You Don’t Know When It Happens But You Know When It Has, Research Time, 15/05/2018

A few paragraphs about a curious metaphor. It might be a metaphor, and it might be an application. I’m honestly not sure, because it only comes up for a couple of pages. Even though it could be a whole book.

What am I actually talking about? It’s a passage in Paul Patton’s book Deleuzian Concepts. It shows up about halfway through the book, as he’s working through different ways to explain the nature of iterability.

I’m not going to get into Patton’s concept of iterability in much detail. In very short form, he understands becoming and change as the repetition of a process with a few chance variations each cycle. What I found interesting was how he used this concept to describe a complex political and historical process.

Too much philosophy forgets the real suffering of the people caught up
in the radical transformations of the real world. If philosophical
thinking remembers them, it would become epochal again.
Colonialism. It’s impossible to say for sure, in the middle of a colonization process, when the place truly transitions from a free land to a colonized space. Some white dude showing up in the middle of a forest in Gaspé and saying, “I claim this land for France!” as he plants a flag in the ground is fundamentally ridiculous. He’s a bloody cartoon.

By the time the government is taking your children away to boarding school to have their culture beaten and raped out of them, you can be certain you’ve been colonized. Patton is exploring how we think of this transition from the ridiculous to the terrifying.

You can follow the transition, the small changes that make up a massive transformation. As a process, you can see it all unfolding, bit by bit over time. But what is the event of colonization?

See, this is where Deleuzian Concepts suffers from an unfortunate tendency in academia. When you specialize in writing secondary material in a particular main figure – like how Paul Patton always writes books and articles about Gilles Deleuze – there’s often a tendency to think of their work as a unified system.

So you produce articles or book chapters about, say, how to reconcile two concepts of the event in Deleuze’s work. Before he started working with Guattari, Deleuze thought of the event largely through a Stoic lens – the sudden transformation, the moment when everything changes. Afterward, he started thinking of events as processes – transformative processes whose changes are fractal pretty much to the Planck length.

Here's one way in which I've been thinking of Russian global policy
these days. Among many things I've been thinking about the Russian
government lately. We Westerners have been raised, pretty much, to
think that international relations have moved past this weird way of
fighting over territory on Earth. That's not the model of politics that
we developed international law for – it's a game of Risk, not politics.
But Russian leaders these days act like they never got the memo.
Maybe they really didn't.
Those two ideas don’t go together – if you try to call them both “the event,” the conceptions just about contradict each other. The only reason you’d try to reconcile them is because of the unfortunate tendency in philosophy scholarship to think about a figure’s works systematically instead of historically.

If you thought historically, you’d actually have to think about the concepts themselves, and the thinkers themselves as people. You’d realize that the question has a pretty simple answer. Ask why Deleuze developed these two seemingly incompatible concepts of the event?

You won’t get anything all that philosophically fascinating. You won’t get some complicated attempt to build a system of philosophy, a hermetically sealed “Deleuze Studies.” No, you’ll get the ordinary story of a writer who thinks one way for a few years, then a happy encounter convinces him that he’d been barking up the wrong tree. So he went in a better direction.

And in all this academic posturing, the events at the heart of the example are forgotten. Because you actually could use the tension between the two concepts of the event – instantaneous transition and slow process of variation on variation – to develop a complex, powerful, and illuminating conception of how colonialism works.

As a whole book, it would be an transdisciplinary blend of history, indigenous narrative, economics, ideological analysis of racism, and social ontology. But Paul Patton is not such a writer. He specialized in Deleuze Studies. So two pages is all he’s got.

I know what the better book would be. And Patton didn’t write it.

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