Had a good meeting today with my principle supervisor. We talked about my tendency to use what she described as theoretical-sledgehammers to crack walnut-examples. Maybe it is a product of a postgraduate or masculine insecurity. I am really not sure. I have certainly trained myself in a specific way when reading and taking notes to understand things by taking them to the limits of their internal consistency. So when I write I write for someone pursuing this understanding, but, of course, I am not writing my dissertation for myself!! Anyway this taking-to-the-limit-of-consistency methods requires two movements (roughly stolen in joy-ride fashion from D&G’s “What is Philosophy?”):
1) An understanding of the mechanics of the argument in question. It really is a mechanics in a way that is not disimilar to the systems or complexity theory approaches in the human sciences that attempt to model social phenomena through mathematics. This doesn’t simply mean understanding the argument, but placing an understanding of the argument that allows it to function as per the author’s intentions in what Foucault called the field of ‘epistemological positivity’ which introduces a radical discontinuity more or less on the scale of paradigms or epistemes. Therefore it is not simply a question of the functioning of the argument but the functioning of the necessary discourse-based socio-technical assemblages incorporated as axiomatic assumptions into the argument when it functions. (‘Intentions’ of course invokes a zone of indiscernibility.) So not simply what does someone argue, or even the functioning of the argument, but the necessary discursive field for the functioning of the argument to happen. Grasp it on a diagrammatic level, as an event.
2) An understanding of the flows of content that allow the argument to function and the limit to these flows. This is a tricky one to explain. An example: It is no point asking of Adorno’s work what happens on the internet, because the functioning of the argument was organised around the flows of psycho-social investment into the social dynamics of one-to-many mass-produced media as distinct from a reified artistic expression. So why use the ‘cultural industry’ argument to study today’s algorithmic databases of cultural information (cf Cunningham’s “Cultural Economy” essay)? Yet, I can see some value in Adorno’s argument, the way he talks about exchange value folding back onto the commodity, thus affecting in a programmatic way the virtuality of the commodity-consumer assemblage and event of consumption. The value depends on who is doing what folding. This is very useful for talking about one half of the circuit of affect cultivation by the post-Fordist culture industries; but then there is the other half are the feedback mechanisms of consumer choice (ie market selection) and so on, and also the drifting dynamic that this produces as it shifts within the circuit of feedback to feedback.
All these things enter into my argument as elements I borrow from different people’s work. My problem is that, to continue the example, I explicate Adorno’s conception of the culture industry, along with about a dozen other theory bits like this. By explication I mean outlining the discursive fields of epistemological positivity and hooking up the machinery of my theoretical apparatus to Adorno’s to massumi’s to D&G’s to whoever’s. This is not the same thing as belonging to a tradition or a discipline, but it is not the opposite either. I do know that one of the reasons my writing is like this is because I don’t have complete draft, so I am writing everything that is possible to say about the functioning of something, rather than only selecting only those aspects that need to be contained in my argument for the argument to function.