From Simple Beginnings a Jungle, Research Time, 30/01/2018

I at first didn’t intend to follow yesterday’s post. I’m still not, really. I’m picking up a thread from a photo caption of all things, spinning it into a new point.

It’s a tricky thing, talking about Karl Marx. In a way, I pity the writers of Deleuze’s Philosophical Legacy, and anyone else who specializes in academic Deleuze scholarship.

I mean, I pity all academics who devote their entire creative lives to the scholarship and interpretation of one or a small few number of historical authors. Do we need more commentary, or do we need more inspiration? Need we separate the two so radically at all?

The entire process looks immensely well-ordered, a perfect balance
among so many complex parts and processes. Of course, the most
perfect balances are also the easiest to disrupt. One shift too far, one
change at just the wrong place and time – the entire system flies to
pieces through the same energy that kept it all together.
You probably know where I fall on that question.

Marx wanted to stand Hegelianism on its feet – put the conceptual and analytic frameworks of thinking to work. His exploration of the dynamics of England’s industrial-imperialist economy literally invented a new kind of science – empirical philosophy.

Scientific research on social and economic relationships, understood according to Hegel’s frameworks of thought. Identify the true contradiction among all the forces that constitute a society, analyze how those irreconcilably-opposed forces could bring their conflict to the highest intensity.

It turned out that the problem wasn’t how you orient your Hegelianism – it was with the whole theoretical toolbox. Social structures and systems* are assembled in very complex, contingent ways.

* Or pretty much any structure or system in the world, but let’s just talk about the social ones for now.

They fall apart from chaotic processes too – one little change interacts with everything else going on, as if it were some Rube Goldberg machine that builds itself as it collapses to pieces and brings down the whole house around it.

So you understand how societies transform not by looking for high-intensity contradictions – that’s more like understanding how societies explode, if anything. Societies transform much more frequently, and much more subtly. Though even the most subtle transformations can eventually constitute entirely different worlds.

What was one revolutionary transformation that happened from Marx’s time to ours (or at least to Deleuze’s)? Labour differentiated. In England’s 1870s economy, working people were miners and factory workers. That’s it. Dirty, scruffy men who live horrible, soot-covered, ash-breathing lives before dying of lung disease. Plus all the slave labour around the colonies who did all the same stuff, but in the sun dying of heatstroke.

I suppose you could say that every technology is as convoluted as a
Rube Goldberg machine, and maybe just as unnecessary. What would
that gain you, though?
I ask that as a serious question.
Now, we have a ton of different working jobs. The factory workers, the miners, yes. But also the retail workers, the taxi and rideshare drivers, medical trades, waiters and bartenders, communications contractors, paid-by-the-post bloggers.

The key with the current labour system, so goes this essay on Marx and Deleuze, is that none of these different groups see much in common with each other. Few of them really have much in their identities and lives in common – other than worrying about their finances.

But the class consciousness that was so easy when Mordorish factory workers made up the bulk of working people? That’s long gone. Why? Because things changed. Economic and technological conditions diversified the number of ways you could get stuck as an underpaid wage slave.

And I’m just talking about the mostly-financialized Western economies. Leave aside the extra complexity of a globalized world whose parity is improving daily.

The world need not have changed in such a way. Maybe it only did so because all the communist revolutions across Europe between the two World Wars were put down, and because Stalin took the only successful such revolution into totalitarianism.

But that’s what happened. The capitalist territories survived the catastrophe of the two world wars, and developed computer technology that diversified their economies. Class solidarity evaporated because there was no longer enough in the identities of the different working people to say they could even be in the same community.

Take a 24-year-old punk rocker girl working at Dollarama for minimum wage. A 50-year-old lifelong steelworker who’s lost his health insurance. An overstressed 32-year-old ad copy writer who might make $4000 one month, then $400 the next (and maybe the next too). What do they have in common?

You can give them lots of good answers. What are the chances they’d believe it?

Subtle Doctors for Subtle Differences, Research Time, 29/01/2018

Pretty much everyone who writes on Gilles Deleuze as a scholar ends up engaging somehow with the ideas of Hegel. Not because Deleuze was a Hegelian in any way,* but because his work was threaded with profound and cutting critiques of the whole Hegelian way of thinking.

When I set out to write Utopias, it was early 2014. I put the outline
together, in a very rough form. That gave me my research guide. I
knew and I know that I'd never have been able to be comprehensive
enough to satisfy everyone – that no one would be able to ask a
question like, "What about what X has to say?" An inescapable
question. I gave myself eight years – I'm now at the halfway
mark, and I have this blog. Manuscript drafted by 2022.
* But if I were ever to come across an academician’s argument that Deleuze actually was a Hegelian, I’d be impressed by its daring and desperation. Daring because it stands against so many of Deleuze’s most explicit motives and goals. Desperate because the scholarship must be overflowing with so many disparate takes that only derangement can distinguish you. Unless it’s character assassination.

I want to see if I can get a very quick but accurate assessment of the Deleuze–Hegel relationship in the next few hundred words of this blog. It’ll be an exercise in the kind of fast yet insightful writing required when philosophy’s history is a tool for a more creative purpose.

When Deleuze’s work was first blowing up in French intellectual circles – the mid-late-1960s – damn near everyone had some element of Hegelian thinking in their philosophy. What does that mean?

A typical mainstream philosophical thinker in France – whether linguist, psychiatrist, social scientist, or socialist – considered the most critical dynamic in any situation the contradiction. Real developments hinged on contradictions – perfectly opposed conflicts, as intractable as A + not-A.

In the marxist politics of the era, for example, contradictions were seen as the engine of revolutions – all the constituents of an industrial society came together in the contradiction of the owner-capitalists and the worker-labourers. The conflict between those two classes determined every other aspect of a society – all other relationships and dynamics depended on how that opposition played out.

Sometimes, I feel constrained by that timeline. As though I could never
squeeze enough work into that time period to achieve a book with the
creative potential I think Utopias can have. The blog has kept my
research on track, and kept it organized. This was unexpected, but a
great benefit – it's helped keep me in step with the times too. Even
the most prestigious professors can't devote all their time to
research and writing – they have teaching, administration, and
promotional work to do. At least my own years conceiving of
Utopias were spent in the chaos of today's contingent labour.
I didn't have to work too hard at keeping my feet in the real world.
All the subtle differences in a society are functions of that contradiction. So if you understand the contradiction’s own dynamics, you’ll be able to understand all the subtler differences in your society. You just deduce the subtle and complex from the simple contradiction.

How do you find the contradiction? Two steps. First, identify the dominant trend in society – its most ascendant feature, if you can follow the analogy. Then, work out what a precisely opposing force would be. If you’re thinking sociologically, it might be a very small, underdeveloped phenomenon.

An example. Think back to marxism. The Shropshire farm boys first coming to the city for the freedom of making good money on those factory floors had no idea they – or at least their class of people – would be so historically pivotal. But those underpaid, spat-upon factory workers were the other half of the dynamic whose back-and-forth would determine how all of English society would develop.

The story itself is inspiring. But that’s not actually how society develops. Same goes for any process – the differences that make a difference aren’t contradictions. They could be contradictions – but contradictions are just one among a vast number of kinds of difference. No by their nature more important than any other.

There might not even be a society whose conflicts have any common theme at all – no less a society for all that messiness.

That said, I knew one thing from the beginning – I was not a
marxist. And I'm still not. Because so much of the marxist
tradition was dominated by the rigidity of Hegelian
thinking that marxist politics became disastrous. Antonio
Gramsci's critiques of his own radical movement haven't
been heard by people today on the front lines. Union
leaders today think solidarity will come naturally from
every group in society outside the masters. But some
interests matter more than others
, and what might look
like a glaring, powerful contradiction is really a play of
ineffective surfaces.
Go back to that example of England, where Karl Marx did his first sociological and economic research – that dedicated scientific Hegelian. He found a society whose values were dominated by class superiority – the alliance of landed aristocrats and industry millionaires whose political compromise was to keep the poor in their place.

Not only did the rich dominate the lives of the poor, but popular moral dogma – in informal culture and formal education – taught that such an order was right. Marx saw that same dynamic inspiring absolutist racism in the colonial economy.

The rich have right over the poor – so the poor Englishman would always feel rich compared to the colonized and enslaved African. So racial dynamism is determined by the structure of the fundamental contradiction.

The society perpetuated the very division that would tear it down. The conflict between rich and poor becomes irreconcilable, sparking a revolution that would be humanity’s aufheben. The contradictions are preserved, but transformed so that they reconcile.

The procedure makes perfect sense in conventional logic. And Hegel’s book Logic too. But it isn’t actually how real differences in the world work.

That was Deleuze’s contribution – Hegel put simplification first, because formal logic proceeded in simple functions. But logic is a tool, which we invented. What’s primary is the material mess from which we emerged. That a tool helps you understand the world better in the best places to use it, doesn’t mean that tool is how you see the world’s essence.

Our universe is one of contingency, complexity, feedback loops, interference, chaotic collisions where small, innocuous events can explode in their significance through nothing in their own makeup.

Look at imperialist England. Yes, you can reduce the racist culture of white supremacy to a symptom of the rich-owner/poor-worker dynamic – and our current culture of white supremacy was an ideology designed to make the poor European worker accept his own slavery by making him master of another kind of slave.

But once assembled, the cultural process of white supremacy can develop through the dynamics of its own components and affects. Its relationship to the economic dynamic of centre-periphery is no longer as its function, but as a participant in feedback.

Whether an event or a dynamic ends up having world-shattering significance isn’t a matter of logic, but luck. That’s Deleuze’s rebuttal to the Hegelian way of thinking. Embrace our contingency, our fragility. Build an ethic for fragility.

No Rest in This World or the World to Come, Research Time, 25/01/2018

If you're wondering why the puppy is here, it'll
become important later. Right now, the puppy
wants to remind you of an old Talmudic saying
which was the closing sentence of one of
Salomon Maimon's first books.
Scholars of wisdom have no rest in this
world, or in the world to come.
You know what I love about Salomon Maimon? He was a dirty, smelly, drunk who sat in a bar for years, barely employed, pretty damn poor – but he could still get an essay out to one of the leading philosophers of the era to make an incisive critique of his work that still stands up centuries later.

Maimon was a scholar of Torah and Talmud for most of his life – teaching, writing essays on the great Jewish theologians, commentary on Kabbalah, textbooks on the Jewish religion and the Hebrew language, and works of original philosophy.

But Christian-descended people know him best for his critique of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Why his critique became so famous is actually a beautiful story.

Maimon was a fairly minor figure in German intellectual circles of the time, but knew some of the well-connected folks. Maimon knew a guy named Markus Herz, who also knew Immanuel Kant. Maimon read the Critique of Pure Reason shortly after it was published, and had some brilliant critical things of his own to say about it.

He wrote these ideas in a fairly long letter, which Herz passed along to Kant. Kant read it, and it blew him away. He publicly thanked Maimon, and praised him in public appearances as one of the only critics of his new work who was actually picking up what he was throwing down.

That any intellectual at the top of his game in creativity and public profile would do that is remarkable. That Kant would do that to a pretty obscure Jewish person – in 1780s Prussia, where Jews were pretty deeply racialized and persecuted – is a moment of ethical beauty.

I'm not exactly a Kantian, or a devotee of his philosophy. But I have a lot of praise for him as a person.

Maimon is the subject of an essay in Deleuze’s Philosophical Legacy, the book that’s been inspiring my last few posts – even the ones that got more than a little weird and creative. So what was the main idea in Maimon's thinking that could be said to have influenced Deleuze’s thinking most?

After a fashion, we can't see it if it doesn't move either.
It’s an understanding of how perception works that broke radically with what was taken for granted in the intellectual and scientific culture and knowledge base of Maimon’s time, the last decades of the 18th century.

Kant’s discussion of perception – and pretty much every philosophical and scientific discussion of perception – rested on an assumption that appears pretty common sense. Assume that you see things in the world.

I'm not making some kind of skeptical argument. I’m talking about objects. I see a tree. I see a bus. I see a field of grass. I see a fence. I see a puppy. I see a person. When I see a puppy, I immediately experience the puppy as a whole.

Each of these wholes in our perception – the puppy, the fence, the tree, the bus – is a stable identity in our experience.

Here was Maimon’s alternative. We don’t see wholes with stable, unambiguous identities. We perceieve actions, movements, fluctuations of differences, changes, that our perceptual apparatus – the sense organs and nervous system – assembles into what we perceive as objects.

A puppy comes into our room. We first perceive the puppy through changes. Where there was silence, there’s now skittering and yipping. Where there was an empty room, there’s now this beige-and-white speckled vision. A faint odour of dog breath creeps into your nose.

There isn’t just that one change. The whole scene continues to fluctuate. Barks alternate breathing, paws pound the floor in rhythm. The shape of the dog in our field of vision grows larger as it approaches. Its legs and ears flop and fly about. At every instance, we perceive changes.

Our real experience of the material world isn’t the objects in it – it’s the changes in it, the differentials, the fluxes. You look at pretty much all contemporary science of perception – with input from neurology, medicine, biology, robotics – and they’ve pretty much proven Maimon’s argument. At least in a kind of essence.

Our world is material and real, but what’s most material – most easily grasped by an organism in perception – are its changes, its movements.

Clues, Signs, Traces, Imperatives III: Care, Composing, 24/01/2018

So the detective.

There were four qualities of thought in that tentative description I gave of that persona, the conceptual persona of philosopher as detective. Care, attention to detail, commitment to ideals, understanding causes and conditions

Care. In several senses of the word, but I first want to talk about the sense of carefulness. You’re aware of the power of your own words, actions, and thinking. You don’t dismiss what you’re doing at any time as being inconsequential.

A wonderful spin on the detective myth in the last couple of decades
is when the detective's ideals are rooted in the life of her family,
friends, and community. Where she acts to bring justice to her own
world, even when it's the inconsequential scale of a little town.
This is because you understand that any action – no matter how trivial, ordinary, or small it might be – can have wide and massive consequences. Not just any intentional action, but any event at all. Any minor flux in the development of the universe.

As a proverb, it’s the butterfly’s wings that cause a hurricane. “For want of a nail.”

People who act with care are attentive to chaos, mindful of the power that a small difference, a small change, can make in a massively wide web of processes, bodies, and networks. A few poorly stamped punchcards can change the course of human civilization.

Attention to detail. Why do I emphasize this when I’ve already talked about carefulness? Because I don’t want to refer to detail in the world, as you investigate it and discover new aspects of existence. No, I mean attention to detail in your own thinking.

If you’ve ever taken an intro-ish level philosophy course, you probably heard a lot of talk about rigour in writing. Way too many teachers – from the lowliest marking assistant to full professor – think this amounts to meticulous disputation. Argue over every detail, hunt for every flaw, for every suspected flaw, and interrogate it ruthlessly.

That attitude makes it very easy to think you’re a brilliant philosophical debater when you’re in fact a gaslighter. Listen to an argument, think of a way to spin some self-defeating interpretation.

Talking about Sherlock Holmes is almost inevitable when you talk
about detective myths in contemporary culture. His massive
gravity in the development of the myth makes him impossible to
ignore. I liked the stories as a boy, but today, I find the character so
limited. Sherlock has an ethical detachment – no matter how the
portrayal depicts his friendships, Sherlock remains inescapably
a detective who investigates for the joy of puzzle-solving. The
consequences – the ethical heart of the case – are important to
him, but remain in the shadow of his perverse joy of the case as
an intellectual game.
“Couldn't you say that . . .” is a phrase I’ve heard pronounced with the most poisonous smugness, dribbling milky vomit from a mouth onto a seminar table.

Philosophical writing, done best, means that you make every word count. You write with such precision that even your ambiguities are a perfect balance of provocation and befuddlement. Create the space for your readers to finish your argument themselves – the same message each in their own way.

It’s what you should at least aim for, even if you never quite achieve it.

Commitment to ideals. See the paragraph above. You rarely, if ever, achieve the best that you’re capable of – a perfect push to your limits. But if you always try for it, you’ll avoid your very worst and do better than if you’d lived and thought without ambition.

I don’t just mean your character, though I certainly am talking about your character. I’m also talking about all your values, everything you want for society. Fail if there’s no other way out, but you’ll fail with dignity.

Better than nothing, I guess?

Understanding. Accountability to yourself. Always know what you’re doing. Not just in its potential consequences in the chaos of life, though there is that. Not just in living with integrity, the dignity that manifests in commitment to ideals, though there’s definitely that.

There must always be a pathos to the detective – caring about the
world because he's part of the world, the fundamental
interconnectedness of all things, including himself. A union of
knowledge and chaos that inspires joy and love.
Develop a sense of personal gravity – always be aware that there’s a very serious dimension to your actions. Consequences of chaotic actions – losing your spare horseshoe nails, poor maintenance on an election punchcard machine in Florida – are not a matter of games.

You don’t just look down on the Earth like some kind of immature god, where we’re all just playthings you watch for entertainment. Destruction has to elicit sympathy if you’re going to avoid becoming a callous, deranged, psychopath.

So I’m coming back to care. A full walkthrough of each of the four domains of philosophical thinking – existence, knowledge, character, and society. If I can get technical – ontology, epistemology, ethics, and morality (or politics, when the crowds get big).

Care now in the typical sense – I care for you, your life and well-being concerns me. I will suffer if you’re harmed or if you become a worse person than you are now. Strength and joy empower you, no matter where they occur and what expresses them. That there is more such strength and joy in the world, the better that world is.

The danger of a life in chaos (existence), the detailed attention of concern (knowledge), which reveals the gravity of your actions (morality), becoming a ground for your commitment to reshaping the world for the better (ethics, character).

The detective whose careful attention to the seemingly inconsequential details of the world reveals a terrible injustice that she cannot ignore without correcting. As an image, it’s a cultural myth. As a concept, it’s a comprehensive philosophy.

Clues, Signs, Traces, Imperatives II: Seekers, Research Time, 23/01/2018

After the last near-rant,* I actually don’t have much more to say. A list of conditions and ideas. In a way, I think that’s for the best.

* Who am I kidding? That was a rant.

One of the most important aspects of Gilles Deleuze’s conceptions of political revolution is what he never said. He described in great detail – in political and ontological contexts – what it means to transform radically.

In a human context, it means transforming your character completely. He and Guattari described that process, but never an end product. Even in their most political works, they never gave a prescription for what kind of person they thought would be the best to emerge.

I always enjoyed the character of the Doctor when s/he was being
something of a detective. Exploring some complex sci-fi setting,
the relationships among characters, their interests and conflicts. To
discover the mystery of what horrible event is happening.
Of course, that defeats the whole structure of what they were doing – an ontological description of how a process can only move freely when it moves without adopting a plan from some other source, when it acts, thinks, and plans immanently.

To give orders and expect them to be followed is overcoding – that’s what despotic societies do. So if you’re going to live by your convictions, you won’t give a prescription for what kind of person you want to emerge from the revolution.

At most, you can say what that revolution would have to satisfy to repair or escape what caused the metamorphosis in the first place. Conditions for success, but whatever you do to meet them is your business.

You don’t even know what the revolution will be anyway. In the 1970s of Paris, when Deleuze and Guattari were composing A Thousand Plateaus, you’d be pretty perceptive for thinking a new communist revolution was brewing.** By the 2010s, I could write a book about what conditions an ecological revolution in thought would have to satisfy.

** Whatever its prospects for immediate success. I’ve read interpretations of Paris’ May 1968 revolution as having lost the battle and the war, but won the culture. You want to call that victory? I’m not sure if I do.

Then you have to leave it up to people to figure their own way there. You live in your world, with your concerns. You can’t just give people a generation or two away, in a world that could be totally different from your own a set of direct orders and expect them to apply. We all have to work out the details as the world changes.

It may not be religious – per se – but I think the myths of human
cultures in the 21st century are the most narratively advanced
they've ever been. We're able to record them and watch exactly
the same story over and over again – so we can search through
it and discover more of what's happening. That's how we can
make myths that critique and take apart themselves.
I’ll put it to you this way. Someone who died in 2010 would have considered Donald Trump nothing but a billionaire asshole game show host.

So on your way to become a revolutionary new person, you have two main concerns. 1) Take the process as far as you can to leave as little of your old, shitty self and world behind. 2) Don’t mess up and become a disastrous failure who aimed for more than you could reach and broke apart.

Yeah, those two don’t exactly fit. Revolutionize your ass! But watch yourself!

Being serious again. What would make the detective a fitting persona for a revolutionary? A combination of care, attention to detail, commitment to ideals, understanding causes and conditions.

Obviously, I’m not talking about real police detectives. I’m talking about the cultural image of the detective, the detective ideal that we see on television – the myth.

I’m going to spell out those detective myths tomorrow. Here’s one last concept I’m developing about myth. It’s only in note form right now.

Semiotics made us mistake our myths for symbols – we now understand the images and narratives that materially function as myths, as if they were symbols. All the detectives in our televisions, movies, games, and books are different iterations of a myth. A narrative icon of a cultural ideal.

So the detective.

Clues, Signs, Traces, Imperatives I: Change Must Come, Research Time, 22/01/2018

One of my favourite images in Gilles Deleuze’s work is that of the detective. By the end of his life, writing What Is Philosophy?, he’d given such images a different name – conceptual personae.

A conceptual persona is a style of thinking, but understood as the model for the thinker herself to follow. It's the shape you settle into as you fly along the narrative, making it up as you go along – in this particular case – thinking as a detective.

Seeing through chaos. Returning to old models, but offering new
paths to explore. Gilles Deleuze called philosophy catching hold of
chaos in thought. But would an empiricist philosophical practice be
able to catch hold of chaos in the physical world of everyday life,
make a new kind of sense out of what was only confusing,
disorienting, and mysterious before?
Detective philosophers are empiricists – their primary questions are about understanding, in Deleuze’s words, “what happened.” Such an empiricism brings philosophical thinking – whose peculiar styles Deleuze describes as "catching hold of chaos" – with cultural theory and the social sciences.

I think that's a great idea. Philosophical thinking is about the careful creation of new concepts, the analysis of their components, and their relationships with each other. Bringing that conceptual engineering to the empirical research programs of cultural studies and the many branches of sociology can create a powerful new research program – even a revolutionary way of thinking.

Naturally, there are a lot of factors in the way of such a development. One is that it’s – in Deleuze’s words – a minoritarian intellectual movement. It’s a rebellion against the mainstream institutional norms of scholarship – disciplines fragment, but rarely unite.

Academia is an institution whose growth engine is schism, division, breaks, fragmentation into isolated silos of discourse. Create a new journal with an even narrower research constituency. Start creating new departments and hire more contingent adjunct professors to teach their courses.

Doesn’t matter that fewer universities can subscribe to all those new journals, since no journal ever lowers its subscription price in this supply-crowded market. Doesn't matter that new departments will compete with each other and older disciplines for limited pools of research, teaching funding, and student pools. Doesn’t matter that the system is perverse and devouring itself.

Academia needs people to open paths of rebellion and revolution against its vicious incentives. We have a piece going up at SERRC tomorrow discussing this exact need to demolish the most destructive institutional habits of humanities scholarship. So I have this on the mind.

Our images of detectives in popular culture have plenty of
complications – colonialist, racist, sexist, classist. The
implications are everywhere – the detective is, after all, a
police officer. The endpoint of a detective narrative is when
someone goes to prison. The question is how to become a
detective in your thinking that opens a liberatory path.
But I’ve been thinking recently that such a radical change is necessary. Consider this notion. I describe to a friend the idea to combine philosophical conceptual and critical techniques with the historical and sociological methods of cultural studies and the different social sciences.

My friend’s reaction: “That sounds like an amazing inter-disciplinary field!” We apply for research grants, build up a few major methodological works and studies, set up a few offices, start a journal, develop a graduate (and then an undergraduate) curriculum. We’ve ended up creating our own fragmented silo of a narrow discipline.

This is the institutional tragedy of what’s typically called interdisciplinary studies. You first approach the problem wanting a vector that Deleuze and Félix Guattari called trans-disciplinary – a new direction of thinking, writing, and research that explores entirely new territory with an entirely new structure than the academy.

You ended up with another academic department. Shit. It makes you think you might have to leave the university institutions behind to have any real success with these creative new directions. Or at least head out to its limits while still being able to access some of its funding and office space.*

* Or at least office supplies.

What would such a new kind of empiricist philosophy look like? Well, I can start with a brief thought about the institutions. Unfortunately, that thought is that I have no idea what those institutions would look like at all.

Such a research program would have to rely largely on universities for funding. Even if funding could be taken care of independently, the program would still need existing bodies of actual research. There would probably be a lot of online organizing among participants, making it potentially a global enterprise.

But that’s all I’ve got right now. So what would the actual research and writing practice be?

Where Does Morality Come From Anyway? Research Time, 19/01/2018

That’s one hell of a question to start with, and I’m not going to say the few hundred words I write here will be definitive. Too many people in the world and human history speak definitively about morality. So I’m just going to riff.

What am I riffing on? An essay in that collection of Deleuze scholars discussing his influences. This one is about the ideas of David Hume that made it into his thinking.

David Hume once described matter as moving with the necessity of
balls across a table when they're smacked with a cue. Yet he also
said that we could never know if an event was truly necessary, no
matter how often we saw it repeat. And it's just as likely that no
one even started playing snooker in the first place.
The influence of Hume on Deleuze is an interesting little avenue, first of all. Deleuze’s first book was Empiricism and Subjectivity, a small book about Hume’s philosophical ideas. But Deleuze didn’t publish another work that size until his book on Nietzsche, which moved in some very different directions.

Deleuze referred to the eight years between those books as lost, of a sort. He was teaching high school and college down in Lyon. A lifelong Parisian, with all the attitudes that implies, Deleuze was bored as shit down south. In terms of his thinking, he ended up moving in totally different directions after that near-decade of research and reconsideration.

His first source of concepts to build a revolutionized empiricism was Hume, the modern-period philosopher best-identified with the term ‘empiricism.’ But it turned out to be a bit of a dead end. Deleuze’s future would lie in much stranger territory.

That wasn’t to say that Deleuze’s engagement with Hume wouldn’t produce some interesting ideas on its own. One example is a really valuable distinction to defend thorough materialist thinking from charges of moral relativism. It’s a distinction between the ground of a principle and its scope.

Here’s how the charge typically goes.
• • •
Start from the presumption that anything that arises contingently in history – it could have not happened after all – can’t be universal. The universal has to be rooted in the necessary. So if moral principles are universal, they must be necessary.

There need never have been a human species. There need never have
been galaxies, stars, planets, or anything other than distant, isolated
fields and minute fluxes of energy. That's okay. We are actually
all here now.
The ground of that necessity can’t be human thought, because human thought – just like human existence – is contingent. We could have never existed at all, had it not been for quadrillions upon quadrillions of events over billions of years. So humans can’t generate principles whose ground is universal. At most, we can discover them.

So universal moral principles would be like mathematical principles and relationships – necessary aspects of the universe itself.

If you’re going to push materialist, empiricist thinking as far as their principles go, you end up with a moral constructivism. We create moral systems as a function of our social life. Any set of moral principles would be able to avoid self-destructing as long as they could keep a society in some minimal degree of solidarity.

There’s a lot of flexibility in those minimal conditions. Can't exactly stand on any universal ground. Morality’s existence and character becomes entirely contingent. Humans are of such a nature as organisms that their society’s survival has these particular conditions.

There’s nothing necessary about that, so it can’t produce universal morality.
• • •
That whole argument confuses ground and scope. It doesn’t make moral truths any less important than they are already if you take them to emerge from contingent activity.

There need never have been humans or moralities. But can there be
other kinds of creatures that need moralities to live? Meeting
them will be the biggest challenge to what moral principles we
consider the genuine universals.
If there were no organisms that were able to develop moral principles, then there would be no moral truths in that world. Same goes for a world that never developed stars – there would be no truths about stars in a universe not dense enough to develop them.

If the universe never developed moral creatures, there would be no truths about morality. But that contingency doesn’t affect the scope of those principles when they actually exist.

A moral truth – at its most profound level – is a moral principle that’s true for all systems of morality worthy of the name. They’d be the truths that apply – somehow – across all the variations that fall within those minimal conditions of moralities that won’t self-destruct.*

* Eventually. I say self-destruct because their principles literally contain their own potential destruction – vicious contraries, explosively direct contradictions.

Moral principles of that sort would have a scope of application that is genuinely universal. For all systems of morality, these conditions and principles apply.

Truths don’t need to be built into the fabric of the universe itself to be universal. They need only apply without exception throughout their scope of application. Bloody difficult enough to figure out what those are.

Making Gottfried Leibniz an Empiricist, Research Time, 18/01/2018

A small patch of light shows only how much more darkness there is
beyond it.
Yeah, that title shows just how weird you can get when you’re talking about the influences of Gilles Deleuze in the history of ideas. I’m going to see if I can do this in less than 1000 words. Just one post.*

* Starting after this note, anyway. Yesterday ended up being super-busy – I couldn’t get the energy together for a post. But let’s put some dense effort into this one. Developing an unconventional empiricism is one of the themes running through Utopias, and I’ll probably pick it up in future writing.

So let’s begin. I’ve criticized some of Daniel Smith’s interpretations of Deleuze’s work, but he wrote a weird and fascinating essay in that collection about Gottfried Leibniz. Now, the textbook account of Leibniz is that he was one of the arch-rationalists.

Rationalism is typically contrasted with empiricism – Descartes-Spinoza-Leibniz opposing Locke-Hume – mind as the source of the world opposing world as the source of the mind. Like most really simple stories about complex philosophical thinkers, it breaks apart in so many ways once you actually look at them all.

But Leibniz. So Smith’s essay is based on a very left-field interpretation of Leibniz’s Monadology.** Here’s a super-casual primer on the concept.

Gottfried Leibniz and his immense courtly wig.
** An interpretation of Deleuze’s interpretation? Or using Deleuze’s interpretation to build your own interpretation? As a component? Or as an inspiration? I think the answers are, respectively: Sort Of, Yes, Pretty Much, and Definitely.

Every place in existence has a perspective on the world that you can take from it – these monads each move and develop according to their own paths. That perspective is analogous to a spot in an enormous labyrinth, as complex as all of reality itself – but it can't see the whole network, only its local area.

How much and what aspects of existence’s catacombs a monad can perceive depends on the powers that place has at a particular time. If a monad becomes a creature’s mind, then it can illuminate quite a bit of existence, thanks to its powers of perception and thought. If a monad becomes a rock, not so much.

Sidebar-ish. The monads don’t actually interact with each other in Leibniz’s thinking. They just move in harmony because maintaining that harmony among all existence is the power of God in the world. Important for knowing the Leibnizian context, not so much for Smith’s Deleuze-inspired take on the concept.

Okay. Are you still here? So the monad is simultaneously a physical perspective in the world and a concept. Let’s not get into the finer points of the argument, or we’ll be discussing it for four hundred years.

Bottom line, because every monad illuminates – literally perceives – some range, however small, of the world, that perspective is the concept of that monad. Since philosophy deals with pure concepts, the ultimate subject matter of philosophical thought is existence. Sorting perspectives, monads, aspects of existence, places.

This is not Gottfried Leibniz, but Brian May, legendary
guitarist of Queen. His hair, however, has always
been real. And it's spectacular.
Inference, deduction, interpretation, and argument are legitimate modes of philosophical thinking. Most of us accept that these days. But Smith-via-Deleuze’s interpretation of the Monadology implies that discovery, observation, and hypothesis are also modes of philosophical thinking.

Remember that sidebar? It’s important now. Monads don’t gain their powers relationally – on Leibniz’s thinking, each monad is isolated from each other. Remember as well that a monad is essentially a place. So each infinitesimally small place in existence never interacts with any other. They illuminate the world – as far as they can, given the potential of the place – not by interacting, but by expressing existence through their capacities.

Each place expresses all of existence, but the character of that expression depends on what the bodies and processes constituting that place can do. Philosophical thinking is all about understanding expression.

Because you understand the world through understanding the expression of places, it’s rationalism that actually disappears. Thought becomes empirical by nature – analyzing expression means analyzing the world. So philosophical thinking is the bedrock of all other techniques of knowledge.

It’s a very strange kind of empiricism. I definitely don’t consider it Leibniz’s own thinking. It’s a creative take on an already dense, complex, and inventive piece of philosophical writing. It’s worth picking it up and seeing what can be done with it.

When God Becomes a Triumph of the Will, Research Time, 16/01/2018

Here’s an interesting way my colleague Morteza Hashemi’s recent work found itself contributing a really important point to my own ongoing research.

In the off-kilter ontological chapters that will take up the strange middle section of Utopias, I’ll work from two core concepts – time as lived duration, and the univocity of being. Morteza’s work has really helped me with that univocity concept.

Christianity is a religion of contradictions – it's what makes the theology
and ontology so fascinating and strange. Now, those contradictions
make it very difficult for me to adopt Christianity as my own path to
engage with the divine. But the story of Jesus himself is beautiful
and deranged, one of the most profoundly bizarre myths humanity
has developed. While I can't sign on to that myth, I love the story.
Short form – the concept of being’s univocity is the conception of existence as entirely immanent. No realms of being somehow separate from each other – material, energy, spirit, whatever other kinds of being that exist – everything can commingle, interact.

This concept began, in its most intense trajectory, with John Duns Scotus. Reading this old book of essays on Gilles Deleuze’s influences, the essay on Scotus mentions that the 13th century writer was never able to see his concept of univocity through to its natural conclusion.

That conclusion? Atheism. Or at least a pantheism that’s functionally indistinguishable from the best kinds of atheism.

If you lay down as a foundation for your thinking that existence has only one plane, then you are in the same way that God is. God doesn’t become a being in a transcendent realm – God becomes a force in the world* who’s present through action.

* Or the force of the world, if you’re going to see is through to its end.

Morteza’s book traced how later generations of thinkers saw that concept through to its end. That was, for me at least, the most fascinating exploration of Theism and Atheism in a Post-Secular Age. The ground of atheism is found in this remarkably pious Christian concept.

Univocal existence applies the ethical lessons of the Christian concept of Incarnation to the complete ontology of the divine. The ethical meaning of Christianity is that God loves humanity so much that God became a person who’d be sacrificed for our onto-theological redemption. God becomes us and dies to save us.

One of the several artistic representations of John Duns Scotus, the
first great philosopher Scotland contributed to the Western tradition.
I like this image best because of how ordinary it makes him. A
skinny monk with big ears and male pattern baldness.
What matters in this context isn’t God’s law or reason, but God’s will, God’s desire, God’s yearning. God becomes an emotional force of love in the world, an immanent power. God’s will is in instant-to-instant sustaining of existence. God’s will that the universe exists permeates existence itself.

God becomes the same as the substance of existence itself, meaning that God and the world is the same. We’re expressions of God’s will because God’s energy is the energy that drives material existence. But now God and existence are the same, two ways of talking about the same thing.

If you want to speak strictly ontologically about existence, you say ‘being.’ If you want to speak ethically about existence, you say ‘God.’ The will of God is literally the development of the world. If you simply want to stop talking about God, you can without losing everything. When God is existence, then the totality of existence is always already God.

That's atheism – there’s no God over and above existence. What happens in the world is God’s will because God’s will is literally all the events, processes, and developments of existence. God becomes superfluous when being is univocal.

Where Morteza’s book kind of deflated me was when we got past this and started engaging the two major schools of popular atheism today. The aggressive, reductive atheism of Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, and others like them is a dead end of empty spite and resentment.

But the major alternative is Alain de Botton’s existentialism as self-help. Morteza calls it tourist atheism. As much as I like the attitude – a joyful acceptance of the world’s plurality of thinking about the divine – ‘tourist’ really is the best label.

There’s nothing profound happening in this atheism either. It’s nicer, because you’re not being a belligerent prick. But it’s ultimately an obnoxious way of seeing the world in superficialities.

If, over the next decade or so, I can build any reasonable profile for myself as an intellectual author, I want to promote an atheism where you can still think about the divine as a profound, awe-inspiring topic.

It can be done. Just follow the univocity of being through to its natural end. See where you end up.

Thought Moves So Needs to Work, Research Time, 15/01/2018

Any empiricism worth the name will inevitably be a pragmatism. What the hell does that actually mean?

Remember what I was saying on Friday about philosophical conversation on profound metaphysical concepts – that they never actually end anywhere definitive. That, in itself is not a problem. But when you say the conversation’s point is to discover profound metaphysical answers, you break the process.

Aporia – when a conversation sputters into infinity. It’s the moment in a chain of reasoning when you realize that the only way to engage this concept is constant reinterpretation and self-critique.

Plato’s dialogues are excellent examples of this kind of reasoning.

These are always questions about the essence of profound ethical and ontological concepts. What is the nature of existence? What is the universal good? What is justice?Conversations and reasoning about these questions will never get you definitive answers – only deeper, more detailed, context-shifted new approaches to the questions.

Do you think your words are powerful enough on their own that you
can argue your way to the most profound truths?
That's great! We want those new ways to understand the concepts we use to understand our existence and our ethics. We need to figure out how our values can guide us through tough times – how we can adapt our values to new needs and crises.

The problem is when we approach these questions actually thinking they can have definitive answers – full stop, the answer is given, tell the populace.

You can’t perfect concepts as profound as “What is the divine? What is the good?” to deliver it to people as an absolute. They are imperfectible, because they’re adaptable.

So if you want to deliver answers to profound metaphysical questions as perfected dogmas, be prepared to deliver inadequate product. Because the concepts in those questions are not adequate to definitive, unchanging answers.

The moral truths of low-impact communities like Hellenic Greece won’t help us deal with, for example, the problems of our ecologically-transformative cities as moral concepts for how we run societies.

Here’s another problem with thinking profound metaphysical questions have definitive answers, which you can discover through argument. You become too caught up on the back-and-forth, refuting each other over and over again. Worst of all, you come to think this mutual refutation is getting you closer to that powerful metaphysical truth.

You find yourself asking entirely the wrong questions yourself – and definitely getting answers that are so wrong in so many ways. It’s because you’re trying to end an inquiry that functions best by never ending, by always remaining open.

I don’t just mean stop it, of course – anyone can stop a philosophical argument whenever they want. When I say end, I mean complete it with a clear, definitive, correct, universally valid answer.

Treating questions of justice, existence, the good, and others like those as if they weren’t mean to change and adapt swings you away from their purpose – adapting our ethical thinking to the new moral problems we face.

It swings you away from the world and into yourselves.

Making a History for Yourself, Research Time, 12/01/2018

So I also wanted to expand my reach into books about Gilles Deleuze, returning to some of the authors I made use of during my research for Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. But since Utopias has a more human political focus, I wanted to take the field from a different angle.

Basically, a decade ago, I started researching material that specifically applied Deleuze’s ideas to problems in environmental thinking and philosophy of science. Now, I’m looking for some more straightforwardly political applications – theories of institutions and revolutions.

When the truth lies in ruins, understand decay.
Some of the material I picked up explores the influences and roots of Deleuze’s ideas. A book of essays that I found really illuminating was called Gilles Deleuze’s Philosophical Lineage. Twenty chapters, each about 20 philosophers, artists, and scientists who’ve influenced Deleuze.

Or at least, they’ve been mentioned in barely enough detail to merit someone writing an essay about them. I’ll hit you with my thoughts on a few or more.

There are some essays in that book that are totally obvious. For instance, the one about Plato. A critique of Platonic frameworks of thinking is the centrepiece of one of Deleuze’s most notorious books, Difference and Repetition. So of course there’s going to be an essay in a book like this about Plato.

So narrowing a comparison of Plato and Deleuze’s ideas down to anything sensible is never going to be complete. But if you want completeness and straightforward neatness in your life, don’t read philosophy.

Let’s just look at some lessons.

The way we’re typically taught Plato in early philosophy education,* the highest goals of his philosophical thinking revolved around coming to know the essence of things, the essential nature of the world. We tend to be taught the dialogues that revolve around “What is this?” questions – What is justice? What is piety? What is the good? What is love?

Plato's dialogues are taught as though philosophy is all about searching
for the universally true answers to fundamental questions about the
essences of reality. Yet all the dialogues that carry out such questions
end in more profound cycles of confusion. So why do we teach
philosophy as if we're really looking for genuine universal truths?
* All too typically.

But there’s a weird little schizz here. Those dialogues revolving around “What is X?” questions always end in aporia – you never settle on any definitive answers that escape critique. The questions of “What is X?” always end on unstable answers. It’s a mystery that you understand better, but it’s still ultimately mysterious.

Here’s where you reach clear doctrines that arise from Plato’s dialogues without being destabilized – Those are dialogues revolving around questions like “How much?” “Where and when?” “Who?” “How?” “In what cases?”

Those are questions that are about real dynamisms in the world. You don’t learn anything about universal or general aspects of existence by blatantly asking “What is the universal essence of this?” Those questions lead to aporias – you understand the question and the concept a lot better, but you don’t get any definitive answers.

You understand the fundamental aspects of the universe by looking at parts of the real world, tracing common features and the principles through which differences emerge. You get to real answers with specific questions – with an empiricist attitude.

Using Plato to learn about empiricism. That’s pretty freaky. That’s how you should use the history of philosophy.

Freedom From Thought, Research Time, 11/01/2018

I was reading an interesting article yesterday morning on the way to work. Joan Scott’s “How the Right Weaponized Free Speech” didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But it reminded me of those things, which made for a downbeat start to my day.

It discussed the victory of revanchist politics on most college campuses in North America today. The most vile, aggressive racist, sexist, and anti-trans expression is now considered protected speech. Meanwhile, attempts by the victims of racist, sexist, and anti-trans bullying and verbal assault are declared fragile snowflakes and fascists for wanting to have their places of education protected from such bullying.

You'll be free because I'll tell you exactly what to think!
You might read this and think, ‘Surely, it’s the opposite! Surely free speech is under siege on campus, thanks to those protestors!’ If you think that, it’s a sign of revanchism’s victory – the presumption that racist speech needs protection because it’s someone’s opinion.

Right there is the false equivalence that won the white supremacist wing their victory on campuses – that freedom to speak and discuss issues is the same as freedom to hold your opinion in the face of any and all criticism. Opinion has become sacred.

Gilles Deleuze wrote about this, in very abstract terms of course, in the final pages of What Is Philosophy?. Opinion was never supposed to be sacred, according to the values of free speech and free discussion.

Don't even say opinion is the battlefield, that free speech is about conflict over people’s opinions, and who shares which opinions. Opinion, says Deleuze, has the most potential of any other form of human thinking to destroy knowledge itself.

Opinion destroys knowledge because an opinion is an attitude that transforms an idea or a perspective into an aggressive posture. An opinion is the product of a dogma, a set of principles that can easily appear to be legitimate knowledge, but that’s a false appearance.

How can we make this distinction? Well, there are questions of falsifiability, of course. This is the old recourse to fidelity to truth, opposed to fidelity to a given opinion. If you hold a belief, but are willing to drop or change it in the face of contradictory of contrary* evidence, then you ultimately care more about truth than your particular opinion.

* Respectively.

That’s one distinction, but I think it doesn’t quite make the distinction I think is best. It doesn’t identify the toxic elements of any thinking in terms of opinion. Fidelity to the truth foregrounds correspondence – it distinguishes good from bad opinion. Good opinion is humbly held, falsifiable opinion. Bad opinion is dogma.

The political heart of Gilles Deleuze's work is a guide to fight
fascism where it lives and thrives – inside your own fearful soul,
when you're scared of taking responsibility for your own
thinking and knowledge.
Deleuze’s distinction is between opinion and creative thinking, between holding an opinion and seeking to become a genuine expert. See, when you hold an opinion with humility, that’s nice, but you still rely on some authority to sanctify that opinion. You still aren’t in charge of your knowledge – you’re following orders.

No one can ever be in charge of their knowledge at the intensity or comprehensiveness of becoming an expert in every subject. There’s too much to know. I’m instead talking about an attitude toward knowledge – learning enough about how knowledge itself works to know how to take charge of your own knowledge without skepticism becoming a universal acid.

When you think only in terms of your opinions, you think algorithmically. The opinion becomes a template that stamps out each new thought of your own according to its pattern. It’s cookie-cutter thinking, mechanistic thinking according to a plan.

Deleuze calls it the thought that ends thinking, because you become an echo, a copy. Your thoughts follow dogmas. As an artist, your product becomes entirely cliché. As a follower of science, you think all knowledge will ultimately reduce to some formula that can fit on a tshirt. As a thinker, you think only in talking points.

Such thinking is comfortable because you take no risks. You just pump out whatever is expected of you when you join a community that gives you your thoughts to think. Such a life may not be empty – you may have a lot of friends in that lazy community, and they may comfort you when you’re confused.

A life of opinion means never being confused again – you always know what to think and say. Because you’re not thinking, you’re repeating. Because you’re not speaking, you’re parroting.

So Real It Could Never Have Existed, Research Time, 10/01/2018

Marcel Proust’s Combray never existed. James Joyce’s Dublin never existed. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s New York never existed. Jacques Audiard’s Paris never existed, no matter how real it feels.

The experience of reality through art, when the art is good-quality, is always more powerful than real experience of the places. This is the point about art that Gilles Deleuze made through his last analyses in What Is Philosophy?.

What would David Bowie's world be, if we tried to say he created a
world – like Audiard's Paris, David's New York, and the others? You
could say he invented a world called David Bowie, with diverse,
strange, and ordinary lands and creatures. A world that can contain
more multitudes than he did himself, as we add to it with our own
creations, through sampling and inspiration. A world that can
outlast him as a monument and as a life in a billion minds.
When you create an assemblage of pure affectivity – percepts distilled into an arrangement in space and time of sensory data – you’ve created an experience more essential than the real city.

A few months ago, I was in Paris, and I found it a beautiful city, even though my experience was dragged down a little by the filth of the subway system and the smell of diesel smoke and particulates that hung in the air like the carcinogenic flatulence of a concrete dragon.

Now watch A Prophet or Dheepan, and you’ll experience a more visceral Paris than you ever could by flying there, walking around, and eating at the wonderful restaurants. The digestive problems of their excessive bread consumption doesn’t hit you when the banlieue towers become venues of small epics of war and justice.

The production of artworks separate real bodies from the affects through which we experience them – replication in artistic media takes care of the separation.

Like I said yesterday, the medium itself doesn’t matter. The stereotypical artistic medium is painting, but that’s only the most obvious method of replicating bodies and processes in a medium through their affects alone. An individual painter produces visual affects with paints on a canvas.

Cinema, for example, does the same with moving images on film or in a video file. It differs in being a collaborative medium, but they’re replicating reality with affects alone, creating a more visceral, powerful experience than the contingent movement of reality could manage.

Even when an actor's performance is so deeply inspired by the real
events of his life, what goes on film is a replication of that life. The
real life of a Tamil Tiger child soldier is a messy, paradoxical,
boring, slow, tedious life bumping from one port of call to
another as a stateless refugee barely recognized as a person under
any law under whose reach he falls. On the cinema screen, he's
distilled that life into a narrative, into a glare that brings all
the intensity of that driftwood existence to a fleeting
relationship between you and a camera.
Antonythasan Jesuthasan, star and story plotter of Dheepan.
An actor, when the cameras are rolling, is performing a character. Quality performance comes from profound emotional mimicry – even Method acting is mimicry, it’s just more soul-wrenching mimicry. But a good actor knows that she’s producing work meant to be experienced for an audience, through the camera.

So if you want to argue over how well a particular work of art reproduces the real experience of its subject matter, you’re going to argue uselessly. Spin your wheels. See how far it gets you in understanding how artistic production actually works.

Deleuze understands this replicating production as constituting a territory from the relationship between the artwork and its viewers. Sensation itself constitutes a new territory – not in the floors of the museum or the screens of a cinema, but in the dynamic interaction of an experiencer and the bodies and processes producing her sensations.

Experience itself is territory. If any of you reading Gilles Deleuze for long enough to get this far* still thinks experience only ever happens in your head, I severely doubt that you’re paying any attention. Or else you’re just trolling a man who’s been dead for more than two decades.

* Or start with What Is Philosophy? like I did.

Experience is a relationship of an organism with its world, constituted from a dynamic field of sensory affects. Art is the experimental, creative, progressive craft of pushing the boundaries of what the field of experience can do. Not nearly all the time, of course. But that’s what art does at its most intense.

Always look to push limits. Or at least give them something of a nudge. It doesn’t have to be the limits of an entire artistic tradition – very few can manage that balance of genuine virtuosity and the social networking skill to make your work prominent enough to be noticed at that scale.

But as a creator, push yourself. Keep trying something different, no matter how well the same old dance will pay. Life is at its most noble when it’s pushing limits.

Playing With Sensations, Research Time, 09/01/2018

There’s no way to write about Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of art – or theory of art, or conception of art, or however you want to categorize it depending on context – without sounding dirty. So let’s agree that there are going to be double-entendres all over this discussion and move on.

As he writes in What Is Philosophy?, there are three ways to capture the diversity of existence in human activity. He calls these ways chaoids, then never talks about them again because the phrase comes in the conclusion of his last book.

The most puzzling, strange films, like Nicholas Roeg's beautiful The
Man Who Fell to Earth
, are often only difficult when you try to
understand their stories and images as having some explicit,
straightforward meaning. But the best artists rarely make meaning
the central point of their works – those who do end up writing
horribly pedantic screeds. Polemics in disguise. Let the images
play out before you, see how they all fit together, then you'll
likely understand a puzzling, strange artwork better than when you
were trying to understand what it meant.
Chaoids because they’re three different ways humanity has of hooking into the flows of chaos and making chaos into sensible reality. Those three forges of chaos into reality are philosophy, science, and art. They transform the relentless churn of chaos into, respectively, variations, variable, and varieties.

What does that mean for art? It means that art captures and preserves all the varieties of sensations in complex media in a pure manner. This even includes narrative art like fiction and non-fictional writing, and the stories of movies and television series. It includes the aural arts like music, singing, and audio narrative.

Examples of visual arts like painting and sculpture are easy to embed in a written blog post, but Deleuze would never be so reductive about something like this, and if you think he is, you’re misunderstanding his writing.

What could Deleuze mean by ‘pure’ in this case, though? That art preserves sensations in all their varieties in a pure manner. Think about it this way.

If you want to build most things, you have to add something – some material, some representation – to the event that you want to preserve. A monument is the preservation of an event, whether it’s a person’s life or a moment in history. But monuments themselves never preserve the event itself.

Artistic works don’t have the same ambition. You can interpret the hell out of an artwork, looking at what it signifies and represents, of course. Entire intellectual industries are built on this kind of interpretive work, for better or worse. But the art itself doesn’t exist for the sake of what it means or represents.

An exploration of the ideologies that were interwoven with the Futurist
art movement in Italy will still be important to Utopias, I've just put
them to the side for a bit, while I work on concepts and currents for
other parts of the book. But part of any philosophical engagement
with art is the resistance of artwork – ontologically meaning-neutral –
to any ideology. The tension is especially present in Italy's Futurism,
where a terrifying ideology was deeply interwoven with the
motivation of the artistic creations themselves.
The City Rises by Umberto Boccioni.
Art puts the events themselves in the medium – an artwork is an assemblage of sensory affects. Whatever meanings exist in them, even in narratives and explicitly linguistic artworks, are secondary to the affects themselves, the sensations.

Even in reading and narrative, meaning becomes sensory, and meaning only returns through more complicated critical readings and interpretations. Interpretation is a separate contribution to the sensory assemblage of an artwork – an assembly of sensation.

His explanation of this in What Is Philosophy? actually did fit with the way I’ve made art – my stories, novels, scripts, and plays. As I outline a story, conceive of a character, interpretation and appearance play back and forth in my mind as I think about the possible meanings of what I’m assembling.

But ultimately, a character is an assemblage of action and thought, and a story is an assemblage of events, whether of plot or of more dynamic character collision. As a machine of interlocking components – characters, plots, settings, imagery – my fiction works in different genres and media build their own logic, their own structure.

An artwork is a machine. Its reality is its functioning, the dynamic interlocking of all its components. Meaning comes later, if at all. Its existence is brute. There-ness. Enter the gallery. Pick it up. Press play.