Bifo on Semiocapital

I was alerted to the first of three great essays on the implications of semiocapitalism for embodied communication from Franco Berardi (Bifo) by Mark Fisher in a piece from New Left Project called “The Privatisation of Stress” (7 Sep. 2011):

  1. I Want to Think: POST-U,” E-Flux 24 (Apr. 2011) [pdf];
  2. Cognitarian Subjectivation,” E-Flux 20 (Nov. 2010) [pdf];
  3. Biopolitics and Connective Mutation,” trans. Tiziana Terranova and Melinda Cooper, Culture Machine 7 (2005).

From “Cognitarian Subjectivation”:

Semiocapital puts neuro-psychic energies to work, submitting them to mechanistic speed, compelling cognitive activity to follow the rhythm of networked productivity [a.k.a. automatism — or the digital reprogramming of sensibility]. As a result, the emotional sphere linked with cognition is stressed to its limit. Cyberspace overloads cybertime, because cyberspace is an unbounded sphere whose speed can accelerate without limits, while cybertime (the organic time of attention, memory, imagination) cannot be sped up beyond a certain point — or it cracks. And it actually is cracking, collapsing under the stress of hyper-productivity. An epidemic of panic and depression is now spreading throughout the circuits of the social brain. The current crisis in the global economy has much to do with this nervous breakdown.

For a useful review of Bifo on such matters, see Michael Goddard’s review.

For the implications of semiocapitalism (“automatism”) for labour relations (“autonomy”), see Bifo’s essays

  1. Info-Labour and Precarisation,” trans. Erik Empson, Generation Online (10 Feb. 2009), and
  2. Welfare State and Democracy: Getting Free from Illusions,” . . . ment 1 (2011): 6-12.

Biodata:

Franco Berardi Bifo is a contemporary writer, media-theorist and media-activist. He founded the magazine A/traverso (1975-1981) and was part of the staff of Radio Alice, the first free pirate radio station in Italy (1976-1978). Like others involved in the political movement of Autonomia in Italy during the 1970s, he fled to Paris, where he worked with Felix Guattari in the field of schizoanalysis. During the 1980s he contributed to the magazines Semiotexte (New York), Chimerees (Paris), Metropoli (Rome) and Musica 80 (Milan). In the 1990s he published Mutazione e Ciberpunk (Genoa, 1993), Cibernauti (Rome, 1994), and Felix (Rome, 2001). He is currently collaborating on the magazine Derive Approdi as well as teaching social history of communication at the Accademia di belle Arti in Milan. He is the co-founder of the e-zine rekombinant.org and the telestreet phenomenon [of pirate mini-TV stations].

See the Wiki also.

For more essays, see Generation Online. His most recent book in English is Precarious Rhapsody: Semocapitalism & the Pathologies of Post-Alpha Generation, ed. Erik Empson & Stevphen Shukaitis; trans. Arianna Bove et al. (London: Minor Compositions, 2009; New York: AK Press, 2011) [pdf].

Virno on Micro-Collectives

In an interview with Alexei Penzin, amongst many other insights, Paolo Virno argues that the kind of micro-collectives characteristic of post-Fordist production, i.e., immaterial labour (see Chukhrov), “socialize the entrepreneurial function” to foster the kind of “social cooperation” that works against the monopoly of the state (86-87):

Micro-collectives, workgroups, research teams, etc. are half-productive, half-political structures. If we want, they are the no man’s land in which social cooperation stops being exclusively an economic resource and starts appearing as a public, non-stately sphere. (86)

In other words, such groups work together to make stuff, but they also work against (↑) the state monopoly on power (↓).

If examined as productive realities, the micro-collectives you mention have mainly the merit of socializing the entrepreneurial function: instead of being separated and hierarchically dominant, this function is progressively reabsorbed by living labor, thus becoming a pervasive element of social cooperation. (ibid.)

Entrepreneurship ceases to be a way for the state to drive workers (↓) — and the prerogative of enterprising individuals — and instead enables them to work together (↑ or rather ↔).

We are all entrepreneurs, even if an intermittent, occasional, contingent way. But, as I was saying, micro-collectives have an ambivalent character: apart from being productive structures, they are also germs of political organization. What is the importance of such ambivalence? What can it suggest in terms of the theory of the organization? In my opinion, this is the crucial issue: nowadays the subversion [87] of the capitalistic relations of production can manifest itself through the institution of a public, non-stately sphere, of a political community oriented towards the general intellect. (86-87)

The model for such micro-collectives are artists’ collectives, artists being the “virtuosos” of immaterial labour, exemplifying what Penzin calls “the flexible, mobile, non-specialized substance of contemporary ‘living labor'” (81).

Two definitions:

  • “institution”: “Institutions constitute the way in which our species protects itself from uncertainty and with which it create rules to protect its own praxis” (85); the State has no monopoly on institutions.
  • “general intellect” (a.k.a. the “social brain”): the human capacity for “public or interpsychical” cognition through communication (“thinking with words”). It is the “main productive force of matured capitalism” (84), i.e., work is now virtual — hence the phrase immaterial labour. It could also constitute the “foundations of a [non-stately] republic” (84).

In order to allow this subversion, the distinctive features of post-Fordist production (the valorization of its own faculty of language, a fundamental relation with the presence of the other, etc.) demand a radically new form of democracy. Micro-collectives are the symptom — as fragile and contradictory as they may be — of an exodus, of an enterprising subtraction from the rules of wage labor. (87)

This “radically new form of democracy” is non-representative. It doesn’t work through a parliament but through soviets, i.e., workers’ councils, as “tools for democratic self-organization” (82) [soviet, совет, Ru. "council, advice, harmony, concord"]. It suggests the possibility of a “democracy of the multitude,” of a “public sphere that is no longer connected to the State” (90). So,

the monopoly of decision making can only really be taken away from the State if it ceases once and for all to be a monopoly. [Thus, t]he public sphere of the multitude is a centrifugal force. (90)

Of course, we must avoid “the cancerous metastasis of the State,” i.e. bureaucratization, centralization, and “the glorification of labor,” i.e. collectivization, that happened in Soviet Russia (90). Communism need not signal a massification (→ a people’s revolution). And we must remembers that micro-collectives represent “both a danger and a salvation”: they could signal a fragmentation of society (-) or its politicization (+). Communism can instead signal a democracy of the multitude (→ the soviets of the multitude)

———

Chukhrov, Keti. “Towards the Space of the General: On Labor beyond Materiality and Immateriality.” E-flux 20 (Nov. 2010). Web.

Lazzarato, Maurizio. “Immaterial Labour.” Trans. Paul Colilli and Ed Emery. Generation Online. 6 Mar. 2008. Web.

Penzin, Alexei. “The Soviets of the Multitude: On Collectivity and Collective Work.” Interview with Paolo Virno. Mediations 25.1 (Fall 2010): 81-92. Web.

Mind Melds: Conceptual Blends

A very simple but suggestive notion of creativity (one among many, naturally, but one that focusses primarily on one but also, to a degree, on two other of the four aspects of creativity: the process [creating] and, to a certain extent, the person [the creator] and, less so, the product [the created object] — but not the place): the blend . . .

Conceptual blending or integration: the subconscious blending of objects and relations from diverse situations that is the basis of innovation, including what we call “creativity” — unconscious or generative (but potentially inventive, i.e. heuristic, or exploratoryanalogy.

  • Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner developed this theory as early as 1993, in their paper from the UCB/UCSD 1993 Cognitive Linguistics Workshop, “Conceptual Projection and Middle Spaces” (see The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities [New York: Basic Books, 2002]).
  • Finke, Ward and Smith’s “Geneplore” model splits creativity into two phases: the generative or pre-inventive phase (“inspiration”) and the exploratory or inventive phase (production) (R. Finke, T. B. Ward and S. M. Smith, Creative Cognition: Theory, Research and Applications [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992]).

This process enables us “to invent new concepts and to assemble new and dynamic mental patterns” — see Turner’s Blending and Conceptual Integration:

A mental space is a small conceptual packet assembled for purposes of thought and action [an idealized cognitive model — like a personal possible world]. A mental space network connects an array of mental spaces. A conceptual integration network is a mental space network that contains one or more “blended mental spaces.” A blended mental space is an integrated space that receives input . . . from other mental spaces in the network and develops emergent structure not available from the inputs.

For Stephen Mithin, it is this cognitive fluidity, this capacity to use metaphor and analogy, that distinguishes modern from archaic humans (The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science [New York: Thames & Hudson, 1996]).

Where the archaic mind was domain-specific (or strictly modular) — like a Swiss Army knife, the modern mind is more fluid (or interconnected in its modules): each person has a different combination of tools on their knife and can better apply them in combination(s). (See Andy Gorman’s review for a useful summary.)

The degree to which conceptual blending, as a cognitive capacity or activity that is in large part unconscious but nonetheless generative, can be consciously cultivated as an inventive process — as exploration — is moot.

See

  • Arthur Koestler on “bisociative matrices”: the creative act is a “bisociation” (not a mere association) which happens when two (or more) apparently incompatible frames of thought or “matrices” — or “mental spaces” in Turner’s terms — are brought together as in a dream or trance state (The Act of Creation [New York: Macmillan, 1964]).

From Terrence Deacon, "The Aesthetic Faculty," The Artful Mind: Cognitive Science and the Riddle of Human Creativity, ed. Mark Turner (New York: Oxford UP, 2006).

  • George Lakoff and Mark Johnson on conceptual/cognitive metaphors: the understanding of one idea or conceptual domain in terms of another, for example, understanding quantity in terms of directionality, e.g. “prices are rising” — or love as a journey, life as a journey, love as war, etc. — or, as below, understanding deep time as a progression (the growth of a tree or rhizome) or succession (the change in a landscape), a wave, or a regression (Lakoff, Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind [Chicago: UCP, 1987] and Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By [Chicago: UCP, 1980]).

Metaphors for deep time, from Renee M. Clary, Robert F. Brzuszek and James H. Wandersee, "Students' Geocognition of Deep Time, Conceptualized in an Informal Educational Setting"

N.B. The etymology of the word “blend” suggests mixture, a blinding flash, luminosity — or clouding: the word stems from the Old English blondan or Old Norse blanda, “to mix”; interestingly, further back it is perhaps from the Proto-Germanic blandjan, “to blind,” via the connecting idea of “to make cloudy,” from the Proto-Indo-European base bhel- “to shine, flash, burn” (like our word “bleach”).

Word of the Day: Eukaryotic (viz. a Fly in a Fly-bottle)

Eukaryotic: (of the cells of any organism other than bacteria and archaea) w/ cells that contain complex structures enclosed w/in membranes, especially a distinct nucleus or nuclear envelope wherein reside organelles like mitochondria (genes).

“characterized by well-defined cells (with nuclei and cell walls)” (1957), from Fr. eucaryote (1925), from Gk. eu- “well (formed)” + karyon “nut, kernel” + -ote as in zygote.

(Vs prokaryotic — read prekaryotic, because such organisms are evolutionarily prior: w/o a distinct nucleus with a membrane or other specialized organelles.)

Eukaryotes represent a minority of organisms; in a human body there are ten times more microbes (prokaryotes) than human cells (eukaryotes).

———

Although the word might be unfamiliar, the idea is not: we are taught (and thus like) to think of ourselves/our selves as eukaryotic — as bodies with nuclear selves or brains “inside” that identify us (our kernels or nuts!), that make us “what we are” (and unique) — and we are at some level anxious that we might in fact be prokaryotic: all surface, or empty or chaotic inside (and as ubiquitous and unexceptional as bacteria).

We — in ourselves/our selves — are flies in fly-bottles . . . but we’re worried that we’re empty bottles (or at best Klein bottles).

For Ludwig Wittgenstein, to philosophize is to unsee ourselves/our selves as such:

What is your aim in philosophy? — To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle. (Philosophical Investigations, sec. 309 [1958, 103])

He aims to disabuse us of two artefacts of Cartesianism — solipsism and psychologism:

We are flies stuck in fly-bottle selves (solipsism).

We are fly-bottle bodies with true fly-selves/-brains “inside” (psychologism).

I.e. to shoo the fly — the idea, basically a “grammatical fiction,” that “mental process[es]” are “inner” and thus able to be “private” — out of the (brain-)bottle (see the discussion of the “pain” language game: PI, secs 244-317 [89-104], especially secs 295-317).

———

David Foster Wallace’s The Broom of the System — not his best fiction by any means and about a third too long, but funny — attempts to think out this stuff.

There is much talk of membranes (read: fly-bottles), selves, and the drama of inside and outside. Here is a passage describing what happens when someone’s car air-con breaks down in the desert (the G[reat].O[hio].D[esert]):

Self and Other. Difference. Inside-Outside. Except the air conditioner is broken. The Outside is getting in. The heat is the Outside. It’s getting in, because the Inside’s broken. [. . .] The Inside lets the Outside in. [. . .] You sweat. [. . .] What does the Outside do? It makes you unclean. It coats Self with Other. It pokes at the membrane. And if the membrane is what makes you you and the not-you not you, what does that say about you, when the not-you begins to poke through the membrane? [. . .] It makes you insecure, is what it does [etc., etc. ad (paene) infinitum]. (136; see 136-38, 330-48)

In “Big Old Neon” (from Oblivion), DFW makes a better fist of Witt (as he calls him).

The story once again concerns the inside/outside thing, in particular, the problem of other minds, especially (and, additionally, as a fictional device), in Witt’s phrase, how to “find the right expression for our thoughts” to communicate unfraudently — without playing self-serving mind-games — with others (PI, sec. 335, p. 108). The protagonist’s ethical dilemma becomes an aesthetic one as he tries to tell his story as fully as possible (DFW even pokes his narratorial nose in at the end of the story to complete it [180-81]):

[M]any of the most important impressions and thoughts in a person’s life are ones that flash through your head so fast that fast isn’t even the right word, they seem totally different from or outside of the regular sequential clock time we all live by, and they have so little relation to the sort of linear, one-word-after-another-word English we all communicate with each other with that it could easily take a whole lifetime just to spell out the contents of one split-second’s flash of thoughts and connections, etc. — and yet we all seem to go around trying . . . to convey to other people what we’re thinking and to find out what they’re thinking, when in fact deep down everybody knows it’s a charade and they’re just going through the motions. What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant. [. . .] All I’m trying to do is sketch out one little part of what it was like before I died and why I at least thought I did it, so that you’ll have at least some idea of why what happened afterward happened and why it had the impact it did on who this is really about. Meaning it’s like an abstract or sort of intro, meant to be very brief and sketchy . . . and yet of course look how much time and English it’s seeming to take even to say it. (150-51, 152-53; see 166-67, 178-79)

His maximalist introspections echo Witt on the “speed of thought,” which presents a problem for writers because it generates an excess of material:

Suppose we think while we talk or write — I mean, as we normally do — we shall not in general say that we think quicker than we talk, but the thought seems not to be separate from the expression. On the other hand, however, one does speak of the speed of thought, of how a thought goes through one’s head like lightning; how problems become clear to us in a flash, and so on. So it is natural to ask if the same thing happens in lightning-like thought — only extremely accelerated — as when we talk and “think while we talk.” So that in the first case the clockwork runs down all at once, but in the second bit by bit, braked by the words.

I can see or understand a whole thought in a flash in exactly the sense in which I can make a note of it in a few words or a few pencilled dashes. — What makes this note into an epitome of this thought? (PI, sec. 318-19 [104-05])

Nonetheless, this aesthetic dilemma is the stuff of what we call fiction (which is really metafiction [about exposing the fictional illusion] or fabulation [about violating the reader's expectations]; see Waugh 148): poioumena [stories about storytelling], stream-of-consciousness, free indirect speech, interior/exterior focalization, unreliable narration, etc.

B/t/w, DFW also genuflects in his essay “The Empty Plenum” to David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress, which he describes as “a dramatic rendering of what it would be like to live in the sort of universe described by logical atomism,” viz. Witt’s early philosophy in the Tractatus — and “pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country” (Blake Butler, “DFW Praise Compendium”; see DFW’s “The Empty Plenum: David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress”).

Vide

Coleridge on Peristaltic Thought

In ch. 14 of the Biographia Literaria (1817), Sam Coleridge describes the kind of peristaltic movement that for him describes active “IMAGINATION”:

Most of my readers will have observed a small water-insect on the surface of rivulets, which throws a cinque-spotted shadow fringed with prismatic colours on the sunny bottom of the brook; and will have noticed, how the little animal wins its way up against the stream, by alternate pulses of active and passive motion, now resisting the current, and now yielding to it in order to gather strength and a momentary fulcrum for a further propulsion. This is no unapt emblem of the mind’s self-experience in the act of thinking. There are evidently two powers at work, which relatively to each other are active and passive; and this is not possible without an intermediate faculty, which is at once both active and passive. In philosophical language, we must denominate this intermediate faculty in all its degrees and determinations, the IMAGINATION.

This idea represented Coleridge’s attempt to move beyond conflictual thinking — what his friend John Thelwall called his “theory of Collision of Ideas” — toward something more dialectical — “mutual Propulsions” (Collected Letters 1, 636).

Peristalsis is the sequential rhythmic contraction or undulation of muscles (Gk peri-stelleincontracting around“), especially in the bowel (which we know was a problem for Coleridge due to his intake of constipatory opiates). It is instructive to think how the movement of his bowels might have influenced his thinking (the nexus is there in our idea of digestion as nutritive or cognitive, as psychosomaticists — like Freud and Fliess — and those who suffer food allergies know).

(Re the image of the “cinque-spotted shadow”: Coleridge loves fives, hence his holistic “quinquarticular Dialectic” or “logo-noetic Pentad” — namely prothesis, thesis, antithesis, mesothesis ["the Indifference"] and synthesis, or two polarities and their “co-involution” — exemplified in his “Pentad of Operative Christianity” [Christ the Word, Scripture, Church, Holy Spirit and Preacher] from Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, but also in the Powers of Nature [attraction, repulsion, contraction, dilation and centrality], the Colours [red, yellow, blue, orange/violet, green] and the races. His prime emblem is the “compass of nature.”)

Ephemeroptera (mayfly; from ephemeron, “lasting only a day” + pteron “wing”)

See also chapter 7 of the Biographia, where he uses a similar analogy, that of a kind of reculer pour mieux sauter (lit. withdraw to better leap), to describe how writers can best connect with their readers:

The reader should be carried forward, not merely, or chiefly, by the mechanical impulse of curiosity, or by a restless desire to arrive at the final solution; but by the pleasurable activity of mind, excited by the attractions of the journey itself. Like the motion of a serpent, which the Egyptians made the emblem of intellectual power; or like the path of sound through the air; at every step he pauses, and half recedes, and, from the retrogressive movement, collects the force which again carries him onward.

(MEM echoes this passage from Coleridge at “DRAGONS, DIGESTION, KNOWLEDGE FARMS: Peristalsis” [Faces of Sound 18 Apr. 2009].)

— — —

S[amuel] T[aylor] Coleridge, Biographia Literaria: or, Biographical Sketches of MY LITERARY Life and OPINIONS (New York: Leavitt, Lord and Co., 1834).

For Coleridge’s meta-science, see Trevor Hartley Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Early Nineteenth-Century Science (Cambridge, England: CUP, 1981) [esp. 114-20].

Peak Shift in Art

In How Art Made the World, Nigel Spivey applies the idea of the peak-shift effect to art.

We are cognitively programmed to like the peak shift — exaggeration that essentialises what we perceive — by which the “pleasurable” element of a stimulus is refined to create a “super stimulus.” Jonah Lehrer describes peak shift in Psychology Today:

Whenever [herring gull chicks] see a bird beak, they frantically peck at it, begging for food. . . . But this reflex can be manipulated. Expose the chicks to a fake beak — say, a wooden stick with a red dot that looks like the one on the end of an adult herring gull’s beak — and they peck vigorously at that, too. Should the chicks see a wood stick with three red dots, they peck even faster. Abstracting and exaggerating the salient characteristics of a mother gull’s beak strengthens the response. [slightly ed.]

Similarly, we are drawn to peak shift features in art. As neuroaestheticist V.S. Ramachandran suggests, art doesn’t aim at realistic representation; it employs “deliberate hyperbole, exaggeration, even distortion, in order to create pleasing effects in the brain” (“The Artful Brain” [2003 Reith Lecture 3] 171).

The distortion isn’t random: some forms of distortion have proved more effective in that they appeal to “the figural primitives of our perceptual grammar” and have come to constitute the laws of artistic experience. (It seems to me that Ramachandran draws on the law of prägnanz [G. "pithiness"] from Gestalt Psychology: the idea that we tend to order our experience in a manner that is regular, orderly, symmetric and simple.)

Ramachandran posits ten laws of aesthetic experience — the number of and distinctions between the laws and their domains seem to me ill-defined and fairly arbitrary, but they are useful to understand how we perceive — and create — art (he has in mind visual art and assumes that vision evolved to discover objects and defeat camouflage):

  1. peak shift — exaggeration (hyperbole): play up what is distinctive in the object to draw our eye to “supernormal” features (cf. Analytical Cubism);
  2. isolation — understatement (litotes): limit our attention to the object to a single “modality” (cf. Color Field);
  3. grouping — holism (emergence): appeal to our desire to group the fragments of an object into a whole (on the basis of closure rather than mere proximity, cf. Pointillism);
  4. contrast — juxtaposition of opposites (antithesis): appeal to the wealth of information present in regions of change, i.e., edges (cf. Fauvism);
  5. perceptual problem solving — camouflage (crypsis): complexify the object to delay our reward (cf. Abstract Expressionism);
  6. symmetry — appeal to our preference for symmetry as marking out objects of interest, i.e., predators and prey, and mates (cf. Classicism);
  7. generic viewpoint — represent the object from a generic vantage point, breaking the rule only for effect (cf. trompe-l’œil);
  8. repetition, rhythm and orderliness;
  9. balance;
  10. metaphor — analogy: point up a feature of a source object unexpectedly shared by the target object. (From “The Artful Brain” [short version] 48 [long version: 173], and The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience [with William Hirstein])

(Note that in The Science of Art, Ramachandran stops with eight laws, omitting laws 8 and 9 — which seem to me instances of law 6: symmetry.)

All the laws rely on the axioms that

  1. we see only what we need to (much is redundant in nature);
  2. we can focus on only one thing at a time (attention cannot be divided);
  3. we see step-by-step (we bootstrap); and
  4. we like aha-moments (we seek a reward).

Ramachandran also asks why we bother creating and viewing art. He gives four possible answers, favouring the last:

  1. once aesthetic laws have evolved, they can be artificially stimulated for pleasure (art as artificial sweetener);
  2. artistic activity manifests good hand-eye coordination and thus evolutionary fitness (art as personal ad);
  3. artefacts are status symbols (art as bling); and
  4. art as reality testing (art as simulation).

Noo Politics

Maurizio Lazzarato, “Life and the Living in the Societies of Control,” in Martin Fuglsang and Bent Meier Sorensen, eds., Deleuze and the Social (Edinburgh: EUP, 2006):

In the societies of control, power relations come to be expressed through the action at a distance of one mind [nous Gk mind, thus nöopolitics] on another, through the brain’s power to affect and become affected, which is mediated and enriched by technology. . . . The institutions of the societies of control are thus characterised by the use of technologies acting at a distance, rather than of mechanical technologies (societies of sovereignty) or thermodynamic technologies (disciplinary societies). (186)

Lazzarato takes these three dispositifs (instruments) of power from Michel Foucault (see The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality: With Two Lectures by and an Interview with Michel Foucault [U Chicago P, 1991] 102), viz.

  1. societies of sovereignty (command) that use mechanical technologies, e.g., levers/pulleys, apparatuses, and practise the spectacular manipulation of the body (the body politic, peoples, castes; the fief; summary justice);
  2. societies of discipline (punishment) that use thermodynamic technologies, e.g., electrical motors, appliances, and practise the panoptic molding of life (biopolitics, populations, classes; the factory; apparent acquittal); and
  3. societies of control (governmentality) that use telematic technologies, e.g., interfaces/networks, applications, and practise the virtual modulation of memory (nöopolitics, publics, positions; the corporation; limitless postponement).

The body politic: Leviathan

Biopolitics: Discipline and Punish

Nöopolitics: The Emergence of Noopolitik

Broadly speaking, we have moved from the society of discipline to the society of control, although the dispositifs overlap—and recur atavistically or nostalgically (that is to say, some of us haven’t realised yet or can’t help but re-enact an earlier dispositif). Sovereign society recurs when, say, we reenact rituals of divine command and propitiation like the worship of authority figures (for example, priests and politicians) and their substitutes (for example, fathers, mothers and teachers—or, less anthropomorphically, fate or nature). Disciplinary society is still our habitual frame of reference, which we enact by default: atavistically, in national politics, economic and social policy, etc.; nostalgically, in the welfare state, talk of class, etc.

Nöopolitics—the politics of the embrained, embodied and embedded mind (“mind” for want of a better word)—is the new politics.

(Of course, we’re only talking the supposedly secular, humanist “West” here: old Europe, the British settler colonies, and liberal America and parts of the Americas. There’s no telling what happens to the model when we throw in the so-called new Europe, the “developing world,” and the rest of America and the Americas. Then this new politics becomes by dint of institutional inertia or change no politics.)

N.B. When we’re thinking technologies of domination (regulation) and of the self (i.e., of control, viz, self-regulation — or self-control), the crossover point is the key. See Michel Foucault’s “About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self” (1980):

I think that if one wants to analyze the genealogy of the subject in Western civilization, he has to take into account not only techniques of domination but also techniques of the self. Let’s say: he has to take into account the interaction between those two types of techniques — techniques of domination and techniques of the self. He has to take into account the points where the technologies of domination of individuals over one another have recourse to processes by which the individual acts upon himself. And conversely, he has to take into account the points where the techniques of the self are integrated into structures of coercion and domination. The contact point, where the individuals are driven by others is tied to the way they conduct themselves, is what we can call, I think, government. Governing people, in the broad meaning of the word, governing people is not a way to force people to do what the governor wants; it is always a versatile equilibrium, with complementarity and conflicts between techniques which assure coercion and processes through which the self is constructed or modified by himself. (“About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self,” transcription of two lectures in Dartmouth on 17 and 24 Nov. 1980, ed. Mark Blasius, Political Theory 21.2 [1993]: 203-04 [198-227])

———

See

  • Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” orig. from L’Autre 1 (May 1990), trans. October 59 (Winter 1992): 3-7; and
  • Michael Hardt, “The Withering of Civil Society,” Deleuze & Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture, ed. Eleanor Kaufman and Kevin Jon Heller (1995; U Minnesota P, 1998) 20-39.

Heinrich von Kleist: not the Marquis of the O, but of the Arrow

On the Marionette Theatre” by Heinrich von Kleist [1777-1811] (translated by Idris Parry) [pdf; alternative translation by Thomas G. Neumiller]

["Über das Marionetten Theater," Berliner Abendblätter (12-15 Dec. 1810)]

Michelangelo, The Fall and Expulsion from Garden of Eden (1509-10)

Kleist suggests that the Garden of Eden could have a second gate: when we return to innocence via experience.

“[I]n the organic world, as thought grows dimmer and weaker, grace emerges more brilliantly and decisively. But just as a section drawn through two lines suddenly reappears on the other side after passing through infinity, or as the image in a concave mirror turns up again right in front of us after dwindling into the distance, so grace itself returns when knowledge has as it were gone through an infinity. Grace appears most purely in that human form which either has no consciousness or an infinite consciousness. That is, in the puppet or in the god.”

“Does that mean,” I said in some bewilderment, “that we must eat again of the tree of knowledge in order to return to the state of innocence?”

“Of course,” he said, “but that’s the final chapter in the history of the world.”

William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794)

Interestingly, Philip Pullman made the same connection between Kleist and Blake in his Preface to the Folio Society edition of The Northern Lights (2008):

Where Kleist’s essay differed from [the "sickly nostalgia" of most children's stories] was in its bracing optimism. We can’t go back, he says; as with the original Paradise, an angel with a flaming sword guards the way; if we want to return we have to go all the way around the world, and re-enter Paradise through the back gate, as it were. In other words, since we cannot dwell forever in the paradise of childhood, we have to go forward, through the disappointments and compromises and betrayals of experience, towards the fully conscious kind of grace that we call wisdom. Innocence is not wise, and wisdom cannot be innocent.

But the dialogue can also be read as an ironic play on the dichotomy of classicism and romanticism, one in which a moral problem—the problem of knowledge of good and evil—is recast as an epistemological problem (as it always is by Kantians—and all those ethico-epistemologists who take knowledge as value-laden, from Socrates on). It becomes about what we know/can know and how we come to know it, and the whys and wherefores of both.

Kleist sides with neither classical idealism (Ideas are absolute: Idea-lism) nor romantic imagination (the I is Absolute: I-magination). For him, like Fichte, human beings desire an Absolute without ever being able to identify with It; individual existence hangs on this difference. Thus, consciousness is not grounded in anything outside of itself: we cannot know noumena, or things-in-themselves; the phenomenal world, or the world of things, arises from self-consciousness (I am conscious of myself . . .), the activity of the ego (. . . as an I . . .) and moral awareness (. . . because I am called to limit my freedom out of respect for the freedom of the other). The subject is intersubjective: I know I’m someone because I know I’m not someone else.

We might say: human beings are transcendent beings, not infinitely “transhuman,” i.e., in part divine (beyond-the-world), but finitely transhuman, i.e., always projecting (in-the-world), whether we take them to be always already embedded cognitively and socially, or desiring, or evolving by self-modifying or -versioning [transcendent, "climbing beyond," from L. transcendere, from trans- "across" + scandere "climb"] (. . . hence Duchamps’ stroboscopic self). We are, to misread Heidegger’s ethico-epistemological axiom, “ecstatic beings in the world.

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 (1912)

Thus, consciousness is the golden arrow of desire (or rather, desire [other-direction] precedes repulsion [self-protection]), always directed and dialogic.

———

See the new edition of Kleist: Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist, ed. Peter Wortsman (Archipelago, 2009).

The Smart World of Ogle

Richard Ogle, Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas (Harvard Business School P, 2007)

See Smart World at Amazon.com and Ogle’s blog (with some excerpts).

Creativity is an emergent process in networks, not a property or product of individual actors or their actions.

The mind is embodied (Andy Clark, Francisco Varela et alii): we cannot understand it if we confine it to what happens inside a skull but have to understand it as inextricably woven into the environments in which it exists. In fact, the mind is extended—it stretches out to network with other minds. (Clark calls this “outing the mind” [9].)

We don’t create with our brains (the mind-inside-the-head or MITH model of conscious human agency—what Clark calls “pure thought” [xii]).

We create an environment, i.e., a world of technological artefacts and systems (tools)—or, indeed, “myths, cultural or social practices, scientific paradigms, business models, and . . . art forms” (Ogle 12)—that thinks for us (the embedded intelligence or EI model—what Clark calls “embodied thought” with the “mind as controller” (Clark xii, 7).

“Idea spaces” are the hubs or “hotspots” in the network. These are like the “attractors” of complex systems, for example, websites that all of a sudden attract huge numbers of visitors and links. These hotspots can generate tipping points, like the “bifurcators” of complex systems, where the systems undergo a “phase transition” into a new state (see Bob Leckridge’s blog).

Creative people let the environment or system think for them.

Thus,

[W]e constantly have recourse to a vast array of culturally and socially embodied idea-spaces that populate the extended mind. These spaces . . . are rich with embedded intelligence that we have progressively offloaded into our physical, social, and cultural environment for the sake of simplifying the burden on our minds of rendering the world intelligible. Sometimes the space of ideas thinks for us. We live in a smart world. (Ogle 2, plagiarising, alas, Daniel Dennett’s Kinds of Minds [NY, NY: Basic Books, 1996] 134)

How?

[T]he creative mind shifts culturally or technologically embedded intelligence from one idea-space to another.

(This is essentially Arthur Koestler’s “bisociative act [that] connects previously unconnected matrices of experience” [The Act of Creation (1964; Penguin, 1990) 47], i.e., the recontextualization, usually wilful, playful or mistaken, of an idea, image, etc., but turning the artist or thinker into a catalyst, rather than a genius. Creativity is paratactic, then.)

The creative “revolution” of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) exemplifies this process:

[-] Picasso didn’t make a sudden “leap” on his own,
i.e., it wasn’t genius + inspiration → leap;
[+] “the leap he made over what preceded it is due primarily to the powerful effect of African sculpture,”
i.e., it was genius surrendering to an inspiring world → leap.
[H]e surrendered his genius to a strangely exotic world, that, with the shock of the new, radically reorganized and reshaped his art. Picasso invented neither the nonrepresentational, fractured plains nor the exorcist function that would leave such a searing mark on twentieth-century art. African art possessed its own aesthetic and logic, and this became a space to think with. Almost immediately, its energy, forms, and purposes began to drive his own. Encountering a powerful new idea-space, he entered it fully and let its strange but compelling logic think for him. (9)
Debbie A. Foster visualizes the book in her excellent blog, My Mind on Books:

Creatures of habit(us): bundle theories of the self

All my hopes vanish, when I come to explain the principles, that unite our successive perceptions in our thought or consciousness. I cannot discover any theory, which gives me satisfaction on this head. —David Who-me, A Treatise on Who-man Nature

Allan Ramsay, “the Younger.” Detail. [David Hume.] 1754. [Herr Hume has something less than satisfying on his head: "a scholar's cap of rich but well-worn crimson velvet," according to Mossner's Life of David Hume (1954; OUP, 2001) 280.]

According to David Hume, we tend to think that we are the selfsame person we were five years ago, however our features might have changed. But he denies that there is a distinction between our features and the mysterious self that supposedly bears them: when we—aside from the metaphysicians among us—introspect, we must conclude that we are bundles of perceptions: “a bundle or collection of different perceptions which succeed one another with an inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement” (“Of Personal Identity,” A Treatise of Human Nature [1739-40; Courier Dover, 2003] 180 [1.4.6]).

Hume on the Self as Bundle

If each if us is a bundle of perceptions that do not belong to anything—a commonwealth, or a cosmos, no less—then the question of personal identity becomes a matter of characterizing the loose cohesion of our personal experience in terms of the relations of causation, contiguity, and resemblances, i.e. the connexions of various ilks, that hold among the perceptions.

Most often we assume that experience tells us something about the world and is organized in orderly ways because we tend to generalize on the basis of past experience (“habit”) or tradition (“custom”). (Most famous is Hume’s critique of our traditional understanding of causality in his Enquiry ["Of the Idea of Necessary Connexion," An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Stephen Buckle (1748; Cambridge UP, 2007) 69 (orig. 75-76)]). We are creatures of habit.

francis-bacon-selfportrait

Francis Bacon. Self-Portrait (1973).

“For me, realism is an attempt to capture the appearance with the cluster of sensations that the appearance [here his self] arouses in me” (letter to Michel Leiris, 20 Nov. 1981).

For more on Bacon, see “Bacon’s Skin.”

For the good Bishop Paley, even moral action is interpretable likewise: it is merely habitual, making us bundles of habits:

There are habits, not only of drinking, swearing, and lying, . . . but of every modification of action, speech, and thought: Man is a bundle of habits. . . . [I]n a word, there is not a quality or function either of body or mind, which does not feel the influence of this great law of animated nature. (William Paley, “Virtue,” The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, ed. John Frost [1785; B. B. Mussey, 1852] 47-48 [1.7])

We are creatures of habitus.

For (the better) Emerson—reading nature in a seemingly less anthropomorphic way—our selves are “intertwined with the whole chain of organic and inorganic being,” making us bundles of relations of a different ilk than those that Hume suggests might hold “us” together:

[O]ut of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of Man. Man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world [and] he cannot live without a world. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “History,” Essays & Lectures, ed. Joel Porte [1836; Library of America, 1983] 254)

We inhabit creation.

Or, conversely, I might say, it inhabits us, for better or for worse (pace Novalis):

“Whose heart does not leap with joy,” cried the youth with glittering eye, “when the innermost life of nature invades him in all its fullness! When the overpowering emotion for which language has no other name than love expands within him like an ever-dissolving vapour and, trembling with sweet fear, he sinks into the dar alluring heart of nature, consumes his poor personality in the crashing waves of lust, and nothing remains but a focus of infinite procreative force, a yawning vortex in an immense ocean?” (Novalis, The Novices of Sais, trans. Ralph Manheim, illus. Paul Klee [Archipelago Books, 2005] 103)

Whose doesn’t? The heart of those for whom nature is an invader that nests tombs in their breast and dusts their pillow with ash. It leaps—with sorrow—as if into an abyss.