Tag Archive: Deleuze

field of dreams


I just watched Amy Hardie’s recent film The Edge of Dreaming, a documentary about a year in her life during which this science documentarian and self-proclaimed skeptic becomes haunted by a series of dreams that appear to foretell her own death before the year is over. The film becomes an exploration of neuroscience, the meaning and function of dreams and of death (she interviews neurologists and dream researchers Irving Weissman, Adam Zeman, Mark Solms, and others), and the relations that connect and give our lives meaning.

The film treads carefully over the question of what dreams are, leaving open various interpretations: that they are the mind’s meaningless narrative elaborations of random electrochemical brain activity, the efforts of the mind to consolidate new experiences with memories, the uncensored emotional and intuitive currents of our lives turned into neural/narrative pathways, etc.

I watched it knowing almost nothing about where it will go, or even if the filmmaker survives, and I think the film is best seen that way. But it’s worth mentioning that it takes an unexpected, though (thankfully) understated, ecopsychological twist toward the end: it suggests connections between Hardie’s awareness of the damage done by coal mining to the otherwise beautiful Scottish borderlands where she lives, and the extended field of uncensored intuitive currents that dreams allow access to. The latter is a variation of interpretation #3 above, which the film ultimately favors (structurally), and which echoes ecopsychology’s central thesis — that we intuitively/unconsciously sense what’s wrong with the ecological relations making up the world around us.

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(Warning: This is a long and involved post.)

In reposting Steven Shaviro’s critique of DeLanda’s A New Philosophy of Society, Levi Bryant has reminded me of one of the impetuses (impeti?) that moved me to a Whiteheadian perspective. Steven’s review is excellent, and it prefigured what eventually became his book Without Criteria, which I think of as one of the landmark texts in the post-Deleuzian return of Whitehead.

While I like DeLanda very much, I agree that there’s a schematicism in his writing that detracts from what I like most about Deleuze (his “poeticism,” as Shaviro calls it, though it’s more than just stylistics). But thinking through the scientific concepts underlying/informing Deleuze is important work, and DeLanda at least makes it manageable in a way that Deleuze’s own texts rarely do. Whatever losses in fidelity may arise in the transfer, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy is one of the clearest elaborations of a Deleuzian ontology I have seen. A New Philosophy of Society follows up on it by taking on social-science theory, but I think it suffers a little (as Shaviro and Chris Vitale both argue) from a creeping shift away from thinking of assemblages as events and processes to thinking of them as substances. As Shaviro puts it, “For Whitehead’s actual entities are themselves events; whereas, for DeLanda, as much as he wants to proclaim the importance of (contingent) event over (fixed and closed) structure, events are still things that ‘happen to’ entities, rather than entities themselves.”

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The following are some working notes following up on my previous post on the relationship between Charles Sanders Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead, specifically on Peirce’s logical/relational/phenomenological categories (firstness, secondness, thirdness) and Whitehead’s notion of prehension and the “actual occasion.” It’s become clear to me since writing that post that any rapprochement between the two requires going through Charles Hartshorne (which is something I had been resisting due to the theological cast of many of Hartshorne’s writings, but I’ve come to see that it’s unavoidable).

Hartshorne (pronounced “Harts-horn”) was a close student of Whitehead’s and an editor and archive keeper of Peirce’s work at Harvard. From what I can tell, Hartshorne is the most important philosopher directly related to both CSP and ANW to have attempted a synthesis of the two. The most thorough and final elucidation of that synthesis seems to come in his 1984 book Creativity in American Philosophy [note: this post originally incorrectly identified the year of his death as 1990; it was actually 2000 - Hartshorne lived to the ripe old age of 103].

Hartshorne has great respect for Peirce’s phenomenology (a word Peirce uses somewhat differently from Husserl, being empty of what we would now call Husserl’s “correlationism”), which in his account begins to set us on the right path of metaphysics, but doesn’t quite get us all the way there. Whitehead’s metaphysics, on the other hand, for Hartshorne, tower over all recent rivals in their “conceptual clarity and relevance to our total intellectual situation” (103). Within Whitehead’s system, it is, for Hartshorne, the concept of “prehension” that is “one of the most original, central, lucid proposals ever offered in metaphysics” (109). As Hartshorne defines it, prehension

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the crystal image

A couple of recent posts by Chris Vitale and Tim Morton have rekindled my thinking about Deleuze’s crystal-image. Chris’s interesting post is about the power of crowdsourcing and video detournement in delivering a more democratic form of media politics. Tim’s brief posts share music videos and reflections on dark ecology and the timbral.

Chris describes the video detournements as “crystal-images,” where “one image acts as a germ or seed, and it crystalizes the medium its in, just like a string when you make rock candy. The result is a proliferation of possible paths the image can take, but they all echo each other.” My understanding of the crystal-image is a little different from this, but I think it’s fruitful to pursue Chris’s trajectory while combining it with the more ambient trajectory of Tim’s and Deleuze’s own thought. The crystal-image is fundamentally about time, which, for Deleuze (following Bergson), is the flow in which we find ourselves, looking back and forward at one and the same moment. Deleuze writes:

“What the crystal reveals or makes visible is the hidden ground of time, that is, its differentiation into two flows, that of presents which pass and that of pasts which are preserved.” (Cinema 2, p. 98)

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Levi Bryant’s detailed and generous replies to my critical queries, both in the comments section of this post and at Larval Subjects, and Graham Harman’s replies here (and in an e-mail exchange) have helped me get a much clearer sense of where the main differences lie between their respective “object-oriented” positions and my relational view. In the process, I’ve been once again impressed with both of these philosophers’ willingness to engage with those who disagree with them, and to do that publicly, and practically at the speed of (digital) light. Here I just want to summarize what I see as the main difference between an object-oriented account of the world and a process-relational account.

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Seems someone else beat me to reviewing Bernd Herzogenrath’s anthology Deleuze/Guattari and Ecology for Deleuze Studies, and the reviews editor failed to tell me that (which he must have known for a few months now; I hope that’s not common practice for them). In any case, things like that happen, especially with academic journals that operate with little or no administrative support, as is the case with DS. I could send it to another journal, but DS is the leading venue for anglophone Deleuze scholarship and the book’s been out since late 2008, so I’ll just share it here, in its extended-length and hyperlinked (and thus ‘value-added’) version.

Incidentally, if anyone else would like a venue for online publishing of reviews related to Deleuze, eco/geophilosophy, and the like, I’m quite happy to make space available here for that. The print publication process, after all, takes time (and costs money), and journals are better used as venues for peer-reviewed scholarship, which also takes time, than for reviews, which are useful as soon as they’re written.

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There are two ways of being an academic. One is to burrow ever deeper into the little field one cultivates, to become a master of it, all the while propping up the fenceposts around that field to ensure that one’s terrain is left undisturbed by poachers, wild boars or raccoons, dissonant ideas, and so on. The other is to keep moving, following nomadic lines of connection from one thing to another, roping them in from time to time, but always getting diverted by the next thing that appears on the horizon. That may be the Next Big Thing (poststructuralism, postcolonialism, complexity theory, cognitive neuroscience, ecocriticism, or what have you), but it could also be a responsiveness to the world, which is always throwing up next (little) things if we pay attention to it rather than getting caught in our models of it.

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The objects versus relations debate has revved up again over at Larval Subjects, in the commentary responding to Levi Bryant’s Questions about the possibility of non-correlationist ethics.

The debate, as I would describe it, circles around the following question: If we agree that traditional philosophy has been too centrally premised on the relationship between humans and the world at the expense of the world itself (with all its other things, beings, entities, relations, and whatnot), then is it better to promote a philosophy that focuses on objects, that is, not just on human subjects/objects but all objects, or one that focuses on relations between things (subjects, objects, networks, processes, whatever)? The first approach is taken by object-oriented philosophers like Bryant, Graham Harman, and others; the second by relationists, such as those influenced by Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson, and Spinoza, among others (though the exact list depends on whom you ask; a few recent and recommendable books in this latter tradition are Steven Shaviro’s Without Criteria, John Protevi’s Political Affect, and Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter).

Since I’ve responded to Levi’s points on his blog, I’ll restrict myself here to addressing in greater depth the question raised by Levi, Scu, and anxiousmodernman (in their comments) about the politics of relationalism.

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“Shoot” as in film, photograph, capture and display, but also fly with them, shoot the rapids of their movement, accompany them, become starling. These mesmerizing videos of moving masses of starlings, “murmurations” as they’re called, like other YouTube animal videos, tell us as much about the phenomenon being watched as about those watching it.

It all gets going here at around the 3’20″ mark. But it would be nice if we were given some alternative soundtrack options. Like this one, with no commentary, just a few intertitles, set to the music of Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble:

I like the interplay between still shots and motion sequences, and even the traffic moving beneath them, and the sound of the traffic, adds a nice touch.

Bill Oddie’s video is as much about the starlings as about its quietly awestruck observer, with his whispered play-by-play, Qigong-like imitative acrobatics, and the way he holds his hands up for warming to the blue TV-screen light of the starling-filled sky:

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Gilles Deleuze’s cinema books make for difficult reading, and if one is to make headway into them, it helps not only to know something about Bergsonian philosophy, Piercian semiotics, and (a lot about) the history of film, but also to have clips at hand of the films Deleuze discusses. Fortunately, Corry Shores has been very helpfully compiling such clips, accompanied by excerpts from the books, at his Deleuze Cinema Project 1 blog site.

The two books are books of philosophy centered on the moving image — a term that is somewhat redundant in a Deleuzian/Bergsonian framework, for which everything is (in) movement and becoming, and in which the image, which is both visual and auditory, is part of the very texture, or nature, of things. Deleuze, in other words, does not distinguish between a thing and its representation; rather, there are things, which are always in motion, in process, in becoming, and these things appear as “images,” which can be visual, auditory, etc., depending on the sensory equipment that is brought to them. Since the images are always in motion, it is cinema, the art of the moving image, that has best come to capture this quality of world-in-motion. The books are primarily dedicated to articulating Deleuze’s Bergsonian (and Piercian) schema and to setting out a fairly detailed typology of images. Its historical argument — that a shift after World War II allowed for the emergence of the “time-image”, which comes to supplement and ultimately supplant the “movement-image” — can be taken, albeit loosely, or left, but its ontological underpinnings are original, powerful, and I believe very useful for an emergent eco/geophilosophy.

Marcy Saude’s 5 or 6 minutes on cinematic time is a nice short video discussing Deleuze’s “time-image” concept over clips from Rosselini’s Umberto D, Bela Tarr’s Satantango and Gus van Sant’s Gerry:

As I see it, there are at least three reasons why Deleuzian film theory should be of interest to ecophilosophy. The first is the same reason why Deleuze is of interest more generally: because in providing one of the most coherent and self-consistent accounts of the world as process and change, his philosophy helps us understand the ways that things — i.e. relational systems from the molecular to the social to the ecological — come together and drift apart, territorialize and detteritorialize, with us, psycho-biological processes that we are, caught amidst them and acting from within them upon them (and upon ourselves).

The second reason is Deleuze’s Bergsonian and Piercian (and somewhat biosemiotic) focus on the image and its nature as carrier of affect. This brings imagination — the perception of things as not only a passive “reception” of what is “out there” but also an active reconception and engagement with the images and image-affects — to the center of cultural and environmental theory. Environmentalism needs a better understanding of how images do their work in the world; Deleuze can help with that.

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