No philosophy gives more importance to aesthetics than object-oriented ontology. According to Graham Harman, object oriented thinking calls for a “larger sense of beauty,” where aesthetics takes the place of epistemology or ethics as first philosophy.1 However, in OOO, aesthetics concerns all objects, not only art objects. The paradoxical result of attributing such breadth and importance to the aesthetic is the instantiation of a divorce between the discipline of aesthetics and that traditional core of aesthetic theorizing, the work of art. From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, art objects have no aesthetic privilege over other objects. Indeed, from an object-oriented point of view, art objects are aesthetically disadvantaged, even less alluring than their ordinary object neighbors.
1 Graham Harman, “A Larger Sense of Beauty,” etc.
What is “aesthetics”? It might be philosophy that deals with sensation, with the term being understood more or less along the lines of the Kantian transcendental aesthetic. This is the sense given to the term aesthetics by Baumgarten, even if he did conceive of aesthetics as primarily concerned with works of art. It might be philosophy that deals with beauty, “Kallistics” as Hegel puts it in the beginning of the Lectures on Aesthetics.2 Aesthetics can also refer to the philosophy of art, taking the term in a broader sense that would allow aesthetics to be concerned with beauty as well as ugliness.
An Aesthetic Sometimes when we speak of aesthetics, we also refer to the study of various aesthetic configurations. Here we are talking less about ways of philosophizing, less about the subject, and more about the object. Thus we might say that something or someone has an aesthetic, and this means something like they have a particular way of disposing their sensual qualities. It is this object-oriented sense of the aesthetic that is invoked when we speak about the “new aesthetic” or in the “aesthetics of the ordinary.” But which of these definitions—if any of them—can accommodate the larger sense of beauty proposed by object oriented thought?
Aesthetics as First Philosophy Object oriented ontology posits that real objects cannot touch each other. If less than evident at first why Harman introduces this idea, a bit of reflection shows us that it is only by forbidding the contact between objects that Harman is able to maintain them as objects, thus avoiding undermining or overmining them. Aes thetic distance is thus integral to respecting the founding maxim of object-oriented ontology: to the objects themselves. Aesthetic causality is first philosophy because it allows us to imagine the kind of contactless contact without which there would be no objects at all. Only insofar as all relation is only aesthetic relation can we respect the reality of the object. But Harman wants more from aesthetics than this, for the presence of aesthetic objects within other objects produces a paradoxical autoinvagination of events and relations in a cosmos of ontologically isolated extreme particulars. Only insofar as we see all connection between objects as aesthetic can we understand becoming, the weirdly un-modelizable non-linear transformations of the universe. Men in museums are the least interesting element of the aesthetic for Harman, who claims grandly: Beauty lies at the root not only of human daily experience … but even at the root of physical events such as fires, earthquakes, and the explosion of stars. If there is something ghostly and magical about beauty, then this disturbing magic already lies in the heart of physical matter, not just in the privacy of the human soul.3 Or more specifically: All things reside in infinite depths, and all things erupt into enjoyment along the shallowest façades of the world. Both moments, in turn, derive from the life of discrete substances that never fully submit to the war of all against all. And this drama is best described by the familiar term “aesthetics.” Aesthetics is first philosophy.4 Aesthetics allows for us to experience the negative on negative encounter between anything and anything. It is the only way of thinking about causality and relation, indeed, the only way of speculatively encountering reality as such.
Graham Harman, A Broader Sense of Beauty
Graham Harman, A Broader Sense of Beauty
Allure versus Beauty Allure is the central category on object-oriented aesthetics. Allure differs from beauty as each real object differs from whatever platonic prototype of the object we might fabricate. Allure is that which manifests itself when we cease “confusing an object with its qualities.”5 An alluring object is thus like a beautiful object in Kant: without concept, and this is because what it is inaccessible to any relations that might define it, those relations being mediated through its qualities. Harman talks of allure as inviting “us toward another level of reality” and also as giving us “the means to get there.”6 Like the Heideggerian broken tool, the allure of the object reveals to us a horrifying depth that shatters our comfortable ordering of the object within the as-structure as it slips away from our theoretical and practical grasp. Allure is an absence become presence the withdrawn depths of the object. Objects can hop into our awareness, or we, through a negentropic process not unlike that employed by negative theology, can progressively slip away the layers of resistance, namely our deeply held love for both the ideal and the empirical, until we find ourselves bowled over by this thing that is at once nothing and experienced.7 In negative theology, the being encountered is one, and so despite its negativity might seem akin to the being of Platonic beauty. From an object-oriented point of view, thought, each reality encountered is ever different, each object his its own allure, each thing has its own beauty. Were this not the case, Harman’s thought would revert back into the Heideggerianism that it derives from, endlessly celebrating the silent booms of one single withdrawn Being that is not a being, and so resembles the negative theologian’s nothing. Allure ought to be thought in analogy to hearing John Cage’s 4’33” as music, that is to say as something other than a single monotonous silence but as a succession of silences, each with its own depth and character. There is no one species of allure, there is an allure for houses and for bottles, an allure for cats with respect to mats and so forth. There is an allure for this house and that house. Allure is broadly speaking everywhere and in everything, if not always and everywhere encountered. A generalized aesthetic sensibility is not just restricted to human beings, everything has an allure, and everything can experience what is alluring, if not all objects dispose themselves to encounters equally. Yoga and other forms of work on the self are shared by trees, dogs, parking meters, and men, only not in equal degrees.
Allure and Baumgarten Looking backwards for historical antecedents and analogous definitions of aesthetics, Baumgarten, the founder of philosophical aesthetics, emerges as a possible forefather for OOO. For Baumgarten, aesthetics is an alternate form of philosophical speculation, aimed at examining the way that intellectual truths appear to us sensibly. Poems purvey metaphysical truths, truths of the understanding, to the reader in sensible forms. We encounter beauty when the medium of sense—ordinarily taken by philosophers to be a source of unclarity—reveals to us what he calls an analogonrationis, an analogy to that which has been revealed to pure reason via the exercise of the understanding. Unlike his predecessor Wolff, who also associated beauty with the sensible presentation of the rational, Baumgarten supposes that our attunement to the beautiful can not only serve to reinforce our convictions about being as such, but also to guide our speculations. The sublimely perfect order of notes in Bach’s Goldberg Variations played by Gould thus do more than haunt us or copycat Leibnizian metaphysics, like a cryptic figure they point us towards the true order of a metaphysical realms as yet unrevealed. Admittedly, Baumgarten’s aesthetics is about beauty, thus about the one. Just as the sole vicarious cause in Leibniz is God, so the sole cause of beauty in Baumgarten in the metaphysical one. But in object oriented ontol ogy each and every object can act vicariously on any other. Divine withdrawal is the chose le mieuxpartagée du monde.
Graham Harman, A Broader Sense of Beauty
Harman, Graham (2011-08-31). Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (p. 179). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition
On this, see Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of this Planet, (Winchester: Zero, 2010).
Art and Aesthetics Since the 19th century, beauty has become less and less important for art, while the appreciation for the beauty of the world around us has grown. “It is now scientists rather than artists who praise the world for being ‘elegant’ and ‘beautiful,’” writes Harman echoing Zizek, adding that in contemporary “discussions of aesthetics” “the search for beauty and elegance” is considered “laughably naïve.”8 Here the word aesthetics is used to denote the philosophy of art—and clearly not kallistics, or what Harman is really interested in, alluristics. But the point is the same: focusing on the allure of art objects today seems jejune. Think about the ready-made. When we behold Fountain, what do we see? Gleaming white surfaces, the signature R. Mutt, doubtless the yellowing of age upon the piece that we may or may not edit out from our experience. If we stare long enough, we might see that the porcelain of the urinal is not everywhere equal, we might remark the curvature of the bowl and the singular shape itself. Longer still, or more initiated into the divinatory art of encountering objects, we might find ourselves confronted with a disquieting strangeness, as if this thing is no longer just a urinal, but something different, slightly strange, unknown… alluring. Perhaps we would pick up on how the black painted surface of Duchamp’s pseudonym interacts with the gallery lights, the varnish upon the wooden floor, my retina. But this entire line of thought has led us to an encounter with the object core of the urinal, its deep and concealed reality, the reality that reveals itself when the tool becomes broken tool, slipping away from its comfortable and imperceptible functioning within our environment to become itself a thing, wild and wooly. Deeply looking at Fountain does not lead us towards grasping it as a work of art, but rather leads towards our sensing its allure as an object. So what happens when I say that Fountain is a work of art? Do I totally disregard the sensible qualities of the work? Or do I perhaps follow them, but not into the abyss of the object? Might not the very term—it is a work of art—indicate a pulling back from this abyss? I think that it does—in a very specific sense. There is an abyss in the work of art, but this is other than the one we encounter in the play of sensual qualities and their connections and disconnections with sensual objects, real qualities, and finally real objects. Which is why we are not looking at Fountain as art when we see it as alluring in the same way that the might be alluring as a urinal. As an art object, Fountain never reveals to us itself as a real object, never gives us the frisson that accompanies the alluring kiss of speculative promise. Thus Arthur Danto is right to emphasize that there is no reason why we should see something in the shining white of the porcelain of Duchamp’s urinal.9 This is also why aesthetics as the word is used ordinarily in object-oriented thought only oddly dovetails with art works.
The Art Object The judgment that occurs with respect to the work of art bears on the relationship between its sensual qualities and a sensual object that is not the one otherwise encountered—in other terms the urinal—but rather with the sensual object as a manifestation of what, for want of other words, we will call the real object and real qualities of the art object. Contrary to our encounters with other objects, each of which lead us deep into the particularity of the encountered object which is seen as an individual and ontologically unique entity, the work of art, encountered as a work of art, stands forth before us as a member of a series of art objects, each of which are the sensual presentations of one single, withdrawn, meta-object, the art object. While we do register the sensual qualities specific to any artwork, their depth is directed elsewhere than it would be when encountering another kind of object, whereby the depth of the object is precisely non-relational.
A Broader Sense of Beauty
Arthur Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 33.
It is difficult to say whether it is justified to thus say that works and the art object lack depth, because it is difficult to say whether the art object is a real object or merely a sensual object endowed with all of the attributes to make us confound us with a real object. Strictly speaking, we cannot answer this question, and yet thinking about the art object in these terms is not unproductive. Sensual objects, as Harman explains, are “anything that we regard as a sensual object[s].”10 What differentiates a sensual object from a real object is that the first can be undermined or overmined while the latter cannot be. Popeye, for instance, becomes a sensual object when we consider him as something that has existence only within our heads and as part of a particular social practice. A real object, as for example a tree or a bird, has “intrinsic qualities that cannot be undermined or overmined.”11 From a certain point of view, all of this sounds both suspicious and hopeless. Suspicious becauseit resembles old-fashioned epistemology in its obsessive desire to differentiate what is really real from faux semblants, and so seems to promise to return us to traditional philosophy and the metaphysics of presence. Hopeless because object oriented ontology already accepts that we have no direct access to real objects: “The best we can do is build certain fallible methods to determine what can and cannot be undermined or overmined. That’s because, by definition, there is no direct access to real objects.”12 Yet where these objec tions touch upon the limited value of patrolling the sensual/real distinction for object oriented speculation in general, this does not mean that our obsessive awareness of this distinction serves no use in thinking about art. The speculative constitution of the art object as an obscure unity of related sub-entities that seem its pale precursors is exactly identical to the structure of platonic metaphysics, even to the extent that we can speak of speculation about the art object as following a dialectical movement from sensual qualities towards the final speculative unity within the one of the art object. Like Platonic metaphysics, the visible qualities of the thing—those elements that would lead us towards the allure of the object-urinal—are actually less important than the relationship of those qualities to another object, the object-art, an object that from the outset is understood as metaphysical in the sense that it unifies many appearing objects into one meta-object. It is also relevant to add that unlike Popeye, or at least Popeye viewed by those that would distain him and see him as a mere manifestation of one culture’s contingent imaginary, the characters that populate world literature sometimes seem eternal, gestalt types that relate not to a contingent surface or set of relations but to a deeper strata of reality. The meta-object that is the art object may be informed by, but it also complicates our sense of the sensual object-real object distinction. Even if the ‘real’ object speculatively posited in the depths of each art object is identical, the number of qualities and configurations associated with the appearance of the art object is vast and varied. Each theory of interpretation presents us with another sensual configuration of the art object, a new coherence between its qualities and its objective status on the sensual plane. This in turn implies varieties of allusion to the real qualities and real object of art. Each and every encounter with the art object, then, is deliriously rich, full of tightly tangled connections and relations and interconnections, both between this art object and its other appearances and between this object and the cosmos. But if Baudelaire is right to say that artistic beauty is strange or bizarre, how much more crucial it is to insist that real objects are stranger strangers, so utterly profound as to be stranger still.13
The Depth of the Art-Object Graham Harman’s paean to Lovecraft, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy, precisely amounts to an examination of the ways in which Lovecraft’s writing hints at hidden depths, points our attention to the way that the master of horror’s tales present us with something like a glimpse into the weird depths of reality as such. Yet if here a depth appears, we are always uncertain as to whether the objects revealed are real or merely sensual objects crafted to give us the effect of reality via art. Harman highlights Faulkner’s Jason, Sade’s libertine friends, and Sartre’s Roquentin as characters “truly wrapped up in being what is,” figures that “seem to exhibit a genuine inner life of its own,” masterfully crafted to allure us by generating a gap “between a thing and its accessibility.” But as he also points out, in Lovecraft the “medium is the message.”14 And that is another way of saying that the depth of the art object really does not lie with Roquentin but with the ability of the artist to make Roquentin
Graham Harman, ???
Harman, Marginalia on Radical Thinking
Baudelaire, Critique d’art, (Paris: Folio, 1992), 238.
Graham Harman, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy, (Winchester: Zero Books, 2012), 44.
appear as an object with depth in a medium that ought precisely to preclude this, that ought only, as it were, to have itself as depth. Taken somewhat skeptically, the depth of the art object is thus a false depth, the depth of tricksters that make us lose our sense and certainty of being able to distinguish real from false depth. But then there is another depth from this false depth of content; there is the depth of form reflecting upon form. Art can do this,for as Heidegger says of Holderlin, one can be a poet’s poet,a poet whose poetry is “solely about the essence of poetry,” or in broadest terms, an artist whose art concerns only the art object.15 This is true even if Harman seems to claim a higher destiny for Lovecraft’s writing, namely that its concern is not about the “essence of writing stories,” but rather about the “essence of philosophy.”16 Harman can say this because Lovecraft’s concern with the essence of philosophy is a fascination with what is withdrawn, and also a concern with the bringing to light or allusive illumination of what is withdrawn via various rhetorical techniques, both essential aspects of object oriented philosophy. But Lovecraft remains a writer of stories and not a philosopher insofar as his concern with what is withdrawn nevertheless falls short of the truly philosophical concern with what is truly withdrawn as opposed to the artistic engagement with the modes of rendering the essence of objects present in their withdrawing. Put another way, the withdrawn object that Lovecraft and all art investigates is the art object and its magical ability to summon forth simulacra of essence, and not the philosophers stone itself, the essences of each essential element. The art object is perhaps the most widely revealed object, the one object that has most consistently attracted human attention. Unlike ordinary objects, art objects cry out to us like tight clothing on a sexy body, vagaries of style and codes corresponding. But if the experience of art objects is rich and deep, the basic speculative experience encountered with respect to the art object is one of reduction and unification. The art object is as I have said above, a Platonic object. Speculation on the art object explores how the various sensual qualities and objects cohere into one larger and all encompassing being—art. Experience of the art object is thus the opposite of the exploration engaged in within other speculative realist exercises, wherein we move forth from the relative safety and security of our immanent sensuality towards a multitude of real but withdrawn objects, each to us as deep and as alluring as the art object, but less flagrant, less encountered, more enigmatic. It is in its avoidance of these depths upon depths that the art object lacks depth, and not otherwise. The paradox of the art object consists in its relationship to these depths. While art objects draw us towards the depths, themselves serially sounding the ultimate recesses of the art object, they never properly assume the depth of real objects without ceasing to be what they are. Duchamp’s Fountain, endowed with ultimate depth, is a mere urinal. “Deprived of access to the real objects that lurk beneath perception and all other contexts, we produce our own real objects in the midst of them—as if countless black holes were suddenly and deliberately generated in banks, hospitals, and malls, or in Florence, Stratford, and Providence.”17 Writes Harman. Art so conceived has holes, has depth, has horror. But these black holes are only metaphors for others and deeper ones still, deeper because real and in no ambiguous way tied up in the metaphysics of the medium. The existence of the art object as such thus might be said to be rather a way of coping with the horror of the depths, a simple strategy sown together out of so-called black holes that serve as comfortable placeholders for real rifts in the fabric of reality itself. As Aristotle once noted, we can take pleasure in representations of things that would revolt us in reality. Horror in art may be chilling, it may plunge towards the depths of the concealed essence, but it is nothing next to the real terror of our complicity with anonymous objects, our horrifying proximity and entwinement with other but unknown objects in our ecosystems and selves. The depth of the art object, black holes and all, is a depth tailored to us, a depth that is minimally accessible, knowable, baby step approachable through the schools and initiations that lead us into the art world and its institutions.
Heidegger, “Holderlin and the Essence of Poetry,” quoted after Harman, Weird Realism, 33.
Harman, Weird Realism, 33.
Harman, Weird Realism, 260.
The Dialectic of the Art Object One might see the history of art as an ongoing process of revealing objects to us in their enigmatic depths and failing to do so at the same time, a history of trying to confront the voids and failing. Thus Fountain reveals to us a urinal, but in doing so steals away the full revelation of its objecthood. Thus contemporary art, as viewed by Fried, is the site of an ongoing agon between absorption and theatricality, each strategy being an attempt at inserting the object within art, each failing or falling off from this ambition in a different way.18 The relative shallowness of the art object stems from its inherent cosmological order, even and despite the hopeless variety of instances, all art worksexpresssensual qualities of the art object. Compare this to the object thronging cosmos in which objects appear within the immanence of our sensorium, in doing so not manifesting or promising their belonging to a larger network or system, but rather deconstructing all systems as shallow, showing all networks as incomplete, showing the self as horrifyingly inadequate to begin establishing unity in multiplicity. Which is not to say that the art object as it is revealed in certain art works cannot be said to present us with this variety and horror in reality as if by analogy, and so to raise us up a rung on the speculative ladder. Art properly seen, is so when it presents us with this analogy, when we find in it a figure for thinking the radical and multiple withdrawal of objects, what Harman calls, with respect to Lovecraft, essence. Yet art also stands forever contradicted by the allure encountered in our aesthetic encounters with other real objects, for their allure is deeper and each time different, while the flavors of art objects always return to the speculative unity of the one. Art viewed from an object-oriented perspective is thus a paradox. Art objects seem alluring effortlessly; the art of the creator consists in fabricating quasi-objects that allure us in analogy with real ones. We cannot say that these are not real objects, but we know that in saying something is art we are not dealing with it as a real object, not disposing ourselves to receive its allure as object, but only as participant in the art object. In art there is always a sense in which the artist seems to bring the untoucheable real closer to us, it becomes this unspeakable and impalpable thing dancing in a Dionysian throng before us. But with such success comes failure, for this drunken and fractured image is still image and thus alienation, forgetting or misleading us, albeit with a certain economy, away from real objects.19
The Sorcery of the Artist The art object is always what Tristan Garcia calls a representation for another, and it is perhaps for this reason that art works are so superficial with respect to real objects, their sole depth being the sans fond of representation for another taken as an object in itself.20 There are representations that lead us to forget his fact, and there are others that foreground the very fact that the representation for another is nevertheless formed of something lost but for itself. This point is crucial to the economy of art works, for in the creation of work the artist as creator must enter into an impossible proximity with the object. And, if out of this fusing with the object is to emerge some illusion of not just relationship to that object, but of the relationship to other objects in general, we might posit for the artist a deeper connectedness with objects in general. Since this connectedness can be explained neither in ideal nor in empirical terms, the artist must thus appear a kind of alchemist. Like the hoodoo-man or the witch channeling spirits, the artist brings us towards the crypt of the presence of the invisible ever-alien other, even if this presence is double veiled, only accessible insofar as it is recognized as that which must have been in order to produce the representation for another that is the art object and its tricksterish allure as art. The artistâ€™s work, when completed, thus distances, but it also implies a sin of unholy complicity with the object. Art emerges only out of a weird synthesis between the creator and the object or objects, the result being, despite it all, marvelous as a translation of this encounter. Poets and other creators can and do make art about this encounter, always and always at the risk of leaving us with shadows of what we once possessed in the flesh. In this way poets, just as negative theologians, confess to experiences with a divinity that they themselves admit
Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).
19 By economy here I of course refer to the economy of the image, economy as the term is used by the fathers of the Greek Church. On this, see JosĂŠ Maria Mondzaine, etc.
Tristan Garcia, Forme et objet
amounts to nothing, and in doing so run the omnipresent risk of dogmatizing and so betraying themselves. One such poet is Robert Duncan, whose visionary verse flees not from engaging with the reality of objects, and whose omnipresent poetic theme is nothing but the rendering of the peculiar complicity with dark matter
that is obscurely implied in the poetic act, and all to often forgotten or repressed in the ordinary goings on
of the life-world, with its reduction of all things either to theoretical or practical entities denuded of mystery.
Tinkletum, Tankletum gives a twist to the moon
That shines on my eyeballs as if I could see.
Through weird song we shake with the convocations of the coven-witch Shyrrie.21 Magic words seem strange,
but it is this very weirdness that makes them into what Harman calls “black holes,” metaphors bringing to
light not presence to hand but absence, rendering the real in its excessive indescribability. These witches
dance in numbers that have all in common with Duncan’s Open Field and Structures of Rime, themselves dance
poems about the whirling origins of poetry. Yet theirs is not the cozy green of the field and flowers inherited from Whitman and Wordsworth, and to dance the dance of being and beings the poet must step not just off
of the beaten path but also off of the deep end.
Sing TinkletumTankletum, Isobel Shyrrie
I feel such a merriment raised to your beat
The white stones must be dancing in the moon’s heat,
And the Forfar bones from the graveyard ground
Will be calling me up to join the round.
Rather than lulling us into thinking that song comes only from a commonplace vision of the natural, Duncan
reveals to us the proximity between the homely pastoral nature of the Lakes district and the weird and
uncomfortable wastelands in which witches dance their unholy communion with the “wild kittens” of the
“mangy cat.” The song of the poet calls to the despised witch and also to our feet, calls to the stones and bones, to the despised serpents that Coleridge, at the close of the Mariner’s Rime, calls upon us to embrace in care and kinship. Our being moved by the art object, which as we have noted, pulls us deeper not via its relation to objects but only with relation to the artist’s mastery of the depth of the word mined magically in its representing for another, nevertheless disposes us to look for the dance in that which is despised, to seek an allure in bones and stones, even as that allure to us becomes ever obscurer when seen through the prism of the poem, which opens the stranger to us only by means of our excessive familiarity with its topoi. The Black wool’s one the one side
And the white wool’s on the other.
The worm sings merrily in the ripe corn.
And I cry to my neighbors “Have pity on the Old One!
Love’s left me markt like the devil’s brother!
“O let me alone, for I was a dancer, a joker over the grave stones—yes, but a blind one.” Now white’s the night and black’s the day. The live are to burn us, with the dead we’ll away. The poem closes with a meditation on good and evil, dark and light, utterly inspired in Duncan’s vision
of the poetic art by his understanding of alchemy, which as he tells it, depends upon “some equivalence
or ambivalence between the gold (the Good, the life, the essential) and the shit (the waste, the contamina tion—but it was also that which was returned to the life or richness of the soil).”22 The poem is shit as well
as gold, it reminds us that ecology implied complicity with black toxic matter as well as greeny asphodel, it
opens us to communion with the allure of objects unforeseen, objects that harrow and are repressed, objects
that must be loved in our revulsion, holy and satanic, it closes us off from objects as well, sending us off on
the search for foolery, for in fact there are not witches and their familiars, there is only reality, and that is
much weirder still.
Robert Duncan, “The Ballad of the Forfar Witches’ Sing,” Roots and Branches, 91.
22 Duncan, Robert; Michael Boughn; Victor Coleman (2010-12-06). The H.D. Book (The Collected Writings of Robert Duncan) (p. 455).
University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
Objective Aesthetics In evoking Duncan’s invocation with the magic Sabbath of creation, we have surely touched upon an aesthetic in the objective sense that resonates with the theories and dogmas of object-oriented ontology. And there is no doubt something that might be described as an object oriented aesthetic, a tendency that object oriented ontologists will expect to encounter in instances of the art object, thus apparently contradicting, as it were, their attention to the object, at least in the case of the art object. This objective object-oriented aesthetic is something like a style or a set of procedures that result—at fortuitous moments—in producing glimpses of the art object such that it seems a monist and immanentist reflection of the pluralist and transcendentalist reality. Harman calls this aesthetic weird realism, and the name fits as well as any other. Lovecraft, of course, is the apotheosis of this art, though were he the sole master of this aesthetic the very interest of this movement would fall flat. On Harman’s reading Lovecraft is a master of gaps, an artist constantly engaged of an exploration into the distance between the multiple dimensions of the quadruple object. Yet at times Harman’s readings of Lovecraft seem to reduce to mere grammatical exercises and compilations of tropes. Sometimes it seems that he considers “black hole” metaphors merely as a rhetorical procedure, something that philosophical writing wishing to evoke the weirdness of reality might take up, or future poets might wish to take up into song. Yet while this recycling of tropes hardly misses the point, we might easily here miss the darkness of the matter. For metaphors in themselves are magic, uncanny. Metaphors, even black hole metaphors, do not always work, and why they do or do not seems to depend either upon some sense of their correlation with an uncanny truth. Doubtless this implies that the object of the object-oriented aesthetic is like all objects, ungraspable. Though we can of course study it in history. Just as Hans Blumenbergdevelopedmetaphorologyto study the history and play of absolute metaphors, metaphors that tie together the whole world in a picture, so too might one endeavor to plumb the history of haunted houses in which black hole metaphors reside. Doubtless this his tory would run at counter-current to the history of absolute metaphors, and that is to say that the history of black hole metaphors would reflect our growing sense of unease with the world pictures that we have created, our growing curiosity and terror in the real that we have so long tried to suppress under unifying metaphors. Doubtless this history would be bound up in the progressive dawning of the anthropocene, doubtless also it would grapple more with the past of the future than with any present past. But it would be a task, and perhaps a worthy one, for those ready to take as familiars the wild kittens of the mangy cat.
Automatic Social Writing by Darren Caffrey
Image of drained lake, Vassiviere, Jean Pechalat 1995.
he work began on the dam in ’46. The war had just finished. They needed light and they did not have electric power like they do nowadays. Things were progressing; there was no central heating, just candlelight, oil lamps and fireplaces. There was a desire for progress, the war had changed things; it pushed progress. We needed much more light, there wasn’t enough and so we needed to build the dam. I was twenty then. I had left school at 14 to be a herder. Nowadays people come here to hike, but then we herded cattle here; we didn’t travel. I don’t even think that I passed the “Certificat d’études primaires”. I worked with animals and we kept the grass short with our cows. It was not until later that we had tractors; that made things much easier. I had three sisters; there were four of us children in the house and our family had always lived in the region. My parents were tenant farmers but they changed location so that we could be closer to school. After the move we were only one kilometer from the school whereas before it was five kilometers, it was the only solution. During the war the Germans were not very present up here in the hills. Down lower there were exchanges between the Resistance and the German army and the repercussions were very severe. Whole villages were punished in reprisals. We did not feel their presence here but they occupied the whole surrounding area and it was there that you had more people killed; there was sabotage.1
But there was electricity before the dam came. The mill that was drowned in the lake had a turbine that produced electricity for itself, the farm opposite, and the château but not for general use. In ’36 electricity was brought to everyone though there were those who did not want it. Quite simply they were scared that it would start fires. Of course this was foolishness; candles and oil lamps are more dangerous than electric lamps.2 * When the dam was started there were objections. You have to understand that people had beautiful homes in chiselled stone, some very old and very well made. And it was all dynamited. Everything was destroyed, all the trees cut down and all was razed. Of course they were paid for the land. I did not say they were not compensated, but it was compulsory all the same; there was no choice. We did not want to leave but we had to. It was bad for those concerned, but everyone else benefited. Everyone needed light, and now there are lights, fridges, and freezers, everything, including heating. The people were warned in advance about the coming dam, but no one wanted to leave until the very last moment when they had to.3
1 Although not entirely sure of the exact date at first, our interviewee, Jean Péchalat, recalls a miraculous sight in the year 1944. He remembers seeing the English dropping parachutes from the sky. As the interview progresses he becomes more precise in his recollection and asserts that it was the feast day of Saint-Jean when, as a young herder, he literally watched his liberation descend from the sky. It was a beautiful sight he says. The British air force had come to liberate the French countryside from the occupying German forces. This momentous event coincided with the day of an age-old summer solstice celebration. In time, and with Christian influence, the celebration came to be known as the feast of Saint-Jean. In the Limousin region, where Jean Péchalat lives, the youth would jump over the flames of bonfires throughout the evening demonstrating their courage to their peers. Leaving Jean’s stone built home on the island of Vassivière after listening to his stories, I couldn’t help but think of another Saint, the Benedictine missionary Saint Boniface who chopped down the sacred Donar Oak near Fritzlar, Germany. According to Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldo, Boniface levelled the tree where Thor, the great Norse god associated with thunder and lightning, was said to reside. In doing so the missionary believed he was bringing progress through Christianity by ridding the local Chatti people of pagan demons. 2 Spirited by the post-war belief in progress and reconstruction, the trees of Vassivière were also razed to enable the construction of a dam. In this modern version of the Doner Oak scenario, a reversal of stage direction occurs. The clear-cut valleys and dynamited villages punctuated the exit of the German occupiers while simultaneously ushering in dam projects in which Thor’s powerful thunderbolt was retrofit as hydroelectric power. The felling of trees by the dam’s workforce mirrored Boniface’s medieval gesture. Yet, their actions antithetically resuscitated the electric power associated with the Thunder God whom the cleric tried to exorcise. 3 Thor’s Mjölnir, a double-sided axe-like weapon, provides a useful form through which one can consider the double-edged effect of this engineering undertaking. In its shape the Mjölnir imitates an axe or hammer, a piece of simple technology. However, in mythological convention this weapon was capable of leveling mountains. In Vassivière, Thor’s Mjölnir clears away the old social organisation and ecosystem with the deific blow of one of his blades. Using the other metal edge of the Mjölnir he conducts the energy harnessed from nature and transforms it into electric current.
There were 3500 workers who came from all over, lots of different countries, from Italy, from Africa. They were housed all over the area and some rented out local houses. They came and dynamited the villages, built roads and bridges and the dam. Nothing was finished and they continued building as the water started rising. It rose very very slowly. Things took a long time to build because everything had to be brought into the area. There was a funicular train that brought everything in from outside; cement, iron girders, pipes, it all came via the funicular. The water rose and the people moved out and the buildings were dynamited, like the mill and the farm. And they cut down all the trees. It left an impression to see those fine trees cut down, quite an impression. Once the water started to rise there was another invasion. Snakes, mice and rats all started to head for higher ground. Here on the island (of course it was not an island until they started to flood the valley) there was an invasion of these animals, especially snakes, trapped by the rising water. When we scythed hay they were always between our feet. There were all sorts, vipers, asps. Some time later there was a woman who was bitten and died in the fields.4 So now we have tourism instead; the page has turned. People talk about lost cemeteries, and the ringing of a church bell underwater, but those are just stories someone made up. From time to time they have to empty the lake. They emptied it every five years at first in order to check the condition of the dam. If they needed to repair cracks and fissures they would empty the lake especially for that too. But now they use machines to check it. When they empty the lake you can see the old village foundations. I was already old when I had a proper look at the emptied lake, it was in 1995. I don’t think I will get to see it again. Ttranslated Kapwani Kiwanga & S Basu Footnotes: Kapwani Kiwanga
4 With the flooding of the valley the village foundations were submerged and the fauna retreated to higher ground. My reader will have encountered this pattern before. Across time and place, either mythical or real deluges occur which force the migration of earthly creatures. In the case of the flooding of Vassivière, a new equilibrium was eventually attained between human, highlander refugees and second-wave reptilian migrants. The progenies of Jormungander - giant sea serpent and Thor’s arch-enemy - occupied the fields of Vassivière’s crofters. The villagers had essentially sacrificed the serpent’s sanctuary as tribute to the god of lightning who’d reinvented himself in the form of modern electricity. In the poem Hymiskvi A, Thor raises his Mjölnir to chop away at Jormungander during a famous battle at sea. Similarly, Limousin tenant farmers’ scythes cut away at their fields’ tall grasses consequently chasing out the concealed serpents sometimes with deadly consequences. As with generational feuds, Thor and Jörmungandr seem to have continued their prehistoric battle for supremacy through their respective descendants.
nce you evade being hypnotised by the ethnographer’s fascination with strangeness and magic, you begin to see that this fascination is connected to ethnography’s other great difficulty, the quality of its informants. The field investigation often requires years of re-visiting the subject group, investment in time and money and always sitting in a tent bent over a little notebook. Many arguments turn around from whom and for what reason information about secret and occulted traditions would be shared with strangers. This concern for what is not being revealed leads one to tune into occulted and secret knowledge everywhere. The anthropological project has been troubled by the most evident of facts; the field ethnographer can make no real friends because he is always on the point of betrayal. The objective of the research is to totally give over your informer, to divulge them. This is not a limp criticism of the reflexivity of the science of anthropology; it is a fact of triangular encounters everywhere. Whether the third party is La Musée de l’Homme, your self-conscious inner-voice or the behaviour of catalysts in chemical reactions, a deceitful triangle starts to emerge. Betrayal is a complete handing-over. Betrayal is where one element in an entanglement does not complete its turn and leaves the other element exposed and floating. The betrayal is an exchange and not a truth; it is a passing of closed secrets between agents. It draws the actors impossibly close together because the secret does not come into the open and is not divested of the close intimacy of its procuring. To the one who has come through something of such intensity, for the shameless survivor of such a suicide pact, the betrayal-testimony is a mode of magic. There is constantly a pull to bear witness to these moments of betrayal - privately and together - through scars and collective deeds. This impelling comes from the betrayal experience’s innate ability to generate spaces that are shared intimately. Betrayal is innate intimacy; it is touch, sight and feeling; it passes recollections and datum through our very porous borderspaces. Experience can bring about a communion of spaces between people and things. We strive to surpass our inability to assemble everything within ourselves and so sometimes it is the inanimate landscape that takes on that roll instead of us. Betrayal-testimony seeps from the rock bringing us forth out of an undefined automation. Our forefathers, our geographies, our economic attachments, they all awe and intern us and bury us, but betrayals awaken the geology, technology, chance (and also everything that did not happen), and magically fuse them together creating communion.
he development of electricity in France saw a real upsurge with the creation of hydroelectric dams and their attendant electricity plants and artificial lakes starting in the period between the two World Wars, and ending in the immediate years following the Second War World. It is estimated that France’s hydroelectric capacity met 56% of France’s electricity demand by 1960.1 This was both perceived and presented as a superior feat of technical prowess inherent to the project of modernity and linked to the ongoing march of progress. As Berthonnet writes in a recent article about France’s development of rural electricity: In 1918, only 20% of France’s 38,014 communes are linked to the national electrical network: these are mostly
urban communities. Twenty years later, on the eve of the Second World War, 97% of communes have electricity.
It is a well-known fact that the France of the interwar period is predominantly rural. In 1928, the country has 20
million rural inhabitants, that is about half of the total urban population. The share of agriculture in France’s
GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is then 24% for a working population of 32.7% (Berthonnet 2003: 194).2
France was still a predominantly rural country and electricity was presented as a means to bring progress to the countryside. The discourse on and around electricity that dominated the Electricity International Fair of 1881 in Paris revolved around agriculture rather than industry (Ibid:195). The houille blanche or “white coal” that water power represented was seen as particularly suited to improving agricultural production and even developing new agricultural forms of industrialisation - or at least introducing some progress in agricultural labour processes. Several uses for electricity were put forth, such as the development of “electro-culture” by harnessing the power of electrical forces in the air; the cultivation of plants during the night; the improvement of horse dressing via electrocution (Ibid). More seriously, “electrically powered engines [were] believed to transform agricultural labour” (Ibid). For Berthonnet, however, it was only at the small property level that electricity’s effect could be observed before the 1920s: “flourmills, dairy production, distilleries, biscuit factories” (Ibid:196). According to Veyret-Verner, the first electrical plants were established around 1869 in the Alps but did not produce more than 5,000 kW each and only managed to boost production through new techniques to up to 10,000 kW each by 1890 (Veyret-Verner 1951:4). The idea was to exploit the high debit of alpine torrents to create enough power to boost the first generation electricity producing turbines. Engineers sought ever-higher falls to create an ever-higher amount of kW. Electricity itself was a new force. Allessandro Volta invented the electric battery in 1800. The first electric utility company was opened in 1816. However, it was not until 1882 that Thomas Edison opened the first
www.enr.fr/docs/2009204954_SERKitHydraulique200903LDRGB01Chiffres.pdf, accessed 9th May, 2012.
All translations from the original French are the author’s unless specified.
n a dark night, we arrive at the scene of an event already fifty years old and eons older beneath that. We arrive late and come to the home of Jean Péchalat the one scattered survivor of a flood, living alone with the smell of cats on an island made by the lake of a dam. He remembers back to before the dam. The dam-lake cuts off old roads and sends everything into orbit around the new shore path like light around the rim of a black hole. The arc of the concrete dam underscores the lake’s massive presence, its cross-section revealing the depth of water restrained behind. It is a black insensitive battery of power, immune to the displaced persons and snakes and trees of the flooded valley that remember a ‘before’ but have no power to impose this memory. The dam is mute and retreats behind the trappings of the natural scene, denying its mystery, beauty and magic. Nothing happens, it is unintelligible; it lies beyond all acquaintance. It is a genie, hateful and monstrous with potent energy. Jean Péchalat makes a comment: “During the war the Germans were not very present up here in the hills. Down lower, there were exchanges between the Resistance and the German army; the repercussions were very severe. Whole villages were punished in reprisals. We did not feel their presence here but they occupied the whole surrounding area and it was there that you had more people killed.” It is strange that I am so convinced of what I believe about the rocks and dam and its stored energy. I have only lived in the area a hand full of years and so I cannot claim any loyalty to lost local causes, yet I am aware of the arrival in me of certain novel thoughts and ideas: This dam, in its withdrawn and silent landscape, is connected to an ancient, mountainous refusing-event that will be the future heart of a communion. It is a drowning that is readily being divulged to a stranger and I am a stranger who is being betrayed into the hands of a secret.
private hydroelectric plant in Wisconsin, USA.3 In France, hydroelectric power began to be exploited earnestly, primarily in the Alps, only during the very first years of the 20th century. As noted above, it was referred to as “white coal” in opposition to the “black coal” that predominated in industrial factories. The impetus came from the needs of a growing chemical and metallurgical industry located in these regions and which required a continuous input of energy to fuel production (Dalmasso 2008:47). This went hand in hand with the development of a sizable working class employed by these new industries. It would then seem that local needs only played a secondary role here, far from late nineteenth century concerns about the use of electricity for primarily agricultural purposes. The development of ever larger plants in the Alps in the early 20th century notwithstanding, electricity seems to have been originally first and foremost the business of small, locally situated electrical endeavours catering to very specific local needs. In the Alps, a region for which historical studies have attempted to lay out a historical typology of early forms of electrical production, such endeavours were often tied to local economic interests through mills that specialised in paper or textile production (Ibid). Such mills were typically operating on the borders of rivers or streams. Often, they were ancient forges – perhaps an early link to the subsequent development of the large metallurgical plants in this region mentioned above. We find a similar configuration in the upland regions of Corrèze, Haute Vienne and Creuse known as the Plateaux de Millevaches or Milles Sources, where mills operated by waterpower have existed since time immemorial. Here mills traditionally functioned as flourmills or specialised in producing oil, combing wool, processing paper and tanning leather (Perrier cf. Jean 1963:58). Often, in the early 1900s, the mills were transformed so as to be able to produce the electrical power needed to operate relatively modern machinery. As opposed to a more industrially produced “white coal”, this was referred to as “green coal” (Berthonnet 2003:197). Was this a result of campaigns to introduce electricity into the rural world through the mechanisation of production processes? In Vassivière, traces of a wood cutting mill now swallowed up by the homonymous lake still exist. In Treignac, a textile mill was operating as early as the late 19th century processing wool from the highland area for textile production. In Uzerche, there was a flourishing paper factory as early as 1893 established on the site of a former paper mill. Just as in Treignac, the mill used the waterpower of the Vézère River. Such concerns were local, but fuelled a larger economy spreading out beyond the borders of the Massif Central region. Water could be exploited by private individuals at this time, as it was not until 1919 that a law was passed stipulating that only the State could make use of the “driving force” of water thereby establishing the need of a concession (Ibid:9). The gradual arrival of large-scale projects often supported by private interests displaced the local electrical production units to the benefit of a more centralised, efficient and over-arching infrastructure. This was not unlike what had happened in the Alps in the early 20th century. In the aftermath of the First World War, private companies started prospecting in the Vézère region, upstream of Uzerche and Treignac with the aim of establishing electrical plants that would meet the growing demand for electricity. One such company was the Société Chimique des Usines du Rhône (SCUR) which bought land in the Haute Vézère with the aim of developing hydroelectric power in the region (Les Gens de Viam 2008: 29). Following 1919, a concession was awarded to the SCUR, ancestor of modern day Rhône-Poulenc, in 1921. It was relinquished to the Société des Forces Motrices de la Haute-Vézère in 1939 (Ibid:30). It was the beginning of work towards the establishment of a dam and an electric plant on the falls of the Virole River. In the immediate period after the Second World War, the Société Auxiliare des Travaux Publiques lead and supervised work on a second dam on the Vézère, the one of [?] Bariousses. A third dam would see the day near Peyrissac in 1955.
http://inventors.about.com/od/timelines/a/electricity_timeline.htm accessed May 7th, 2012.
nd so we must define the object of this future inclusion so as to understand how it will overwhelm us. We begin with a simple adding up of things that have happened; a little amateur history sleuthing in order to find our place in this adopted region. It starts to reveal something. Zones of geology and economy affect the behaviour of things. Uranium soaked granite and storm cycles sketch out a terrain marked by strong communist leanings and an active and oft punished wartime Resistance. An early Christian saint, LĂŠonard de Noblac, released prisoners and gave them work in the forests around here. There is a ferocious privacy here yet no voice raised in independence. More recently the Tarnac nine were pulled from their beds and charged with criminal association for the purposes of terrorist activity. These are unconnected things that only with the greatest stretch of imagination can be said to have touched each other. But they allow us to believe that we have understood their secret relationship and they start to lure us in. Those who seek to reveal something of the world are often themselves precipitated in this process. The things we apprehend participate in forming us as subject. The subject arrives after the world. The landscape of this hard and low-yielding terrain starts to inaugurate a subject who believes he apprehends this landscape. This overflowing beyond ourselves in reciprocation of what we search out, I shall call geomancy; a Feng Shui of objects bringing each other to bear. This induction relies on sidestepping any fixation on the rift that gapes between the subject and its other. It relies on avoiding pointing out something as being over there on the horizon, or looming in with oppressive force. We must avoid that angst filled maw that defines the I and non-I in the canon of the Individual. The absolute angst of the rift is not in fact a lone chasm; it is everywhere and between all things. We nominate assemblages of things that have induced us to see them and from there we can betray new objects. The research/object can be two things; the researcher separated from what is researched by a rift that defines and limits the strangeness of the situation. Or the researcher is not separated from the researched thing and a terror-filled wonder-awe conjoins them. This wonder-awe is an alchemical marriage
The Massif Central area, where the Plateau de Millevaches is located, was (and still is) perceived as backwards, isolated and impoverished with respect to more developed regions in France. The region is referred to as the “cold lands” or Terre Froide as opposed to the “hot lands”, “good lands” or “good country” describing the more hospitable and fertile lowland regions surrounding it (Perrier 1924:364). Electricity here represented an improvement on both individual comfort and agricultural production. However, at the beginning electricity was deemed a mysterious, fairy like power alien to local traditions and potentially dangerous. Berthonnet argues that it was the conscripts of the First World War who brought back home with them tales of the “electricity fairy” (Berthonnet 2003:194). Mobilised to the north and into urban areas where electricity had already colonised the city and households alike, they were eager to bring this new, mysterious power source into their own homes. This holds true for the specific area that interests us here. Most farms in the Millevaches Plateaux region did not have access to electricity in the immediate years following the First World War. Within farmhouses, candles and oil lamps provided light at sunset – and the hearth, heat in the harsh winters. Moreover, most farm work was done by hand with no mechanical or electrically powered machinery to ease the task. At Vassivière, in 1936, the local mill provided electricity for the farms belonging to the “Chateau”4. This was used to operate machinery linked to agricultural production and did not extend to private usage. It is unclear to what extent the local hydroelectric plants that were being planned along the Vézère River and its tributaries - or other projects on the Maule River and beyond along the Vienne basin and the Dordogne - aimed to fulfil local energy needs. The kind of infrastructure required and the level of investments were such, that these projects could only be engaged in and carried out by relatively large private enterprises or outright by the state. However, it was not until 1946, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, that electricity was nationalised and the national electricity company EDF was created. Prior to this, the interest and investment in hydroelectric power were mixed, with both private and state concerns being mobilised. On the one hand, there were private companies such as the SCUR or the Société des Forces Motrices de la Haute-Vézère. On the other hand, the state was present via its network of engineers from the Ecole Polytechnique and the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Electrical power was to meet local needs but, over and above these, it aimed to increase energy production nationally for industrial purposes. For example, the electricity produced by the nearby Marèges Dam on the Dordogne River was not directed at local needs but at meeting the electricity demands of the newly developed railroads.5 The dam was completed in 1935 and was directly financed by the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Midi.6 As noted above, in total three major dams were built on the Plateaux de Millevaches along the Vézère River in the years spanning the interwar and immediate post war period. They comprise the Monceaux-la-Virole Dam, the Treignac Dam and the Peyrissac Dam. Two hydroelectric power plants exploited the energy unleashed by the dams. The first was located above Treignac, while the second was not far from Peyrissac. Furthermore, the dams themselves were different in type. The Monceaux-la-Virole and the Treignac dams were both “arch dams”. Such dams are particularly adapted to narrow valley gorges with hard rock foundations.7 An arch dam is a type of dam that is curved and commonly built with concrete. The arch dam is a structure that is
designed to curve upstream so that the force of the water against it, known as hydrostatic pressure, presses against
the arch, compressing and strengthening the structure as it pushes into its foundation or abutments.8
Instead, the Peyrissac dam was a “buttress dam”. That is, it utilised buttresses as an additional support given the lack of strong canyon walls to rely upon. Due to this difference, only the first two led to the creation of sizable lakes, the Viam Lake and Bariousses Lake respectively. Four other dams would be built further downstream, beyond Uzerche, on the Vézère River as part of an ambitious set of hydroelectric projects that included, beyond the Vézère basin, the Dordogne and the Vienne river basins as well. The Vassivière Dam on the Maule River that led to the creation of the Vassivière Lake in the immediate
Personal communication Jean P. May 4th, 2012.
Personal communication Paul B. May 8th, 2012.
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrage_de_Marègesies accessed June 8th, 2012.
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrage#Barrage_vo.C3.BBte accessed June 9th, 2012.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arch_dam accessed June 9th, 2012.
et us slip away, if we can, from considering man for man’s sake, or the community for community’s sake. Let us escape from beginning in anything self-evident. Let us distance ourselves from all groups that work towards reconfirmation of their being. Community is not a mode of individuals, it brings about a new alien body, it takes back everything that is held dear and undoes all. Community is set against the individual; community erodes the individual just as the individual appears as a deterioration of communities. The individual is always inclined towards this togetherness; the community lures it onto rocks. The human community is not the lone assemblage of man’s attentions. In this cyborg landscape, individuals are porous, they are assemblages already made up of other assemblages. We are made up of machines, of protocols, languages and laws, each enigmatically unavailable to the other. We are blindly unaware of the other autonomies that we participate in. Our landscape, with its abundant cascades of temporary, emergent objects, is slipping sideways, orbiting, disintegrating.
We Beautiful Magick Coven
ne of the main difficulties of thinking about the roll of inanimate assemblages in the constitution of organisms and ecosystems is the tradition that attaches such special importance to the concept of life. In this tradition the living being is always troubled by non-living material that seems to be taking too large a role in the sacred inner running of living things. But Life is a qualification of a system’s attributes and not a privileged type of existence. Similarly consciousness does not seem to need any special mystical underpinning to explain its functioning and growth. The special sense that being alive had, and still echoes with, is proving to be unproductive. It is a much better thought experiment to think that we have never been alive (in any special sense). We are complex system-events who, when considered as part of an ecology of systems, can easily be expected to resonate with, catalyse or retard other parts of the system in a chaotic lumpy ride with other objects, and all this without eroding the beauty and awesome fact of the complexity of the ‘living’ event. And so the lake bedazzles the mountain with the moon. The uranium in the heart of a hill is drawn into dark pools and washes into gold and mica deposits irradiating bacteria and mutating fungi. There are storms on the barren plateau that channel the constellations, mapping the ellipses of invisible moons onto the forests fires below. My neighbour shows me a pebble that looks like a pearl and when it is placed on your eye it cures it of all infection. It fell out of the sky in the 1970s. A cyclone scries the beginning of the universe through the scintillation caught in a rainbow. Mineral extrasensory perceptions crystallise extremophile organisms in the sleeping core of a volcano. One betrays the other to the next in an indifferent evolution, each inheriting their resistance to the other, refusing and giving way in their turn. And there we are, you and I breaking the witch’s hammer.
Bibliography (of miss understood books) St. John of the Cross. “Dark Night of the Soul” ISBN 0-486-42693-9 Nancy, Jean-Luc. 1991. “The Inoperative Community” ISBN 978-0-8166-1924-5 Harman, Graham. 2011. “The Quadruple Object” ISBN 978-1-84694-700-1 Blanchot, Maurice. 1988. “The Unavowable Community” ISBN 0-88268-043-9
post war period is part of the Vienne River basin. Like the three damns mentioned above, it is also located on the Plateaux de Millevaches from which both the Vienne and the Vézère rivers originate. Did the electricity generated by the hydroelectric complexes established along the Vézère and the Vienne serve local interests? There was no clear development of industrial complexes in this region as there had been in the Alps. Roughly a decade after the establishment of the earliest dams in the region, the Plateaux de Millevaches was described as a land of heaths, brooms and bogs (Derreau-Boniol 1957:40). Derreau-Boniol writes that, “the moorlands, which erstwhile occupied 75% of the Plateau de Millevaches, are used as feed for sheep. The best lands, which were once given over to buckwheat and rye, now produce oats, potatoes and a little wheat... Forestry and pork breeding are the most important industries in the area.” (Ibid). In 1957 Derreau-Borriol described that area of the Creuse that touches upon the Lac de Vassivière and its impressive hydroelectric system. It does not seem as if the damn had brought any prosperity to the area since its completion in 1952. With its 100 million kW annual production, it had not stopped migration to other regions, notably Paris (Ibid:46). The overall population of the Creuse, which had dropped dramatically in the aftermath of the First World War, continued to decline (Ibid:42). It was an aging population with the younger generations migrating out to and definitely settling in other regions. A similar assessment can be made for the neighbouring Corrèze region. The data reported by Derreau-Bonniol for the 1950s is confirmed by the population census of 1968. Larivière wrote in 1970 that the population of the Plateau de Millevaches was overwhelmingly agricultural - 55% lived on the land (Larivière 1970:336). The proportion of the population not engaged in agriculture was composed mostly of pensioners who had come back to the region after working elsewhere, or former farmers having abandoned their farms (Ibid). In this last category, women constituted the majority (Ibid). However, unlike for other bordering areas, farms boasted a larger number of hectares – the ratio was 6.9 hectares per inhabitant, the highest for the Corrèze as a whole (Ibid:337). Such numbers must be mitigated by the fact that the Plateau de Millevaches had a less advantageous geographical layout and economic value. The denser farm topology of neighbouring areas can be explained by their accessibility and perhaps overall yield. The census reveals that the Corrèze as a whole was still a land of dense agricultural exploitation organised through smallholdings. Demographically speaking, the Corrèze was not doing so well in 1968. The Plateau de Millevaches showed an un healthy demographic curve (Ibid:338). Overall, we are talking of an aging population with 17,3% of the total being over 65 (Ibid). Worse, the ratio of children to women of childbearing age represented only 43% of the population as opposed to the French national range of 53% (Ibid). If we take the Millevaches region together with the Plateau du Sud-Est and the Haut Limousin, the 20-39 age group represented only 17% of the overall population (Ibid). We have here an inverted population pyramid with little perspective of a population renewal. This situation was compounded by the uneven ratio of men to women. In the Millevache region, there were 63 single women for 126 single men for the population above 20 years old (Ibid:341). What then of the dreams of progress that the “electricity fairy” of the early 20th century was supposed to bring about? The actual building of the dams did bring some prosperity to the region. Treignac sported 30 coffee houses at the height of the dam’s construction to a meagre 2 today: it was the “time of prosperity”.9 However, this was primarily due to the numerous workers that were brought in from the outside rather than local demand. The pros perity withered away as the dam’s construction came to an end and the workers left to offer their services elsewhere. Progress, especially progress from hydroelectric power, could be said to have been illusive. According to Dalmasso, in the Alps, the belief in the uncontested blessings of hydroelectricity was part of an overarching discourse on mo dernity that pinned an archaic, mountain driven culture against the onslaught of modernity (Dalmasso 2001:26). On the Plateau de Millevaches, modernity was scarce in the early to mid 20th century. Thus peasants did not protest against the dams’ construction, even if this often meant land expropriations and the destruction of both property and age-old communal paths and roads. The hope of progress, of light and heat as well as lighter farm chores, was real enough! The dams and their attendant hydroelectric plants marked the landscape with their im pressive engineering design creating wonder and awe among both locals and outsiders. In the long run, however, one wonders if they did anything to improve the welfare of those living nearby. At Monceaux-la-Virole, the farm nearest to the dam was the last to receive electricity. “The dam was right nearby, part of the land had been flooded, we had kindly allowed the passage of numerous electrical lines on the remaining land, and we still used candles to light the farmhouse” (Les Gens de Viam 2006:142).
Personal communication Paul B. May 8th, 2012.
Map 1: Cross section of the VezĂ¨re River Valley showing the relative position of hydroelectric dams.
Figure 1: Demographic Pyramid of the Plateau de Millevaches in 1968.
Map 2: The Plateau de Millevaches Region in the French Limousin.
Bibliography Berthonnet, Arnaud. 2003. “L’électrification rurale.” Histoire & Sociétés Rurales 19: 193-219. Boswell, Laird. “The French Rural Communist Electorate One of.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 23 (4): 719-749.
Boswell, Laird, Editions De, and E H E S S Etudes. 2004. “La petite propriété fait le communisme (limousin, dordogne).” Etudes Rurales 3 (171-172): 73-82.
Dalmasso, Anne. “L’ingénieur, la Houille Blanche et les Alpes?: Une utopie modernisatrice??” Le Monde alpin et rhodanien 29 (3): 25-38.
http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=13422961. Dalmasso, Anne. 2008. “Barrages et Développement dans les Alpes Françaises de l’Entre-deux guerres.” Revue de géographie alpine 96 (1): 45-54. Deffontaines, Pierre. 1924. “Sur la géographie préhistorique.” Annales de Géographie 33 (181): 19-29. Derreau-Boniol, S. 1957. “Le département de la Creuse. Structure Sociale et Evolution Politique.” Revue Française de Science Politique (1): 38-66. Garenc, Paul. 1952. “Les aménagements hydroélectriques du Bassin de la Vienne.” Annales de Géographie 61 (324): 106-122.
Jean, Robert. 1963. “A. Perrier. Métiers et anciennes industries rurales du Limousin. Extraits du Bulletin de la Faculté des Lettres,
Science et Arts de la Corrèze.” Norois 37 (1): 58-59.
Lariviere, Jean-Pierre. 1970. “Aspects Démographiques de l’Agriculture Corrèzienne.” Norois 67: 335-345.
Les Gens de Viam. 2006. Histoire et Histoires de Viam. Viam: Les Gens de Viam. -------------. 2008. Il Etait une Fois Viam. Viam: Les Gens de Viam.
Luès, Pierre. 1936. “L’émigration des ‘marchands de vin de Meymac’ (Corrèze).” Revue de géographie alpine 24 (4): 952-942.
Perrier, Antoine. 1924. “Limoges. Etude d’économie urbaine.” Annales de Géographie 33 (184): 352-364.
Pérouas, Louis. 1983. “Ostensions et culte des saints en Limousin: Une approche ethno-historique.” Ethnologie Française 13 (4): 323-336. ———. 2000. “La Religion des Limousins ( XVIe-XXe s.).” Revue d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine 47 (3): 537-544. Turq, Alain. 2000. “Le cadre géographique et géologique.” Paléo, supplémént: 10-17.
Veyret-Verner, Germaine. 1951. “L’équipement éléctrique de la France 1947-1950.” Révue de Géographie Alpine 39 (3): 579-593.
Standard discussions of collaboration tend to be built upon a series of identities: individuals, groups, projects and the world, which are all dealt with as discrete unities. What I want to propose is a type of collaboration that recognises people’s ‘molecular’ nature and molecularises groups, projects, and even the world. Throughout their writing, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari draw a distinction between molar and molecular formations. They are generally considered as two ways of considering the same phenomenon or situation with the molar being a ‘macro’ way of considering wholes, structures, and systems of organisation, while the molecular is a ‘micro’ way of considering changes, particle flows, and the way that elements and forces interact to produce effects (Deleuze and Guattari 1984, p. 279-281). Molecular and molar are different ways of seeing or ‘taking up’ the same elements, or the same assemblage, ‘as nomadic, polyvocal, rhizomatic, transversal, smooth, processual, intensive and indivisible on the one molecular side; as sedentary, bi-univocal, arborescent, linear, striated, static, extensive, and divisible on the other molar side’ (Mullarkey 2006, p. 20). However, this shouldn’t be simply thought of as belonging to our own apprehension, whether we perceive things as molar or molecular, but as always intermixed (Mullarkey 2006, p. 20). There is a tendency to think of molecularity and molarity as a distinction of movement and stasis, but Mullarkey writes that even molarity is a movement, ‘a making-the-same’ (Mullarkey 2006, p. 23). According to Deleuze and Claire Parnet, individuals and groups are made up of ‘lines’: molar lines of rigid segmentarity, supple lines of segmen tarity made from molecular fluxes, and lines of flight that cut right across things and launch us into the unknown (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, pp. 124-5). There is an oscillation between stability and ruptures where neither condi tion is privileged (Deleuze and Guattari 1988, p. 9).
Molarity There are three movements associated with molar forms. The first is construction of the territory of the group: a territorialising movement. This tends to define the molar formation in terms of a theme, a style, an identity or a ‘program’ that categorises, defines and delimits a group, so it can be grasped in its entirety. The second is when individuals move from one ‘segment’ or ‘space of enclosure’ to the next, where each stage in the series has its own ‘laws’ (Deleuze 1992, p 3) such as the movement from student to graduate, or accused to prisoner: a movement from one molar state to another. An example of this second type of movement is the tabard transition in Reactor’s Geodecity project, where one makes a transition from being outside of the project to being a co-participant within it. The final movement could be described as a ‘nomadic’ movement of whole bodies through space, an example of which is an artists’ residency programme: the identities of the institution and artist remain unaffected.
Molecularity Rather than the structure and form of molarity, molecularity is primarily concerned with deterritorialising flows and movements that cross thresholds other than the edges traced by the molar segments. The molecular fluxes slip between the more rigid structures of our lives. Deleuze and Parnet describe them as the attractions, repulsions, and ‘forms of madness that are secret’ (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, p 125). Examples of molecular practices that destabilise structure and problematise molar forms are the paranoid-critical method used by London group The Bughouse and ‘fabulation’ that constantly throws the idea of truth into doubt, destabilising dominant significations and opening up potential (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, p. 41).
Line of Flight A line of flight is a deterritorialisation that causes an assemblage to open up towards an unknown future, or to mutate into a new form. These lines are often completely unexpected, but can also be provoked or sought out. Lines of flight tend to result from molecularisation but the form and structure of molar formations are not invul nerable to glitches or ruptures. One form of glitch that relates to molar forms is the ‘deliberate’ glitch, which is inserted into or allowed by a system or project in the knowledge that it will provoke unexpected changes. A third party is often responsible for introducing this kind of rupturing of the molar on purpose. For instance the fool, whose purpose is to glitch the authority of the King. However, molecular flows are more likely to create the circumstances for glitches and other ruptures to occur because confluences can have unexpected outcomes.
Molecular ‘dividual’ and molecular group The function of each artist, or co-participant, within a molecular collaboration is not fixed in the same way as it might be considered within more molar conceptions of collaboration, but is in a state of flux and enters into temporary alliance with other parts of the group, and other collaborative groups. Each artist, or co-participant, has different capacities actualised in each different group and so are thought of as what Deleuze refers to as dividuals rather than individuals. (Deleuze 1992) The subjectivities of participants and collaborators are not fixed. Group names are no longer proper names, but as in the case of The Bughouse, are adjectives that connote shifting regions whose territories overlap with other regions. What I am proposing with the notion of molecular collaboration is that the ‘region’ of each group’s practice can overlap or connect with other regions and thereby form new configurations, which have the potential to produce new relations and new worlds. In the same way that a piece in the game of Go plays a particular role, has particular capacities, depending on its position within the assemblage of the whole game, at a given point in time, artists and groups have different capacities activated in different assemblages. These capacities and assemblages condition each other and are imminent to each other. In a 1938 presentation to members of the College of Sociology1 Georges Bataille delivered a presentation on behalf of Roger Caillois from a set of notes on the subject of secret societies in which he describes a dichotomy in society between cohesion and ferment (Caillois 1988, p. 152). In his pre-amble to the presentation, Bataille described how ‘the “elective community” or “secret society” is a form of secondary organization that possesses constant characteristics and to which recourse is always possible when the primary organization of society can no longer satisfy all the desires that arise’ (Caillois 1988, p. 149). The secret society introduces a glitch into the functions of society. It exists for its own sake and as such stands as a negation of political structures that would make necessity the founding rule of all human activity (Caillois 1988, p. 155) and should therefore also be distinguished from ‘con spiratorial societies’ which are ‘formed expressly with an action in mind distinct from their own existence: in other words, societies formed to act and not to exist’ (Caillois 1988, p. 154). The secret society stands as an autonomous, molecular, association, whereas the conspiratorial society is a heteronomous, molar, organisation. For Caillois, secret societies introduce turbulence (molecular fluxes) into ‘encrusted’ (molar) society, and this is one argument for molecularising our collaborative practice. The molecular flows between group regions can lead to unpredictable encounters between practices or people that can send the project off on a line of flight towards an unknowable future. The molecular sets up the conditions for the novel line of flight. We do not need a blueprint, we do not need a structure, what we need are potentialities. What Stewart Home calls the ‘heroic’ phase (Home 1991, pp. 31 & 50) of groups, when they are at their most developmental and active, is their process of ‘becoming’. Once they have a fixed identity or ideology (being), their capacity to be productive and creative is constrained. If they then cannot adapt to changing conditions, they end. If a collaboration is to be sustainable, it needs a process by which it can remain ‘heroic’, or maintain a processual ‘becoming’.
1 The College of Sociology was a group of French intellectuals who came together out of dissatisfaction with surrealism, which they believed privileged the individual at the expense of society. They sought to understand humanity through moments of intense communal experience. It is worth noting that the College of Sociology itself takes the form of a secret society.
As air flows over and around objects in its path, spiraling eddies, known as Von Karman vortices, may form. The vortices in this image were created when prevailing winds sweeping east across the northern Pacific Ocean ecountered Alaskaâ€™s Aleutian Islands.2
Although a group might become fixed under certain conditions of habit or ideology, and therefore too rigid to adjust to new conditions around it, adopting the mind-set of molecular collaboration means that groups frequently ‘scramble’ or molecularise each other, provoking new spirals of change. This can be the case where groups intersect each other, or when a group is composed of artists who have multiple practices. There are spirals of change happening at all levels from the individual, to the group, to the overall molecular collaboration with each affecting the conditions of the scales of magnitude above and below it simultaneously, producing new becomings, new relations, and new practices. Focusing on states of ‘being’ instead of processes of ‘becoming’ would severely limit this revolutionary process, but it is dangerous to give up ‘states’ altogether since, as Deleuze and Parnet warn, the danger of the line of flight is that it can run away with itself and become a line of abolition or destruction (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, p. 142). The processes in molecular collaboration whereby subjects enter into practices composed of molecular becomings where they and the situation develop together is analogous to Todd May’s notion of poststructuralist anarchism, which is based upon experimentation in contact with local conditions, and which affirms liberty from dominant systems (May 1994). Collectivity should not be a static entrenchment of ‘a’ collective, but molecular and plural, and as Mark Seem writes in his introduction to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, ‘Once we forget about our egos a non-neurotic form of politics becomes possible, where singularity and collectivity are no longer at odds with each other, and where collective expressions of desire are possible’ (Seem 1984, pxxi).
Caillois, Roger (1988) Brotherhoods, Orders, Secret Societies, Churches in Denis Hollier (Ed.) The College of Sociology (1937-39). Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press. Deleuze, Gilles (1992) Postscript on the Societies of Control. October, 59, 3-7. Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix (1984) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London, Athlone. Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix (1988) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London, Athlone. Deleuze, Gilles & Parnet, Claire (1987) Dialogues, New York, Columbia university Press. Home, Stewart (1991) The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War, Oakland, AK Press. May, Todd (1994) The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism, University Park, Pennsylvania State University. 42
Seem, Mark (1984) Introduction, in Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari (Eds.) Anti-Oedipus. London, Athlone.
Global wind convection and atmospheric pressure zones.1
http://www.greenstone.org/greenstone3/nzdl;jsessionid=FAABA03459 22BF1D07491487E8DC0527?a=d&d=HASH3a8fde430b08596101981c.4.n p&c=ccgi&sib=1&dt=&ec=&et=&p.a=b&p.s=ClassifierBrowse&p.sa=
Diagram For Deleuze, each painter, or painting movement has its own diagram that shapes its production. Bacon’s diagram causes a Sahara to be ‘inserted into the head’ of the ‘figurative unit’ or it stretches a rhinoceros skin over it, or splits the two halves with an ocean (Deleuze 2004: 82). Another example is Van Gogh’s diagram which is ‘a set of straight and curved hatch marks that raise and lower the ground, twist the trees, make the sky palpate’ (Deleuze 2004: 83). This early definition of the concept of the diagram is basically a particular trait in each artist’s practice that conditions the work and can be seen to approximately describe a programme or a method which, in the case of Bacon, is used to rupture or deterritorialise the work, opening up unexpected ‘spaces’. Although, in Francis Bacon, Deleuze only uses the concept of the diagram to discuss painting, the term is developed further in Mille Plateaux/A Thousand Plateaus in relation to assemblages in general (Deleuze and Guattari 1988) and in Foucault, in relation to social formations as an ‘abstract machine’ or a kind of principle that conditions the formation (Deleuze 2006). For Guattari, the diagram describes the relation between, and interpenetration of, ‘a non-discursive and asignifying virtual’ (incorporeal universes, existential territories, interior) and ‘a discursive and signifying actual’ (enunciation, actual discursive components, exterior), with an ‘individual’ being the relationship between these two (O’Sullivan 2008). While diagrams might be read as formulae for certain operations, they might also be thought of as sketches offering a latitude of interpretation. Like Bourdieu’s habitus they provide a ground within which people impro vise. DeLanda gives the example of ‘vertebrate’ as a diagram, which is put into operation as a body-plan for a wide variety of life forms. (DeLanda 2006: 29-30) In this sense, what Beech et al describe is a kind of diagram of the collective: specific collectives follow this approximate ‘body-plan’ but the way each collective is expressed differs. The distinction made by Guattari is between the actual machine (collective or assemblage) as manifested in ‘energetico-spatial-temporal coordinates’ and the diagrammatic machine ‘which develops in more deterritorialised coordinates.’ (Guattari 1995: 42) In molecular collaboration, the groups might be thought of as regions pertaining to particular potential capacities, these regions overlap and ‘interfere’ with each other in the same way as individuals in a group or theories/practices in an individual. This is one of the characteristics of DeLanda’s assemblage theory, the same processes of production happen at different scales of magnitude. The cyclical, or spiroid, movement discussed in relation to the ‘diagram’ whereby a molar space is ‘scrambled’ or molecularised, in order to encourage a line of flight, can also be seen in the actions of secret societies, which introduce turbulence (molecular fluxes) into ‘encrusted’ (molar) society, prompting a change in conditions.
Secret Societies In a 1938 presentation to members of the College of Sociology1 Georges Bataille delivered a presentation on behalf of Roger Caillois from a set of notes on the subject of secret societies in which he describes a dichotomy in society between cohesion and ferment (Caillois 1988: 152). A secret society is a form of secondary organization that can be enacted when the primary, dominant form of society cannot satisfy desires that arise (Caillois 1988: 149). The secret society is secret in the sense that an ‘undisclosable mysterious element’ belongs to it: a magical, technical or mythical knowledge (Caillois 1988: 150-1). The secret society introduces turbulence into ‘encrusted’ society. It introduces ‘life’. ‘Would not the ‘secret society’ or ‘elective community’ represent in every stage of historical development the means, and the sole means, for societies that have arrived at a real void, a static non-sense, that allows a sort of sloughing off that is explosive?’ (Caillois 1988: 153). The secret society introduces a glitch into the functions of society. It exists for its own sake and as such stands as a negation of political structures that would make necessity the founding rule of all human activity (Caillois 1988: 155) and should therefore also be distinguished from ‘conspiratorial societies’ which are ‘formed expressly with an action in mind distinct from their own existence: in other words, societies formed to act and not to exist’ (Caillois 1988: 154). Because secret societies are formed simply to exist, they are not tied to any set form or identity and are able to change in response to prevailing conditions. They thereby transform those conditions in the manner that the potential of a Go piece is defined by its position in an assemblage, in relation to other pieces.
1 The College of Sociology was a group of French intellectuals who came together out of dissatisfaction with surrealism, which they believed privileged the individual at the expense of society. They sought to understand humanity through moments of intense communal experience. It is worth noting that the College of Sociology itself takes the form of a secret society.
Dividuals In Postscript on the Societies of Control, (Deleuze 1992) Deleuze reflects on Foucault’s writing on ‘disciplinary socie ties’, preceding ‘societies of sovereignty’, and the recent advent of ‘societies of control’. Deleuze’s description of disciplinary societies in the first paragraph of the essay is almost identical to the first paragraph of the chapter ‘Many Politics’ in Deleuze’s collaboration with Claire Parnet, Dialogues (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, p. 124) and the two descriptions can be used to clarify each other to some extent. The parallel accounts lead one to an understanding of the earlier disciplinary societies as being primarily ‘molar’ in formation, based as they are on ‘lines of rigid segmentarity’ (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, p. 124) or ‘spaces of enclosure’ (Deleuze 1992, p. 3). Examples of these molar formations are mostly the same in both texts: the family, the school, the barracks, the factory, the hospital, and the prison. In molar series, individuals move from one ‘space of enclosure’ to the next, and each stage in the series has its own ‘laws.’ (Deleuze 1992, p. 3) As well as these lines of rigid segmentarity, there are also ‘lines of segmentarity which are much more supple, as it were molecular’. (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, p. 124) This second type of line is much more like a ‘molecular flux’ than a rigid line with segments. The flux is composed of thresholds that are crossed, which do not necessarily coincide with the edges traced by the molar segments. The molecular fluxes slip between the more rigid structures of our lives. Deleuze and Parnet describe these molecular fluxes as the attractions, repulsions, and ‘forms of madness that are secret’. (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, p. 125) For Deleuze, as for Foucault, the disciplinary societies are gradually being replaced by societies of control, which are more of the order of molecular fluxes. In control societies the different mecha nisms are inseparable variations of the same system. No longer is it a case of workers in the same factory having the same pay scale and bonuses, but workers in a corporation competing with each other to secure their own personal rewards according to merit. No longer just progression from school to college to work, but perpetual, or lifelong, learning (Deleuze 1992, p. 5). In control societies, ‘what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password’ as opposed to discipline’s ‘watchwords’ (Deleuze 1992, p. 5). No longer are we dealing with the binary of individual/mass, individuals have become what Deleuze calls ‘dividuals’, and masses have become samples, data, markets, or ‘banks’ where the numerical language is that of ‘codes that mark access to information, or reject it’ (Deleuze 1992, p. 5). Dividuals are capable of being ‘cut up’ and distributed in several data systems simultane ously, and it may be that this is one of the main conditions for molecular collaboration to exist. If we are part of several collaborations, even when the others are not present, we hold our membership of all of the groups in our internal worlds, simultaneously. We are not unified, individual subjects, but multiplicities with different, overlap ping clusters of capacities, functions, and abilities where each cluster relates to a specific collaborative practice or set of relations. Movement from one collaborative group to the next means the activation of different capacities. It is not that either disciplinary or control societies are better or worse than each other, more tolerable or more tough. Within each of them there are ‘liberating and enslaving forces’ that confront each other. Deleuze writes that there is no need for fear or hope in either case, and entreats us to ‘look for new weapons’ (Deleuze 1992, p4). This is the only indication in his text on control societies of the third type of line described by Deleuze and Parnet in ‘Many Politics’ (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, pp 124-147), the line of flight. As well as the molar lines of rigid segmentarity (disciplinary society, structure), and the molecular fluxes of the less rigid lines of segmenta tion that compose our ‘becomings’ (control society, variation), we (individuals or groups) are also made up of a third type of line: the line of flight. These are ‘even more strange: as if something carried us away, across our segments, but also across our thresholds, towards a destination which is unknown, not foreseeable, not pre-existent’ (Deleuze and Parnet 1987, p. 125).
Glitch The type of organismic theories of society discussed at the start of this essay bear a resemblance to what Jacques Rancière calls the ‘police’ or ‘police order’, which is the state’s account of society in which everyone and everything has its allocated place and there is no room for any ‘remainder’ or void (Rancière 2010). For Rancière, politics is a process of dissensus from the police order in which a group of people dissociate them selves from their prescribed position and act on a ‘presupposition of equality’. (May 2008: 40) In Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, the police order can be said to form a ‘subjugated group’, from which ruptures a new ‘subject group’: a deliberate glitch. (Deleuze and Guattari 1984: 349) As with Goffman’s taking up of a position outside of the ‘normal’ moral field and refusing a ‘self ’ that is constructed through the imposition of norms, what we are calling the subject group actively expresses its equality by taking up a position other than prescribed by what Rancière calls the police order.
In terms of assemblage theory, glitches work on both axes. On the material-expressive axis, glitches operate in terms of expression; the material components remain the same, but how people express themselves as a sub ject group changes, glitching the ‘normal’ order of things. When people begin to express their equality within the project, not necessarily verbally, the work can respond in two ways: either through increasing domination/ exploitation to maintain the established space of the project (territorialisation) or through developing into a new social space (deterritorialisation). This process is a kind of project mutation or deliberate-slippage glitch in which the collective desire of a new subject group transforms the project. Another type of operation can occur which acts first on the territorial axis. If a sudden, unexpected, glitch occurs that immediately destabilises the space of the project, such as a technical problem or a moment of panic that ruptures the flow of the work, a collective response to save the project may occur. In these instances, there is a spontaneous change in the expres sive components of the project. I propose the latter of these two strategies is the most likely to result in expres sions of equality. The formation of a politics or subject group arises from a desire to express equality. It is not desirable to make people glitch a participatory art project because then there is definitely no chance of equality resulting: the hierarchy is maintained. Participants must choose to grasp the opportunity to glitch or destabilise the project, which requires artists to risk the project ‘failing’ and to engage in two things that run counter to the police order: trust and sharing.
Caillois, Roger (1938/1988) Brotherhoods, Orders, Secret Societies, Churches in Denis Hollier (Ed.)
The College of Sociology (1937-39). Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
Caillois, Roger (1988) Brotherhoods, Orders, Secret Societies, Churches in Denis Hollier (Ed.)
The College of Sociology (1937-39). Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
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Deleuze, Gilles (2004) Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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May, Todd (2008) The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière: Creating Equality, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
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Mullarkey, John (2006) Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline, London, Continuum.
O’Sullivan, Simon (2008) The Production of the New and the Care of the Self, in Simon O’Sullivan & Stephen Zepke (Eds.) Deleuze, Guattari and the Production of the New. London, Continuum.
O’Sullivan, S. (2006) Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
Rancière, Jacques (2010) Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, London, Continuum.
Sun-Tzu (2002) The Art of War, Boston & London, Shambhala.
Automatic Social Writing by Darren Caffrey
Automatic Social Writing by Darren Caffrey