File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2003/bhaskar.0307, message 11


Date: Sat, 5 Jul 2003 20:49:15 +0100
Subject: BHA: [fyi] Interview with Manuel De Landa - part 3


III. "I think Marxism is Deleuze and Guattari's little Oedipus, the small piece
of territory they must keep to come back to at night after a wild day of
deterritorializing." (Manuel De Landa, CTHEORY Interview)

CTHEORY (Selinger): My question here concerns your sense of the value of
phenomenological analysis. Deleuze was a staunch critic of phenomenology. He
saw it as a subjective style of philosophy that reduced the plane of immanence
to that which appears for consciousness. However, I recently found a reference
that struck me as interesting in light of your work. In order to explain to
those who are not familiar with self-organizing processes how essences are
created, you point to how it is not possible to explain the coming into being
of the spherical form of a soap bubble with appealing to
"endogenously-generated stable states." In other words, without appealing to
the science of self-organization, it is impossible to explain how the essence
of "soap-bubbleness" is not constituted by way of an ideal geometric form
imposing itself upon an inert collection of molecules from the outside (i.e.
hylomorphic schema). Let me use this example to initiate a dialogue with
phenomenology. In Maurice Merleau-Ponty's early work, The Structure of
Behavior, he tries to explain how an organism's preferred mode of behavior is
constituted, such that what is experienced as "the simplest" and "most natural"
is that mode of behavior that gives the organism a feeling of balance and
facility. Merleau-Ponty writes:

Is the orientation toward these preferred modes of behavior comparable to the
formation of a spherical soap bubble? In the latter case, the external forces
exerted on the surface of the soap bubble tend to compress it into a point; the
pressure of the enclosed air on the other hand demands as large a volume as
possible. The spherical solution which is realized represents the only possible
solution to this problem of minimum and maximum. Can it be said in the same way
that the preferred modes of behavior of an organism are those which, in the de
facto conditions in which it finds itself, objectively offer the greatest
simplicity and the greatest unity?  In his article, "The Current Relevance of
Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Embodiment," Hubert Dreyfus claims that
Merleau-Ponty responds to this latter query in the affirmative:

The bubble starts as a deformed film. The bits of soap just respond to the
local forces according to laws which happen to work so as to dispose the entire
system to end up as a sphere, but the spherical result does not play any causal
role in producing the bubble. The same holds for the final gestalt of body and
racket in my example. Indeed, I cannot represent how I should turn my racket
since I do not know what I do when I return the ball. I may once have been told
to hold my racket perpendicular to the court, and I may have succeeded in doing
so, but now experience has sculpted my swing to the situation in a far more
subtle and appropriate way than I could have achieved as a beginner following
this rule.  What do you think of the phenomenological appeal to the
self-organized process of a soap-bubble in order to explain the relation
between perception and skill acquisition? Do you think that this example
suggests there may be a richer relationship between phenomenology and
Deleuzeian ontology?

De Landa: There have been many people who have tried to come up with some kind
of "soap bubble" explanation for aspects of human behavior: the bubble
minimizes surface tension, so we "minimize effort" or something like that. This
is fine with me as long as it is clear this is just a hypothesis that needs
testing. But to assume that there is some "law" that everything in the world
must be governed by a "least principle" is wrong. (It assumes the only virtual
multiplicities are those characterized by a single steady-state singularity).
It very well may be that aspects of the stability of perceptual fields do in
fact depend on least principles (or steady-state stability: the famous Necker
Cube or the duck-rabbit illusion of Wittgenstein surely indicate our vision can
jump from one to another stable state). But now, is there a way of discovering
these stable states from within (phenomenologically)? Or do we have to use
psychophysics and other disciplines (neural networks, for example, which do use
steady states) in order to approach the question? And, at any rate, why only
steady states, why not periodic or other singularities? And why a unique one
(as in the soap bubble) as opposed to a multiplicity with broken-symmetry
levels (to account for the fact that our experience changes if we ingest
alcohol, or psychedelics)?

CTHEORY (Ihde): I agree. I have long been critical of Merleau-Ponty's
interpretation of Necker Cubes vis-a-vis my notion of multistability. Like a
number of psychologists, Merleau-Ponty mistakenly thinks that the reversibility
of the cube is what is unique about the cube. In my version of phenomenology,
the structures of perception are best discovered through variational method;
this allows one to investigate the whole range of possibilities from those of
ordinary sediments to the most extreme horizontal possibilities.

CTHEORY (Jensen): A different but related question arises from the fact that
even though you take your analysis to be realist, this does not delimit the
interpretive flexibility of readers -- that is, their abilities to take your
accounts as supporting their specific projects regardless of whether you would
approve of that use or not. For instance, in a recent talk at Duke, Zizek
invoked your understanding of Deleuze as the only correct one. Nevertheless, my
feeling is that his psychoanalytically informed way of evaluating the
correctness and plausibility of Deleuzian interpretations, including yours, is
something you would vehemently oppose. As you espouse the idea of a "correct
understanding," how do you think about and/or handle readers who misunderstand
or otherwise misuse your work?

De Landa: Well, it would all have to be handled case by case. As long as Freud
can be taken to have given us a process of individuation (via the Oedipal
drama) his ideas fit the ontology I propose. A philosopher can only specify
that a historical individuation process must be given but not what exactly
those processes are (which is a question for the specialists). The part of
Freud where he gives an account of personal individuation may be right or wrong
in reality, but it is compatible with my ontology. The part where he attempts
to define society as a kind of projection from these mental structures violates
the ontology: institutional organizations and norms are individuated following
another real historical process and are not just mental projections. So that
part has to be rejected. A similar treatment would have to be given for each
concrete individual entity. Now, to the extent that many proposed processes are
compatible with the basic ontology (while they may be incompatible with one
another) there can be many interpretations of it. Yet this does not mean any
reading will be compatible: I still wonder how a phenomenologist would find my
ideas compatible or even useful.

CTHEORY (Protevi): Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy accepts Deleuze's
use of axiomatics to analyze major or Royal science. Yet you are critical of
Deleuze and Guattari's use of axiomatics as a way to conceptualize capitalism
(e.g., ATY 331n7), which you see as an example of a top-down positing of a
whole. I certainly would agree with you that far too much Marxist work has been
simplistic, historical determinist, reductive, totalizing, functionalist,
top-down, etc., but I wonder if you aren't being too harsh with Deleuze and
Guattari's attempts to define a theory of capitalism that avoids each of these
dangers? They certainly adopt a notion of "machinic surplus value," moving
beyond a simple labor theory of value (machines as "congealed muscular energy,"
as you put it at ATY 79). Don't they also consistently deny any historical
determinism of stages of development by emphasizing the contingency of
capitalist formations, as well as conduct a sustained polemic against reductive
base-superstructure models of society? Don't their constant reminders that the
line of flight is primary prevent any totalizing accounts? Isn't their use of
axiomatics an attempt to see capitalism as an adaptive meshwork of economic,
state and quasi-state (IMF, WTO, etc.) institutions, rather than as a
homeostatic organismic whole, as in crude functionalist accounts? In other
words, haven't they, at least in principle, given us the outlines of a
bottom-up account of a complex, open-ended, adaptive world capitalist system?

De Landa: I agree that if I had to choose among all the Marxist accounts of
economic history I would probably pick theirs. It does have all the advantages
you mention. Yet, I believe they would have benefited greatly from a better
reading of Braudel. They seemed to have read only volume one of his history of
capitalism and not the other two volumes, which are really the most radical
part. This is clear when in A Thousand Plateus in one page thet quote Braudel's
stress on the role of cities and yet in the very next page Deleuze and Guattari
go on to define capitalism as a "market economy", an idea which Braudel attacks
as historically false. So I wonder what would have happened to their theory had
they understood the last point: that there is no such thing as "the market" in
general and no such thing as a "logic of exchange" in general (doesn't the idea
of an capitalist axiomatic depend on the idea of a logic of exchange?). Once we
separate oligopolies from the market (they are strategic not primarily
exchangist entities) and identify capitalism with oligopolies (as Braudel does)
we can still use some of Deleuze and Guattari's ideas since markets have always
caused "lines of flight" to pass among societies, particularly closed societies
(it's in the marketplace that we meet outsiders; that foreign objects and ideas
enter a city; that heterogeneity is injected etc).

CTHEORY (Protevi): Yes, you're completely right that Deleuze and Guattari
overlook Braudel's distinction between market and anti-market and use an
abstract sense of capitalism as a "market economy" whereby "market" means "any
exchange system whatsoever, whether it is composed of atomic producers and
consumers who must act as price-takers (the Braudelian sense of 'local market')
or whether it is composed of producers and consumers with varying degrees of
power to be price-setters (the Braudelian sense of 'anti-markets')." Even
though it's sometimes hard to make that distinction clearly all the time (for
instance, when you say in your answer "it's in the marketplace that we meet
outsiders; that foreign objects and ideas enter a city" I think Braudel would
attribute this to long-distance trade dominated by anti-market corporations,
even if it occurs in the same physical location as local market exchanges), I
agree we should by all means incorporate that distinction into our analysis of
the economies (note the plural) operating today worldwide. Here the neo-Marxist
notions of formal and real subsumption (roughly speaking, the relations between
capitalist and non-capitalist economies, and the tendency of the former to
replace the latter) would have to be brought to bear, notions that Hardt and
Negri use often in Empire. (Just to be clear before I continue: I completely
agree with you in everything you say about Marx himself in the 19th century
being wed to equilibrium analyses, about the complete bankruptcy of top-down
and centralized social and economic planning, about the necessity of using
non-linear analyses of economic processes that show the inadequacy of
equilibrium and optimizing models, and so forth.)

Here is my question to you: I wonder if Deleuze and Guattari ignore the
Braudelian distinction because, like Marx, they locate the important element to
be examined in capitalism to be production rather than exchange? Recapitulating
what they say in both Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, what they call in
What is Philosophy? "Marx's concept of capitalism" (97) is the conjunction of
the deterritorialized flows of labor and capital, and these meet in production,
not in exchange.

De Landa: Well, no, not really. I agree that the dichotomy "market/antimarket"
does give that impression, hence I probably won't use it again. But the same
distinction applies to production: it's the difference between economies of
scale and economies of agglomeration. That is, between oligopolies using
managed prices, routinized labor, hierarchical structure, vertical integration
etc. and networks of small producers using market prices, skilled labor,
decentralized structure and functional complementarities. You must remember the
study that compares Silicon Valley and Route 128 as production systems
(mentioned in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History) or what I have written
about Emilia-Romagna. Braudel (and Jane Jacobs following in his steps) places a
great emphasis on this distinction (though he does not use the terms) and views
it as applying across history for at least a millennium (hence economies of
agglomeration would not be a late stage of capitalism as some Marxists have
tried to argue using the term "flexible specialization" or the ridiculous one
of "post-Fordism") but an alternative to economies of scale (also much older
than the Industrial Revolution) which has been there for a while.

CTHEORY (Protevi): What about the emphasis on production as the key ontological
concept in Anti-Oedipus (the whole world, nature and humans together, is
composed of interlocking series of connected machines that produce materials
that are fed into other machines)?

De Landa: This is correct. I myself add to this when I attack the Humean notion
of causality (as perceived constant conjunction) and define it as a real
connection in which one event produces another event. And more generally, when
I stress that to get rid of essences one must always give the intensive process
of production that yields any individual entity (atoms, organisms or
commodities). Intensive thinking in general is about production.

CTHEORY (Protevi): From this productivist perspective (which I think is
amenable to a nonlinear dynamics analysis of the material and energy flows that
keep the open production systems far-from-equilibrium), the key issue is the
productive conjunction of capital and labor (here machinic surplus value
vitiates a pure labor theory of value), whether or not the products of that
labor flow into markets or anti-markets. And the key to coercing labor into
exploitative production processes is to threaten the production of labor power
with interruption of the flows that sustain it.

De Landa: Well, but the same point applies here: the conjunction of capital and
labor can take place in different forms (scale, agglomeration) and it is clear
that only the economic power of the former allows the kind of threat of
withdrawal you are talking about: only if a firm is very capital intensive
(large machines, large start-up costs functioning as barriers to entry) and if
the process is based on routinization (the less skills a worker brings the less
bargaining power he/she will have when it comes to set wages) can this form of
coercion work. I am not saying that power relations are absent from networks of
small producers but there the ability of workers to bargain for a fair wage
(particularly if unions exist) is much greater and the permeability of the
division between classes is greater too (if a typical firm has less than 100
employees and it is not capital intensive, it's much easier for a motivated,
creative worker to start his/her own business). The point is that all of this
is obscured (if not made invisible) by the blanket concept of "capitalism."

As to theories of value: we need to go beyond the very notion of surplus value.
(It's not enough to simply add the "machinic" type to escape the labor theory).
Why just adding machines to "abstract labor" (read, routinized labor)? Why not
also fossil fuels, starting with coal? And what of knowledge, skills and
organizational procedures? And then, the main defect of labor theory here is to
include supply factors and not demand factors, but the latter also matter, and
so marginalist approaches to this side of the equation must be added. (Over the
objections of Marxists who would rather die than include bourgeois marginalism
in a theory of value).

CTHEORY (Protevi): Okay, but even if the shift from an exchangist to a
productivist perspective doesn't work for you, does it at least seem to you a
fruitful way of explaining Deleuze and Guattari's tenacious loyalty to (some
suitably modified) form of Marxist analysis, as well as their insistence on a
systematicity to capitalist production? Or do we have to change so much in Marx
to reach what Deleuze and Guattari say in analyzing things that their
insistence on calling what they do a form of Marxism simply the result of their
social position in the "gauchiste" (non-Communist) left of France in their
lifetimes? In other words, their Marxism is a way of thumbing their noses both
at neo-liberals and at party loyalists?

De Landa: Well, frankly, I think Marxism is Deleuze and Guattari's little
Oedipus, the small piece of territory they must keep to come back at night
after a wild day of deterritorializing. Who could blame them for needing a
resting place, a familiar place with all the reassurances of the Marxist
tradition (and its powerful iconography of martyrs and revolutionaries)? The
question is whether we need that same resting place (clearly we need one, but
should it be the same? Shouldn't each of us have a different one so that
collectively we can eliminate them?).

I believe that the main task for today's left is to create a new political
economy (the resources are all there: Max Weber, T.B. Veblen and the old
institutionalists, John Kenneth Galbraith, Fernand Braudel, some of the new
institutionalists, like Douglass North; redefinitions of the market, like those
of Herbert Simon etc) based as you acknowledged before, on a non-equilibrium
view of the matter? But how can we do this if we continue to believe that
Marxists got it right, that it is just a matter of tinkering with the basic
ideas? At any rate, concepts like "mode of production" do not fit a flat
ontology of individuals as far as I can tell. But then, this is the part of my
reconstruction of Deleuze that I am the least sure he would accept: in
Difference and Repetition he cheerfully talks about the "virtual multiplicity
of society" (using Marx as his example, of course) a term I would never use
(since my ontology explicitly rejects totalities like "society as a whole").

CTHEORY (Mallavarapu): In your new book Intensive Science and Virtual
Philosophy, you point out Deleuze's relevance not just to continental
philosophy but to analytical philosophy as well. There have been significant
differences between continental and analytical approaches to fundamental
epistemological questions. This has formed the background to the so-called
"Science Wars" debates between the realists and social constructivists. Does
the Deleuzian concept of materiality offer a way out of the Science War
debates?

De Landa: Absolutely. You have to remember that constructivists have more in
common with scientists (who are positivists, not realists) than with realists.
Larry Laudan has explored the ways in which relativism (of any type) overlaps
with positivism. Both make heavy use of conventions; both ignore mathematics
and focus on language etc. Deleuze offers an alternative to both of them, and
in my view, allows us to rescue the objectivity of science without accepting
the myth of its achievements. (For example, we can accept that classical
physics did get it right, within a limited sphere of reality, but not that it
discovered the eternal laws of the universe).

CTHEORY (Jensen): Finally, a question about your way of reading Deleuze about
which it could be argued, rightly, I think, that it is highly selective.
Deleuze, of course, wrote at great length about Kafka, Proust, and numerous
other writers. He also wrote two books on cinema. And he has been received with
considerably more interest in American literature departments than in their
philosophical counterparts. But to you Deleuze's discussions of
self-organization, the differential calculus, morphogenesis, and other
scientific concepts and ideas have been much more consequential than his
invocation of artistic ones. Can you elaborate on your way of reading Deleuze
and its almost unilateral stress on aspects of his works relating to the
natural sciences rather than the arts? How do you think these aspects hang
together? And, finally, could it not be argued that your systematic selectivity
is imposing on the Deleuzian corpus an interpretation, which not only could but
effectively would have been quite different if other aspects of his work had
been emphasized at the expense of those of your preference?

De Landa: I agree that my reading of Deleuze is highly selective. The idea was:
once we know how his world works (a virtual space becoming actual via intensive
processes) aren't we in a much better position to understand the other parts?
For example, in the theory of memory he takes from Bergson, one does not
retrieve a memory trace from the brain, one literally jumps to another space
(the virtual with its own always-past temporality). Now, without a realist
ontology this would be a useless theory (if there is no virtual space where do
we jump to?). But isn't it the same with his other uses of Bergson (e.g. in the
Cinema books)? Or take for example his affirmation that all great art involves
a becoming-animal of one sort or another. What would this mean if we cannot say
what in reality these becomings are? (They are transformations not of
organisms, like werewolves, but of the virtual multiplicities underlying the
organisms). Or take the line of flight (also called the quasi-causal operator):
this is the entity that builds the plane of consistency out of multiplicities.
But without this definition (and the rest of the ontology) could we understand
what it means to follow a line of flight in painting or music?




--------------------

Participants

Don Ihde is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University and
author of thirteen books, most of which address issues in the philosophies of
science and technology.

Casper Bruun Jensen is a doctoral candidate in Information and Media Studies at
the University of Aarhus, Denmark. His research concerns the controversies
surrounding the development and implementation of the electronic patient record
in Denmark with an STS- perspective.

Jari Friis Jorgensen received his MA from the Institute of Information and
Media Studies, at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. His thesis is titled:
"Cyberculture, Science and AIBO -- a Non-modern View on Collectives, Artificial
Life and Playful Quasi-objects."

Srikanth Mallavarapu is a doctoral candidate working on STS and postcolonial
theory in the English Department at Stony Brook University.

Eduardo Mendieta is an Associate Professor at Stony Brook University. His
latest book is The Adventures of Transcendental Philosophy: Karl Otto Apel's
Semiotic and Discourse Ethics.

John Mix, a consultant to non-profit organizations in Manhattan, is an
independent researcher with interests in technoscience, particularly
aquaculture.

John Protevi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of French Studies at
Louisiana State University. His latest book, co-authored with Mark Bonta, is
Deleuze and Geophilosophy: A Guide and Glossary.

Evan Selinger is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rochester Institute of
Technology. His latest book, co-edited with Don Ihde, is Chasing Technoscience:
Matrix for Materiality.




--------------------

Bibliography

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Chicago, 1982).

Braudel, Fernand. The Perspective of the World: Civilization and Capitalism
15th-18th Century, trans. Sian Reynolds (University of California Press,
1992).

Braudel, Fernand. A History of Civilizations, (New York: Penguin, 1995).

De Landa, Manuel. War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (New York: Zone Books,
1991).

De Landa, Manuel. A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History (New York: Zone Books,
1997).

De Landa, Manuel. Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (New York:
Continuum, 2002).

De Landa, Manuel. "Markets, Anti-Markets, and Network Economics."
http://www.telefonica.es/fat/edelanda.html#delandapaper

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema I: The Movement Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and
Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).

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(New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).

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Ihde, Don. Technology and the Lifeworld. (Bloomington: Indiana University
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Ihde, Don. Instrumental Realism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).

Ihde, Don. Expanding Hermeneutics: Visualism in Science (Evanston: Northwestern
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Ihde, Don. Bodies in Technology (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
2002).

Ihde, Don and Selinger, Evan. Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality.
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003).

Latour, Bruno. Science in Action. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987).

Latour, Bruno. The Pasteurization of France (Cambridge: Harvard University
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Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge:
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Latour, Bruno. Pandora's Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999).

Latour, Bruno. War of the Worlds: What About Peace? (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 2002).

Latour, Bruno and Weibel, Peter. Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science,
Religion, and Art (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2002)

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith.
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962).

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Structure of Behavior, trans. A.L. Fisher (Boston:
Beacon University Press, 1967).

Pickering, Andrew. The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1995).

Pickering, Andrew. "In the Thick of Things." Keynote address, conference on
"Taking Nature Seriously: Citizens, Science, and Environment," University of
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Protevi, John. Political Physics (New York: Athlone Press, 2001).

Wolfram, Stephen. A New Kind of Science (Champaign: Wolfram Media Inc., 2002).


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