Adventures in Jutland

September 8, 2013
by Ib

Milieu, rhythm, refrain, territory


Wolfgang Tillmans “Memorial for the Victims of Organized Religion, 2006”. Image by David King Some rights reserved

(something we cut from the chapter of the Affect Theory Reader (edited by Mel Gregg and Greg Seigworth) I wrote with Lone Bertelsen)


The basic elements from which refrains assemble are milieus and rhythms. From chaos, ‘Milieus and Rhythms are born’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 313). What is a milieu? Massumi suggests that it is a technical term. It combines all three of the regular meanings in French; ‘”surroundings”, “medium” (as in chemistry), and “middle”‘ (in Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: xvii). It is, like chaos, composed of “middles” which are not units or yet territories in any sense, but ‘dimensions, or rather directions in motion’ (21). The difference is that in the milieu there is a significant shift in organisation – this being a form of cyclic durational organisation. ‘Every milieu is vibratory’, which is to say that a milieu is a direction in motion that forms a ‘block of space-time constituted by the periodic repetition of the component’ (313). This is why Milieus and Rhythms are born from chaos together – ‘Rhythm is the milieus’ answer to chaos’ (313). Think of the waves of the sea crashing on the shore. Rhythm, or what Deleuze and Guattari also call ‘rhythm-chaos or the chaosmos’ occurs between the sea and the shores, or the many other milieus that constantly transcode and transduce each other. This is why a milieu is totally relational – not a thing in itself. Deleuze and Guattari write here of all a living thing’s rhythms as they move over and through each other –

… the living thing has an 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-perceptions. (313)

All these milieu need to be taken into account in cultural theory (thus the importance of a return to science, although not to scientism – a difficult balancing act for both science and cultural theory). A milieu is ‘coded’, although in the basic sense that code arises as code – that is as ‘periodic repetition’ (this is one way to understand what Guattari means by an asignifying semiotic). Again however because this periodic repetition is neither metrically exact nor static – the codes here are constantly shifting as milieus themselves constantly merge and transform – ‘each code is in a perpetual state of transcoding and transduction [the constant transformation of forces through each other in ongoing differentiation and individuation]’. Waves and shore. Ships and state.

Milieus are not themselves territories. A territory organizes milieus. It is not so much a place for Deleuze andGuattari as an ‘act that affects milieus and rhythms, that “territorializes” them (314). It is worth repeating – territory is an act of territorialization affecting milieus and rhythms. Any territory is made up of – or more correctly acts within/upon a multiplicity of milieu – in the ocean for example, the energy of the sun, the forces of current, the nature of water, osmotic membranes, schools of fish, sand and geological formations, etc, all different milieu – as ‘directions in motion’ overlapping and intersecting. What defines the territory is the very act of definition – or ‘marking’ or ‘indexes’ (314). With territory the ‘directional components’ become ‘dimensional’. In short, the milieu components, which might be the like of ‘materials, organic products, skin or membrane states, energy sources, action-perception condensates’ (315), ‘cease to be functional and become expressive’. The ’emergence of matters of expression (qualities)’ defined the territory. This is therefore an unusual definition of territory – one not to do with place, or even the defence of place, as these already assume a formed territory. Neither is it a question of which functions bring a territory about – for functions ‘presuppose a territory-producing expressiveness’ (315). For Deleuze and Guattari the question is one rather of how territory comes about initially, before it can lend its mark to “places”, or to subsequent aggressions and transgressions. It does so when new matters of expression arise.

There is a kind of double becoming between territory and marking – which is ongoing (a territory is a pacing – it does not stand still). Apart from anything else, this explains that territory is not slow, but can be amazingly quick in ‘this becoming’ (315). In all this, ‘the territory is not primary in relation to the qualitative mark; it is the mark that makes the territory’ (315). The red ship on the horizon becoming-expressive. This is to be found in the emergence of qualities of expression (‘color, odor, sound, silhouette’ [316]) – take a colour and “make it my standard or placard’ (316). This transforms both politics and the analysis of politics (for one thing, this explains why the right’s focus on affective manipulation – via the extremity of work on qualities of expression – the voice of the shock jock on radio, the singing of “When the eagle soars” etc – is so politically effective. It territorializes via seizing hold of milieu – radio waves and other media milieu for one thing – and transforming them into new qualities of expression). It is something very well understood by some of the pioneers of contemporary politics from Edward Bernays to Erwin Piscator. It is perhaps no surprise that Guattari’s political paradigm – even in the moments it accepts science – is ethico-aesthetic (remembering that ‘art is not the privilege of human beings’ [316]).

August 7, 2013
by Ib

A few non-generalisations about online ed (along with a few generalisations)

Yet another article generalising about “students”, “profs” and online education: ‘Students are cool with MOOCs, so why aren’t profs?’.

I’ve read a lot of this genre of statement over the years. Now it’s a common thing to state in the midst of debates over MOOCs.

I had an interesting exchange about this with the often illuminating and usually disruptive @timbuckteeth (Steve Wheeler) and others on Twitter. I led me to ask: what’s wrong with such statements?

1. “Students” ain’t students. Not only educators but just about everyone loves to talk about “students” (I have my own mea culpas here). “Students” do this. “Students” think that. “Students” are all this. “Students” these days are all digital natives. etc etc etc. A single moment’s thought—or better a single conversation with a group of students—is all that’s needed to give one pause. The news is that, like any group of people, students are different. They don’t all do the same things, the same way. They don’t think the same. They use media—online or off—very differently (and I teach a lot of media students). They like different things. This shouldn’t surprise us when we think about it, but we use the shorthand “students” in any case, and it’s very destructive.

2. Some students—quite a lot—like online learning (I’ve used online learning since the 1990s; I’ve asked a lot of groups of students about this over the years).  However, a surprisingly high percentage don’t like online learning (this even more surprisingly includes some of those who pretty much live online). When they do like it, most, quite understandably, seem to like it because it’s convenient in the midst of what are often busy lives. That is, not necessarily because it provides better opportunities for learning. Purely on the basis of conversations, I’d note that the students who appreciate online learning for the learning opportunities it provides are fairly often those who are already autodidacts. The same students sometimes also want more from their offline classes. They have high expectations in general. Of course, the situation is much more complex than even this. For one thing the students who do like online learning are very discriminating. If you ask, they’ll tell you lots of things they like and don’t like about both online and offline learning. No one really just likes “online ed” in general. It’s hard for any given platform or even large institution to satisfy such discriminating tastes. It’s easy for the internet to.

3. “Profs” ain’t profs. Ditto the above with regard to those who teach. Different profs are also people who think differently. They also have different conditions of employment which are affected differently by online ed. Something also forgotten here is that all of those who teach, without exception, are also learning themselves, much of it online. Plus, as many have pointed out, it’s been faculty who have been developing online ed for decades now. It may surprise some that faculty have also been developing offline ed for even longer. Sometimes in league with students. If sometimes “profs are in the way of MOOCs”—and this is clearly a generalisation—it’s not because they’re dinosaurs clinging to tenure. For one thing this assumes that everyone in favour of MOOCs is untenured. For another they might object to MOOCs for a variety of very good reasons (I’ve been collecting discussions of MOOCs for a while if you’re interested).

4. “MOOCs” ain’t MOOCs. Not all MOOCs are the same. Despite all the discussion, a lot of people still don’t differentiate between cMOOCs and xMOOCs for a start, and that’s not the end of it. Not all are open in the same way. Etc etc. Here it might be sensible to begin with MOOC founders Stephen Downes and George Siemens, who have a much more nuanced understanding of MOOCs than what has often followed. This, by Stephen Downes, is probably the most interesting statement on MOOCs I’ve read.

5. Of course, MOOCs are not the whole of “online ed”. They are neither it’s alpha or omega. They have not appeared out of nowhere, although some suggest they might soon disappear or morph into a variety of more interesting things.

6. “Online ed” ain’t online ed. Decades of work on online education sometimes seems obscured by the sudden rise of MOOCs. Although not, interestingly, by Downes and Siemens community-based cMOOCs. Rather it’s been the big institution’s/new corporations xMOOCs that have clouded the sky. It’s a pity because online education is now very rich, very varied and, more importantly, genuinely disrupting education and educational institutions. This disruption is significant, but in ways that are not yet clear. Indeed, this situation is unlikely to be resolved in the short term, if indeed ever. If there’s one generalisation we can make it’s that the variety of online ed events do not arrive as a single line disruption. It’s more like an ongoing swarm of different kinds of insects. In short, things are complex. Personally, I think the assumed “rise of MOOCs” is explained by a desire to evade the actual complexity of online ed disruption. Established institutions, even established modes of launching startups, often don’t like swarms of difference. They want everything to fall into their institutional practices, their corporation, their platform. Seen this way, xMOOCs are exactly a single line solution to what is a very complex problem for administrators and/or those trying to institutionalise/commercialise online ed. cMOOCs, and the idea and experimentation they involve are much more interesting. It should be no surprise that a lot of xMOOC critics are seasoned online ed people.

7. “Learning” ain’t learning. It’s not all the same. It doesn’t happen in the same way. It seems silly but still necessary to have to say this. I mean that teaching physics is not the same as teaching history or sociology but that only begins the trip down the many by-ways of different kinds of learning. All of these might be able to be done online, although this doesn’t have to invalidate offline learning. The point is that we need a little more flexibility in our thinking about different aspects of learning in different settings. Lots of people, I know, do have this flexibility. One of my favourites for years has been the University of Mary Washington blog project (yes, it’s kinda based on a single platform .. I know .. but hey, I like that platform 🙂

8. (An unfortunate generalisation that seems appropriate). Although I learn a great deal from ed theory, I find most of it happily operates on basic assumptions about learning (from 1950s cog psych) that are highly contested/contestable.  .. I’ve written enough about this elsewhere. I can’t say it enough. I think even Benjamin Bloom himself would have found a lot of what passes for ed theory today of diminishing value (that’s me being polite).

9. Few people yet get how disruptive of education networks can/will be (another unfortunate but I think appropriate generalisation). In fact, some try but I don’t think any of us get it yet. I’m not sure any of us can. Think of people who learn for free, in a world in which accreditation is less important (or no longer important), without assessment, with at most a structure provided by flexible modules they can combine in any way they want, to learn in communities that find such knowledge relevant. Think of a world without courses or programs. Where the internet + on/offline community is the LMS. I’m not saying anything here others haven’t but I still think we don’t yet get the disruption involved. Too often our reaction, as in the case of xMOOCs, is to try to capture the energy involved and fold it back into what we know (I mean in terms of institutional practices, or corporate capital). There gains here, and it’s understandable and even necessary. However, it seems a bit of  stop gap measure, there is also on occasion a poisoning of the well. Put very simply, we are afraid to ‘let learning take place’. This book might be useful as an antidote.

Here endeth the lesson.

October 27, 2012
by Ib

Ghosted Publics and Unacknowledged Collectivities

[Excerpted from (and somewhat buried in) “On Not Performing: the third enclosure and fractal neofeudal fantasies” and developing ideas from this earlier piece]

… Another possible series of responses to the third enclosure and fractal neofeudalism might be found in what I call “ghosted publics” and “unacknowledged collectivity”. These refuse, rout around, rather than court or demand, systemic recognition and alignments (not that I am against recognition when it seems strategically valuable). I will suggest that ghosted publics and unacknowledged collectivity evade forms of “in-fact-never-the-recognition-that-was-promised”, predicated on the now multiple systems of performance and audits and so on. Subsequently, a ghosted public or unacknowledged collective might unfold collective life differently, working toward affirming the “more than given”, re-enabling a freer production of subjectivity.

“Ghosted publics” are acts of community—often media-assisted—that are simultaneously in and not in the public sphere (see also Murphie 2008b). They are translucent ‘figures’ of direct relationality and immediate communing that by-pass certified public acts, or regulated “communications” of performance recognised by established powers. From the point of view of established systems they are both present and absent, precisely because, although they are real, they do not fit, or even desire or struggle to obtain, standard forms of recognition. This makes them hard to see. They nevertheless haunt and trouble both mainstream media events (early amateur radio is a great example but so is a reading group, or more famously, in a complicated way, Wikileaks). They also haunt mainstream, publicly “certified” models of, and controls over thinking processes, affective intensities, and the production of subjectivity. Like ghosts that one only thinks one might feel, perhaps with an unexpected chill, ghosted publics disrupt and trouble the given without necessarily “appearing”.

If then, ghosted publics are precisely those events of community that evade the desired stability and established models of a recognised “public”, then they evade a “public” that has become the central defining problem of much of traditional media events, media theory and media disciplines for a hundred years. In the process they suggest a different understanding of thinking processes, one in which thought is not taken to consist of neat and recognisable forms of communication either predictably or perhaps “fractally” spread through the social. They certainly suggest something much more contingent than inputs and outputs, or symbolic processing according to a stable system.

Throughout the 20th century there has always been a series of ghosted publics moving through the more acknowledged and controlled public. Locally, on the ground, they might form pockets of “unacknowledged collectivity” (there are infinite forms of this but a simple example might be community gardening), by which I mean collectivity that again does not care about recognition, stability of models or access to central controls. They take up the practices of the “public” like ghosts, appearing only fleetingly here and there in the acknowledged public (for example, as “anti-globalisation activists” on the nightly news), and then only out of the corner of the acknowledged public’s eye. Yet these unacknowledged collectives seem to possess strange new powers of communality. They hint at public uncanny relations because their own relations come first. They seem in tune with the ongoing shifts, the convergences and divergences, of network ecologies. Again such unacknowledged collectivities were seen in the communities that found expression through the early days of amateur radio before the airwaves were regulated (or the later free radio in Italy, France and elsewhere [Goddard 2011]).

Such collectivity involves a question of “simply being able to live or to survive in a particular place, at a particular time, and to be ourselves”. However, this “has nothing to do with identity” (Guattari in Guattari and Rolnik 2008: 94—my emphasis). Guattari notes that “every time the problems of identity or recognition appear in a particular place, at the very least we are faced with the threat of blocking and paralysis of the process” (102). What do we perform in this situation? If we perform at all, it is perhaps as ghost with regard to publics, as unacknowledged collectivity with regard to each other. These perhaps become a kind of counter-fractal within performance.

Unacknowledge collectivities also teach us a new principle with regard to the third enclosure. We need always to re-singularise the situation, to use Guattari’s term .

How would this work? In terms of examples one could point to, for example, the Senselab project, “Technologies of Lived Abstraction” and its work on re-singularising “research creation” and transdisciplinary encounter (see; the online journal Inflexions gives several accounts and related discussions; the best account of this, however, along with principles for re-singularisation, is Manning and Massumi forthcoming). In these events, for example, there are no performed papers, and participants are asked to come with techniques for relation but not finished work. Encounter and creation is emphasised rather than performance. Failure is common, whatever that means outside of a performance environment. A different example, this time of a simultaneous resingularisation of the social, technical networks and action on climate change is the Coalition of the Willing Project, dedicated to open culture climate solutions (; and Another good set of examples of work in this vein could be found at the P2P foundation site Of course, this whole discussion is also haunted by the autonomists, the Situationists (Wark 2011), and all that has followed these two movements (for related events and ideas in the context of network culture see de Peuter and Dyer-Witheford 2005, Bauwens 2009, Lovink and Rossiter 2005, Goriunova 2011, Moore 2011).

How would this work in terms of techniques, practices and concepts?

First, when performance begins to work with Guattari’s processes of re-singularisation, events look somewhat different. They perhaps look like what he calls a “kind of molecular wave” (76). This molecular wave provides an alternate history, and a different contemporary problematic, to that of the public sphere, or the three enclosures. It may be true that this might look like a history of events that still need to find ways of being acted out, but more correctly it might be a matter of allowing an emergence of relations that are non-performative.

Second, crucial to this might be a reworking of the meaning of action. Here simply one has to remove actual activity, activity of real value, to yourself or your community, from the generalised circuits of performance systems. This is to say, recreate the possibility of action outside of performance systems.

Third, there is the resingularisation of time. Somewhat ironically we can turn to Benjamin Bloom in this respect. Bloom was the founder of the notion of a taxonomy of educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) within education—and these are at the heart of performance culture. Yet Bloom went on to develop “mastery learning” (1984). The most significant shift in this is the deregulation—and re-singularisation—of time. Students take the time they need to master objectives before they have to move on. Objectives remain but now interaction/relation with the teacher on a more one-to-one basis begins to take objectives out of a draconian test-based system, and therefore out of a general subjective equivalence. As education, it works. Although you can imagine how well one-to-one teaching and taking one’s time go down with funding bodies. It’s also been in trouble with the Christian Right in the US, largely because it affirms the child, rather than breaking their will (Berliner 1997). They are right. The control of time is crucial if you are going to force people to perform in a certain way. The single biggest factor in the softer forms of control over life such as performance systems is the fact that they take up so much time, and create “time” in a certain way. Bloom’s inversion of the connection between time and progress is therefore very important.

Fourth, there is something else hidden here in Bloom’s work, alongside the flexible time to master objectives. This is variation. Individual variation becomes a plus (although Bloom was keen to bring the virtues of individual teaching into group work). Ideally, there would even be time for non-action, for open thought, even for more flexible educational relations between students, between teachers. The question becomes one then of reintroducing a flexibility and openness of tasks and relations between, for example students, teachers, colleagues, while minimising performance. “Impossible”, I hear funders say. However, it is of course what is already happening in learning and teaching in almost any informal setting, including much of informal learning online—a gigantic ghosted public if ever there was one.

Fifth, I will suggest a counter-movement to performance systems is perhaps found in Kosofsky Sedgwick’s concept of “periperformativity” (2002: 5). Her definition is striking in the context here. A “periperformative” is an utterance “whose complex efficacy depends on their tangency to, as well as their difference from, the explicit performatives” (5). Periperformatives ghost performatives. Periperformatives live in the neighbourhood of performatives but fragment them, take them somewhere else. They disrupt a system’s smooth fractalisation. We might think of Bartleby the Scrivener’s famous “I would prefer not to” (Melville 2004[1853]), or, as a colleague recently advised me to say in relation to further requests for administrative work “it can’t be done”. These seem to me to be almost un-performative assemblages, more perhaps than counter-performatives. Periperformatives open up time again, open up possible relations and potentials, allow for new ecologies of practice, of performance and just as crucially, non-performance.

These periperformatives perhaps need to be accompanied by Félix Guattari’s metamodeling. Normal modeling and framing involve a series of frozen representations, operating to channel experience into narrow forms of performance. Metamodeling frees things up, moves not above them, but between them, a kind of counter to the communicative or even fractal aspects of performative systems as these construct frames and models. Metamodels “introduce movement, multiplicity and chaos into models” (Genosko and Murphie 2008). A metamodel “ensures precariousness, uncertainty and creativity over fixity, universality and automatic articulations” (Genosko 2003: 134-135). Shake the frame, undo prescriptive actions. Or, better sometimes, just don’t subscribe to the frame, especially not in practice. Just don’t do it. Unswoosh.

The psychic system, or better the world itself, might be on your side. Kosofsky Sedgwick, writing with Adam Frank about Silvan Tomkins’ work on cybernetics, discusses the psychic system as fundamentally out of tune with the kinds of assumptions you need for neat inputs/outputs, alignments, and so on. In short, there is no neat alignment, or, we might say, even fixed allegiances within the field of the psychic system, or within this system relations with other systems (that is, the world from which something like the psychic system ongoingly emerges). There is, in a sense, nothing with which to align. It’s certainly not a question of the defined and unshiftable “object” within the “objective”. Rather, it’s a matter of complex assemblages, or what they call “co-assemblages” with an affect system “encompassing several more, and more qualitatively different, possibilities that on/off”. Kosofsky Sedgwick and Frank therefore share an attraction to “the image of an undifferentiated but differentiable ecology [along with an ability to] discuss how things differentiate” (in Kosofsky Sedgwick 2002: 106).

This attraction would be the key point of difference when thinking through the ethical constitution of performance in all its forms.

I’m ultimately arguing here for a commitment to a “differential life” (Murphie 2005).  This is life which brings together concepts of different/ciation with pragmatic techniques of living. However, I want to finish with that which I have been suggesting might sometimes seem to be a missing ingredient—non-performance, that is, not performing in any sense of the word.

references are here

October 6, 2012
by Ib

the ethics of difference/interaction in Guattari (and Deleuze)

A long time ago (maybe in the mid-1990s) I wrote something about Guattari’s concept of interaction. I was thinking about how this might come into an ethics of interaction—simply put, what makes for better or worse interactions. So this is also about the ethics of difference in D and G. It’s pretty basic and others have discussed such things at length by now. I don’t think I ever published it. However, the short section below was based on reading his early book Molecular Revolution. I thought of it again after @thedeleuzenator raised the question of Guattari’s diagrams ‘that include redundancies of ‘”resonance” & “interaction”‘. He referenced to p180 of The Machinic Unconscious. I love Guattari’s diagrams. There no sacrificing of complexity, but they still seem to have something of a sense of humour. Anna Munster once animated one of them, a ‘diagram of group formation’.

In this early book, Guattari seems to oppose interaction to redundancy, although they can combine what they do. As below, exactly how they combine, and to what degree one prevails over the other, leads to very different political or ethical situations. Later of course, this all gets more complicated, with for example, redundancies of interaction and redundancies of resonance. For that you might try this excellent post on the Fractal Ontology blog, Guattari’s books such as The Machinic Unconscious, or if you read French Cartographies Schizoanalytiques is kind of fun (actually even if you don’t the diagrams are worth looking at). Gary Genosko is always good on these things … you could try his Felix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction.

Anyway, I’m not even sure how much of this I agree with now, but it might be helpful in a small way.

Enhancing Interaction

It would be a mistake to identify ethical interaction too readily with Deleuze-Guattarian concepts such as the nomad, the rhizome, and particularly the war machine. There is always a parallel dynamic of lines of flight and capture that must be considered. Both double becomings and deterritorialisations must attain their own sustained plan(e) of consistency, escaping from the planes of organisation of Capital and the State, to be of the most use. Guattari schematises the development of this plan(e), as it relates to interaction, in Molecular Revolution, writing that interactions “’represent the reverse of redundancies”’ (151). A redundancy, a term taken largely from linguistics, and like surplus value in economics, is something ‘left over’’ that can be used; for example, it is something that remains deterritorialised after the formation of a molar assemblage (well this is one basic explanation anyway). An example Guattari gives of a “’diagrammatic”’ redundancy is that of the “’blueprint”’ (154).

It can be seen that interaction and redundancy are both processes which could occur to the same deterritorialised and reterritorialised quanta. Interaction is a matter of connection between the fluxes of redundancies which exist in a phase of disconnection.

Guattari provides a four-fold formula whereby the nature of the interaction between interaction and redundancies can be determined according to whether interactions and redundancies are moving at negative speeds (that is, an action is relatively reterritorialising or reterritorialised) or positive speeds (that is, their actions are relatively deterritorialising or deterritorialised).

Firstly, if the speeds of both interaction and redundancy are negative this gives a ‘”“‘cold”’ stratification (for example, palaeolithic society)’” (ibid.). In “palaeolithic society” there is little sustained interaction outside of basic survival.

Secondly, interaction at negative speed and redundancy at positive speed produce ‘“lines of abolition or lines of return’”, as in the dynamics of ‘“fascism”’. Here redundancies interact as fast as they are deterritorialised, but only to be reterritorialised on the Molar formation they come from.

Thirdly, the interaction of positive speeds of interaction and negative speeds of redundancy “produces ‘lines of escape’ (as in capitalism) but with little to keep them going as redundancies are reluctant to leave the molar assemblage for long.

Lastly, the ethical highlight occurs when both speeds are positive. Here the machines really open out to the creation of a new plan(e) and there is an overwhelming of ‘“the opposition between redundancy and interaction’” (ibid.).

The creation of this plan(e) sustains the potential of ethical events. These enable the production of difference. However, once again this difference must subsequently be evaluated in terms of the new relations and possibility of relation it produces.

It is because of the complications within Deleuze and Guattari’’s understanding of difference that it is not, as it sometimes seems in some other philosophies such as Derrida’’s, or as it has been championed in institutions for years now, a simple ethical value in itself. Part of the radical nature of Deleuze and Guattari’’s understanding of differences, and of the interactions between them, is the way in which difference and interaction also form parts of many assemblages which seem reactionary. For example, deterritorialization lies at the heart of the Capitalist machine. Moreover, there are  various lines of flight that can easily lead to fascism, madness or death, none of which, unsurprisingly, is thought to be a very useful ethical formation from a Deleuze-Guattarian point of view.

They are very careful to analyse such processes. Indeed, such analyses of the relation between desire and forms of expression such as fascism, lines of flight and forms of deterritorialisation-reterritorialisation such as Capitalism are, as Foucault points out in the introduction to Anti-Oedipus, a major part of their project. They are also, to take another example, deeply suspicious of drug use as a practice in itself, whilst in favour of the kind of discoveries that can be made there. It would be preferable, ethically, for them, to ‘“succeed in getting drunk, but on pure water,…in getting high, but by abstention’” (ATP:286) in order to make these discoveries. This is because by doing so one always begins in the middle, not making the mistake that drug users make, even when quitting, of  starting ‘“over again from ground zero’” (ibid.). It is in the middle that one finds interaction, not in negation. The nomadic problem and task is that of the relay, not of building a new model from scratch (377).

This can be better understood if other ethical values are added to difference. Perhaps the primary of these for Deleuze is the constancy of expression through interaction. The problem of expression forms the basis of his interest in Leibniz and Spinoza. In the philosophies of these two Deleuze writes that expression is the operating principle behind their notions of “’God, of creatures and of knowledge’”. He sees their “anti-Cartesianism”, for example, as finding its motive in their emphasis on expression (EPS:17). It is not then, just a question of difference, but of differences that can constantly and dynamically express their own generation. ‘“Expression appears as the unity of the multiple, as the complication of the multiple, and as the explication of the One”’ (176). Production is this dynamic, changing expression of difference. This is why Deleuze and Guattari can consider homogeneous space, such as that produced by a drug, not – in the end as it may appear to be in the beginning – to be smooth but to be striated (ATP:370). It is captured and antiproductive. It does not express its intensities. So also Capitalism is especially antiproductive despite its use of deterritorialization and the war machine, because it forms assemblages (such as machinic enslavement or subjectifications) which highly regulate the possibilities of expression and alternative productions. Simply put, differences are restricted to an expression of the Capitalist machine in all its glory rather than any other potentiality. It is therefore necessary to break with such full bodies as Capital, but the danger is that such breaks finally form a “’merely specific reterritoriality, a specific body on the full body of capital’” (AO:375), such as the ex-communist States. At the same time, Capitalism is always “’escaping on all sides”’ (ibid.), and it may be an enormous task to create a plan(e) of any real consistency in the face of these lines of escape.

The ethics of differences and expression are complicated in the present time by this constantly shifting relation to the Capitalist machine, as it sets free potentialities, often only to reterritorialise them. The response to this situation is perhaps a question of maintaining the continuing expression and production of difference within, as much as outside of, Capital – a pragmatic balancing act – not just the setting up of new forms from scratch which are soon emptied by, or reterritorialised, on Capital. It should be obvious by now that, in this respect as in others, Deleuze and Guattari are far from being idealists. They are, rather, practical ‘mechanics’.

December 15, 2011
by Ib

Conceptual Speed Dating

Conceptual Speed Dating
Since every time we do this, people seem to like it (well mostly), and since it’s simple, I thought I would post some instructions.

This was “invented” (I’m sure other people did something like it in the past, and I know lots do it now) at the Dancing the Virtual event in 2006.  We wanted to foster less hierarchical and distributed discussion.

How it works:

1. make sure people know if they are “movers” or “stayers”.
2. Stayers form a kind of rough circle of some kind (crucial here .. make sure that people have enough space to get close enough to talk .. eg someone behind a corner of two desks can be hard to hear)
3. Keep it to pairs .. people often want to just drift in, or form three, or move with their friends etc. All of these mean that the whole thing breaks down, and more than two means that at least one often ends up out of the discussion.
4. Tell everyone that when you say “freeze” or whatever, everyone has to stop talking immediately and freeze (like “chasings”).
5. Give simple instructions. People have to talk to each other—and they must talk about the concept (it could be a question etc). They can’t talk about what they were doing on the weekend, what star sign that are, etc etc. If you’re in a class or the like, and (some) people haven’t done the readings etc, they have to make it up, but they must talk about the concept.
6. Usually I go for around 3 minutes before moving people on. Better to stop each conversation at its peak (that is, interrupt it) than let it run too long. This maintains the energy of ongoing conversation.
7. When you begin, obviously announce that “The concept is ….” whatever you’ve chosen (or some people put together several concepts and get someone to draw the concept out of a hat, so to speak—this is the fancy version), and then “start!” (keep a sense of ritual about it). The concepts can be anything, but I usually of course try to make sure they are in the reading/relevant to the day etc. .. So people can look them up etc. And often we choose the less obvious (“minor”) concepts.
7. After 3 minutes say “freeze” (this will at least in part stop you going a little crazy trying to make people cease talking otherwise)
8. Get them to move around one to the next person.
9. Repeat
10. People should develop the concept during repetition, and often they might report on the previous conversation. If you go round and just listen in (and listen in, don’t join in as facilitator) … make sure they’re on topic. If not, gently remind them.
11. Often with undergraduates, I let a few repetitions occur, even one or two only, then I start developing strings of concepts through the process. So for example, a string of concepts from the one reading, or a string of related issues, maybe from example out to larger questions (or vice versa).
12. Finally (obviously) it is useful to get feedback in the larger class. I just ask what they talked about and space it out on the whiteboard. But here again I try to make them the centre of attention. There’s no doubt I make comments etc .. but I tend to write down all the things they say on the whiteboard. Where I intervene is in “diagramming” and sometimes developing what they’re saying … as in literally drawing arrows between related concepts/things they’ve been discussing etc, expanding this etc… it’s a kind of group mind I guess.

October 20, 2011
by Ib

What is Media Literacy Today?

A post from 2009 that seemed to get lost when another blog went down …

Recently I was discussing, with colleagues, the sometimes vexed question of media literacies. In what sense should people be literate today—in what mode, or in what medium? Does literacy in one mode or medium mean you lose literacy in others. For example, do web literate “youth”—and “youth” is a term I don’t like at all because it implies a bunch of people who are all the same—lose their ability to read, or even worse, to concentrate. Is attention now a literacy? There are, today, a series of media panics about literacies, although this probably tells us more about the world at large than literacy per se.

We decided the central question concerning media literacies was variability, but what does this mean? For me, several things perhaps—

This does not mean fixed differences between established media, but ongoing variability in a very dynamic climate. The models that are a crucial part of literacy dynamics, and often the established businesses— newspapers, television channels, are all collapsing or changing dramatically. At the same time lots of new models, businesses, experience frameworks arise of course, although most of these are destined to fail (!). Everything is in constant variation. As Marx had it, famously, all that is solid melts into air: audiences, reception, production processes, narrative, software, business models, communications processes, advertising models etc. It’s very exciting but also pretty scary. All this this perhaps implies the need for a new “metaliteracy” – an ability to adapt. This is the single biggest thing to my mind. Our happier, more successful students have generally been those who’ve got this and gone with it.

This does not mean, however, that you don’t have to develop current literacies. Quite the opposite.

The first move here is acceptance (resistance is futile but surprisingly many students, not to mention staff, desperately resist many aspects of media literacies) and …

The second move is commitment to higher level literacy skills and knowledges over a range of areas. in short, the more you develop multiple literacies, the more you will be able to adapt as they change. It’s a bit like learning languages. One is work but we do it “naturally”. For those of us not growing up in bilingual homes, learning the second is hard work. However, once you’ve got two or three languages down, it’s much easier to adapt to more. Media literacies and knowledges are like that. You need to know how to make a competent video—in short, today you need visual literacy in production as well as in visual analysis—but you still need to know how to read and write text (and edit it, as well as publish in a range of forms!). You need to be able to put a good tweet together, but also be able to talk to a range of people face to face.

A problem: we think we get this. We are all these days used to “choice”—but this means, “if I don’t like doing this, I’ll just do that, etc”. Choice works in our favour—we get to choose. This is to some extent now changing. “Variability” will sometimes mean this, but it will just as often mean the opposite. That is, as above .. you will have to be good at more things that change, that are moving targets, that are demanding, and concerning which you have no choice. You must be more literate in more ways.

It’s about knowledge as well, across a range of areas.. You need to know about complex media set ups these days, but you also need to know about politics, climate change, urban conditions, social policy, the history of ideas, etc … all of these are also highly variable, subject to context. Most of the people (e.g. people like Jon Stewart) who do well these days are people who understand media variability and also, simply put, are broadly literate. They know lots of “stuff” (yes even non-media “stuff”). They can communicate, and work with this “stuff”, across a wide range of situations. So media literacies means more than knowing what the latest video is on YouTube (although this is definitely part of it). All forms of literacy—essay writing, reading, video production etc—are not just “outcomes” .. they need to be established (stage one) so that you get to the interesting stuff—knowing and working with content, real relationships, business, whatever (stage two).

Beyond this points are all the obvious. The media as we know it are changing very dramatically, as is the nature of media work. Perhaps a fair bit of the industry (to be fair, less often media workers, but more often the structures within which media work takes place) still has its head in the sand, or thinks it can self-spin or re-regulate its way out of the problems. Yet that still leaves those with their heads above the sand doing really interesting stuff.

Media Studies is currently caught betwixt and between all this.

August 7, 2011
by Ib

Whitehead’s Media Theory—a beginning

(Alfred North for those not living in the 1930s) Whitehead presents a little remarked upon but comprehensive ‘media theory’ that resituates media in the world, not “bifurcated” from a large slice of it. This theory is arguably more complete, if similar to, and yet predating, McLuhan’s. Indeed McLuhan read Whitehead extensively (see Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! 45, 59). In Whitehead’s theory of media there is no “bifurcation” between different types of signal (technical or natural, for example). Thus Whitehead’s philosophy becomes one in which the complexity of signal at the level of the world is paramount. Signals become “vectors of transmission” for the (“prehension” of) feeling which is central to his account of process. The world is a medium (Whitehead, Process and Reality, 286)—or a multiplicity of worlds (284) are mediums—for such vectors. For “the philosophy of organism the primary relationship of physical occasions is extensive connection,” (288) not simple extension of previously existing “things” (such as “us”).

Whitehead also preempts the very basis of both McLuhan’s thought–“the medium is the message.” He writes, “These extensive relations do not make determinate what is transmitted; but they do determine conditions to which all transmission must conform” (ibid.–see also Steven Shaviro, Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics, 52). In a similar but again perhaps more comprehensive manner than McLuhan, Whitehead further understands the “the human body” as a kind of signal transducer or modulator, “…as a complex ‘amplifier’–to use the language of the technology of electromagnetism” (119). Even more than this,  “the predominant basis of perception is perception of the various bodily organs, as passing on their experiences by channels of transmission and of enhancement” (119).

There is more to say on this on another occasion. Here I will just point once again to the undoing of the bifurcation of nature within Whitehead’s philosophy with regard to signal.

Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! [New York: Atlas, 2010]

Steven Shaviro, Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009]

Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality [New York: The Free Press, 1978]

May 14, 2011
by Ib


Like the Adam Curtis trailer, this trailer for the new documentary film by Tiffany Shlain, Connected, indicates something of a shift in thinking about media, networks, and their connection to the rest of life.