CUTS, CRACKS AND INNUMERABLE PATCHES
What follows has emerged from my personal experiences as a filmmaker, critic, curator, a general engagement in events across all art forms, and many discussions with individuals working in other disciplines, particularly as part of the No Fixed Abode reading group and the Better Questions workshop project. It’s hoped, but not assumed, that the definitions and implications that are outlined here will resonate with others dealing with similar problems—the key problems in question here being
1) The challenge of developing art’s capacity for subjective transformation in any kind of consistent or accumulative way, while eluding the dangers of co-optation and neutralisation
2) The real and potential intersections and exchanges between artistic practices and anti-capitalist political activity
In tackling this, various conceptual tools have been borrowed and mingled—the key ones being from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Their concepts, and those of others, are employed here based on partial and sometimes willfully selective readings, but hopefully in a way that’s in keeping with the ethos of reinvention and use value most of these philosophers emphasise.
In ideal terms, love is what drives and animates artistic processes, events and communities: people make it, and experience it, because they love to. We can outline this love by way of a biographical detour:
My own childhood artistic practices zigzagged through drawing, comic books, painting and writing, eventually focusing itself in collaboration-based filmmaking at the ripe old age of 11. These engagements were impulsive and often had their origins in arbitrary playful tangents (a friend had a video camera, and we were bored one day, so… etc.) They were never institutionally supported, even when they technically “were”; being told to draw in the classroom was a sure creative block, but doodling in the margins of math textbooks felt like something necessary and fulfilling.
In experimenting with each of these forms, I created a space in my world that did not exist before. This began as a mental and imaginative space; a way to explore and think through possible and impossible forms and relations. To make clear that I am not talking about was nothing exceptional in its earlier stages, these forms and relations could include men with two heads and dismembered versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But as I matured, they began to take on more affective and intellectual depth, spurred by my discovery of other artists and thinkers. Finally, through filmmaking collaborations with my teenage friends, these experiments opened up a social space; a way not just to sketch and hypothesise different forms and relations but to actually invent them, share them, and intersect them with others. With all this came different modes of perception, thought and interaction with the world that were not being catered for within the structures of family, school or elsewhere.
Why was this so compelling? In part, it was certainly a kind of survival mechanism; a way of holding on to and conserving a certain autonomy of sensibility that constantly risked becoming dissolved in the conformity of primary and secondary level education and the general surrounding cultural banality. But it was also something more positively productive than that: throughout all these experiments, my sensitivity to the world and capacities to act within it actually increased, and not just within the spheres of making or experiencing art. Love is a good word for this, since it starts with a love for the activity itself and then for the spaces that it opens up, and finally for the surprises, the hitherto unseen, unfelt, unthought—and even the hitherto impossible—that these spaces facilitate.
This is a kind of love that is not just satisfying or pleasurable (at least once it gets past the first stage of love of the activity) but, as Hardt and Negri put it in relation to their political conception of love, “an ontological event in that it marks a rupture with what exists and the creation of the new”. (1) Art, as a form of love, is a means of producing subjectivity. And as Guattari put it, these kinds of encounters “can irreversibly date the course of an existence and generate fields of the possible ‘far from the equilibria’ of everyday life.”(2)
CUTS AND CRACKS
One does not think without becoming something else, something that does not think.
—Deleuze and Guattari (3)
The concept of the refrain, which Deleuze and Guattari develop in A Thousand Plateaus and Guattari continues with in Chaosmosis, is one way of considering how art intervenes in the subjective process. Although it can be applied to almost any sphere, they begin with the example of a bird’s song as the archetypal refrain:
Certain specific song sequences serve to seduce a sexual partner, warn off intruders, or announce the arrival of predators. Each time this involves marking out a well-defined functional space. In archaic societies, it is through rhythms, chants, dances, masks, marks on the body, ground and totems, on ritual occasions and with mythical references, that other kinds of collective existential Territories are circumscribed. (4)
The concept becomes most useful when we consider its ambivalent relation to Deleuze and Guattari’s overarching concepts of territorialisation and deterritorialisation. It’s not too difficult to see contemporary artistic practices fitting into this picture as another form of, as Simon O’Sullivan puts it, “the production of a particular kind of subjective territory”—but didn’t Guattari just say that the artist deterritorialises? (5) Deleuze and Guattari do indeed define the refrain as an “agent of deterritorialisation”, but they also posit it as “any aggregate of matters of expression that draws a territory.” (6)The relationship between these terms is never clear-cut in their writing, with territories always containing potential deterritorialisations which in turn constantly risk being reterritorialised. But, partly because of this precarity, they provide a useful tool for considering the strengths and weaknesses of artistic processes.
It seems clear that the points of production and reception of a work of art, when they’re effective, always instigate lines of deterritorialisation; what Deleuze and Guattari call “lines of flight”. Guattari calls art “an activity of unframing, of rupturing sense, of baroque proliferation or extreme impoverishment, which leads to a recreation and a reinvention of the subject itself.” (7) This point is also pivotally an encounter with difference: with something other, new and unknown.
It may be helpful to look at two distilled versions of the territorialisation / deterritorialisation distinction: in Deleuze’s older pairing of “an object of recognition” against an “object of encounter”, and in Hardt & Negri’s contrasting of identitarian love against alterior love.
Simon O’Sullivan outlines the first pair:
An object of an encounter is fundamentally different from an object of recognition. With the latter our knowledges, beliefs and values are reconfirmed. We, and the world we inhabit, are reconfirmed as that which we already understood our world and ourselves to be. An object of recognition is then precisely a representation of something always already in place. With such a non-encounter our habitual way of being and acting in the world is reaffirmed and reinforced, and as a consequence no thought takes place. Indeed, we might say that representation precisely stymies thought. With a genuine encounter however the contrary is the case. Our typical ways of being in the world are challenged, our systems of knowledge disrupted. We are forced to thought. The encounter then operates as a rupture in our habitual modes of being and thus in our habitual subjectivities. It produces a cut, a crack. (8)
Hardt and Negri take the Christian mandate to “love thy neighbour” as the crux of their distinction: one can interpret the phrase as meaning “love those most proximate, those most like you” (identitarian love—love of the same) or instead see “the neighbour not as the one nearest and most like you but, to the contrary, as the other” (alterior love— love of difference). The identitarian conception is for them a corrupt form of love “which hinders and distorts love’s productivity by forcing it constantly to repeat the same” (9), where as alterior love is equated with Spinoza’s notion of joy: “that is, the increase of our power to think and act, together with the recognition of an external cause”. (10)
One more concept from Deleuze may help clarify what the implications of this encounter with the unknown, this love of the other, are. For him, art produces “a shock to thought, communicating vibrations to the cortex, touching the nervous and cerebral system directly.” (11) It does so by confronting us with what Deleuze calls, after Maurice Blanchot, “the impower of thought”—that is, the unthinkable; something which is uncontainable, in excess of our powers of comprehension. This confrontation can be violent, in a certain sense; Artaud calls it a “dissociative force” (12), Guattari “a rupture of sense, a cut, a fragmentation” (13) and Deleuze “a fissure, a crack”. (14)
But, paradoxically, it’s this unthinkable which makes thought possible; in order not to simply be a “love of the same”, it must confront its own limits, come “face to face with its own impossibility” (15). As a result, thought attains a “higher power of birth”, and art becomes the kind of joyful encounter Hardt and Negri talk about: our capacities are renewed and expanded. Temporarily, at least.
Man, and the animals, and the flowers, all live within a strange and for ever surging chaos. ... But man cannot live in chaos. ... Man must wrap himself in a vision, make a house of apparent form and stability, fixity. In his terror of chaos he begins by putting up an umbrella between himself and the everlasting whirl. ….. Then comes a poet, enemy of convention, and makes a slit in the umbrella; and lo! the glimpse of chaos is a vision, a window to the sun. But after a while, getting used to the vision, and not liking the genuine draught from chaos, commonplace man daubs a simulacrum of the window that opens on to chaos, and patches the umbrella with the painted patch of the simulacrum. That is, he has got used to the vision; it is part of his house-decoration. So that the umbrella at last looks like a glowing open firmament, of many aspects. But alas! it is all simulacrum, in innumerable patches.
—D.H. Lawrence (16)
It should be pointed out that all these notions of alterity and unthinkability really applies to art in its more powerful forms; with more modest works, the effect can simply be the affirmation of a pre-existent territory; you are comforted and flattered rather than destabilised and unsettled. But even when it does function as a kind of deterritorialising refrain, there’s no telling that, afterwards, you won’t end up reterritorialising into an equally stable and settled state of being as you were in before, perhaps with an added layer of self-satisfaction at your open-mindedness and good taste. Indeed, the effect of art is often fleeting, due to both our own stubborn tendencies towards inertia and stability, and to the multitude of less noble refrains that structure our subjectivities in the rest of our lives. This list is probably endless, but it’s worth outlining some of the key ways in which artistic practices and experiences can become “objects of recognition”.
When it comes to art production itself, the most prevalent is probably the submission of one’s creative choices to the approval or perceived demands of peers, institutions, market forces or even the forebodingly anonymous mass known as “The Audience”. Even when these submissions are resisted, reliance on financial support often necessitates at the very least developing a discourse of recognition around one’s work, translating its otherness into recognisable structures to satisfy the requirements of funding applications or press releases, for example. Having to do this while in the process of making the work – or perhaps worse, before having even started – is certainly a risky thing, like explaining away the unthinkable before ever having even encountered it. But there are of course many artists who manage to maintain autonomy in the creation of their work—indeed, for all of the potential encroachments, art is still one sphere where autonomy still has some kind of privileged position; the artist Claire Pentecost calls it, not in favourable terms, “a performance of freedom” that is perfectly permissible by society as long as it stays within its bounds. (17)
It’s these bounds—namely, the circuits of distribution and presentation that are open (or not open) to a work—that often limit its deterritorialising potential. As an “experiencer” of art, the principle obstacles are visible in the fact that the word I have just used is not really a word, and the only proper alternatives—viewer, spectator, and most of all consumer—have reterritorialisation built right into them. Commodities are defined by their equivalence, their identifiability, measurability, containability—which is why the commodification of experience in particular is such a devestating thing. Consumption reinforces and accumulates identity rather than breaking it down; it cannot engage with the unidentifiable, and so cannot produce any kind of “shock to thought”.
Although internet filesharing technologies, self-distribution and the existence of independent exhibition venues have opened up the possibility of a different economy, engagements with film, music and literature are still typically determined by corporately owned distributors and exhibitors, who, to varying degrees, dictate the terms of its reception. To take film in particular, great works occasionally squeeze their way onto these distribution circuits (although even when they do, they are still judged on their digestibility or indigestibility as commodities)—but more often than not real difference is excluded from these circuits in favour of consumable difference. We can take as an example how Hollywood neutralised the risk of independent cinema in the 1990s by incorporating elements of its difference that seemed to attract viewers. As Benjamin Halligan has written:
It becomes a matter of articulating a foreign language within a familiar linguistic system, so that the foreignness becomes ultimately little more than a nuance, a quirk. … All films in between were pushed towards one of the two poles, so that there was no ‘in between’: a film was either the same or not the same, and not to be the same was to come to still be the same; not being the same had been co-opted. … When even ‘difference’ becomes a commodity, then a certain equilibrium has been achieved. (18)
While modern capitalism is particularly skillful at this kind of subsumption, these processes are of course nothing new, and it’s the ways in which they operate on individual and internalised bases that is perhaps most troubling. Fan culture is one example of how individuals involve art in a “love of the same”. It’s particular obvious with teenagers and their favourite TV show or movie franchise, in which discussion and engagement with the show becomes a way of reproducing a comforting identity and linking it up with whatever values and desires the product’s beautiful characters embody—but it’s presence amongst more “artistic” or niche circles should not be overlooked. Any passion for art, even one forged by deterritorialising lines of flight, can easily settle into a kind fandom or cliquishness, bonding with others over shared likes and dislikes, comparing lists names and favourites. This is an even greater risk for artistic communities or scenes, where the difference of one’s tastes or practices becomes a badge of belonging among a particular set—a signifier of sameness, essentially.
While art is principally about shaking up such complacencies—“a line of flight from representational habits of being and thought on/into the multiplicity of the world” as O’Sullivan puts it (19)—it can easily set the stage for their resurgence, an issue that Deleuze and Guattari repeatedly confront. Describing the aftermath of deterritorialising experience, where our perception now encompasses “the distinctions that appear in what used to seem full, the holes in what used to be compact”, they warn of the danger of a self-satisfied “clarity”:
We think we have understood everything, and draw conclusions. … First, supple segmentarity runs the risk of reproducing in miniature the affections, the affectations, of the rigid: the family is replaced by a community, conjugality by a regime of exchange and migration; worse, micro-Oedipuses crop up, microfascisms lay down the law … We have overcome fear, we have sailed from the shores of security, only to enter a system that is no less concentricized, no less organized… (20)
Much as Deleuze and Guattari encourage processes of deterritorialisation, they are almost paranoid about the dangers: the line of flight must “constantly be protected not merely against its false imitations, but also against itself, and against the reterritorialisations which lie in wait for it.” (21) They ask:
What is it which tells us that, on a line of flight, we will not rediscover everything we were fleeing? … In fleeing fascism, we rediscover fascist coagulations on the line of flight. In fleeing everything, how can we avoid reconstituting both our country of origin and our formations of power, our intoxicants, our psychoanalyses and our mummies and daddies? (22)
These micro-fascisms, as O’Sullivan has pointed out, are not explicitly fascist in a macro-political sense (they reside within people of all political persuasions), but rather refer to
the propensity for hierarchy, fixity and stasis (or simply representation) with which we are all involved, but which, for Deleuze and Guattari, can stifle creative, and we might even say ethical, living. (23)
As stifling as these dangers might be, it seems naïve to suggest that they can somehow be avoided or eradicated completely, or that that would even be completely desirable; as Deleuze and Guattari admit, “How could movements of deterritorialization and processes of reterritorialization not be relative, always connected, caught up in one another?” (24)Plus, as Emily Dickinson put it, “True poems flee” and trying to cling on to art’s ephemeral impact can be just another reterritorialising impulse. (25)
But surely there must be a way to create lines of flight that are stronger, more frequent, more consistent and more powerful?
Subjectivities reshaped by art are typically subjectivities out of joint with the ruling consensus. The cuts and cracks that art create and the “higher power of birth” that it renews in thought, opens oneself up to wider perceptual and conceptual re-evaluations. If it doesn’t happen through an increased awareness, the ways in which creativity is blocked and captured by capitalism can force the realisation: for example, the experience of being unable to focus on art because of the pressures of wage labour, or having to submit autonomy to institutional or market demands, seem like ready-made ammunition for a capitalist critique. In this sense, we can adopt Hardt & Negri’s suggestion that “love nourishes indignation” (26), which they consider, after Spinoza, “the ground zero, the basic material from which movements of revolt and rebellion develop.” (27) Autonomous experiences heighten one’s sensitivity to the limits put on autonomy everywhere, and as a result, one could expect there to be a natural affinity between art and radical politics, and artists and activists—and that this affinity would be deepened by the fact that in both fields, the problem of reterritorialisation is paramount.
Activist practices are also involved in the production of refrains, many sharing similar qualities and properties to artistic refrains, though usually with a more essentially social character: for example, practices of direct action, occupation, public demonstrations, the formation of autonomous groups, spaces and forums and the provision of services. Like in art, these refrains can have different implications, being principally territorial and defensive (eg, “we want our community to stay just the way it is”) or opening up to more deterritorialised, productive spaces (eg, “we have no autonomous space for ourselves so we will make it, or take it”). The recent student occupations of many universities across California give some strong examples of the latter tendency, and in the rhetorical flourishes of some of their communiqués — seeing in occupations a way to experience “the joy of constantly reopening the crusty scabs of dogma that numb our minds and bind us with their handcuffs”—we can see a similar emancipatory drive as that which motivates artistic production. (28)
But even when such political refrains act as explicit “agents of deterritorialisation”, the risk of co-optation or neutralisation are numerous. Arguably the practices with the most subjective radical potential, such as occupations, are plagued by their own unsustainability; they cannot go on indefinitely. In other situations, such as grassroots community organisations, the desire for consistency and continuity can lead to a reliance on state funding which in turn necessitates an institutionalisation and bureacratisation of their processes. Struggles for autonomy based on particular identity formations, such as the gay rights movement, have been easily absorbed into capitalism’s representational economy, and thus transformed into thoroughly consumable forms of difference. Likewise, protest actions easily risk slipping into habitual, spectacular forms that become more assertions of state-given freedoms of speech and demonstration than any kind of meaningful challenge to the state. Perhaps most problematic is the ways in which attempts to expand and popularise a political project becomes reterritorialised in polemical and proselytising processes more akin to advertising or evangelical missionaries.
In reality, genuine encounters between artistic and activist practices seem few and far between, and the communities and scenes involved in each are also largely distinct. Part of this disconnect seems to result from a wariness on either side towards the reterritorialised forms of the other—but it’s because of these limitations that an encounter between the two could be productive.
An artist friend of mine recounted his experience at a political demonstration, where the emphasis on oratory rhetoric and repetitive, collective chanting made him want to start “rooting for imperialism”. Another friend, studying art at college and dealing with a tutor with a heavy bias towards “socially engaged”, political art, found herself wanting to make work that was “irresponsible” and transgressive of such engagements. While one could construe these anecdotes as evidence of depoliticisation among artists, the key implication here is the primacy of subjective processes for those involved in the arts—and, correspondingly, the fact that, in most of its forms, anti-capitalist politics neglects these processes. This neglect could be seen as one of the particular “micro-fascist” traps of political activism, linked to the desire for efficacy and the achievement of particular goals. In order to become effective, people must join the movement; in order to join, they must be persuaded (through argument, propaganda, the accumulation of “evidence” and “facts”); and once they join, a certain univocality must be achieved “to make ourselves heard”. What this logic excludes most of all is our immanent powers to create spaces in which joyful encounters can take place—instead, individuals are incorporated into a group as objects of recognition, around a politics which is already agreed, understood.
On the other hand, much as art may privilege these subjective processes and the immanent creation of spaces, it mostly neglects the question of confrontation that is central to political practices. I’ve never heard of an artist refusing funding by the state, but this is always at least a contested issue in activist circles—this is not to say that refusing funding is necessarily more “political” or confrontational, but that even asking the question opens up a certain set of problems about artistic autonomy that one may be oblivious to otherwise.
But, as Claire Pentecost writes, “For most people who become artists the encounters that decided their fate were with the process itself.” In many cases, given the freedom to absorb themselves in this process, many artists do not look for anything else. Pentecost gives an example:
Once at a party in New York I asked a very successful painter what his day was like. He flashed a big smile: “I get up in the morning and I do exactly what I want.” It’s understood that painting is exactly what he wants to do and he paints exactly how and what he wants to paint. He has a loft in the city and a house in the country near where his friends, other successful artists, have houses in the country. Autonomy achieved. (29)
The only problem with this is that so many people cannot afford to do it, constrained as they are by the pressures of wage labour or the enfeebling limits of many funding structures—and many more were never even given the spaces in their childhood to develop these desires.
As Hardt & Negri point out, indignation is also importantly born in recognition of injustice towards others. There is also the question of complicity; if one is lucky enough to have the freedom to make the art one wants to make and make a living doing it, how does that freedom feed into the larger social and political circuits; or in other words, why is it allowed? According to Pentecost, this is in a way the artist’s job description: “to express or perform freedom as it is tacitly defined and valorized by our culture.” (30) This raises the question of what an autonomous art practice might look like that could not be so easily inserted into capitalistic circuits of representation but instead challenged, subverted and confronted them.
FIRST PRINCIPLE: BELIEF
The question of the future of the revolution is a bad question because, in so far as it is asked, there are so many people who do not become revolutionaries, and this is exactly why it is done, to impede the question of the revolutionary-becoming of people, at every level, in every place.
In raising these problems within the frames of these philosophical concepts, I haven’t intended to resolve them, but rather bring them into focus in a particular way. In conclusion, I’d like to develop these concepts a little further, with a view to providing not at all prescriptions, but rather a few potential principles or starting points, for moving beyond these impasses.
The first principle, and one that has really been underlying everything written here, is a kind of anti-realism. The realism in question is the one people refer to when they talk about the Real World. The Real World is usually one that exists outside of or after school and college, typically characterised as harsh, unforgiving, governed by rules of which one must submit oneself in order to make a “living”. Refusal to acknowledge and yield to these rules is generally conceived as youthful naivity or misguided idealism. In this framework, education becomes a means of preparing you for insertion within these ready-made circuits of reality.
In writing so far about art as a form of love, as a means of producing subjectivity and creating spaces for transformative, joyful encounters, the Real World has been implicitly ignored. This is because the processes described so far are not realistic, in the sense of representing a given reality, but are rather constitutive of that reality. As Hardt and Negri put it, "Being … is not some immutable background against which life takes place but is rather a living relation in which we constantly have the power to intervene." (32)
This is not at all to suggest that the world’s problems can be solved by “positive thinking” but simply that by forfeiting this central, subjective strength, no project really has a leg to stand on.
But it’s also important to emphasise the necessary impossibility of success. For a start, a huge amount of people have no interest in producing reality in this way—indeed some will do anything to avoid it. Spinoza asked "Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?", and Deleuze and Guattari picked up on this as “the fundamental problem of political philosophy”. (33) They talk about people who “flee from flight”, who desire “security”, “the binary machines that give us a well-defined status” and “the system of overcoding that dominates us”. (34) These are the people filmmaker John Cassavetes caricatured in his impression of a typical film viewer reacting to one of his films (objects of encounter if ever there were some) with the cry, “A new experience? Oh, no! Save me. Anything but that!” (35)
While there is always a temptation to hide this problem, to be “optimistic” about things, it’s a mistake to feign recognition of what still needs to be created. Deleuze’s notion of “a people to come” is a useful way of reframing the issue. In talking about the political “Third Cinema” of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Deleuze differentiated it from earlier political cinemas in its understanding that “the people no longer exist, or not yet…the people are missing”. (36) Whereas with the Soviet cinema of the ‘20s, for example, there was “the idea that the cinema, as art of the masses, could be the supreme revolutionary or democratic art, which makes the masses a true subject” (37)—after the mass popular cinemas of Hitler and Stalin, this was no longer tenable. As Deleuze says, “if an art necessarily imposed the shock or vibration [of thought], the world would have changed long ago, and men would have been thinking for a long time.” (38) And so,
Art, and especially cinematographic art, must take part in this task: not that of addressing a people, which is presupposed already there, but of contributing to the invention of a people. (39)
The invention of a people should not be mistaken for persuading or converting or manipulating a people, for creating fans, followers, members or any kind of congealed mass—but rather creating spaces and connections which create the possibility of “a new people”—that is, new subjectivities, new relations and ways of being, and with it the possibility of greater collective actions. As O’Sullivan writes, this kind of approach “does not so much offer up a set of knowledges as set up the conditions, we might say the contours, for future knowledges still to come.” (40)
As such, there is no question of making people do anything. We are all drawn to our own “impowers”, unthinkabilities (or could be once given the opportunity)—this is our foundational passion, our love, by definition a love of the unknown—and all we can do is create spaces in which this love can grow and encounter others. One may talk about forcing a confrontation, an encounter with a person, space, institution that may not have asked for it but may still be productive—but not an action.
This is an approach that is at once modest and egalitarian, yet at the same time insanely ambitious; asking people to do nothing but follow their love, but at the same time believing that this may change everything. Belief is a central thing for Deleuze,
To believe, not in a different world, but in a link between man and the world, in love or life, to believe in this as in the impossible, the unthinkable, which none the less cannot but be thought: “something possible, or I will suffocate”. (41)
A belief that opens up possibilities rather than closes them: one that is both disillusioned—“the people are missing”—and productive: “no one has yet determined what a Body can do”. (42)
SECOND PRINCIPLE: CONNECTIVITY
What are your lines of flight, where the fluxes are combined, where the thresholds reach a point of adjacence and rupture? Are they still tolerable, or are they already caught up in a machine of destruction and self-destruction which would reconstitute a molar fascism? … But other dangers stalk each of them, more supple and viscous dangers, of which each of us alone is judge, as long is there is still time. … How can desire outmaneuver all that by managing its plane of immanence and of consistence which each time runs up against these dangers?
How can desire—in our terms, we could say love—outmaneuver all that? It’s an open question that returns again and again for Deleuze and Guattari. How can we create lines of flight, or networks / patterns / series of lines of flight, that do not fall apart or reterritorialise—how to create some kind of consistency?
In thinking about this, the concept of connectivity is invaluable, if we use Deleuze and Guattari’s description of connections as “the way in which decoded and deterritorialized flows boost one another, accelerate their shared escape, and augment or stoke their quanta.” (44)Since refrains are our primary means of creating these kinds of flows, what we’re looking for is a way to compose a kind of network of them that will form interactions, exchanges and new encounters. This would form the kind of “constant protection” Deleuze and Guattari talk about, but not in a conservative sense; on the contrary, it would protect by destabilising, warding off stagnation, with each new line of flight “deterritorialising the other, pushing the line further … a system of relay and mutations through the middle”—that is with no beginning or end, no top or bottom. (45)
To an extent, artists are already familiar with the idea of a refrain-system, in the way we create a kind of experiential programme for ourselves to inspire our work or, as Zadie Smith has written, just to keep from sleepwalking (46): watching this, listening to this, going to this; all the art we engage with on a regular basis, and the connections that form between them. In a way, it’s how art is composed as well: as Robert Bresson said, you “bring together things that have as yet never been brought together and did not seem predisposed to be so”—encounters of images, ideas, objects that would not have happened otherwise. (47)
But if the latter personal refrain-system still falls within the bounds of a kind of safe autonomy, this connectivity would be an expanded practice of proliferating encounters, not just restricted to ideas, affects and artworks but incorporating people, spaces, worldviews, ways of being, relationships; encounters between encounters. This would involve not just making these links but creating spaces in which they can be made, and using these processes to ward off the risks of collapse or rigidification; in this sense connectivity would be a means not just of composition but also decomposition (in the way that filmmaker Raul Ruiz spoke of a film’s images composing it and decomposing it at the same time). (48)
In trying to think about a way of developing these connections on a consistent, strengthening basis, we’re really seeking a kind of territory that is not a territory, a “deterritory” which is perhaps closest to Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a “deterritorialised or autonomous assemblage”, an aggregate of components that passes through different territories, adjusting and transforming itself as it does. (49) The filmmaker Robert Kramer, in talking about his experience with various political and artistic collectives and communities, seems to be describing these kinds of autonomous assemblages when he talks about “battlegrounds” (if we had time, we might find resonances with Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the “war machine”):
These were places where unfamiliar things happened and happened to you. Old structures were called into question, challenged again and again from different angles and in unexpected ways, and where the world, or a picture of that world kept getting reconstructed in different ways.
Comfort was not exactly one of the main themes … on the contrary. Neither physical comfort, nor mental, not too many assurances or reassurances. They functioned as such rich places of learning also because conditions were so difficult and demanding.
They also had an uneasy relation to the outside world:
The communities were in evolution, each one, in a process of development in relation to things happening around them. But they were also self-sustaining, like a train roaring through the night, and at a certain point, if you didn’t want that trip, you just had to get off the train. (50)
The image of the train is the strong one, but I wonder if jumping is the only option; what about changing lines, or dismantling and rebuilding the train to facilitate new desires? A “deterritory”, or its potential emergence, should be judged not by its size or its ability to stay the same—that is not what is meant by consistency in this context—but by the flexibility of its movements, the vitality of its connections, exchanges and encounters. This is a consistency that survives only by continuing to move, like a shark, like Deleuze’s definition of the good in life (love?) as that “which knows how to transform itself”. (51)
1. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (The Belknab Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), p181
2. Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Power Institute, 1995), p131
3. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill (Columbia University Press, 1994), p42
4. Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Power Institute, 1995), p15
5. Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p93
6. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (University of Minnesota Press, 2005), p323
7. Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Power Institute, 1995), p131
8. Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p1
9. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (The Belknab Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), p183
10. Ibid., p181
11. Gilles Deleuze, The Time Image (University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p156
12. Ibid., p167
13. Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Power Institute, 1995), p18
14. Gilles Deleuze, The Time Image (University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p167
15. Ibid., p168
16. DH Lawrence, “Chaos in Poetry” in Selected Critical Writings, ed. Michael Herbert (Oxford University Press, 1998), p234-235
17. Claire Pentecost, “Autonomy, Participation, And” at http://www.clairepentecost.org/autpart.html
18. Benjamin Halligan, “What is the Neo-Underground and What Isn’t: A First Consideration of Harmony Korine” in Xavier Mendik and Steven Jay Schneider (ed.), Underground USA (Wallflower Press, 2002), p152 p
19. Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p1
20. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (University of Minnesota Press, 2005), p228
21. Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues (Athlone Press, 1997), p39
22. Ibid., p29
23. Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p12
24. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (University of Minnesota Press, 2005), p10
25.Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems, ed. Thomas H Johnson (Faber and Faber, 1975), p623
26. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (The Belknab Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), p235
27. Ibid., p246
28. Anonymous, After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California, p33 at http://afterthefallcommuniques.info
29. Claire Pentecost, “Autonomy, Participation, And” at http://www.clairepentecost.org/autpart.html
31. Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues (Athlone Press, 1997), p
32. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (The Belknab Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), p181
33. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus (University of Minnesota Press, 2000)
34. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (University of Minnesota Press, 2005), p227
35. John Cassavetes quoted in Ray Carney (ed.), Cassavetes on Cassavetes (Faber and Faber, 2001), p259
36. Gilles Deleuze, The Time Image (University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p216
37. Ibid., p164
38. Ibid., p157
39. Ibid., p217
40. Simon O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p146
41. Gilles Deleuze, The Time Image (University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p170
42. Benedicto Spinoza quoted in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (The Belknab Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), p53
43. Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues (Athlone Press, 1997), p144
44. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (University of Minnesota Press, 2005), p220
45. Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues (Athlone Press, 1997), p37-38
46.Zadie Smith, “Fail Better” in The Guardian, Saturday January 13 2007, archived at http://faculty.sunydutchess.edu/oneill/failbetter.htm
47. Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer (Copenhagen: Green Integer, 1997), p. 29
48. Raul Ruiz, Poetics of Cinema 2 (Dis Voir, 2007), p10
49. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (University of Minnesota Press, 2005), p326
50. Robert Kramer, personal email to Paul McIsaac, 5th August, 1998, archived at http://www.newsreel.us/NRe-mailz.htm
51. Gilles Deleuze, The Time Image (University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p137
Written for the Radical Love conference/camping trip, Wicklow, August 2010.