I've said it before and I'll say it again. We've reached peak Deleuze. The wise move, I suspect, would be to institute a five year moratorium for anyone working in media and cultural theory. This goes for the Deleuzian "deep catalog" as well including Simondon and Spinoza. It's just getting out of hand.
The straw that broke the camel's back for me was reading Elizabeth Grosz's latest book and teaching it in seminar. A few months ago I cited Grosz in the context of The Swervers, a school of thought -- some of them Deleuzeans but not all -- who promote ethics and aesthetics as first philosophy and who gravitate toward analog themes such assemblage, affect, sensation, process, becoming, chaos, and accident. And I recently posted some longer reflections on Grosz's methodological profile. I certainly don't intend the current post as a kind of character assassination aimed at Grosz, who is unquestionably one of the most interesting and innovative thinkers working today. Her 2007 lecture at the Feminist Theory Workshop is but one example of how clearly she understood the state of the field at the time, and how much she had thought about where it should go in the future. (And looking back now ten years later she was essentially correct.) I see her work as indicative of a larger trend, and it's this larger trend that interests me.
My seminar recently read Elizabeth Grosz's latest book, The Incorporeal: Ontology, Ethics, and the Limits of Materialism. Grosz is an insightful reader of philosophical history and she has assembled here the Deleuzean songbook with chapters on the Stoics, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Simondon, along with the lesser known French philosopher of biology Raymond Ruyer plus a chapter on Deleuze himself. The book follows a few themes that recur in multiple chapters, specifically the theme of ethics and how to live, as well as the notion of immanence and what it might mean to have a non-reductive or "flat" ontology. The provocative premise of the book however is something a bit different. In The Incorporeal Grosz continues her exploration of materialism, only now counterintuitively through materialism's putative opposite, that is, through the idea and the way in which the ideal always inheres in any material milieu.
I find it interesting how a number of theorists have recently embraced some of the very things that they might have avoided at a younger age: Kaja Silverman shifting away from difference and towards analogy; Donna Haraway coming out in favor of discipline (for dogs); and now Grosz, she a pioneer in what we today call New Materialism, writing a book on idealism, that hoary rival of all good materialists. I don't see any of these developments as conservative or reactionary per se. This is the mature work of mature thinkers who understand that every aspect of life ought to get its due, even those aspects that one might have formerly shunned out of a political or ethical commitment. And anyhow, why shouldn't a materialist be able to give a decent account of mind or form? Continue reading →
I arrived home yesterday to a pleasant surprise. My first book, Protocol, has been translated and published in Japanese by Jimbun Shoin in Kyoto. This was arranged behind the scenes by the publisher, and I wasn't aware of the progress. So a surprising but welcome sight indeed! I look forward to greater contact with colleagues and students in Japan going forward.
I just spoke yesterday yesterday at the University of Pennsylvania on the topics of “control societies” and "ontologies of difference," two themes that have interested me a great deal over the years. In fact I have been so struck by Deleuze's essay “Postscript on Societies of Control,” a short and rather unusual text from the very end of his life, that I've spoken at length about it before and even devoted an entire chapter to it in my book on Laruelle, chapter five titled “Computers.” I have many thoughts about this short essay and about the topic it has introduced, control society, but what fascinates me even more today is the other phrase, that old poststructuralist theme, the ontologies of difference. The theory of difference has played an important role in many endeavors, from semiotics and structural analyses, to feminist and queer theory, to postcoloniality and critical race theory. What strikes me as most interesting today is the fact that difference -- along with a related concept, multiplicity -- is in fact not one thing. Rather we might speak of kinds of difference, or kinds of multiplicity. To be sure, pluralism has frequently characterized discussions around difference. Yet I'm drawn in a slightly different direction, not that difference is plural but that difference is (merely) different. Continue reading →
Digital devices permeate contemporary life. But what exactly does the digital mean? Are all computers digital? What about other media like photography or film? Is rationality itself digital? Is philosophy? We begin the seminar by developing specific definitions of the analog and the digital using sources from philosophy, media theory, and aesthetics. With these definitions in hand, we turn to contemporary digital media theory. Sections of the course are devoted to analogicity, digitality, the logical, the illogical, the absurd, cybernetics, digital computers, digital audio and compression. Readings are drawn from the work of Simone Browne, Gilles Deleuze, Elizabeth Grosz, Katherine Hayles, Jonathan Sterne, and others.
In recent months I've remained quiet about the speculative turn, mostly because I'm reticent to rekindle the “Internet war” that broke out a couple of years ago mostly on blogs but also in various published papers. And while I've taught accelerationism in my recent graduate seminars, I opted for radio silence when accelerationism first appeared on the scene through the Accelerationist Manifesto, followed later by the book Inventing the Future. Truth is I have mixed feelings about accelerationism. Part of me wants to send “comradely greetings” to a team of well-meaning fellow Marxists and leave it at that. Lord knows the left needs to stick together. Likewise there's little I can add that people like Steven Shaviro and McKenzie Wark haven't already written, and articulated much better than I could. But at the same time a number of difficulties remain that are increasingly hard to overlook. To begin I might simply echo Wark's original assessment of the Accelerationist Manifesto: two cheers for accelerationism, but only two!Continue reading →
"'Since its very origins,' Badiou wrote in Being and Event, 'philosophy has interrogated the abyss which separates numerical discretization from the geometrical continuum. [...] from Plato to Husserl, passing by the magnificent developments of Hegel's Logic, the strictly inexhaustible theme of the dialectic of the discontinuous and the continuous occurs time and time again.'"
Thanks to Emily Apter, Marc Crépon, and Martin Crowley for organizing the conference, and to Knox Peden for moderating the panel.
Recently the Center for 21st Century Studies in Milwaukee staged a conference with the enticing title “The Big No.” I wasn't at the conference, but know a few people who were, and I watched a couple of the talks online. Among other things, the conference was notable for bringing both Frank Wilderson and François Laruelle together in the same place for the first time. In my view, afro-pessimism and non-standard philosophy share an affinity both methodologically and thematically. And I know that grad students at UC-Irvine in particular, where Wilderson and Jared Sexton both teach, have been working on fleshing out some of these connections, as have scholars elsewhere like Daniel Colucciello Barber and Anthony Paul Smith.
Originally the conference announcement took me by surprise, given how the Center for 21st Century Studies had positioned itself, at least under Richard Grusin's directorship, as a leading site of Swerver theory. Grusin's 2012 conference “The Nonhuman Turn,” followed by an influential edited collection of the same name, helped solidify and consolidate this particular kind of contemporary humanities discourse.
Reticular empiricism is certainly seductive. The Swervers have attracted many contemporary thinkers to their side. In fact it's very difficult to find a theorist or philosopher today who does not at some level think in terms of action and expression, becoming and process, difference and multiplicity, gaps and slippages, chaos and contingency -- these are some of the many virtues of our age. Such virtues constitute the contemporary ontology, along with the dominant sense of what it means to be a person. Continue reading →