Archive for the Phenomenology Category

Embodiment in New Media

Posted in Art and Philosophy, Bergson, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Phenomenology with tags , , , , , on May 15, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Hansen in New Philosophy for New Media [1] argues that New Media brings the possibility of overcoming the immobility and passiveness of observer as it was the case in theater, photography, cinema, etc. and enabling user to create meaning for digital data by unfolding it through embodied interaction. But a piece that is ignored is that the mediation happens through a software to create a reaction to users’ body. In a natural environment users action is propagated through environment creating a series of crystallization and events, creating a series of zones of in-determination that are unfolding through time. In case of a digital interface (embodied or a flat screen) the results are in most cases a series of causal deterministic events that are designed by the designer (artist) to respond to users’ interaction. If there is any degree of indeterminacy, it is either the result of hardware flaws (software by definition is deterministic) or a simulated pseudo-randomness designed and hard coded into the system by the designer. This is completely in contrast with what Bergson and Deleuze describe as the crystallization through time. When user input is entered into the digital system, it is in a realm that everything can be (and will be) re-created and happened absolutely the same.

So the process of phenomenological body and digital environment interaction does not give enough agency to the body (in comparison to the designer of software) to be credited as meaning giving embodied interaction. On the contrary, as Manovich explains [2], new media in many cases only make the interaction more explicit and objectified. If we consider interpretation as a form of interaction and negotiating context between observer and the object (art), new media art has made this process more conscious and explicit and more prone to banality.

On the other hand embodiment is not only the use of our bodily actuators in reaction to every stimulus from the environment. Especially in Art if we limit the notion of embodiment to such reactions, art through history has been mostly disembodied. I think embodiment in the broader sense is all the feeling and emotions that we experience as an embodied being but are not within the grasp of thought as concepts or words. Then art is a way of communicating these embodied feelings through images (not necessarily visual images). In that sense a movie or a classical painting or a monophonic sound piece may be more embodied than an interactive piece that user controls a camera with a joystick.

[1] Hansen, Mark B. N.. New philosophy for new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.

[2] Manovich, Lev. The language of new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002. pp 55-61

Adoration of the Magi (Leonardo da Vinci)

What if the Tree was Laid Flat?

Posted in Bergson, Deleuze, Immanence, Phenomenology, Rhizome with tags on February 22, 2012 by immanentterrain2

I like the idea of the rhizome being more akin to roots than branches, but in further reading the material, the grass or weeds metaphor of the rhizome helped me to understand this concept as, in the way I assume Delueze wishes it to be, connoting something that spreads indefinitely in all directions. After going home and thinking about Deleuze’s ideas on genealogy taken from the interviews he had regarding Foucault’s work (expressly with concerns to his critique of a Darwinian point of view more so than Nietzsche’s with regards to the evolution of concepts as opposed to a genealogy or inheritance essentially not based in truth but power) I tried to work out some budding questions.  My hope was to attempt to fully understand what Deleuze was proposing.

The questions I had were whether or not, in our creating concepts in an additive function, even if on an immanent plane (i.e. concepts as a result of experimentation and the use of conjunctions such as “and”), would eventually create a hierarchal structure that was oriented in another way? What is the difference between evolutions of concepts, whether it is vertical or lateral, linear or spatial, as opposed to creating concepts from others and so on by experimenting on an artifice where nothing is relegated to cause and effect or any transcendental Laws of nature? (Visualize the tree metaphor used to describe knowledge production by Deleuze in describing the rhizome. Instead of its verticality being called into question, what if we laid the tree flat?). By creating concepts from others (even in an immanent world) wouldn’t we be able to trace backwards towards the origins of such concepts laid out on this plane? Therefore, exposing a sort of evolution of the concepts created? In other words, a hierarchy laid sideways?

In my nascent understanding of the imagery laid out by Deleuze, this metaphor of the tree (knowledge branching out of an episteme) would imply a hierarchical system within the creation of concepts. This made the additive capacity of the use of the conjunction “and . . . and  . . . and” or “+ . . . + . . . +” with concerns to creating concepts at the edges of the artifice of knowledge, literature, etc. hard to grasp in accordance with my imaginings of how in his view we must move away from any “territorializing”, codifying, or hierarchically systemic identification of the world about. With a more rigorous reading over of Deleuze’s ideas, I was able to resolve my questions from a passage in the introduction of A Thousand Plateaus and their discussion of the rhizome.

Deleuze brings in the concept of memory (which I believe is influenced by Henri Bergson) and states that there is a division between the long term and the short term. He proposes that the short term allows us to forget previously invented concepts and move on to create the next. In this system, the genealogical aspect of concepts – an evolution of sorts as a result of the additive use of the conjunction “and” (which in my view leads one to think that there has to be something to originally add to therefore the metaphor of the tree)  – lives in the long term memory which is not the active and/or creative aspect of our cognition. Removed from our conscious perception of concepts, this would allow for the creation of concepts to not be placed in a hierarchical ontic system.

“Many people have a tree growing in their heads, but the brain itself is much more a grass than a tree. ‘The axon and the dendrite twist around each other like bindweed around brambles, with synapses at each of the thorns.’ The same goes for memory. Neurologists and psychophysiologists distinguish between long-term memory and short-term memory (on the order of a minute). The difference between them is not simply quantitative: short-term memory is of the rhizome or diagram type, and long-term memory is arborescent and centralized (imprint, engram, tracing, or photograph). Short-term memory is in no way subject to a law of contiguity or immediacy to its object; it can act at a distance, come or return a long time after, but always under conditions of discontinuity, rupture, and multiplicity. Furthermore, the difference between the two kinds of memory is not that of two temporal modes of apprehending the same thing; they do not grasp the same thing, memory, or idea. The splendor of the short-term Idea: one writes using short-term memory, and thus short-term ideas, even if one reads or rereads using long-term memory of long-term concepts. Short-term memory includes forgetting as a process; it merges not with the instant but instead with the nervous, temporal, and collective rhizome. Long-term memory (family, race, society, or civilization) traces and translates, but what it translates continues to act in it, from a distance, off beat, in an “untimely” way, not instantaneously.” (Deleuze and Guittari, 15-16)

Our class discussion of Hume brought this home even further. The questioning of causality I think marked a break from actually knowing and believing. Before belief constituted knowing. Reason. Specifically, the belief that we could know things “in and of themselves” (which Kant rapidly tried to debunk) that served as the precedent to the creation of the whole world – God as Supreme Cause. But with Hume, we only have belief and imagination, which shows that we connect phenomena/events via inference and habit (which of course in empiricism means that we have to always check these happenings against observation). I feel that this image of thought makes human beings at heart, in the state of nature, inventive. Socially, scientifically, etc.

Foucault’s aims in his analysis of the discursive relations of power that exist within society to expose a genealogy through an archaeological technology to discover the episteme from which social institutions and their “power relations” act within the problem of subjectivity. To in essence unearth certain epistemic discontinuities in the history of concepts that we take for granted. In short, to discuss identity, with regards to institutions, knowledge, concepts, personhood, etc.  Deleuze, in contrast, wants to create a map as opposed to an archaeological site. To show the relationships between agents and not a family tree. Along with Bergson (In his Matter and Memory), the inventive capacity of our cognition, our action in thinking, lies within our ability to forget – our short term memory – which in turn forces us to invent. Deleuze seeks to be a cartographer, seeking the relationality between agents in his rhizome, his terrain of immanence. In this topography, we turn the social systems we believe we are subject to on their head (instead of working top down, in our plane of immanence, through the subsequent mapping of it, forces us to work from the bottom.  From within the purview of science, philosophy, literature, and art and to their edges). This is a move to push the image of thought, the subject, and art to its farthest limits and to concern ourselves with what is outside their demarcated boundaries. To dig around in the darkness and create new concepts along the margins.

– Victor Peterson

Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc. , 2004. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Nietzsche and the Over-Man

Posted in Deleuze, Nietzsche, Phenomenology with tags , , on February 7, 2012 by immanentterrain2

(Reprint: Snow Day Lecture #2)

As some of you already know, Nietzsche is considered an influence not only on “post-structural” philosophers, like Foucault and Deleuze, but also on the movement that came to be known as existentialism that precedes post-structuralism by a couple of decades. (The most recognized face of existentialism at the time was, of course, Jean-Paul Sartre.) Deleuze, for his part, would argue that existentialism does not live up to the challenge of Nietzsche’s thought, since it presumes a transcendent subject with a power to choose this or that action. In other words, existentialism remains a philosophy of transcendence. Indeed both existentialism and phenomenology can be understood as the latest developments in a legacy that begins when Descartes utters the formula cogito ergo sum. As Todd May notes, in his explication of Deleuze’s philosophy, “It is not simply a question of how we human beings might go about creating our lives, of what we might decide to make ourselves into” (“How One Might Live” 23). This is Sartre’s question. It is still insufficient or inadequate because it prioritizes being over becoming, identity over difference. It presupposes that there is an identity, a self, who chooses their existence. Deleuze rejects the emphasis placed in Sartre on agency, on self, and, more importantly, the emphasis placed on the human. “Deleuze,” May writes, “tries to pry us away from humanism by focusing on a difference that need not be human difference and a one that need not be a person.” Humanism is to understood here as a form of anthropomorphism. Humanism commits the “error of believing that the proper perspective for understanding the world is centered on the viewpoint of the human subject” (ibid. 24). Humanism places man at the center of the universe, since man is its principle or exclusive concern. Deleuze places his emphasis on life; on the becoming of the entities that populate our world. These entities are not pre-determined; nor is their future known once and for all. To stop at the human would be to presume that the goal of life were the creation of man. (Which, of course, is what Christian theology says.) It would be a mistake to argue (and some have done so) that this “anti-humanism” is an expression of contempt for mankind. How could this be so since mankind is part of world? At the same time, we cannot fall into the trap of thinking too highly of ourselves. Since everything is becoming – everything is in process – so too is man. Man is becoming, in and with the world. This, Deleuze will claim, is what Nietzsche means when he coins the term übermensch (the “over-man” or “super-man”). We are in the process of overcoming ourselves, and there is no certainty that our evolution will not take us elsewhere, even beyond man. At least, man as it is known today.

As Deleuze says to his interviewer, in “On Nietzsche and the Image of Thought,” the goal of contemporary philosophy is to attempt to rethink the questions of existence without the constraints of either God or Man – which is to say, without the constraints of transcendent being. And the value of Nietzsche is that he “was trying to uncover something that was neither God nor Human…” which he called Dionysos or the over-man (139).

***

What does it mean though to say that there is no identity or self who chooses this or that existence? And how might this be squared, for example, with the thought-experiment known as the Eternal Return? (Does not the Eternal Return seem to presuppose choice?) This is where Nietzsche gets tricky. Consider here his concept of Will-to-Power, which he views as the “noblest” of values. Will-to-Power is misunderstood if we imagine an individual who exerts his or her will on another entity or thing. For Nietzsche, there is no separation between a will and what is willed. They are one and the same. There is no pre-constituted subject who wills this or that act. No, the act (what is willed) and the subject (who wills) are constituted at the same time. (The error of separating out one from the other is precisely what we find in Descartes: Descartes assumes that a thought, the act of thinking, requires a subject who performs this action. Nietzsche would deny this hierarchy or priority: the subject doesn’t precede thought but is constituted in the act of thinking.) Put more simply, we can say that the subject is immanent to its expression. The challenge then is not to fall back on a notion of substance or install an agency at the origin of an activity or an expression of Will-to-Power. The use of terms like “object” or “thing” or “entity” is an example of how language misleads us into seeing solids (autonomous, pre-constituted beings) when there are only fluidities, only relations. The artist’s relation to their artwork is a good demonstration of this: the challenge from a Nietzschean perspective is not to be misled into seeing the artwork as an expression of the artist’s will. There is not an entity we call an “artist” who decides to will a painting into existence. Rather, the activity of painting itself is the expression of a will to power that produces both the painting and painter at the same time: the painter as such emerges through the activity of painting, and not once and for all, not through the painting of this or that painting, but over the course of years or decades and in conjunction with a body of work. What then is the difference between an artist and an oeuvre? There is none in terms of Will-to-Power: they are an expression of the same force, the same will. The artist accumulates an oeuvre and, in the process, a self.

S I-G

References

Deleuze, Gilles. “On Nietzsche and the Image of Thought.” In Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974. Ed. David Lapoujade. Trans. Michael Taormina. New York: Semiotext, 2004.

May, Todd. “How Might One Live?” In Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.