The Slow Thought Movement

June 6, 2010

I have been inspired to read Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things after finding an online reader’s group of philosophy bloggers.  As this book follows in the footsteps of Gilles Deleuze and Manuel De Landa, I was immediately interested, given my past focus on their work.  I am a bit behind in the reading schedule and may never catch up, but given the title of this blog entry, I guess that should be okay.

I was immediately struck by Bennett’s description of her philosophical project on the first page of the preface as an attempt “to think slowly an idea that runs fast through modern heads: the idea of matter as passive stuff” (vii).  This immediately made me think of De Landa’s reference to glass as a slow-moving fluid, one that takes centuries to flow.  Deleuze and Guattari often engage the phenomenon of speed as a way to indicate degrees of difference: “Speed turns the point into a line.”  Her chapter on “Edible Matter” references the slow food movement, which I used to conceive of “the slow thought movement.”

So how does one think slowly?  Perhaps it is as easy as paying more attention.  In the words of one aphorism, “a thing is simple or complex, depending on how much attention one pays it.”  Slow thinking would suggest the kind of attention to historical process that De Landa makes famous in his A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, a book that Bennett uses (among others) to frame her argument in chapter one.

Perhaps the claim to a vitality intrinsic to matter itself becomes more plausible if one takes a long view of time. If one adopts the perspective of evolutionary rather than biographical time, for example, a mineral efficacy becomes visible. (10-11)

She then provides a long example of such mineral efficacy from De Landa’s book, a quote which is worth repeating here since it’s so interesting:

Soft tissue (gels and aerosols, muscle and nerve) reigned supreme until 5000 million years ago. At that point, some of the conglomerations of fleshy matter-energy that made up life underwent a sudden mineralization, and a new material for constructing living creatures emerged:  bone.  It is almost as if the mineral world that had served as a substratum for the emergence of biological creatures was reasserting itself” (11,  quoting Nonlinear History p. 26).

She also quotes Adorno at one point, who writes, “What we may call the thing itself is not positively and immediately at hand. He who wants to know it must think more, not less” (13).  This “thinking more,” I believe, is enhanced by “the long view of time” Bennett mentions.  Slow thinking allows for a sedimentation, a layering of processes and matter-energy flows that make up the complex expression of the here-and-now (or the wherever-and-whenever we happen to be attending to).

Bennett discusses Adorno’s “negative dialectics” as a way to “become more cognizant that conceptualization automatically obscures the inadequacy of its concepts,” at one point quoting him as saying, “objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder” (14, emphasis mine).   I wondered here again about the possibility of a different way of thinking, along the lines developed in a previous blog post trying to think beyond the concept.  Perhaps there’s something here that would allow me to develop the idea of “the incept” as a way in to an object, a kind of “becoming-thought-object,” a thinking-with or -through an object.  Such inceptual thinking would require a slowing down, a kind of phase-alignment of one’s own energy with the objects under observation (for her it was the debris that “provoked affects in me” [4]).

At any rate, Vibrant Matter is stimulating to say the least, and I look forward to following the discussion of the reading group in the days to come.


Thinking About Thinking: Post-Continental Philosophy

January 28, 2009

I recently received from inter-library loan a book by John Mullarkey titled Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline. This looks at four contemporary philosophers: Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, Michel Henry, and Francois Laruelle, all of whom, according to the author, deal with the topic of immanence in different ways in order to renew thought. The common denominator that Mullarkey identifies is that they all “show” rather than tell via diagrams, and he proposes a “diagrammatology” (W.J.T. Mitchell’s term) as a mode of philosophical discourse to “think immanence”:

And such images are never mere ornament — they are often frames around which whole arguments are set. . . . Diagrams have long been useful in teaching and learning logic . . . but now their foundation to all understanding has been highlighted through research in cognitive science and visual studies. Diagrams are ‘problem solvers’ because they ‘automatically support a large number of perceptual inferences, which are extremely easy for humans. (162)

Mullarkey’s conclusion points to the changes that a “post-continental philosophy” might induce in how we think:

What we are saying — and what a Post-Continental thought indicates — is that philosophy must take up the challenge of renewal and acknowledge the possibility that art, technology, and even matter itself, at the level of its own subject-matter, in its own actuality, might be capable of forcing new philosophical thoughts onto us. With that, however, there might also come a transformation of what we mean by philosophy and even thought itself. (193)

The transformation of thought itself: this is the theme of this blog and of electracy as a description of what becomes possible when fundamental changes occur to the communicative apparatus of a society. Mullarkey’s book, I am suggesting, offers thinking with and through diagrams as one way of of manifesting an electrate form of thinking.

Imaging Thought as Imaging Place in Heidegger

September 23, 2007

I just finished reading Heidegger’s What Is Called Thinking? and found it very interesting and, for the most part, accessible (they are transcriptions of lectures he delivered). Of interest to my “thinking about thinking” and the work done for the Imaging Place conference are Heidegger’s references to thinking as being on a journey or a path:

Thinking itself is a way. We respond to the way only by remaining underway. . . . In order to get underway, we do have to set out. This is meant in a double sense: for one thing, we have to open ourselves to the emerging prospect and direction of the way itself; and then, we must get on the way, that is, must take the steps by which alone the way becomes the way. . . . Only when we walk it, and in no other fashion, only, that is, by thoughtful questioning, are we on the move on the way.

He continues in this vein, invoking the quest-motif:

To answer the question ‘What is called thinking?’ is itself always to keep asking, so as to remain underway. This would seem easier than the intention to take a firm position; for adventurer-like, we roam away into the unknown. Nevertheless, if we are to remain underway we must first of all and constantly give attention to the way. The movement, step by step, is what is essential here. (168-170)

Later he writes of the “thinker’s quest”:

The wish to understand a thinker in his own terms is something else entirely than the attempt to take up a thinker’s quest and to pursue it to the core of his thought’s problematic. The first is and remains impossible. The second is rare, and of all things the most difficult. . . To speak of an ‘attempt at thinking’ is not an empty phrase meant to simulate humility. The term makes the claim that we are here taking a way of questioning, on which the problematic alone is accepted as the unique habitat and locus of thinking. (185)

In a different book, Heidegger invokes even more radically the notion of a region in which thinking occurs. In his Discourse on Thinking, according to its introduction, Heidegger speaks of two kinds of thinking–“calculating thinking” and “meditative thinking”–and in focusing on the latter he speaks of the horizon of consciousness, our field of awareness, calling this “the region” and “that-which-regions”:

In the opening of the region, its regioning, we have what supports and manifests itself in part as the opening of man, his meditative thinking … the nature of thinking [has] an origin prior to thought. And what is this origin? It is the nature of that-which-regions. (Introduction p. 30, 35)

This looks like challenging stuff, but I was immediately drawn to the conceptual metaphor of the Mind as a Body Moving Through Space that is in play in both books. Again and again this recurs, and I am once again curious about what it might mean, what might be the ultimate significance of such reliance upon bodily metaphors of navigating a three-dimensional space as the way that we are able to think abstractly (for is not thinking about thinking the most abstract that we can get?!).

Imaging Thought

August 21, 2007

I have finished and posted the essay that all of these posts have worked toward completing. The title ended up being “Imaging Place As Imaging Thought: Deleuze, Electracy, and Second Life.” One insight I reached in the process of writing it is that there is a connection between Deleuze’s call for a new image of thought and the new kind of thinking that Ulmer calls forth with his concept of “electracy.” Another insight I discovered is that the “imaging place” that cognitive metaphors of the Mind as a Body moving through space is a form of imaging thought. That is, we automatically image thought using these metaphorical concepts that Lakoff and Johnson have discuss.

The second part of the essay was an experiment in “thinking with Second Life.” I call it “Disorientation” as it is meant to throw into doubt some of our cherished beliefs about rationality. A startling coincidence occurred. I chose randomly, among the multitude of pink stars (indicating events in the Second Life cartographic interface), the one for the place called “The Think Differently Lounge.” And the funny thing about the place was that it was like most of the other dance halls you might encounter in SL, but this one had a grid-like structure for a ceiling and walls. And there were no obvious exits. I couldn’t find one, at any rate. So after teleporting directly into the “Think Differently Lounge,” I was trapped and surrounded by a highlyl striated (grid-like) barrier. Striation is a codeword in Deleuze and Guattari for a process that has congealed, crystallized, stabilized: all flows have slowed to a rigidity–the state (vs. the nomad), the tree (vs. the rhizome), stratification (vs. destratification), the striated space (vs. the smooth space), the territorialized (vs. the deterritorialized). I use the term in the paper to invoke this concept of theirs, in order to suggest that any form of thinking differently eventually settles in and becomes the norm. It’s a common enough, almost cliched conclusion to reach, but it was interesting to have it happen on one of the only occasions that I consciously went into SL with the intention to perform an act of electrate reasoning. Out of the experience emerged the kind of allegory (down to the woman who accompanied me, called “Nar Duell,” which sounds suspiciously like “Ne’er Do Well,” like a character one would encounter in a bona fide allegory straight out of the Middle Ages) one might expect to see more of in the emerging age of electracy.

A Revolution in the Mind

July 29, 2007

At a second, recent visit to the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, I recently bought Reidar Due’s book on Deleuze, part of polity press’s “Key Contemporary Thinkers” series. Here again is an explication of Deleuze which puts thinking in the center of his work: “Deleuze’s philosophy . . . aims to produce a revolution in the mind, a fundamental change in how we think” (1). Due sees Deleuze’s early philosophy as being concerned with “how mental activity is situated within reality,” and in the process of engaging with the philosophical tradition in order to answer this question enlists the “cosmological metaphysicians” (the Stoics, Spinoza, Leibniz, Nietzsche, and Bergson) who “consider the mind to be an activity that unfolds within a larger set of forces or energies that constitute the cosmos or the world as a whole. The crucial feature of this picture of the mind is that mental activity is seen to be part of the world and not separate from it: the mind is not a screen” (5).

Due continues in his introduction and writes about how Deleuze extends the meaning of “immanence”: “This concept becomes for Deleuze a principle of thought rather than a property of reality. The principle of immanence means, positively, to think genetically, i.e. to reproduce in thought the genetic process that engendered an object” (8). And in turning to explain Deleuze’s alternative concept of the subject (i.e. “the notion of the individual human mind as constituting a self-conscious centre of knowledge and action” [9]).

In Deleuze’s thought, the starting-point for formulating this alternative concept of the subject is the concept of ‘affect.’ According to Deleuze, affects are the basic components of mental activity. . . . To understand an affect is to see it as a force, a particular type of energy and this energy does not presuppose self-consciousness. . . . In this philosophical perspective, the mind is a site of thoughts rather than a centre of consciousness. These thoughts are not defined by the fact that someone can say: they are my thoughts. Thoughts, in other words, are not defined as belonging to a subject.