03 June 2006

Multiplicities and Learning

Care must be taken in treating Ideas or multiplicities as having a greater permanence than they actually possess. When Deleuze speaks of "horizontal varieties of Ideas", it is easy to get the impression that these are eternal natural kinds that have an atemporal organization. This conclusion easily follows from the example of varieties such as mathematical, physical, and chemical varieties, which are often taken to be intrinsic features of the universe. However, Deleuze's metaphor of the "throw of the dice" should be enough to dissuade us from this route. Ideas or multiplicities are perpetually being made or unmade in terms of series that are drawn together forming new ontological problems and accompanying solution. This comes out clearly in Deleuze's discussions of learning as opposed to knowing. Where we exist in a world, a chaosmos, that is perpetually changing by virtue of multiplicities and series being brought into contact with one another, we can only speak of emergent orders and learning, for there is no longer an eternal world that we might represent. As Deleuze puts it, "the Idea is not the element of knowledge but that of an infinite 'learning', which is of a different nature to knowledge. For learning evolves entirely in the comprehension of problems as such, in the apprehension and condensation of singularities and in the composition of ideal events and bodies. Learning to swim or learning a foreign language means composing the singular points of one's own body or one's own language with those of another shape or element, which tears us apart but also propels us into a hitherto unknown and unheard-of world of problems. To what are we dedicated if not to those problems which demand the very transformation of our body and our language" (DR, 192). It is in this conceptualization of learning that we can speak of an early concept of "deterritorialization" at work in Deleuze's thought. In the marvellous example of learning to swim, the singularities composing the virtual dimension of the body are territorialized upon the earth. In encountering the water two series come to resonate with one another, forming a new Idea that progressively differentiates itself such that the problem of the body-water Idea becomes increasingly determined, generating a new actuality in the form of a specific style of swimming as a solution or actualization of this differential field and the singularities that populate it.

Series and their singularities are distributed by chance, and new actualizations generate new series that other series must adapt to, generating forever new divergent actualizations moving in all directions. Territories are prepetually deterritorializing and reterritorializing as Ideas or multiplicities come in contact with one another and modify their environment. Here, for instance, we might think of the introduction of cane toads into Australia to fight pests, which had the effect of significantly transforming the eco-system.

On dark days I've often found myself attracted to Dewey because of the process orientation of his thought. However, a comparison and contrast of Dewey with Luhmann's conception of the artist reveal the limitations of pragmatic thought, and illuminates Deleuze's concept of emergent orders and processes. In Art as Experience, Dewey seeks to account for the relationship of artistic production to lived experience and engagement. This account of artistic production is of interest as it forms a sort of master-key of Dewey's entire "experimentalism", by underlining the manner in which patterns of life emerge through engaging with the world about us (rather than thematizing experience in terms of passive receptivity or spectatorship, Dewey thinks it in terms of feedback loops and interactivity with the environment). Along these lines, Dewey writes, "When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement" (Hofstadter and Kuhns ed, Philosophies of Art & Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger, pg. 579). From a Deleuzian perspective this thesis cannot but be appealing, as Dewey here seems to allude to the virtual field or problems in which the work of art emerges as a necessary condition for thinking the art. And indeed, a number of Deleuzians such as Massumi or Hayden have increasingly turned to pragmatists such as James, Peirce, and Dewey for more accessible thematizations of Deleuze's thought.

However, very quickly problems begin to emerge. A few pages later Dewey writes, "Because of changes in industrial conditions the artist has been pushed to one side from the main streams of active interest. Industry has been mechanized and an artist cannot work mechanically for mass production. He is less integrated than formerly in the normal flow of social services. A peculiar esthetic 'individualism' results. Artists find it incumbent upon them to betake themselves to their work as an isolated means of 'self-expression.' In order not to cater to the trend of economic forces, they often feel obliged to exaggerate their separateness to the point of eccentricity. Consequently artistic products take on to a still greater degree the air of something independent and esoteric" (ibid., 584). In this passage it becomes clear that Dewey thinks all human productions territorialized on a static lifeworld not unlike the world described by Heidegger and the earth described by Husserl. Everything is to be traced back to this world and any deviation from this world (such as the artist's "idiosyncratic self-expression" is seen as a deviation). What Dewey is unable to think here is the adaptation of world to adaptations. That is, Dewey is unable to think the manner in which new problems emerge generating new "speciations" or forms of life as a result of new technologies and relations that emerge among multiplicities. Dewey thinks of the lifeworld as permanent, and as a result he's only able to see the new artist in terms of what is not (the old, integrated artists of organic communities), rather than in terms of what this new artist is as a new type of multiplicity or response to a new problem. Here Dewey's thought is essentially conservative and nostalgic.

In contrast, the picture of the artist Luhmann gives us in Art as a Social System gives us a picture of the emergence of new identities as responses to ever changing problems. For instance, Luhmann speaks about how the emergence of the non-Aristocratic wealthy middle class also allowed for a deterritorialization of the artist as essentially tied to institutions such as the church and royalty. Insofar as this new middle class sought individualized works of art so as to compete with the aristocracy, this propelled artists to discover personal style which also led to what Luhmann calls "second-order obserserving" or observing how others observe, that led to a fragmentation of the world and eventually postmodern art. Here the artist is not conceived as deviating from an authentic and wholesome collective lifeworld, but as an identity in variation responding to new problems posed at the economic, social, and scientific level. That is, we are given an account of how encounters among multiplicities generate new Ideas or Ideas of Ideas precipitated through new syntheses of differential relations and singular points. On the other hand, Luhmann's approach still suffers in that it conceives the work of art in terms of an order that is not its own (communicative or social systems) rather than unfolding the metric or organization internal to the work itself. What is important to emphasize here, however, is the manner in which new identities and local spaces are generated in relation to positive fields of problems, so as to guard against false nostalgia at a "world lost".

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Levi,

Thank you so much for your writings. They not only reveal your acumen, but also your creativity. Both are greatly appreciated.

You still need to make them shorter! :-)

You write:

On dark days I've often found myself attracted to Dewey because of the process orientation of his thought. However, a comparison and contrast of Dewey with Luhmann's conception of the artist reveal the limitations of pragmatic thought, and illuminates Deleuze's concept of emergent orders and processes.

Yes. And this is precisely the reason why the generosity of Deleuze's mind is so appealing.

I'm reading his "Negotiations 1972-1990" (1990) and was struck (again) by the poetry of his definitions.

It is the image of thinking which guides the creation of concepts. It takes the form of a scream, whereas concepts are like a song or a melody.

Although centuries apart Dewey and Luhmann are systematists even is the latter would protest.

Like Nietzsche, Deleuze is not.

That's why he continues to spur us on.

Thanks for sharing your concepts.

Orla Schantz

June 04, 2006 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Levi,

Thank you so much for your writings. They not only reveal your acumen, but also your creativity. Both are greatly appreciated.

You still need to make them shorter! :-)

You write:

On dark days I've often found myself attracted to Dewey because of the process orientation of his thought. However, a comparison and contrast of Dewey with Luhmann's conception of the artist reveal the limitations of pragmatic thought, and illuminates Deleuze's concept of emergent orders and processes.

Yes. And this is precisely the reason why the generosity of Deleuze's mind is so appealing.

I'm reading his "Negotiations 1972-1990" (1990) and was struck (again) by the poetry of his definitions.

It is the image of thinking which guides the creation of concepts. It takes the form of a scream, whereas concepts are like a song or a melody.

Although centuries apart Dewey and Luhmann are systematists even if the latter would protest.

Like Nietzsche, Deleuze is not.

That's why he continues to spur us on.

Thanks for sharing your concepts.

Orla Schantz

June 04, 2006 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have NO idea why I repeat myself.

And yet, I tried to correct a few things in my first comment and suddenly it reproduced itself.

Is that an electronic rhyzome?

All the best,

Orla Schantz

June 04, 2006 4:43 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Dear Orla,

Thanks! Depending on what is meant by "systematic", I tend to think of Deleuze as a systematic philosopher. This isn't to say that Deleuze is a totalizing philosopher such as Hegel. Clearly this is not the case insofar as the whole is open. Nor am I suggesting that Deleuze's system is a system in the sense of "autopoietic theory" or systems theory. Rather, there is a set of relationships among the concepts Deleuze develops and a unity that cuts across his work even as the words used change. Delanda brings this point out with marvellous clarity in his book Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. Somewhere, the other day, I read Deleuze remarking that "I have always believed philosophy must be systematic." Sadly I've been unable to track down the quote (I thought it was somewhere in the newly released Two Regimes of Madness). This systematicity can, above all, be seen in the persistence of Deleuze's concepts of the virtual, the intensive, and the actual that persists throughout all his work.

I think Deleuze's systematicity can also be discerned in his principle influences in the history of philosophy and his way of reading Nietzsche. With respect to the latter, Deleuze turns Nietzsche into a systematic philosopher, showing an organization that underlies Nietzsche's thought. On the other hand, we ought not forget that Spinoza and Leibniz are systematic philosophers par excellence. The question then becomes how we are to think systematicity (in the philosophical sense) with the open creation of concepts proposed by Deleuze.

June 05, 2006 7:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Levi, for making this point. It is certainly well taken – and written.

In a certain sense Deleuze is a philosopher of systems.

Or rather the way I read him: He is the Houdini of systems. After first having created them he is always trying to find flight lines out of them.

In his "Negotiations 1972-1990" (1990) which I referred to he has the following to say in a conversation with Christian Descamps, published in Libération on October 23, 1980.

(I’m translating into English from the Danish translation of the French original (!) so something is bound to get “lost in translation”)

”Today the talk about the failure of systems (in philosophy) has become commonplace, the impossibility of creating a system because of the diversity of knowledge, etc…Actually, systems in their original sense have not lost any of their force. Within the sciences and logic you find the contours of a theory about the so-called “open systems” based on interactions which renounce linear causality and change the concept of time.. (He then goes on about how much he admires Maurice Blanchot)

…What Guattari and I call the rhizome is exactly an example of an open system…Everybody knows that philosophy is about creating concepts. A system is a unity of concepts. An open system is when the concepts refer to circumstances and no longer to essences.


But an OPEN system is still a system, right?

All the best,

Orla Schantz

June 05, 2006 3:54 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Hi Orla,

Thanks for drawing my attention to this passage. I good friend of mine and I have been trying to crack this nut for a couple of years now, attempting to determine the difference nuances of the concept of system. Traditionally a "philosophical system" has just referred to a series of very basic principles upon which phenomena can be comprehended. As I suggested in a blog entry below, this is a system as Newton conceives it (all physical motion can be expressed in a few basic laws) or as Hjelmslev conceives it (a language can be understood in terms of a few basic principles underlying texts), or as Spinoza conceives it (a series of theorems can be proven in terms of axioms and definitions).

More recently the concept of system has begun to mutate, such that a symstem isn't simply an explanation that reduces phenomena to their basic elements and their rules of combination, but rather system becomes an ontological category, i.e., there *are* systems. The difference here is the difference between systems as an epistemological category (a scientific or philosophical system is designed to explain a phenomenon in terms of simpler principles) and system as an ontological category or something that is and that only maintains itself relationally. Here there are two major theses: 1) a system as an "entity" is such that its elements cannot be understood independently of one another (the cells of the body can only be understood in their relations to one another), and 2) systems produce their own elements (there aren't elements that exist independent of one another, i.e., the cell transforms matter into cells of various sorts).

What Deleuze seems to do is develop a system of systems (i.e., he combines the traditional idea of a philosophical system as giving an account in terms of simpler or more basic principles with a thematization of systems as an ontological category). That is, Deleuze's account of (indi)different/ciation is designed to account for the most general processes undergone in system formation. Here, I think, we need to be very careful as not all systems meet criteria 2 outlined above (not all systems are autopoietic or self-regulating systems defined by a boundary or membrane). Thus, for example, gold is certainly an emergent unity (it arises out of more basic processes pertaining to particles described in quantum mechanics), but it is not autopoietic in the sense that it is not self-generating nor does it strive to maintain its organization over time.

June 05, 2006 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Levi,

You write:

The question then becomes how we are to think systematicity (in the philosophical sense) with the open creation of concepts proposed by Deleuze.

Why do we need to do that?

Seriously.

I'm perfectly happy revelling in the immancence and playing with whatever concepts Deleuze - and others! - offer me.

As Nietzsche wrote, philosophy should be a "gay science".

Don't you agree?

Orla Schantz

June 05, 2006 4:38 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

I'm afraid I find the concept of "play" to be one of the least interesting in the work of Deleuze. I'm one of those stodgy individuals that believes in engaged work, projects, sobriety, and discipline, and only have a passing interest in Nietzsche in terms of his cultural diagnosis of the death of God (I tend to gravitate more towards rationalists and more sober thinkers). I suppose, looking at the history of philosophy, I feel this way as it seems that those individuals that produced the greatest "deterritorializations" were the least apt to talk about play and unrestrained concept creation, but rather worked in response to well defined problems and questions. What interests me in Deleuze is not the ethos of play and all his bombast about "nomads", "schizos", crowned anarchy and whatnot, but what Deleuze allows me to understand about the world we live in and the problems that we currently face. When I think about what's really benefitted me intellectually or what has been a "gay science", it's not desiring-machines or play, but work in fields such as mathematics, ecology, ethnology, systems theory, psychoanalysis, structuralism, and the thought of philosophers such as Plato, Lucretius, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, Lacan, Freud, Deleuze, Bourdieu, Foucault, Zizek, Luhmann, Maturana and Varela, and Badiou... These thinkers have all had a world-changing effect on how I see things about me-- without which I'd be unable to think, but persist well after I've read these texts. Concepts only strike me as interesting insofar as they respond to a problem, increase our capacity to act and feel, and help to fight fascism. I guess I'm sick with the spirit of the serious, but I'll take Euclid or Zermelo-Fraenkel (or Newton, Galileo, Archimedes, Spinoza, Descartes, and so on) any day as the true deterrorializing agents of history over the literary theorist engaged in the latest activity of creating a new "monster". Do these monsters and anarcho-desiring machines really shock anyone?

June 05, 2006 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Levi, for your response. I can easily appreciate the two different approaches we take.

I have always come to philosophy via literature and literary theory.

As a true "continental" I have enjoyed and been inspired (greatly) by Nietzsche, Derrida and now Deleuze.

You come from another tradition and I truly value that.

You write:

When I think about what's really benefitted me intellectually or what has been a "gay science", it's not desiring-machines or play, but work in fields such as mathematics, ecology, ethnology, systems theory, psychoanalysis, structuralism, and the thought of philosophers such as Plato, Lucretius, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, Lacan, Freud, Deleuze, Bourdieu, Foucault, Zizek, Luhmann, Maturana and Varela, and Badiou... These thinkers have all had a world-changing effect on how I see things about me-- without which I'd be unable to think, but persist well after I've read these texts.

Precisely. But there is an interesting split in your anthology : Let's contrast Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger WITH
Freud, Deleuze, Bourdieu, Foucault, Zizek, Luhmann, Maturana and Varela

Don't you see it?

You also write:

I guess I'm sick with the spirit of the serious, but I'll take Euclid or Zermelo-Fraenkel (or Newton, Galileo, Archimedes, Spinoza, Descartes, and so on) any day as the true deterrorializing agents of history over the literary theorist engaged in the latest activity of creating a new "monster". Do these monsters and anarcho-desiring machines really shock anyone?

Of course you would. But we (or least I) are not looking for "monsters" or cheap shock effects. That's just "opinion" as Deleuze would say.

What I'm trying (hopefully!) to say is that it doesn't MATTER whether we experience "a world-changing effect on how we see things about us" from the perspective of homo ludens or of homo faber (as in Max Frisch's novel of the same name from 1957).

It is about discovering the world anew.

From whatever perspective.

Thanks for your being "sick with the spirit of the serious."

Orla Schantz

June 06, 2006 4:40 PM  
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