Archive for the Subjectivity Category

Empirical consumerism

Posted in Deleuze, Immanence, Rhizome, Subjectivity with tags on May 17, 2012 by immanentterrain2

This post might err on the side of saccharine; I want to talk to you about milieus and customer service. Taking permission from empiricalism – in which everyday experiences is knowledge – I’d like to make some statements from personal experience, bouncing off a Deleuzean mirror. Also too, I am interested in substantive philosophy: something that can be internalized has more value to me.

Passing through a city, we encounter multiple sites of exchange. We pay for transit, food, too many beverages, learning, accessories, entertainment, fashion, housing. Our lives are paid for at every level. Aside from negotiating, or choosing what is the appropriate product to consume (based on personal guidelines, beholden to personal standards), the method of transaction is fairly automatic. Present the good, receive the price, hand the money over, watch the cash be put in the register, the change is counted out and the receipt enclosed. The moment that this perfected chain of events is interrupted is if there is a problem with the expected good/payment, or if there are questions/information needed to complete the purchase. The certain chain of events has been disrupted. The reaction of the consumer ranges from nonchalant, to awkward, to even irate, and possibly angry. Customer service representatives, don’t they just take it all in?

These representatives fill our environment; racing feet to fetch that thing, busy hands to fold that item, arrange, rearrange, provide, and solicit. They occupy the establishments we go to, and we hold them accountable for our experience. Good service or bad service, the very mood of our purchases is attached to that person, or team of people expected to fulfill our needs and wants in exchange our money.

Now, let me qualify my stance before I slant this piece. I have a crazy hospitality resume. In about 12 years, I have worked in hockey arenas, golf course maintenance, snack shack, beer cart, cafes, university residence, hotel, hostel reception, butchery, honey factories, vineyards, housekeeping, and bars. I’ve despised and adored my jobs in the same day. To get through to the next paycheck, there was something in me to care about these jobs. As a result, these experiences have shaped how I approach other “customer service representatives,” a clinical term to classify all those who are the gatekeepers to our commodities.

The other day, to upkeep my bad lung clogging habit, I recognized a man from another tobacco store. This was my chance to say ‘hey!” I asked him his name, and he asked for mine, and now we exchange the news and our commentary every time I step into one of his shops. This more familiar encounter makes my vice glow. A dormant congeniality is activated, and without ulterior motive. Dividuation is a lesser issue now.

Component to a rhizomous existence, a plane of consistency, forming multiplicities, are the very nodes that connect to our own personal rhizomes. This is our relation to the world, to engage with the stimuli that surround us. Deleuze dubs this environment as a milieu. As Uexküll notes in his study of the tick, and Deleuze incorporated in his philosophy, in order for stimulus to have an impact, it needs to be noticed by the subject. Our milieus are the result of our observations and our input into them. Rather than be motivated by enhancing insulated lives, we need to have an ulterior motive of relations: such “relations to form or compound extensive relations or to enable an intensive power, sociabilities and communities.”[1]

Poverty of our relations can be this skimming of an elemental part of our daily lives. Societal codes, or even just the experience of dealing with multiple strangers in a day can inhibit our relations with various keepers of commodities. Maybe it’s because we are forced to give our money over that causes us to feel somewhat distrustful. In this obligatory milieu, we can consider our habits, and devise lines of flight by interacting with these goods-and-services-keepers. This yields some perks that lessen or bypass some of the capitalist expectations. Friendly banter with a bartender gets a shot passed to you under the table, the barista will ring in a small drip for that latte, the tobacco store will sell you the pack, but throw in free papers and filters. This is not to try and garner free shit, but a symbol of camaraderie. Consider, “the simple animal has a simple environment; the multiform animal has an environment just as richly articulated as it is”[2]

Here is a to and fro to our milieu, a re and pro. This is to make our experiences ceaseless versions of us, to construct a common plan of immanence that is inclusive of beings.[3] Creators make a move by dotting that canvas or whatever medium. Creators in everyday living make a move with others to continuously launch an inexhaustive variation of ourselves to exercise the capacity to become more complex persons in experiencing milieus. The trick is, creation is not a divine ability, it is in all of our abilities. In terms of our daily lives, by maintaining the contact at the level of money transaction, there is obedience to the transcendent capitalist flows. Rather, to be inexhaustible is to include other bodies, minds and individuals, and develop unique, diverse multiciplicities. To create is to make an action, unpredictable, is to willingly open up to be affected and to affect, to expand the capacities for relations. This is key as in our currency habits; we are left unaware of the dormant qualities unless we release them through re-engaged encounters.

Milieus are not maintainable surroundings, but are modulated through our concern and action towards. Let’s take the idea of guardian angels for a second. We’ve all had those random events when life really blows, and we are at our wit’s end. Then out of generosity and resourcefulness, or sheer luck, some stranger alleviates the situation. Our gratitude is likely to be genuine, but also borne out of relief. But now consider how to be that guardian angel, that miracle instigator, for someone else.

This is sometimes what the customer service team does for us. Someone needs to make a move to make someone’s day. While service is an expectation, there is value in a reciprocal relationship. This is regulated through a tipping system, but there can be intangible exchanges in which can liven up someone’s position or a general circumstance. Something unexpected beyond the customary manners of please’s and thank you’s, but a genuine engagement of persons. In this busy buzzing service climate, there are multitudes of becomings to connect with. It is an idealistic, sweet notion, but this makes sense to me, and this is what I consider while reading Deleuze. In my hospitality experiences, I would come to know the various chefs, baristas, housekeepers, bussers, etc. in any  environment. My tone of voice, my attention towards them, my appreciation for their work, and my expectation of work is all involved in my potential interaction with them. A mentor taught me, always ask for their names.

In attempts to open up a rhizomatic existence, there are affectual capacities in being sensitive, while contributing to our milieus. If anything is to be achieved, my thought is to pay attention to subtle possibilities in every opportunity of relations.

-Bria


[1] Deleuze, Gilles. “Spinoza and Us” Spinoza, Practical Philosophy. Trans. Robert Hurley. (San Francisco: City Light Books, 1988)). P.126

[2] Uexküll, Jakob von, A Foray Into the Worlds of Animals and Humans: With a Theory of Meaning. Trans. Joseph D. (O’Neil Minneapolis: University of Minnosota Press 1940) P. 5o

[3] Deleuze, P. 122

Impersonal Narcissism and Relational Aesthetics

Posted in Art, Deleuze and Guattari, Relational Aesthetics, Subjectivity with tags on April 23, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Lynda Benglis. Blatt, 1969.

How would our lives be better if human relations were something other than the collusion of ego-identities, if the shared project was not the consolidation of selfhood, but its dissolution?

   – Leo Bersani & Adam Philips in Intimacies

In Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction, Todd May starts by asking the question of “how might one live?”A sub-question of  May’s question could be “how might we relate to each other?” or “what might we love others for?” and these would be valid ones, since our relationalities with each other and with the world we inhabit are important aspects of our being, which could lead to new possibilities. It involves a discussion of subjectification and ethics, since they define how we choose to relate or not to relate, with whom or what. The relational aesthetics artists and their pieces, which Nicolas Bourriaud discusses in Relational Aesthetics, are seeking these new modes of relationality, at least, they are assumed to be experimenting with. However, the dynamics behind subjectification and our habitual modes of relationality among ourselves and with the world might need to be reconsidered if we want to assess the success of these pieces in terms of their ability to create new relational modes.

Deleuze and Guattari discuss how our being gets striated and territorialized through various devices such as the family, the church and the State, leading to a modernist notion of individualism. The modern subject forms a sense of self through these devices available to her/him, and it proceeds by differentiating between the self and the Other. According to the psychoanalytic theory, the individual sees the outer world as a threat to her/his own existence, therefore, something to be mastered. The individual gets a pleasure through the satisfaction of her/his aggression toward this outer world to the extent she/he masters it. This requires a solid formation of a sense of self and an ego, which immediately creates a strong sense of the Other, in the case of the other humans, animals or the world. To give an example, the current schema of masculinity needs a differentiation from the feminine or from ambiguous sexualities – queer identities. To the extent he differentiates himself from a woman, he becomes more Man. The biological differences may not be enough for him; further differentiation becomes necessary, which results in the distinct binary codes of femininity and masculinity in terms of cosmetics, fashion or gestures, to name a few. Moreover, queer subjectivities become a threat to the masculine subject, because they are the embodiment of the other possibilities the male body is capable of, signaling a dismantling of the hard-won, hard-formed masculine identity, a reminder of the fictitiousness of their particular sense of self, causing the formation of homophobia. This rigid formation of a self-identity has two options when it faces an encounter, unless it remains indifferent. It is either “I love you, I am taking you in”, or “I hate you, you are an Other which is a threat to my identity”. The dual extremities of the possible reactions become a habit, a reaffirmed truth as one has more idea about who one is, narrowing down the range of the possibilities that have not yet been. The encounter results with a choice of binarities that lacks the possible transformation of the self in the equation.  Sometimes these relations are regulated through the State’s rules, and the Church’s values or by the family’s customs and traditions. But most of the time, the paradigm according to which the actions of the subjects are judged or valued is that of an ethics which requires a strong formulation of the individual subject, which, then proceeds by identifying the allies and the enemies, the sameness and the difference, a differentiation between the Self and the Other. However, this is in contrast with what Deleuze understands of ethics, an ethics of immanence, which considers the affective nature of an encounter, following a Spinozist approach. An encounter, a relationality would be good for Deleuze if it increases the capacity to affect and to get affected; new relational modes that foster becomings that require a change in the current notions of subjectification and ethics, since their current states do not leave room for becomings.

The modern subjects have a problematic relationship with each other when they live in a civilized society. The reaffirmed sense of self, which proceeds by differentiating between the self and the Other, thus, seeing the other as something to be mastered, faces a major contradiction when s/he lives in a civilized society, which operate within the ethics of “Love thy neighbor”.  In their collaborative book, Intimacies (2008), in which they discuss the possibilities of new ways of relationality, Leo Bersani and Adam Philips argue, “Nothing is more absurd, Freud asserts in Civilization and Its Discontents, that what is perhaps the most cherished biblical commandment: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ This commandment, revered as one of the ideal demand of civilized society, is really justified by the fact that nothing else runs so strongly counter to the original nature of man which Freud claims dictates not that we love our neighbors, but rather that we exploit them, rob them, rape them, murder them”. (Bersani, Philips 60) It is easy to love your neighbors in Rirkrit Tiravanija’s dinners, but that does not mean we have experimented with our ways of relating; as Bishop shows, the antagonism is not sustained but erased, and “without antagonism there is only the imposed consensus of authoritarian order – a total suppression of debate and discussion which is inimical to democracy”. (Bishop 2004 66) Without the friction created by antagonism, it is hardly a new mode of relationality, but something that falls back into our comfortable and habitual ways of relating to each other.

To find other modes of relationality, loss of the modern sense of self or a “shattering of ego” might be necessary, leading to becomings and new subjectivities. It is possible to draw a parallelism between deterritorializations of this kind and “impersonal narcissism”, a notion Leo Bersani offers. In Intimacies, Bersani elaborates on how a loss of self, through a shattering of the ego, opens new territories for an intimacy of a different nature; a new way of relating to others. For him, intimacy is in trouble if it is not rethought as a mode of being with, rather than a mode of knowing about. He considers the love between the mother and the baby of this kind of intimacy. It is narcissistic, because it assumes a self-love, which is also the case for the current relationalities that sees the Other as a threat. However it doesn’t proceed by differentiating between the self-love and the hate for others. It is “impersonal”, because it proceeds by seeing the self in the Other, seeing the other not as a threat to oneself, but as a new channel through which the self can transgress itself, forming new subjectivities or singularities. In every relationship, what the individual looks for is not a reaffirmation of her/his sense of self, but new formations each and every time.

It is the modes of relationality among subjects the artists who are engaged with relational aesthetics are experimenting with or at least they are assumed to be. Claire Bishop, in her “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics” article, argues that it is naïve for artists to think they succeed in fostering new relationalities among the viewers, by bringing them together. Some of the artists she discusses are Rirkrit Tiravanija and Liam Gillick, who are often promoted by the curator and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. When read together with her other article “Social Turn and its Discontents”, it can be said that she identifies three problematic notions about these artists’ pieces. First, she criticizes the pieces which are based on an artistic renunciation and an embracing of “a Christian good soul”, particularly when she talks about Oda Projesi’s –a Turkish art collective- workshops, which the artists organized in order to bring art to people who live in their neighborhood by providing them with art supplies and space and by facilitating the production of art for them. (Bishop 2006 5) This can also be argued for Rirkrit Tiravanija’s dinner gatherings. In these cases, the pieces lack the artists’ arguments, by relying too heavily on the participants’ contributions. Moreover, Bishop argues, there are two other problems with these art pieces, the first stems from a misreading of post-structuralist theory. She claims these artists misinterpreted the openness of a work of art, “a work that is open-ended, interactive, and resistant to closure, often appearing to be work-in-progress rather than a completed object”, therefore, “rather than the interpretation of a work of art being open to continual reassessment, the work of art itself is argued to be in perpetual flux” (Bishop 2004 52) The third problem rises from the appropriation of these experience-based happenings by capitalism as an experience economy.

In the case of Santiago Sierra’s works, which are also discussed by Bishop, we have an encounter that results in a different kind of reaction, however, not one that favors a becoming of the viewers, but a reaffirmation; “This is not me!” When the viewers of Sierra’s works face the paid prostitutes or the street vendors of Venice, what they see is the Other on display, not necessarily a relationship between the viewers and Sierra’s paid workers, even though it generates an unease or discomfort; a becoming, a formation of a new mode of relationality remains missing. It is the encounter or the collusion of two different classes or groups, but not necessarily a new mode of relationality among them.

This brings us to the question of what would be a relational aesthetics piece that would foster a becoming that would result from a partial loss of the sense of the modern self or a reconfiguration of subjectivity, leading to impersonal narcissism through some sort of sustained antagonism, perhaps in the areas which Guattari identifies, for inventing new relations “to the body, to fantasy, to time passing, to the mysteries of life and death”. (Guattari cited in Bourriaud 92) A piece that would make us interrogate things that we take for granted, on the borders where everyone has something to negotiate through, “an intimacy that explores the regions of impersonal co-existence where loss of self expands the capacity to love,” to cite from Judith Butler’s review of the book Intimacies.

 Piril Gunduz

References:

Bersani, Leo and Philips, Adam. Intimacies. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October, 2004: 51-79.

Bishop, Claire. “The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents.” Artforum, February, 2006.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Paris: Les Presses du Reel, 2002.

May, Todd. Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Democracy, Affect, and “Enter-activity” in Zoe Strauss

Posted in Art, Art and Philosophy, Art Exhibits, Bergson, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Immanence, Process Ontology, Relational Aesthetics, Subjectivity with tags on April 3, 2012 by immanentterrain2

The first of these ideas is the concept of antagonism. Laclau and Mouffe argue that a fully functioning democratic society is not one in which all antagonisms have disappeared, but one in which new political frontiers are constantly being drawn and brought into debate — in other words, a democratic society is one in which relations of conflict are sustained, not erased. Without antagonism there is only the imposed consensus of authoritarian order—a total suppression of debate and discussion, which is inimical to democracy.

Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics – Claire Bishop

It is always a truly peculiar situation. The tension residing in the interstices between the one and the other. The stark juxtaposition between percept and affect. The grinding in between.  The antagonism we reference above is resultant of one being thrown amongst the detritus of society. Those forgotten. That’s how it begins.  A violence that confronts the somnambulist as they are awakened from their complacent, passive, acceptance of the world about. The attempt to striate the miasma, to diffuse the smell, to relegate and delineate roles and responsibility, has created a zone of possibility where finally . . . finally, the representative becomes expressive. This I believe was the goal and intent of a Ms. Zoe Strauss. An utterance that could finally be discerned from the constructed milieu of an art world, of a home, of a people. One that resounded “don’t forget us”.

Zoe Strauss’ exhibit, located throughout the city of Philadelphia as billboards with her work strategically positioned in neighborhoods and business districts as well as in the Philadelphia Art Museum, is a materialization of these utterances and the memories of those left along the margins of our society. The identity of these individuals, as just that, individuals, via this display, has created a psycho-geography of sorts out of the cityscape as their stories inscribe their-story (as opposed to his-story) along billboards that dot the sky. The contrast of these images can be jarring as you pass the hopes and dreams of these individuals and the falling out of those same dreams against the progressive utopic skyline of a area betting everything on becoming “America’s next great city”. Zoe is calling for a reading of the lives of the individuals she documents – people she has lived with and befriended – to disturb those walking by. To wake them up. Calling attention to the artistry of these people and the environment that many blindly walk through as these people, trembling and hungry, stand to make up the foundation of our society. Kafka’s melancholic style, resultant of the hyper industrialization of the times he lived in makes plenty of commentary on these facts. His Hunger Artist is evocative of his resentment of the times. “When . . . some leisurely passer-by stopped . . . and spoke of cheating, that was in its way the stupidest lie ever invented by indifference and inborn malice, since it was not the hunger artist who was cheating, he was working honestly, but the world was cheating him of his reward”[1]. Zoe attempts to show the failings of this society in a very human way. To show that society has cheated that which it was meant to protect and afford the right to live. For isn’t the mainstay of our culture supposed to be the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Most importantly to life?

The role of identity within these images – the expressive gestures finally enunciated by those who were subjected to alterity in our society – begs to action not only from the reader of these works but from the subjects documented themselves. In a process of individuation, their identity moves from that of negation to a bellowing affirmation of self. As me because I am me. In truth it was hard to hear these voices at first. The space was filled not with shock and awe but with what Gilles Deleuze would state from his analysis of the works of Francis Bacon, a scream where the source was nowhere to be found. The residue of an attempt to codify and define, to striate the subjects and the subject matter within these pieces. A violent disorientation was the end goal. Screams to the tune of “that’s disgusting” . . . “do people live this way” . . . “this is so random” were ever apparent as they were said by the reader’s of the exhibit.  It was angering, however, this violent disorientation was required of myself as well. Amidst the sounds of laughter, disgust, awe, “don’t go in there . . . don’t look”, was a beautifully tragic project. Tragic in the Greek sense of the hero falling at the expense of what they love or those closest. This story however was re-invented. Zoe’s attempt to give voice to these situations were not about heroicizing problems or vilifying the people’s stories displayed by her works but to vivify their memory. To add a thickness and intensity that contributed to the materialization of their memory. Not as an epithet or effigy but to in-liven their faces.

The soundscape that accompanied the experience of these works added to the working assemblage of constructing their meaning.  The juxtaposition of the well off, high middle class and the open display of the lower rungs of society and the resultant reactions were a jarring reminder of the socio-political landscape that we occupy in our contemporary urban landscape.  “Images without sound are powerless to express horror”. [2] The exegesis of this horror is essential to begin a process of constituting the subject and the individual within this environment of the exhibition space. Allowing for an affective re-constitution that transforms both agents within this assemblage of meaning. There is a rebellious duty to disturb that is evident in each piece by Strauss. Art is meant to disturb and disrupt the status quo. In other words to question.

Zoe Strauss (source: Philly.com)

Identity really becomes material as one traverses the landscape of the exhibit. The promise of photography as a medium is its ability to record difference and time. Difference becomes innate and identity is not constituted through a negation of an other. It becomes a process.  The idea of the subject becoming an individual breaks with a historical trajectory that has tried to demarcate the boundaries of humanity and those included within its purview. The other and their existence, their minor status within the social, have been shown to be a conscious construct of those (regardless of number) who have ascertained power in relation to those subjected to it. “One ever feels his twoness . . . two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”[3] One ever feels their status and the status that has been imposed on them. DuBois would go further to say that “[i]t is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” The work of Zoe Strauss is an attempt to reconfigure the image of those with this double consciousness. Those that are subjected to the discursive laws of society and made to feel a “twoness” as the result of the unity of the multiple forces that constitute their identity being torn between two ends or points in the landscape that make up or social-hierarchical structure. To render the invisible not merely as a form of representation but to begin the process of expressing the identity of those within the photographs at that particular instance in history.

Zoe, with an allusion to Bergson and his notions of concrete and abstract time, tries to render the forces within our social terrain visible and remove the confusion that Bergson would constantly refer to in his ideas on time, matter, and memory.  Strauss wants the viewers of these pieces to be realized and to know that they are existent because they truly are. The viewers experiences juxtaposed with those in the photographs renders this distinction more real.  For the viewer, they become a part of this coming into existence as they travel through the spatial enunciation of this identity recorded in a visually material literature. A material language that is read through their active participation in the construction of these spaces meaning and recording in history. To turn this image on its head and give voice to those who in society were told that their voice could only be validated through certain schema or blocks in the social terrain of human experience.

In the case of antagonism, argue Laclau and Mouffe, ‘we are confronted with a different situation: the presence of the ‘Other’ prevents me from being totally myself. The relation arises not from full totalities, but from the impossibility of their constitution.’ 40 In other words, the presence of what is not me renders my identity precarious and vulnerable, and the threat that the other represents transforms my own sense of self into something questionable. When played out on a social level, antagonism can be viewed as the limits of society’s ability to fully constitute itself. Whatever is at the boundary of the social (and of identity), seeking to define it also destroys its ambition to constitute a full presence: ‘As conditions of possibility for the existence of a pluralist democracy, conflicts and antagonisms constitute at the same time the condition of impossibility of its final achievement.’[4] We must push to the edges of those boundaries and burst through. To invent through the openings that have been created via the intense accumulation of otherness on the fringes of society. “Antagonism is discursively constituted”[5] and was made evident through the conversation surrounding each piece within the art gallery and the pieces throughout the city as well.

The process of individuation and democracy must be exhausted as these terms – democracy, interactivity, agency, etc. – are blindly wielded in not only the art world but also the world theater at large. How is a sense of agency, empowerment, or democracy within these theaters even possible based on certain superficial or superimposed ideals glazed over agents and bodies in society? Identity must be valid within one’s self. If unity is multiplicity, as discussed by Nietzsche or even Spinoza, we cannot solely rely on a constituted subject as the result of a derogatory machine that works, subjugates and “reposes on a double identity: of the thinking subject, and of the concepts it creates and to which it lends its own presumed attributes of sameness and constancy . . . In thought its end is truth, in action justice. The weapons it wields in their pursuit are limitive distribution (the determination of the exclusive set of properties possessed by each term in contradistinction to the others: logos, law) and hierarchical ranking (the measurement of the degree of perfection of a term’s self-resemblance in relation to a supreme standard, man, god, or gold: value, morality). The modus operandi is negation: x = x = not y. Identity, resemblance, truth, justice, and negation . . . The end product would be ‘a fully legitimated subject of knowledge and society’ . . . endlessly reproduced and disseminated at every level of the social fabric.” [6] An X = X not because X is not equal to Y but because X is X. This demarcates an indiscernible zone of autonomy within the social landscape that allows for identity to stand in and of itself. A zone that is relationally and affectively interconnected with its milieu. Zoe herself is emblematic of this concept as she still lives within the environments and personally interacts with all of those in her work. The question now becomes how, in these “indiscernible” zones of autonomy, do we truly identify the subject and give it voice? How do we release it from the territorialzed confines of society at large? How do we allow for it’s becoming?

The subject, identity, and/or the individual is realized through a spatial/relational orientation with its milieu. This is an affective relationship. One that allows for all parties involved to enact change on each other. Without this relationship constituted in this way, nothing can occur within the modernist or postmodernist ideal as we have defined it (if we can truly say that it is something that can be defined). Interactivity occurs within the encounter and experience derived of actively perceiving these images that afford us the opportunity to think outside given frameworks. There is no cause and effect type of relationship here as these perceptions and the subsequent meaning – created, not derived – from them occur in the instantaneous moments which we perceive as we “enter-act” (as opposed to merely interact) with pieces. They are created in praesenti. As Hume would note, cause and effect is inferred – it is not given. It is a construction that humanity uses to make the world sensible or intelligible and occurs a posteriori. Hindsight is always 20/20. Thus is logic and causality. Our knowledge and meaning emerges in that miraculous duration of attentive tinkering we call perception. “ . . . The emergence of both individual and milieu – following a course [devenir] in which preliminary tensions are resolved but also preserved . . . the conservation of being through becoming”[7]. Any democratic notions inherent within these works are upheld through this tension. This tension is the creative force, in the in-between (mediation or medius in its pure etymological sense), that materializes the memories and stories told through the interaction one enters into with the photography in the exhibit and billboards displayed throughout the city.

Memory and perception are the apparatus by which we construct a narrative through perceiving these works. 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. Henri Bergson defines memory itself as an image that intervenes in active perceptions as we experience the world. Memories become the residual of our affective experience of the world about. These memories are “materially” perceived. By attaching memory and consciousness to a physical process of perception, I believe Bergson allows for the materialization of not only matter but identity itself to be rendered comprehensible even in art. “Matter can be impressed with a form, and the source of ontogenesis can be derived from this matter – form relation. Indeed, if haecceities were not somehow inherent within the atom, or matter, or indeed form, it would be impossible to find a principle of individuation in any . . . realities. To seek the principle of individuation in something that preexists this same individuation is tantamount to reducing individuation to nothing more than ontogenesis. The principle of individuation here is the source of haecceity”[8]. This formation of matter is the beginning of our material perception of our milieu and the beginning of how we can enter into interactivity with the world and in this case this exhibit. Our memory (in the long-term) can no longer be perceived as a latent vegetative contemplation or “image”. “In truth, it no longer represents our past to us, it acts it; and if it still deserves the name of memory, it is not because it conserves bygone images, but because it prolongs their useful effect into the present moment”.[9] This expressive transformation of memory as images and its becoming active in the present is exactly what Zoe’s aim becomes as she spatially gives voice to those within her photographs throughout the city and the art gallery. Our perception of these elements, interwoven into the social fabric of the urban landscape, and the socio-political and economic landscape of the art gallery, allow for a prolonging, and vivification of our experiences long gone but brought to the for.

Zoe Strauss Billoard Project Map
(source: Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The first records, in the form of memory-images, all the events of our daily life as they occur in time; it neglects no detail; it leaves to each fact, to each gesture, its place and date. Regardless of utility or of practical application, it stores up the past by the mere necessity of its own nature. By this memory is made possible the intelligent, or rather intellectual, recognition of a perception already experienced; in it we take refuge every time that, in the search for a particular image, we remount the slope of our past. But every perception is prolonged into a nascent action; and while the images are taking their place and order in this memory, the movements which continue them modify the organism, and create in the body new dispositions towards action.

Matter and Memory – Henri Bergson

These new dispositions allow for a transformative change that in a present, immanent, world of relationality we gain agency in our autonomy as a becoming individual. Agency can no longer be relegated to something that is bequeathed to subjects which in turn subjectifies and indebts them once more to the one who gave this all-too-wonderful gift. These changes can be read as we, as well as our milieu, come into existence in a symbiosis of in-volution. These changes can be read across many different mediums.

This is the primary reason why, in this essay, we have referred to the viewers of these works as readers. This in-volution calls for a new form of literacy in how we interact and navigate an environment such as the one we have been describing in gallery space housing Zoe’s exhibit. A form of literacy that in many ways has been devalued as it cannot be controlled or has been subjugated to other forms of knowledge construction so that it can be. For are not words microcosms of difference that are physically and psychically read due to their innate and minute differences in their constitution and how they’re juxtaposed against open space? Are they not read by the scanning of even the most infinitesimal differences in the assemblage of their visual components? Do we not hold them in contrast to the plane from which they emerge (their environment/milieu)? Essentially, a poetic (and by poetic we mean in the greek sense of creation) attempt to striate, territorialize, and demarcate areas of space to construct systematic meanings from a smooth, indiscernible plane? This action in and of itself, and the illocution or statements that elicit performative acts is exactly what constitutes a language (especially when it comes to art and materially based linguistic systems), otherwise, what is the point? “[T]he performative itself is explained by the illocutionary . . . and the illocutionary is in turn explained by collective assemblages of enunciation”[10].

It is in these assemblages that we are truly interested in order to ascertain a new image of what it means to read these newly re-constituted spaces. What begins to define these territories are these becomings of expression, the enunciated utterances mediated through the words represented by the works placed throughout the city and the gallery space. “ . . . [T]his moment: the becoming-expressive . . . the emergence of expressive proper qualities, the formation of matters of expression that develop into motifs and counterpoints . . . [is] the essential thing. . . [T]he disjunction noticeable between the code and the territory”[11]. The coding of these territorialized spaces are due expressively to this “disjunction”, juxstaposition, or difference in contrast to the milieu these objects are embedded in. In other words, a psycho-geographical rendering of urban space that we consciously perceive and begin to read. And finally beginning to construct knowledge and meaning based on their collective force in expressing their identity. These codes are not predetermined, a priori, determinations of meaning but are derivative of experience and experimentation (as Hume would lay out on his artifice of thought). Through Zoe’s works, it becomes apparent that we enter into these assemblages of meaning not by choice or rationale, but by a necessity to make sense of it all. An affective, symbiotic, relationship that interconnects bodies, modalities, or these indiscernible zones of being to one another. As stated before, if left to logic and ratiocinicity, there would be no room for readers to perceive the variance or chromaticism innate within these pieces. We would be confined to the same functive, normalizing lingual games that we continually impose on environments to derive sense from them after the fact. Meaning can no longer unfold and we are taken out of the immanent and immediate environment in which we conceptualize and communicate the beauty in the world. We must be inventive and through our collective assemblages of meaning and affective (instead of effective) interaction with each other we can communicate this ontogenetic, engendering knowledge. For a new image of language, “[t]he organization of qualified marks into motifs and counterpoints necessarily entails a taking on of consistency, or a capture of the marks of another quality, a mutual branching of . . . colors-gestures . . . Consistency necessarily occurs between heterogeneities, not because it is the birth of a differentiation, but because heterogeneities that were formerly content to coexist or succeed one another become bound up with one another through the ‘consolidation’ of their coexistence and succession”[12]. This consolidation of expression begins to constitute our new image of language, the word itself, and move toward the valorization of lingual systems that are not primarily representative.

This capacity is found in art and is exemplified by the work of Zoe Strauss in her 10 years exhibit and billboard project. Zoe’s work, “produces an active solidarity in spite of skepticism; and if the writer is in the margins or completely outside his or her fragile community, this situation allows the writer all the more the possibility to express another possible community and to forge the means for another consciousness and another sensibility”[13]. An act of solidarity bellowing out from the margins of society and captured in Zoe’s photography.

Victor Peterson 

Notes:

Zoe Strauss: 10 Years Exhibit – Philadelphia Museum of Art

Zoe Strauss Billboard Project in Philadelphia


[1] Kafka, Franz. A Hunger Artist. CreateSpace , 2010. Print.

[2] Toussaint, Jean-Philipe. The Bathroom. Dalkey Archive Press, 1985. Print.

[3] DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls Of Black Folk. Penguin Classics, 1996. Print.

[4] Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October Magazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2004): 51-79. Print.

[5] Laclau, Ernesto, and Chantal Mouffe. Hegemony And Socialist Strategy, Towards A Radical Democratic Politics. Verso Books, 2001. (P. 168)

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

[7] Simmondon, Gilbert. The Birth of the Individual. J. Crary and S. Kwinter. Zone Books, 1992. Print.

[8] Simmondon p. 298. A Haecceity encompasses the discreet qualities, innate to a body or entity. Difference is at the root of all identity.

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

[10] Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print. (p. 78).

[11] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p 322.

[12] Deleuze and Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, p. 330.

[13] Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guatarri. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.” Theory and History of Literature. Volume 30. (1986) Print.

Reorientation of Time and Space: A Study of Narrative, Painting and Film

Posted in Art and Philosophy, Bergson, Deleuze, Film, Subjectivity with tags , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Deleuze’s interest in the relationship between time and space resonates through his work. Recent course readings have coalesced around ideas of rhythm and milieu along with the dynamic relationships they allow, setting groundwork, in a sense, for his treatise on the spatiotemporal, relating time to movement and image in film in Cinema I and Cinema II.  The texts have engaged my interest in a study of  how relationships of time and space have been employed artistically across various forms of media to evoke deterritorializing, intensive effects serving as a push toward a reorientation of values.

Kafka’s work serves as a Deleuzian model of print narrative as plots twist into and out of themselves creating intensive narrative connected to its own dissolution. Kafka’s use of temporality can be understood as a component of minor literature that deterritorializes the reader.

The short story A Country Doctor melds ideas of temporality and space in a way that divorces the reader from previously held valuations of such ideas. It is easily illustrated in a synopsis of the work in which entities are unreliably referred to by pronouns as the narrative oscillates between past and present. The country doctor is awakened to attend to a patient he does not know, on horses that mysteriously appear in his stable, likely at the price of his maid’s safety. He is whisked from the scene of the maid’s peril to the sick man’s bedside. Time and space mutate simultaneously. With little use of narrative transition, the doctor is transferred from place to place, but always needs to be somewhere else.

Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor 2007/21 min. Yamamura Animation

Kafka creates a world of components which appear recognizable, yet work outside our experience, so that all understanding of their familiar characteristics and uses will not help us decipher their new relationships and values. If our seemingly stable and autonomous universe can possibly serve as  foundation for such a reality and can be extended and transformed in such a manner, its stability becomes problematic—the disturbing potential once acknowledged can no longer be dismissed.

Moving from spatiotemporal constructions generated by texts on the page to two-dimensional images, Francis Bacon’s work is exemplar of blurred time and space—streaked with smears, globs and scratches—indicative of a passage of time in a painted version of a photographic frame, suggestive the progression of time as the work itself was created. The works are intentionally finished complete with accidents and imperfections. Bacon’s work, as the work of those such as Cezanne and Braque nearly a century before, is an abstraction echoing the daily visual encounter with the world, with enough aberration to haunt our idea of reality and cause an affective deterritorialization.

In Study of a Baboon, a work housed in MoMA’s permanent collection, Bacon’s intense brushstrokes, wiped out and repainted at the focal point, evoke a moment in a seemingly furious movement or transition frozen for an eternity. Combined with the dry-brushed crossed lines, the image could be understood to include a cage, but one is unable to discern whether the figure is inside or outside of it. If inside, does it imply the spectator inside as well?

  Study of a Baboon, 1953. Francis Bacon

The image is familiar, yet foreign. The spectator learns from the title of the painting that the image could be interpreted as a baboon. The face of the baboon figure turns towards the spectator from a place of visual indiscernability and screams.  The viewer is once again implicated by this image frozen in time, causing an identification with feelings of intensive space and time, as well as deterritorialization.

As the discussion transitions from the still image of paint and canvas to the moving image of film, Tarkovsky stands out as one who takes seriously the relationship between time and image. Temporal deterritorialization could be said to be the main tenet of Tarkovsky’s cinema. His use of long takes, surreal settings and plot that typically resembles a type of science fiction engages the spectator in a sometimes excruciating and often futile attempt to follow or create a narrative. Any meaning that could be drawn from the work, comes not neatly in understanding ordered plot elements, but after reflecting on the film as a whole, both in form and in content.

This is true of Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker. The film follows the journey of three men: the stalker leads a writer and a scientist through the Zone, a hazy post-apocalyptic landscape, in search of the Room, a place the stalker has never seen but supposedly lies hidden in the deep tangled passages within the Zone. The Room is rumored to have the power to fulfill entrants’ innermost desires. Their quest ends as they finally arrive at the entrance to the Room. The three stand outside the entrance in an extended shot but never enter. The stalker, the writer and the professor are transferred, in a single cut, back in the bar where the journey began.

Stalker 1979/160 min. Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s trademark long take combined with his artistic choices to present time in a specific way through cuts creates a unique temporal deterritorialization. In combination with the setting that bears earthly resemblance, spectators identify with and are simultaneous alienated from the work. In many ways Stalker also imparts affects similar to those feelings imparted by Kafka’s novels and Bacon’s paintings. Deleuze would likely agree that Tarkovsky’s treatment of space and time in Stalker suggests an alternative way of viewing a film. It allows spectators to circumvent conventional understanding of what film structure and narrative should be—it causes the viewer to question their own view of reality and to look at the world in new way.  Tarkovsky’s treatment of time and space is indicative Deleuze’s summary of Bergson’s idea of time and subjectivity in Cinema II: “Time is not the interior in us, but just the opposite, it is the interiority in which we are, in which we move, live and change.” (Deleuze, 82)

–B. Paris

References:

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema II: The Time-Image. University of Minniesota Press. 1989.

Deleuze, Gilles. Logic of Sensation. University of Minniesota Press. 2002

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature”. Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 30. 1986.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. “Affect Percept Concept”. What is Philosophy?. Columbia University Press. 1994

Kafka, Franz. “The Country Doctor”. A Metamorphosis and Other Stories. 1993

Tarkovsky, Andrei. Stalker. 1979

Sexuality as a line of flight, becoming-animal and masochism

Posted in Deleuze, Deleuze and Guattari, Subjectivity with tags , , on March 8, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Kutlug Ataman. Stefan’s Room, 2004.

In “Percept, Affect and Concept”, Deleuze and Guattari argue, “It should be said of all art that, in relation to the percepts or visions they give us, artists are presenters of affects, the inventors and creators of affects. They not only create them in their work, they give them to us and make us become with them, they draw us into the compound.” (WiP 175) Whether it is Van Gogh’s depiction of sunflowers or Durer’s thistles, art increases one’s capacity to affect and get affected. Whether it is increasing the range of one’s sensibilities, or adding more to them, art can be one’s ‘facilitator’ to becomings.

Because sexuality has been one of the most heavily regulated zones of human existence, perhaps the most, as Foucault shows in The History of Sexuality, it carries the possibility of being the most promising line of flight for humankind that would lead to deterritorializations and becomings. Not only sexuality has been heavily regulated, but also, the forces targeting human sexuality begin their projects on the child very early in the course of the child’s lifetime. Deleuze and Guattari write, “The question is fundamentally that of the body – the body they steal from us in order to fabricate opposable organisms. The body is stolen first from the girl: Stop behaving like that, you’re not a little girl anymore, you’re not a tomboy etc. The girl’s becoming is stolen first, in order to impose a history or a prehistory, upon her.” (ATP 276) Once the girl is interpellated as being-not-a-tomboy, there follows the boy’s affirmation as the Other of the girl. These chain reactions and affirmations keep on looping, becoming truths, as metaphors turning into truths after endless repetitions. “The great dualism machines” fixate the child’s hi/story’s beginning on a map, pinning it down by sewing through the tissue of her/his genitals, leading to a static cartography. Then, after pinning down an origin point (and defining it as a point A instead of a [0,0] or better, [X,Y,Z,.,.,.] ), it is really easy to turn the map into a line that needs to be followed, where point A needs to lead to point B, by manipulating one’ drives and motives, which are not necessarily one’s own, but which emerge once one enters into “the symbolic order”, in today’s case, “the capitalist machine”.

In “Literature and Life”, Deleuze argues “to write is not to recount one’s memories and travels, one’s loves and griefs, one’s dreams and fantasies. [… ] In this infantile conception of literature, what we seek at the end of the voyage, or at the heart of a dream, is a father.” (Deleuze 2) If this infantile conception of the literature leads to ‘bad novels’, does the infantile conception of subjectivity or sexuality or identity lead to ‘bad lives’? The continuous affirmation of our subjectivities and the non-stop workings of the great dualism machines seal the pin on the point A, not giving the slightest chance to the emergence of dynamics cartographies of one’s subjectivity, hence, existence. I would argue, whether it is the family-ethics or the capitalist machine, we have an infantile conception of human existence and sexuality, or the psychoanalyzation of them, even manifesting itself in the choice of our slang words, for example, in the use of “fuck” as a slang word for the hateful utterances and in regarding sex as being to the detriment of the female.

The non-stop workings of the forces regulating our sexualities are complemented by the “psychoanalization” of our subjectivities, perhaps, the former authenticating the latter. Perhaps this explains why Freud and his theory of Oedipus complex, ingeniously referred to as “mommy-daddy and their lovemaking” by Deleuze and Guattari are so popular now, being a part of everyday language. It is everywhere, in advertisements, in films, in our everyday conversations with our friends. Deleuze and Guattari write “ … fewer stupidities would be uttered on the topic of pain, humiliation, and anxiety in masochism if it were understood that it is the becoming-animal that lead the masochism, not the other way around.” (ATP 260) Masochism is defined as a personality disorder in the family-favoring-heteronormative system. This is such a paradox, since our existence is mediated through systems, whether they are economical or religious, which favor the logic of transcendence, meaning an acceptance of the Other that judges us, awards us or punishes us, making us “desire our own repression, a separation from our own capacities and powers” (Smith 68) Then, how is masochism a personality disorder or a perverted sexual practice, in a world of ethics of transcendence, whether it is manifested as God or as capitalism? However, this is not a valid question for Deleuze and Guattari, since they break the equation. For them, sexuality is not a game of seduction and conquest or “battle of sexes”, but “is the production of a thousand sexes, which are so many uncontrollable becomings. Sexuality proceeds by way of becoming-woman of the man and the becoming-animal of the human: an emission of particles.” (ATP 278) For them, “Masochistic characters enter zones of indetermination or proximity in which woman and animal, animal and man, have become indiscernible” marking Masoch’s work as “a literature of minorities, haunting the glacial zones of the Universe and the feminine zones of History.” (Deleuze 55)

                                                                                                              Piril Gunduz

References:

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. “1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible” in A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. “Percept, Affect and Concept” in What is Philosophy?. Columbia University Press, 1994.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Literature and Life”, “Re-presentation of Masoch” in Essays Critical and Clinical. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1997.

Smith, Daniel W. “Deleuze and the Question of Desire: Toward an Immanent Theory of Ethics” in Parrhesia 2 (2007): 66-78.

“A Face Drawn in Sand…”

Posted in Deleuze, Foucault, Subjectivity with tags , , , , on February 9, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Here, in full, are the notorious final two paragraphs to Michel Foucault’s Les Mots et les choses (The Order of Things, 1966):

“One thing in any case is certain: man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed for human knowledge. Taking a relatively short chronological sample within a restricted geographical area – European culture since the sixteenth century – one can be certain that man is a recent invention within it. It is not around him and his secrets that knowledge prowled for so long in the darkness. In fact, among all the mutations that have affected the knowledge of things and their order, the knowledge of identities, differences, characters, equivalences, words – in short, in the midst of all the episodes of that profound history of the Same – only one, that which began a century and a half ago and is now perhaps drawing to a close, has made it possible for the figure of man to appear. And that appearance was not the liberation of an old anxiety, the transition into luminous consciousness of an age-old concern, the entry into objectivity of something that had long remained trapped within beliefs and philosophies: it was the effect of a change in the fundamental arrangements of knowledge. As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end.

If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared, if some event of which we can at the moment do no more than sense the possibility – without knowing either what its form will be or what it promises – were to cause them to crumble, as the ground of Classical thought did, at the end of the eighteenth century, then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.”

It is for such lines as these that Foucault came to be described – indeed, came to be attacked – as anti-humanist. This term is accurate as long as we don’t confuse anti-humanist with anti-human. Foucault is not a misanthrope. He is critiquing here the humanist subject, and the anthropomorphism that is implied in humanism. He is critiquing the idea that man is the necessary end or telos to evolution (as though the goal of life were … mankind). His argument here is simple: the term “modern man” is entirely accurate to the extent that it refers to a historical category, a historical formation – the result of a specific series of discourses and discursive practices. And it is precisely because of this – precisely because it is a historical emergence – that it is possible, at the same time, to envisage a future without this particular form, without this particular mode of being. Again, what this means is not necessarily a world without humans but rather a world without the “human” in the sense that the term is used today. This, by the way, is also what Nietzsche means by the over-man.

Not surprisingly, when Deleuze was interviewed in the mid-eighties, at the time of the release of his monograph on Foucault, it was the question of his colleague’s anti-humanism that was repeatedly brought up and which Deleuze explains or defends. As he says in the interview entitled “Breaking Things Open, Breaking Words Open,” Foucault questions the extent to which man, as a conceptual category, can be understood as an opening –  a line of flight – and to what extent as an obstacle or obstruction, “a way of imprisoning life” (91). Understanding man as a historical entity also allows us to think about the “play of forces” in each historical epoch and how these forces work with, and against, “man” in order to create a composite form, e.g., man in relation to the infinite; man in relation to labor and language; man in relation to new kinds of materials and discourses. “In all Foucault’s work” – Deleuze says – “there is a certain relation between forms and forces that’s influenced my work and was basic to his conception of politics, and of epistemology and aesthetics too” (89). It is because the relation between forms and forces is not eternally fixed, he adds, that we are able “to follow some restless line still further,” pushing things forward, breaking things open, breaking words open. And this, Deleuze argues, is what Foucault did. This is why the development of his thought takes him from his initial interest in knowledge and power to an increased focus on what Deleuze calls subjectivation: the process of becoming a subject. At the end of his life, Foucault wanted to move beyond the enclosures that he himself had brilliantly diagrammed and follow another path, a leap into the unknown – a leap into the void. This is why we can’t interchangeably use the terms subject and subjectivation. The latter must be understood in intensive terms (not extensive ones), like “an electric or magnetic field” (91). And this is how Deleuze wants us to remember Foucault as well. Not as a self-enclosed substance but as “a gesture,” “a laugh,” “a volcanic chain” far from equilibrium.

S I-G

References

Deleuze, Gilles. “Breaking Things Open, Breaking Words Open.” In Negotiations 1972-1990. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Oxford and New York: Routledge, 1989.

Transcendent Subjectivity – Cogito, Ergo Sum

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

(This is a reprint taken from the original Immanent Terrain blog. It was composed in February 2010 when a snow day cancelled the third session of Art After Deleuze. It was one of three “Snow Day Lectures.” The other two are reprinted here as well. See follow-up posts.)

We already traced, in class, the way Plato’s philosophy of transcendent Ideas and Forms is transformed and extended in Christian theology. In both cases the sensible, sensual world is considered inferior, is considered secondary, to another world that exists beyond or above it. Life – life in this world – is what we are taught to distrust or devalue in the name of something else, something that transcends the immanent world. In the seventeenth century another type of transcendent philosophy will emerge, and it is this one that has perhaps had the most influence on contemporary Western thought. This new brand of transcendent philosophy finds its origins in the works of the French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes’ goal – in attempting to outline a new methodology for philosophy – was to remove all external (i.e., transcendent) sources of knowledge from the realm of truth and reason. Thus he claims, for example, that he will refrain from making assertions such as “man is a rational animal” since this statement presumes prior knowledge of “man” and “animal” (not to mention what it means to be “rational”). He also casts doubts on the objective world, since he says we can be mistaken at times in believing we are seeing external objects when in fact all that is occurring is that we are having a dream or a hallucination (or being led astray by a mischievous demon). After this exercise of removal, the casting aside of philosophical presumptions, there is only one thing – according to Descartes – that he can be certain of: cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). The only thing he can be certain of is that he has had these thoughts and that this “having” is an affirmation of his existence as a conscious being. Note that what is foregrounded here is not thinking itself but the I who thinks; the I who has a thought; the I who recognizes the first certainty in the utterance “I think.” The assumption here is that “thinking” only occurs because there is an entity to whom this action belongs, an entity to whom we can attribute thought.

In Descartes, we no longer have a transcendence of the Idea or Form (as in Plato) or the transcendence of Being (as in Christianity) but the transcendence of a thinking subject. Now it is the I, as an expression of consciousness, which is privileged in relation to experience. This leads Descartes to assert a dualist ontology, claiming a fundamental distinction between mind and body. It takes little guesswork to figure out which of the two attributes – mind and body – will be placed on the side of transcendence and which will be placed on the side of immanence. It takes little guesswork too to figure out which of the two substances is considered superior, is giving priority over the other. Mind is superior, is transcendent, precisely because it is “immaterial”, precisely because it is not-body. If this form of transcendence continues to be dominant in contemporary society (even as we become more secular, and more suspicious of the notion of universal truths and moral absolutes), it is because it conforms to our common-sense perception of the world; each of us perceives the world as though we are at its center, with the freedom to remove ourselves from the world when we feel the necessity to reflect, to cogitate, and so on. We feel as though we are transcendent to the world, no more so than when we are thinking.

Needless to say, this mode of transcendence is no more acceptable to Deleuze than the other two we considered. There is, for Deleuze, no “mind” or “consciousness” or “self” or “I”, or whatever you want to call it, which exists outside of life (or outside of time). There is only mind or consciousness or self or I, or whatever you want to call it, that exists within life, that exists on an immanent plane along with all the other entities that make up the world, all the other entities that make up our world – the only one we have.

S I-G