‘What Is Grounding?’ Deleuze’s Journey through the History of Philosophy

In this early 1956-1957 lecture previously unavailable to the public, Gilles Deleuze takes his students through a tour of the history of philosophy by using the red thread of the notion ‘grounding.’ What Is Grounding’ is unsurprisingly insightful and sweeping in scope, explaining the general thrust of many canonical philosophers and how the concepts of each prepares the way for the philosophers that follow them, forming a single story. The big attention-grabber for these lectures for those well-read in Deleuze’s oeuvre is that finally a published work in which he “positions” himself with respect to other famous philosophers of his day or era, especially Martin Heidegger. We also get a discussion of Hegel and his placement within the history of philosophy. But emphasis on this common thread of ‘Grounding’ has much more to reveal about the obsessive work of European philosophers than taking names and claiming lines of affiliation. Continue reading “‘What Is Grounding?’ Deleuze’s Journey through the History of Philosophy”

Schizoanalysis as Anthro-Ecology

Another must read from Edmund Berger. A quick outline:

From Guattari’s (and Deleuze’s) Ecosophy – to Cybernetics – to anarchic war machines – to animism and aboriginal cosmology.

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WILD ECOLOGIES - Featured Post #3: Edmund Berger with an in-depth 
analysis of Guattari's 'ecosophy' and possible points of connection, 
overlap and divergence from anarchist thought.  

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How does one begin to broach the question of linkage, passage, and reflexivity to be found in the theories and practices of anarchism, the radical post-psychoanalysis of Felix Guattari, and the ontological framework that has been ushered in the necessity of acknowledging the forces that we label “the Anthropocene”? The overlaps between each are undeniable: in was ecological concerns that late in his life Guattari turned his mind to; the field that his work is commonly situated – the school of post-structuralism – is often affiliated with anarchism of the so-called “post-left” variety. That Guattari was closely aligned with the Italian Autonomia, which the post-left anarchists owe much of their discourse to, is no passing coincidence. We can also note the presence of “green anarchism”…

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Reading Žižek, Reading Deleuze: The Cruelties (?) of Psychoanalysis and Philosophy

Very nice. This thought about ‘oneness’ and ’emptiness’ being something the Lacanian constantly must fill up vs. a Deleuzian fictional accompaniment with the one is a thought that I carry around with me. The full-empty or true awakening – dreamland, polarity retains a fixation on subjectivity while proclaiming to surpass it. Once people see through the Cogito (and really, who is a Cartesian today?) do we end up in the land of the unconscious that our self representations cover over, mysteriously requiring The Other to unveil it for us? The Spinozist-Deleuzian world of capabilities, actualities, multiple force fields, and singular intensities gives us a much richer array of terms to describe our experiences with an ever-expanding access to new observations (largely via science). So much comes down to the conceptual terms we have at our disposal.

Sketching a Present

In his short book, How to Read Lacan (2007), Slavoj Žižek writes, as I’m sure he does in several other places,

According to the standard view, the dimension that is constitutive of subjectivity is that of phenomenal (self-)experience: I am a subject the moment I can say to myself: ‘No matter what unknown mechanism governs my acts, perceptions, and thoughts, nobody can take away from me what I am seeing and feeling right now.’ Say, when I am passionately in love, and a biochemist informs me that all my intense sentiments are just the result of biochemical processes in my body. I can answer by holding onto the appearance. ‘All that you’re saying may be true, but, nonetheless, nothing can take from me the intensity of the passion that I am experiencing now . . .’ Lacan’s point, however, is that the psychoanalyst is the one who, precisely, can take this…

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DELEUZE AGAINST SPONTANEITY

This is actually a very important point about organizing that Deleuze has provided us. Desire does not come spontaneously, as if “from nowhere” and emerge all by itself. The common affects of a milieu, the places frequented (territories), and shared ways of speaking all play into desire. The “where are we going with this?” question of deterritorialization always lingers between us, and is crucial for assembling a collective desire – with force. Machinic thinking helps us consider these things and not be entranced by mere words or closed-off cliques guarding the boarders of the territory.

AGENT SWARM

Philip of CIRCLING SQUARES discusses Deleuze in relation to a concept of “spontaneous self-organisation”. This is a fairly common and persistent misreading, that Deleuze has always denounced. In his ABC PRIMER Claire Parnet asks him about the misunderstandings of his concept of desire, and he has this to say:

The misunderstandings generally were connected to two points, two cases, which were more or less the same: some people thought that desire was a form of spontaneity, so there were all sorts of movements of ”spontaneity”; and others thought desire was an occasion for partying. For us, it was neither one nor
the other, but that had little importance since assemblages got created

Deleuze goes on to link the notion of assemblage with that of “discipline”. An assemblage has four components: states of things, enunciations, territories, and processes of deterritorialisation. All these are crafted together, “machined”, in the formation of assemblages…

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John Protevi: Earth and Terra

From John Protevi’s Life War Earth: Deleuze and the Sciences:

“Now in thinking about the geo– of geohistory, we have to recognize first of all that the French word terre in A Thousand Plateaus has various meanings that interweave ontologically and politically in what I have elsewhere called political physics (Protevi 2001). Terre has at least four registers, the first three of which are equivalent to the English “earth” and the fourth to the English “land” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). In A Thousand Plateaus, earth is (1) equivalent to the virtual plane of consistency on which strata are imposed (Deleuze and Guattari 1987); (2) part of the earth-territory (terre-territories) system of romanticism, the gathering point, outside all territories, of “forces of the earth” for intensive territorial assemblages (333-39); and (3) the “new earth” (une nouvelle terre), the correlate of absolute deterritorialization, tapping “cosmic forces” or new potentials for creation (423; 509-10). Land, by contrast, is terre that is constituted by the overcoding of territories under the signifying regime and the State apparatus (440-41).” (p.43)

I am not so sure about that one bit from the second sense of terre – that it is “outside all territories”. As I recall, D & G repeatedly call it the “close embrace” at the “heart” of the territory. This would make it inside but also intensive; in fact, “pure intensity.”

Studying Geophilosophy

The following is the result of a close reading of ’Of the Refrain’, a middle chapter from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. It is in this chapter that I believe the most thorough and detailed terminological outline of what they call Geophilosophy is given. The basic project is to draw a diagram that allows for a better understanding of the relationships between geophilosophical terms. I will mostly let the quotes to the heavy lifting. There is inevitably a process of selection in determining which quotes stand out as useful for the task and the copious marks I left on the pages of ATP hopefully brought the key passages forth. I believe this diagram stands up to the text, but it is the result of a singular reading.

After a series of chapters on language and linguistics, where the symbol, sign, signification and the ‘body without organs’ have been elucidated, territorialization comes into play along with the process of deterritorialization and reterritorialization on the surface of the earth. Rhythm and the wave-nature of existence integrates with the territory-making impulse, which produces assemblages of lived bodies in a complex process of motion with respect to their surroundings. Both the rhythm and the territory are like conditions from which social forms may develop and interact with each other: the geographic landscape is brought into consideration in an abstract way that identifies the background of artistic expressions, modes of thinking, and philosophical commonalities in their emergence – their coming-into-being. Geophilosophy is their attempt to dig into the conditions on the earth required for forming societies/assemblages and the complex processes they undergo, as well as the character of the their motifs and manners. What comes out of this study is a diagram that I believe is very helpful to understanding the importance of Geophilosophy for any project involving assembled masses of people.

In this story we begin in the middle, as Deleuze has always been fond of saying. Though the chapter must begin with an opening sentence, there is never any pure beginning free of forces that contort and influence one in this or that way. That said, D & G are describing a process in the form of a writing exercise as they are well aware, and this process, this story if you will, begins in the middle with the milieu. We actually begin with a little scene of a boy lost in the woods. With chaos creeping all around him, he sings a song for the sake of comfort and establishes what little order he can out of the chaos. In the beginning it seems there is only chaos and the rhythm of the song, maybe hummed or whistled or skipped to, to protect oneself from it.

“From chaos, Milieus and Rhythms are born. This is the concern of very ancient cosmogenies. Chaos is not without it sown directional components, which are its own ecstasies… Every milieu is vibratory, in other words, a block of space-time constituted by the periodic repetition of the component. Thus the living thing has the exterior milieu of materials, an interior milieu of composing elements and composed substances, an intermediary milieu of membranes and limits, and an annexed milieu of energy sources and actions-repetitions. Every milieu is coded, a code being defined by periodic repetition; but each code is in a perpetual state of transcoding or transduction… The notion of the milieu is not unitary… The milieus are open to chaos, which threatens them with exhaustion or intrusion. Rhythm is the milieus’ answer to chaos… Chaos is not the opposite of rhythm, but the milieu of all milieus. There is rhythm whenever there is transcoded passage form one milieu to another, a communication of milieus, coordination between heterogenous space-times.” (p.313)

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“Meter, whether regular or not, assumes a coded form whose unit of measure may vary, but in a noncommunicating milieu, whereas rhythm is the Unequal or the Incommensurable that is always undergoing transcoding. Meter is dogmatic, but rhythm is critical; it ties itself together in passing from one milieu to another… It changes direction.” (p.313)

Territory is introduced as an act, the process of territorialization affecting milieus by settling them, at least for a moment.

“The territory is in fact an act that affects milieus and rhythms, that “territorializes” them… There is territory precisely when milieu components cease to be directional, becoming dimensional instead, when they cease to be functional to become expressive. What defines the territory is the emergence of matters of expression (qualities)… It becomes expressive on the other hand, when it acquires a temporal constancy and a spatial range that make it a territorial, or rather territorializing, mark: a signature…
Territorialization is an act of rhythm that has become qualitative. The mark of a territory is dimensional, but it is not meter, it is a rhythm. It retains the most general characteristic of rhythm, which is to be inscribed on a different plane than that of its actions.” (p.314-315)

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“What we wish to say is that there is a self-movement of expressive qualities. Expressiveness is not reducible to the immediate effects of an impulse triggering an action in a milieu: effects of that kind are subjective impressions or emotions rather than expressions…
In effect, expressive qualities or matters of expression enter shifting relations with one another that “express” the relation of the territory they draw to the interior milieu of impulses and exterior milieu of circumstances*. To express is not to depend upon; there is an autonomy of expression.” (p.317)

Every matter of expression is necessarily linked with a territory – the taking on of a territorial aspect of matter that then gains/makes an expression.

“The territory is first of all the critical distance between two beings of the same species: Mark your distance. What is mine is first of all my distance; I possess only distances. Don’t anybody touch me, I growl if anyone enters my territory, I put up placards. Critical distance is a relation based on meters of expression. It is a question of keeping at a distance the forces of chaos knocking at the door. Mannerism: the ethos is both abode and manner, homeland and style” (p. 319-320)

So, we have a relationship with milieu and territory… Now we get to an explicit appearance of the earth. After all, this is all about geophilosophy:

“… The territory groups all the forces of the different milieus together in a single sheaf constituted by the forces of the earth. The attribution of all the diffuse forces of the earth as receptacle or base takes place only at the deepest level of each territory… Moreover, although I extension the territory separates the interior forces of the earth from the exterior forces of chaos, the same does not occur in “intension,” in the dimension of depth, where the two types of forced clasp and are wed in a battle whose only criterion and stakes is the earth. There is always a place, a tree or grove, in the territory where all the forces come together in a hand-to-hand combat of energies. The earth is this close embrace.” (p.321)

Pause and let that sink in. After gaining dimension and losing direction (and expression over function) they posit a depth that is irreducible to graphic dimension, a special “intension” counter-posed to extension. I take extension to be continuous with the notion of the “external world” and the bare, objective world we subjects (with our new mind-space) contemplate or inquire into. The separation that extension makes between earth and chaos must be a direct result of the sectioning off of the ground in territorialization and the displacement of chaos into those “non-secured areas out there”. The earth as ground was the ground of chaos – chaos and panic were everywhere to be found on the earth – before the staking of one’s territory, before a domestication of extension. Or perhaps the earth is only constituted as this intense center located in at the very core of the territory upon the phenomenon of territorialization. Conntinuing on:

“This intense center is simultaneously inside the territory and outside several territories that converge on it at the end of an immense pilgrimage (hence the ambiguities of the “natal”). Inside or out, the territory is linked to this intense center, which is like the unknown homeland, terrestrial source of all forces friendly and hostile, where everything is decided.” (p.321)

Let it sink in even farther. The depth of intension is why the Earth should be placed below, but this is not a vertical downward. This demonstrates the limits of diagraming this idea of the earth in “intension” – a place that is at once the scene of battle, convergence, and decision. This is one of the great passages of Deleuze and Guattari’s writing that has kept me hung up for a number of months now. It is over fast and they move farther on down the diagram briskly, but what a claim! The intense place where all things are decided, the coming together of forces hostile and in serious deliberation: Earth. And there’s is a Geophilosophy.

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“We always come back to this “moment”: the becoming-expressive of rhythm, the emergence of expressive proper qualities, the formation of matters of expression that develop into motifs and counterpoints. We therefore need a notion, even an apparently negative one, that can grasp this fictional or raw moment. The essential thing is the disjunction noticeable between the code and the territory…. It is because there is a disjunction between the territory and the code that the territory can indirectly induce new species.” (p.322) [my emphasis]

What is this necessary notion that appears negative, fictional, and raw? It is a tenuous motion that plays on the boundaries between margin and center. It does not change the coding of a species or alter the genes in a mutation, but it does change bodies with respect to their environment or territory. The fictional moment considered here is not a genetic mutation or deviancy from a norm, it is act of “differentiating” that the variations in territory prepares the way for the act of decoding.

“Biologists have stressed the importance of these determined margins, which are not to be confused with mutations, in other words, changes internal to the code: here, it is a question of duplicated genes or extra chromosomes that are not inside the genetic code, are free of function, and offer a free matter for variation.” (p.322)

The necessities of a sustaining life, the nourishment of the gene with its structurally sound code that only replicates or mutates, are not under examination but the expressions of the outer layers. With that base level of stable coding, the variations of the rest of the body in conjunction with its surrounding environment take on much more interesting and territorially specific traits.

What isn’t being mentioned here but is lurking like a giant elephant in the room is evolution. D & G are trying to emphasize the propensity for species to change, differentiate, and adapt to their environment without a “natural selection” as the operative concept but instead a transformative creation in concert with its territory and irreducible to mutation. The genes are kept the same, while the species morph into something else to fit with the critical distances included with the terrain features. “It is less a question of evolution than of passage, bridges and tunnels.” (p.322)

Assemblage.

“The territory itself is a place of passage. The territory is the first assemblage, the first thing to constitute an assemblage; the assemblage is fundamentally territorial. But how could it not already be in the process of passing into something else, into other assemblages?” (p.323)

“The first question to be asked is what holds these territorializing marks, territorial motifs, and territorialized functions together in the same intra-assemblage. This is a question of consistency*: the “holding together” of heterogenous elements…
But another question seems to interrupt or cut across the first one. For in many cases, a territorialized, assembled function acquires enough independence to constitute a new assemblage, one that is more or less deterritorialized, en route to deterritorialization. There is no need to effectively leave the territory to go this route; but what just a minute ago was a constituted function in the assemblage has become the constituting element of another assemblage, the element of passage to another assemblage.” (p.324)

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Cosmos:

“It is no longer adequate to say that there is interassemblage, passage from a territorializes assemblage to another type of assemblage; rather, we should say that one leaves all assemblages behind, that one exceeds the capacities of any possible assemblage, entering another plane. In effect, there is no longer a milieu movement or a rhythm, nor a territorialized or territorializing movement or rhythm; there is something of the Cosmos in these more ample movements. The localization mechanisms are still extremely precise, but the localization has become cosmic. They are no longer territorializes forces bundled together as forces of the earth; they are the liberated or regained forces of a deterritorialized cosmos.” (p.326)

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“This being the case, 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 of correct structure imposed from without or above but rather an articulation from within, as if oscillating molecules, oscillators, passed from one heterogeneous center to another, if only for the purpose of assuring the dominance of one among them. This obviously excludes any linear relation from one center to another, in favor of packets of relations steered by molecules: the interaction or coordination may be positive or negative (release or inhibition), but it is never direct, as in a linear relation or chemical reaction; it always occurs between molecules with at least two heads, and each center taken separately.” (p.328)

“Consolidation is not content to come after; it is creative. The fact is that the beginning always begins in-between, intermezzo. Consistency is the same as consolidation, it is the act that produces consolidated aggregates, of succession as well as of coexistence, be means of the three factors just mentioned: intercalated elements, intervals, and articulations of superposition.” (p.329)

“Consistency necessarily occurs between heterogeneities, not because it is the birth of differentiation, but because heterogeneities that were once content to coexist or succeed one another become bound up with one another through the “consolidation” of their coexistence and succession…
What we term machinic* is precisely the synthesis of heterogeneities as such. Inasmuch as these heterogeneities are matters of expression*, we say their synthesis itself, their consistency or capture, forms a properly machinic “statement” or “enunciation.”” (p.330-331)

Assemblage is not to be confused with machine: “That in fact is the distinction we would like to propose between machine and assemblage: a machine is like a set of cutting edges that insert themselves into the assemblage undergoing deterritorialization, and draw variations and mutations of it.” (p.333)

The Natal:

“The natal is the innate, but decoded; and it is the acquired, but territorialized. The natal is new figure assumed by the innate and the acquired in the territorial assemblage. The affect proper to the natal is the lied: to be forever lost, or refound, or aspiring to the unknown homeland. In the natal, the innate tends to be displaced…” (p.332)

The natal stretches from what happens in the intra-assemblage all the way to the center that has been projected outside; it cuts across all the interassemblages and reaches all the way to the gates of the Cosmos.”

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Black Hole:

“Thus the black hole is a machine effect in assemblages and has a complex relation to their effects. It may be necessary for the release of innovative processes that they first fall into a catastrophic black hole: stases of inhibition are associated with the release of crossroads of behavior. On the other hand, when black holes resonate together or inhibitions conjugate and echo each other, instead of an opening onto consistency, we see a closure of the assemblage, as though it were deterritorialized in the void: young chaffinches. *Machines are always singular keys that open or close an assemblage, a territory*.” (p.334)

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Life and Matter. Stratum and (de)stratification.

“The very words, “matters of expression,” imply that expression has a primary relation to matter. As matters of expression take on consistency they constitute semiotic* systems, but the *semiotic components are inseparable from *material components and are in exceptionally close contact with molecular levels. The whole question is thus whether or not the molar-molecular relation assumes a new figure here. If general, it has been possible to distinguish “molar-molecular” combinations that vary greatly depending on the direction followed. 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… Second, it is clear that the distinction to be made is not between the individual and the statistical. In fact, it is always a question of populations; statistics concerns individual phenomena, and antistatistical individuality operates only in relation to molecular populations… Third, the intramolecular internal 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, superlinear, or nonlocalizable bonds operating by stereospecific discernment* or discrimination*, rather than by linkage.
… it is, in effect, a distinction between matter and life, or rather, since there is only one matter, between two states, two tendencies of atomic matter… Stating the distinction in the most general way, we could say that it is between stratified systems or systems of stratification on the one hand, and consistent, self-consistent aggregates on the other. But the point is that consistency, far from being restricted to complex life forms, fully pertains even to the most elementary atoms and particles.”

“There is a coded system of stratification whenever, horizontally, there are linear causalities between elements; and, vertically, hierarchies of order between groupings; and, holding it all together in depth, a succession of framing forms, each of which informs a substance and in turn serves as a substance for another form. These causalities, hierarchies, and framings constitute a stratum, as well as the passage from one stratum to another, and the stratified combinations of the molecular and the molar…
If we ask ourselves where life fits into this distinction, we see that it undoubtedly implies a gain in consistency, in other words, a surplus value (surplus value of destratification). …both at once: a particularly complex system of stratification and an aggregate of consistency that disrupts orders, forms, and substances. As we have seen, the loving thing performs a transcoding of milieus that can be considered both to constitute a stratum and to effect reverse causalities and transversally of destratification.” (p.335-336)

Summary.

“We have gone from stratified milieus to territorial assemblages and simultaneously, from the forces of chaos, as broken down, coded, transcoded by the milieus, to the forces of the earth, as gathered into the assemblages. Then we went from territorial assemblages to interassemblages, to opening of assemblages along lines of deterritorialization; and simultaneously, the same from the in gathered forces of the earth to the deterritorialized, or rather deterritorializing, Cosmos.” (p.337)

By the geophilosophical process laid out in ’Of the Refrain’ we have been taken through Chaos, Earth, and Cosmos as resting places of a sort, or as concepts representative of certain limits reached in the flow of matter. Chaos is the scary prospect that must be warded off with the proper comforting rhythm. The empty disorder that one reaches when contemplation approaches chaos is the result of the totalizing “milieu of all milieus”. Earth is a depth that is irreducible to dimension, an “intension” that gathers all of the forces in a single place. The intensity of the moment or the event (so often expressed to qualify a particularly momentous past experience) is “the close embrace” of the Earth in its act of drawing forces and bodies together at the heart of the territory. Cosmos represents the perpetual motion of an assemblage undergoing deterritorialization, not yet closed upon inside the inescapable black hole. Opening onto the Cosmos is to remain in motion – even if just in expressive semiotic/aesthetic way – as a both stratified system of horizontal causalities, vertical hierarchies, and framing forms holding it together, and a destratifying action of passing. A nomadic machine on the move, but towards what? The Cosmos… still not there yet.

This becomes a bit easier when in the next part of the chapter, D & G fit these three different motifs into loose art history categories: Classical, Romantic, and Modern (for lack of a better term). This will be dealt with later. We have still not yet explained what they mean by ‘Refrain’.

Cleaned up a bit for the finale:

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Deleuze in Oakland, California

A piece was put up on IndyBay Media a few weeks ago using Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of encoding and overcoding in relation to the anarchist subject and advertising in the racially charged city of Oakland. The immediate setting was the Trayvon Martin protests in which crowds gathered to express their collective outrage at yet another slaying of a black youth by a white man going unpunished – this time from a self-proclaimed vigilante acting as a citizen-cop. The opinion/theoretical analysis piece comes off as a chiding of window smashers and attackers in the crowd, especially by white individuals in a protest of anger at racism in America. I’ve read it many times – seeing as I live in the Bay Area, study Deleuze, and was present at the protest – and I don’t really have a critique of it. I can only say that it should be read, and that this is exactly the kind of analysis that should be applied to contemporary radical-political actions.

Brief Comments on Recent Events in Oakland

It is particularly relevant in taking Deleuze and integrating his work into an Anarchist strain of thought, which is always concerned with action in the present and pushing for revolution in all aspects of one’s life as well as in the superstructure. A school of thought has been taking off called “post-anarchism” that takes post-structuralists like Deleuze and “smashes” them into Anarchism, looking for a way to further anti-capitalist struggles without the individualistic emphasis on autonomy dominating the question of freedom. Todd May has done some of the most interesting work in my opinion. Video-Lecture.

The concentration on racist advertisement at the end also bolsters the piece in giving one a sense of the environmental-affective nature of living with a subtle, then not-so-subtle (read: policed) racist society. The take-home message here with the black pop-star looking white is for white anarchist dudes: it is far more subversive and empowering if a black person tears it down. Acting in the place of a person affected by racism robs them of their struggle. When a black icon is made to look white by advertisers making a buck off of fame, having a white person deface it keeps white people in the front of every angle. This is especially apparent in a public march where one’s race and gender is visible, as opposed to, say, covert billboard improvement like this:

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The problem with window smashing is not about property or even tactical efficacy at this point in the anti-capitalist struggle – it is about (over)coding. When outbursts like this happen, it plays right into the narrative that the newspapers craft and the state/capital adore. The media *overcodes* such actions as violence and cites them as de facto proof that anarchists and other folks who show at militant demonstrations are rabid outsiders with nothing but misguided anger. A new encoding, a different meaning, is what should be sought out by such moments and the symbolism of a broken window needs to be considered for what possibilities it could bring about. Lets face it, the smash-a-window action is only as powerful as it inspires further actions. To create a new encoding and escape the state/capitalist overcode, new targets or perhaps even new tactics all-together are needed. Confronting capitalism as well as *escaping capitalism and building that world on the other side of it means finding ways to keep moving and achieving that escape velocity that would sustain itself.

This isn’t to say that window smashing is to be scolded as vehemently as it has been by all stripes of the political spectrum. The point is about emphasis and messaging. The action by itself is only a brief expression of anger and dissatisfaction. But to bring in the wider context of interpreting the action is to realize that *who acts and *what targets are hit is to look beyond the act itself and into a game of meaning between players that succeed or fail. The means for gaining success in my view cannot be separated from a mediation that resisters do not control now. We are overcoded, so we must look to other ways to encode *ourselves.

Here is a good quote to end with:

Rebellion is not measured through quantitative amounts of vandalism, sabotage, or any other particular tactics. Rebellion is without measure. It either appears and strengthens itself, or it is captured and destroyed. Rebellion is not the schemes, visions, or plans of this or that group or vanguard or cadre, it is the boundless energy of the people and what they do to expand that rebellion. All that gives way to freedom, all that expands beyond the confines assigned to it by the state, is the nomadic war machine. The goal should be to expand it, not to control it.

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Earth First?

After arriving at a drag queen house show, I make my way through crowds of pretty young people with beers and spliffs in their hands searching for familiar faces. The house is a notorious communal house where I have met with friends before and besides looking for kicks of stimulation I keep my ears open for leads. Sure enough, one of those familiar faces pops up in the middle of a rolling conversation of radical politics with words like “guerrilla gardens”, “anarchists”, “worker’s unions”, “ecology”, and “capitalism” flowing freely. There will be something to learn here, something to latch onto. Inserting myself in the conversation is done with ease at a party where such behavior is welcome and bodies are mixing like the drinks falling down our throats.

Being in attendance at ’actions’, making the effort to show up to an event billed as a great protest for some righteous cause has an effect that cannot be summarized by whether or not capitalism dies the morning after. There are faces to remember, there is information to collect, there is a milieu to become acquainted with, and a comfortability that comes with it sparking more genuine and less reserved conversations. A general sense becomes shared: something is terribly wrong and we are here to devise a plan. Even if opinions differ greatly from one to the next, this much has been made clear to me by schmoozing with so-called activists: assembling into a greater, more powerful body is a necessary step in the process of social change. The body that assembles in a particular time and place may disperse, fail to achieve its stated goals, or become a mere routine as predictable as the bureaucratic regime that it opposes; but it is in those sites full of charged up bodies who share you’re rage at the state of social affairs, along with its “external” effects on the environment at large, where a conversation can steer you onto a new path increasing the possibilities for projects that would have been inconceivable in isolation. A meet-up spot yes, but in the setting of a heightened feeling of power amongst a sea of others. A fluid mass of which you are only a part that at once puts you on the edge of your senses and expands your capabilities in the face of a terrible threat in both the short and long term.

Ever collecting points of intersection, one has crossed my attention that is too juicy to let drift away. That familiar face from the party indeed does have a lead: a connection pointing towards a future convergence.

Or, in short, I heared about a film screening.

A recent slice of history is documented in the film titled “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” and I learned some eye-opening things about radical politics from very close by my own region. After finishing the documentary I was surprised at how little I knew about Earth First! when much of the action came not only within my short lifetime but was exposed in the national media. With its current attention at a hush, I can understand the need for this documentary as it details the story of a grassroots organization that was building momentum when it became the target of a ruthless campaign by the Oakland Police Department and the FBI.

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Earth First! is a movement that engages in direct action against corporations who threaten life on earth. They are quick to point out on their website that it is not an organization but a non-hierarchical body of people with a shared goal: protecting “Mother Earth” at all costs. The stated claim about Earth First! is that it is a principle of “Biocentrism” around which individuals (explicitly in contrast to members) gather to stop particular practices that usually amount to slowing down loggers, their trucks, and equipment before they cut down trees. This is an instance of bottom-up politics organized not by any individual with any authority but by a common commitment bringing people together for specific events. Simply put, Earth First is a belief, or a set of beliefs, that are simultaneously a tool for pragmatically implementing those beliefs: “It is a belief in biocentrism, that life of the Earth comes first, and a practice of putting our beliefs into action.”.

They boast on their website: “Our front-line, direct action approach to protecting wilderness gets results.” and direct action does indeed get the goods. But is this really only a belief with a will to act brought along with it? It is possible to unpack Biocentrism as well as an ethical commitment to the Earth but this is not my aim. The bigger question lies between the belief and the action: are the actions that Earth First!ers perform faithful to the belief in protecting the life of the Earth? Does the belief too quickly translate into action without acknowledging all of the other beliefs that it carries in tow? Getting excessively reflective can stifle the ethical energy or moral courage by inducing doubt – I know this much (get it?). Given that one understands the stakes of the rapidly collapsing ecosystem planet-wide, the question is more about where and how one’s energy is being directed by the tactics and principles that go along with affiliating oneself with Earth First! But this is just to wet the curiosity. Before tackling these big questions we should look into the story of Earth First! in my own bioregion with special attention paid to their victories, near-misses, and resistance from powerful enemies.

The documentary focuses on the movement to stop logging companies from clear-cutting redwood forests in Northern California, Oregon and Cascadia in general. Roadblocks, tree-sits, confrontations with tractors all are captured on film as we see human bodies standing directly in the way of logging machinery. Initially, the group based its efforts on linking up with the timber workers and together putting a stop to the over-cutting or clear-cutting of forests that completely transformed ecosystems. It seems that the timber companies once logged sustainably (if that is possible) but then after CEO Charles Hurwitz “took over Pacific Lumber Company, raiding the company’s pension plan, selling off its assets, and doubling the logging[sic] in the forest so he could pay back his junk bonds debt.” (take a great big note on that one and file it away for later). Certain tactical rifts began to divide the Earth First!ers as tree-spikers and monkeywrenchers filled trees with spikes that would destroy logging machinery in acts of sabotage. This “ecotage” wasn’t a new practice but ran counter to the method that Bari and crew were going for: joining green activist together with workers to stop managers and bosses from eliminating the old-growth Redwoods. This could have been an exciting development had it gone through, establishing a shining example of how to effectively challenge corporate overproduction with an alliance of righteous activist and worker.

Trees-spiking caused some nasty injuries to timber workers and the alliance was never solidified. The ’hippy’ stereotype took over worker sentiment of the Earth First!ers, only now with the addition of the ’eco-terrorist’ label. Still the group pressed on with protests and blockades that were picking up momentum thanks to a media campaign. And it was working. Judi Bari’s voice was articulate, passionate, and concretely situated in the task at hand; a major example how effective civil disobedience could be when focused in the right direction. With songs and dance that brought a flavor of country and mountain music, she and her ecological comrades sent out a potent message of wilderness preservation. A festive culture of resistance was sprouting up that would be mimicked in the anti-globalization protests through the Occupy movement and other protests today. Nationally televised news stations were reporting on recent developments in the movement and other states beyond the west coast had joined in with conservation actions of there own. The movement would culminate in a mass rally and civil disobedience display where over a thousand people would get arrested in blocking the access to the headwaters forest. This was dubbed ’The Redwood Summer’ and should sound eerily familiar.

But right before the big demonstration in 1990, Judi Bari’s car was blown up by a bomb in Oakland. She was sent to the hospital and upon gaining consciousness arrested as the only suspect for her own car explosion. The Oakland police department figured that she was transporting a bomb to be used for ecological sabotage when she had vocally denounced even tree tampering to harm logging equipment, much less blowing it up. It was a brazen move to simultaneously smear her name as a terrorist and send a chilling message to the movement as a whole: stir-up the populace and we will come down on you, hard. Her pelvis was shattered. She and her friends homes were raided by the FBI. Troves of evidence were ignored and false claims stated before national reporters that even a glance at the images and video of the bombing’s aftermath would have discredited. The affair is detailed by Bari here. The most shocking part of this affair though is the FBI’s holding of a “Bomb School” open to all police officers and attended by Oakland Police Officers. Together they conducting pipe-bomb tests on ordinary cars in a logging site near Eureka, California just a few weeks before the Judi Bari incident. Upon approaching the wreckage in Oakland, with video-recorder in hand, a police man jokingly says something like “…here we go, here’s the final result…”

The case is still I unsolved today. In 2011, the FBI tried to destroy the evidence but was blocked by a California judge. The police and the FBI refuse to take up the case though and the evidence remains buried on a shelf somewhere. Bari gave a testimonial for a lawsuit she filed against the FBI and OPD in which she recounted the entire storyline of her involvement in Earth First! and the bombing incident; the defense asked her no questions. She won over 4 million dollars for her friends and family, but died of cancer before seeing any of it.

With tactics like these deployed against protesters and activists concerned about the negative impact on the environment (or, say, the erosion of any control over who our country bombs, our private security, or who gets to be bailed out with public funds) it’s a wonder that these organizations remain so steadfast in their routines of operation. After clearly being the target of a bombing for getting too big, how do these individuals stay calm and carry on instead of opting for escalation? The motto of Earth First! Reads: “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth!”, yet there is no more urgent of a time in which to take this seriously, and that means above all critically and with a strategic mind-set. We are constantly reminded by climate scientists that we have but a few years before we do irreversible damage to the Earth and turn a majority of it into an infertile desert. Billions will die. Most species will go extinct. This seems like a perfectly reasonable justification for taking the next step when confronted with an enemy that terrorizes and slanders you. But hold on a minute, what would that look like?

While the health of the Earth most definitely ought to be held consciously in mind in our efforts to change society, there is a disconnect that ecological activists groups ignore when they organize their rallies, marches, and other acts of civil disobedience. The Earth doesn’t speak our language, it could be said. If the Earth’s greater biosystem unleashes certain positive feedback loops then it will be a disaster for every life-form on it including people and their civilizations. And yet, when that old question “what is to be done?” comes up, the options resemble previous campaigns from recent history like the Civil Rights Movement or some form of slight modification to consumer products under the banner of “sustainability” or “green capitalism”. The current mode of we commonly settle into is to protest and make demands that our legislators will turn into laws that, piece by piece, will chip away at the culprits of CO2 emissions until they are gone and a green transition will take place. The rallies can increase in size and we can feel a bit more comfortable in gazing upon how many other people share our commitment, or we can hold onto some inkling of hope by thinking that in assembly our voices are being heard by our representatives. We can cry in outrage, we can form a giant marching mass, and we can pander ever more to those with power, but the Earth doesn’t care. The Earth is heating up and all that matters is ending the release of carbon from the ground into the atmosphere.

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This impasse we are at and the futility of current methods is not a big secret. But what people can’t seem to see yet is that preventing this collapse will require far more than well tread civil disobedience – at least of the kind that generally comes to mind in light of the phrase. The kind of action that would lead to stopping global warming would utterly disfigure the face of civilization. The energy used to move big metal objects through concrete freeways (and the energy required to pull that metal out of the ground and transport that concrete to a construction site in the first place) comes almost entirely from fossil fuels. Alternative energy sources are just simply inadequate to fill the void in the absence of the black liquid fire. See this film on the crisis of civilization and this clear explanation of our energy-fueled, debt-based growth society.

Mass rallies and blockades have an empowering effect. Stepping out of our everyday social roles as (possibly unemployed) workers, family members, or what have you and stepping into the streets strengthens bonds and increases possibilities moving forward. But where are we going? One-time actions seem hardly capable of bringing about the deep structural change that would halt Carbon emissions when people must rely on their cars to get to work, heavy machinery and pesticides are needed to grow our food, and maritime shipping and trucking transport it across the globe. Even if an ugly juggernaut of a pipeline is stopped from being built, the economy that we’ve grown so accustomed to demands amounts of energy that continually rein in on the future health of the Earth. Is putting the Earth first really what would bring about a reorganization of our social infrastructure so as to end this bleak scenario?

Stopping ourselves from carrying out this suicidal quest to dominate the Earth is by all means the end-game for our generation. How that is achieved is not necessarily by heeding the call to act Right Now and with the greatest sense of urgency in Our Great Mother’s defense. Stopping global warming will instead require that we as a civilization look in the mirror and never cease asking the question: “how do we stop ourselves?”

When ways of life conflict within a common place that we cannot escape from, inter-societal conflicts have always arose. With such limited time and a stubborn behemoth of a nation towering over the rest and doing some effective blockading of its own (the US has stifled all international climate resolutions), how can we with good conscience settle for local targets when large systems of power dwarf the actions of any company in particular?

*

Wen Stevenson penned an article in the Nation which began with our current battles around the Keystone XL pipeline before moving on to compare it with the civil disobedience of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau popularized the phrase ‘civil disobedience’ in his 1846 essay of the same name. In his lifetime, Thoreau spent a little time in jail for not paying a poll tax, helped fugitive slaves escape to Canada, and, most radically of all, defended John Brown after his raid on Harper’s Ferry with a company of armed white and black men. With a polarized country shaken by the mounting tension over the question of slavery and a man having taken up arms for a righteous cause, Thoreau rushed to his defense. He gave a speech in front of a large audience just days after the bloody battle and used his renown to argue for the sanity and justness of John Brown. This was a radical author, who built a house by a secluded pond to “live deliberately” and free from the trappings of American industrial life, standing behind his dead friend who took up arms for a principle.

After citing America’s most radical author of the 19th century, Stephenson then suddenly turns on him writing “Fortunately, Thoreau – with his explicit endorsement of violence – didn’t get the last word on civil disobedience.” He continues:

“And yet today we face a human crisis as extreme in its way as the one faced by Thoreau. What is the “sane” – and appropriately radical – response to the urgent human crisis of global warming? Is anyone willing to say, “This people must cease to extract fossil fuels, and to unjustly rob today’s children and future generations of a livable planet, whatever the cost”?
It sounds crazy. But just as Thoreau and other radical abolitionists were willing to push the boundaries, so climate activists must be willing to say and do “crazy” and “radical” things – like put their bodies in the way of coal shipments, or demand that universities divest from fossil fuel companies – not because it’s politically expedient, but because it’s morally imperative. When the truly sane courses of action – putting a heavy price on carbon, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, massively scaling up clean energy, urgently seeking the necessary global commitments – lie outside the limits of political “realism” and “reasonable” debate, it’s time to ask who has the firmer grip on reality and reason.”

For Stephenson, “radical” action finds its home in human blockades and divestment campaigns and ring of the craziness of a zealous moralist. Yet it is somehow redeemed in a political environment of stagnancy. His radicals operate outside the limits of rational debate and straddle the lines of sanity – all under the umbrella of non-violence.

There is a curious double move going on here. On the one hand, taking radical and passionate action outside of mainstream politics is becoming more acceptable and is granted a more realistic, reasonable quality. On the other hand, its teeth are completely knocked out of it. After going through the extreme dangers of global warming and then the actions of one of countries most beloved literary figures (the kind that sometimes give you hope for a future with the promise of America not wholly intoxicated with greed and conquest still in it), the reader is lead to believe that blockading and divestment are a radical panacea for our climate ills.

Stephenson picked the right topic and the perfect figure to demonstrate the kind of radical action that would actually help transform society “whatever the cost”, but what is lacking is not the moral fanaticism (this country has got that in spades). What is lacking is the courage to challenge the obedience inherent in ‘non-violent civil disobedience’. The risks that go along with the type of disobedience that we see from McKibbon’s climate rallies (“I got arrested at the White House! Take my picture!”) do not exemplify the moral courage to match the situation of our biosphere. A case can be made for the bravery of the blockaders of the Keystone XL, with a victory perhaps propelling the movement into a bigger stage. But without the structural change to the energy and monetary growth demands of the US led global economy, these actions will remain reformist. The last word in the piece is “revolutionaries”, but there is nothing revolutionary about non-violent civil disobedience devoid of the will to follow in John Brown’s footsteps.

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Such a revolutionary movement could potentially be built from the ground up and sustained by local victories. Such actions give us the opportunity to solidify friendships and make new ones that will bolster the drive to a cooler planet. But make no mistake, this kind of sustained movement growth hasn’t been anywhere in sight since Occupy. And like all social movements, a conservationist campaign will confront the strong arm of the powers that be if it actually gets big enough to make the necessary changes to capitalist production.

*

Back at the ‘Who Bombed Judi Bari?’ film screening, I kick back in a big round chair and pass the time before it starts by opening up the book I’m reading and cracking a beer. The book is Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s ‘What Is Philosophy?’ and by pure coincidence I’m on a chapter called ‘Geophilosophy’. An older woman, veteran of activism no doubt, notes the author and after I ask if she’s read in any she says: “I don’t read any of that postmodern stuff.” I’m not surprised by this reaction, just disappointed in her. Not wanting to kill my buzz, I just dig right back into it.

I’ll end with some quotes from the chapter:

“Thinking is neither a line drawn between subject and object, nor a revolving of one around the other. Rather, thinking takes place in the relationship between territory and the earth.”

“The earth is not one element among others but rather brings together all the elements within a single embrace while using one or another of them to deterritorialize territory.”

“In imperial states deterritorialization takes place through transcendence: it tends to develop vertically from on high, according to a celestial component of the earth. The territory has become desert earth, but a celestial Stranger arrives to reestablish the territory or reterritorialize the earth.”

“As concept and as event, revolution is self-referential or enjoys a self-positing that enables it to be apprehended in an immanent enthusiasm without anything in states of affairs or lived experience being able to tone it down, not even the disappointments of reason. Revolution is absolute deterritorialization even to the point where this calls for a new earth, a new people.”

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Deleuze and the Advertisers

What say you on Philosophy and Marketing Gilles Deleuze?

“Finally, the most shameful moment came when computer science, marketing, design, and advertising, all disciplines of communication, seized hold of the word concept itself and said: “This is our concern, we are the creative ones, we are the ideas men! We are the friends of the concept, we put it in our computers.” Information and creativity, concept and enterprise: there is already an abundant bibliography. Marketing has preserved the idea of a certain relationship between the concept and the event… The only events are exhibitions, and the only concepts are products that can be sold. Philosophy has not remained unaffected by the general movement that replaced Critique with sales promotion.”

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What Is Philosophy? p.10

Creating concepts, a painstaking labor of philosophical invention, an expression of intensified yet drawn out attention on a deep problem, becomes the work of an ad-man looking to turn a profit. The cultivation of something new out of the old that is both an ode to the great ones of the past and a monument that goes beyond the narrow concern of mere Time is now a data entry point meant for as many eyes as can gaze upon it.

The consumption of the concepts is made increasingly more vociferous under the careful craft of the graphic designer, the copy writer, the editor, the marketer. We feast with our eyes on the spectacle of splendor created by the genius in the skyscraper. So in-tune with the act of invention is the artist of abstractions that he pulls the strings of the eager masses to the point of them following him along, following him ever more along his extra-terrestrial trail of joyful seduction. They never see him. He blends in ubiquitously with his minions of desire even while they follow him into his thoughts, always on the cusp of some clever production thanks to his conceptual clarity.

Wearing no robe or crown, sitting in no house or court, the advertiser walks through the crowds just like his other fellow citizens doing their jobs. But they follow his thoughts more surely than any devout subject before them, reaching violently for that slice of heaven, that moment of bliss, before returning inward for the next go-around.
The mass is never one, the individual always initiates the pursuit of its object.
The mass is never one, it is divided into selfs with no use of conformity.
The mass is never one, our differences make us special.
The mass is never one, the horror at the potential for such destruction!
Going out on the streets, going out to the show, going out with a bang, but always going back in.

Self generation is the well spring of eternal creation: the Ad man has learned this well, even if not disciplined by an elder – especially without such discipline. The mind is a canvas on which to paint furious concepts – all of which are at one’s disposal. Gratitude flows rapidly into the mind, measured in shear stock. The mind is by turns championed and questioned repeatedly as a new project is always on the horizon. The work to be done, full of pride and determination; the warmth of the ownmost – I can always come back. The mind now a heart-beat.

The Advertiser shares the philosophical Illumination with you, in perfect communication.

You see? He’s not entirely selfish. Among them traversing, bestowing the gift of the concept in plain sight. But the mind keeps searching, wanting, demanding; and the advertiser provides more, forever more.

See? All you had to do was reach inside and pull it right out. No need for a fuss.

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How’s this?

I grew up saturated with advertisements, then I found philosophy.
Then came Mad Men: a philosophical show about advertisers.
Now I write of philosophy and its assumption by advertising days before the season premiere.
Therefore I am advertising for free on my philosophy blog for a TV show about advertisers.
I have come back to advertising, as a philosopher against advertising.

Watching this will make it all better: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphaville_(film) Get it on Netflix.

Agent Swarm on Unitive Deleuze

Here is a succinct and accessible post on Deleuze’s Pluralism in relation to dualities from Terrence Blake. A dualism that ends in mere opposition, or takes the side of one versus the other falls into a never-ending quest of how to find the “magic formula”: One = Many. Monism = Pluralism.

Dualisms are not escapable and are a necessity for making sense – for the production of meaning and meaningful discourse. An introductory step, which rids oneself of the demand to take a false choice of “one or the other”, is to affirm pluralism (a non-monism and non-reductivism), but after that initial move a vast array of things, worlds, signs, flows, patterns, intensities, etc. open up. We encounter dualities as we traverse these many forms and styles without losing sight of the relations and interactions to the others. A pluralist avoids the reduction to mere opposition and its two-way usage of negation, it opens up a multiplicity of possibilities and potentialities in the Virtual which either do or do not become actual.

When asked what ‘one’ believes or identifies with, where ‘one’ stands on this or that issue, the proclamation of pluralism leaves one’s commitments open to the unexpected or hitherto unconsidered of the ‘many’. The oneness of belief and its internalized demand to hold onto and keep the being or proposition freezes time and promotes and endless repetition of the same. Differences are always made and understood in relation to the single place where one is located as a coordinate cross-section compared to another’s coordinates in a monistic frame. A repetition with difference shatters the one into other avenues of motion enabling both expansion and dissipation. Pluralism suggests a movement where Monism suggests a positioning.

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AGENT SWARM

Deleuze does not oppose dualities frontally but tries for a more supple approach. He thinks that they are an intrinsic part of language and that we can only undo a dualism here by producing or reinforcing another dualism there. So we are condemned to fall victim to dualities from an absolute point of view, while being able to dissolve them on a local basis, by strategic or pragmatic interventions. Deleuze, with Guattari (and this “with” is important, as it was one way of overcoming a dualism between philosophy and psychoanalysis, between logos (concept) and psyche (affect, percept, intensity), declared that a dualism was acceptable as a preliminary overcoming of a dogmatic monism on the way to a pluralism. This pluralism he claimed was subtended by a non-preexistant more fluid unity. Hence the equation “monism=pluralism” is called “the magic formula that we are all looking for”, ie a forever unaccomplished process…

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