Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rhetoric, Philosophy, and Sociology: A Commentary on Deleuze and Guattari, Randall Collins, and John Muckelbauer

Drawing on theories Deleuze and Guattari and Jacques Derrida, John Muckelbauer attempts to map out a new orientation toward rhetoric. While not explicitly citing much of their work, Muckelbauer is clearly working within the frames set out by Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy. While What is Philosophy focuses on laying out how philosophy as a creation of concepts differs from the tasks of science, logic, and art, Muckelbauer’s book seems to be oriented toward a theoretical pedagogy; we may look at Muckelbauer’s book as an attempt to create a “pedagogy of the concept, which would have to analyze the conditions of creation as factors of always singular moments” (D&G 10). Rather than use the loaded term ‘concept,’ Muckelbauer creates the term “singular rhythm” to designate a certain way of inhabiting a text or an idea. Furthermore, following Derrida, Muckelbauer is more attentive to texts and their particular contents rather than describing the concept as such.

Muckelbauer seeks an “affirmative” rhetoric rather than one based on dialectical negation; at the same time, he realizes this is strictly impossible to describe, but can only be attempted as performance or demonstration. Thus, he splits his book into two parts: a description and a demonstration. As with D. Diane Davis, Muckelbauer wants to pay attention to the asignifying functions of language (what Davis calls, citing Levinas, the “saying”) rather than the content communicated. While D&G avoid a confrontation with rhetoric as such, they argue that philosophy primarily concerns the concept, which is always “a force or a form,” but never a function (D&G 144). Muckelbauer reads the term “force” in terms of rhetoric’s dealings with persuasion rather than communication: “persuasive rhetoric attempts to make the proposition compelling, to give it a certain force [. . .] its ability to evoke particular responses in specific audiences” (Muckelbauer 17). In other words, the act of persuasion is not concerned with “what the proposition is” but what “the proposition does,” even though we cannot escape that the asignifying function implies the signifying, we focus on its movement (Muckelbauer 18). Muckelbauer moves on to argue that if we focus on the movement of both humanism and anti-humanism, we can see that both do the same thing: appropriation rather than creation.  However, this is only true so far as we think of these ‘movements’ (and inhabit them) as definitive positions. Muckelbauer writes,

That is why all anti-foundationalisms are necessarily already            foundationalisms. Because they advance themselves as a position, as a    content that locates itself in relation to some             other position, they cannot     help but partake of the logic of identity and the dialectical movement of   appropriation it enables. (32)

Thus, even though we must repeat, everything hinges on how we repeat—what variations are used. Muckelbauer can only go so far as to explain what he means and he attempts it many times. For instance, in discussing Deleuze’s impatience with “critique,” Muckelbauer argues that critique is an “external orientation toward the extraction of constants” and that in order to attend to the singular rhythms “requires a kind of performance, an immersive responsiveness” (42). Muckelbauer will demonstrate this as a type of orientation in the following chapters, where he argues that “what the ideal student will learn through imitation is not only a style or an ethical rule; he will require the capacity to respond itself” (76). Echoing Diane Davis[1] and many thinkers we may call “postmodern” this capacity to respond can be reinforced by cultivating permeability of identity so that we may be affected by others (see Muckelbauer pgs 98, 122)

I realize that most of my comments will be in the mode of critique, but I am not so sure that we can just take D&G’s word that criticism cannot be creative. D&G baldly state that “those who criticize without creating [. . .] are the plague of philosophy” (28). Criticism is a mode of judgment different from what D&G will call “taste” (which I will have to return to) as it is based on communication, which is caught in mere “opinion.” In parts of this text, communication and conversation are dirty words to D&G: “nor does philosophy find any final refuge in communication, which only works under the sway of opinions in order to create ‘consensus’ and not ‘concepts’” (6). And again: “when it comes to creating, conversation is superfluous” (28). This kind of polemic against communication, as I pointed out in my last post on WIP, from D&G’s understanding of communication as having only one goal: universal liberal consensus. However, we may understand D&G’s frustration with communication if we look at yet another bold remark: “We do not lack communication. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present” (108). This sentiment stems from the most explicit political chapter in the book: geophilosophy. I have already critiqued (yes, I know, I’m not getting anywhere with critique) them on this point (see previous blog post). However, because philosophy inevitably must be communicated and distributed, they try and relegate all three not-philosophy to “figures” or “functions”: “contemplation, reflection, and communication” (92-93).

Now we must get into D&G’s distinctions between figures, functions, and concepts. On the one hand, figures are vertical, paradigmatic, transcendent, projective, hierarchal, and referential concepts, on the other hand, are “syntagmatic, connective, linking, consistent, and not referential” (88-89). Concepts are the more complex entities that we must seek to understand, or to dismiss (as I want to do) as a word standing in for an ideal being that because we cannot have access to it, is a useless formulation. D&G claim that the concept cannot be evaluated externally by any criteria other than the criteria it sets up for itself: “a possibility of life is evaluated through itself in the movements it lays out and the intensities it creates on a plane of immanence,” its evaluated by the “tenor of existence” or “intensification of life.” Thus, it seems as though we can only ‘feel’ or ‘sense’ whether a concept is worthwhile. This is D&G’s appropriation of Kant’s ‘tatse’ through Nietzsche: “Nietzsche sensed this relationship of the creation of concepts with a specifically philosophical taste, and if the philosopher is he who creates concepts, it is thanks to a faculty of taste [. . .] that gives each philosopher the right of access to certain problems” (79). Concepts are evaluated based on their addressing of problems, but problems that are on the plane of immanence: “if the concept is a solution, the conditions of the philosophical problem are found on the plane of immanence presupposed by the concept” (80-81). For D&G this is how Philosophy is inspired: “categories like Interesting, Remarkable, or Important that determine success or failure” (82). However, the criteria for this seem to be readers: “they [many books of philosophy] lack importance or interest, precisely because they do not create any concept or contribute an image of thought or beget a persona worth the effort” (83). However, the interest of a particular concept (text?) is a subjective feeling—how can this be the basis on which texts, ideas, and positions are transferred to the next generation?
Figures and concepts, although different, are also related:  “figures tend toward concepts to the point of drawing infinitely near to them” (92). The ‘functions’ that D&G describe are ‘referential’ in the sense that they pin down the infinity of thought into “states of affairs.” Even logic (and by extension mathematics) must be referential because its truth claim in itself is “empty,” so it has to be attached to the states of affairs. Ironically, in their quest to rid philosophy of transcendent impulses, they may mis-characterize the origin of science in their obscure jargon, and thus assign it as starting from a transcendent point: “Science passes from chaotic virtuality to the states of affairs and bodies that actualize it” (D&G 156). This does not take into account that science goes from the states of affairs to a ‘virtual’ realm—or a realm of positions that are networked together in struggle and sympathy at various times. Science as well is an intellectual discipline that abstracts from the concrete events and particulars to what D&G want to call the ‘non-referential’, but really they are just moving to another level of abstraction.

D&G’s positive philosophy of creation, to me, seems to leave out major concrete and material practices that cause philosophy to bloom. I think that Randall Collins’ Sociology of Philosophies can help us demystify some of D&G’s terminology and, I hope, to eliminate some of the “real beings” posited by them—which just leads us into either a realist metaphysics or another metaphor for describing existence (another Ur-doxa to use their terminology).

For all of the scholarship that has used D&G to radically destabilize our conception of self and other, we find at the end of the day that What is Philosophy formulates thinking as an infinite movement of the brain (the individual) rather than a social process: “It is still necessary to discover, beneath the noise of actions, those internal creative sensations or those silent contemplations that bear witness to a brain” (213). Also, they posit real mental beings: “ideas can only be associated as images and can only be ordered as abstractions; to arrive at the concept we must go beyond both of these and arrive as quickly as possible at mental objects determinable as real being” 207). One more quotation: “Will the turning point not be elsewhere, in the place where the brain is “subject,” where it becomes subject? It is the brain that thinks and not man—the latter being only a cerebreal crystallization” (210).  De-emphasizing communication and circulation, D&G forget that creation is motivated by “opinion” just as much as the virtual realm of concepts (if that even exists).
D&G talk a lot about the ‘plane of immanence’. The plane of immanence is referred to in many ways throughout the text, including the instituting of philosophy: “the plane is clearly not a program, design, end, or means: it is a plane of immanence that constitutes the absolute ground of philosophy [. . .] the foundation on which it creates its concepts” (41). Now, the ‘plane of immanence’ in this formulation recalls to my mind two other ideas from other philosophers: Heidegger’s fore-understanding and Plato/Derrida’s “chora.” I find the “chora” to be a more useful and poetic concept, because it is not a foundation on which all concepts are layed out, but, according to Greg Ulmer, implies a sacredness and, furthermore, a personal locale. The plane of immanence seems a bit more grandiose and, to me, idealist. Heidegger’s “pre-understanding” is our experience of the world. It seems as though D&G here mean something different, but cannot quite specify what it is: is it the less formulated, fractured and ‘abstract’ Hegelian sense experience? Or is this happening in some ideal land—Plato like?

Another way of explaining the “plane of immanence” is to demystify it, as I believe Randall Collins does in The Sociology of Philosophies. For Collins, thinking is a social act involving the engagement of intellectuals. While keeping philosophy a separate and distinct realm from science, mathematics, and art (though the last is not really discussed), he tries to put it in terms of networks. Collins begins with describing, very accurately, the “interaction rituals” of intellectuals. Contra Deleuze and Guattari, Collins argues that communication, discourse, and face to face rituals are the grounding of intellectual activity. Rather than making bald ontological claims, as Heidegger and others have done (mit-sein), Collins describes intellectual activity in terms of sacredness and energy, drawing heavily on the theories of Durkheim and Pierre Bordieu. As I pointed out in a previous post, intellectuals get Emotional Energy from engaging with other intellectuals face-to-face, which moves them to create. Intellectuals gain Cultural Capital when they produce work that opens new spaces: “Great intellectual work is that which creates a large space on which followers can work. This implies that the imperfections of major doctrines are the source of their appeal” (32).  This, I believe, is part of what D&G try and describe the ‘plane of immanence’. However, the plane of immanence is not only related to the conceptual realm, since it is the “instituting” of philosophy. Collins believes that intellectual work always must be supported by a material base: “This outermost level of macro-causality does not so much directly determine the kinds of ideas created as given an impetus for stability or change in the organizations which support intellectual careers and this molds in turn the networks within them” (51). Rather than going from the inside-out, Collins works from the outside in, claiming that what we call individual thinking is “fantasy play of membership inside one’s own mind” because as we think we are engaging with others. Furthermore, Collins offers a psychological description of ‘intensity’ of concepts: “symbols are charged up with intensity” and this can fuel creativity (Collins 49). I doubt many intellectuals can deny that coming back from a lecture, or reading an inspiring book, charges one up emotionally so that we can engage once again through writing and thinking.

Ultimately, Collins points toward the main problem I have with D&G’s distinctions: reference. D&G seem to think that philosophy exists in a special realm that is not ‘referential’ or referring to the ‘states of affairs’ in any way, as if the realm of concepts could transcend the discourse, discussion, and communication about them. Philosophy for Collins is a separate realm, but not because it is not referential.  Collins offers a very quick sociological interpretation for the distinction between sense and reference: “The reference of words is their pointing to something outside that segment of conversation; the sense of words [. . .] is their symbolic connection to social solidarity, that is, to their past histories and present usage in interaction ritual chains” (Collins 47). Philosophy usually does both of these, as it refers to its own tradition and it connects us socially to a group.

For Collins, philosophy is characterized by abstraction and reflexivity. In this sense, Collins is able to put philosophy, science, and mathematics on a continuum rather than completely separate disciplines; to use Bergson’s terminology Deleuze is so fond of, he makes it a difference in degree more than a difference in kind: “[philosophy], as the purest form of the abstraction-reflexivity sequence, philosophy is constantly re-digging its foundations, moving not (789). It’s not that science does not abstract and reflect, but that they stay on a “fixed level of abstraction” (789).  Thus, science still abstracts, but scientists agree on a common level of abstraction—a fixed plane of immanence, if we wish to use D&G’s terminology.

If we take the plane of immanence to be roughly equivalent to the external material base that ‘institutes’ philosophy, we can better understand why D&G bring politics into the middle of their work. D&G argue that what we lack “resistance to the present,” and that this can be heralded by philosophical concepts. Furthermore, they speak of revolution as the absolute deterritorialization:

As concept and as event, revolution is self-referential or enjoys a self-positing that enables it to be apprehended in an immanent enthusiasm without anything in states of affairs or lived experience being able to tone it down, not even the disappointments of reason. Revolution is the absolute deterritorialization even to the point where this calls for a new earth, a new people. (101)

. . .Or, according to Collins, revolution (or any major shock to the material base) is what produces the conditions for new concepts: “Continuous movement in the abstraction-reflexivity sequence depends on repeated shocks to the external base” (793). Indeed, this seems to me to be a better explanation, as it does not rule out the creative possibilities of commentaries, which Collins argues do not make philosophers necessarily unoriginal. For instance, the Scholastics, as much as D&G may disagree with their religion or politics “constituted one of the most intensely creative periods in the history of world philosophy, exemplary of the abstraction sequence at its most dynamic” (794). Furthermore, novelty and creation does not just arise out of nowhere. Collins makes the rather easy observation that weak positions are synthesized and strong positions fracture and compete (Collins 116). In fact, we can see that Deleuze is another instance of a grand synthesizer. While he does not tackle the entirety of philosophy, he creates a canon of philosophers who he interprets in his own language; Heidegger did the same thing (particularly with Nietzsche).
It’s not that D&G are completely at odds with Collins. Indeed, Collins makes similar claims (with different jargon) about individual thinkers: “If the process [of thinking] is often accompanied by a feeling of exultation, it is because these are not merely any ideas but ideas that feel successful” (52). However, the test for Collins is a social reference.

And so we return to the problem of reference once again. Collins also has a bit of a problem when it comes to ‘reference’, and he tries to argue his way from a position he calls ‘sociological realism’: “Social constructivism is sociological realism; and sociological realism carries with it a wide range of realist consequences” (858). This implies that social networks “exist,” and whether or not we buy the following arguments concerning mathematics and science is based on whether we think these networks are “real.” This is a bit problematic as the networks involve some interpretation, in order to categorize them into positions. However, I think that Collins’ concrete descriptions of mathematics and science are more likely and avoid needless metaphysical assumptions.

As I pointed out above, I think Deleuze and Guattari mistakenly attribute science a top down approach, from the ‘virtual of chaos’ to ‘actualized’ bodies, as if scientists were drawing something out from a realm of Ideas. In order to avoid the problem I see in D&G, Collins makes a distinction between the network of intellectuals that make up the scientific community and the lineage of research equipment that mediate experimentation. He describes their relationship:  “The genealogy of equipment is carried along by a network of scientific intellectuals who cultivate and cross-breed their technological crops in order to produce empirical results, which can be grafted onto an ongoing lineage of intellectual argument” (871). Abstractions and phenomena in our everyday language come when “standardized equipment, or some offspring of it, is shipped out of the laboratory” (872). More importantly, “the obdurate reality acquired by some entities of science comes more from their material grounding in equipment than from their theoretical conceptualization (872).

Ultimately, Collins understands the difference between science and philosophy not by positing the ‘virtual’ or ‘chaos’, but by arguing from the process of abstraction:

Since their level of abstraction stays fairly constant, scientists are unconcerned with problems of reflexivity, especially the deep troubles of  high degrees of self-consciousness which have been reached in philosophy since 1900. (878)

Of course, I am not content with letting Collins have the final say. As a philosopher (theorist? Whatever the hell I am) I must question the assumptions of even Collins’ very strong and, most importantly, careful arguments. Collins himself points to one the weaknesses of his overarching text: “The weak resolution of the telescope makes it easy to slip back into reifying personalities, the personal names treated as noun substances who are the normal topics of intellectual historiography” (53). Indeed, although Collins emphasizes the networks on both the vertical (intergenerational) and horizontal chains, and though he may not “reify personalities” he does reify thinkers into positions and schools.

The main challenge I have with this book (and why I probably won’t read all 900 something pages of it) is the lack of citation of primary texts[2], because I believe, as Derrida does of the Marxist text, that the text of philosophies are multiple and not unitary. Collins insistence to turn the history of philosophy into a network of positions is admirable, but does not seem to be attentive to the “creation” of novelty that he wants to describe. There is no attention to the ‘styles’ of these philosophers, which one could argue has as much to do with their possibilities for thought than the ‘position’ they advocate within their contemporaries and the surrounding tradition. D&G I believe make this mistake as well, perhaps even more so, generalizing in the chapter on “Geophilosophy” about national characteristics limiting the possibilities for thinking[3]. This is my problem with Collins’ assumption that he can reduce post-structuralism to a branch of sociology: “The widespread poststructuralist notion that the world is made up of arbitrary oppositions has its roots in classical sociology” (11). I am not denying that this is not true—clearly Derrida is greatly indebted to Marcel Mauss and Claude Levi-Strauss, but I think Collins assumes that post-structuralist’s like Derrida think they have created something ex nihilio. The strength of post-structuralism is its pushing the boundaries of language and thought, not its position on language.

Of course, this leads me all the way back to Muckelbauer’s critique of the appropriative movement that comes from making something a position. I think that Muckelbauer tries to show the difference between an orientation toward identification in opinion (doxa) and how one can be oriented toward the “singular rhythm” (which we may call event or concept). Perhaps this will help us understand why Deleuze and Guattari do not see opinion as philosophical movement. They write,

opinion triumphs when the quality chosen cases to be the condition of the    groups constitution but is now only the ‘image’ or ‘badge’ of the                        constituted group that itself determines the perceptive and affective model,   the quality of affection, that each must acquire (Muckelbauer 146).

Thus, one is oriented toward identification with the group as an entity rather than what motivated the group to form? But if we take Collins seriously and agree that intellectuals do want to ‘belong’ to the group, then are we not back to a kind of question of ‘authentic’ modes of existence (a la the existentialists?)? In other words, are we oriented toward the group correctly when it does not concern ourselves, but rather to serve the purpose (goal?) of the group—to foster innovation and novelty? Can we do this?

This orientation seems to be Muckelbauer’s position, as one of the most concrete examples in his book illustrates. Muckelbauer uses the concrete fact that everyone can have the same opinion as an “indication of the singular rhythms within opinion, a kind of movement that actually enables the identifying logic of possessions itself (that allows us to ‘have’ an opinion)” (162). In a way, this seems like a mystification/abstraction of the ‘liberal consensus’ that Deleuze and Guattari criticized so harshly. However, Muckelbauer uses the example of the IDEO corporation to show how certain practices may foster a different orientation: “a group’s key feature concerns the dynamics within it, the group’s inclination, for example, to waste and discard and experiment with their ideas rather than attempt to own them” (163). Because  “the problem with individuals, in other words, is that their relation to their inventions tends to be one of identification” the IDEO corporation forms and then dissolves groups (163). By keeping individuals circulating in different groups for different (purposes? Innovative problems? I don’t know) IDEO creates many new ideas.

The danger in all of this may be that this too falls prey to what D&G call the “market” version of the concept, because it relies on collaboration and communication. Collins, even moreso than Muckelbauer, relies on ‘market’ and economic metaphors to describe his theories. He argues that there is a “law of small numbers” that makes it possible for only 3-6 major positions circulating at a time. This seems like it could be true, but within an increasingly stratified and interdisciplinary academic market, these 3-6 major positions would depend on the specificity of one’s own research, reading, and discipline. Furthermore, Collins argues that the energizing force of an intellectual career is the “motivation to make oneself a sacred object” (36). On one level, even I as an intellectual cannot deny this aspect of intellectual work. This very blog is an instance of what Collins so bluntly puts as my tacit desire for people to listen to me, and thus make my way into intellectual attention space.

But what if we could make the move toward an orientation of the ‘extraction of the common’? Muckelbauer’s discussion of the IDEO corporation reminded me of a common technical writing/corporate writing practice of forming collaborative groups to produce a document. As one writer points out, the writer’s have to merge all their ideas into the document, sacrificing their individual voices in order to become the ‘voice of the company’. This sounds terrifying, but perhaps the difference between the technical documents creation and the innovation of IDEO is that there is no distinct already planned purpose or goal to the formation of the group and that the purpose/goal emerges as the group discusses ideas—it’s like a collaborative Kantian “purposive without purpose,” but this is another discussion.

Perhaps given D&G’s assumption that Kant got it right, I should read in its entirety Critique of Judgment—perhaps I will find there a sweeter philosophical taste.

Works Cited

Collins, Randall. The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual
            Change. Cambridge: Belknap, 1998.

            Davis, D. Diane. “Addressing Alterity: Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and The                                                    Nonappropriative  Relation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric. 38.3 (2005) pgs 191-212.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and
            Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Muckelbauer, John. The Future of Invention: Rhetoric, Postmodernism, and the Problem
            Of Change. New York: SUNY, 2008. 

[1] Learning is a “trauma, a shattering of self and world” (Davis 199).
[2] I am also shocked that Collins did not cite letter exchanges between intellectuals (such as the ones between Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Sartre). Forgive me if he does cite those in the later chapters (which I intend to read), but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that that would have made his book a million times longer. Perhaps the better way to view this absence is that Collins book is a ‘great intellectual work’ that opens up the space for considering how a network of intellectuals helped form their ideas, which we have sometimes done with literary figures (ex: Bloomsbury).
[3] This is quite ironic to me since it seems that many of the particular cultural studies theorists have jumped on D&G as a proponent of deterritorializing identity and disturbing boundaries. Its remarkable how conservative What is Philosophy make them out to be! 

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