Archive for duncan cooper

Laughter in Deleuze

Posted in Body and Affect, Deleuze, Foucault, Nietzsche with tags , , , , , , on May 17, 2012 by immanentterrain2

One of my favorite quotations from all of the media studies program—and I can’t put my finger on why, precisely, but I often find its final four words bouncing into my thoughts unannounced—comes from Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment: “The culture industry replaces pain, which is present in ecstasy no less than in asceticism, with jovial denial” (112). Reading Deleuze, I’ve encountered at least two other moments where laughter comes into play, and not the pathetic laughter of the denial of the dominated, but another form of unexpected laugher, bizarre good humor given the circumstances.

In the chapter of Deleuze’s book on Foucault about Discipline and Punish, that seminal and terrifying book on the surveilling Panopticon and the theater of punishment, Deleuze opens nearly sadistically: “The Divine Comedy of punishment means we can retain the basic right to collapse in fits of laughter in the face of a dazzling array of perverse inventions, cynical discourses and meticulous horrors. A whole chain of phenomena, from anti-masturbation machines for children to the mechanics of prison for adults, sets off an unexpected laughter which shame, suffering or death cannot silence” (23). Expressing laughter seems to suggest an interior that may be affected by outside events but that will not be fully subsumed by them. Even darker, though resilient, is how Deleuze calls this laughter “a great joy which is not the ambivalent joy of hatred, but the joy of wanting to destroy whatever mutilates life” (23).

Another example comes in “Nomadic Thought,” in which Deleuze attributes Nietzsche’s unlikely but essential laughter to the unbounded joy of revolution in the face of atrocity. Laughter is positive and creative, an uncontrollable escape from restraints of imposed logic and morality. Laughing at the traumatic, as Deleuze prescribes for readers of Foucault, at least flies in the face of a morality instated by transcendence. There is a war between those who seek to control and those who seek to liberate action and maximize potential for individuals to enter into productive and creative relations that have not been imposed upon them. And on the fighting side there is still a path to happiness, often found in subversiveness of minor literature. The philosophers championed by media studies tend not to fall into despair; no matter how dire their findings on control societies or bodily torture, something keeps them bouncing up. Whether we’re being denied autonomy, as in Adorno, or coming “face to face with something sickening, ignoble, disgusting,” as Deleuze describes the provocation for Nietzsche’s laughter in “Nomadic Thought” (258), there’s always something to laugh about. Isn’t that funny?

-Duncan Cooper

Deleuze, Gilles, and Seán Hand. Foucault. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1988.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Nomadic Thought.” Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974. Ed. David Lapoujade. Trans. Michael Taormina. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2004.

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Continuum Pub., 1972.
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Cruise Ships, Smooth and Striated Space, and Control Societies

Posted in Deleuze, Foucault with tags , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Deleuze: “The Ocean, the Unlimited, first plays the role of an encompassing element, and tends to become a horizon: the earth is thus surrounded, globalized, “grounded” by this element, which holds it in immobile equilibrium and makes Form possible. Then to the extent that the encompassing element itself appears at the center of the earth, it assumes a second role, that of casting into the loathsome deep, the abode of the dead, anything smooth or nonmeasured that may have remained.” (The Smooth and the Striated, 495)

In the chapter of Allan Sekula’s Dismal Science about his 2002 project Fish Story, Sekula talks about how major newspapers no longer cover the sea besides “stories of disaster, war and exodus,” a journalistic approach that compresses the sea into a “weirdly blasé and episodic faux-sublimity.” But his writing can also be creatively misread to describe voyages on cruise ships: “The sea is the site of intermittent horrors and extraordinary but tried expenditures of energy, quite distinct form the dramas of everyday life” (53). Doesn’t this sound a bit like Deleuze’s maritime model of smooth and striated space, where man intervenes with striation to distance himself from the threat of the sea’s formlessness?

Both smooth and striated space can apply to the space of a cruise ship. “In striated space, lines or trajectories tend to be subordinated to points: one goes from one point to another,” which can be understood as the cruise ship’s ports as it travels from Miami to Montego Bay, so the free space of the ocean is recomposed as a series of destinations; “In the smooth, it is the opposite: the points are subordinated to the trajectory,” such that Miami and Montego play out as subordinate to a vector of relaxation, more like exterior stopovers on an internal journey: leaving the rhythm of the work week, falling into the pace of the waves and the affects of this comfort economy (A Thousand Plateaus, 478). Does the map of a patron’s cruise require the map of a child? The memory isn’t the journey of the ship’s path, but the superimposed onboard journey of the patron, criss-crossing to between deck pools, margaritas and periods of relaxation (or from hangovers to toilets and nausea). Is it possible for this to be a creative space for the usually work-obsessed traveler, letting them envision new ways to live? On the ideal cruise, wouldn’t the experience of time trend toward concrete duration?

Smooth in some ways, maybe, but the ship’s rigidly plotted course through the ocean and the boat’s compartmentalization (above all the secreting away of a distinctly not-on-vacation support staff) amount to a colossal weight of consumerism lumbering between ports. The cruise is so obviously enormously striated I’m reminded (after first being reminded of Adorno’s great line, “Entertainment is the prolongation of work under late capitalism” [Dialectic of Enlightenment, 109]) of another perspective from Deleuze, on control societies. In “Postscript on Control Societies,” Deleuze writes: “Control is short-term and rapidly shifting, but at the same time continuous and unbounded” (181). There seems to be a hint of striated and smooth in there. The patron’s pathways on a cruise, both exterior and interior, have been delimited in advance just like any consumer-oriented sedative, made appealing precisely as a sort of freedom from the routine—from the scheduled work week, from children, from dress codes and familiar domestic space, etc.

The smooth-type spaces mentioned in the second paragraph and the patron’s psycho-geographical maps, revisited from the perspective of control society, now appear programmed so as to prohibit a truly free motion, like the striated gives way to a smooth that itself reproduces striation, or some combination of the two. On the cruise ship there is a passage between smooth and striated space that seems linked to control; as Deleuze writes (if we imagine consumerism as a sort of religion): “Thus the great imperial religions need a smooth space like the desert, but only in order to give it a law that is opposed to the nomos in every way, and converts the absolute” (A Thousand Plateaus, 495). If, in the case of cruise ships, the smooth space is planned by the forces that striate, forces who, according to Adorno, basically employ the cruise to reproduce conditions of capitalism, what does that say about the still potentially productive experiences of the travelers?

-Duncan Cooper

Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript on Control Societies.” Negotiation 1972-1990. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia UP, 1995. 177-82.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987. 474-501.

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Herder and Herder, 1972.

Sekula, Allan. “Fish Story.” Dismal Science: Photo Works, 1972-1996. Normal: University Galleries, Illinois State University, 1999. 42-54.

Spambots’ Becoming

Posted in Art, Body and Affect with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Out of respect for James Bridle (links: booktwo + The New Aesthetic), whose recent Lift Conference lecture, “We Found Love in a Coded Space,” lays substantial groundwork for this post linking Twitter bots to Deleuze’s concept of the virtual, I’ll open by transcribing his talk’s conclusion so you’ll know whose ideas come from where. [For the purposes of this course, I’m considering watching Bridle’s lecture online and gathering Twitter bot precedents my “field work”]. If you’re unfamiliar with Twitter bots, @Horse_ebooks is an ideal example, a Twitter account with a cult following that obliquely promotes an ebook-store of the same name by automatically tweeting random pieces of text apparently scraped from ebooks and websites. Scan through @Horse_ebooks for a minute, then jump into Bridle’s concluding remarks:

We share the world with these things… They’re co-created between our imaginations and the network. We increasingly inhabit this incredibly coded world—we’ve outsourced so much of our histories and emotions to the network that our stories are already extant in the world like Borge’s Library of Babel. We just need to put them in the right configuration for these stories to come out. Stories that are co-created by these vast, overlapping, virtual sensoriums that we can access through the network, many of which are artificial but no less real for it. They’re all out there, these consciousnesses, these ways of seeing the world, and what we need to be doing is to be sympathetic to them, to ask them into our lives, to try and collaborate with them rather than shut them down. Because they’re all looking for love. They want to speak to us. They want to be a part of the world, and all I ask is you look at them with happier eyes and invite them into the world and speak to them.

I contend, in an attempt to route Bridle’s ideas through Deleuze’s, that Twitter bots act call our attention to the virtual, ceaselessly sending probes on automatically generated lines of flight in attempts to activate emotion; and in their tireless pursuit of new connections, I think there is something inspiring about these spambots. Therefore, like Bridle, I believe both their approach and their specific probes should be embraced in order to generate new possibilities for our own thinking.

A report issued last month by the e-security firm Incapsula claimed 51% of internet traffic was non-human, with the greatest piece of that non-human slice taken by “search engine and other bot traffic.” Though we may be inclined to assume that we, human internet users, are the (intended) audience of things published on the internet, the likelihood that a large portion—the largest even!—of Twitter bots’ readers are other bots engaging them by sending their own probes suggests a rich, immeasurable and ever-changing bundle of hypertext possibilities far more complex than could be imagined by any single entity’s programmer. This raises an important consideration of the virtual dimension of Twitter bots: as they link with other bots in unforeseeable ways, together automatically generating new pathways through the internet and new connections waiting to be actualized by consumers, the groundwork for those connections occurs in a virtual space.

The bot’s have a potential for connection with other Twitter users that cannot be simply traced to their own programming; it is outside of them, in this undefinable network of bots communicating with each other, and it is inside of them, still indelibly linked to their programmed pursuit of certain keywords. Bots do have their own subjectivities and certain capacities to be affected, making them open or closed in rigidly bounded ways; for example, one could imagine a bot seeking out instances of “Zappos.com coupon” and nothing else. But another bot comes along with a propensity for Zappos and also targeting people with blonde hair (to sell hair dye or something), and then another bot interested in hair dye but also fans of the TV show The New Girl… and so and so on, working routes through a huge percentage of internet traffic, if Incapsula is to be believed, so that our first bot’s interest in Zappos.com coupons does not, in fact, account for everything it’s capable of affecting and being affected by. There is a field of spambot potential, part actual and part virtual.

As such, bots may be useful to stimulate creative thought in humans, actualizing unexpected potentials among people open to being affected. As an unlikely example, @Horse_ebooks tweeting “Who Else Wants To Drive around using WATER as FUEL and LAUGH” might not lead me to buy an e-book, as the bot ostensibly would like, but might spur me instead to invent new possibilities for an experimental flume ride. I don’t have to engage specific content to be affected, though, which is fortunate because often bot postings lean toward incomprehensible gibberish. Instead—and this is the most useful part for me, at least—I can be inspired by the bot’s tireless drive into the unknown, the way it sends probes wherever it can without ever becoming discouraged, without being sure where they’ll land, and knowing that doing so might very well create something qualitatively new.

-Duncan Cooper

Bridle, James. “We Found Love in a Coded Space.” Lecture. Lift12. Geneva. 7 Apr. 2012. Lift Conference. 6 Apr. 2012. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. http://liftconference.com/.