TIM MURRAY: I'm Tim Murray director of the Society for the Humanities. And I'd like to welcome you to the opening session of a public workshop on critical mobilities, thought, culture, and performance, which has been organized by the Fellows of the Society for the Humanities as the culmination of their yearlong research seminar on the common research theme networks mobilities.
I'm sure that you can all share my appreciation for the generosity of this year's Society Fellows who come to us from across the UK, the United States, Canada, and Taiwan, and openning to the public their concluding discussion of their research. This is something that they started doing last spring, and I thought it worked very well.
They've chosen to summarize their findings by focusing tomorrow on three broad areas of interdisciplinary research common to their projects, performance, race empire, and representation, in addition to this afternoon's plenary lecture by the society's senior invited fellow Professor Brian Massumi. And this will be followed by a public reception in A.D. White House up on the hill. Susan's very happy about that.
The workshop will take place throughout the day tomorrow at the A.D. White House convening at 9:30 with a roundtable discussion on the topics throughout the day. And it will also feature lectures by two distinguished guests at 11:00 o'clock tomorrow morning, Mark Franko, professor of dance at UC Santa Cruz, will lecture on the dancing gaze across culture, Kazuo Ono's Admiring la Argentina.
And at 5:00 PM, Simon Biggs, who comes to us from Edinburgh College of Art, will discuss authorship, agency, and networked environments. And all the activities tomorrow will take place in the A.D. White House.
I'm now pleased to introduce you to Professor Brian Massumi-- I keep calling you professor, which sounds good-- who has spent the semester in dialogue with the Society of our Fellows as our senior invited scholar. Brian comes to us as professor of communication at the University of Montreal, where he moved after teaching positions in English at SUNY Albany, the Graduate School of Architecture planning and preservation at Columbia, and at the outset McGill University, where he moved between comparative literature and communications.
And after listing this diverse list of teaching positions, I guess I should add that Brian took his PhD at Yale University in French. I'm personally pleased to welcome a figure whose seminal work has been so central to my fields of compared continental philosophy, visual studies, performance, and in media art. Almost as long as I've been toiling away, Brian Massumi has has been in the wings facilitating my work and challenging my thoughts.
I remember well in the early '80s when my mentor Jean-Francois Lyotard was praising the prowess of a young Australian hipster-- I think he might have even referred to him as that-- who worked alongside Jeff Bennington to translate Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition. And while it took another decade or so for us to run into one another, I was immediately struck by the welcoming philosophical twinkle in Brian's eye. And its the particular intangible verve of movement, of affect, and sensation that grabs the readers of Brian's texts as they follow the intricate weave of surprising arguments that range from schizophrenia and capital, virtuality, architecture, the extra limbs even of [INAUDIBLE], but not the extra ear, I don't think, or the bleed where body meets image.
Most of all, it's the infectiously quick duration of Brian's productivity and the continuous variation of his critical thought. Indeed, duration and its thinking lie at the bedrock of Brian's recent thought about transitional spaces and movements that cannot be separated from their duration due to a transitional excess of movement. I'm citing his well-received book Parables for the Virtual, Movement, Affect, Sensation, where he situates hyperspace in terms of the relation of the dimensions of space to that of time.
It seems that Brian is always thinking both in time and out of space, at least space as we might traditionally know it. And one reason, I might add, is his ongoing work with the choreographer and now Cornell AD White Professor-at-Large William Forsythe, and the architect Greg Lind, whose play on movements have helped to redefine a relation to otherwise static artifacts, aesthetic ideals, and cultural perceptions. Thus, we have the framework of Brian Massumi's his book in progress. I think it's still called Perception Attack. Is it?
BRIAN MASSUMI: One of them.
TIM MURRAY: One of them. One of them. A philosophy of experience for times of war-- actually, Brian has, I think, three books in process going on right now.
BRIAN MASSUMI: Yeah.
TIM MURRAY: At least. Yeah. Infinite. His deeply influential reading of Deleuze and Guattari's A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari and his first monograph, co-authored with Kenneth Dean, First and Last Emperors, The Absolute State in the Body of the Despot-- between the lines of these influential monographs slide the figures of Brian Massumi's his many edited collections, which include the Matrixial Border Space, Essays by Bracha Ettinger; A Shock to Thought, Expressions After Deleuze and Guattari; The Politics of Everyday Fear, and the exhibition catalog, Bracha Lichtenberg [STAMMERS] Ettinger-- I need water-- the Eurydice series, as well as innumerable articles and catalog essays.
Somehow, during this rather short duration of productivity, Brian also managed to present us with the daring and lyrical translations of some of the most demanding works of postwar French philosophy and theory-- Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition, Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus-- I'm sure all of us would love to translate that book-- as well as their Nomadology, The War Machine; Jacques Attali's Noise, The Political Economy of Music; and Shoshanna Felman's Writing and Madness.
If I were to guess what Brian Massumi is up to these days, I know that he has these various piles of monographs sitting on his desk up in the AD White House. He is involved in, as I can figure out, about three different interstitial research groups across Canada-- one on new grounds of apparition, formal and symbolic exploration of immersive telepresence with the artist Luke Goshen; another strategic research grant with Erin Manning in moving color; a SSHRC individual research grant, the occurent arts, an ethico-aesthetic paradigm. And I believe there's also an Australian Research Council grant, a discovery project on dynamic medium.
This is an amazing, productive, and very, very exciting collaboration that Brian engages in, not only with our Fellows but with colleagues across the globe. And we're deeply thankful for him for joining us this semester and this afternoon. Brian Massumi.
BRIAN MASSUMI: Thank you.
Thank you very much for that extremely kind introduction. And it's really, really great to have the opportunity to kick off the final-- I guess, the final major event of the year at the Society of Fellows, the Critical Mobilities workshop. But I wanted to thank Tim for the opportunity to be here. It's been a very productive time with a great group of fellow Fellows. And I also just wanted to thank the staff of the Society for the Humanities, who are sometimes so efficient that they, as happened today, give me something before I know I need it and have asked for it.
So what I'm going to talk about today is-- like I said, it's going back to a lot of the ideas that I've been laboring over if not belaboring for a while, because they always have had to do with movement. And as soon as we start talking about movement, there's a whole chain of other concepts that come into play. And in the way they interplay, there is often some surprising effects.
You can't really talk about movement without taking a position. You can't talk about position without talking about relation. Then the relation between position and movement comes up. And it sort of cascades.
It's a problematic that I've worked on before, often starting from the work of Bergson. This time I wanted to sort of go back, sort of start over, but going from the work of William James and maybe generating a set of questions a bit differently, working between an essay that was among his earliest-- became the chapter on the perception of space and the principles of psychology-- and some essays that are among his very latest from the Essays in Radical Empiricism.
And I guess it-- all of what I do-- and it's really just going to be setting things in place. It's not really going to be generating where I'm moving in this chunk. But it sort of comes under the sign of a quote from Deleuze where he says in one of the recordings of his courses, "The problem is to put thought into motion and movement into thought."
So I want to regenerate sort of a knot of problems, trying not just step on too many toes. Actually, I think I went out of my way to step on toes. But I want to do it carefully. So I'm going to read, and then we can talk after.
Position on the fly-- position, William James boldly asserts, can never be a sensation. Imagine the feeling of a single spot all by itself with nothing around. "Where would the whereness or the thereness of it be?" he asks. Nowhere. And nowhere is not a position.
All by itself with nothing around, the position would collapse into itself, where, were it possessed of a philosophical disposition, it would undoubtedly meet Xena's arrow as it disappears into the abyss of the infinitely indivisible interval between one point of its trajectory through space and the next. Positions, fortunately for archery and other things, are by nature gregarious.
"Only when a second point is felt to arise," James writes, "can the first acquire a determination." The determinations that the point requires are relative to that other point. It is in relation to the second that the first point is now placed-- up, down, right, or left of it. Position always comes between. Quote, "It has nothing intrinsic about it. It can only obtain between a spot and another spot, or a spot in a line or a figure. Because it is felt between," he says, "a feeling of place cannot possibly have an imminent element"-- sorry-- "cannot possibly form an imminent element in any single isolated sensation," end quote.
Not only can there be no feeling of position in and of itself, more radically, place as such cannot be in an internal factor in the arising of any feeling that can be singled out or in any way isolated from others of what other species-- place cannot be a constitutive factor in the arising of individuality. The issue of position cannot be addressed without first re-situating the question within the larger problem of what constitutes individuation.
This is a process question. It is a question of arising. Despite the metaphysical air about it, it is a challengingly pragmatic question. What makes a feeling so? What makes it so that it takes place?
You could call this a question of composition. If you let the etymological sense of the word sound, asking, what makes it so that in taking place, positions necessarily arise with each other? That position is relational is a fairly obvious fact that is lost on few. What is much less often taken into account is the implication James is drawing from this-- that this fact that there is nothing intrinsic about position must be factored into our understanding of what it is that makes an experience determinant and any and all of experiences individual varieties.
Whatever the imminent elements in the making determinant of any single experience might be, position is not one of them. Paradoxically, what James is saying amounts to asserting that the relational "nothing intrinsic about position" is a constituent factor in the arising of determinedly individual experience. There is a constitutive vagueness or indeterminacy of place which is a positive factor in individuation. Put that in the cultural theory bow and let fly.
Slippery relation-- "Nothing intrinsic about position," James continues, "leaves us with," quote, "the susceptibility or potentiality of being distinctly localized when other conditions become fulfilled." These other conditions would be what compose the relations that bring positions reciprocally into place as part of the arising of determinant experience. Two candidates immediately suggest themselves, and both have their problems.
The first candidate is comparison. To start from comparison, however, assumes an already constituted individual subject by whose agency the comparison would be made. That individual would already stand as the outcome of a multitude of sensations previously determined in such a way as to enter into its constitution. This is putting the determinant horse before the cart of individuation.
It begs the question by making the accomplished outcome of one of the varieties of individualized experience an internal factor in the composition of its own constituent elements. For the act of comparison will take its own place as one of the experiences composing the individuality of its agent. This circularity might work after a fashion, once enough experience has already accumulated to make an individual that can be an effective agent of comparison. But one is not born that way.
The drawback of going this route is that it abandons the newborn in the very nowhere whereness and thereness to pose the problem with no apparent means of catapulting itself into place to begin with. Whatever it to begin with was there was what enabled the accumulation of determinate experience requisite for a competent act of comparison on the part of an individual agent to arise in the first place. This pre-individual compositional principle would remain ever after the primitive generic element imminent to the arising of all later experience. It would remain an internal constitutional factor in each and every subsequent experience, including that of comparison.
So a lot of the vocabulary coming in now, you might recognize as coming from Gilbert Simondon, who tried to revive in the 1960s the philosophy of individuation. And he developed this idea of the pre-individual as a field from which individuality arises. But he insisted that whatever is in that field does not in any way resemble what arises from it, and that you can't think backwards from the existence that is determined to understand its process of generation. So he sort of threw down a challenge to concepts of generativity.
The constituent vagueness or indeterminacy James referred to is a perpetual in the first place of locatable experience. If we wish to call an individual agent of acts-like comparison a subject, the problem of what the conditions for the experience of position are must be addressed at a pretty subjective level. The repetition of the word arising is not fortuitous. The question of position, and with it of place and space itself, becomes all a question of emergence.
James's question about the potentiality for being distinctly localized is intimately bound up with the question of emergent experience in its broadest scope. His questions about the conditions for the experience is an angle of attack on the broader problem of emergence as a process of-- or the process of individuation. This is a pointedly anti-Kantian attack, admitting neither a founding subject nor an a priori spatial schema.
The second candidate for what conditions the emergence of position is movement. Mov-- [CLEARS THROAT] Sorry. Movement, like comparison, is something that is capable of holding two or more points in itself. This makes it a promising candidate for the compositional principle of relation that we need in order to account for the essential element of betweenness that makes for the nothing intrinsic of positions.
Movement is this promising starting point as comparison. In effect, it would be hard to imagine an account of the relational nature of place without bringing both into account. But they suffer from the same premature horse syndrome. When we say that movement is between two points, it is hard not to think in terms of prepositioned points.
Movement is what starts at one point and extends to another where it ends. This extensive definition of movement gets us begging the question again. We have again assumed what we set out to explain.
Movement makes a complementary companion to comparison, taking a seat next to it in the cart, because it begs physically where comparison begs mentally. The difference is easily summed up. Movement's premature horse gets tired. Comparison's doesn't.
Due to this complementarity, avoiding the vicious circling will likely involve grappling with how the mental and physical pulls themselves relate. Given the broader question, their interrelating will have to be approached at an emergent level. Whatever movement is start to occur at that level will have to be pre-extensive by the same token by which the comparison would be pre-individual. That is to say unmediated by the agential act of a subject.
The movement, in a word, would have to be as intense as its complement of comparison is immediate. Intensive movement and immediate comparison would be two sides of the coin of localizable potential, or the potentiality of location. A whole knot of problems ensues from the seemingly innocuous observation that position is relational in nature, meaning that position can have nothing intrinsic about it. And that there's nothing intrinsic about position must be an imminent or internal factor in the arising of whatever experience.
But relation itself, James warns us, is a slippery word. Both mediated comparison and extensive movement are relational challenged. They involve a circularity. Circularity is the easiest and emptiest of relations, a tautology. What get circled around is emergence.
There is another initially easy and ultimately empty way of relating-- negation. "A common way of interpreting what it means that a spot takes place relative to another spot is to say that it has location," James says, "by virtue of what it is not." A point is what it is and where it is by not being that other point. This way quickly bifurcates into two approaches depending on where the emphasis is put, the notness, or the otherness.
Putting the emphasis on the not yields a diacritical approach. The ease of the initial negation complicates itself as soon as the inevitable conclusions are drawn. If each term is only what it is by virtue of not being the other, then taken together, they are doubly not. They are reciprocal notness, a diacritical axis of difference, pure negative difference. Any potential positivity of the terms in relation is hungrily swallowed by the relation, which, given its pure negativity, isn't one.
If this non-relation is construed as generative so that some version of emergence results, what you get is structuralism. The only way to avoid the whole account disappearing into another abyss, this time of negation, is to multiply the diacritical axes to get a matrix. You could then use the matrix to iterate the notness in different permutations. This yields a positivity effect, an illusion of positivity, as if by magic.
For example, if you have a male-female axis and an adult-child axis-- although, you have to remember to put a silent not after each term, a male not and a female not-- you can iterate the matrix in such a way as to overlay, say, the male and child poles. And you get the apparent positivity of the boy. It's not really a boy. It's a condensation. Iterate the operation overlaying the other poles, and you get a girl effect.
Moving from one to the other is a displacement. The displacement-- and this is my main point-- is an apparent movement. What is really moved is the operation of matrix from one condensation to the next and from one positivity effect to the next, from one iteration of itself to the next. At level of the positivity effects, the first is a boy permutation only in opposition to the girl permutation. The positivity is only an effect of the opposition.
We have another purely negative difference. The opposition merely raises the reciprocal notness of the dialectical matrix level to the permutational level of condensation and displacement. The pure negative difference of the matrix of the diacritical critical level is the purer of the two pure negative differences. In itself, it carries no pretense of positivity. Because outside of its permutational or iterations, it has no effect and is still, in effect, nothing.
The magic of structuralism is that that generates a moving illusion from permutations on the purest of pure ineffective nothings. You can imagine what results when it is applied to differences of place. This can go along quite fine until someone gets disillusioned with the magic, then it all implodes. Baudrillard comes along, for example, and structural implodes into more or less nihilistic post-structuralism that denies all effective difference, including that of place.
The crux of the matter is that structural can only generate apparent movement and that it does so from a purely logical matrix. In other words, it generates a merely subjective movement from a null set of formal distinctions. It is basically a system of formal determination. As such, it can account for the logical conditions of possibility of subjective movement, but it cannot reach the real conditions of emergence of positively determinant emergence which lie in a pre-subjective, pre-individual reality whose effective indeterminacy is neither empty nor formally distinct.
In the end, it's really not about relation at all. It all comes down to the non-relation of negation in different permutations ending with the non-relation carried to its logical extreme. The end of structuralism coincided with the ends of everything-- the end of geography, the end of history, the end of art, the end of the human. It may seem like old hat to be talking about structuralism in this post-structuralist day and age, but magical rabbits of many colors are still being pulled out of nothings very much like that old hat. Wherever priority is given to oppositional difference, the hat is at it again.
There is a diacritical model of relation operation, implicitly if not explicitly. This is still the case in many areas of cultural theory, including, for example, the theories of performativity-- reference to the work of Judith Butler as well as many currents of gender theory. It is also the case wherever signification is taken to be primary, signification being another name for condensation displacement effect. It is also there when approaches privileging notions of coding based more or less directly on the model of signification are at work.
Notions of local and globalism studies and cultural geography also often take a broadly diacritical, if not always oppositional coloration. Network theory links in with its own version things of the non-relational notness of location-- with the "non" in parentheses, relational or not relational-- the quaintly modest spot of James' 19th century English glorified into the 21st century node with apparent movement [INAUDIBLE] with surfing.
The entire family of anti-essentialist and social constructivist models of thought that dance on the grave of structuralism have to dance around the negativity at its dead heart, as do their offspring. The anti-essentialist element translates the matrixial notness. And the constructivist element translates the permutational generativity considered here, in my account, to be a species of formal determination.
Certain recent ways of philosophy with different lineages have explicitly reasserted the power of formal determination in their own highly original forms-- for example, Agamben, Badiou, and Zizek. This last name actually bridges over to the second generation, a sec-- sorry-- the second negation-based approach. Putting the emphasis on the otherness of the reciprocal not yields dialectical approaches. These work directly with notions of oppositional difference.
James knew nothing of diacritical approaches, even though he was roughly contemporary with their founder Saussure, he was no longer alive when Saussure's work was posthumously published. He was, however, painfully aware of the work of the grandfather of dialectical philosophy, Hegelian absolutism being then the dominant strain, oddly enough, of both English and American philosophy. James spent much of the philosophical energies of his later years combating Hegelian absolutism for its apotheosis of non-relation, which also characterizes the thought of Agamben, Badiou, and Zizek in different ways.
Generally speaking, the dialectical negation of the negation magically flips the emptiness of oppositional difference into an ungraspable over-fullness of totality. The "too full of itself" of totality is so totally ungraspable that it ultimately takes its full-of-nothing raised to a higher power. This is traditionally achieved by the good graces of self-consciousness as representation.
James is undoubtedly familiar with Charles Sanders Peirce's tongue-in-cheek reduction to absurdity of this move, because he sponsored the lecture in which Peirce delivered it. And I think it's worth quoting in a fair amount of length. You'll recognize the image right away. It comes back in later history.
Imagine that upon the soil of a country there lies a map of that same country. This map may distort the different provinces of the country to any extent. But I shall suppose that it represents every part of the country, that every part of the country is represented by a single point of the map, and that every point of the map represents a single point in the country. Let us further suppose that this map is infinitely minute in its representation so that there is no speck on any grain of sand in the country that could not be seen represented upon the map if we were to examine it under a sufficiently high magnifying power.
Since, then, everything on the soil of the country is shown on the map, and since the map lies on the soil of the country, the map itself will be portrayed in the map. And in this map of the map, everything on the soil of the country can be discerned, including the map itself with the map of the map within its boundary. Thus, there will be, within the map, a map of the map, and within that, a map of the map of the map, and so on, ad infinitum.
These maps, being each within the preceding ones of the series, there will be a point contained in all of them. And this will be the map of itself. Each map, which directly or indirectly represents the country, is itself mapped in the next. That is, in the next, it is represented to be a map of the country.
In other words-- this is getting dizzying, isn't it? In other words, each map is interpreted as such in the next. We may, therefore, say that each is a representation of the country to the next map. In that point that is an all the maps is itself the representation of nothing but itself and to nothing but itself. It is therefore the precise analog of pure self-consciousness. As such, it is self sufficient.
Peirce maps the most ambitious point. Call it point A for Absolute. Point A achieves the ultimate magic trip of bootstrapping itself out of the compositional matrix of ordinary points, and any oppositions and otherness they may harbor. Point A pulls itself out of the hat of oppositional otherness up into the lofty territory of a purely representational total self-sufficiency compounded out of levels of nothingness in and for itself. The absolute is the ultimate self-rabbiting.
This is a kind of magic trick that would please Borges, master of the map that is the same as the territory and other paradoxes of self-identity. Borges is to the stream of pure representation as Baudrillard is to the diacritical approach, its self-destructing limit. At any rate, it is fair to say that taken to its logical extreme, the dialogical approach adds little of pragmatic value to an emergent understanding of place.
James points the way instead toward an approach that is doggedly relational. It is against both the dire critical and dialectical approaches. It follows a trail of relation in a way that is avowedly realist, and even positivist in a certain understanding of the term.
Radical and empirical-- having taken the long route from point A to point A, we're still pretty much back where we began. Position can never be an intrinsic element in the arising of a single laudable sensation. Because it always comes between points, and is therefore directly relational in nature. This should not be interpreted as meaning that relation can have no sensation. In fact, it is a basic tenet of James' philosophical orientation, which he termed a radical empiricism, that relations, as such, are felt.
There is nothing real, his formula goes, which is not experienced-- this is the empirical part-- neither is there any question that the immediacy of experience includes, for example, divergences and convergences, comings together and goings apart, concatenation, and separation-- in short, relations of disjunction and conjunction. If everything experienced is real with the corollary that nothing not experienced can be counted as real, empirically, you have to take things as they come.
"Things," he says, "are just as you feel them to be. You don't begin by picking and choosing. If you feel things come in a tangle of disjunctive and conjunctive relations, you take the tangle. You try to do justice to both the disjunctiveness and the conjunctiveness," quote, "to the unity of things and their variety." Relations of disjunction and conjunction, as they come as they are, are not yet relations of place. "The tangle," James says, "is to a large extent chaotic."
This is not a pure chaos, because there is already unity and variety. And there is an excess of them, if anything. Chaos is usually conceived of as homogeneous. Here there is a blooming, buzzing heterogeneity. The world presents itself as a quasi chaos.
The blooming and the buzzing is probably the most often quoted term from James-- just his description of what, in his early work, he called the stream of consciousness, which was sort of a misfortunate name. Because it is reaching toward that pre-individual level that I've been talking about.
It is important to note that the relations James wants to take as they come come already in process. Disjunction and conjunction are too static to name them well. Under those monikers, they could be mistaken for merely logical distinctions. But there's something happening here, comings together and goings apart. "There's something doing," in James's words. "There are," he says, "relations of activity."
Calling these relations of activity relations of continuity and discontinuity catches the process and event implications slightly better. The point is that there is already movement happening but not the kind that charts out between determinate points. Everything happens between lumps of continuity and breaks of discontinuity. These move into and out of each other. They run into each other and run over on each other. The world is churning with them.
Each run-in or turnover represents a change in the nature of what is happening. A change in nature is qualitative. When we take the world as it comes, lumps and all, we have a quasi chaotic activity of qualitative movement. Saying that this is the kind of movement that does not chart out between determinant points is the same as saying that it is not extensive movement. This is the intensive movement James was looking for among the real conditions of emergence of position.
Intensive movement is not yet placed. Its restless activity is as yet nowhere in particular. It is in the churning. It is in transition. Intensive movement is the between of transition before any possibility of determining particular movements, particular points between which the transition extends. It is pure relation prior to the termination of the terms that will come to be in relation. It is germinal determination, the potentiality of being definitely located.
When we talk about emergence, it is not about creation out of the void as it would be if the conditions were of homogeneous chaos. Creation ex nihilo belongs to theological thought. This, once again, is a doggedly empirical way of thinking, albeit a radical one. Rather than starting from a void of all order, it starts from buzzing, blooming, felt positivity of relational seeds of order churning qualitatively in quasi chaos. Rather than starting from a diacritical matrix or dialectical opposition, or any other form of negation, everything starts from the overwhelming positivity of something doing, running, and turning, over-brimming with an immediacy of heterogeneous activity.
Two things qualify James' emergent empiricism as radical. One is insisting on taking the continuity along with the discontinuity from the start. Classical empiricism picks and chooses the discontinuity. Everything is taken to come discreetly as a jumble of disconnected atomic impressions. This surreptitiously presupposes a subject to be impressed. This is lucky, because if the world presents itself lumpless, somebody has to be around to associate the scattered atoms of experience into some semblance of a patch of experience.
The subject of sense impression is also the secret agent of association. This is actually an infraction of the empirical principle that only what is experienced is real. The activity of the agent of association is unacknowledged. The associations the secret subject makes are taken to be the first seeds of order. The impressions are felt. The associations are felt. But the activity of associating the impressions is not.
Since its activity is unfelt, the implicit subject of the association sinks into an unexperiencable level of sub-ordering. It is a sub-sensible underground of association with which classical empiricism enters into complicity, actually, with idealism. Despite all its protestations to the contrary, classical empiricism surreptitiously reinstates a nonsensible foundational subject.
This is the gist of Whitehead's critique of Hume that he sort of generates process and reality out of. James' insistence not only that continuity is as primitive a given as discontinuity but also that the relations of continuity at this emergent level are as immediately felt as are the discontinuities amply justifies this approach as radical, even still in today's philosophical climate. The full radicality of it can be sensed by holding on to the idea that the world's emergence is qualitative.
The qualitative relations of transition that make the lumps and the breaks belonging to the same bloom are not yet quantifiable. There is as yet no measurable magnitude. If there were a measure, there would be no reason why there wouldn't already be a determinant position. By most accounts, an empiricism giving pride of germinal place to qualitative relations is unimaginable. It challenges most if not all currently practiced approaches, empirical or not.
It is certainly difficult to articulate process at the pre-individual emergent level. It is virtually impossible to speak or write without introducing or reintroducing a subject. This has happened here repeatedly in formulas like the one just above to the fact effect that things are what you feel them to be. Who is you.
The problem is that the conscious level of language is precisely the processual level on which the subject as single laudible agent of determinate expression arises. It is useless to try to expunge all such infelicities of language from the account. That only drives the subject back underground. The only way is to weave into and out of this level performatively in the movement of the writing itself in order to make felt the churning pre-individual bloom from which the subject emerges and reemerges, that blooming buzz remaining an internal, constitutional factor in its each and every subsequent expression.
If successful, this catches the subject in the act of singling itself out from its own composition in a rhythm of arising into distinct self-positioning and subsidence into the pre-individual potentiality from which that determination and the next will be felt to come. This makes a subject that Whitehead calls-- what Whitehead calls, actually, the superject-- not a secret agent, not an a priori foundation, not point A, but reemergent outcome of a renewed activity of cresting expression, rhythmically peaking from the quasi chaotic conditions of its emergence like a wave on the churning surface of the pre-individual sea of potentiality.
This is also a kind of constructivism given its central concern with composition. But with its concern for emergence in its broadest scope, and in all its unity and all its variety, this is less a social constructivism than a cosmic one. I also wanted to give a talk where I stopped on the word cosmic. Because I find it pretty ridiculous myself.
And I just wanted to say that I was sort of practicing a reduction to absurdity of a number of points. And I put the cosmic in at the end to do that to myself. And there's sort of a serious side to that gesture for all of them, including the approach that I'm trying to advance. And that is that it places things in what I would think of as a kind of philosophical equivalent of an incompleteness theorem.
It's like there's a vanishing point at the heart of each mode of thinking that organizes the vistas that it can function within. But it's also where it disappears into, just like the vanishing point in perspective painting. It's a kind of generative umbilicus, where a way of thinking through knots in on itself into its own arising, which makes a kind of generative connection with itself. And you can never go beyond that point in a way of thinking.
The serious part of the silliness of doing the reduction to absurdity is that it really does make a difference how that umbilicus is knotted. For example, if it ultimately comes down to vistas of relation versus non-relation, negation versus affirmation, that makes a difference. If the genesis of the individual is linked to broader processes that you could even take to the extent of calling them cosmogenetic-- so the genesis of the individual connect to the cosmogenesis-- that makes a difference compared to approaches that keep the genesis of the individual within social or cultural vistas.
So what I was doing was not meant to be a debunking but rather kind of diagnosis of orientation or generative tendency within different species of thought. And for most purposes, for most intents and purposes, it's not crucial. It's not really relevant. Because we're often operating at a higher level and that level at which the effects of the orientation generate and the tendencies express themselves.
So there's a circularity, probably in all of these thinkings. But it's there in order to be able to generate effects. So it's there for a very productive reason. And from any of those points of view, from any of those regions, there can be a great deal of things of great value produced. I can see the thought and practice in a number of ways. So if you look at it practically, it's not so much as a circularity as sort of a spiral, spiraling a whirlpool of productive activity.
But at the same time, because of the respective umbilici, that productive activity gets tethered to certain regions of thought and practice. And what I want to do by sort of going back to that level is to do a kind of diagnosis of what tendencies might inhabit those regions, suggesting that they allow us to explore different regions and there may be unexplored regions. So it's meant as a productive gesture, not to debunk or disqualify, just to sort of make the point that bringing thought back to that point of its own generative incompleteness can be a useful enterprise.
The title of the talk was Thought in Motion, The Energetics of Abstraction. And I didn't get to see the energetics of abstraction part. I should probably just not do that.
TIM MURRAY: It's fine.
BRIAN MASSUMI: Should I do that? OK. So just to give you an idea of more positively where this is going, I wanted to talk about a couple of examples that James develops in that chapter on the perception of space. He starts with very, very simple examples-- for example, simply two lines at a fair distance in visual space so that you can't really take them in at the same time.
And then he says that in order to-- this is the point of getting comparison and movement together. So he says that you have to-- what you do is you move back and forth between the lines. And you do that until you create a kind of fusion effect where you can hold the relative lengths of the lines in a kind of single precept that hasn't actually happened, because you've been moving back and forth.
Now, if you put the two lines closer together so that they are in the same region of the visual field, he-- because he has this theory, this principle that activity is at the basis of all experience, at the basis of everything, he won't say that you're just seeing a stable field of vision, stable display. He'll say that that moving back and forth has happened, you could say, implicitly or virtually. Because what gives you that fusional field is a kind of accumulation of past experience that allows you to do the movement without actually doing the movement.
So the product of a multitude of past experiences directly factors itself into the present perception as constitutive of that perception. And the fusion of the lines, that virtual fusion, is a kind of instantaneous fast-forward into the present of that past accomplishment. So really, he's saying a set that anytime when we can have a perception of comparison that we are placing ourselves in a region of virtual movement and experiencing the result and expression of that as if it were performed at a speed faster than the speed of conscious thought. So it's a kind of thought-like aspect that comes directly in perception. So the comparison is actually, for him, a direct perception rather than a mediated one.
And then if you think of just one line, he's saying that exactly the same thing is happening. Because immediately, directly in the perception of line is a perception of lengthiness. You might not have something to compare it to or measure it with, so it's not a determinant length.
And it's not a determinant relation between the two endpoints of the line. But the line is not a line and cannot be perceived as a line without coming with lengthiness. So that region of virtual movement that comes at once in perception with no difference from perception, as if that is like a thought moving faster than the speed of thought, that is what allows the perception of a figure like a line, because it is placing you in the qualitative region of lengthiness that that line stands out from as a line.
And that gives you the possibility of determining the length. I think it's in dialogue fairly explicitly with Peirce's concept of abduction, which he considered a form of thought that actually forms the basis of other modes of thought like induction and deduction. So what James is pointing to is another kind of vanishing point where perception and thought come together in order to create a vista of qualitative experience that can then be determined. And at that vanishing point is what Peirce calls a material quality, or the material quality of conscious thought.
And he insists it's material, because it's still all about movement. It's a kind of energetics but one with a virtual vanishing point of the energetic. So that vanishing points is not energetic at the limit. So the vanishing point is where movement folds into itself and comes back out as more determinable movements. And that is a kind of self-abstracting of perception that, instead of being a higher order of thought, is actually the point of origination of each thinkable experience.
So he goes through a lot of other examples in that chapter. But I'll leave it there, just to say that where it ends up falling through James' way of thinking is in a process-oriented philosophy where the basic category is not the subject or the object but activity, kind of bare activity that is not yet determined but from which determinations arise. It is not simply the absence of determination but an over-fullness of past determinations coming to inform the present. So it comes into a theory of time. And that reinforces the processual aspect and makes it into a theory of becoming. Does that help you out for now? Thanks.
TIM MURRAY: Questions? A couple minutes for any questions?
BRIAN MASSUMI: Sure, sure.
TIM MURRAY: Do you want to answer their questions?
BRIAN MASSUMI: Oh, it doesn't matter.
TIM MURRAY: Questions? Questions?
BRIAN MASSUMI: Yes?
AUDIENCE: I'm going to push you to put together Deleuze and what you've been ta-- and Kurtz. So my examples to you, as a kind of asking for a clarification-- the experience, the pre-thought experience on the train, when the train next to you moves and you think you're moving, or vise versa, this very weird moment when the relationality of position is totally illegible, and then it suddenly becomes fixed. So that's one.
The second thing is you're again on the train. You're still on the train. And you look out the window, and there's the telephone line. And it moves with you. It's a process of relationality, of you and the line-- not two lines that you're looking between but [INAUDIBLE].
And the third is, if those are kind of anticipatory, the third is film, which takes you-- particularly in the beginning of a film, which is what kept me able to kind of follow you at a certain point. The beginning of a film, where it's just bundles and-- what's the other word? Blossoms or whatever. It's just stuff, right? And you don't know where you are yet or-- you haven't positioned. There's a pre-positionality, if you will, in the whole thing until then.
And then I was thinking, in a Warhol film, where it just stays at pre-positionality, you can't connect. Your mind just does its own thing and doesn't make any relationality. And then in a really lousy film which doesn't give you any freedom, you connect-- you're dragged along with no movement. But then there are good films, where something else happens.
So I'm going to ask you, then, using those three very concrete examples, are there ways that what you're talking about here can connect to those very concrete experiences?
BRIAN MASSUMI: There better be. For the train examples, I guess what I'd say is that what it's saying is that there's sort of a moment in the arising of an experience that is like that all the time. There's been sort of a history of studies, for example, of blind people who have regained sight after never having sight as adults. There have been a lot of other studies, very ingenious studies, to try to figure out what newborn infants are perceiving.
And in both cases, there is no object position. There's no object perception. There's no determinant figure-ground relation. There's no determinate position. But there's not nothing. It's not just undifferentiation. It's just a continual, like I was saying, churning of different patches coming up, moving into others, this incredible quasi chaos of pure qualities of experience that haven't settled into things, or settled into positions.
And the idea is that through long experience, we in our infancy or people have come to vision, learn how to settle it in by cross-referencing different senses to each other. So it's only in this cross-modal referencing that you get the ability to reference to place, estimate distance and size and things like that, so that what we think of as a visual perception is actually a kind of summing-up of movement of an infinity of movements but also a whole continuum of different varieties of sensory qualities in that movement.
But all of that, which is the product of learning, becomes fusional in the sense that it all comes together immediately, in no time at all, at the beginning of an experience. The idea is that there's a kind of moment of a break or a [? seizure, ?] like a micro shock to the system, which, again, you can talk about physiologically as well, where all that's happening again, but we're catching ourselves just as immediately in our usual positionings. So when you have illusions of movement or illusions of size, conditions are in place that don't allow us to catch ourselves right away.
Sometimes there are certain kinds of illusions where you just can't get out of it. You can't see your way out of it, and you get caught in that because of the ways those fusional movements have been composed. And our tendencies for settling in are being manipulated or changed.
So those experiences are, I think, really good models of where there's a relation, but you don't know what the terms are. You don't know what's moving or what's at each end in relation to movement. But those are really good models, actually, for getting an intuitive grasp on what this level of pre-individual experience would be.
But it's a non-conscious level. It happens in the microfissures in experience normally. But that can be brought out and expressed with the right compositional principles, which is what a lot of films do, the kind where they suspend you in-- sometimes, like an Antonioni film, when we have-- that Deleuze talks about a lot, where you have this sense of suspension in time. And there's just this overwhelming quality to the experience of the film that you can't say that's in one character, or one event or another. It's just like this-- it's a region of quality you're inhabiting. And you're left there.
So it is, it's cut off from the rest of the world. It's become suspended. And it becomes like a monad. But Deleuze's point would be that it's a monad of relation. And it's a compositional act of the highest kind, an artistic act, to leave us there and that, in our normal movements throughout life, there is the same kind of arising of these monadic regions of experience.
Both Bergson and James talk a lot about that, that equality comes all at once or not at all. And you never see the transition to it. You're in it, or you're out of it. And they give lots of examples.
So that actually, that monastic structure, is part of experience. But because things are moving around us, and we're constantly moving, and there's movement built into our physiology-- the little micro movements of our eyes happening at fractions of the seconds, everything-- that we're, the same time, catching ourselves and bringing us in. Those monads are then reconnecting with each other through being determined, and then being placable, and then entering into different kinds of relations, extensive relations, and going back to the level of the pre-individual.
It doesn't mean you leave all that behind. It means all that folds back under and becomes part of the constitutive factor as it becomes an internal factor of that fusion that allows you to see and catch yourself again. So does that answer the question? I think-- yeah?
AUDIENCE: Brian, I want to go back to the map you mentioned in the example of Borges. You were quoting-- the idea was from Peirce, right? The map within the map?
BRIAN MASSUMI: That was a long quote from Peirce. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: I've always been fascinated by the way in which the so-called Borges map has been used and abused in theory. First of all, Borges explicitly quotes-- not Peirce but Borges-- on the map of--
BRIAN MASSUMI: Because-- sorry.
AUDIENCE: --because he quotes Josiah Royce--
BRIAN MASSUMI: Who is--
AUDIENCE: --the one individual with the same [INAUDIBLE]--
BRIAN MASSUMI: He was an absolutist.
AUDIENCE: --circulated between Peirce and Royce and James with the map. See, the map is a completely different paradoxic, even logically, from the map that coincides with the territory. What's interesting is that-- which is the more famous story that [INAUDIBLE] on exactitude in science.
That example has been wrecked by pretty much every French theorist in the structuralism and post-structuralism. Baudrillard obviously used it. Guattari quotes it several times. But what's intriguing is that they actually go through all the models of putting thought into motion that you've got. Some read it as the implosion of structural wisdom, that the map is not a territory because of the differential game. Then Baudrillard pushes it one step further and says, this is the simulacrum where the map generates or simulates the territory.
But then interestingly, Guattari, in [INAUDIBLE] of analytical cartography says that he uses that very example of Borges' map as a map that produced this type of emergence of movement, just as Deleuze, I think, in Critical and Clinical says the map is the territory. The territories move. The territory that is being mapped is a journey. And then there is kind of this imminent movement of becoming.
So the question, or in a sense, even the provocation that I get out of this, is we're talking about the same so-called map of Borges that he himself gets from Royce and others that is being read and recoded in different views of the linguistic descriptions. So are we here talking about different qualitative experiences of thought, art, or representation or language, or about a variation on the ways-- on our understanding, our theoretical lingos that we use to describe this experience? Because the same text can be read and misread.
In fact, Borges is a Deleuzean. And he has been read as, this is example of abduction. Eco has this text on Borges as the first one to really popularize Peirce's logical abduction. So we go from a structuralism, post-structuralism all the way to sort of radical empiricist reading of the same text. So is this to push it to the extreme of the complications, are we, in a sense, developing a new jargon?
BRIAN MASSUMI: A new?
AUDIENCE: A new jargon in which the terms that we want, that we are striving for are emergent, uprising, relational, qualitative, imminent; or, to go back to the talk two weeks ago, the advantage force of with an apparition of an image. So we have a whole new linguistic way of describing experiences-- for example, art. Or are we talking about different forms of art?
Could we not apply the same model on any type of art? Could Deleuze not develop his reading not just in Francis Bacon but on the most traditional art form in which, if you have this type of language to describe it, we could still point these emergences of relational movements in non-intrinsicness of the notness?
BRIAN MASSUMI: Well, they did say everything was on that map.
BRIAN MASSUMI: They did say everything's on that map. No. I think it's a really interesting point. There's a whole history there that I only know little parts of. The Peircean use of it is in relation to-- very particularly in relation to absolutism, the absolutism of his time.
And I think each time that that is marshaled for another iteration with something else being drawn out of it, I think what's happening is that sort of the principle or the element of the map is changing. Because in the absolutist version, it's the element of representation. So the map is always about self-relating. But the principle of self-relating is representational here. And that makes all the difference. That generates a whole set of effects.
It's sort of what I was saying before about that umbilicus. By construing self-relation in that way, you generate a whole region of thinking that's going to be very different from another use of that exactly the same image if you make the element different. Deleuze and Guattari make the element different. They make it movement on a continuum between extensive movement and intensive movement. And when they are talking about self-relating, they're talking about movement going to the limit of a kind of self-relating.
It's not about representation, but it's about movement as qualitative. And again, that changes everything. So it's, I think, maybe that multiplying of uses of that same image is an indication that since the late 19th century, notions of self-reference and self-organization have been on the horizon of our culture. It has been working us. And we have been working it and that it's actually become a very productive ground for generating images of thought in Deleuze's terms.
So in this, the absolutist version, personally, I don't want to generate anything from that. I want to leave it there, sort of falling into its own abyss with that point falling into itself and being a pure representation of itself as nothing and nothing of itself. But that's not because we can't do things with it. It's because what's drawing me is drawing me elsewhere, more toward the side of movement in the context of a virtuality, not as the opposite of the actual but as a limit of it, and in terms of qualities of experience, which I think are really important to try to bring back into thought.
Because, I mean, it's a question that comes up in a lot of different contexts in relation to-- there's a lot of talk now about the neuro, neuro art and neuro literature, and neuro literary criticism and all kinds of things. It obviously comes up back in that context of the question the relationship of consciousness to the brain and the so-called hard question of consciousness of qualia or quality. It's a really hard thing to be able to think with quality. But if you're talking about experience, you're talking about consciousness, I don't see how you can not.
It reminds me of periods in cultural theory where there's a lot of talk about vision and visual culture. But I couldn't find anyone saying the word color. You talk about thought and experience, but you don't talk about quality. This was a long time ago. That's changed a lot. You talk about vision, but you don't talk about color. Something's a bit off. So I wanted to use that to bring that point back in this sort of knot of problems.
TIM MURRAY: Hey. I have a question that-- I'm not sure if it's a question. But I was really interested in the pressure that the Jamesian rhetoric placed on the vanishing point, that especially-- and did your talk. And it reminded me of two variant discourses on the vanishing point.
One, maybe the more contemporary one that's had a lot of play would be Lacan's four fundamental principles and the role that the vanishing point has in relationship to his whole construct of specularity, which, in a way, I heard you gesture to in your talk in relationship to the double collapse of vision in a point and the constitution, therefore, the destabilization of the self-confident [INAUDIBLE] subject within that construct, that the corollary one would be an historical one, which is the entirely complex role of the vanishing point in the theatricalization of absolutism as precisely the holding space for a phantasm of power or force. And I was wondering where the 19th century discourse of the vanishing point in-- vis-á-vis the pre-individual that fits into that trajectory-- I suspected that, at the beginning of your talk, you were gesturing to that and making the distinction between the opposition and the other.
But I was just wondering if you could take a minute to just elaborate that before we-- while we keep everybody captive so that I can march you up the hill for a drink.
BRIAN MASSUMI: Really interesting question. My background was in a French department. And I actually studied classical French theater. So my reference on--
TIM MURRAY: I knew this question wouldn't be boring.
BRIAN MASSUMI: My reference is actually to that absolutist-- to the role of the vanishing point in that absolutist context-- absolutist in the political sense. Because there was this huge mise en scéne of perspectival space through the court, the absolutist court. And the vanishing point was a key place. That was a key thing. Because there was that totally ordered geometrical pattern, geometrical order that converged toward that point.
But you know that that vanishing point, it was also the place where, if you could go into it, more space of the same order would be. So you could frame things on a proscenium, or you could frame things within the court with a space separated off where the King who occupies that central point-- both the point of vision going into it and the vanishing point at the same time-- is. You could put in paintings. Everything's framed. Everything's world-limited.
But what you're actually displaying is a universal order. Because that vanishing point connects to an extension of space ordered the same way everywhere, and you're in that. So it's actually putting you in the court order thought of as geometrical, like straight lines, rays, rays of sun. And it is a geometricization of absolute power, and then ordering.
And what I want to do with that is sort of take that idea at that the vanishing point is a point of connection into a continuation of space. That is what Whitehead calls-- he has a concept of the extensive continuum, which means that in every perception, in some way, it includes indices of its own possibility for continuation or potential for creation and so on. It has its moreness within itself. The vanishing point is one of the ways moreness is within an individual thing.
And what I just want to say is that the orders of space and the kinds of powers that they're associated with can be different, even if it's still a geometric, even if it's still a perspectival vanishing point depending on other conditions. And so that, it's a way of trying to open that idea up that everything contains its own moreness within itself. But that is a political question.
TIM MURRAY: Great. Thanks. So thank you very much, Brian. I hope that you will join us for [INAUDIBLE].
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Brian Massumi, senior scholar in residence at the Society for the Humanities and professor of communication at the University of Montreal, delivered the plenary lecture for the Society for the Humanities'' public workshop, "Critical Mobilities: Thought, Culture, and Performance," on April 29, 2010.
Massumi specializes in the philosophy of embodied experience, media theory, and political philosophy.
The workshop is the culmination of a year-long research seminar and focuses on questions of performance, race/empire, and representation.