Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Noise and Burke's mystifying hieararchy

The Chain of Being

The Chain of Being is 'the' example of hierarchy. For Kenneth Burke, "the hierarchic principle itself is inevitable in systematic thought” (141). Burke argues that mystification occurs because there is a principle of hierarchy behind any one term. Mystification and, its pastoral equivalent, embarassment, occurs whenever there is communication between two kinds of beings: "There is the ‘mystery’ of courtship when ‘different kinds of beings’ communicate with each other. Thus we look upon any embarrassment or self-imposed constraint as the sign of such ‘mystery'" (Burke 208).  However, this separateness (as well as the hierarchy behind it), what Burke calls "standoffishness" is necessary to communication and persuasion. Burke's dramatistic rhetoric is based on the idea of courtship, which always involves a distance. Indeed, it is this standoffishness or 'self-interference' that indicates what Burke calls "pure persuasion" (269). In the terminology I have been using lately, this would be the necessary 'noise' of persuasion and not only communication. Burke writes,

"—“We would only say that, over and above all such derivations, there is implicit in language itself, the act of persuasion; and implicit in the perpetuating of persuasion (in persuasion made universal, pure, hence paradigmatic or formal) there is the need of ‘interference’. For a persuasion that succeeds, dies.” (274).

In order to keep up the courtship and the persuasive appeal, there must be some kind of interference or distance between the addressor and addressee. The question becomes: is hierarchy necessary for persuasion to occur, or is it merely differences in kind? Can we use Burke's thoughts on hierarchy to look at the 'noise' of the system, which is its principles of division and identification?  How linear is Burke's 'hierarchy' in our age? Is an appeal by necessity and appeal to someone in a position of authority, someone slightly up the food chain? Is this not necessary in order to appeal to this? Burke thinks that all of these appeals, in their purest form (although this is impossible) would be a pure prayer, addressed not to an object  "but to the hierarchic principle itself, where the answer is implicit in the address” (276).

More on this later. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Don Ihde Listening and Voice

Don Ihde’s Listening and Voice

Ihde is clearly an American pragmatist-phenomenologist, a position that he equates with “postphenomenology,” which is a “hybrid phenomenology.” He takes the “overcoming of early modern epistemology and metaphysics” from the pragmatists nad the “rigorous style of analysis through the use of variational theory, the deeper phenomenological understanding of embodiment [. . .] and a dynamic understanding of a lifeworld as a fruitful enrichment of pragmatism” (Ihde 23). What is peculiar about this ‘hybridization’ is that phenomenology, particularly the philosophy of Heidegger, was also concerned with overcoming modern epistemology and metaphysics. It seems that Ihde gets a sort of ‘experiential descriptive’ analysis from phenomenology, but thinks that pragmatism does better at overcoming pragmatism.

Postphenomenology is a recent term of Ihde’s compared to his 1976 Listening and Voice, which tries to apply Husserl and Heidegger’s philosophy to the auditory dimension. According to Ihde, the philosophical tradition is visualist, with little consideration for sound. He moves through Aristotle to Descartes to Locke to show this bias, showing the necessity for a consideration of sound and voice. He then gives a summary of the work of Husserl and Heidegger for those unfamiliar with them. The rest of the book (the meat of the work) is a descriptive project of sounds based on Husserl and Heidegger.

The problem with the book, for me, comes from my reading Jacques Derrida. Derrida’s Speech and Phenomena, a rigorous critique of Husserlian ‘presence’, was published in translation in 1973. Ihde’s book was published in ’76, which means he had probably been writing it for the past several years.  Around the same time, Derrida’s other works were published in translation: Writing and Difference and Of Grammatology. Although Ihde seems to fight against the idea that sound and music can be “pure” he retains a commitment to speaking of voice/sound’s “presence.” Furthermore, Derrida sees the “voice” as presence and logos which has permeated all of philosophy. We can see that Ihde did not take Derrida’s critique into account by the title of two of his chapters: “The Center of Language” and “Inner Speech” (149). Furthermore, Ihde writes of the “dramaturgical voice,” which, it is true, has gotten short shrift in philosophy on a cursory reading of Plato (sophism, rhetoric, poetry), but as Derrida has shown, Plato’s relation to these traditions are much more complicated. Ihde claims that the dramaturgical voice “persuades, transforms, and arouses humankind in its amplified sonorous significance. Yet from the beginning there is the call to listen to the logos, and the logos is first a discourse” (171).

Another aspect that is clear from Ihde’s work is that he assumes the subject and then moves outward, even though he argues for an intersubjectivity that primarily is the result of being-in-language (a position derived from Heidegger). Ihde’s use of the “late Heidegger” (which he says is the more important Heidegger) rarely comes in the form of direct quotations, but Ihde clearly uses Heideggerian terminology: “the Open, gathering, Dasein,” (170). Although Ihde uses the terminology of the late Heidegger, Ihde does not really work through the late Heidegger, so much as apply it. In this sense, Ihde does not really think the Event radically enough, basing his description on the intersubjective “conversation” between two people. This ‘conversational’ model has been critiqued by many recent theorists (and I do not fault Ihde for this—it is a product of the time of the work). It is very difficult to use Ihde’s insights in the era of the internet and digital communications. As Ihde has shown later, in his descriptive investigations of concrete technologies, these do change our relations with others and with ourselves. However, because of Ihde’s pragmatist bent, again, I do not think he thinks these technologies radically enough.

So is there anything Ihde’s work can reveal for my own project? Strangely enough, the part most interesting to me is Ihde’s “application” of Husserl, when he speaks of the “shape” of sounds—the spatial dimension of sound. Although Ihde argues that this aspect has not been paid attention to enough, he will ultimately focus on the implications of sound’s temporal aspect, critiquing the idea that even when we see something we can “instantanesouly” take it in. Also problematic to me:  Ihde will use his reflections on sound to try and situate speech between sound and music. He writes, “Speech in the human voice is between the dramatic surroundability of music and the precise directionality of the sounds of the things in the environment” (77).
The “directionality” and “space” of sounds, however, is what I am most interested in. The issue is whether Ihde’s assumptions are based on an outmoded metaphysics. For Ihde, the interesting and mysterious thing about “listening” is that it “makes the invisible present in a way similar to the presence of the mute in vision” (51). This appeal to “presence” is what bothers me in the post-Derrida world.

The main way that Ihde talks about the “space” of sound is in learning where things are (directionality) and identifying them. He relies heavily on the phenomenon of echo-location to show how we can hear ‘surfaces’, but then he claims that we can hear the ‘interiors’ of objects as well. To begin with “shape,” he argues that sound reveals how we cannot instantaneously grasp what something “is” but that it requires duration (there again the emphasis on temporality): “So with listening for shape-aspects it often takes repeated and prolonged listening until the fullness of the shape appears” (66). Striking surfaces and hearing sounds are how we can “give things voice” (67).  The whole process is framed in the context of “learning” about the world; once we learn to hear “spatial significations, the endless ways in which we heard interiors comes to mind.” (70). The kind of listening, hearing, and learning that Ihde argues for sound seems disinterested—even the ‘disruptive’ and ‘penetrating’ of the body by sound is not a mode of action, but rather a way to open the existential possibilities of sound:

In the reverberation of a voice given to things by the striking of one thing by another, in the echo which gives a voice to things, and in the penetration which exceeds the limits of visible space is experienced what is possible for listening. (71)

Sounds are not only used for learning about the world around us—this sense of wonder and curiosity cannot always be maintained. This is the naivete of this type of descriptive phenomenology. It also seems that this “giving voice to things” is precisely the kind of Cagean ideology critiqued by Kahn (see below).

Works Cited

Ihde, Don. Listening and Voice: A Phenomenology of Sound. Athens: Ohio UP, 1976. Print.

            ------Postphenomenology and Technoscience: The Peking University Lectures.
                        New York: SUNY, 2009. Print.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Douglas Kahn’s Noise Water Meat

Kahn subtitles his Noise Water Meat as “a history of sound in the arts,” but as Kahn admits, he focuses on sounds in the 20th century, what we usually associate as the periods of modernism and postmodernism. In his introduction, he tries to explain his goals with the book, which is a wide-ranging interdisciplinary study. Because of Kahn’s wide-ranging methods and topics, the book seems a bit uneven and disconnected. Kahn does not provide a conclusion to the book, ending on his extended essay on Artaud. I suspect that the form of the book is an attempt to render it as a more ‘historical’ account than an interpretation, but the book does not move chronologically, and Kahn provides several instances of cross-referencing from previous chapters. My suspicion is that, like many academic works, Kahn had several papers and essays that he wanted to unify into a book. Although there is an apparent sequence of noise (Futurism), Water (Modernism—in particular in literature), and Meat (McClure’s ecology; Artaud), it’s hard to figure out exactly what Kahn is trying to achieve with this.

In the introduction, Kahn claims that modernist auditive states and the philosophy that backs them up “drown out [. . .] the social in sound—the political, poetical, and ecological—and this is what the present text seeks to reinstate” (4). Kahn does a good job revealing the ideological motives behind modernist art, which can be summed up as a banishment of signification (17). Kahn’s approach, at least for some of the book, can be considered a close deconstruction of various composer’s and movement’s rhetoric. By contextualizing the philosophies of composers, Kahn reveals composer’s attempt to eliminate the social and semiotic aspects of sound. The reason I invoke Derridean deconstruction is not because he uses deconstruction as a “method,” but because Kahn closely traces the textual and historical influences of artistic creation rather than looking at the ideas and sounds ‘in themselves’, which is a primarily modernist attitude.

If we look at Kahn’s project like that, I believe it succeeds. However, Kahn does not seem to really draw many conclusions from his observations. This may not be a fault and my criticism my come from my own purpose for reading: looking at music in relation to Writing. Kahn is also interested in music as inscription, phonography, and the visualization of music. But although these themes are addressed, I think we can expand on some of Kahn’s observations. Another theme that shows up a few times, but is never fully explored or foreground is ecology, environment, and biology: “McClure’s meat science[‘s]  [. . .] pertinence lies in an imperative to supersede the destructive consequences of philosophies centered on a sociality isolated from biology and ecology” (324). I might not disagree with this, but despite Kahn’s tracing of sources that inspired McClure and also Burroughs, this does nothing to argue for the “imperative” for considering biology and ecology. Not that this evidence does not exist in the scientific literature. Kahn discusses L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics, which is fictional, but accidently hits on theories with existing scientific support. Dianetics  is based on the “recording” of trauma on the body into the reactive mind as opposed to the analytic mind. While such binary distinctions of minds are BS, we could understand this in terms of neuropsychology, which recognizes that a traumatic event does not pass through the part of our brain responsible for language. This is why it is difficult to articulate—even using psychoanalysis. My point being here, is that the argument for a consideration of ecology and body is not really made, but restricted to a tracing of these themes through Burroughs’ and McClure’s texts.

There is an implicit argument that comes from the way the book moves through modernism to return to an idea Kahn touches on in the introduction. With the phonograph,

The voice no longer occupied its own space and time. It was removed  from the body where, following Derrida, it entered the realm of writing and the realm of the social, where one loses control of the voice because it   no longer disappears. From bone to air to writing, permanence outside the subject invites greater mutability, where the primacy and purity of the         voice are subjected to the machinations and imaginations of culture and politics. (8)

Much modernist art seems to be an attempt to return to this “presence” of the voice and body, culminating in the analysis of Artaud: a purity of the voice without reference and signification, a primal scream that eludes meditation. Here is Kahn again:

These trances and screams belong to a vibrational scheme found throughout modernism, whereby communication occurs through the correspondence of internal and external vibrations, the sympathetic identifications of different vessels, often bridging different perceptual  registers and always attempting to elude cultural mediation. (353)

This sort of vibrational communication space that Kahn finds in much modernist literature and practice seems to align with the movement of object oriented ontology and speculative metaphysics. This is the kind of thinking that I find in Deleuze and Guattari, which Kahn cites, but, due to his own preoccupations, does not go into depth about their relationship to the modernist impulses he finds in Cage and others.

Kahn implies that D&G also have an impulse to move away from signification through deterritorialization (see Kahn 105). Citing a passage from A Thousand Plateaus, where D&G argue that John Cage’s prepared piano pieces are “too rich” and remain “too territorialized: on noise sources, on the nature of objects” (115). Thus, we may understand deterritorialization as a move away from signification and reference, much like Cage tried to do with his entire philosophy. For Kahn, D&G’s attitude toward Cage’s prepared piano (and percussion) “reproduces the tradition of Europeans hearing non-European music, especially percussion music in a modernist response to primitivism as noise” (115). Let us look at a few other passages in A Thousand Plateaus regarding noise, music, and sound.

D&G characterize music as “a de-territorialization of the voice, which becomes less and less tied to language” (302). Furthermore, D&G characterize the machine as something that makes consistent rather than something that reproduces. I cite this long passage to show what I mean:

Varese's  procedure,  at  the  dawn  of  this  age,  is exemplary:  a  musical  machine  of  consistency,  a  sound  machine  (not  a machine  for  reproducing  sounds),  which  molecularizes  and  atomizes, ionizes sound matter, and harnesses a cosmic energy. If this machine must have an assemblage, it is the synthesizer. By assembling modules, source elements,  and  elements  for  treating  sound  (oscillators,  generators,  and transformers), by arranging microintervals, the synthesizer makes audible the  sound  process  itself,  the  production  of  that  process,  and  puts us in contact with still other elements beyond sound matter. (343)

This is the passage that comes right before the one on Cage’s prepared piano. Making something “consistent” in itself is also something that D&G claim makes a concept (see posts on What is Philosophy?). But how this making ‘consistent’ and ‘synthesizing’ any different from the modernist impulse to synthesize all thought (which has been going on since the early 20th century)?

 Furthermore, if we look more into D&G’s suggestion of attitude, it seems very close to Cage’s, although the goal is different. Whereas making and listening to music disinterestedly for Cage “is the means to integrate the personality,” for D&G  “ “Sobriety, sobriety: that is the common   prerequisite   for   the   deterritorialization   of   matters,   the molecu-larization  of  material,  and  the  cosmicization  of  forces,” not integrating the personality but integrating matter (Kahn 173, D&G 344). To me, this does not sound like a new move in thought at all, but is an extreme metaphorization of the modernist impulse to synthesize the world into a coherent whole (with a postmodern twist)[1].
            Back to Kahn.

Kahn characterizes noise as “the most common and the most productively counterproductive” sound of modernism (Kahn 20). I have written somewhere (as I’m sure millions have before me) that we characterize something as “noise” that we don’t understand or don’t care for. This characterization of noise should be modified in light of Kahn’s observations on modernist music:

Suppressing noise only contributes to its tenacity and detracts from investigating the complex means through which noise itself is suppressed, while celebrating noise easily becomes a tactic within the suppression of something else. (21)

This leads him into his critique of Futurism. I have recently been interested and inspired by futurism, despite its ideological problems (alignment with fascism, war, anti-feminism). Kahn basically argues that Futurist’s celebration of noise suppresses these political elements. However, on the specific musical side of things, Kahn allowed me to see Futurism as a movement in tension with itself.

The distinction that many of these composers want to make is between noise and sound (music and sound). Composers appropriate noise for music, making it pure and uncontaminated with reference and signification. Even the Futurist Russolo, although he stated that “music had become anachronistic, its self-referentiality had afforded no link with the world,” tried to separate musical noise from imitation. Noises, “once so controlled [. . .] had the advantage of coming from life and recalling it and thus could exceed music while remaining within it” (81). The modernist impulse that Kahn identifies from Russolo to Cage is this “freeing” impulse of composers: “It was necessary not to go outside of music for the rejuvenation that noise could bring but only to release the repressed within music itself” (83). Is this what D&G are doing too when they argue that we must making things sonorous and de-territorialize? The search for un-mediated experience—immanence.

Wassily Kandinsky developed the idea of an “inner sound” that was not concerned with imitating sound, but rather than using sound as a different kind of communication: “Communication among humans [. . .] would take place vibrationally, unmediated by signs” (107). A sort of metaphysical substrate is created that would bypass the contamination of inscription. The phonograph, rather than seen as a machine of inscription, promises “an alternative to musical notation as a means to store sonic time and, in the process, deliver all sound into artistic materiality” (103). We see later in Kahn’s book that Edison believed he could create a machine that could connect with the dead—to reach the Other side, the invisible world[2]. On the other hand (outside of modernist music) sound was beginning to be used to accompany the visual and took an imitative role.

The kind of appropriation of all sounds for the purposes of music (in a purely musical realm) is epitomized, for Kahn, in John Cage: “[Cage] was known for stepping outside the usual confines of Western art music to usher noise and worldly sounds into music and for proposing a mode of being within the world based on listening, through hearing the sounds of the world as music” (Kahn 161). Kahn meticulously traces Cage’s textual and philosophical influences in order to deconstruct his philosophy of music, which is based on liberating the sounds of the world into music, away from crude signification.

In terms of the argument I made in my paper discussing the film Noise, we can look at Cage as partially responsible for people’s ignoring useless noise:

The noise in the city would not be physically diminished [which would require political action and participation—not disinterestedness] but the city-dwelling concert-goers would accommodate themselves to it by appreciating it differently, removing the aggravation if not the noise, while both noise and aggravation would continue to exist for non-concert-going city dwellers. (Kahn 184)

Is this not Cage’s endorsement of a particular kind of status quo? Its true that David’s initial concern is to rid the city of noise in order to make it a more beautiful world, but the way he eventually does this is engage in the political order, not to assimilate to the noise, which he sees as the major problem. David identifies the noise as noise, which stands in for the noise of an indifferent public and an indifferent politics. This is quite different from the kind quietism endorsed by Cage. Silence against mass media? Is this not also silence against the masses? Silence against the impurities of film, television, radio—the impurities of signification and semiotic complexity? This passage from Cage shows his withdrawl from public participation: “My feeling was that beauty yet remains in intimate situations; that it is quite hopeless to think and act impressively in public terms. This attitude is escapist, but I believe that it is wise rather than foolish to escape from a bad situation” (186). The problem with this is that noise and sound penetrates the walls of ‘intimate situations’ and in terms of sound the public and private are inevitably intertwined. The blasting of rap music from a hummer provokes violent reaction in me—how dare they be allowed to blast that shit! How dare they put that noise in the air! The “noise” is a metonymy for the noise of the system—for the system that they believe does not benefit them. I am not taking the side of the person blasting rap music, but we must acknowledge the complex significations and subjectivities expressed by this noise (as sound—not just music).

 David’s engagement with the noise of the car alarm is a metonymy for the power of the government, which does not listen to the people. As his helpful (temporary) girlfriend says, “The genius of a car alarm is that you can’t talk back to it. It has a mouth, but no ears. It makes you pay attention to it, but it pays none to you.” How is the car alarm like those in power? Or rather, is it that the problem with the local government in the fictional place is the disjunction between the people’s actions and the government—no one pays any attention to either—they are both autonomous realms.

At first David may be seem to be on a crusade for himself—pretending to the liberator of the people (the “rectifier!”) from their ignorance, but eventually he realizes that the locus of power is the law that says the car alarm can ring for 3 minutes before turning off. Eventually he realizes that he must turn the brute power of the car alarm against the government (which is the force and power behind the car alarm’s force). The only way to get the government to listen is to situate the car alarm in a disruptive situation, creating the extreme of the conditions he lives with every day.

The previous reflections may only be a summary of my paper, but I hope that they extend the argument a bit, as I begin to understand the nature of noise and music better. I think that the key to an engagement between composition and sound is precisely that: sound and not music. If we rely on a musical model, it seems we are trapped in metaphysics, but if we look at sound, location, and space, we may be able to get somewhere with thinking writing as event and performance.

Thus, sound is a great way to look at the necessity of the local(e) (the place). Cage preferred barely audible sounds because “loud sounds were fixed to specific locations and too attached to actions and the quotidian to contribute rhetorically to his cosmology of sound” (235). Thus, composition as loud sound (not just noise)—composition as an intensity of sound (not just atmosphere or mood), and intensity of sound in relation to the space given—a disruption, a violence within a small space—a forced listening. Sound as an inscription on a particular space.

Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University
            of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and
            Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Kahn, Douglas. Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts. Cambridge: MIT, 1999. Print. 

Noise. Dir. Henry Bean. Seven Arts Pictures, 2007. Film. 

[1] Ok, enough of D&G. Perhaps I want their work to be more obscure, to push the limits of language and thought, whereas I only see appropriations of scientific discourse to further modernist impulses.  And its not that I am against modernism by any means! My favorite authors basically correspond with the authors D&G constantly mention (and are all part of the modernist/high modernist canon): Henry Miller, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf—could I get more canonical? My undergraduate thesis? Lawrence Durrell—another great ‘synthesizer’ of ideas. Blah blah blah. Is it that D&G’s work is art masking as philosophy? But then, should I not be just as frustrated with Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger? Why must I push against these two French philosophers? Is it them that I am frustrated with, or the willy-nilly way their thought is applied without consideration of the philosophical, assumptions/metaphysics that underlie it? And am I even getting those right? I was just reading Derrida’s (eulogy?) to his friend Deleuze, and, even though Derrida was friends with him and puts him in the best of light (although mostly praising his work alone than the one with Guattari—perhaps I should read Difference and Repetition in its entirety?), he may hit on my frustration: “Deleuze was, of all those in his "generation," the one who "did/made" (faisait) it the most gaily, the most innocently. He would not have liked, I think, the word "thinker" that I used above. He would have preferred "philosopher." In this respect, he claimed to be "the most innocent (the most devoid of guilt) of making/doing philosophy” (see Derrida “I’ll have to wander all alone"). Its this innocence that makes him endlessly creative and, in a sense, ‘original’, but that I think also causes him to lapse into metaphysics—a difficult thing to escape!

[2] All of this makes me want to re-read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, where communication technologies, séances, war, noises—all of these are dealt with from the view of artistic satire. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What is Technical Communication?

What is Technical Communication?

I would like to suggest today that technical communication is about revealing the complex and abstract reasoning behind rhetorical choices made in forming every-day documents/forms of writing in order to both better understand and produce these documents. While I believe it is possible to describe many documents as “technical” communication, these documents are technical because of their focus on usability rather than abstract reflection or contemplation (essays, philosophy, literature, art, etc.). I believe that these every day communications should be discussed more ‘philosophically and abstractly’ because we tend to forget that each piece of writing and communication has been designed to make us act in a certain way. Technical communication can, at the very least, make these every day encounters chances for reflection and learning as well as give us more agency in the production and circulation of these documents.

The way I have structured this presentation is around the idea of “concrete choices.” While analyzing a poem usually involves finding the abstract meaning of the text on the page—even though we may describe the figurative language—we rarely consider the poem as a document in the world, produced by an individual, laid out in a particular way, published by a company, distributed in various collections and editions, etc. These seemingly minute choices make a document usable and unified.

The most common definition of ‘concrete’ is opposed to the abstract: “Combined with, or in embodied in matter, actual practice, or a particular example; existing in a material form or as an actual reality” (OED). However, initially the word meant “united or connected by growth” (OED). The other meaning of the word, as you can see in my presentation, refers to the substance we refer to as “concrete,” which was probably named after another definition: “made up or compounded of various elements” (OED). According to, concrete is composed of three things: water, cement, and ‘aggregates’ (rocks and sand). However, while many people buy bags of concrete without any concern for what type, reveals that there are many different mixtures of concrete for different applications. Before purchasing, you should ask several questions: “What slump do you need? What strength? Do you need entrained air? What happens if the day is particularly cold or hot? What size of aggregate is best? Should you ask for fly ash in the mix?” ( We often don’t think about the many choices that go into creating concrete—it’s too integrated into our day-to-day routine. However, if we look at the people who know concrete, we can see that it can involve subtle choices that will make or break a project.

Similarly, there are three basic elements/components to composing documents: text, visuals, and design/layout (how these relate to together). The visuals are like the water that create the medium and the ‘flow’ of the document, the text is like the rocks and sand (giving it its grit), and the design and layout is the type and amount of cement that holds all of this together. Concrete can be messy, chunky, and unorganized—and it needs to be mixed well in a truck, but concrete creates the foundation for our everyday existence. Concrete forms a smooth sidewalk, that we barely acknowledge as existing under our feet, but needs to be usable, functional, and aesthetic for the city to run smoothly.

 Technical documents are these structures—sidewalks and floors—that allow our lives to run smoothly. If we were to notice the sidewalk—its components, its cracks, the way it is separated into squares, we could compare, contrast, and evaluate sidewalks abstractly based on their use, function, and aesthetics, just as we could evaluate a literary text or a philosophical idea. Technical documents, even the ones that seem boring or natural, can become complex and rewarding when we pay attention to the concrete behind the smooth surface. The technical documents that we compose and receive, such as tax forms, receipts, bills, contracts, may be locked away out of sight in our desk drawers or file cabinets, but they are the documents that structure the ‘concrete’ connections to other people and institutions as we go about our way. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Thought on previous post

Can philosophy be done visually, aurally, and physically or does philosophy necessarily rely on communication through language/discourse? If we could admit that art (including literature) can create concepts--but concepts that are not formed only in language, but as some sort of interactive experience, then perhaps I need to re-evaluate the text.  This would be truer to D&G's idea of concept as "event"--but I think some of my critiques still hold. Too tired to engage this on a sustained level, but needed to get the thought out.

Up next on the reading list is Douglas Kahn's Noise, Water, Meat. 

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! 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Randall Collins’ Sociology of Philosophies: Learning My Role as a Burgeoning Intellectual

All of us, from stars to bystanders, are part of the same field of forces. The network that links us together shapes and distributes our ideas and our energies” –Randall Collins

After listening to Byron Hawk’s fascinating talk on intellectual networks in the rhetoric and composition community at the 4Cs this year, I bumped into him in the hotel and asked him to tell me again the name of that book about sociology and philosophy. He told me it was by Randall Collins. We chatted about it for a couple minutes and he continued to one bar and me to another. Meeting and talking with Hawk about Collins’ book filled me with what Collins calls Emotional Energy (EE), which drove me to eventually order Collins book, read the first two chapters, which again filled me with EE, which gave me the impetus to write this blog. Indeed, the 4Cs conference was a successful networking adventure, as I met (and in some instances, got intoxicated with) several people whose books and articles I had read. I wasn’t even presenting at the conference, but it was probably my favorite conference experience. The intellectual energy was partially in the lecture rooms, but mostly it was at the bars. 4Cs is a major “interaction ritual” for the rhetoric and composition community.

My experience at the 4Cs and other conferences seem to provide personal empirical evidence for the way Collins describes intellectuals. Perhaps it is a bit early for me to meta-reflect on my own intellectual development and connections, but such reflection is necessary in order to enter an academic community. Furthermore, there are three forces that make me want to think about this issue: 1) Collins’ book, 2) conversations I have had with my friend, advisor, and mentor, Dr. Blake Hobby 3) my current environment.

Point 1 is pretty self-explanatory, so let’s turn to point 2. I remember like it was yesterday a very important conversation between Blake and I regarding emotions and intellect. I had just been to a counselor who would talk about how I was cutting my emotions off (he used the analogy of cutting off an arm) by over-intellectualizing every situation. Now, I won’t deny that I sometimes use intellectualization as a defense mechanism, but it was very clear to me that this counselor did not understand that intellectuals are emotionally driven by their intellectual activity[1]: thinking, communicating, writing, networking. I have never thought of my ‘feelings’ as apart from questions of ontology, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics. Blake let me know that that is common for intellectuals. We get excited about ideas, we get depressed by ideas, we get frusturated by ideas, we can hate ideas, we can love ideas. Our emotions are inevitably tied to our intellectual productivity—we need what Collins’ called “symbolic payoff.”

Furthermore, we love interacting with people in focused conversations about particular ideas or figures. This brings me to my third point. Currently, I am living away from my network of English student intellectuals in North Carolina. I have repeatedly told people that I love NC, where I am, and who I am living with but that I feel “disconnected” from the network of people that provide me with support—and—intellectual energy. I am reading books and blogging, but I feel like I have no direction to my research. There are connections sure—and these connections may foster a productive research direction, but right now, I am dwelling on a horizontal plane of texts, where I see connections and distinctions, but lack focus. Collins argues that it is this focus and reflexivity of our activity that makes us intellectuals. Ideas and creativity does not form in the isolated mind of a genius, but rather through the flows of connections and discussions of individuals on a micro and macro level.

This may be a reason why many of us who teach undergraduate students—particularly in rhetoric and composition—have a hard time seeing them as “intellectuals.” All college students are not intellectuals. They are more concerned with a social network of friends than a network of colleagues who help develop ideas. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly from a pedagogical standpoint, Collins’ clearly echoes many things I have said about the importance of text and lecture in the classroom: “The key intellectual ritual, the lecture, is one that has been prepared for by reading a relevant background of texts; and its contents are typically on the way to becoming published” (Collins 26). The importance of a background of texts—or even text—gives focus to a discussion. If students haven’t read the text (or watched the film) there is no common ground or context for intellectual discussion. Do we ask too much of our students, who may not always be intellectual, to retain a focus (in an oral situation) on one topic? If so, what happens to the discussion model of the classroom—particularly if that classroom is oriented toward teaching writing, which is tied up in teaching reading (a book, a film, a commercial, an ad, an artwork, etc.)? Are we modeling our classrooms one our own experience as intellectuals? If the university is a place for intellectual gathering, why do we find it a pre-requisite for any job on the market, where a technical school would do just as well (if not better)? Why as a culture do we want to make everyone an intellectual?

These are scattered thoughts and anecdotes. A more focused discussion of Collins’ book will be forthcoming. I plan to put him into conversation with Muckelbauer’s The Future of Invention. Muckelbauer, strongly influenced by Derrida and D&G, argues that we must “inhabit” texts in order for an affirmative invention to occur. His task is to see if there is a way to get away from the necessity of dialectical negation in order for change to occur. Collins’ book seems to be a very “position” based approach in one way, but I also think by paying attention to concrete interactions of people he may be “inhabiting” these connections historically as Muckelbauer does textually. Also, I want to place Collins’ book in context with my recent thoughts on Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? I see overlaps between the two works, and I particularly want to discuss the relationship between the “intensity” of a “concept” and Collins’ explanation of “emotional energy” and “cultural capital.”

Works Cited

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

[1] I am also reminded of another distinction from a  more current friend of mine—coincidentally also named Blake—who told me there were two kinds of people who go to graduate school: one type consists in the type that know their niche, they like doing that thing, and that is their career. And then, these are what he calls “intellectuals.” I think that using Collins’ book, I might be able to make his distinction more clear and say that these “intellectuals” are the ones who derive emotional energy from their research, writing, and focused conversation. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy?

Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy?

As the first book I have read from start to finish from Deleuze and Guattari, the following comments are meant to be tentative observations gleaned from a first quick and dirty reading. However, I read this text with a critical eye since I sought to engage with their project in terms of what I know of the ‘history’ of philosophy, including primary texts by Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger. Overall, like many others, I found the book relatively ‘clear’ compared to some of their other works. D&G seem to clearly outline their project in a straightforward manner. However, I believe that this may have backfired as I find many of their distinctions problematic.

As someone who closely follows the critique of metaphysics found in Jacques Derrida and Martin Heidegger, I found that D&G’s work may be a step in the wrong direction, unconcerned with the problem of multiplying ‘real’ substances, qualities, and sensations so that they may use these to distinguish among the tasks of science, philosophy, and art. Although these modes of thought are all intertwined and related, D&G affirm they are on separate planes. In a sense, it seems as though they are trying to carve out a space for philosophy ‘proper’ in an age where philosophy has become either poetic meditations or mind-numbing)analytic distinctions.

Part I: Philosophy

Philosophy, according to D&G, is the “art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts” (2). The authors are very clear about what philosophy is not: “contemplation, reflection, or communication[1]” (6). As many recent philosophers have acknowledged, the authors point out that concepts are only created as a function of problems—we create concepts in order to answer to particular problems and situations. One might argue also that we create problems in order to prepare the way for the concept. The particular nature of the concept is that they are “fragmentary wholes,” but they render its components “inseparable within itself” even though they may relate to other concepts on the same “plane” (more on the ‘plane’ soon). The components of a concept are distinct and heterogeneous, but through the concept they are rendered inseparable.  For D&G, concepts are NOT discursive in the sense that they are not propositions (I will go into detail about this later). Propositions, as well as their truth value, belong to the reference of the state of affairs--the realm of science. Concepts, on the other hand, are “intensional” and are self-referential. I keep trying to think about what this means in terms of a given text or term. Take, for instance, the (concept?) of Dialectic: is dialectic consistent in itself? What happens when we consider the drastic difference in signification among Plato’s, Kant’s, and Hegel’s use of the term (of course, this is also a translation issue—Plato’s would be in Greek; Kant and Hegel in German)? Are D&G suggesting that this is the same “concept,” but with different variations? It seems as though D&G create a kind of (albeit contingent) telos of the development of the concept. 

For instance, if concepts, such as the cogito have not yet “crystallized” it’s because they were tied up in other problems, on another plane of immanence. Keeping with the example of the formation of the cogito, D&G speculate that in order for the Cartesian concept to crystallize, the concept of “first” must undergo a different meaning, and become subjective. Although the cogito may have been figured in previous philosophers, it could not become a concept proper until Descartes (recognized) a new problem—a problem of the position of the ‘first’. For the Greeks, the “first” was linked to an anterior Idea, but with Descartes it becomes subjective. Kant “criticizes” Descartes, according to D&G, only in the sense that he formulates a plane and a problem that Descartes never really took into account: time. Kant makes time a form of interiority (see D&G 30-34). I’d like to ask if this same thing could be said for ‘concepts’ like Dialectic. How precisely do philosopher’s appropriate this ‘concept’? Are they merely using the same word for a completely different concept, and, if so, does this word retain a ‘trace’ of the previous contexts/”conceptual personae” (more on this later). Does it merely add another component to the concept, transforming it into a new concept, or is it ‘haunted’ by the traces of its past? For instance, is not Husserl’s “phenomenology’ haunted by Hegel? Just because we have formulated new problems and planes, does it mean that these ‘components’ that philosophy has made ‘consistent’ are equally parts of the newfound concept? D&G acknowledge the intersection of concepts and planes, etc. but do they acknowledge that some ‘forces’ of a particular word or concept are placed in a hierarchal relationshipnot only because of the relevance of the problems they relate to: components and concepts are not created equal.

It might sound here that the ‘concept’ is D&G’s substitution for what Derrida calls the ‘trace’, but whereas the trace disseminates, D&G ‘s concept intensifies. The positions of Derrida and D&G may seem at first to be similar, and indeed, many have used both of their work to interpret texts or write academic papers.  For instance, D&G claim that philosophy is “becoming, not history; it is the coexistence of planes, not the succession of systems” (D&G 59). Derrida too is skeptical of this idea of a linear history of philosophy, but Derrida seems so much more interested in looking at the particular texts—including their production—that give us the history of a concept. As he says in Positions, perhaps rather than looking at the essence of history we should look at the history of essence (Derrida 59). For Derrida, a term/concept/word cannot be determined to escape metaphysics ‘in itself’. Rather, it requires attention to the particular (con)text of the term. When asked by his interlocutors if  Marx’s “dialectical materialism” and ‘contradiction’ escapes Hegel’s metaphysical baggage, he writes “I do not believe that there is any ‘fact’ which permits us to say: in the Marxist text, contradiction itself, dialectics itself, escapes from the dominance of metaphysics” (Derrida 74).

Unlike Derrida’s nominalism, we see that D&G give a status of ‘being’ to the concept: “the concept is real without being actual, ideal without being abstract—it is self-referential” (22). D&G seem to think that there is a way to go beyond “images” and “abstractions” (read: ‘metaphor’, trope, language(?)) in order to get at the concept: “to arrive at the concept we must go beyond both of these and arrive as quickly as possible at mental objects determinable as real beings” (D&G 110). This makes me think there is a kind of noumenal realm of beings that can be grasped in itself. D&G no longer base their philosophy on language, because this is the realm of ‘communication’ (and scientific/logical propositions). But then, we are asked to entertain as ontological claims about art--claims that have only been offered as analogies. For instance, they argue that in true “aesthetic composition” the “material passes into sensation” (D&G 193). How can we evaluate and judge art based on this idea? (more on this later) How can we know whether or not a particular artwork passes into sensation? Here D&G fall into saying that all “great artists” have done this and then go on to reaffirm a traditional canon of aesthetic works, without any concern for setting up criteria. Of course, this kind of aestheticism is present in their reflections on what a “concept” is as well: the concept is a concept because it is intensionally consistent. Consistent for who? For what? I’m not sure.

The chapter entitled “Geophilosophy” is interesting, but seems to be a bit of a digression into the political implications of D&G’s transcendence/immanence distinction[2]. Whereas “empire” was ‘transcendent,” modern capitalism/city is “immanent”: “the social field no longer refers to an external limit--but "to immanent internal limits that constantly shift by extending the system" (D&G 96). In other words, the limits are within the system rather than some sort of transcendent entity. To me, this sounds like a leftist version of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. The chapter ends with the hope for a ‘new earth, and new people’, with reference to utopia and revolution (all stuff Frederic Jameson might agree with; indeed, knowing his prolific output, has probably written about). D&G end with some really trite observations about how nationalism limits our ability to philosophize/think:

The French are like landowners whose source of income is the cogito. They are       always             reterritorialized on consciousness. Germany. . .wants to reconquer the Greek          plane    of immanence. . .it must also consistently clear and consolidate this ground, that is       to say, it must lay foundations. (104)

These observations about the philosophical tendencies of a particular nation could be clear to anyone who has read German philosophy. Kant: The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals; Husserl: a philosophy to ground science. If this is “Geophilosophy,” it is basically an analysis of the tropes a given nation tends to use. Thus, we are back not to “concepts” or “beings,” but rather to language and text.

Part II: Philosophy, Science, Logic, Art

At the end of Part I, we are left with D&G claiming, along with Nietzsche, that the object of philosophy is to “diagnose our actual becomings” (112). I point this out because diagnosis involves the process of recognition, which the authors will claim is a low level of thought (more on that later).
The chapter begins with a distinction between functions/functives and concepts. Science works with functions in reference to the external world. Earlier, D&G  claimed that philosophical thought travels at infinite speeds, but science slows down this infinity in order to see how its functions correspond to the state of affairs. Agreeing with Kuhn, D&G write that science is paradigmatic, whereas philosophy is syntagmatic. Thus, philosophy does not create paradigms and models that must fit within the external world, but rather concepts on a plane of immanence. Whereas philosophy “extracts a consistent event from the state of affairs,” science “actualizes the event in a state of affairs, thing, or body, that can be referred to.” (124-127) The ‘event’ will be discussed more later, but I’m not sure how philosophy “extracts a consistent event.”

In this section, the authors also distinguish between “conceptual personae” and “partial observers.” For D&G, partial observers in science are not partial because they are limited by their subjectivity: “as a general rule, the observer is neither inadequate or subjective” (129). The partial observer is much more akin to a Leibnizian monad, that does not, strictly speaking, act directly on other monads. In Deleuze, monads are rethought as forces: not forces that act on others, but rather “what perceives and experiences” (130). By analogy, conceptual personae (in philosophy) are “philosophical sensibilia [. . .] through them concepts are not only thought but perceived and felt” (131). However, this is not to say that conceptual personae “live” whereas scientific facts do not. As we will see, D&G want to claim that this appeal to lived experience is the limit of phenomenology. They prefer again, following in a Leibnizian spirit, to argue that the perceptions of conceptual personae “does not transmit any information” but “circumscribes an affect,” whereas perceptions in science do transmit information. This is a confusing section to me and I’m still trying to figure it out, but these are my preliminary thoughts.

The next chapter, “Prospects and Concepts,” takes on propositional Logic. D&G come right out and say: “in becoming propositional, the concept loses all the characteristics it possesed as philosophical concept: its self-reference, its endoconsistency and its exoconsistency” (137). Thus, as they continually say, a ‘concept’ is not a proposition. I believe they may get this idea from Heidegger, who recognizes that a statement/proposition is derived from an already implicit understanding (see Being and Time). However, Heidegger stays on the level of “lived” phenomenological experience, arguing that it is because Dasein has a lived understanding of the world that statements are already impoverished. In contrast, for D&G, forming propositions makes a concept lose its self-reference (138). This is because a propositional truth value is ‘in itself’ empty—truth must be related to a state of affairs, which according to D&G impoverishes the concept. The transition from scientific statement to proposition involves a “recognition of truth,” a form of finite thought that “goes the least far and is the most impoverished and puerile” (139). This seems to imply that recognition (we might even substitute the word ‘diagnosis’) involves a lesser form of invention than the creation of philosophical concepts. Do we not need to recognize in order to diagnose our “becomings”?

Once they establish that propositions are an impoverished form of thought, they use this understanding to critique phenomenology, claiming that the phenomenology’s appeal to ‘lived experience’ is an “Urdoxa,” or “original opinions as propositions” (142). Basically, the lived subject (Dasein, in Heidegger’s terms) becomes what everything is immanent to rather than residing in immanence. D&G wish to make a clear distinction between the philosophical concept and a proposition of opinion. Opinion is “a function or proposition whose arguments are perceptions and affections” (this will be different from percepts and affects, which we will explore in a bit) (144). Opinion is closest to that impoverished form of thought—recognition. D&G relegate all three forms of nonphilosophy into the realm of opinion: contemplation, reflection, and communication. Another tacit attack on phenomenology and the hermeneutics ranging from Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricouer, D&G seem to think that philosophies of communication are all tied up in the search for a “universal liberal opinion as consensus,” which seems to frame all philosophies of communication as a version of Habermas! In one of the many examples peppered throughout the text, D&G compare Phenomenology’s pointing to a piece of reality and making it the ground of thought to the Greek’s choosing of the Beautiful and Good. This reminds me of many lectures of Greg Ulmer, who claims that the Greek’s basically invented substance by saying “there—that! That is reality.” Phenomenologists, according to D&G, say “there! That lived experience! That is reality!” In a way, D&G’s claim that “phenomenology needs are as art needs science” seems to have some truth to it. After all, much literary theory and hermeneutics comes out of the phenomenological tradition. While I don’t disagree with D&G’s critique of phenomenology per se, I am not sure I agree with their own own ur-opinions.

As in the late Heidegger, D&G want to move away from the lived experience of a transcendental subject to thinking the concept as event. After a quick critique of Badiou’s concept of the Event as a singularity, they argue that there must be at least two multiplicities, which they call the state of affairs and the ‘virtual’ (152-154). D&G seem to have externalized the phenomenological distinction between the ‘possible’ and the state-of-mind (facticity) from the transcendental subject. Or, alternately, it seems that we are back to a kind of Aristotelian idea of the “agent intellect,” except that the agent intellect is not prior/first to the actualization, but a pure event. This idea of the “virtual” also moves away from science. Science passes from “chaotic virtuality to the states of affairs and bodies that actualize it” (155-56). In contrast, philosophy goes back up from the state of affairs to the virtual, but D&G claim that this virtual is not the chaotic virtual of science, “but rather virtuality that has become consistent, that has become an entity formed on a plane of immanence that sections the chaos” (156). According to D&G, the event is “immaterial, incorporeal, unlivable: pure reserve” (156). The event is related to the concept: “It is a concept that apprehends the event, its becoming, its inseparable variations” (158). They try and reframe the event in terms of time—the event is the “meanwhile” of philosophy.

D&G conclude from this that science and philosophy, because they have two different realms of virtual, are interrelated but separate, which is why it is a shame when philosopher’s try and do science or scientist’s try and do philosophy. We will come back to this point.

Art: On the chapter “Percept, Affect, and Concept

Perhaps this is incorrect, but if I were to summarize this chapter, it would be to say that D&G attempt to ontologize artistic sensation. According to them, what is preserved in a work of art is “a bloc of sensations, that is to say, a compound of percepts and affects.” These percepts and affects, for D&G, are beings “whose validity lies in themselves and exceeds any lived” (164). To me, this sounds remarkably like a reversal of Locke’s primary and secondary qualities. However, I would need to (re)read Locke in order to point out more specifically what I mean.

What D&G call ‘affects’ are “nonhuman becomings of man” and ‘percepts’ are “nonhuman landscapes of nature” (168-69). For D&G, the artist goes beyond ‘lived’ experience and “becomes” nonhuman things (171). This framework of art is peculiar, considering D&G’s insistence that phenomenology needs art like logic needs science. Furthermore, this framing of art as a way of becoming nonhuman things also sounds exclusively Modernist. D&G agree with Virginia Woolf that we must “Saturate every atom,” “eliminate all waste, deadness, superfluity” (172). How is this different from Joyce’s claim that he wants to transubstantiate everyday life? What does D&G’s conception of art do to their philosophy? How much more canonical  can their perception of art be if they claim that these great novelists are considered great precisely because they were able to create “new affects”?

This narrow view of art/literature is revealed when D&G claim that art does not have opinions. They narrow the art of literature to the genre of the novel:

“what matters is not, as in bad novels, the opinions held by the characters in accordance with their social types and characteristics but rather the relations of counterpoint into which they enter and the compounds of sensations that these characters either themselves experience or make felt in their becomings and their visions” (188).

Why must this be the only function of art? What about other genres? D&G reference Bakhtin, but do not acknowledge that, although he is one of the most important theorist’s of the novel (modeled on Dostoevsky), he also takes genres into consideration. For instance, in Problems in Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Bakhtin talks of the Menippean Satire as the “adventure” or “test” of an idea. We may also look to Northrop Frye who, rather than denigrating the genre of Menippean Satire, regards works such as Rabelais, Petronious, etc. as part of its own genre—and should be evaluated as such. Why must Art consist only in Modernist intensities? Furthermore, D&G completely ignore the complexity of language and text in the formation of style, arguing that “aesthetic figures, and the style that creates them, have nothing to do with rhetoric. They are sensations: percepts and affects, landscapes and faces, visions and becomings” (177). As poetic description, this works well. However, I find that aesthetic figures do have something (perhaps everything?) to do with rhetoric/tropes. Why do Deleuze and Guattari insist on multiplying beings in order to escape the limits of language? Is it because they wish to distance themselves from phenomenology and its other critics?

This seems to be a main task of their text. In order to distance themselves from phenomenology, D&G move into a discussion of Flesh as inadequate in itself for sensation. Rather, they use the metaphor of a house/framework to expand the realm of sensation. Two things come to mind with this description. The first idea is again a Leibnizian monadic feel to this metaphor, but in this case, monads may have windows (or at least doors): “the flesh is no longer the inhabitant of the place, of the house, but of the universe that supports the house (becoming). It is like a passage from the finite to the infinite” (180). The second idea that comes to mind is Heidegger’s claim that Language is the House of Being. It seems as though D&G are trying to move beyond Heidegger here, but I’m not sure they succeed because they seem to want to claim a conceptual universe separate from the referential one, but a universe that is not limited by philosophy as communication. 
Forgive me for my incessant critique of D&G’s metaphysics, for there are ideas in the text that strike me as useful--as long as we understand some of these ideas as figurative language rather than ontological truths (even ‘virtual’ ontological truths). For instance, “is this not the definition of the percept itself—to make perceptible the imperceptible forces that populate the world, affect us, and make us become?” (182). This attention to the “forces” of the world can be given more concrete expression by something that Greg Ulmer pointed out to us in lecture: gravity is a force on human beings. Accidents have a particular “force” that we may be able to describe or present aesthetically, etc.

However, I must return to my critique because of another distinction the authors make that I do not think holds up under scrutiny: that between technical art and ‘aesthetic composition’. In technical art, sensation is realized in the material; in aesthetic composition, the material passes into sensation. For D&G, in these works of literature/art, “words and syntax rise up into the plane of composition and ‘hollow it out’ rather than carry out the operation of putting it into perspective” (195). Is this not an abstract way of characterizing a certain way literature affects the canon? A great work of literature, because its material ‘passes into sensation’, hollows out the language of the canon and forces us to re-conceive the canon or create a new one? What canon does it hollow out?

A final comment on D&G’s reflections on art: What happens to their conception of art when it is not a manner of material, but of action? Where is the room for performance art? What material in this case passes into sensation?

Conclusion: “From Chaos to Brain”

I think that this conclusion is the part of that reveals a kind of detached, Kantian perspective on philosophy—without the transcendental Kantian cogito. However, D&G’s language here sounds very similar to Kant’s disinterested interest. Furthermore, it is not clear to me if here D&G are speaking of art or philosophy: “the contraction that preserves is always in a state of detachment in relation to action or even to movement and appears as a pure contemplation without knowledge” (213). Thus, knowledge is “neither a form nor a force but a function” (215). I feel as though D&G have relegated philosophy to a realm of contentless contemplation—divorced from reference--a kind of Western formulation of Zen or a Kantian formalism. Something critiqued extensively by Hegel and, following him, Derrida.

By relegating philosophy to a separate mode of thought, I think that D&G foreclose the possibility of truly interdisciplinary work. They write, “the rule is that the interfering discipline must proceed with its own methods” (217). For example, “the function must be grasped within a sensation that gives its percepts and affects composed exclusively by art, on a specific plane of creation that wrests it from any reference” (217). I think this claim can be refuted. It seems as though they merely defer to the authority of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, as if this was the last word on aesthetics. Perhaps this makes me a believer in a “liberal consensus of opinion,” but I think that the planes of disciplines should not be separated into ontological realms. It seems that we are moving backward, toward ideal meanings with language/writing as the great disturbance. If this is true, I do not agree with this, but I look forward to exploring Deleuze and Guattari’s work in greater depth at some point and time. 

But I do not know when that time will be, as I have many works I wish to read. I think my aversion to Deleuze and Guattari, as said above, is my attentiveness to the critique of metaphysics. I do not understand why D&G feel the need to create another great system of philosophy that describes real beings. I am tempted to read Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition next, but this is a massive work that would require a lot of work.

As mentioned in the footnote, my next project is Randall Collins’ Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Network Theory. Look for some preliminary thoughts on the first few pages in the next couple weeks.

Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and
            Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia, 1994. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. Positions. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
            1981. Print.

[1] I may add here, that the lack of respect for “communication” and “discussion” in D&G’s philosophy is frusturating to me—it seems as though the concept is formed outside of particular interactions and connections. I am curious to compare their refusal that communication (which is the realm of opinion) is part of philosophy to Randall Collins’ work  Sociology of Philosophies, my next massive undertaking that I probably will only be able to scratch the surface of before my current semester’s work.
[2] It should be said that, like Derrida (and. . .Nietzsche?) D&G are interested in getting rid of the illusion of “transcendence” by invoking immanence. However, their notion of “becoming” suspiciously seems to me like transcendent movement, particularly in their conceptions of art. They argue that art tries to create a finite thing without losing the infinite. Furthermore, their description of what good art does seems to talk about how it lifts itself beyond the mere ‘words’ of a text to something else: "it is characteristic of modern literature for words and syntax to rise up into the plane of composition and 'hollow it out' rather than carry out the operation of putting it into perspective" --is this the same thing as saying that it changes the canon? or, rather, changes what x may become/be? Joyce changed what we meant by "novel"--or created an artwork that needed a new name/description” (195). To me, this seems like saying that great texts alter the criteria of the canon or create a new canon altogether. Again, it seems that we can remain on the (materialist?) level of the text. . .