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.

Infinition: Thinking-Fractal

May 1, 2009

I wrote a poem a while back called “Axiom: A Mathematics of Poetry” in which I parody the opening chapters of G. Spencer-Brown’s The Laws of Form. The first line introduces a new concept that I created called “infinition”:

It shall be taken as given the idea of infinition. The idea of infinition stands in direct opposition to the idea of definition.

Then, as in chapter one of the Spencer-Brown book, I provide a definition:

Infinition is the act of making indefinite or unclear. That is to say, while some uses of language attempt to clarify, others attempt to obfuscate.

The poem then continues with instructions to make a poem, introducing “canons,” “conventions,” and “principles” much like The Laws of Form does in its opening chapters; these kind of “mathematical” moments attempt to define poetry from its moment of creation. Interspersed within these various defining moments are “infinitions,” poetic moments that obfuscate, that use metaphor and imagery to open up or make blurry what the definitions try to distinguish or clarify.

I later realized that this concept of infinition, which I playfully created for the purposes of this poem, could be introduced in the context of electracy as a simple analogue of electrate thinking. If electracy is a kind of thinking that emerges from or opposes (to some extent) literacy, and literate thinking has as its modus operandi the goal of defining, distinguishing, and clarifying, then “infinition” can be seen perhaps as a kind of electrate definition.

Or, to phrase it as Greg Ulmer might, infinition is to electracy as definition is to literacy.

As a kind of image-thinking, or thinking through or via images, electracy invites the kind of ambiguity that literacy loathes. Ulmer’s work (in Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy for example) steers us toward this kind of thinking that is already happening, that is at the core of inventive thinking, as in Einstein’s “wide image” of the compass:

Part of the value of Einstein as a paradigm is that his theories are imaged by a compass. The story of his compass becomes a parable for our own search , in that we must find our equivalent of the compass–the scene that we recognize as having this guiding role in our orientation to the world and to life. (27)

For Ulmer, “invention is an ecological process” and therefore we must attend to the various institutions of our lives (family, career, entertainment, community) in order to tune in to potential new ideas that can emerge from cross-over (in the way that metaphor suggests “crossing over” or “carrying across”). His books provide “heuretics” for invention, and they work: using his CATT(t) method back in his graduate theory course in 1987, I independently discovered the image of the rhizome (for me imaged as a watermelon) as a model of thinking differently, before knowing anything about Deleuze and Guattari.

If we are to think of infinition imagistically, then, I would offer the Koch snowflake as a model of a kind of “fuzzy definition” or “fuzzy logic” or “thinking-fractal.” The idea is to start with an equilateral triangle and then to let each of the sides open out into an increasingly elongated boundary. It’ll be quicker for you to get the idea if you see the animations at the Wikipedia entry for the Koch snowflake. Here is a boundary of infinite length, which seems to be a contradiction: if something is bounded, it is typically finitely bounded, enclosed by a measurable boundary.

So the question, then, is how can this fractal curve help us to think differently? Can the model of the Koch snowflake open up thought, make it an act of infinition?

Don’t get me wrong: there is a place for definition. But there is also a place for infinition.

How Concepts Function

March 31, 2009

I started reading the IEP (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) entry on “Concepts,” which starts by laying out “tasks for an overall theory of concepts,” one of which is to determine what the metaphysical status of a concept is. As I thought about Deleuze and Guattari’s theories, it occurred to me that they are not so much concerned about what a concept is so much as what a concept does: how it functions in a particular context or assemblage, what it accomplishes in solving a particular problem.

In fact, the way that this line of thinking started was by thinking, “If you stop to think about it…” But stopping is artificial: there is no stopping: the mind is going going going, a model of Bergsonian duration, and it’s when we “stop” to think about thinking that we develop a metaphysics of thinking, a model of the “being” vs. “becoming” of thinking. Deleuze is about thinking on the go, thinking as going, and going implies a direction, possibly even a destination (unless you’re a nomad, that is) and/or an agenda: are you stratifying or destratifying? Are you becoming more complex as an organization or is there a kind of chaos-ification occurring?

Thought, that is (to repeat myself), requires a context (what are you thinking about? what problem are you trying to solve?). I see this in their concept of the machinic assemblage: things themselves have fluid ontological categories depending on the role they play in a temporary assemblage of parts/wholes that come together to fulfill a particular purpose or desire. A bicycle tire on a bike, for example, serves as a mode of transportation; in a work of art, however, it serves as a mode of self-expression. In a different context, faced with a different problem to solve, it could be/come something else (in the way that car tires are used as the soles of shoes in third-world countries).

For D&G;, it seems that the problem they want to solve is the question of how to think differently, how (ultimately) to think creatively. Beyond this (and with them there always seems to be a beyond), they want to capture the boiling roiling moment of a phase transition, whether the moment when water freezes or when water boils… In the words of Jeffrey Bell, in his Philosophy at the Edge of Chaos: Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of Difference,

A dynamic system. . . presupposes both the stable, structured strata that are in some sense *complete*, and it entails the unstable, unstructured, deterritorializing flows. As Deleuze and Guattari proceed to develop the implications of this thinking, or as they develop a philosophy ‘at the edge of chaos,’ they neither create concepts which solve, once and for all, philosophical problems, nor do they slip into a state of anarchical relativism. Rather, philosophy, as with a living organism ‘at the edge of chaos,’ must maintain both its stable strata and its unstable deterritorializing flows. Without the former, a living organism dies (or a philosophy slips into disordered nonsense and says nothing), and without the latter, an organism is unable to adapt and will also die (or a philosophy falls into a mindless repetition of cliches and platitudes). (4)

So there should be a give and take to thinking, one that allows for this kind of freezing (stratification, striation) then flowing (destratification, smoothening). Philosophical concepts, according to Deleuze and Guattari, function to facilitate such vacillations.

With all of this in mind, I declare once again my intention to investigate fluid/flow principles. An initial peek at the Encyclopedia of Science and Technology points to Newtonian and non-Newtonian fluids, “rigid body dynamics,” viscosity vs. “viscoelasticity,” and the like.

And before closing this entry, I need to mention Edward de Bono’s Water Logic, in which he opposes the “rock logic” of the “Greek gang of three” (i.e. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, “who hijacked Western thinking”) with his concept of “water logic”: “Traditional rock logic is based on ‘is’ [identity: What is this?]. The logic of perception is water logic and this is based on ‘to’ [flow]. . . “What does this lead to?” De Bono concludes in a passage that might have been penned by Deleuze: “I write about the huge importance of concepts for water logic. It is concepts that give movement and flexibility in thinking. Such concepts do not always need to be precise because we are using water logic rather than rock logic, which depends on precision” (189).

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.

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.

Beyond the Concept

June 11, 2007

Ulmer’s post to Invent-L today [subject line “the idea of chora at Key West (thinking)”] was a kind of choral meditation on a visit he made with some family members to Key West. He writes at one point,

The plane of immanence. Life, Deleuze says simply. Conatus (striving prior to any subject or identity). Outside. That is, without concept (not thinkable, or only duly noted, within literacy).

At this point I thought that what electracy needs is the equivalent of the concept for literacy. Then a handful of words came to mind: recept, decept, incept, and except. And these are all possibilities.

–The decept, for example, could refer to “deceptive” uses of language which wouldn’t be considered deceptive because there is no literate, Platonic notion of Capital-T Truth to achieve and avoid: simulation, play/acting, prosopopeia, the dissoi-logoi of the sophists, “how to lie with maps/statistics” and Ulmer’s assignment to write with fallacies rather than avoiding them… One who is deceived in the passive is one who is in error (to err = to wander).

–the recept or “to receive” (vs. conceive): “to take in, to admit to a receptacle or containing space; to allow to enter or penetrate” (from OED); other meanings involve “to take in by the mouth swallow” (think Applied Grammatology and Derrida’s deconstruction of “seeing is understanding” conceptual metaphor to allow for the chemical senses: not “I see” but “I smell”!) and “to take into the mind.” One of the examples was from Romanes 1888 book on Mental Evolution, which I promptly ordered from Amazon. He also wrote Mental Evolution in Animals with the Darwin himself….]

–the incept: again from OED–to begin/commence, to take in, as an organism or cell. To inceive (vs. conceive)

–the except: would probably be the opposite of incept: to let loose, express, eject… To “exceive”

These could be dubbed “the ceptions.”  No percept because Deleuze and Guattari address this in What is Philosophy?

These, then, would be variant methods or, rather, manifestations of electrate reasoning in the same way that a concept is a manifestation of literate reasoning. (Note to self: consider Lakoff and Johnson’s “conceptual metaphors” in light of the grammatological apparatus.)

Deleuze on Thinking

June 11, 2007

I pulled Gilles Deleuze: Key Concepts off of my shelf and read through Tom Conley’s essay on “Folds and Folding,” since I read through Deleuze’s book on The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque a number of years ago and also met Tom while teaching at Hamline in Minnesota. This is some of the clearest writing I’ve read by him (his The Self-Made Map I found tough-going). In it, he speaks of thinking (how is it that, once I turn my attention to this topic, suddenly it shows up everywhere?!). He starts with early conceptions of the fold in Deleuze’s book on Foucault and writes, in the section titled “Foldings, or the Inside of Thought (Subjectivation),” about the larger issues of sexuality in the emergence of subjectivity:

Every human being thinks as a result of an ongoing process of living in the world and by gaining consciousness and agency through a constant give and take of perception, affect and cognition. (Key Concepts 171).

According to Conley, “There is opened a dramatic reflection on the character of thinking, which belongs as much to Deleuze as to Foucault. . . . In terms of subjectivation, thinking means ‘folding, doubling the outside with its co-extensive inside’. A topology is created by which inner and outer spaces are in contact with each other” (174).

Perhaps my invocation of moebius strips and klein bottles during the Imaging Place conference wasn’t so far off the mark!

Conley continues:

When we “think” we cross all kinds of thresholds and strata and follow a fissure in order to reach what, he says, Melville calls a “central room” wherein, we fear, no one will be and where “the soul of men might reveal an immense and terrifying void.” Thinking is figured as a moving line; it is indeed “Melville’s line” with its two free ends… a line moving at a growing molecular speed, a “whiplash of a crazed charioteer,” which leads… ultimately to a central room where there is no longer any need to fear its emptiness because the self (a fold) is found inside. “Here we become masters of our speeds, more or less commanding our molecules and singularities, in this zone of subjectivation in the embarkation of the inside and the outside” (174).

Conley continues to tie Deleuze’s work to thinking when he introduces The Fold:

When he [Deleuze] remarks that it is incumbent upon the self to “draw singularities from a space of the inside”, and that thinking–what makes possible the agency of the self–is tantamount to doubling the outside with a coextensive inside, Deleuze suggests that the upper room [of the “Baroque House”] and its folded furnishings become the imaginary space where subjectivation can be realized. The Baroque room, a space in which thinking takes place, is the site where new folds and folding (the forces and products of thinking) can be felt and harmonized” (176, my emphases).

So perhaps my question about “what is thought?” wasn’t so whacky after all. After reading how much Deleuze seems to consider the question, it makes me feel very philospher-like to have asked it in the first place….