Allegories of Control

Bradley J. Fest has just written a review of my book The Interface Effect. Published on the website of the journal boundary 2, the review is long and detailed, flattering at times but also critical, and I invite you to read it at your own leisure. In fact, the review touches on a number of topics and texts, and covers several different themes that have reappeared in my writing over the last ten years or so. While the review focuses on The Interface Effect, it also covers what I've been calling the “Allegories of Control” trilogy, a narrative arc begun in 2004 with Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization, continuing through Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (2006), and concluding with The Interface Effect (2012).

Like other authors, I tend to think in terms of conversations and critiques that continue from book to book. So it's a pleasure to have a reviewer who also considers the larger frame of reference. A debate might begin at one point in time, only to culminate several years later. My recent comments about network pessimism, for instance, owe much to the analysis of networks began in Protocol, The Exploit, and other texts. Likewise the final chapter of The Interface Effect opened a door that I was only able to enter in a subsequent examination of digitality and its relation to politics and ethics. Continue reading

Not Dark Enough

Aesthetics is a recurring theme in Laruelle’s work. He has written two short books on photography and has several essays on art and related topics, including texts on color, light, seeing, drawing, dance, music, and technology. But what is technology, and what is technology's relation to art?

Laruelle’s position on art and technology is not entirely intuitive. For example, he does not follow someone like Heidegger and reestablish a lineage from technology back to art, via the Greek concept of technê. Nor is he phobic of science following those skeptical of industrial modernity. Instead Laruelle is something of a purist about technology and science. He denigrates technology and elevates science, elevating it to such a degree that it becomes synonymous with non-standard philosophy overall. Continue reading

The “Big Event”

Here is another excerpt from the dialogue between me and David Berry that has just been published in Theory, Culture, and Society. This section discusses critique and hermeneutics in the network age.

ARG: Ten years ago in Protocol I wrote that protocols and networks are ‘against interpretation’. At that time I was trying to describe the qualities of this new reticular infrastructure. One of the key issues was the way in which computers are very weak interpreters – they are in very literal terms anti-hermeneutic. So it comes as no surprise that, with a change in the mode of production since the early 1970s, we have a change in the ideology of how knowledge is produced. The reticular empiricists are more or less dominant today. From Nate Silver to Franco Moretti, the hard-nosed empiricism of big data is triumphing over more interpretive or normative approaches. To be a knowledge worker today, one must affect a kind of sober pragmatism and deal with the world empirically. In a certain sense we’ve all become glorified journalists, or at best social scientists, expected simply to observe and describe the world. Bruno Latour confirms this recently in his An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: we all ought to be, like William James, radical empiricists; we all ought to move beyond ‘common sense’ to ‘good sense’. In fact Deleuze, bless his heart, is the consummate reticular empiricist. Deleuze is affirmative, non-dialectical, network-centric, and might be said to be one of the great proponents of a radical empiricism.

Shall we resist such empiricism? What a silly notion, of course not. Empiricism is essential. But it’s also totally banal. Empiricism is something akin to respiration. We all must breathe air in order to remain alive. But the spirit of humanity does not float on the breath. Continue reading

Forget Deleuze!

A dialogue between me and David Berry has just been published in Theory, Culture, and Society. During the conversation we discuss networks, Deleuze, Latour, digital humanities, love, the non-human, Laruelle, and other topics.

Here is a short excerpt in response to questions from David about the dominance of networks in contemporary society...

ARG: We must forget Deleuze. It’s troubling to admit, given how influential Deleuze has been on my own thinking. But it’s imperative today that we forget Deleuzianism in all its many guises.

First, we must forget the Google Deleuzians, those who see the world as a vital assemblage, proffering untold bounties of knowledge – and riches. From clouds, to humans, to molluscs, to molecules, the world is nothing but systems. Lines of flight slice through assemblages, creating new living landscapes. Systems are open, dynamic, and robust. Networks produce value. These are some of the many mantras of the Google Deleuzians.

We must also forget the Carl Sagan Deleuzians. Remember Carl Sagan and his awestruck odes to the ‘billions and billions of stars’? Carl Sagan Deleuzians are those who think that ontology is about producing a sense of sublime grandeur in the mind of the thinker. These kinds of Deleuzians assume that ‘nature’ and ‘human nature’ coincide, and that the world is there ‘for us’ or, more specifically, to ‘impress’ us. For the Carl Sagan Deleuzians ontology means awesome-ology.

Finally, we must forget the Wet Diaper Deleuzians, or those who, in an endless restaging of the 1960s, think that being political means liberating one’s desires. (Let’s not forget that Facebook’s entire business plan is based on the liberation of desire.) For the Wet Diaper Deleuzians, everything is a desiring machine driven by an endless reserve of polymorphous perversity. They giggle and cry, suckle and shit, fall down and get back up. The world is a giant sandbox, filled with toys. Everyone they meet is a potential Father or Master that might threaten their desire, someone to be dethroned, debased, even killed. Each act becomes a doll house revolution – off with their heads!

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 12.20.38 PM
Drawing by Gilles Deleuze. (Source: Gilles Deleuze, "Sept dessins," Chimères [Winter 1994], p. 17.)


DMB: If we are to cut off Deleuze’s head, in a paradoxical attempt to stop the ‘dethroned’ Deleuzian flavours of theory and practice, with what would we replace this theoretical work? Or do you have in mind some other register for thinking about a post-Deleuzian world?

ARG: I’m poking fun of course. The problem is less with Deleuze himself than with a certain kind of Deleuzian School that has arisen since his death. We must forget Deleuze, but only a limited and somewhat perverted interpretation of Deleuze. In fact there are two Deleuzes, the Deleuze of 1972 and the Deleuze of 1990. The ’72 Deleuze is the thinker of machinic subjectivity and differential systematicity. The ’90 Deleuze is the thinker of control and historical transformation. Unfortunately, the first Deleuze is so commonplace today that it has essentially become a TED talk. I see the ’90 Deleuze as the more radical voice. For example, the reticular pessimists champion the Deleuze of 1972 while ignoring the Deleuze of 1990. The legacy of May 1968, and all that it represents, plays a large role. I’m thinking of the Maude character in the film Harold and Maude, and the weary notion that liberation means running stoplights in a fast car.

But while we forget Deleuze we should also remember him. We should remember Deleuze the anti-fascist. We should remember Deleuze the thinker of materialism and immanence. We should remember Deleuze the communist.

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Is Materialism a Type of Idealism?

I've already posted on Jameson's materialism and his theory of interpretation in light of today's new materialism and the larger ontological turn in contemporary theory. Much of the new materialism tends to elevate empirical, descriptive, even pragmatic approaches in its quest to unlock material reality, while denigrating hermeneutic pursuits as a kind of useless culturalism, or what Quentin Meillassoux in a different context labeled “correlationism.” As I already described in the previous two posts, such a dramatic step is wholly incompatible with Jameson's conception of material reality. Jameson's “ontology” -- disclaimers surrounding the use of this term notwithstanding -- requires a reduction to material conditions, a determinism (no matter how weak or strong) of these material conditions, and indeed ultimately an accounting of the absolute horizon that conditions the world as a whole. Hence the dialectic of reduction-and-expression is absolutely necessary, as are the structures of figuration like allegory and metaphor engendered by them, along with the interpretive techniques required to parse them.

Let me offer one final post on Jameson, this time on his Hegelianism. This aspect has always mystified me. Jameson's primary influence is undoubtedly Marx. Yet he has never renounced the elder dialectician, nor does he have any intention of doing so. I generally hold a dim opinion of Hegelians, particularly those in whom there is no visible Marxist spark (unlike Jameson). Still, Hegel is popular again today, the academy well-stocked with Hegelians, while Marxists are only marginally less difficult to spot than, oh I don't know, fluent speakers of Esperanto. Continue reading


A previous post focused on Fredric Jameson's materialism, in light of today's new materialism. Here I want to say more about Jameson's theory of interpretation, particularly the fundamental claim driving so much of his work, that “the political perspective [is] the absolute horizon of all reading and all interpretation.”

Interpretation has suffered greatly in recent years, taking flak from all sides, whether from quantitative methods in the digital humanities, from empirical trends in the social sciences, or from the new materialism's tendency to elevate ontological questions over epistemological ones. Still, interpretation is at the heart of Jameson's project. There is no way to excise interpretation, like a malignant tumor, and retain any fraction of this undertaking, or indeed the Marxist one as a whole. In fact, a central component of Jameson's work is to explain the correspondence between thinking and being, or, if you like, between the layer of culture and society and the layer of existence and matter.

But what folly to believe that we can think the world. Is this not the inaugural dilemma of philosophy: the insurmountable chasm between subject and object, followed by a violent correspondence bridging the two, one contradiction breeding another? Continue reading

The Color of Philosophy

John Ó Maoilearca (aka John Mullarkey) has just published a review of my book at the Los Angeles Review of Books. The review is quite thoughtful and generous. He uses the review to speak about Laruelle's significance today, and does so in clear and plain language, no easy task to be sure.

He also stresses the performative/active aspect of Laruelle's method, something that I've neglected to mention overtly. But it strikes me as absolutely crucial. Not a kind of praxis or process theory, non-philosophy nevertheless is a question of use.

His mention of art and sound reminds me of one of the most memorable quotations in Laruelle. It has to do with color and the way in which each individual mode of thought carries a unique color:

“We obtain such color via the superposition of philosophical styles. . . . The signature claims of a given philosophy have a certain wave-length with a determined propagation frequency or period, and this distinguishes them from the same claims made by other authors while still allowing one to be superpositioned on top of another. This is how we acquire a certain color of thought from out of the pile of individual concepts -- but not merely a new thought system or rigid doctrine, never just a Marxist color, a zen color, or a phenomenology color. Thought is a prism first, a spectrum of radiation. Only ‘later’ is it a system” (Laruelle, Philosophie non-standard, 478).

It's a passing remark, apparently unconnected to the rest of his project. But I think it captures the non-standard method quite nicely. Laruelle is fascinated by waves, and the way in which waves superimpose on each other. The prism metaphor nicely describes his approach, particularly as it has changed in the most recent writings. Like a kind of synesthesia of pure reason, philosophy radiates its own particular color. Every philosophy contains a signature hue, a special “color of thought,” that differentiates it from others around it. The “use” of such color resides in the superposition of each color within the generic “spectrum of radiation.”

The Inverse Spaceship Paradox

(I read this text last Thursday night at a reading for "Open Sessions 3" at the Drawing Center, New York, on the invitation of Jina Valentine.)

In this article I propose what I call the inverse spaceship paradox.

According to what I call the Negative View, Nietzsche thinks science should be reconceived (or superseded) by another discourse -- such as art -- because it is nihilistic.

I give primary attention in this paper to what I call “personal space.”

I defend what I call the “continuity thesis” according to which at least part of the rationale for doing corrective justice is to mitigate one's wrongs, including one's torts. Continue reading

To What Question is The Image an Answer?

Computers are very good at putting things to work. So it's no surprise that images have been activated by the computer, the erstwhile passivity of all renderings now made active and useful. Still, what's interesting is not so much that an image can furnish useful answers, but that an image can be a question, and a good question at that. Shall we not wonder what sort of question is asked by the image? Or the reverse, to what question is the image an answer? Continue reading

One, Two, Three, Four

What are the most philosophically important numbers? Heidegger evokes the fourfold; Deleuze and Guattari a thousand (but it could have been more). For Badiou, the multiple plays its role, as does infinity. For Hegel the triad and the operation of the negative. For Irigaray it is sometimes two, and sometimes not one. For others the binary. For others still the key numerical concept is simply nothing. Only two numerical concepts are necessary for Laruelle: the one and the dual.

As Laruelle explains, there is no synthesis or dialectic of the world, only the one and its various identities: “In immanence, one no longer distinguishes between the One and the Multiple, there is no longer anything but n=1, and the Multiple-without-All. No manifold watched over by a horizon, in flight or in progress: everywhere a true chaos of floating or inconsistent determinations . . . between Identity and Multiplicity, no synthesis by a third term.” Continue reading