philosophy as not philosophy: para-ontology, hauntology, schizoanalysis

"Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it ‘the way it really was’. It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to hold fast that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to the historical subject in a moment of danger. The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious."
- Walter Benjamin, Thesis VI

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."
- Karl Marx, Thesis III

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Critique and the 'Critical Point'

In Parables for the Virtual, Massumi says,
Affect or intensity in the present account is akin to what is called a critical point, or a bifurcation point, or singular point, in chaos theory and the theory of dissipative structures. This is the turning point at which a physical system paradoxically embodies multiple and normally mutually exclusive potentials, only one of which is "selected." [32]
This notion of the 'critical point' can help shed light on a mode of reading, approaching, and critiquing a philosophical work that does not fall into the traps of representation. A few days ago, I wrote some rough comments in response to this post from Zoēpolitics, which I'll elaborate on here. I was particularly responding to these statements:
"What if instead of reading these thinkers in terms of whether we agree or disagree with them, instead we were to consider the more general question of 'how they make us think'? What if, in other words, we were to read them against the grain of how they are 'normally' interpreted, in order to tease out the alternative potentialities they unlock?...In short, what if instead of spending so much time 'debunking' we were to 'foster' instead (Massumi)?"
'Fostering' certainly seems more fruitful, productive, and interesting than 'debunking'. The former seems to correspond to the affirmative sense of critique that Deleuze finds in Nietzsche, the latter to critique as Lyotard construes it in Libidinal Economy: caught hopelessly in the representational space of the prerogative being critiqued. The former rescues the most forceful and explosive particles from the thing criticized, engaging them with expressive traits that are themselves drawn out by the most forceful lines of the reader. Rather than sterilizing both in an ineffectual representation with only the most banal effects, it selects that which can escape such sterility, that which can free itself and fly into a pure differing, a pure creation, that which draws both into a becoming-other. It is a joyous affirmation of a difference in-between the reader and what was read. Only such an affirmation can bring forth something 'new' in the most extreme and authentic sense, the sense of attaining absolute deterritorialization.

Instead of responding to the solutions, the conclusions, the propositions of an argument, rejecting or accepting them, falling into a rigid binary, 'fostering' would seek out the problems, the complex problematic fields, of which the solutions are only effects. It would seek to rediscover the force of these problems, buried under calcified layers of understanding. The reader would negotiate these fields, these 'complexions', in order to find those sites of the most intense resonance between the constellations of problems composing the field and those composing the reader's own complexion. These are the sites of 'forced movement', where difference itself opens up in the new, in the line of flight. Here we might find a nomadic distribution of problems and solutions, the immanent evaluations of the Overman, of an Ethics. There is no longer an issue of interpreting and judging a representation, nor of representing one's reaction. Critique is no longer that of the conclusions, of what they represent as being 'good or bad', 'right or wrong', 'true or false'.

Critique has become a gathering of forceful problems selected in and of, by and for the encounter between two complexions, raising their intensities to the critical threshold at which something new and different can emerge: new arrangements of problems, new pathways of solution, new connections with the outside. This emergence marks the overturning of everything implicated insofar as it becomes distributed in a field of differences, a smooth space. The theme of emergence is what leads me to quote Massumi, as the notion of the 'critical point' is precisely the threshold of intensity that, once crossed, opens onto an emergence of the new. Critique in the mode of 'fostering' would seek to map out these critical points, the points of transformation of formalizations of expression.

These points are nodes of 'machinic heterogenesis', as Guattari says, autopoietic nuclei that enter catalytic relations with expressive traits, the intensive features of a machine. These nodes or singularities constitute the 'critical points' of a structure (regime of signs), which, in forming catalytic couplings with elements of that structure (expressive traits), generate machinic arrangements that open onto other orders, other 'Universes of values'. This generation or heterogenesis is precisely where the biunivocality of content and expression imposed by stratafication gives way to intensive order of matter/sense or the plane of consistency: there is a double transversality, as the singularities of content (nodes or critical points) deterritorialize the form of expression (structure), and the traits of expression (machinic components, intensive features) deterritorialize the form of content (Universes, constellations of singularities composing the diagram or 'virtuality' of a structure).

Cartography has a double edge: mapping the singular nodes embedded in a structural order, marking points of potential transformation and machinic heterogenesis, points at which several different structural orders can become involved in a conjunction that belongs to a machinic order that is different in kind from structure; and diagramming the expressive traits that engage these nodes and are catalyzed by them, opening onto new 'Universes', new constellations of traits, new permutations of the machinic phylum. This twofold function should thereby shed light on the abstract machines at play, by mapping the domain in which they can function and diagramming the range of functional possibilities they manifest. The abstract machine can only act in the concrete arrangements formalized by expression, by the 'regimes' or 'structures' left cooling, stratifying, in the wake of the machinic phylum. Yet the abstract machine has open to it an unlimited resevoir of virtual components and their possible functions, defined by the Universes, the diagrams, the constellations of singularities drawn by the very cutting edges of the phylum.

Together, these functions work to elucidate the machinic plane of consistency which the abstract machines traverse, the whole intensive and micrological order underlying and conditioning the order of structures, regimes of expression, molar signifiance and subjectification (representation and identity). By mapping the critical points or nodes of transformation, and diagramming the machinic components that can engage them and open a bifurcation, planomenology will be attentive to the dynamic and singular arrangements composed by any given encounter. The critical points are those particles of content embedded in expressive formalizations that have the potential to destabilize and mutate that formalization. The machinic components are those particles of expression that constellate around the edges of the diagram of content, composing those most deterritorialized functional arrangements that open onto new Universes and new diagrammatic configurations. The simplest example pertaining to the reading of a work of philosophy would have the critical points as those promiscuous concepts or ambiguous propositions that have the most potential to overturn a reading and allow it involve several other 'understandings', or even invent new ones, while the machinic components would be those ideas, problems, interpretative tendencies, 'frames of reference', even delirious 'misunderstandings' of the reader that can potentially open the text onto new fields of reference and orientation.

Planomenology would necessitate a 'fostering' of critical points, singularities, autocatalytic nuclei and the heterogeneous machinic components that engage them and compose autopoietic arrangements. This requires a very different sense of 'critique': rather than attacking the logic of the propositions of an argument, one intensifies the catalytic couples constellated by critical points until they cross the threshold of transformation, reaching 'critical' intensity, bifurcating and giving rise to an unpredictable and genuine difference through the selective actualization of virtualities. Rather than judging and implicitly moralizing, leveling the differences, desingularizing the problems, subordinating the unique to the identity of a model, it would seek to create an ethos, that is, to bring forth the singular problematic of an encounter or event. Only by negotiating such a problematic in its irreducible singularity is the liberation of the new, the affirmation of chance, possible. Only by analyzing 'how it makes us think' as Jason says, how it composes or is itself a composition of thought and action, of matter/sense, will we attain the absolute singularity of an ethical evaluation, free from the moralizing judgment of representation and argument.

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