Recent reading

Twittering Machine (“Die Zwitscher-Maschine”). Paul Klee, 1922.
Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 310.

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

Lots of Deleuze and Guattari–for two reasons. One, I needed to learn more about assemblages. I had a very constrained understanding of it, partly influenced by Manuel DeLanda (who calls his position “Deleuze 2.0”, so perhaps not that Deleuzian). There’s no way to quickly read Deleuze in depth of course. Luckily I’d previously read his book on Foucault, chunks of Thousand Plateaus, the allusive references to mapping and deterritorialization, and have now been able to supplement this. I’d recommend Ian Buchanan’s talk here for a great introduction and overview. But second, I’m co-teaching a seminar in the spring on “Big Data Narratives” with my colleague Jeff Peters. This will delve into Deleuze in a number of ways (including his work on cinema and assemblages).

Speaking of videos, this one from Eleanor Longdon, who is active in the hearing voices movement, is striking, unnerving and informative. Hearing voices and schizophrenia were of tremendous interest to D&G. At the recommendation of a colleague last weekend I read The Schreber case by Freud which at a minimum helps with references in Thousand Plateaus, especially bodies-without-organs (Schreber at times believed he was living without internal organs but was healed by rays from God). Schreber is unusual because he was not a patient of Freud’s, but rather the author of an autobiography extensively quoted by Freud. It nevertheless became one of his more famous cases.

But back to the readings. Joe Gerlach’s recent Transactions piece “Editing worlds: participatory mapping and a minor geopolitics” is extremely exciting. What I love about this is that Joe both takes the project of mapping seriously, especially to “ameliorate the sustained disillusionment with ‘aggressive’ mapping” as he puts it, something I’d remarked on myself in my Mapping book, and also is guided by the “minor” theory of D&G and so is very open. “Towards a Minor Theory” would be a contradiction in terms as consolidating and solidifying; rather one can pursue a line of flight, in this case toward an expanded notion of the geopolitical:

it [mapping] is also geopolitical in the way in which it cultivates affects, attitudes, bodily dispositions, collectives, sensibilities, spaces and events that are transformative of the world, but often in a register largely ignored.

Joe here draws on his work on Felix Guattari (he did the index for Schizoanalytic Cartographies by the way) to refocus mapping on the bodily everyday. Since I will I hope to be writing an introduction to some papers on spatial Big Data and the everyday with my colleague Agnieszka Leszczynski, we will have to take up this latter issue (the everyday) as different from the mundane, unimportant, non-productively singular etc.

One of the issues I’d mentioned in a previous post on how data is abstracted from people, is to avoid the classic issue of the liberal self (the one Foucault is supposed to have got rid of at the end of Order of Things). Taking data from individuals, and then building up that data into profiles that are acted upon, presupposes, in some way, a self or at least an individual. This self, it should be remembered though, does not have to be thought as coherent to itself, or even singular and non-contradictory. “I am not feeling like myself,” “I don’t know who I am anymore,” etc. are indications of not being identical to oneself. Even perhaps “I need to get free of myself” of the later Foucault technologies of the self. This certainly needs elaboration, and Sam Kinsley directed me to this paper in TCS by Andrew Lapworth, called “Theorizing Bioart Encounters after Gilbert Simondon.”

While I can’t say I understand much of it, its sensibility is in line with writers such as Julie Cohen on privacy. The article is incredibly dense, and packed with tough concepts (no fault of the author, these are hard issues). Cohen’s similar concept is the “networked self”; historically contingent, emergent (becoming instead of being, which is resonant with a long line of thinkers including Heidegger and Deleuze, and to some extent Plato’s chora), maybe immanent, and creating a horizon of possibilities for “what we may yet become” (Lapworth p. 2, so-called “ontogenetic capacities”). Privacy “shelters” this emergent/emerging self; a “postliberal privacy” (my words) to match a neoliberal age.

What’s also an ongoing issue here, for cartography as well, is the question of the inside and outside, text and context, nurture and nature, and so on. This was already highlighted by both Brian Harley and Denis Wood in various pieces with regard to the “internal” and “external” aspects of maps, later extended by Wood into “paramap” and so on–I don’t find this useful, and mistrust it. Admittedly the distinction between the internal and external aspects of mapping are not problematized by either Harley nor Wood, and yet their concern with them is quite pertinent.

Here’s Deleuze’s famous diagram in Foucault of the fold (pli):

I’d also link this “minor,” “emergent” self to that amateur public intellectual discussed by Edward Said in Representations of the Intellectual, his 1993 Reith Lectures. As Andy Merrifield recently reminded us in a great talk here at UKY, the amateur has a lot going for it, not least because you can get out of the grooves of established thought, to paraphrase Guattari. Denis Wood is perhaps a good example of this, and his enforced independence due to sex “corruption” charges and imprisonment [no secret, it’s on his website and his book about it will appear next year], has only made him more productive, and one of the few geographers to have had a documentary made about them.

Said (and Merrifield) appeal to the amateur who resists specialization (in favor of “connections across lines and barriers,”) as well as the “cult of the expert,” “power and authority” (Said particularly notes distorting effects by national security), and funding. (Quotes from Representations of the Intellectual, chapter IV, Professionals and Amateurs.) Thanks Andy for bringing back the excitement of listening to those lectures on the radio!

2 responses to “Recent reading

  1. It sounds like you’re in a productive seam of thought! On Simondon and ontogenesis you might find Adrian Mackenzie’s work a good guide, he is a really thoughtful interpreter of that work… I also liked Merrifield’s riff on the amateur too and (as I am bound to point out, heh) there’s a resonance with Stiegler’s work there that may (or may not!) be of interest:

  2. Thanks for the reminder of your piece Sam! Hopefully I can get back to Simondon at some point but he’s a bit down the list at the moment.

    I think Foucault and Deleuze have a conversation somewhere about public intellectuals as well.

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