Julia Kristeva, “Desire in Language”

1980

In this text, Kristeva outlines the process of abjection, by which the child exits the feminine (semiotic, pre-Mirror) stage of language tied to the mother and rejects her, entering the masculine (symbolic, post-Mirror) stage of language involved in independence and the social. Unlike Lacan, Kristeva believes that the subject continues to oscillate between the two realms, especially women, who continue to identify with the mother and the semiotic realm.

1: THE ETHICS OF LINGUISTICS

“As soon as linguistics was established as a science (through Saussure, for all intents and purposes) its field of study was thus hemmed in (suture)’ the problem of truth in linguistic discourse became dissociated from any notion of the speaking subject” 24.

For Kristeva, a better model “would deflect linguistics toward a consideration of language as articulation of a heterogenous process, with the speaking subject leaving its imprint on the dialectic between the articulation and its process” 24-5.

2: THE BOUNDED TEXT

“Rather than a discourse, contemporary semiotics takes as its object several semiotic practices which it considers as translinguistic; that is, they operate through and across language, while remaining irreducible to its categories as they are presently assigned… in the space of a given text, several utterances, taken from other texts, intersect and neutralize one another” 37 [Bakhtin].

“The novel, seen as a text, is a semiotic practice in which the synthesized patterns of several utterances can be read. For me, the utterance specific to the novel is not a minimal sequence… It is an operation, a motion that links, and even more so, constitutes what might be called the arguments of the operation, which, in the study of a written text, are either words or word sequences (sentences, paragraphs) as sememes… Novelistic utterances, as they pertain to this suprasegmental level, are linked up within the totality of novelistic production… The ideologeme of the novel is precisely this intertextual function defined according to the [extra novelistic textual set] and having value within [the novelistic textual set]” 37.

“The modality of novelistic enunciation is inferential: it is a process within which the subject of the novelistic utterance affirms a sequence, as conclusion of the inference, based on other sequences (referential – hence narrative, or textual – hence citational), which are the premises of the inference, and, as such, considered to be true. The novelistic inference is exhausted through the naming process of the two premises… The function of the author/actor’s enunciation therefore consists in binding his discourse to his readings, his speech act to that of others” 45.

“The novelistic utterance conceives of the opposition of terms as a nonalternating and absolute opposition between two groupings that are competitive but never solidary… instead of an infinity complementary to bipartition… it introduces the figure of dissimulation, of ambivalence, of the double” 47. [vs multiplicity/ rhizome/ faceting]

“The novel’s nondisjunctive function is manifested, at the level of the concatenation of its constituent utterances, as an agreement of deviations” the two originally opposed arguments (forming the thematic loops life-death, good-evil, beginning-end, etc.) are connected and mediated by a series of utterances whose relation to the originally posited opposition is neither explicit nor logically necessary” 51-2.

“Writing is revealed… as a function that ossifies, petrifies, and blocks… an artificial limit, an arbitrary law, a subjective finitude… the entire history of the novel: the devalorization of writing, its categorization as pejorative, paralyzing, and deadly. This phenomenon is on a par with its other aspect: valorization of the oeuvre, the Author, and the literary artifact (discourse)… What opens it is speech” 59.

3: WORD, DIALOGUE, & NOVEL

Kristeva begins with Bakhtin,

“one of the first to replace the static hewing out of texts with a model where literary structure does not simply exist but is generated in relation to another structure. What allows a dynamic dimension to structuralism is his conception of the ‘literary word’ as an intersection of textual surfaces rather than a point (fixed meaning), as a dialogue among several writings: that of the writer, the addressee (or the character), and the contemporary or earlier cultural context” 65.

In Bakhtin’s ‘carnivalesque,’ “the poetic word, polyvalent and multi-determined, adheres to a logic exceeding that of codified discourse and fully comes into being in the margins of recognized culture”: “Diachrony is transformed into synchrony, and in light of this transformation, linear history appears as abstraction” 65.

“The minimal unit of poetic language is at least double, not in the sense of the signifier/signified dyad, but rather, in terms of one and other… each ‘unit’… acts as a multi-determined peak” 69. [Irigaray on the vagina]

“The novel incorporating carnivalesque structure is called polyphonic. Bakhtin’s examples include Rabelais, Swift, and Dostoievski. We might also add the ‘modern’ novel of the 20th century – Joyce, Proust, Kafka – while specifying that the modern polyphonic novel, although analogous in its status, where monologism is concerned, to dialogical novels of the past, is clearly marked off from them… the problem of intertextuality (intertextual dialogue) appears as such” 71.

“Bakhtin’s term dialogism as a semic complex thus implies the double, language, and another logic… the logic of distance and relationship between the different units of a sentence or narrative structure, indicating a becoming – in opposition to the level of continuity and substance, both of which obey the logic of being and are thus monological” 71.

“According to Bakhtin, there are three categories of words within the narrative… the direct word, referring back to its object… denotative… the object-oriented word… the direct discourse of characters… oriented towards its object and is itself the object of the writer’s orientation… ambivalent [word]… the result of a joining of two sign systems… repetition… takes what is imitated (repeated) seriously, claiming and appropriating it without relativizing it… The novel is the only genre in which ambivalent words appear; that is the specific characteristic of its structure” 73.

7: THE NOVEL AS POLYLOGUE

“For a woman, generally speaking, the loss of identity in jouissance demands of her that she experience the phallus that she simply is; but this phallus must immediately be established somewhere; in narcissism, for instance, in children… narrowminded mastery, or in fetishism of one’s ‘work’… Otherwise, we have an underwater, undermaternal dive: oral regression, spasmodic but unspeakable and savage violence, and a denial of effective negativity” 164.

“The problem is to control this resurgence of phallic presence; to abolish it at first, to pierce through the paternal wall of the superego and afterwards, to reemerge still uneasy, split apart, asymmetrical, overwhelmed with a desire to know, but a desire to know more and differently than what is encoded-spoken-written” 165. [rich, moore, bishop, faceting]

“A text that exists only if it can find a reader who matches its rhythm – its sentential, biolgical, corporeal, and trans-familial rhythm, infinitely marked out within historical time… the explosion that surrounds us, moves through us, refashions us and that sooner or later we shall have to hear” 208.

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Guy Debord, “Society of the Spectacle”

1967

Debord’s assertion that “all that once was directly lived has become mere representation” is central to his neo-Marxist arrival at the failures of image culture (reminds me of Jameson and Adorno) – “the historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life.” The most Jamesonian moment is perhaps the assertion of a failure of history in the spectacle, which obfuscates the past and fuses it with a future to create a neverending present. The waves of ecstasy and obsessive product trends also parallel religious fervor of ages past.

One might also think of the spectacle – which Debord argues arises in the 1920s as the confluence of mass media, advanced capitalism, and governments – as parallel to Benjamin’s concern with mass culture and fascism in “Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility,” though Benjamin seems to have more faith in film…

In the “society of the spectacle,” we see “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing,” so that “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity.” Debord takes Marx’s idea of the social relation between objects, rather than subjects, as an origin point:  “The spectacle is not a collection of images. Rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”

Debord’s situationism proposes to wake up ideologically drugged spectators by using spectacular images to disrupt the flow of spectacle (detournement) – to interrupt suture, as it were (Oudart).

Roland Barthes, “Mythologies”

1957

My readings of 10 of the sections of Mythologies:

“Blind & Dumb Criticism”: Barthes interrogates the false “inability to understand” of critics as a mode of being so sure of one’s own intelligence and so willing to downplay cultural products as “rhetorical effusion” that the work in question is revealed as abstruse or lacking, rather than the mind of the critic.

“Soap-powders & Detergents”: Barthes examines the advertisement of corrosive but purifying cleansing agents. The marketing of “deep and foamy” creates a paradox of how to make things white: by penetrating a depth fabrics do not seem to have with a proliferation of luxurious and airy foam. This builds trust in the consumer, argues Barthes.

“Novels & Children”: Here Barthes argues that women novelists are allowed to “play” at being writers as long as they maintain maternal and household duties – thus, they must pay for a dose of writerly “bohemianism” with that which will prevent it – conventionality. The world of “double parturition” – children and novels – is a “free space” circumscribed by the male gaze pressing in all around (a womb and prison).

“The Face of Garbo”: Garbo is part of a lost age of cinema when the spectator would lose himself inside a face. The thick, masklike plaster of makeup and unemotional black eyes are like Deleuze & Guattari’s “Faciality” argument. In Garbo’s face, “the clarity of the flesh as essence yields its place to a lyricism of Woman.” Garbo is an essence, an Idea, whereas Barthes says we are “now” (in the 50s) in the face of Audrey Hepburn – a specificity, an Event.

“Wine & Milk”: Barthes argues that wine is a social collective in France, a class equalizer, present at all social occasions, a sign of fire and vitality, too, though it also signifies expropriation and capitalist exploitation. Milk is its opposite – soothing, dense, strong, “the equal of reality” – it is America.

“Steak & Chips”: An odd sequel to “Wine & Milk,” here steak & chips are also put forth as quintessentially French, the rare steak being the sign of strength and maturity.

“The Nautilus & the Drunken Boat”: the boat, especially that of Jules Verne’s fiction, is a habitat, an enclosed space (relate this to public transport in Benjamin). The opposite of it would be an open boat, “freed from its concavity,” no longer a cave but a mode of true exploration.

“Ornamental Cookery”: The “smooth coating” and “glaze surfaces” of food in Elle magazine express the dialectical bourgeois conflict between “fleeing from Nature” (having ideas, making new) and artificially “reconstituting” the natural (bourgeois realism) in the presentation of food. Food is shot from overhead and eroticized as “at once near and inaccessible,” almost like women in the male gaze, or like Benjamin’s concept of the auratic – seeming distant, however near (vs. the trace – seeming near, however distant).

“Striptease”: The paradox of the striptease is that “Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked.” Striptease negates the flesh and innoculates sexuality (much as the prostitute is sanctioned for the good of the family). The woman is an exoticized “object in disguise,” making her nudity the natural state to which she returns by stripping. The bedazzled underpants at the end of the striptease make woman a precious stone, surface, or jewel – “the absolute object, that which serves no purpose.” Only amateur stripteases are erotic; by making striptease public, household, and bourgeois, it is nationalized and sterilized.

“Plastic”: Plastics are alchemical, Barthes argues, turning “greenish crystals” into “fluted dressing-room tidies” by means of a tube. Plastic is among other “imitiation materials,” but the earlier ones sought to mimic cheaply diamonds, silk, “all the luxurious brilliance of the world,” whereas in plastic, “artifice aims at something common, not rare” that will take over the world and the body in its many forms. (Recall advice on “the future of plastics” in The Graduate!)

“More than a substance, plastic is the very idea of its infinite transformation… the trace of a movement… transforming the original crystals into a multitude of more and more startling objects… a spectacle to be deciphered… the quick-change artistry of plastic is absolute: it can become buckets as well as jewels… the singular of the origin and the plural of the effects.”

“But the price to be paid for this success is that plastic, sublimated as movement, hardly exists as substance. Its reality is a negative one: neither hard nor deep, it must be content with a ‘substantial’ attribute which is neutral in spite of its utilitarian advantages: resistance, a state which merely means an absence of yielding. In the hierarchy of the major poetic substances, it figures as a disgraced material, lost between the effusiveness of rubber and the flat hardness of metal… powerless ever to achieve the triumphant smoothness of Nature.”

“What best reveals it for what it is is the sound it gives, at once hollow and flat; its noise is its undoing, as are its colors, for it seems capable of retaining only the most chemical-looking ones… only concepts of colors.”

Helene Cixous: “The Laugh of the Medusa”

1976

“I shall speak about women’s writing: about what it will do. Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their  bodies – for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement” 2039.

“There is, at this time, no general woman, no one typical woman… the infinite richness of their individual constitutions: you can’t talk about a female sexuality, uniform, homogenous, classifiable into codes – any more than you can talk about one unconscious resembling another” 2040.

Cixous turns from the past to face the future, starting with the same concern as Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own: why don’t women write? It is because they are discouraged and excluded from its ‘greatness’ 2041. “We have internalized this horror of the dark. Men have committed the greatest crime against women… led them… to be their own enemies… they have made for women an antinarcissism!” 2042.

“We the precocious, we the repressed of culture, our lovely mouths gagged with pollen, our wind knocked out of us, we the labyrinths, the ladders, the trampled spaces, the bevies – we are black and we are beautiful” 2042.

This sets up the metaphorization of women, which is the issue at the heart of ecriture feminine. In Derrida’s terms, speech was immediacy and writing was absence or deferral. But both are structured through the difference between the signifier and the signified that make up the sign. Hegel’s binaries and dialectics, supposedly reversed by Marx, nevertheless do not account for language as something between the spiritual and the material. Male writers brought out the repressed or obscured in writing through the symbolic figure of the feminine. Cixous, on the contrary, wants to render those figures literal – as bodies. As a poststructuralist, she is also interested in what the binaries of structuralism have left to uncover in the gender dynamic.

“Nearly the entire history of writing is confounded with the history of reason, of which it is at once the effect, the support, and one of the privileged alibis. It has been one with phallocentric tradition. It is indeed that same self-admiring, self-stimulating, self-congratulatory phallocentrism” 2043.

“To write. An act which will not only ‘realize’ the decensored relation of woman to her sexuality, to her womanly being, giving her access to her native strength; it will give her back her goods, her pleasures, her organs, her immense bodily territories… she has always occupied the space reserved for the guilty… she must urgently learn to speak. A woman without a body, dumb, blind, can’t possibly be a good fighter” 2044.

“It is by writing, from and toward women, and by taking up the challenge of speech which has been governed by the phallus, that women will confirm women in a place other than that which is reserved in and by the symbolic, that is, in a place other than silence” 2044.

The network of giving between women is vital to Cixous’  mode. “It is impossible to define a feminine practice of writing… which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. But it will always surpass the discourse that regulates the phallocentric system… by subjects of automatisms, by peripheral figures that no authority can ever subjugate” 2046. Cixous opposes to a “bisexuality” that would collapse difference and refuse to acknowledge gender the “multiplication of the effects of the inscription of desire” and both genders “over all parts of my body and the other body” 2047. We are not obligated to “deposit our lives in their banks of lack,” writes Cixous, simply because man “holds the rock” of castration’s lack over us 2048.

Ecriture feminine is the impossible paradox of the assertion of the female body in/as writing and the history and possibility of its being written by men. If man is A and woman is not-A, then one half is essentially destroyed or obscured so the other half makes sense. Therefore, Cixous does not write as “a feminist,” which would be to reproduce the structure of The One, based on a binary (Lacan says this makes One). She opposes this to heterogeneity and multiplicity instead. Though she has been accused of essentialism, she is also battling it here, in the limits of language itself.

“They riveted us between two horrifying myths: between the Medusa and the abyss” 2048. (Interesting that the Medusa myth involves a mirror… Lacanian?) “We’re going to show them our sexts!… Men say there are two unrepresentable things: death and the feminine sex… they need femininity to be associated with death; it’s the jitters taht gives them a hard-on! for themselves! They need to be afraid of us… a woman’s body, with its thousand and one thresholds of ardor” 2048-9. The female body itself is diffuse, and has many centers – erotically and sensually, it is not focused genitally, as the man’s is 2052 (the rhizome).

“Begetting a child doesn’t mean that the woman or the man must fall ineluctably into patterns or must recharge the circuit of reproduction… Either you want a kid or you don’t – that’s your business… it’s up to you to break old circuits… defamilialization… Let us defetishize. Let’s get away from the dialectic which has it that the only good father is a dead one, or that the child is the death of his parents” 2053/

“Oral drive, anal drive, vocal drive – all these drives are our strengths, and among them is the gestation drive – just like the desire to write: a desire to live self from within, a desire for the swollen belly, for langauge, for blood… I want all of me with all of him… But not because [woman] is gelded; not because she’s deprived and needs to be filled out, like some wounded person who wants to console herself or seek vengeance: I don’t want a penis to decorate my body with. But I do desire the other for the other, whole and entire, male or female, because living means wanting everything that is, everything that lives, and wanting it alive. Castration? Let others toy with it. What’s a desire originating from lack? A pretty meager desire” 2054.

There are few texts because few women have won back their bodies. But we are “more bodily” than men – it is how we have suffered, and we should use the body to learn a new speech – to make a new language for women that explodes and turns around phallic language 2050.

“A love that rejoices in the exchange that multiplies. Wherever history still unfolds as the history of death, she does not tread… She gives that there may be life, thought, transformation. This is an ‘economy’ that can no longer be put in economic terms… not her sum but her differences. I am for you what you want me to be at the moment you look at me in a way you’ve never seen me before: at every instant. When I write, it’s everything that we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love. In one another we will never be lacking” 2056.

 

 

Jacques Lacan, from Seminars XI & XX

SEMINAR XI, 1973

TUCHE & AUTOMATON

“Today I shall continue the examination of the concept of repetition, as it is presented by Freud and the experience of psychoanalysis…. No praxis is more oriented towards that which, at the heart of experience, is the kernel of the real than psychanalysis… an essential encounter… with a real that eludes us” 53.

In Aristotelian terms, tuche (the encounter with the real), is beyond the automaton (the return to the governance of the pleasure principle). Repetition is “always veiled in analysis” for Lacan 54. This is because the tuche, or “real as encounter,” “first presented itself in the history of psychoanalysis in a form that was in itself already enough to arouse our attention, that of the trauma… the form of that which is unassimilable in [the real]… imposing on [repetition] an apparently accidental origin” 55.

“The encounter, forever missed, has occurred between dream and awakening, between the person who is still asleep and whose dream we will not know and the person who has dreamt merely in order not to wake up… the true formula of atheism is not God is dead… [but] God is unconscious” 59.

“The place of the real… stretches from the trauma to the phantasy… the accident, the noise, the small element of reality, which is evidence that we are not dreaming” 60.

Referring to Kierkegaard’s essay on Repetition, Lacan compares its focus on the old to Freud’s approach:

“Freud is not dealing with any repetition residing in the natural, no return of need, any more than is Kierkegaard. The return of need is directed towards consumption placed at the service of appetite [Tomkins]. Repetition demands the new. It is turned towards the ludic, which finds its dimension in this new… Whatever, in repetition, is varied, modulated, is merely alienation of its meaning… the true secret of the ludic, namely, the most radical diversity constituted by repetition in itself” 61.

THE EYE & THE GAZE

Lacan asks how we can “ground this repetition first of all in the very split that occurs in the subject in relation to the encounter. This split constitutes the characteristic dimension of analytic discovery and experience; it enables us to apprehend the real, in its dialectical effects, as originally unwelcome… the primal scene so traumatic” 69. Lacan describes Merleau-Ponty’s The Phenomenology of Perception as the next step from “the regulation of form, which is governed, not only by the subject’s eye, but by his expectations, his movement, his grip, his muscular and visceral emotion… his constitutive presence… his total intentionality” 71. In The Visible & the Invisible, Lacan writes, we see that

“the eye is only the metaphor… of the preexistence of a gaze… it is no doubt this seeing, to which I am subjected in an original way, that must lead us to the aims of this work, to that ontological turning back, the bases of which are no doubt to be found in a more primitive institution of form” 72.

“The split that concerns us is not the distance that derives from the fact that there are forms imposed by the world… the limits that we encounter in the experience of the visible. The gaze is presented to us only in the form of a strange contingency… the lack that constitutes castration anxiety. The eye and the gaze – this is for us the split in which the drive is manifested at the level of the scopic field… something slips, passes, is transmitted, from stage to stage, and is always to some degree eluded in it – that is what we call the gaze” 73.

Essentially, the gaze is the anxiety of the loss of autonomy that occurs when a subject realizes he is also an object among objects and can be viewed. It is related to the mirror stage, where the child realizes its external appearance, but as an idealized form of itself. Though it is Sartre’s term, Foucault made it his in applying the self-regulation that results from the gaze to fields of medicine and power structures. It is related to Mulvey’s assertion that the camera’s male gaze makes both men and women see themselves through male eyes.

“That in which the consciousness may turn back upon itself – grasp itself… as seeing oneself seeing oneself – represents mere sleight of hand [Peeping Tom]. An avoidance of the function of the gaze is at work there” 74.

“[In narcissism] can we not also grasp that which has been eluded, namely, the function of the gaze?… we are beings who are looked at, in the spectacle of the world. That which makes us consciousness institutes us by the same token as speculum mundi… that gaze that circumscribes us, and which in the first instance makes us beings who are looked at, but without showing this? The spectacle of the world… appears to us as all-seeing… The world is all-seeing, but it is not exhibitionistic – it does not provoke our gaze [vs woman]. When it begins to provoke it, the feeling of strangeness begins too… in the so-called waking state, there is an elision of the gaze, and an elision of the fact that not only does it look it also shows… In a dream, [a man] is a butterfly. What does this mean? It means that he ses the butterfly in his reality as gaze ” 75.

“Next time, I propose to introduce you to the essence of scopic satisfaction… In so far as the gaze, qua objet a, may come to symbolize this central lack expressed in the phenomenon of castration, and in so far as it is an objet a reduced, of its nature, to a punctiform, evanescent function, it leaves the subject in ignorance as to what there is beyond the appearance, an ignorance so characteristic of all progress in though that occurs in the way constituted by philosophical research” 77.

“Psychology… lead[s] the subject back to his signifying dependence…. the tuche is represented in visual apprehension… the stain… the level of reciprocity between the gaze and the gazed at is, for the subject, more open than any other alibi… we should try to avoid, by our interventions… allowing the subject to establish himself on this level… we should cut him off from this point of ultimate gaze, which is illusory… It is not, after all for nothing that analysis is carried out face to face. The split between gaze and vision will enable us, you will see, to add the scopic drive to the list of the drives… it is this drive that most completely eludes the term castration” 77-8.

SEMINAR XX, 1975

ON JOUISSANCE

“Law does not ignore the bed… what remains veiled in the bed… namely, what we do in that bed – squeeze each other tight” 2-3. “‘Usufruct’ brings together in one word… the difference between utility and jouissance.. you can enjoy your means, but must not waste them. When you have the usufruct of an inheritance, you can enjoy the inheritance as long as you don’t use up too much of it. That is clearly the essence of law – to divide up, distribute, or reattribute everything that counts as jouissance” 3.

“Jouissance is what serves no purpose… the superego is the imperative of jouissance – Enjoy!” 3. “Jouissance of the other… of the body of the Other who symbolizes the Other, is not the sign of love” 4. “Love, of course, constitutes a sign and is always mutual” 4. “Love demands love. It never stops demanding it. It demands it… encore. ‘Encore’ is the proper name of the gap in the Other from which the demand for love stems” 4. “L’amur is what appears in the form of bizarre signs on the body… the sexual characteristics that come from beyond” 5. “Is Eros a tension toward the One?” 5.

“Analysis demonstrates that love, in its essence, is narcissistic, and reveals that the substance of what is supposedly object-like – what a bunch of bull – is in fact that which constitutes a remainder in desire, namely, its cause, and sustains desire through its lack of satisfaction, and even its impossibility. Love is impotent, though mutual, because it is not aware that it is but the desire to be One, which leads us to the impossibility of establishing the relationship between… them-two sexes” 5.

Jouissance is essentially phallic, though there is a specifically feminine jouissance that is the jouissance of the Other, and which both men and women can experience without comprehending it. (Later Lacan will develop surplus jouissance, based on Marxist surplus, to describe pleasure without use value).

“The phallus is the conscientious objection made by one of the two sexed beings to the service to be rendered to the other. Don’t talk to me about women’s secondary sexual characteristics because, barring some sort of radical change, it is those of the mother that take precedence in her. Nothing distinguishes woman as a sexed being other than her sexual organ” 7.

“Everything revolves around phallic jouissance, in that woman is defined by a position that I have indicated as ‘not whole’ with respect to phallic jouissance… the obstacle owing to which man does not come… to enjoy woman’s body, precisely because what he enjoys is the jouissance of the organ” 7.

“Sexual jouissance has the privilege of being specified by an impasse… The intersection… covers or poses an obstacle to the supposed sexual relationship. Only ‘supposed,’ since I state that analytic discourse is premised solely on the statement that there is no such thing…Jouissance, qua sexual, is phallic –  in other words, it is not related to the Other as such” 9.

“What is implied… by the demonstrable finity of the open spaces that can cover the space that is limited and closed in the case of sexual jouissance?… The sexed being of these not-whole women does not involve the body but what results from a logical exigency in speech… language exists and is outside the bodies that are moved by it” 10.

Women can be treated “one by one,” can be named and counted, but Lacan differentiates this from “the One of universal fusion. If woman were not not-whole – if, in her body, she were not not-whole as sexed being – none of that would hold true” 10. “The subject manifests himself in his gap, namely, in that which causes his desire… As for being that would be posited as absolute, it is never anything but the fracture, break, or interruption of the formulation ‘sexed being,’ insofar as sexed being is involved in jouissance” 11.

GOD & WOMAN’S JOUISSANCE

Lacan moves beyond Freud in that he imagines a jouissance beyond that determined by the phallus. If in the first case the phallus is the axis between the two sexes, in this case there is a One – that sexuality is one in language, and that sexuality is and is constituted by language. This is true because sex is not between subject and Other but subject and object. Masculine sex is therefore (in Freudian terms of polymorphism) always perverse – it always covers the absence of the Other. Therefore the fantasies of women are also masculine. Maternity is made masculine by its relation to the object, which Lacan uses to explain why perversion is ‘unnecessary’ to female sexuality. Femininity is not opposed to masculinity, but ‘supplementary’ to it. This is largely accomplished through Lacan’s belief in the unconscious of language – femininity can exist there outside the male.

Deleuze & Guattari: from “One Thousand Plateaus”

1987

2: 1914: ONE OR SEVERAL WOLVES?

The chapter is a narrative of the Wolf-Man, who “knew that Freud knew nothing” and that his new name for himself would be “reinscribed as patronymic” 26. Speaking of the hysteric versus the neurotic, “Comparing a sock to a vagina is OK, it’s done all the time, but you’d have to be insane to compare a pure aggregate of stitches to a field of vaginas: that’s what Freud says” 27. (Think of how this compares to making the female body into synecdochic surfaces…)

“On the verge of discovering a rhizome, Freud always returns to mere roots” 27.

“The proper name can be nothing more than an extreme case of the common noun, containing its already domesticated multiplicity within itself and linking it to a being or object posited as unique” 27.

“For Freud, when the thing splinters and loses its identity, the word is still there to restore that identity or invent a new one. Freud counted on the word to reestablish a unity no longer found in things. Are we not witnessing the first stirrings of a subsequent adventure, that of the Signifier, the devious despotic agency that substitutes itself for asignifying proper names and replaces multiplicities with the dismal unity of an object declared lost?” 28.

“It was already decided from the very beginning that animals could serve only to represent coitus between parents, or, conversely, be represented by coitus between parents… [not the possibility of ] the call to become-wolf” 28.

“In becoming-wolf, the the important thing is the position of the mass, and above all the position of the subject itself in relation to the pack or wolf-multiplicity… I am on the edge of the crowd, at the periphery; but I belong to it, I am attached to it by one of my extremities, a hand or foot. I know that the periphery is the only place I can be, that I would die if I let myself be drawn into the center of the fray, but just as certainly if I let go of the crowd… difficult to hold… to take a walk like Viriginia Woolf (never again will I say, ‘I am this, I am that’)” 29.

“Freud tried to approach crowd phenomena from the point of view of the unconscious, but he did not see… the unconscious itself was fundamentally a crowd” 29.

“The body without organs is not a dead body but a living body all the more alive and teeming once it has blown apart the organism and its organization” 30. (the novel?)

Why does Freud reduce all to the One, especially when he seems to see libidinal and other multiplicities? “Let us return to the story of multiplicity, for the creation of this substantive marks a very important moment. It was created precisely in order to escape the abstract opposition between the multiple and the one, to escape dialectics, to succeed in conceiving the multiple in the pure state, to cease treating it as a numerical fragment of a lost Unity or Totality… [or one] yet to come” 32. (Also thing about this in terms of fragmentation and the real!)

“There are no individual statements, only statement-producing machinic assemblages. We say that the assemblage is fundamentally libidinal and unconscious. It is the unconscious in person… types of interpenetrating multiplicities that at any given moment form a single machinic assemblage, the faceless figure of the libido” 36.

“Castration! Castration! cries the psychoanalytic scarecrow, who never saw more than a hold, a father, or a dog where wolves are, a domesticated individual where there are wild multiplicities” 38.

4: NOVEMBER 20, 1923: POSTULATES OF LINGUISTICS

In language, “the compulsory education machine does not communicate information; it imposes upon the child semiotic coordinates possessing all of the dual foundations of grammar (masculine-feminine, singular-plural, noun-verb, subject of the statement-subject of enunciation, etc.)” 75-6. “Language is made not to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience” 76.

“Language does not operate between something seen (or felt) and something said, but always goes from saying to saying… Hearsay… the first determination of language is not the trope or metaphor but indirect discourse. The importance some have accorded metaphor and metonymy proves disastrous for the study of language… merely effects… a part of language only when they presuppose indirect discourse” 77.

“There is no individual enunciation. There is not even a subject of enunciation. Yet relatively few linguists have analyzed the necessarily social character of enunciation” 79-80.

“The major and minor mode are two different treatments of language, one of which consists in extracting constants from it, the other in placing it in continuous variation” 106.

“One should bring forth the order-word of the order-word… There are pass-words beneath order-words. Words that pass, words that are components of passage, whereas order-words mark stoppages or organized, stratified compositions. A single thing or word undoubtedly has this twofold nature: it is necessary to extract one from the other – to transform the compositions of order into components of passage” 110.

7: YEAR ZERO: FACIALITY

Deleuze & Guattari name two axes:

“Significance is never without a white wall upon which it inscribes its signs and redundancies. Subjectification is never without a black hole in which it lodges its consciousness, passion, and redundancies… A very special mechanism is situated at their intersection. Oddly enough, it is a face: the white wall/black hole system. A broad face with white cheeks, a chalk face with eyes cut in for a black hole… The face is not an envelope exterior to the person who speaks, thinks, or feels [because it helps us read speech]… Faces are not basically individual; they define zones of frequency or probability… In film, the close-up of the face can be said to have two poles: make the face reflect light or, on the contrary, emphasize its shadows… the face is a visual percept that crystallizes out of ‘different varieties of vague luminosity without form or dimension’ ” 168.

“The face is part of a surface-holes, holey surface, system… the face is a surface: facial traits, lines, wrinkles… the face is a map… The face is produced only when the head ceases to be a part of the body, when it ceases to be coded by the body… when the body has been decoded and has to be overcoded by something we shall call the Face… the entire body can be facialized, comes to be facialized as part of an inevitable process… horrible and magnificent. Hand, breast, stomach, penis and vagina, thigh, leg and foot, all come to be facialized. Fetishism, erotomania… no anthropomorphism… not by resemblance but by order of reasons… Everything remains sexual; there is no sublimation, but there are new coordinates” 170.

“The inhuman in human beings: that is what the face is from the start… Sartre’s text on the look and Lacan’s on the mirror make the error of appealing to a form of subjectivity or humanity reflected in a phenomenological field or split in a structural field. The gaze is but secondary in relation to the gazeless eyes, to the black hole of faciality. The mirror is but secondary in relation to the white wall of faciality… [not] an approach based on part-objects… not fundamentally organs without bodies, or the fragmented body; it is the body without organs, animated” 171.

(It is interesting to compare the link between this and racism to Ngai’s chapter “Animatedness.”) “How do you get out of the black hole? How do you break through the wall? How do you dismantle the face?” Whereas the French novel is critical of life, the Anglo-American novel is creative of it 186.

“They know how difficult it is to get out of the black hole of subjectivity, of consciousness and memory, of the couple and conjugality. How tempting it is to let yourself get caught, to lull yourself into it, to latch back onto a face… the wall of a signifier… But art is never an end in itself; it is only a tool for blazing life lines… [not] taking refuge in art… but instead sweep[ing] it away with them toward the realms of the asignifying, asubjective, and faceless” 187.

“The white wall of the signifier, the black hole of subjectivity, and the facial machine are impasses, the measure of our submissions and subjections; but we are born into them, and it is there we must stand battle. Not in the sense of a necessary stage [Kant’s aesthetics?], but in the sense of a tool for which a new use must be invented. Only across the wall of the signifier can you run lines of asignificance that void all memory, all return, all possible signification and interpretation. Only in the black hole of subjective consciousness and passion do you discover the transformed, heated, captured particles you must relaunch for a nonsubjective, living love in which each party connects with unknown tracts in the other without entering or conquering them, in which the lines composed are broken lines” 189.

“Set faciality traits free like birds, not in order to return to a primitive head, but to invent the combinations by which those traits connect with landscapity traits that have themselves been freed from the landscape and with traits of picturality and musicality that have been freed from their respective codes… The uncertain moment at which the white wall/black hole black point/white shore system, as on a Japanese print, itself becomes one with the act of leaving it, breaking away from and crossing through it” 189.

“There are no more concentrically organized strata… no more face to be in redundancy with a landscape, painting, or little phrase of music, each perpetually bringing the other to mind, on the unified surface of the wall or the central swirl of the black hole. Each freed faciality trait forms a rhizome with a freed trait of landscapity, picturality, or musicality. This is not a collection of part-objects but a living block, a connection of stems by which the traits of a face enter a real multiplicity or diagram with a trait of an unknown landscape… Thus opens a rhizomatic realm of possibility effecting the potentialization of the possible, as opposed to arborescent possibility, which marks a closure, an impotence” 190.

“Beyond the face lies an altogether different inhumanity: no longer that of the primitive head, but of ‘probe heads’; here, cutting edges of deterritorialization become operative and lines of deterritorialization positive and absolute, forming strange new becomings, new polyvocalities. Become clandestine, make rhizome everywhere, for the wonder of a nonhuman life to be created” 191.

Compare all of this to hysterical realism, the postmodern novel, the jagged, “cutting” edges of faceting interspersed with ‘faces’ that may conceal but are part of the act of fiction (vs rhizome – only lines).

11: OF THE REFRAIN

The refrain is territorial: the bird song 312. “Sometimes one goes from chaos to the threshold of aterritorial assemblage: directional components, infra-assemblage. Sometimes one organizes the assemblage: dimensional components, intra-assemblage. Sometimes one leaves the territorial assemblage for other assemblages, or for somewhere else entirely: interassemblage, components of passage or even escape. And all three at once. Forces of chaos, terrestrial forces, cosmic forces: all of these confront each other and converge in the territorial refrain” 312.

“The T factor, the territorializing factor, must be sought elsewhere: precisely in the becoming-expressive of rhythm or melody, in other words, in the emergence or proper qualities (color, odor, sound, silhouette…). Can this becoming, this emergence, be called Art? That would make the territory a result of art. The artist: the first person to set out a boundary stone, or to make a mark. Property, collective or individual, is derived from that even when it is in the service of war and oppression. Property is fundamentally artistic because art is fundamentally poster, placard… coral fish are posters… expressive qualities are necessarily appropriative and constitute a having more profound than being… not the indication of a person; it is the chancy formation of a domain” 316.

“The territorial assemblage continually passes into other assemblages…. In the intra-assemblage, sexuality may appear as a territorialized function, but it can just as easily draw a line of deterritorialization that describes another assemblage; there are therefore quite variable relations between sexuality and the territory, as if sexuality were keeping ‘its distance'” 325.

“The problem of consistency concerns the manner in which the components of a territorial assemblage hold together… different assemblages hold together [to each other], with components of passage and relay… the clearest, easiest answer seems to be provided by a formalizing, linear, hierarchized, centralized arborescent model… This kind of representation, however, is constructed of oversimplified binarities… in considering the system as a whole we should speak less of automatism of a higher center than of coordination between centers, and of the cellular groupings or molecular populations that perform these couplings: there is no form or correct structure imposed from without or above but rather an articulation from within” 327-8.

“There is no beginning from which a linear sequence would derive… ‘there is growth only by intercalation’… a distribution of inequalities… a superposition of disparate rhythms… with no imposition of meter or cadence” 329.

“Not only is concrete [literally the material] a heterogenous matter whose degree of consistency varies according to the elements in the mix, but iron is intercalated following a rhythm; moreover its self-supporting surfaces form a complex rhythmic personage whose ‘stems’ have different sections and variable intervals depending on the intensity and direction of the force to be tapped (armature instead of structure). In this sense, the literary or musical work has an architecture: ‘Saturate every atom,’ as Virginia Woolf said; or in the words of Henry James, it is necessary to ‘begin far away, as far away as possible,’ and to proceed by ‘blocks of wrought matter.’ It is no longer a question of imposing form upon a matter but of elaborating an increasingly rich and consistent material, the better to tap increasingly intense forces. What makes a material increasingly rich is the same as what holds heterogeneities together without their ceasing to be heterogeneities… intercalary oscillators, synthesizers with at least two heats… The territorial assemblage is a milieu consolidation, a space-time consolidation, of coexistence and succession. And the refrain operates with these three factors” 329.

“First, individual atoms can enter into probabilistic or statistical accumulations that tend to efface their individuality; this already happens on the level of the molecule, and then again in the molar aggregate. But they can become complicated in interactions and retain their individuality inside the molecule, then in the macromolecule, etc., setting up direct communications between individuals of different orders. Second, it is clear that the distinction to be made is… between two group movements… one group tends toward increasingly equilibrated, homogenous, and probable states… the other group tends toward les probable states of concentration… Third, the intramolecular forces that give an aggregate its molar form can be of two types: they are either covalent, arborescent, mechanical, linear, localizable relations subject to chemical conditions of action and reaction or to linked reactions, or they are indirect, noncovalent, machinic and nonmechanical, superlienar, nonlocalizable bonds operating by stereospecific discernment or discrimination rather than by linkage” 335 (FACETING)

The authors consider classicism (lacks a boundary between itself and the baroque), romanticism (lacks a people), and the modern (cosmic, disparate).

“This synthesis of disparate elements is not without ambiguity… Sometimes one overdoes it, puts too much in, works with a jumble of lines and sounds… back to a machine of reproduction that ends up reproducing nothing but a scribble effacing all lines, a scramble effacing all sounds. The claim is that one is opening music to all events, all irruptions, but one ends up reproducing a scrambling that prevents any event from happening… A material that is too rich remains too ‘territorialized’… one makes an aggregate fuzzy, instead of defining the fuzzy aggregate by the operations of consistency or consolidation… a fuzzy aggregate, a synthesis of disparate elements, is defined only by a degree of consistency that makes it possible to distinguish the disparate elements constituting that aggregae (discernibility). The material must be sufficiently deterritorialized to be molecularized and open onto something cosmic, instead of lapsing into a statistical heap. This condition is met only if there is a certain simplicity in the nonuniform material… sobriety” 344.

(The word choice of effacing is interesting here, as is heap – Jameson!). The authors emphasize that this is not teleological progress and

“should not be interpreted as an evolution, or a s structures separated by signifying breaks. They are assemblages enveloping different Machines, or different relations to the Machine. In a sense, everything we attribute to an age was already present in the preceding age… Fuzzy aggregates have been constituting themselves and inventing their processes of consolidation all along… The most we can say is that when forces appear as forces of the earth or of chaos, they are not grasped directly as forces but as reflected in relations between matter and form. Thus it is more a question of thresholds of perception, or thresholds of discernibility belonging to given assemblages” 346.

“So just what is a refrain? Glass harmonica: the refrain is a prism, a crystal of space-time. It acts upon that which surrounds it, sound or light, extracting from it various vibrations, or decompositions, projections, or transformations. The refrain also has a catalytic function: not only to increase the speed of the exchanges and reactions in that which surrounds it, but also to assure indirect interactions between elements devoid of so-called natural affinity, and thereby to form organized masses. The refrain is therefor of the crystal or protein type. The seed, or internal structure, then has two essential aspects: augmentations and diminutions, additions and withdrawals, amplifications and eliminations by unequal values, but also the presence of a retrograde motion running in both directions… from the extremes to  a center, or, on the contrary, to develop by additions, moving from a center to the extremes” 349.

14: THE SMOOTH & THE STRIATED

“Smooth space [felt] and striated space [fabric] – nomad space and sedentary space – the space in which the war machine develops and the space instituted by the State apparatus – are not of the same nature… the two spaces in fact only exist in mixture: smooth space is constantly being translated, transversed into a striated space; striated space is constantly being reversed, returned to a smooth space” 474.

The authors give the example of felt, “an entanglement of fibers obtained by fulling (for example, by rolling the block of fibers back and forth)” rather than by a gridlike weaving or intersection, which “is nevertheless smooth, and contrasts point by point with the space of fabric” 475. Other textural oppositions: crochet/knitting, patchwork/embroidery (the patchwork in Faulkner’s Sartoris).  “An amorphous collection of juxtaposed pieces that can be joined together in an infinite number of ways: we see that patchwork is literally a Riemannian space, or vice versa… the quilting bee in America, and its role from the standpoint of women’s collectivity” 477. Here the authors are more explicit about the way in which the rhizome and its relatives are less phallogocentric and more gynocentric.

“In striated space, lines or trajectories tend to be subordinated to points: one goes from one point to another. In the smooth, it is the opposite: the points are subordinated to the journey; inside space conforms to outside space: tent, igloo, boat” 478 (FACETING!)

“This is where the very special problem of the sea enters in. For the sea is a smooth space par excellence, and yet was the first to encounter the demands of increasingly strict striation… [the first] of all smooth spaces… to undergo a gradual striation gridding it in one place, then another, on this side and that” 480. (Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce)

“It was a decisive event when the mathematician Riemann uprooted the multiple from its predicate state and made it a noun, ‘multiplicity.’ It marked the end of dialectics and the beginning of a typology and topology of multiplicities… unlike magnitutes, they cannot divide without changing in nature each time… [Bergson’s] duration is in no way indivisible, but is that which cannot be divided whtout changing in nature at each division [Xeno’s paradox]” 483.

“All progress is made by and in striated space, but all becoming occurs in smooth space. Is it possible to give a very general mathematical definition of smooth spaces? Benoit Mandelbrot’s ‘fractals’ seem to be on that path. Fractals are aggregates whose number of dimensions is fractional rather than whole, or else whole but with continuous variation in direction” 486.

I’d like to think about poetry and films as “more than a line, less than a surface” (Von Koch’s curve, made by “pointing” segments of a line ad infinitum) and novels and television series as “more than a surface, less than a volume” (Sierpensky’s sponge, successively and infinitely “hollow”) 487. The first has shape, but not dimension (time!), the latter has dimension, but not volume (actuality). This model renders smooth space as “a flat multiplicity” that “does not have a dimension higher than that which moves through it or is inscribed in it” 488. There are six features of this smooth space, of which the last is:

“A smooth, amorphous space of this kind is constituted by an accumulation of proximities, and each accumulation defines a zone of indiscernibility proper to ‘becoming’ (more than a line and less than a surface; less than a volume and more than a surface)” 488.

This is opposed to the ‘weave’ of striated space: ”

“the more regular the intersection, the tighter the striation, the more homogenous the space tends to become… homogeneity did not seem to us to be a characteristic of smooth space, but on the contrary, the extreme result of striation” 488.

“What interests us in the operations of striation and smoothing are precisely the passages or combinations: how the forces at work within space continually striate it, and how in the course of its striation it develops other forces and emits new smooth spaces. Even the most striated city gives rise to smooth spaces: to live in the city as a nomad, or as a cave dweller. Movements, speed and slowness, are sometimes enough to reconstruct a smooth space. Of course, smooth spaces are not in themselves liberatory. But the struggle is changed or displaced in them, and life reconstitutes its stakes, confronts new obstacles, invents new paces, switches adversaries. Never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us” 500. (Frost, ice.)

15: CONCLUSION: CONCRETE RULES & ABSTRACT MACHINES

The conclusion is structured as a short review of the previous sections, annotated with marginal numbers to reference the source sections for the ideas. “At the level of pathos, these multiplicities are expressed by psychosis and especially schizophrenia. At the level of pragmatics, they are utilized by sorcery” (fascination?) 506. “Mechanosphere” 514.

Deleuze & Guattari, Introduction: “One Thousand Plateaus”

1987

Translator’s Note (Brian Massumi): Deleuze “discovered an orphan line of thinkers who were tied by no direct descendance but were united in their opposition to the State philosophy that would nevertheless accord them minor positions in its canon. Between Lucretius, Hume, Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson there exists a ‘secret link constituted by the critique of negativity, the cultivation of joy, the hatred of interiority, the exteriority of forces and relations, the denunciation of power'” x. Guattari is a practicing psychoanalyst. Versus phallogocentrism as pointed out by Cixous and Irigaray (“what the most privileged model of rocklike identity is goes without saying”), “Deleuze & Guattari describe it as the ‘arborescent model’ of thought (the proudly erect tree under whose spreading boughs latter-day Platos conduct their class) xii. “Nomad thought does not immure itself in the edifice of an ordered interiority; it moves freely in an element of exteriority” xii.

“The space of nomad thought is qualitatively different from State space. Air against earth. State space is ‘striated,’ or gridded. Movement in it is confined as by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that plane to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points. Nomad space is ‘smooth,’ or open-ended. One can rise up at any point and move to any other. Its mode of distribution is the nomos: arraying oneself in an open space (hold the street), as opposed to the logos of entrenching oneself in a closed space (hold the fort)” xiii.

For Massumi, nomad thought is comparable to Spinoza’s ethics, Nietzsche’s gay science, Artaud’s crowned anarchy, Blanchot’s ‘space of literature,’ or Foucault’s ‘outside thought’ xiii. “On a formal level, it is mathematics and music that create the smoothest of the smooth spaces” xiii. (Philosophy is more “music with content” than the opposite.) The book, then, is more like a record – one can skip tracks, repeat, etc. “Plateau” has its origins in a sexual reference – to a world of “plateaus’ in sexuality, rather than “the West’s orgasmic orientation” xiv.

“A plateau is reached when circumstances combine to bring an activity to a pitch of intensity that is not automatically dissipated in a climax. The heightening of energies is sustained long enough to leave a kind of afterimage of its dynamism that can be reactivated or injected into other activities, creating a fabric of intensive states between which any number of connecting routes could exist” xiv.

Thus, ‘consistency’ or ‘style’ here is a holding together, rather than a homogeneity. The particular dates of particular chapters “correspond to the point at which that particular dynamism found its purest incarnation in matter… that never lasts more than a flash” xiv.

“The reader is invited to follow each section to the plateau that rises from the smooth space of its composition, and to move from one plateau to the next at pleasure. But it is just as good to ignore the heights. You can take a concept that is particularly to your liking and jump with it to its next appearance. They tend to cycle back. Some might call that repetitious. Deleuze and Guattari call it a refrain. Most of all, the reader is invited to lift a dynamism out of the book entirely, and incarnate it in a foreign medium, whether it be painting or politics. The authors steal from other disciplines with glee, but they are more than happy to return the favor” xv.

“Deleuze’s own image for a concept is not a brick, but a ‘tool box.’ He calls his kind of philosophy ‘pragmatics’ because its goal is the invention of concepts that do not add up to a system of belief or an architecture of propositions that you either enter or you don’t, but instead pack a potential in the way a crowbar in a willing hand envelops an energy of prying… read [this book] as a challenge: to pry open the vacant spaces that would enable you to build your life and those of the people around you into a plateau of intensity that would leave afterimages of its dynamism that could be reinjected into still other lives, creating a fabric of heightened states between which any number, the greatest number, of connecting routes could exist. Some might call that promiscuous. Deleuze and Guattari call it revolution” xv.

Interesting how the text enacts “refrain” here! “The question is not: is it true? But: does it work?” xv.

1:  INTRODUCTION: RHIZOME

In the process of writing together, “We are no longer ourselves… We have been aided, inspired, multiplied” 3.

“A book has neither object nor subject; it is made of variously formed matters, and very different dates and speeds. To attribute the book to a subject is to overlook this working of matters, and the exteriority of their relations. It is to fabricate a beneficent God to explain geological movements… articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories… lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification… rates of flow… phenomena of relative slowness and viscosity… acceleration and rupture… an assemblage… It is a multiplicity” 3-4.

“One side of a machine assemblage faces the strata, which doubtless make it a kind of organism, or signifying totality, or determination attributable to a subject; it also has a side facing a body without organs, which is continually dismantling the organism, causing asignifying particles or pure intensities to pass or circulate, and attributing to itself subjects that it leaves with nothing more than a name as the trace of an intensity” 4.

“What is the body without organs of a book?… there is no difference between what a book talks about and how it is made… as an assemblage, a book has only itself, in connection with other assemblages and in relation to other bodies without organs… [not] what it means, as signified or signifier… with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs it makes its own converge” 4.

“A book exists only through the outside and on the outside… this literary machine to a war machine, love machine… All we talk about are multiplicities, lines, strata, and segmentarities… writing as always the measure of something else” 4.

“Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come” 5.

The authors describe “the root-book… the classical book, as noble signifying, and subjective organic interiority (the strata of the book)” 5.  ”

“The book imitates the world, as art imitates nature… The law of the book is the law of reflection, the One that becomes two… whenever we encounter this formula, even stated strategically by Mao or understood in the most ‘dialectical’ way possible, what we have before us is the most classical and well reflected, oldest, and weariest kind of thought… [but] in nature, roots are taproots with a more multiple, lateral, and circular system of ramification, rather than a dichotomous one… Binary logic is the spiritual reality of the root-tree… this system of thought has never reached an understanding of multiplicity… [but instead a dualism based in] a strong principle unity…” 5.

“The binary logic of dichotomy has simply been replaced by biunivocal relationships between successive circles. The pivotal taproot provides no better understanding of multiplicity than the dichotomous root. One operates in the object, the other in the subject. Binary logic and biunivocal relationships still dominate psychoanalysis… linguistics, structuralism, and even information systems…” 5.

Deleuze & Guattari point to the “radicle-system or fascicular root” (interesting that radical has as its root the word “root,” and that fascicular is the same root, fascista, as gives us fascist) 5 and William Burroughs’ “cut-up method: the folding of one text onto another, which constitutes multiple and even adventitious roots… implies a supplementary dimension… of folding… the most resolutely fragmented work can also be presented as the Total Work or Magnum Opus” 6.

“Most modern methods for making series proliferate or a multiplicity grow are perfectly valid in one direction, for example, a linear direction, whereas a unity of totalization asserts itself even more firmly in another, circular or cyclic, dimension. Whenever a multiplicity is taken up in a structure, its growth is offset by a reduction in its laws of combination. The abortionists of unity are indeed angel makers, doctores angelici, because they affirm a properly angelic and superior unity. Joycce’s words, accurately described as having ‘multiple roots,’ shatter the linear unity of the word, even of language, only to posit a cyclic unity of the sentence, text, or knowledge: 6.

“The fascicular system does not really break with dualism, with the complementarity between a subject and an object… the world has become chaos, but the book remains the image of the world… A strange mystification: a book all the more total for being fragmented… The multiple must be made… Subtract the unique from the multiplicity to be constituted; write at n-1 dimensions. A system of this kind could be called a rhizome” 6.

“The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers… the best and the worst…” 7.

The authors go on to delineate 6 characteristics of the rhizome:

1. & 2. “Any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” 7. They want to differentiate this from other systems, including Chomsky’s on language, which holds a central symbol. “Our criticism of these linguistic models is not that they are too abstract but, on the contrary, that they are not abstract enough… A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles… a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages… no ideal speaker-listener” 8. The rhizome decenters and destabilizes language.

3. “It is only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, ‘multiplicity,’ that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world” 8.

“Multiplicities are rhizomatic, and expose arborescent pseudomultiplicities for what they are. There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object, or to divide in the subject. A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature (the laws of combination therefore increase in number as the multiplicity grows). Puppet strings, as a rhizome or multiplicity, are tied not to the supposed will of an artist or puppeteer but to a multiplicity of nerve fibers, which form another puppet in other dimensions… the weave… An assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections. There are no points or positions in a rhyizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines… making the whole piece proliferate.” 8.

“Unity always operates in an empty dimension supplementary to that of the system considered (overcoding). The point is that a rhizome or multiplicity never allows itself to be overcoded, never has available a supplementary dimension over and above its number of lines, that is, over and above the multiplicity of numbers attached to those lines. All multiplicities are flat, in the sense that they fill or occupy all of their dimensions… a plane of consistensy of multiplicities… the dimensions of this ‘plane’ increase with the number of connections… Multiplicities are defined by the outside… the line of flight or deterritorialization according to which they change in nature and connect with other multiplicities… flattening all of the multiplicities on a single plane of consistency or exteriority, regardless of their number of dimensions” 8-9.

“The ideal for a book would be to lay everything out on a plane of exteriority of this kind, on a single page, the same sheet: lived events, historical determinations, concepts, individuals, groups, social formations… a broken chain of affects and variable speeds, with accelerations and transformations, always in a relation to the outside. Open rings [versus] the classical or romantic book constituted by the interiority of a substance or subject. The war-machine book against the State apparatus-book. Flat multiplicities of n dimensions are asignifying and asubjective… partitives… some…” 9.

4. “Against the oversignifying breaks separating structures or cutting across a single structure. A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines… ants… lines of segmentarity… as well as lines of deterritorialization down which it constantly flees… one can never posit a dualism or a dichotomy” 9.  “Groups and individuals contain microfascisms just waiting to crystallize” 10. ‘We form a rhizome with our viruses, or rather our viruses cause us to form a rhizome with other animals… The rhizome is an anti-genealogy” 10-11.

“The same applies to the book and the world: contrary to a deeply rooted belief, the book is not an image of the world. It forms a rhizome with the world, there is an aparallel evolution of the book and the world; the book assures the deterritorialization of the world, but the world effects a reterritorialization of the book, which in turn deterritorializes itself in the world (if it is capable, if it can). Mimicry is a very bad concept, since it relies on binary logic to describe phenomena of an entirely different nature” 11. (hysterical realism!)

“Always follow the rhizome by rupture; lengthen, prolong, and relay the line of flight; make it vary, until you have produced the most abstract and tortuous of lines of n dimensions and broken directions… Follow the plants: you start by delimiting a first line consisting of circles of convergence around successive singularities; then you see whether inside that line new circles of convergence establish themselves, with new points located outside the limits and in other directions. Write, form a rhizome… extend the line of flight to the point where it becomes an abstract maching covering the entire plane of consistency” 11.

D & G idealize music somewhat because it so often overturns its own structures.

5. & 6. “Cartography… The rhizome is… a map and not a tracing… entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real… does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious… connections between fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs… open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification… Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways… the burrow… performance [vs competence]” 12 (think of Silko and Pynchon, as well as of Jameson’s critice of the Hotel Bonaventure).  Applied to psychoanalysis, this approach pushes against approaches that treat drives as “entryways and exits,” not facile labels and structures to which patients easily adhere 13. “Take a look at psychoanalysis and linguistics: all the former has ever made are tracings or photos of the unconscious, and the latter of language” 13. “Plug the tracings back into the map,” suggest the authors 14.

“If it is true that it is of the essence of the map or rhizome to have multiple entryways, then it is plausible that one could even enter them through tracings or the root-tree, assuming the necessary precautions are taken… one will often be forced to take dead ends, to work with signifying powers and subjective affections, to find a foothold in formations that are Oedipal or paranoid or even worse, rigidified territorialities that open the way for other transformational operations. i tis even possible for psychoanalysis to serve as a foothold, in spite of itself… there are very diverse map-tracing, rhizome-root assemblages, with variable coefficients of deterritorialization… a tree branch or root might begin to burgeon into a rhizome… aggregates of intensities” 15.

(This sounds a lot like Foucault’s suggestion for resisting power structures.) “Accounting and bureaucracy proceed by trancings: they can begin to burgeon nonetheless, throwing out rhizome stems, as in a Kafka novel. An intensive trait… challenging the hegemony of the signifier” 15. The child has freedom in his movements from dominance (think Lolita!).

“To be rhizomorphous is to produce stems and filaments that seem to be roots, or better yet connect with them by penetrating the trunk, but put them to strange new uses. We’re tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, radicles… from biology to linguistics” 15.

“Thought is not arborescent, and the brain is not a rooted or ramified matter. What are wrongly called ‘dendrites’ do not assure the connection of neurons in a continuous fabric… the leap each message makes across these fissures, make the brain a multiplicity immersed in its plane of consistency or neuroglia, a whole uncertain, probabilistic system (‘the uncertain nervous system’). Many people have a tree growing in their heads, but the brain itself is much more a grass than a tree” 15.

D & G differentiate between short-term memory as rhizome and long-term memory as tree:

“The splendor of the short-term Idea: one writes using short-term memory, and thus short-term ideas, even if one reads or rereads using long-term memory of long-term concepts. Short-term memory includes forgetting as a process; it merges not with the instant but instead with the nervous, temporal, and collective rhizome” 16.

“The tree and root inspire a sad image of thought that is forever imitating the multiple on the basis of a centered or segmented higher unity… even if the links themselves proliferate, one can never get beyond the One-Two, and fake multiplicities… even when one thinks one has reached a multiplicity, it may be a false one – of what we call the radicle type – because its ostensibly nonhierarchical presentation or statement in fact only admits of a totally hierarchical solution.. the structure of Power” 16-17.

“Psychoanalysis… subjects the unconscious to arborescent structures, hierarchical graphs, recapitulatory memories, central organs, the phallus, the phallus-tree… a dictatorial conception of the unconscious… there is always a leader (General Freud). Schizoanalysis, on the other hand, treats the unconscious as an acentered system, in other words, as a machine network of finite automata (a rhizome), and thus arrives at an entirely different state of the unconscious… and linguistics… never to reduce the unconscious or to interpret it or to make it signify according to a tree model… [but to] produce the unconscious… new statements, different desires: the rhizome is precisely the production of the unconscious” 18.

(How ironic that Saussure came up with the argument for sign, a unity made of the binary signified/signifier, with the arbor/tree example.)

“Transcendence: a specifically European disease. Neither is music [in the East and the West] the same, the music of the earth is different, as is sexuality: seed plants, even those with two sexes in the same plant, subjugate sexuality to the reproductive model; the rhizome, on the other hand, is a liberation of sexuality not only from reproduction but also from genitality. Here in the West, the tree has implanted itself in our bodies, rigidifying and stratifying even the sexes. We have lost the rhizome, or the grass” 18.

“America is a special case. Of course it is not immune from domination by trees or the search for roots. This is evident in the literature, in the quest for a national identity and even for a European ancestry or genealogy… nevertheless, everything important that has happened or is happening takes the route of the American rhizome: the beatniks, the underground, bands and gangs, successive lateral offshoots in immediate connection with an outside. American books are different than European books, even when the American sets off in pursuit of trees. The conception of the book is different. Leaves of Grass. And directions in America are different: the search for arborescence and the return to the Old World occur in the East. But there is the rhizomatic West, with its Indians without ancestry, its ever-receding limit, its shifting and displaced frontiers. There is a whole American ‘map’ in the West, where even the trees form rhizomes. America reversed the directions: it put its Orient in the West, as if it were precisely in America that the earth came full circle, its West is the edge of the East” 19.

“[America] proceeds both by internal exterminations and liquidations (not only the Indians but also the farmers, etc) and by successive waves of immigration from the outside. The flow of capital produces an immense channel, a quanitification of power with immediate ‘quanta,’ where each person profits from the passage of the money flow in his or her own way (hence the reality-myth of the poor man who strikes it rich and then falls into poverty again): in America, everything comes together, tree and channel, root and rhizome. There is no universal capitalism, there is no capitalism in itself; capitalism is at the crossroads of all kinds of formations; it is neocapitalism by nature. It invents its eastern face and western face, and reshapes them both – all for the worst” 20.

This seems relevant again to Foucault’s idea of how to fight fire with fire, so to speak.

“There are knot of arborescence in rhizomes, and rhizomatic offshoots in roots… the root-tree and canal-rhizome are not two opposed models: the first operates as a transcendent model and tracing, even if it engenders its own escapes; the second operates as an immanent process that overturns the model and outlines a map, even if it constitutes its own hierarchies… not a question of this or that place on earth, or of a given moment in history… a model that is perpetually in construction or collapsing, and of a process that is perpetually prolonging itself, breaking off and starting up again… not a new or different dualism… we employ a dualism of models only in order to arrive at a process that challenges all models” 20.

“Arrive at the magic formula we all seek – Pluralism = Monism – via all the dualisms that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging… it is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion… neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on a plane of consistency, and from which the One is always subtracted (n-1). When a multiplicity of this kind changes dimension, it necessarily changes in nature as well, undergoes a metamorphosis” 21.

“Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, with binary relationships between the points and biunivocal relationships between the positions, the rhizome is made only of lines: lines of segmentarity and stratification as its dimensions, and the line of flight or deterritorialization as the maximum dimension after which the multiplicity undergoes metamorphosis… it is a short-term memory, or antimemory… operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots… a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight… an acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automaton… What is at question in the rhizome is a relation to sexuality – but also to the animal, the vegetal, the world, politics, the book, things natural and artificial – that is totally different from the arborescent relation: all manner of ‘becomings'” 21.

“A plateau is always in the middle… a rhizome is made of plateaus… a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end… [Balinese] mother-child sexual games… ‘Some sort of contintuing plateau of intensity is substituted for (sexual) climax’… a book composed of chapters has culmination and termination points. What takes place in a book composed instead of plateaus that communicate with one another across microfissures, as in a brain? We call a ‘plateau’ any multiplicity connected to other multiplicities by superficial underground stems in such a way as to form or extend a rhizome” 22.

“Rhizomatics = schizoanalysis = stratoanalysis = pragmatics = micropolitics. These words are concepts, but concepts are lines, which is to say, number systems attached to a particular dimension of the multiplicities… all we know are assemblages… machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation” 22.

“It’s not easy to see thinkgs in the middle, rather than looking down on them from above or up at them from below, or from left to right or right to left… never is a plateau separable from the cows that populate it, which are also the clouds in the sky” 23.

The authors oppose Nomadology to History – not the sedentary, unified product of the state apparatus, but a moving, diverse one of multiple narratives. “Why is a model still necessary?” 24.

“Rhizomatics = pop analysis, even if the people have other things to do besides read it, even if the blocks of academic culture or pseudoscientificity in it are still too painful or ponderous… any precarious and pragmatic framework is better than tracing concepts, with their breaks and progress changing nothing. Imperceptible rupture, not signifying break” 24.

“A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjuncion, ‘and… and… and…’… proceeding from the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing. American literature, and already English literature, manifest this rhizomatic direction to an even greater extent; they know how to move between things, establish a logic of the and, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings” 25.

Again, this would be an interesting linguistic/national/periodizing gesture to include in the justification of the works I’m choosing – mostly American but also British novels and television series.

Roland Barthes, “Camera Lucida”

1980

Notes on Roland Barthes with some ruminations ca. 2010 on how the text might relate to Nabokov’s Pale Fire…

In Camera Lucida, Barthes tries to find the noeme, the essence of photography. What he notices first is the distinction between the studium – the ostensible subject or meaning of the photograph – and the punctum – the small detail that pricks through the surface of certain photographs to wound one, and, as he eventually argues, evince pity. This is often an individually chosen detail. The noeme of photography is actually its haunting quality of “that-has-been” – not language, not a story or a described history with a mediator, but the knowledge that the object has been there, and is there no longer – thus, it is a kind of theater of death for Barthes, as it presents as living something that is nonetheless static and dead, even an instant after its capture.

Something of this is captured in the famous Stieglitz photograph that Barthes includes – the steam rising off the horses, ghostlike, is as static and as weighty and as permanent – or, in fact, impermanent – as the horses themselves – there is the certainty that this has been, and also the certainty that it is no more, that it cannot be recreated. This becomes still more haunting for Barthes in the photo of the boy sentenced to die – though I don’t totally understand how that is the punctum and not the studium of the photograph.

The photograph doesn’t recall, like memory, it attests, and the most wounding photograph is ultimately personal for Barthes – the Winter Garden photograph of his mother. It is in spite or perhaps because he did not know her when the photo was taken that he can find her true essence in that photo and his true wound of mourning for her as he cannot in photos where he “remembers” the circumstances in which they were taken.

“Black Mo’nin” picks up on this idea of mourning, echoing the Wittgensteinian idea that “Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent,” but expanding it. The photograph, and particularly the photograph of atrocity, for Moten, must be seen and listened to – it rehearses a silent scream, it speaks publicly for private grief, it performs – like the theater of death, a reenactment of a living moment, a this has been,

Pale Fire employs a notably photographic language – There is also a spylike/voyeuristic quality, examination of all through crystal, glass, lenses, etc. Also,There are a few aspects of these texts I want to hold especially close as we move forward:  First, Barthes’ Kafka quote: “ ‘The necessary condition for an image is sight,’ Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: ‘We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.’ ” (53)

If we can consider Pale Fire a highly visual novel, which I think we can, we might also consider it a novel that attempts to employ an almost photographic language. Shade looks out through the ‘picture’ window of his house, and the prisms of his interpretations are filtered through the media of crystal and glass throughout his poem.

Photographs are all over Pale Fire. Shade’s poem is a series of snapshots of the ordinary shot through his picture window of ordinary objects and their hauntings by his dead daughter Hazel. In his poem, he says, line 30, “My eyes were such that literally they/ Took photographs. Whenever I’d permit, /Or, with a silent shiver, order it…” – these trophies and stillicides then appear on his “eyelid’s nether side.” The “pert pictures” of the Goldsworth daughters irritate Kinbote (as so many photos irritate Barthes, and he throws them in a drawer.

On 101, Kinbote shares with Shade that the King (probably Kinbote) was also, like Shade, unable to recall his father’s face, though he could remember the candy in his hand in that last photograph taken on King Alfin’s lap, a phenomenological oddity that provides what seems to be the punctum of the photo and the passage. It is through “ghastly photographs” that the young King Charles sees the gruesome plane accident that killed his father – this evidence makes particular and visceral that which was only alluded to delicately and elliptically before. He looks at Fleur, his ex-wife, in a photo, and says that “one involuntarily lingers over that picture, as one does when standing at a vantage point of time and knowing in retrospect that in a moment one’s life would undergo a complete change.” 105.

The pictures of the king are reproduced and hung all over the kingdom as he tries to escape, and his friends all dress like him to help him escape. They attempt to replicate him in reality as the photo does with technology. It is also through a photograph that Kinbote mourns Shade in the Foreword, before we have even read the poem or the commentary or the index. In the photo, “Shade is seen leaning on a sturdy cane that had belonged to his Aunt Maud (see line 86.) which then leads you to another note in a paper chase. My left hand is half raised – not to pat Shade on the shoulder as seems to be the intention, but to remove my sunglasses, which, however, it never reached in that life, the life of the picture.” This is the punctum – the realization of the incomplete gesture that inspires tenderness.

Kinbote, too, is haunted by the what has been. In one scene, Kinbote tells us that a visiting professor strains to make Shade see the similarity between the Zemblan king and Kinbote, and Shade refuses, saying ‘Resemblances are the shadows of difference. Different people see different similarities and similar differences.” 265 In this discussion, an “eerie note throbbed by” – the haunting of Kinbote on the photograph. “What a pity I cannot prove my point,” says the German. “If only there was a picture here. Couldn’t there be somewhere” – 267. They find him in an encyclopedia and a comparison ensues, problematic because he is young in the photo – the photo has preserved him as a what has been. This is also paradoxical, however, because the king has been missing, and no one knows what he looks like now, or whether he is alive or dead, as he has been in hiding. Thus the photograph in Pale Fire points to the issue of deictic thinking. However, because it is a novel, or a poem, or neither, but in any case fiction, the photograph in Pale Fire cannot function as it does for Barthes. For the reader, the photograph is evidence, but only within a fictional world, rather than clearly evidential.

As Barthes says, “Language, by nature, is fictional.” We also find out on the same page (quite near the novel’s end) that Zembla is not just like zemlya – which means land – severnaya zemlya – but of “Semblerland – a land of reflections, of “resemblers”.” 265. Thus the image created by language or the image described in created language is never exactly duplicable like the photograph, but then it is never quite proof, either. Its deictic gesture says something, but proves nothing.

Barthes said in an interview that the reader should consider Camera Lucida as being spoken by a character in a novel, and indeed, in the Winter Garden photograph, he provides us not with the photograph that wounds, but with a description of it. To say, “I cannot reproduce the Winter Garden photograph. It exists only for me” is to say, “I am acceding this photograph as evidence and allowing it to become imaginary, even fictional, for my reader.” What Barthes does is leave this as language, rather than as photograph, and therefore open to be filled by the reader’s photograph and feeling.

The photo within the novel shows not the wound but the ellipsis of the wound. Interestingly, Shade, whose poem absolutely turns on the mourning of his daughter Hazel, does not invoke photographs, but his memories of her, though Kinbote describes this descriptions as “his picture of Hazel is quite clear and complete” – maybe too much so, says Kinbote, maybe embellished by memory and loss. It is through Hazel’s toys, through sensations of her ghost, through her handwriting, through their shared memories, indeed, through Shade’s poem, that John and Sybil remember and love their daughter, and not through photos of her. It is a verbal, rather than a photographic memory – it becomes the property of photography to particularize grief, it is the property of poetry to give all its readers access, to allow us all to project onto it. In this way, perhaps Barthes’ exclusion of the Winter Garden photograph creates a hole where we can all fill in the image that we think is TRUE of a beloved, so that we can understand the meaning of his words.

Ultimately, photographs fill us, but it is language that can be filled by us. They both, however, allow for the observance of particular punctum that enlivens and involves. The changing meaning of a photo over time, like a lynching postcard, which was once victory and is now evidence of atrocity and an ironic rehearsal of mourning, or the Winter Garden photograph, which preserves for Barthes something the photographer could never have anticipated. In this way, reading the photograph over time is not so different from reading the details of a text as you finish it – different things stick out.

Ultimately, Nabokov is also more filmic than photographic – even Barthes says on 88 that film is protensive, recalling the Iser-Jauss language of the novel. Pale Fire’s dramatic, moving moments are always given with the language of scenery and theater, and Shade exclaims, “Retake! Retake!” thinking of his daughter’s death, and in Kinbote’s last lines of Commentary, he contrasts his real life with his fantasy one, in which he will make a motion picture with his (the King’s) gay lover, Odon, from his Zemblan childhood – Shade, he says, has only been caught in “the clash between the two figments.”

However, the particularizing quality of the photograph is lauded in art in general – the great sin in Nabokov is to generalize, to confuse individuality, to make an individual the same as another. Indeed, Gradus kills himself for “killing the wrong person when the right one stood before him” – it is a novel about the problem of not seeing carefully enough, and, as I want to argue, in a more political way, about moving to action because of paranoia which is disguised as evidence. This imagination as evidence is delusion, or paranoia in the novel. To imagine evidence, to point to the nonexistent photograph, the elliptical wound as proof, to overread every clue as evidence, is to assemble the fictive evidence of a paranoid.

Kinbote says, “we are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new wolrds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing.” 289. There is also the narrative quality of the “unintentional” details included by delusional narrator? Kinbote, like a bad photographer, cannot edie, cannot “frame” his subject, cannot see the image he is “developing” for us? This actually results in a kind of punctum, as well as an invitation to overread his narrative and become paranoid.

 

Fredric Jameson, “Culture” (Ch 1, “Postmodernism”)

1984

Jameson begins by stating that the present time (the eighties) is obsessed with “a break…. the waning or extinction of the hundred-year-old modern movement” that occurred in the late 50s or early 60s (significantly a period we still seem to be making ever more movies and TV shows about, in fits of continued ‘nostalgia’) 1. For Jameson, this remains confused in literary and artistic production – a “new aesthetic of textuality,” but is crystallized in architecture (re: Brideshead’s exhausted representations of old architecture?) 2.

Postmodern architecture performs for Jameson: it “stage[s] itself as a kind of aesthetic populism” that effaces the “frontier between high culture and so-called mass or commercial culture… that very culture industry so passionately denounced by all the ideologues of the modern, from Levis and the American New Criticism all the way to Adorno and the Frankfurt School… this whole ‘degraded’ landscape of schlock and kitsch” 2. Whereas modernism “quoted” from pop culture – think Ulysses – postmodern works “incorporate” this “into their very substance,” an odd statement not least because it’s questionable what Jameson would mean by substance here 3. The third stage of capitalism is no longer about industrialism and class struggle, but is purer, so that “every position on postmodernism in culture – whether apologia or stigmatization – is also at one and the same time, and necessarily, an implicitly or explicitly political stance on the nature of multinational capitalism today” 3. Postmodernism, too, should be conceived for Jameson “not as a style, but rather as a cultural dominant” with “the presence and coexistence of a range of very different, yet subordinate, features” (reminiscent of Foucault on sexuality 4.

Though Jameson acknowledges that Stein, Roussel, and Duchamp seem to be postmodern avant-la-lettre, he holds that this does not account for the social history, the canonization of the modern (and even its appropriation), by the bourgeoisie 4. He also acknowledges that the postmodern is already incapable of shocking us with its obscurity and sexual content. This brings to mind Ngai’s idea of “stuplimity,” which both locates Stein and Beckett as “postmodern” writers, but also claims that the alternation between shock and boredom is key to the contemporary affect she describes.

Aesthetics are now fully bound to the economy, and this is one reason Jameson prefers the example of architecture, closely tied in its production to global corporations 5. This leads him to explain why the postmodern must not be swallowed into periodization as “modern” – it is not historically coterminous and  as a system, it does not actually obliterate heterogeneity, though Jameson is willing to interrogate the difficulty of the “‘winner loses’ logic”:

What happens is that the more powerful the vision of some increasingly total system or logic – the Foucault of the prisons book is the obvious example – the more powerless the reader comes to feel. Insofar as the theorist wins, therefore, by constructing an increasingly closed and terrifying machine, to that very degree hloses, since the critical capacity of his work is thereby paralyzed… perceived as vain and trivial in the face of the model itself 5.

The postmodern’s “hegemonic norm” actually highlights “genuine difference” for Jameson, protecting us from the myopic vision of our own time as uniquely ‘random’ or ‘chaotic’ 6. The postmodern is “the force field in which very different kinds of cultural impulses – what Raymond Williams has usefully termed ‘residual’ and ’emergent’ forms of cultural production – must make their way” 6. Its features are 1) a “new depthlessness… both in contemporary ‘theory’ and… the culture of the image or the simulacrum, 2) a flattening or weakening of historicity through ‘schizophrenic’ Lacanian structures of syntax, 3) a “return to older theories of the sublime” in “a new type of emotional ground tone,” 4) a whole new technology tied to globalization, and 5) a mission of political art as it has shifted in multinational capitalism 6.

Jameson begins by discussing Van Gogh’s painting of the peasant’s shoes (over and against its “copiou[s] reproduc[tion] – re: Benjamin), with its “hallucinatory surface of color” as “an act of compensation” for the darkness of labor under capitalism 7. Secondarily, Jameson offers a Heideggerian reading, in which the meaningless material (Earth) is elevated through art to the level of aesthetics, society, and history (World) 7.  This is a kind of “laying bare the device,” through which aesthetic mediation uncovers the truth of the object, and again, this is partly through the materiality of the painting itself (again re: Benjamin) 8. Both readings are hermeneutical, says Jameson – they can be abstracted to larger meaning, whereas Warhol’s “Diamond Dust Shoes” cannot. Warhol’s shoes are not “a heterosexual pair” like Van Gogh’s, but a collection of single, odd “dead objects” 8. They are fetishes, decontextualized from their original materiality and unable to be material in art either, because they are like X-ray photographs, reproduced and flattened and sprinkled with a sealing veil of golden sparkles, expressive of the return of the repressed, “decorative exhilaration,” but also “the waning of affect in postmodern culture” (an idea Ngai resists in “Stuplimity”) 10.

This is not to say there is no emotion here, but that art does not “look back” at us, and that other Warhol subjects “like Marilyn Monroe – …are themeselves commodified and transformed into their own images” (though Jameson does not gender this, he probably should) 11. Essentially, the art of anxiety, such as Munch’s “The Scream,” is predicated on a division of the inner self and the outer world, “the outward dramatization of inward feeling” 12. This is connected to the poststructuralist critique of depth models of hermeneutics: 1) the dialectical essence vs appearance, 2) the Freudian latent vs manifest, 3) the existential divide of authentic vs inauthentic, and 4) the opposition of signifier and signified – itself already unraveled 12. For Jameson:

“What replaces these various depth models is for the most part a conception of practices, discourses, and textual play, whose new syntagmatic structures… [suggest that] here too depth is replaced by surface, or by multiple surfaces (what is often called intertextuality is in that sense no longer a matter of depth” 12.

Jameson cites the tall, flat Wells Fargo Court in L.A., which “momentarily transforms the solid ground on which we stand into the contents of a stereopticon… as fateful as the great monolith in Kubrick’s 2001,” an idea that really reminds me of Linda Williams’ concept that if the original film was concerned with panorama, the new one is concerned with height (contemporary examples: think Avatar’s cliffs vs. The Master‘s painted-scenery of flat “depths,” as opposed to old Westerns or Abel Gance’s Napoleon) 13. As opposed to Ngai, for Jameson anxiety and alienation are purely modernist affects: “This shift in the dynamics of cultural pathology can be characterized as one in which the alienation of the subject is displaced by the latter’s fragmentation” 14. In other words, it is no longer the world that is fragmented, as in modernism, but the subject. 

Like Benjamin, for Jameson this means the end of individual style, and the “emergent primacy of mechanical reproduction… a liberation from anxiety, but a liberation from every other kind of feeling as well” – not so much the end of feeling as its depersonalization, as well as the accompaniment of euphoria to its expression 15-16. More concretely, this signifies

“the waning of the great high modernist thematics of time and temporality, the elegiac mysteries of duree and memory… we now inhabit they synchronic rather than the diachronic, and I think it is at least empirically arguable that our daily life, our psychic experience, our cultural languages, are today dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time, as in the preceding period of high modernism” 16.

If parody is modern (despite the “inimitable” modern styles  – Faulkner’s long sentences, Lawrence’s natural imagery, Stevens’ evasions of certain syntaxes) because these “ostentatiously deviate from a norm which then reasserts itself” and are “willful eccentricities,” then pastiche is the province of the postmodern (though what about The Waste Land?16. “Modernist styles become postmodernist codes” for Jameson, layered atop the many codes of jargon, idiolect, and regionalism, since “advanced capitalist countries today are now a field of stylistic and discursive heterogeneity without a norm” 17. Pastiche is instead “blank parody” – a “linguistic mask” with no humor or satiric impulse that “cannibalizes” past styles by attaching “neo” to them 17-18. It is characteristic of “consumers’ appetite for a world transformed into sheer images of itself and for pseudoevents and ‘spectacles'” 18. For Jameson, as for Guy Debord, this is where “Plato’s conception of the ‘simulacrum,’ the identical copy for which no original has ever existed,” becomes useful, since “the image has become the final form of commodity reification” 18.

Instead of Lukac’s historical time in the novel, we now face a “libidinal historicism,” seeking to assimilate “a vast collection of images, a multitudinous photographic simulacrum,” leaving us with “nothing but texts” 18. In the nostalgia film,  for example, “the desperate attempt to appropriate a missing past is now refracted through the iron law of fashion change and the emergent ideology of the generation” (he cites George Lucas’ American Graffiti – “for Americans at least, the 1950s remain the privileged lost object of desire”) 19. The nostalgia film sees the past in “stylistic connotation, conveying ‘pastness’ by the glossy qualities of the image… by the attributes of fashion” – he cites Barthes’ Mythologies 19. In this sense – in the “remake,” “retelling” or “historical fiction” of today, “the history of aesthetic styles displaces ‘real’ history” 20. Even stars, then, are flatter – an absence of “personality” makes them more like character actors displaying past styles of acting, and the most common setting is small-town America, eschewing the high-rise features of multinational capitalism as well as older features of civilization. This seems related to the idea of “suture” – it all “conspires to blur its official contemporaneity and make it possible for the viewer to receive the narrative as though it were set in some external thirties, beyond real historical time… the pastiche of the stereotypical past” 21.

“We seem increasingly incapable of fashioning representations of our own current experience,” Jameson claims 21. An exception for him is the work of Doctorow, namely The Book of Daniel. Ragtime, for Jameson is “a seemingly realistic novel” that is “a nonrepresentational work” combining “fatnasy signifiers from a variety of ideologemes in a kind of hologram” 23. Jameson seems to find it positive that the novel “short-circuits” traditional interpretative techniques and “imposes” a reading mode where we must sort out real historical figures from fictional representation (reminds ME of Pynchon… why not Jameson?) 23. Here, history returns as the proverbial Freudian repressed – form replaces content as a means of communicating affect and meaning, since the “waning of content is precisely [Doctorow’s] subject” and the historical novel “can no longer set out to represent the historical past; it can only ‘represent’ our ideas and stereotypes about that past (which thereby becomes ‘pop history'” 25.

In Genette’s terms, if the subject has “lost its capacity actively to extend its pro-tensions and re-tensions across the temporal manifold and to organize its past and future into coherent expereince,” then representation becomes “heaps of fragments… the randomly heterogenous and fragmentary and the aleatory” 25. Ngai will use this image in “Stuplimity,” but one wonders how Jameson’s notion of these “privative features” of postmodern art (more kindly called textuality, ecriture, or schizophrenic wriitng 26) pushes against T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land“I have shored up these fragments against my ruin” – likely in the loss of the subject who still believes in the possibility of a ruin to be staved off? In Lacan’s terms, schizophrenia is “a breakdown in the signifying chain, that is, the interlocking syntagmatic series of signifiers which constitutes an utterance or a meaning” 26.

I’m interested in thinking of this in terms of faceting – not as a chain, but as a three-dimensional structure. In Derridean terms, “Meaning on the new view is generated by the movement from signifier to signifier” – akin to differance 26. The signified is then a “meaning effect… a mirage of signification generated and projected by the relationship of signifiers among themselves” 26. This “rubble of distinct and unrelated signifiers” is for Jameson tied to psychic and linguistic ‘health’ – if we cannot understand and express 3 temporalities in language, “the schizophrenic is reduced to an experience of pure material signifiers, or, in other words, a series of pure and unrelated presents in time” 27. This reminds me not only of Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, but ironically enough, of the slogan Jameson decries: “The medium is the message”! 27. Jameson cites Sechehaye’s Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl, which is where he locates the affect of euphoria in the loss of reality: “illimitable vastness, brilliant light, and the gloss and smoothness of material things” 27. I want to read this! It seems gendered, as well as connected to reading, to surfaces, and to faceting.

Related to such euphoria is the reappropriation of previously clinical terms for humor, irony, and even joy (one thinks of paranoid, schizphrenic, manic, stalker, obsessed) 29. He calls reading a kind of zoom lens, thinks of such verbal change as making meaning into the decorative, and explains photorealism as an effect of a world in which the real objects of art were not the things themselves but photos – the realism is the simulacrum 30. Criticism thus stresses “the heterogeneity and profound discontinuities of the work of art… now a virtual grab bag or lumber room of disjoined subsystems and random raw materials and impulses of all kinds” 31. This seems ripe for considering that we might join but not suture these elements, since Jameson does identify the positive value of collating multiplicity: “In the most interesting postmodernist works, one can detect a more positive concept of relationship, which restores its proper tension to the notion of difference itself… new and original way of thinking and preceiving… an impossible imperative to achieve that new mutation in what can perhaps no longer be called consciousness” 31. (Note: is the very impossibility related to old ideas of the sublime – thin Ngai’s stuplime?)

Jameson locates the euphoria of “the extraordinary surfaces of the photorealist cityscape” in automobile wrecks, new surfaces, and commodified urban squalor (makes me think of Ballard and tours of squatters in Berlin) 33. Art divides the body from space (empty bathrooms as installations vs. simulacra of the body) to form an aesthetic of “derealization,” in which “the world… momentarily loses its depth and threatens to become a glossy skin” 34. Jameson connects this to camp, calling it a “hysterical sublime” 34. Whereas for Kant, the sublime alternates between awe and terror as the mind seeks to comprehend that which is at first beyond comprehension, now he looks at this more as dead objects, as technology turning back against us in its inert forms, haunting us in its covering of nature (Auden, Silko) 35. He periodizes capitalism: 1) 1840s steam power = market capitalism (realism), 2) 1890s electric power = monopoly or imperialist capitalism (modernism), 3) 1940s nuclear power = postindustrial or multinational capitalism (postmodernism) 35. (Even the polyglot words of the third phase are conglomerations!)

Jameson differentiates the potential for movement in the old technology and architecture (think the ships of Le Corbusier – this leftist emphasis on motion reminds me of Lukacs) from the static outer shell of the computer or television, “which articulates nothing but rather implodes, carrying its flattened image surface within itself” 37. These are “machines of reproduction rather than of production… narratives which are about the processes of reproduction and include movie cameras” 37. One can imagine what Jameson would say now abut reality TV, as well as the true flatness of the iPhone and the iPad, the new computer called “Surface” from Microsoft, machines which almost efface themselves visibly as machines. For Jameson in 1984, architecture “remains… the privileged aesthetic language; and the distoriting and fragmenting reflections of one enormous glass surface to the other can be taken as paradigmatic of the central role of process and reproduction in postmodernist culture” 37. (Note: calling it “mesmerizing” and “fascinating” is interesting because repetition/phallus roots.)

This leads to a “high-tech paranoia” – both the feeling that these machines are synecdochic stand-ins for a large, incomprehensible network (connected to the idea of the sublime?), but also the fear that that complexity cannot be overcome or understood by the “normal reading mind” (he cites cyberpnk – William Gibson, I think Neal Stephenson) 38. Our spatial creations, then, have outgrown the capacity of our minds, as if we wish to “expand our sensorium” to “impossible dimensions” (related to Kant’s free beauty?) 39. They speak the vernacular of the city, but do not aesthetically raise its tone? (Re: Adorno and the elitist’s complaint – these buildings do not seek to lift up the rest of the city, as in the modernist project). The Westin Bonaventure in LA reflects the city back, has 3 “backdoor” entrances on 2 different levels, none of which go to the lobby, and seeks to be a miniature city, Jameson argues.  (Think about this in terms of suturing off? Also vs. the arcade – infinitely enterable and exitable, where you always see the structure in the glass as well as through the glass both directions). The reflectivity of the “glass skin” repels all, giving distorted images of surroundings even as you can see out and the Other can’t see in (makes me think of Byatt, and glass/all reflective of other and/or self) 42.

Thinking of elevators and escalators as narrative movements in the building, Jameson claims that these symbolize and institutionalize movement, rather than just allowing it (Nicholson Baker’s “The Mezzanine”?) 42. You are either slowly moving against your own pace or shooting vertically up or down into another contained space, all covered in colors, streamers, and the indecipherable four corners of the hotel, which discourage orientation. In other words, we can never get our Kantian distance, because we are always overwhelmed by the spectacle (one wonders why we are so shamed by our looking and seeing – is it erotic in some way?). This is like the limits of fiction, too? Jameson politicizes this by claiming the inability to talk about war now (always?) 44. Surface and symbol are problematized in that the machine can no longer represent motion when inert, but must actually be represented in motion (video?) 45.

Though Jameson concludes that it would be an ethical mistake to accept the “delirious camp-following celebration of this aesthetic new world,” it is equally problematic to trivialize it in comparison to “the ‘high seriousness’ of the great modernisms” 46. Like Zizek, for Jameson, the world of images erases past and future into images of cataclysm on the personal and social levels 46. Even though the postmodern is essentially negative, we are all embedded in it, and if it is historical, we cannot moralize it away:

“Marx powerfully urges us to do the impossible, namely, to think this development positively and negatively all at once… grasping the demonstrably baleful features of capitalism along with its extraordinary and liberating dynamism simultaneously within a single thought… at one and the same time the best thing that has ever happened to the human race and the worst… dialectically, as catastrophe and progress all together” 47.

(This reminds me to think of Byatt’s “agnosticism” somewhat. Note: weird that Jameson says we are “submerged” if this aesthetic has no depth in his framing of it.) Jameson wonders: if there is no outside the system, and the relative autonomy of the arts is no longer, what can be done? Like Foucault on power & sexuality, the irony of proliferating sexual discourses is somewhat akin here to the irony of proliferating theoretical paradigms 49.  If, for Jameson, the promise of capitalism’s hugeness is the hugeness of potential social change, how is this not like an apology for technology and globalization, which he warned us against 50? He concludes that leftists should be less afraid of the pedagogical function of art, letting go of their fear of the bourgeois reaction to modernism 50.

Jameson ends by imagining “cognitive mapping” 51. If ideology toggles between the imaginary and the real (Althusser, also like Foucault, where sexuality toggles between power and pleasure?), then art needs to be able to situationally represent the individual in relation to the vast totality, and this is cognitive mapping (“to cognitively map our individual social relationship to local, national, and international class realities” as well) 52. It seems Jameson is imagining something that will  toggle experience and knowledge, orienting the individual in her surroundings 53.  If ideology is imagined and science is real (both of which fit into Marx and Althusser’s models), then in Lacan, we also have the symbolic, and Jameson looks to political art to fill this role somehow. Perhaps sadly and ironically, it seems Google Maps or GPS or a smartphone quite literally solves this problem, but in a mode so deeply imbricated in capitalism that it can hardly be seen as a solution. Does it, however, enable the end of postmodernism and the rise of the New Sincerity? And why did Occupy fail if all this is true?