etc.) reversal. All quotes below are to his talk, apologies in advance for any errors of transcription. The planet of Pandora with its ‘organic internet’ allows for the seamless movement of consciousness. Morton is concerned with exploring this seamlessness and arguing the case for ‘gaps’.

Modernity for Morton is the emergence of the Anthropocene (the direct human internvetion into geological time, by way of the depositing of a layer of carbon on the Earth’s crust) and the emergence of Kantian philosophy with its critique of human reason. Anthropocene is the “ironic name for a moment at which the nonhuman is discerned to be inextricable from the human”.

On the one hand is a (neo-)Heideggarian engagement with the film. Common reading of Heidegger is that humans are embedded in a ‘world’. Being and Time advocates an ‘awareness’ that is “frequently avoided at all costs”. A bit later Morton describes how humans are unable to access global warming directly, and resultant to how it takes the measure of us: “a tsunami assess the fragility of a Japanese town, an earthquoke probes the ability to resist the liquification of the Earth’s crust, a heatwave scans us with ultra-violet rays”. These harmful measurements direct out attention to human co-existence with other lifeforms inside a gigantic object. “What undermines [or underlines? underlies?] this sense of planet is a planet-sense, experienced by humans as physical in measurement”. This is not the political affect of Avatar.

On the other hand is a Spinozist logic of health and pathology, a continuity between mind and body, represented by the Navii and the planet “with no ontological gaps”. Morton argues that from this Spinozist reading “there is no evil, only inadequately expressed conatus — the will to exist that takes joy in imposing itself on the rest of the planet’s substance”. (It is unclear if Morton means the Spinozist sense of Joy as positive affection of the soul, that increases one’s capacity to act based on the agitations of reaching or yearning for a higher rationality, or if he means ‘joy’ in the sense of a narcissistic sadism. The use of ‘takes’ indicates a transcendental subject experiences their own sadism as joyful, hence Morton meant it in the second sense. In the first sense, Joy is the experience, and concurrent agitation of the soul; it is not ‘experienced’ as such, and that which is experienced certainly does not have to be ‘joyful’ in any subjective sense. [And listening further along in the talk, just after 33min, Morton does indeed invoke this notion of sadism.])

“There is no nothing, no nothingness in a reality that contains no ontological gaps”. For instance the gap between brain and mind, cinematic representation in Pandora as sentient world. For Spinozist the entity nothing is oukontic; “that is, not even nothing, sbstance everywhere without lack”. Morton goes on to describe another nothingness opened up since the time of Kant and the Anthropocene, a meontic nothingness. From theological philosopher Tillich:

  • Me On: (Greek) “Me on is the ‘nothing’ which has a dialectical relation to being.”
  • Ouk On: (Greek) “Ouk on is the ‘nothing’ which has no relation at all to being.”

(Also, see Morton’s brief remarks from a different context on oukontic and meontic nothingness.) Hegel’s nothingness was a reaction against Kant’s critique of reason that had discerned a threatening gap in the real “predicated on a reason that I cannot directly access”. Reason as an abyss. Morton asks the question, does not the planet Pandora invoke this meontic defintion and not the oukontic?

Jake Sully experiences that Kantian sublime atop of his reptilian winged beast. Sublime of science, plunging into the abyss of reason. Avatar of reason can be known, but it is severed from the real thing. Noumenal transcends the phenomenal. The thrill ride threatens the Spinozism continuum between mind-body. Or a materialism, Deleuze, Bergson, Whitehead “to paper over the crack with a spattle of matter”. Appeal of Spinozism in modernity, it allows for a pantheism not unlike an athesism.  Sully as a slippage between binaries. An excess of thinking [really? Part of the plot was Sully’s mind was ’empty’.]

[I enjoyed Morton’s rant against causality.] Science’s statistical appreciation of reality just is. There is no causality. Causal arguments are reductive in the sense that they are all equally premised on a correlation between statistics and reason; hence the hyper rationality of the fascist (of Creationists, of tobacco companies, of ecological denialists, etc.).

Modern philosophy is a reaction against nothingness, meontic angst; “what is required for thinking is not wish away the ocean [abyss of reason, from an earlier extended metaphor] that provides the reason for the problems identified in Hume, as if we could unthink the fact we are three dimensional beings [Morton here is referring to the ocean of Reason being like another dimension in a world of stick people]”. According to Morton, “Heidegger correctly saw that the task was a voyage beneath nihilism, not to take flight above it or to circumvent it. The ocean of reason seaps through the cracks of pre-packaged facts.” Kant argues that the human-world correlate is what gave reality to things.

OOO etc extending this relation to all things, a “riot of anxiety, we I confront the full uncanniness of all things”. There is a “Pandora’s Box full of gaps”. [Another account of this.] To summarise Morton’s argument for the next 10-15min or so: the concept of ‘world’ is backformed from the Kantian gap, and therefore it is insufficient as a conceptual apparatus for accounting for all the worlds that belong to all the different objects. Not only is there a gap for each and every object there is also an abyss of reason (but not reason, because ‘reason’ is human-centric) for each of these objects. Objects withdraw into this abyss; objects withdraw from themselves. Agriculture is a prototype for a certain engagement with Earth because agriculture turns it into an aesthetic product; a “full world of distances and horizons” this aestheticisation gathers speed in the Anthropocene. This is the meontic world glimpsed by environmentalism; “a pair of cats eyes, ‘Tiger, tiger, burning bright’.”

Some thoughts in response:

After hearing this talk, I’d like to see Morton engage with Deleuze’s Logic of Sense. Why?

Morton is very good at laying everything out, not only in the sense of his actual presentation of the talk (and the beat poet-like presentation), but in the presentation of certain arrangments of non-relations. Arranging specific non-relations between objects and themselves, the non relation between objects and their worlds, and the non-relation between the infinite multiplicity of object-worlds. In as much as this is an ontological flattening (or, to be inspired by Morton’s use of puns, perhaps ‘flattering’ for objects), Morton indicates our world is actually a non-world of a multiplicity of distances and horizons. For Morton these horizons are all horizons of being to presence and presence to being. Yet, there is another gap, between Harman’s Object and Morton’s Hyper-Objects, that has a non-spatialised temporal dimension.

A non-spatial gap is what Massumi calls a non-local linkage (between assemblies of experience) or what I’d call, largely derived from Deleuze’s LoS in an attempt to move away from familiar Aristotlean conceptions, a problematic contiguity (the ‘between’ or ‘middle’ of events). This is a shift from a concern with a non-temporal is. I am assuming that objects withdraw in non-relations in different ways; that is, no two withdrawals (and correlative presence) even of the ‘same’ object are equivalent. The gap here is intensive; the differentiation serves as the ontology of the event. This is only the first part of the gap between Harman’s object and that of Morton’s hyper-object (based on Morton’s talk); its non-spatial (and non-extensive) location. It is temporal in the sense that a difference is differenciated, and therefore if spatialised can be counted (in the mathmatical sense), and because it produces a rhythm in the world (another ‘count’).

The other part of this non-spatial gap is very similar to the way Morton describes the kind of invasion of aliens. The non-human scale of Morton’s hyper-objects is in some ways no different to a sympathetic reading of Harman’s argument for objects. The big advance that Morton provides for OOO is to finally escape from the human-centric version of objects (and I mean in a really stupid, knee-jerk sort of imagining what is an object). Similarly, the ontology of events is indicated by the ‘holely space’ of temporal architecture distributed, as Morton notes in his talk, according to statistical regularities, but they are not premised on them. To think events on a non-human scale is to admit that the distribution of distributions is necessarily incomplete. The ‘thisness’ of an event is characterised by a diverse array of differentiations but all of these differentations can never be known as such. That is why there is a difference between the first-person subjectivity that perceives the object as an event (as determined by perception and discourse) and the fourth-person singularity that takes the entire chaosmos as its ‘world’: in between is a concrescence of impersonalities. These impersonalities do not have a correlative ‘personality’ (ie an ‘object’ in OOO sense) in any normative sense. (See my notes on Esposito’s reading of haecceity for a thoroughly Deleuzian appreciation of part of this problem.)


Matters of Concern

In Bruno Latour’s now relatively famous paper “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern” he launches into a scathing critique of most of the methodology that defines cultural studies:

When naive believers are clinging forcefully to their objects, claiming that they are made to do things because of their gods, their poetry, their cherished objects, you can turn all of those attachments into so many fetishes and humiliate all the believers by showing that it is nothing but their own projection, that you, yes you alone, can see. But as soon as naive believers are thus inflated by some belief in their own importance, in their own projective capacity, you strike them by a second uppercut and humiliate them again, this time by showing that, whatever they think, their behavior is entirely determined by the action of powerful causalities coming from objective reality they don’t see, but that you, yes you, the never sleeping critic, alone can see. Isn’t this fabulous? Isn’t it really worth going to graduate school to study critique?
One thing is clear, not one of us readers would like to see our own most cherished objects treated in this way.

Now some contemporary thinkers embrace this line and turn their attention to ‘objects’ so as to resuscitate the dignity of objecthood. Objects can no longer be defined as a function of relation with subjects, they say. Perhaps they are concerned about their own existence as relatively powerless, but functioning objects in various social systems? By discovering the dignity of objects they will also discover dignity for themselves?

I turned in a different direction for the argument in my dissertation, which having completed now four years ago is practically historical in relation to my current thinking. As I was dealing with enthusiast cultures that organized around cars I did not want to fall into the trap of a neo-Freudian account of enthusiast practice that reproduced the fetishistic dimensions of enthusiast engagement. This was an intellectual decision, as it would have been too easy to follow this ‘common sense’ neo-Freudian line of scholarship.

Instead I turned to investigating enthusiasm itself. What is it about ‘enthusiasm’ that mobilizes enthusiast bodies into action? I still don’t know. I focused more on the event-based structure of enthusiasm, that which produced a processual cadence essentialized by Latour above as ‘cherishing’. I thought about enthusiasm as an event, a virtual structure of relations differentially repeated with any number of different objects and subjects. The motor for this event was not ‘in’ the objects or the subjects, but the process of becoming-together between the contingencies of challenges that mobilized enthusiasts into action as enthusiast practice and affective contours that constitute the enthusiast habitus and encourage communication across them as they are activated in positive and negative ways. ‘Positive’ and ‘negative’ in the sense of scholarship on affect where positive affections increase one’s capacity to act, while negative affections diminish one’s capacity to act. Enthusiasm is a positive affection.

Enthusiasts would dismantle, modify and repair the ‘black box’ of the automobile. They would produce an experience-based practical knowledge — ‘know-how’ — deployed to overcome challenges and establish a reputation in subcultural and masculine economies of respect. The contingencies that characterized the challenges of enthusiast practice could also be regarded as ‘problems’ for non-enthusiasts. A challenge is not an object; it is a virtual and processual structure characterized by the limit of understanding of the enthusiast, but one that is open to the future. A challenge is not yet a problem as the translation of the singular coordinates of a challenge into that of a problem means that the processual structure of the challenge has been conditioned into possibilities for solution. A challenge becomes a problem in discourse and in a backformed comprehension of the possibilization of the contingency into a field of solutions. (Massumi describes something similar, but not the same, with sport and play in Parables of the Virtual.) This is why ‘know-how’ is acquired by doing and maybe showing, but definitely not by talking or teaching in any conventional sense (unless ‘talking’ or ‘teaching’ are constituent elements of a specific challenge). Deleuze described a somewhat archaic version of this process when he argued that the Stoic sage “identifies” with the quasi-cause:

The Stoic sage “identifies” with the quasi-cause, sets up shop at the surface, on the straight line which traverses it, or at the aleatory [contingent] point which traces of travels this line. The sage is like the archer. However, this connection with the archer should not be understood as a moral metaphor of intention, as Plutarch suggests, by saying that the Stoic sage is supposed to do everything, for the sake of attaining the end. One rather acts in order to have done all that which depending on one in order to attain the end. Such a rationalization implies a late interpretation, one which is hostile to Stoicism. The relation to the archer is closer to Zen: the bowman must reach the point where the aim is also not the aim, that is to say, the bowman himself; where the arrow flies over its straight line while creating its own target; where the surface of the target is also the line and the point, the bowman, the shooting of the arrow, and what is shot at. This is the oriental Stoic will as proairesis. The sage waits for the event, that is to say, understands the pure event in its eternal truth, independently of its spatio-temporal actualization, as something eternally yet-to-come and always already passed according to the line of the Aion. But, as the same time, the sage also wills the embodiment and the actualization of the pure incorporeal event in a state of affairs and in his or her own body and flesh. (146)

In a sense (pun intended), Deleuze’s description of the Zen-like actualization of the archer and his attendant technologies of archery is when he is at his most Foucauldian. Foucault’s ‘discourse events’ are the spatio-temporal actualization of a pure event that defines the limits of intelligibility and authority as it is distributed into what is sayable and what is visible for a given body of knowledge. Foucault made this discovery in the archive, where the processual dimension was already backformed into discourse. Michel de Certeau repeats this while discussing what he calls ‘know-how’ in the Practice of Everyday Life for non-discursive situations. The on-going process of actualization that produces a distribution of subjects and objects and normative subject-object relations is the ‘grid’ that Deleuze discusses in the Fold as always already intervening in chaos. While this is all very interesting, I am sure, it seems to have even less relevance for contemporary thought than does a rigorous if futile investigation into the dignity of objects.

Kant’s discussion of enthusiasm is interesting at this point and perhaps more so is Lyotard’s discussion of Kantian enthusiasm. I don’t mean the version of Kant’s enthusiasm that is most commonly discussed with regards to Kant’s positive comments about the enthusiasm of spectators for the French revolution as proof of the moral judgment of the revolution as ‘good’. I mean in the context of Lyotard’s interpretation of a practical rationality that relies on enthusiasm as its impetus for ‘striving’. Enthusiasm signals a failure of ideas, it triggers an inflammation in the powers of imagination to overcome this failure. The concept of enthusiasm I developed many years ago extracts the virtual coordinates of this process as the processual differential repetition of the enthusiast body as it continually encounters challenges.

Of course, the Enlightenment project in part was defined by the work of Kant and others to rescue ‘rationality’ from all kinds of mystical and religious enthusiasms. The contradiction is that we need enthusiasm so as to achieve great things. Hence the problem, recast slightly, of the critique of critique. It was meant to be self-evident once the limits of rationality and conditions of possibility had been sufficiently laid out; the ‘naive’ believers (as Latour calls them) would simply come to their Enlightened sense. Instead critique itself poses a challenge that is not simply overcome with enthusiasm, the challenge posed by critique serves as another opportunity to differentially repeat enthusiasm itself. Witness political discourse, no minds change, only banal discriminations performatively reproduce themselves.

I don’t agree with Latour’s solution: “a multifarious inquiry launched with the tools of anthropology, philosophy, metaphysics, history, sociology to detect how many participants are gathered in a thing to make it exist and to maintain its existence. Objects are simply a gathering that has failed — a fact that has not been assembled according to due process.” Should we treat all enthusiasts of a given reality, of a given distribution of possibilities, as if they need to resuscitate the dignity of ‘cherished’ objects? No, they are working to actualize a particular world, an entire distribution of subject-object relations. Evangelicals name the Apocalypse as quasi-cause. Harnessing enthusiasm does not involve critique, it involves assembling challenges to mobilize (enthusiast) bodies into action. Increasing their capacity to act, rather than diminishing their capacity to act with ‘solutions’ to their banal everyday problems.

I started writing this post thinking about why Latour’s argument for turning to matters of concern is relevant for journalism, but it became something else. Apologies!

Theory and Research

I am going over my writing from the last few years and sorting out what should go where. The problem I face is that there is a paper I really want to write to do with Kant’s discussion of enthusiasm and there is no way, that I have figured out at least, that I fit a proper discussion of Kant’s discussion of enthusiasm into the context of my empirical research. This is not a simple matter of me trying to ‘apply’ some theory or another to my empirical research, rather my concept of enthusiasm was developed through my empirical research (fieldwork and archival research of 30 years of magazines and other materials). Therefore it is annoying, almost disheartening, to realise I am going to have split my work into two papers. One that deals with enthusiasm as a concept and is therefore primarily a philosophical work and the other that delves into my empirical research to outline a historical example of a culture and political economy of enthusiasm. This separation should not exist in my mind but there are good reasons for it.

1) Readers of the two papers would be very different. The philosophical paper is essentially a reading of Kant. The cultural studies paper is essentially a Foucaultian genealogy of enthusiasm within modified-car culture. On the one hand, I hardly think too many bourgeois academic philosophers would be interested in my empirical work. On the other hand, the empirical work presents a strong example of the ways enthusiasm can be harnessed as a resource by cultural industries and with the emergent dispositif of labour relations organised around immaterial labour and so on it is a useful way to understand what is at stake.

2) I have misgivings about my own abilities to do a reading of Kant justice. Some philosophers specialise in Kant and his various works (and secondary readings) are practically all they study for their entire lives. I am a competent reader of Kant, I think. In that I recognise an interesting argument made about Kant’s work when I read it. Maybe I’ll present some readings of Kant here? (I just created a Kant category for my blog.) The issue of course is that I am only interested in his discussion of enthusiasm. His general philosophy about the legislative function of reason as a synthesis of the faculties is not that interesting to me at the moment. Anyway, a separate paper on Kant’s enthusiasm would force me to properly engage with Kant’s enthusiasm in a sustained manner.

3) Theory. I loathe the notion. I am not sure what people were thinking when they thought it was a good idea to invent this category of academic work. There are only conceptual tools. Theory should be banished. I don’t want my Kant paper to appear as if it were ‘theory’. That is why I am so reluctant to give up on a paper that incorporates empirical research.

4) My style of writing is to trace influences on my work and influences on others’ work to the page or series of pages and reference these pages so readers can follow exactly where I am getting ideas from. One of the best things about A Thousand Plateaus for example are the footnotes. There is a question of competence here, particularly when reading or using something in a particular way, so others familiar with the work can follow what you are doing. There is also a question about a creative ecology or milieu to which my own work belongs. Its totality is only ever a partiality of another totality and so on. I want to be able to frame the horizon of intelligibility of my understanding and imagination. This makes my writing rather dense and requires a patient reader. Splitting what I am working on at the moment into two papers will at least save the reader having to be patient on two counts for the philosophical stuff (Kant, Deleuze, etc.) and the empirical historical work (magazines, newsletters, etc.). I can understand why Foucault chose not to include footnotes in some work. Splitting it will make each paper appropriately energetic or at least less of the inverse.