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Digital Thought Deserter: An Interview in e-flux

February 5, 2015 Leave a comment

In the new e-flux issue #62 you will also find an interview Paul Feigelfeld conducted with me: “Media Archaeology Out of Nature“. It focuses primarily on the themes of media theory, ecology and interfaces also with the work we do with the emerging Consortium (with WSA, University of California San Diego and Parsons School of Design, New School); synthetic intelligence, the planetary media condition, remote sensing, etc.

With a focus on the “media ecology”-trilogy of Digital Contagions, Insect Media, and the forthcoming A Geology of Media, the interview maps topics related to the ecopolitics of technological  culture. A warm thanks to Paul for the interview and supporting my aspirations to be a digital thought deserter.

“Media theory would become boring if it were merely about the digital or other preset determinations. There are too many “digital thought leaders” already. We need digital thought deserters, to poach an idea from Blixa Bargeld. In an interview, the Einstürzende Neubauten frontman voiced his preference for a different military term than “avant-garde” for his artistic activity: that of the deserter. He identifies not with the leader but rather with the partisan, “somebody in the woods who does something else and storms on the army at the moment they did not expect it.”7 Evacuate yourself from the obvious, by conceptual or historical means. Refuse prefabricated discussions, determinations into analogue or digital. Leave for the woods.

But don’t mistake that for a Luddite gesture. Instead, I remember the interview you did with Erich Hörl, where he called for a “neo-cybernetic underground”—one thatdoes not let itself be dictated by the meaning of the ecologic and of technology, neither by governments, nor by industries.”8 It’s a political call as much as an environmental-ecological one—a call that refers back to multiple (Guattarian) ecologies: not just the environment but the political, social, economic, psychic, social, and, indeed, media ecologies.”

Besides that longer e-flux text, two other short texts appeared the same day: a general audience text on media and the Anthropocene in Conversation and also a mini-interview conducted by the Finnish Institute in London as part of their Made By-series.

New Materialisms – Round Four

Look at this range of topics and exciting themes: Movement, Aesthetics, Ontology at the University of Turku (my alma mater!).

We started the New Materialisms-events in Cambridge, at Anglia Ruskin and they are going strong: the events are extremely well attended and raise a lot of interest. I still remember a job interview I had in 2007 when one of the members of the interview panel asked me: ” So what’s the difference of this new materialism to the old materialism of Marx..?”

Over the past years, we have had a range of good responses to that question, while also reminding that in the midst of the current enthusiasm for the non-human, it was already in the first years of 1990s that Rosi Braidotti coined the term “neo-materialism” – a Spinozian version of monism of intensities, becomings and feminism.

There is sometimes a bit of an amnesiac tendency in philosophy discussions. One troubling phenomenon that  Braidotti recently pointed towards was the writing out of feminist theory out of discussions concerning materiality and the non-human. Hence, let’s remind that even “new” materialism itself has longer roots, and the more recent discussions are rather late-comers when reminded that the term was used by Braidotti herself in the early 1990s in her Patterns of Dissonance and systematically ever since (see more in New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies) . It is not reducible to her, but we need to compose our theoretical genealogies carefully.

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Categories: Braidotti, new materialism

OOQ – Object-Oriented-Questions

December 21, 2011 55 comments

I can’t claim that I know too much about object oriented philosophy. It’s often more about my friends or colleagues talking about it, enthusiastically for or against. Indeed, I have been one of those who has at best followed some of the arguments but not really dipped too deeply into the debates – which from early on, formed around specific persons, specific arguments, and a specific way of interacting.

Hence, let me just be naïve for a second, and think aloud a couple of questions:

–       I wonder if there is a problem with the notion of object in the sense that it still implies paradoxically quite a correlationist, or lets say, human-centred view to the world; is not the talk of “object” something that summons an image of perceptible, clearly lined, even stable entity – something that to human eyes could be thought of as the normal mode of perception. We see objects in the world. Humans, benches, buses, cats, trashcans, gloves, computers, images, and so forth. But what would a cat, bench, bus, trashcan, or a computer “see”, or sense?

–       Related to this, what if the world is not an object? What if the non-humans it wants to rescue are not (always) something we could with good conscience call objects? I guess OOP wants to treat everything as an object – across scales, genres and epistemological prejudices – and hence bring a certain flatness to the world – to treat humans and non-humans on equal footing, a project which I am in complete agreement with – but does this not risk paradoxically stripping entities, the world of specificity? For instance, in mediatic contexts, what if we need to account for the non-object based realities of such media technological realities as electromagnetism – that hardly could intuitively be called an object. Would treating such entities as objects be actually just confusing, and lead to imagined concretenesses? This question is motivated by some recent arguments in media theory, insisting that we need more careful vocabularies of the non-object nature of media; for instance Wolfgang Ernst and his discourse concerning time-criticality; Mark B.N. Hansen and his recent ideas stemming from the direction of Whitehead, in connection to ubiquitous media.

–       Some people are enthusiastic because object oriented philosophy seems at last to offer a philosophical way of treating the non-human (animals, technology, etc.) on an equal footing to the human. Agencies are extended to a whole lot of entities. But such claims, whether intentionally or not, forget that there is a whole long history of such thought; the most often forgotten is the radical feminist materialism of figures such as Rosi Braidotti and Elizabeth Grosz; this goes nowadays often by the name of new materialism.

–       Just a thought: The real is not the same thing as matter. Matter is not always about objects.  In an interview, Grosz has briefly hinted that she is not that interested in the concept/category of the real, because that still concerns more closely epistemology. Instead, what concerns her is matter.

–       Is object oriented philosophy more akin to epistemology, an operationalization of the world into modular units through which we can question human superiority– instead of it being an ontology? If we want to pay more philosophical respect to the world of non-humans – chemicals, soil, minerals, atmospheric currents and such – should we not read more of scientific research that constantly is the one who talks of such worlds, and actually offers insights into different worlds of durations and stabilities from that of the human? Don’t get me wrong – I might be a naïve observer but not that naïve: of course I know that a lot of sciences are not able to be that self-reflexive, and constantly smuggle in a huge amount of conceptual and other material that makes their epistemology infected with the human/the social, and that science is not a neutral cold gaze that just registers the world. I guess I am just interested in the world – an empiricism, transcendental, radical.

These thoughts are indeed just self-reflections of an amateur while reading object-oriented philosophy, or listening people talk about it – I think I am just trying to figure out why people are so enthusiastic about it.

Hail the introjective, additive critic

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I am reading Elizabeth Wilson’s most recent book Affect and Artificial Intelligence (2010), and as before with her writings, really enjoying the fresh, interesting and quirky take on the intertwining of the human/cultural with the material (earlier more about physiology, as with her Psychosomatic-book, now with technologies of AI). I will be writing a short review of the book for Leonardo, so more there; now, I just wanted to point towards her good way of tackling the lack of critique about critique — or how we cultural and media studies scholars so easily embrace our stock-in-trade tools for tackling cultural reality (the axis of evils in relation to gender, race, capitalism, and so forth), and engage what could be a paranoid/projective mode of analysis. Wilson is far from a naive critic of such critique, and not so much dismissing such – neither am I despite my interest in finding alternatives – and connects to some more recent rethinkings of how should we engage with our sources and readings. How to rethink critique?

Revealing is her epigraph, from Bruno Latour: “What would critique do if it could be associated with more, not with less, with multiplication, not subtraction“. Such a figure of the analyst and critic is one that resembles an “assembler” (as in another passage where she quotes Latour, on page xi of Wilson’s book), and that in a manner resembling DeleuzeGuattari tries to embrace the naive experimentor over the already educated and cognizant critique who is able to unveil forces of ideology in cultural reality. Like the additive mode of the experimenter of DeleuzeGuattari who adds, asks for more connections, instead of hermeneutic-critic subtraction (reduction of cultural realities to underlying effect, meaning, structure, plot, ideology, oppression, etc), this mode of critique is keen to add more insights, more ideas, more fresh paths, and more alternatives where to continue – critically. It uses its sources to go forward, not just read back. Luckily, we are seeing more and more of this kind of work that I have often referred to as “post-representational” – something that is not interested only in representation analysis but seeks to go forward with the sources. (Good examples of such work that has always been inspirational to me include Rosi Braidotti and for instance Karen Barad — material feminists!).

Through such methodological choices, Wilson is able to bring fresh readings. The early AI research and figures as Turing are cast in new, interesting, passionate light – where Turing is not only a tragic victim but an intellectually and emotionally bursting, giggling figure – and where the seemingly cold, and rationalized modes of artificial intelligence research are actually filled with passions, desires and introjections. Indeed, to quote her on this point :

“While the figure of the paranoiac will appear now and again in later chapters, this book is interested in turning critical analysis of the artificial sciences away from projective, paranoid readings. The tendency to read artificial agents as screens for projection (projection of masculine, late-capitalist, or heterosexual anxieties, for example) will be displaced in favor of reading for the introjective bonds that have been established between us and artificial worlds. Affect and Artificial Intelligence is interested in the large-hearted, easily inflamed attachments that Ferenczi attributed not only to neurotics but to anyone capable of object love.” (28)

I admire Wilson’s style to weave her theoretical points from inside the empirical case studies, and in this case for instance, to bring ideas regarding readings of psychoanalysis (Sandor Ferenczi’s ideas about introjection from 1909) to how we do cultural theory.

(Note: an earlier, brief discussion about critique after my Coventry talk of Jan 25, 2011 can be found here.)

New Materialism: Naturecultures in Utrecht

March 21, 2011 5 comments

I will be giving two talks in Utrecht in April (6-7) – one based on Insect Media and more specifically on Roger Caillois (read as a media theorist of embodiment, psychastenic spatiality, mimicry), and the other one as part of the New Materialisms: Naturecultures-event. It follows up some of the themes of our last year’s symposium that we organized in Cambridge with Milla Tiainen – and now again with a wonderful line of speakers, including Donna Haraway.
My talk will touch on how to think the materialism of media in its specificity – and how to expand from German media theoretical materialism of for instance Friedrich Kittler’s work to medianatures. So I will probably will end up touching some of the media ecological themes I have been writing about recently. Below a short blurb about the event, and below that, my abstract for the event.

 

One of the conceptual innovations stirred by debates in contemporary cultural theory that want to rewrite the linguistic turn concerns ‘naturecultures’. This concept is created by Donna Haraway in The Companion Species Manifesto (2003) in order to write the necessary entanglement of the natural and the cultural, the bodily and the mind, the material and the semiotic, et cetera. ‘Naturecultures’ offers us an important route to rewrite these modernist oppositions in such a way that rather than representing parts of the world, a transcription with the world is being proposed. Concepts thus do not capture or mirror what is ‘out there’, but are fully immersed in a constantly changing reality. ‘Naturecultures’ rewrites not only femininity but in the end all subversive material practices as an ethical break through of for instance phallologocentrism. Karen Barad would call this ‘ethico-onto-epistemological’.

This conference uses ‘naturecultures’ as a point of departure. We intend to study conceptual innovation in contemporary cultural theory from seemingly different ‘disciplinary’ and ‘paradigmatic’ angles in order to demonstrate how similar movements in thought are at work in the emerging paradigms of new materialism, post-humanism, agential realism, and in fields ranging from philosophy to the humanities and to the natural sciences.

The first ‘New Materialism’ conference took place in June 2010 at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, the UK. Organized by Dr. Jussi Parikka and Dr. Milla Tiainen, several scholars came together to discuss new materialism and digital cultures. This second conference is an initiative of the Center for the Humanities, the Graduate Gender Programme, and the Department of Media and Culture Studies, all located at the Faculty of Humanities of Utrecht University. It is funded by these three partners, as well as by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, the Center for the Study of Digital Games and Play (Utrecht University), and the Posthumanities Hub (Tema Genus, Linköping University).

And my abstract:

Media Milieus, or Why Does Nature Do It Better?

 

In terms of material media analysis, the German media theoretical directions at least since Friedrich A. Kittler’s influential writings have introduced an important agenda to think the specificity of media. In what could be termed the Kittler-effect in media theory (in Winthrop-Young’s words), the materially meticulous readings of technical media have forced a whole generation of new media studies to think through the technical and scientific specificity of contemporary media – beyond meaning, representation and the human body, the fact that technical media engage in such processes, speeds, and phenomena that escape the phenomenological human register per se. Media often hear more, see more and memorize much more than us humans.

Yet, I want to point towards a different kind of reading of media materiality, one that touches on the symposium theme Naturecultures more directly. We can question the notion of specificity and argue that there are various specificities to which we could tap into. While German media theory has been insisting on drawing on materialities that can be directly connected to the important scientific contexts of technical media, we can insist on what could be called a milieu theory of media: how media establish but also draw on nature, animals and other non-human intensities, forces and potentialities. Instead of thinking nature here in terms of the metaphorics it has offered for a long time for media cultural phenomena, and avoiding proposing any form of purity of nature, I want to look at the continuums of not only naturecultures, but medianatures that is slightly different from the emphasis of media cultures as the “new” environment for us human beings. Instead we approach medianatures as affordances, as intensities, as regimes of affects and relations and as processes of mediatic nature that offer a non-human view to new materialist media theory.

What is New Materialism-Opening words from the event

June 23, 2010 4 comments

As promised, please find below the opening words to the recent New Materialisms and Digital Culture-event by Milla Tiainen and me. The event was filled with great talks by a range of scholars with differing disciplinary backgrounds, and ended up with the dance/technology-performance Triggered (composed by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Tom Hall and Richard Hoadley, choreography by Jane Turner). In the midst of the text, images (taken by Tim Regan) from the performance and the conference. A warm thank you to all speakers, performers and our great audience in both parts of the day!

NEW MATERIALISMS AND DIGITAL CULTURE
Anglia Ruskin University
CoDE: Cultures of the Digital Economy –research institute and Dept. of ECFM, convened by Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka
21-22 of June, 2010
Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka

Opening words: What is New Materialism?

I

As stated in the programme we’d like to begin by just briefly engaging with one of the key components, or actants, of the symposium’s setup: the concept of “new materialism.” The purpose of this is definitely not to identify a stable referent for that term so much as to point towards some of the problems it arguably connects with. Whereas I will in few words consider the concept’s broader resonances across current cultural, social and feminist theory, Jussi will subsequently comment on ‘new materialist’ modes of questioning in conjunction with digital media culture.

Aptly, there are three books forthcoming soon whose respective titles include the concept “new materialism”—while it in each case links with varying further concepts and associated planes. “New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics”, to be published by Duke, features such writers as Rosi Braidotti, Sara Ahmed and Jane Bennett; the essay collection “Carnal Knowledge: Towards a New Materialism through the Arts” is edited by Barbara Bolt and Estelle Barrett and involves contributions by Australian and European scholars including a chapter by Jussi and myself; and two of the speakers of this symposium, Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphijn, are currently working on a book on philosophy of science that is entitled “New Materialism” and will come out later this year. Thus, as these particular ‘capturings’ of ongoing research for their part evidence, the concept of new materialism is increasingly partaking in the flows of language and thought of specific areas of cultural and critical thought; its “rhythms of arrival and departure”, to borrow Brian Massumi’s expression (Parables for the Virtual 2002, 20), as well as connections with various other concepts are becoming growingly regular and rich in intensity within these flows. A momentum of at least some intensive magnitude is gathering round “new materialism.” Or, perhaps better put, the concept is being utilized so as to try and couch such a momentum which is unravelling transversally across fields of inquiry whilst at the same time displaying a notable degree of consistency in terms of the implicated topics of concern.

What, then, are the problems that would lend “new materialism” its meaning or usefulness? Evidently, the precise configurations of sense and effect that the concept invokes are singular to its every usage along with being more generally in the making within the debates involving it. At its broadest, nonetheless, new materialism can be said to concern a series of questions and potentialities that revolve round the idea of active, agential and morphogenetic; self-differing and affective-affected matter. Indeed, this summary would probably be endorsed by most proponents and sceptics of new materialisms alike. To be sure, this ideational assemblage or its part-problems have also already inspired incisive critique from prolific scholars. These critics remain unconvinced about both ‘new materialism’s attempts to reconfigure the persistent dichotomies of nature/culture, body/thought, concrete/abstract etc. and the allegedly dubious politics of the category of the ‘new’ in the concept of new materialism. To paraphrase one prominent critic, Sarah Ahmed (it will be interesting to see what her contribution to the New Materialisms essay collection looks like!), the new materialist conceptions of dynamic human and non-human materialities that acquire shapes, operate and differentiate also beyond human perception and discursive representational systems are, at least within feminist new materialisms, in danger of positing matter as an it-like fetish object precisely because of their insistence on its ontological distinctiveness (Ahmed, “Imaginary Prohibitions: Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ‘New Materialism’” 2008, 35). This fetishizing is moreover enabled, according to Ahmed, by strategic amnesia regarding the previous rich engagements with biology, the body and matter that were carried out within science and technology studies and other areas of human and social sciences (again her focus lies mainly in feminist genealogies). Ahmed therefore concludes that despite intentions to the contrary many new materialist gestures actually solidify rather than ‘fluidify’ the boundaries between nature/culture and matter/signification. At the same time these projects’ declarations of the newness of their endeavours conveniently conjure up an image of theorists who embark “on a heroic and lonely struggle” (32) against the collective non- or anti-materialism of former cultural and social-theoretical stances.

Now unhinging and confounding habitual dual oppositions remains undoubtedly a challenge for any ‘new materialist’ (as well as a theoretically differently oriented) project. Yet in order to end my part of these opening words I would like to point out three aspects that go some way in responding to the criticisms Ahmed presents—along with hopefully resonating with the talks of today.
Hence:
1) First of all, one of the signalling features that cuts across the heterogeneous projects we would like to propose as new materialist is their sustained commitment to developing models of immanent and continuously emergent relationality. Through insisting on the felt reality of relations for instance in the wake of William James, on the irreducibility of the in-betweens to the connecting terms, and on the intensive topological spaces of co-affectivity these models, we would argue, provide some of the most effective means on offer at the moment for thinking past the traditional rigid dualisms of nature/culture, subject/object and so on and for articulating the intuited processual co-substantiality of these facets.
2) Secondly and connectedly, the notion of the outside or virtual, which within new materialist undertakings relates or overlaps with such more specific concepts as affect, potential and variation, certainly diminishes the risk of ending up with a re-essentialized and reified conception of matter.
3) Thirdly and finally, we would like to think that the newness in the ‘new materialism’ refers less to a discrete stage let alone a point of culmination on a teleological line of theoretical understanding than to a multiplicity of attempts to live with newly composed problems whilst refreshing the vocabularies of cultural, artistic and feminist theory with “conceptual infusions” (Massumi 2002, 4) from hitherto overlooked or presently rediscovered sources.

II

In the context of digital media culture, the notion of “materiality” occupies a curious position in itself. As observed by Bill Brown in his entry for the recent Critical Terms for Media Studies (Chicago UP, 2010), our understanding of the media historical modernity has been infiltrated early on with the idea of “abstraction” — abstraction as a driving force (as with standardization of techniques, processes, and messaging) and an effect (represented in forms of power, subjectivities, cultural practices) of modernity. Recognized by a range of different writers from Karl Marx to Debord and Baudrillard, such a process has been influential in forcing us to rethink not materiality but dematerialisation as crucial to understanding the birth of technical media culture. Regimes of value, and regimes of technical media share the same impact on “things” – homogenisation, standardisation, and ease of communication/commodification in a joint tune with each other are in this perspective, and a perspective that branded critical theory for a long time, crucial aspects in any analysis of media culture’s relation to materiality.

Hence, the move from the critical evaluation of emergence of capitalist media culture seemed to flow surprisingly seamlessly as part of the more technology-oriented discourse concerning “immateriality” of the digital in the 1980s and 1990s. Here, in a new context, materiality was deemed as an obsolescent index of media development overcome by effective modes of coding, manipulating and transferring information across networks that become par excellence the object of desire of policies as much cultural discourses.

Yet, the recent years of media theory introduced an increasingly differing elaboration of how we should understand the notion of “medium” in this context. Instead of being only something that in a Kantian manner prevents access to the world of the real or material, or things (Brown, p.51) the medium itself becomes a material assemblage in the hands of a wave of German media theorists, who have develop a unique approach to media materialism, and hence new materialist notions of the world. Here the world is not reduced to symbolic, signifying structures, or representations, but is seen for such writers as Friedrich Kittler (and more recent theorists such as Wolfgang Ernst in a bit differing tone under media archaeology) as a network of concrete, material, physical and physiological apparatuses and their interconnections, that in a Foucauldian manner govern whatever can be uttered and signified. This brand of German media theory came out as an alternative exactly to the Marxist as well as hermeneutic contexts of theory dominating German discussions in the 1960s-1980s, and carved out a specific interest to the coupling of the human sensorium with the non-human worlds of modern technical media. In this insight, and ones shared by writers such as Jonathan Crary, on the one hand, the birth of modern media culture owed to the meticulous measuring of the human sensorium in various physiological settings and extending to experimental psychology labs in the late 19th and early 20th century. On the other hand, modern technical media showed such wavelengths, speeds, vibrations and other physical characteristics in itself that it escaped any phenomenological analysis, and hence tapped into a material world unknown per se to humans.

Without wanting to sound too reductionistic, I believe this is one of the key directions where media theory more recently has developed its own enthusiasm concerning a new more material understanding of media. Naturally filtered into new contexts, and transforming the way it works, such directions have however inspired also in the Anglo-American world new directions, new interests in material constellations of “platforms, interfaces, data standards, file formats, operating systems, versions and distributions of code, patches, ports and so forth”, to paraphrase Matthew Kirschenbaum. Naturally, post-representational approaches are present in a wide range of work and other thinkers, from the Deleuze-inspired cinematic philosophies of Steven Shaviro to sociological ideas of Nigel Thrift, the new materialist mappings of subhuman bodies such as blobs by Luciana Parisi to the politically tuned analyses of network culture of Tiziana Terranova — and the range of theories and theorists we are able to enjoy today.

Indeed, if I would be forced to summarize the intimate link between the analytical perspectives that go under the general umbrella term New Materialism and media theory and digital culture, it would have to do with at least three directions
1) The seemingly immaterial is embedded in wide material networks; information is informed by the existence of material networks, practices, and various entanglements, that expand both to the materiality of political economy of ownership, access and use, but also to the material assemblages which govern the way we are in media milieus.
2) Yet, technical media is also defined by non-object based materialities, which makes it slightly more difficult to conceptualise. As a regime of electromagnetic fields, of pulsations, electricity, and such fields as software, technical media and digital culture escape the language of solids.
3) The intimate connection between the dynamic human/animal body and media tech, which since the 19th century and for example experimental psychology labs has now extended to the various design practices in HCI and such that tap into the physiological thresholds of the human being in novel ways – hence the interest in affect, emotion, non-conscious and somatic levels of the human body, and emergence of various forms of interfacing, whether from the consumer tech of Kinect-gaming body-in-movement-meets-Xbox interface to still very aspirational Brain-2-Brain, B-2-B, networking and such. Its here that the knowledge about the kinetic, dynamic, and relational body feeds into understanding the moving-situatedness of us in mobile network cultures.

>Butler in Cambridge

>Just back from Judith Butler’s talk that was part of a symposium in honor of Juliet Mitchell’s retirement. First of all, I am not sure whether to be amused or angry of the “theme music” to the session which was Vivaldi’s music softly escorting the audience into what you would not expect to be one focusing on socialist feminism…but then again, that was Cambridge University, and indeed that is one way to just innocently remind the audience of the Prestige and Tradition of the place. I somehow wonder how any seminar so conscious of the roles of cultural practices in creating solidified and stratified notions of culture and relationships can tolerate such an “intro.”?

Well, in the midst of ambivalent feelings, a quick look at Butler’s talk. Focusing on Mitchell’s 1974 classic Psychoanalysis and Feminism, Butler was able to carve out something interesting in terms of psychoanalysis — something that I would label “against the grain” as a Darwinization of psychoanalysis and some notions apparent in some classical interpretations of the structures of the psyche. This Darwinisation refers here mostly to the way Butler insisted on the radical temporality of the notions that are at the centre of psychoanalysis, and that as the key way to keep it lively as a mode of social diagnostics and critique. I agree, wholeheartedly.
The consolidation of sexual difference and other notions that have functioned mostly to stabilize the plethora of practices that are in a way “hidden” under such generalizing notions as “heterosexual” or “homosexual” has happened through a suggestion of the universality of the structures — a critique that Deleuze and Guattari among others raised in the 1970s already. They demanded a careful look at concrete practices and relations through which desire finds its ways — a focus that was later referred to as “assemblages” in Mille Plateaux. And funnily enough, there was much of that spirit of “assembling” present when Butler referred to the actual mess of identifications and misidentifications, placements and misplacements of desire in the variety of kinship relations that are ever more present. Being a heterosexual does not really say much about the ways we desire, Butler argued, and indeed, the modes and objects of desire are much more fluctuating. Hence, the sociological fact of increase of for example gay couples does not automatically give us concrete information about the modes and practices of desire and they relate to the heteronormative.
What Lacanian system missed was the possibility of change and which was still present with Freud through the notion of superego: the level of transmission, passing on. It is through the double-nature of the social that we should understood both through the function of transmission of cultural relations and the forward facing nature of potentialisation (not a word I believe she used though). In terms of law, this means that law is an event; it takes place only through its instances instead of the dual ontology of “law AND its transmission”. If law is only through its instances, it also allows the realization that those actualities can be there to change law. Same goes then for drives; drives are not a stable “archive” of possible reactions, but immanent to the instances in which they take place. This idea has some good ontological and methodological implications.
In such a context, Butler seems to catch quite well a key Marxist idea now transposed into the crucial task of rethinking sexual difference not only as the mode of stabilization of desire into a binary system but a radicalisation of the notion of difference; I am here probably reading this way too much in the direction e.g. Rosi Braidotti sees the issue but nonetheless, its a matter of temporalisation; how we need to keep abreast of the various temporalities storming in the psyche. Some of the references to fluidity and the sea that Butler used should hence be continued to take into account the layering of temporal currents (in the manner that Michel Serres loves to talk about time). So even if we are born into such relations that seem determining our position, there is the potentiality of change especially if we understood those relations not as stemming from an Archive of Law that is itself unchanging but a mode of creation immanent to the cultural expressions. This again is a further transposition of what Butler said but I am wanting to read this stuff in terms of what I have been thinking.
So, instead of Vivaldi, a bit of 1960s “times they are a-changing” would have been more apt theme music as Milla suggested.