i/’ll remember you differently

Before I couch the concept of affect within the specific political concerns of my study, I intend to spend some time understanding it as a force that cannot be reduced to one context, and as a concept that allows us to describe the intensities of the ordinary- the seeming insignificance of which are said by Seigworth (1999: 7) to “make up more (much more!) of who you are” than the conscious powerful emotions that are traditionally assigned such importance. Since my research is centred on the formation of subjectivities, I feel that locating affect outside of politics (for now) will permit a broader exploration of processes of subjectification, and of the meaningfulness of everyday experiences.

For the purpose of this post, then, I would like to engage in a discussion of the affective power of music, in which hearing certain songs can provoke involuntary, unexpected, and (in)corporeal sensations of familiarity that seem insignificant, but have the potential to yield an enhanced self-understanding, thus influencing the trajectory of one’s subjectivity (DeChaine, 2002: 86). More specifically, I would like to integrate this discussion with an account of my own recent experiences, where listening to music seemingly folds moments of my lived history into my present, creating an “aura of lived space-time” (Siegworth, 1996: 5). This approach provides an opportunity for me to not only better articulate the concept of affect- in part, by way of appealing to the empathy of my audience- but it also allows me to engage in a process of personal theoretical reflection.

First, I will attempt to provide a working definition of affect, which is understood here to be an intensity that exists prior to conscious thought. Affect is a primary condition that facilitates our ability to feel and, as such, comprises our fundamental relationship to the environment in which we live (ibid; Seigworth, 1999: 3). However, Seigworth  (ibid) cautions here against confusing affect with emotion, which, while linked, are not synonymous (ibid). Emotions exist secondary to affect, operating transcendentally by marking the subjective moments of lived experience that belong to “you” as a conscious subject (ibid: 4). Affect, however, takes place outside of, and before, the subjective person that says “I”, characterising the involuntary train of intensities that register underneath consciousness (ibid; DeChaine, 2002: 86).

Explaining affect coherently poses something of a dilemma, given that its primary nature escapes signification. Due to our mode of communication being wedded to structure, with a vocabulary derived from signification, it is difficult for us to express the complexity of affect with sentences and syntax. Affect, DeChaine (ibid: 87) suggests, could be termed “pre-structural”, and, as such, necessitates the development of a more nuanced mode of expression for the purpose of advancing research into the concept.

Brian Massumi, in his 1995 (: 85) essay, The Autonomy of Affect, notes that the primacy of the affective is due to its intensity as embodied in purely autonomic reactions, which are disconnected from any possibility of meaningful narration or sequencing. He argues this in response to an experiment in which three versions of a film, two dubbed (one termed “factual”, and the other “emotional”), and one wordless, were watched by children (ibid: 83). The recorded physiological reactions demonstrated that, while the children displayed higher levels of physical arousal during the dubbed versions (possibly due to increased expectation as a consequence of their juxtaposition to the narrative), their electrodermal activity was far higher in the non-verbal version (ibid: 86). Language, here, dampened the effect of the images (ibid). The linear nature of the narrative ran counter to the intensity of affect which, Massumi argues, operates as a disruptive state of non-linearity (ibid). Affect cannot be captured by any linguistic expression that is directed toward the future; it is better associated instead with a constant motion that is vibratory, suspenseful, resonating, and void of any functional narrative (ibid).

This sense of affect as a resonating force is explored further by Robert DeChaine in his 2002 (: 88) essay Affect and Embodied Understanding in Musical Experience, in which he discusses the affective power of music to evoke a feeling of nearness, both spatially and temporally. As I write, I am certain that many readers will instantly recognise this curious sensation. The invariably shared nature of the experience further qualifies why music, here, serves as an appropriate and valuable entry point through which to discuss affect as located within everyday experiences.

For DeChaine, there are many moments he recalls at which songs have generated in him senses of recognition, and feelings as immanent, with no seeming point of origin (ibid: 85). Attributing this to the power of affect to “fuse our senses and our minds”, DeChaine imagines affect as a continuous circuit through which past and present become confluent (ibid: 86).

Through this, remembering is “felt” (ibid: 87). DeChaine likens the sense of nearness evoked by musical experience to “crystallised formations that, though buried, can be [re]activated” by way of an “acute jarring to consciousness” (ibid: 88). Excavating memory through music “shocks” us into delivering to ourselves involuntary remembrances that re-connect us with a past that is not so forgotten as we might have thought (ibid: 89). I am reminded at this moment of the short chapter Still Life in Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects (2007: 18), in which she describes stillness in ordinary life as an “intensity born of a momentary suspension of narrative”. Here, the affective capacity of music can be considered to (re)ignite moments that “lurch into view without warning” and then sit there, like a weight, holding captive the listener (ibid). In his autoethnographic account, DeChaine (ibid: 87) describes his version of such an encounter:

“It’s only about fifteen seconds into the song- I already know I’ll be listening to the whole thing. I can feel that peculiar warmth welling up, upward from my stomach to my neck and my face and my ears flash, hot. And now, suddenly, it’s five in the morning, and you and I are teenagers, huddled together, freezing, in the ripped passenger seat of your old, faded yellow Toyota…..I can’t move”

My own recent past, too, can be “shocked” into my present through music, with a stillness that is paralysing at the same time as transcendental. There is one song in particular that catalyses an ineffable malaise which arrives suddenly, without warning, and seeps through me neither hot nor cold, but always heavy. An embodied experience, the memories and half-memories, sensations and recognitions, present themselves as chimerical as they are real, and as near as they are distant.

It is the bridge of the song that hits me the hardest. The rest I can tolerate; I can permit the music to surge through the interstices of my being while I instruct the rest of me to hold on to the empty comfort of my immediate reality. There is some agency there. But the bridge, with its tones all dissonant yet dulcet, sends me reeling (back) to the passenger seat of his car with a pain that is jarring. I find myself utterly compliant with this affective shock, and helplessly exposed to a series of timeless moments that have a cinching effect which remains long after the song has finished.

This is an intensity that escapes language, and my attempt to capture it as such provides little more than a sterile account.

Of course, the affective capacity of music will often evoke sensations of past events that are replete with a warm nostalgia that is neither happy nor sad, and this, for DeChaine (ibid: 82), is critical for procedures of self-reflection and understanding. There can be, however, and certainly in my case there is, an unhelpful immobilising effect. The song with which I am concerned occurs at the liminal boundary of my past, and pollutes my present with a haunting lull. To cease listening to it would be the most logical preventative strategy. But I do not want to; I like the song. Besides, this one song is simply at the forefront of an entire library of music that catapults me (back) to the pain of the intense encounter from which I am trying to disconnect. To disregard it all is an unreasonable request; there must be a way to manage the issue without having to remove myself from the music that I love.

At this point, Siegworth’s (1999: 5) caution against misunderstanding affect as “wistful”- in the sense that it is easily perceived to be primarily associated with memory- is helpful to discuss. Instead of remaining caught up with the body’s relation to the past, we can conceive of affect as a potential for constituting the body’s relation to the present and future. Siegworth (ibid: 6) relates affect to the steady accumulation of daily insignificances within the body that are brought by the past, travel alongside the individual’s present, and reach a certain density at which they no longer seem so insignificant, thus culminating in the crossing of a threshold- where the individual finds that they are “no longer the same as [they] were before”.

Siegworth’s (ibid) example of the film Groundhog Day, makes this a little clearer. Bill Murray’s character is subjected to re-living the banal events of the previous day as if it were present time. The insignificances of the day, repeated, begin to accumulate within Murray’s character until he eventually identifies their value, the affirmation of which results in his waking up to find that it is finally tomorrow, and that he is not the same person he was before.

Through this, we can see the value of affect in how it contributes to processes of becoming. Affect does not have to remain with a sense of stepping backwards, it can instead connect us to a sense of where we are going. The infinite components of our past can be variably re-experienced, over and over, with the effect of sending us toward reaching a new capacity or potential (Massumi, 2008: 2).  DeChaine (2008: 87) picks up on the term the déjà vu effect here which, although incorrect- given that déjà vu describes the evocation of events that have never taken place- is possibly the nearest example that can illustrate the enigmatic sensation these affective “shocks” have. Their arrival- an accumulation of past insignificances that are embodied (“I feel the remembering”)- governs the body’s transition toward a future that is markedly different from what went a moment before (ibid; Massumi, 2008: 3).

When considering affect in this way, it becomes apparent that my memories do not have to remain as a repository of painful experiences that, elicited through musical experience, surface in my present and deliver uninvited reminders, the acuteness of which prevent me from stepping forwards. Instead, it is possible for me to re-frame how I experience my recent past, for the benefit of my present and future.

Like the example of Groundhog Day, it is necessary for me to identify the value of the insignificances within the memories that surface when I listen to the song, in order to move toward a threshold of becoming. Unlike Groundhog Day, however, this threshold does not have to be arrived at suddenly. Siegworth (1999: 6) describes how there can instead be a process that exhibits a much more “subtle and ongoing kind of soul-realignment”, and that harnessing this necessitates engagement with a repetitive process of re-remembering that edges the individual toward a different future by gradually shifting their articulations of past events across space and time.

This provides the basis for an interesting “experiment” for me to undertake. Excavations of memory in the way explained above can be thought of as having an “architectonic force”, that is to say, personal perceptions do not accede to chronological “accuracy” and, as such, the “re-living” of events are always repeated differently (DeChaine, 2002: 89). For my experience, listening to the song initiates the process of re-remembering, but I have found that it is my immediate surroundings that are influencing the way I re-order and experience the memories. The pull between the memories evoked by the song, and the affective power of my present context combine to generate a different re-living of past events. Each time I listen to the song, the memories are repeated differently.

Deleuze’s ideas on the phenomenon of repetition are significant here. Repetition, for Deleuze, is tied up with the notion that there is no time other than the present (Deleuze, 1968: 94). The past and future is instead inscribed in the present (ibid). Repetitions are moments without privilege; they allow us to re-consider the relationship between sameness and difference as one that is void of hierarchical functions (Somers-Hall, 2013: 56). Sameness is not subordinated to difference, and difference is not drawn from sameness. Neither existed before, nor after the other; they are always already in existence.

With this in mind, I have started to use my social milieu as a way with which to target these memories, and to reconfigure their elements to make something new. I have started to deliberately listen to the song, repeatedly, in new environments through which new memories will be formed. What makes this task particularly interesting is that my living circumstances changed drastically immediately following the violent end of my impassioned encounter. I have found myself in a new house, in a new city, and surrounded by new people- all of which are completely removed from, and unbeknown to him. Now, when I listen to the song, I am back in the passenger seat of his car, but I am also walking up Park Street in the sunshine. When the bridge of the song arrives, I am next to him again; I can smell cigarettes, I can hear his criticism, and I can feel his lies. But I am also next to my new friends; I can smell fresh coffee, I can hear their laughter, and I can feel warmth.

Affect plays an instrumental role in this as each repetition of my memories are presented as anew, yet at the same time they are not isolated from the moment before. This brings us back to the earlier point of understanding affect as non-linear; my present is infused with my past, neither coming before nor after it. What is created is a network of moments, none of which are original. Each moment is always already a repetition, and each has no limits because they are always in a state of becoming.

Each time I listen to the song, the insignificances of my past and my present are accumulating together, gradually shifting the way I experience my memories. Imagine layered sheets of illustrated acetate; you can still see the original design on the bottom layer, but the subsequent layers add new colours, lines, and textures, such that the final design reveals a new composition. With each repetition of the song, the memories are steadily reconfigured as they become inextricable from the sensations of my present. The smell of cigarettes gradually mixes with, and is displaced by, the smell of spring arriving in the city. Likewise, the overwhelming sense of my former anxiety is drowned out by the chatter of the crowd, and is replaced with a sense of invigoration.

Through this process, I am affirming the meaningfulness of everyday ordinariness; I am allowing the events of my past to be repeated in my present, and for my present to re-shape how I experience my past. It is not that I am trying to forget; it is just that I am trying to remember differently. With this, there comes a new recognition of what went before, one that is less painful, and can be harnessed for my future benefit. It is this that pushes me toward a threshold, the crossing of which will reveal my becoming as someone I have not been before, awash with new potentials and new capacities.

References:

DeChaine, D. Robert (2002) Affect and embodied understanding in musical experience, Text and Performance Quarterly, 22 (2), pp. 79-98

Deleuze, Gilles (1968) Difference and Repetition, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, London

Massumi, Brian (2008) Of Microperception and Micropolitics, available at: http://www.senselab.ca/inflexions/volume_3/node_i3/PDF/Massumi%20Of%20Micropolitics.pdf (accessed 05/03/2016)

Massumi, Brian (1995) The Autonomy of Affect, Cultural Critique, 31 (2), pp. 83-109

Siegworth, Greg (1999) Sound Affects, available at: https://www.academia.edu/5686569/sound_affects (accessed 09/03/2016)

Somers-Hall, Henry (2013) Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, Edinburgh University Press Ltd, Edinburgh

Stewart, Kathleen (2007) Ordinary Affects, Duke University Press, USA

 

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man is no longer man enclosed but man in debt

Deleuze’s 1992 essay Postscript on the Societies of Control marks the turning of a corner in postmodern thought by advancing a clear argument that the end of the twentieth century has seen us move towards a control society;  this is posited as a progression from Michel Foucault’s previous articulation of the disciplinary society, which is located as having characterised the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Where the disciplinary society is defined by rigid molar enclosures (prison, hospital, factory, barracks, school, family) operating as independent variables through which the individual passes, conforming to the laws of each environment, the control society denotes more fluid modulations like a “self-deforming cast” that is in a continuous state of flux (Deleuze, 1992: 4). In the disciplinary society the individuality of each person is molded, however the the control society operates by running through each person, decomposing and recomposing identities as multiple in accordance with numerous parameters (Shaviro, 2010: 1).

Deleuze’s (1992: 5) example contrasting the factory with the modern corporation is helpful in understanding this;  where the factory environment homogenised individuals under the sole advantage of one in charge, against whom they mobilised a mass resistance by way of unions, the corporation pits individuals against each other, presenting opportunities for competition based on meritocratic values.

“Salary according to merit”, as a modulating principle within the control society, reflects the neoliberal dogma of competition in the market (ibid). Contrasting with classical liberalism, in which Adam Smith emphasises the need to balance self-interest with the human tendency towards sympathy in the pursuit of a healthy civil society, neoliberalism posits competition as “the most important thing about the market”, inciting a “war of all against all”, and engendering unfettered individualism (Shaviro, 2010: 5).

For Shaviro, in his 2010 paper The ‘Bitter Necessity’ of Debt: Neoliberal Finance and the Society of Control, the acceleration of the control society can be located alongside the expansion of neoliberalism. The goal of neoliberal policy- articulated by Thatcher with her infamous statement “there is no such thing as society”- is to exterminate social relations, and prioritise individual investment decisions (ibid). Here, capitalism demands a “higher-order production”, no longer interested in raw materials and finished products, but buying and selling services and stocks instead (Deleuze, 1992: 6). The molar enclosures of the disciplinary society have given way to a more dispersive operation; they are no longer distinct spaces but instead weave through the circuits of finance (ibid).

For individuals, or dividuals, within the control society, investment comes not in the form of labour-power, but through the concept of “capital-ability”, whereby the individual asserts themself as a self-enterprise via participating in the competitive marketplace (Shaviro, 2010: 6). Economic competition between individuals thus fortifies the neoliberal “war of all against all” (ibid).

To contextualise this within debt, then, Shaviro (ibid: 7) notes that the disciplinary regimes of schools, factories, etc. have been replaced with the “discipline of the market”. Where the servicing of debt has become a major resource for capital accumulation, it has become necessary to construe debt as a “rational” choice for addressing individual interests (ibid: 8). The concept of human freedom is re-worked under neoliberalism, whereby the procurement of debt both restricts and channels behaviour, yet is attained under the illusory guise of  “freedom of choice” (ibid). Where discipline was rigid, control is fluid; the neoliberal market constrains human freedom by permeating assumptions, thought, and speech so completely and invisibly that the surveillance and propoganda characteristic of the disciplinary societies have become obsolete (ibid).

As in Deleuze’s example of the corporation, debt pits individuals against each other, dividing each within, and in the name of competition. Individuals are enclosed within representations of “good debt” versus “bad debt”, equating to “good debtor” or “bad debtor”. The “good debtor” will invest in a mortgage, under the assumption that the asset will appreciate over time. With private property operating as integral to the functioning of capitalism, it is politically necessary to frame mortgage debt as a desirable pursuit (Langley, 2008). Indeed, an “ideology” of home ownership appears to have been fostered, in which private ownership has become a central preoccupation for many, and is perceived as a “natural” desire (Ronald, 2008: 1). Deep government subsidy and stimulation through British policies such as Right to Buy and, more recently, Help to Buy, have sought to increase the numbers of owner-occupiers, and arguably contribute to the cultural discourse that is rationalising the securing of a mortgage as a “good” form of debt (Dorling, 2014).

The “bad debtor”, conversely, will obtain a payday loan, seemingly the result of overconsumption. The consumer is marked as delinquent, and perceived as lacking in the capacity to sustain themselves (Singh, 2014). This representation is cultivated despite the ubiquity of payday lenders and their correlating advertisements- which assist in naturalising the role of consumer credit- and is influential enough to render the accumulation of “bad debt” as a hindrance to consumers’ future applications for mortgages, given the imperilling effect upon their credit rating (Hembruff and Soederberg, 2015: 7; BBC, 2013).

These representations both conceal and facilitate spurious lending practices whilst fostering obstinate categorisations into which individuals are filtered. The stark binary of “good debt” and “bad debt” veils the shared vulnerability of both debtors’ situations, as both are underpinned by their lenders’ participation in the inherently unstable financial markets, the very profit of which hinges on the unknowability of the future (Aalbers, 2013). This heedless attitude goes unnoticed, however, given that both debtors are seen to be performing their “freedom” of choice and, as such, are ultimately responsible for any consequences that may befall them (Lazzarato, 2015: 108).

Advanced by a system that hinges on representational practices as a means with which to capture and exploit subjectivities, individuals are here extracted from their complex milieu and comprised as subjects defined by their relation to debt (Lazzarato, 2014: 35). Structures (be they various forms of media and popular culture, policies, or educational initiatives) lay claims to “truth”, communicating messages on the nature of the debtor that are then constructed as knowledge (Rose, 2007: 142). The internalisation of these messages by individuals then has the potential to impact on their lived experiences as they move to reflect and perform their subjectivity as “debtor”, consequently reinforcing the very same messages that were originally absorbed.

For Deleuze, breaking this cycle of engendering rigid subjectivities involves re-thinking the concept of the subject entirely. Where representational practices focus on the subject as something that can be represented through experience, Deleuze aims to conceptualise the subject as not grounded in experience, arguing against the privileging of conscious thought as the principle mode of inferring reality (Due, 2007: 9). This alternative subject is not defined by self-awareness, and is distanced from assumptions of conscious thought as responsible for constituting knowledge and experience (ibid). Instead, Deleuze foregrounds the capacity of the individual to affect and be affected as central to subjectivity, with affect being understood here as a series of pre-individual intensities that work to augment the subject (ibid: 10). In this way, subjectivity is potentially freed from being reduced to the pre-established identities informed by semiotics, as part of the dominant paradigm of representation (ibid: 6).

Over the next few posts, I will seek to engage in more detail the concept of affect in order to better articulate how my research is seeking to critique representational practices within the context of debt. A difficult concept to grasp, I will attempt to discuss affect through different perspectives in order to avoid being constricted by my overarching concern for the impact of neoliberalism upon processes of subjectivity. It is important, I feel, to step outside of my dominant view in order to gain new perspectives, and to consider affect as a force that is operating outside the sphere of politics, and is characterised by encounters that may at first seem insignificant or inconsequential.

References:

Aalbers, Manuel. B (2013) Neoliberalism is Dead…Long Live Neoliberalism! International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37 (3), pp. 1083-90

BBC (2013) “Payday loan ‘risk to mortgage applications'”, BBC News, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25098810 (accessed 03/03/16)

Deleuze, Gilles (1992) Postscript on the Societies of Control, October, 59, pp. 3-7

Dorling, Danny (2014) All that is Solid: The Great Housing Disaster, Penguin Books Ltd. London

Due, Reidar Andreas (2007) Deleuze, Polity Press, Cambridge

Hembruff, Jesse, and Soederberg, Susanne (2015) Debtfarism and the Violence of Financial Inclusion: The Case of the Payday Lending Industry, Forum for Social Economics, pp. 1-20

Langley, Paul (2008) Financialization and the Consumer Credit Boom, Competition Change, 12 (2), pp. 133-147

Lazzarato, Maurizio (2015) Governing by Debt, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles

Lazzarato, Maurizio (2014) Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles

Ronald, Richard (2008) The Ideology of Homeownership, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke

Rose, Gillian (2007) Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials, SAGE Publications Ltd, London

Shaviro, Steven (2010) The ‘Bitter Necessity’ of Debt: Neoliberal Finance and the Society of Control, Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, 37 (1), pp. 73-82

Singh, Lillian. D (2014) “Do the Hustle: Payday Lenders and Their Victims Dancing to Lose”, Huffington Post, available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lillian-d-singh/do-the-hustle-payday-lend_b_5988960.html (accessed 04/03/16)

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all becomings are molecular

Kerry Katona in Cash Lady ad

My masters dissertation followed a largely structuralist approach, employing a visual discourse analysis through which to explore the role of  payday lending advertising in perpetuating particular representations of “the debtor” under neoliberalism, with a specific concern for the gendered nature of the advertisements. The study foregrounded semiotics as a method, seeking to explore the “meaning-making” within the advertisements, and utilised a theoretical framework aligned with this approach.

What the study achieved was to draw attention to language and semiotics as significant in the role of subjectification under capitalism, yet it did this without seeking (in detail) to explore an alternative conceptualisation of subjectivity, one that would move the discussion beyond the structuralist paradigm. This post, then, presents an opportunity to explore the topic more creatively, through a DeleuzoGuattarian lens.

A recent text by Maurizio Lazzarato (2014: 17), “Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity”, engages with such an alternative conceptualisation of subjectivity by arguing against “logocentric” thought, and poses instead a complex critique of capitalism as a “semiotic operator”. That is, Lazzarato discusses how signs function in the economy outside of language, including non-representational and a-signifying semiotics.

Lazzarato (2014: 24) draws heavily from Deleuze and Guattari in presenting this discussion, asserting that capitalism hinges on the creation of specific subjectivities in order to assign roles within the social division of labour. Though language is one influential subjectification process, it is not the only one, and Lazzarato (ibid: 17) stresses the importance of recognising this, citing that “in order to bring together the conditions for rupture and subjective reconversion, we must move beyond both language and semiotics”.

Articulating this necessitates a turn to Deleuze and Guattari’s conceptualisations of subjectivity, dealt with separately prior to their collaborative work, yet viewed by both as an irreducible multiplicity of subjectification processes. It is Guattari (1995: 4) who refers most explicitly to the formation of subjectivity as a set of processes, highlighting the critical role of “machinic” components of subjectification (media, family, education, religion, art etc.) in both signifying and a-signifying dimensions. To be clear here, signifying semiotics describe a molar environment of explicitly symbolic and linguistic signs, while a-signifying semiotics operate beyond linguistic axiomatics, working instead to manipulate elements in ways that do not involve signification of meaning (ibid: 5; Lazzarato, 2014: 80).

Through this, Guattari (1995: 9) defines subjectivity as an “ensemble of conditions”, and he avoids positing the subject as an individual, for the subject conceived as an entity is much too static an interpretation with which to capture subjectivity as a series of movements, and with a sense of emergence. This is supported by Deleuze’s conceptualisation of subjectivity which, for a significant part, reflects his concept of difference. For Deleuze (2004), there is only difference, everything is always changing, and repititions are never exact copies of what went before. As such, Deleuze echoes Guattari by refusing to constitute the human person as a centralised and atomised subject; subjectivity is instead defined by a capacity to undergo processual affects (Due, 2007: 9).

bart

Bart, seemingly in a state of becoming.

In his individual work, it is Deleuze who emphasises subjectivity as a becoming, not a being, and his essay “Many Politics” is helpful in understanding “becoming” as a concept developed in his collaborative work with Guattari. “Many Politics” (Deleuze and Parnet, 2002) discusses individuals as comprised of three lines in relation to their social milieu, the first of which describes the molar segments that assign us as subjects under capitalism. These segments operate as binaries of gender, age, race etc. (man-woman; child-adult; black-white) (ibid: 128). The second line describes the “molecular fluxes” with thresholds that can be crossed over, but do not necessarily coincide with, the molar segments (ibid 125). As a more fluid line, it maps processes of change and movement between the molar segments (Grosz, 1993: 176). The third line, the line of flight, describes the process of being “carried away” from the segments and across the thresholds, to a destination that is necessarily unknown; to have a pre-existent destination would mean simply to be returning to a life of segmentarity (Deleuze and Parnet, 2002: 125).

What Deleuze (ibid: 128) is keen to assert here is that individuals can break free of the rigid molar segments, if they are not “too caught up” in them. This focus on the capacity of beings for self-creation is shared by Guattari, and “becoming” as a concept presents a way with which to visualise such a process (O’Sullivan, 2012: 2). Becoming, then, is to activate the line of flight and draw out new potentialities, generating a new way of being which “no longer respond[s] to the great molar opposition (Deleuze and Parnet, 2002: 131).

willard2In their collaborative work “A Thousand Plateaus”, Deleuze and Guattari (1988: 272) use the example of the 1972 Daniel Mann film, Willard, to describe the process of becoming, and I feel it is one that makes it quite clear. Living under a “dreadful Oedipal atmosphere”, Willard experiences a “pause in his destiny” after having spent a considerable amount of time with the pack of rats that inhabit his family house (ibid). In his becoming-rat, he is no longer content to proceed by the resemblance and the molar segments (family, career, conjugality), that currently define him (ibid). A change in desire forces a crack in the line of molar segments, such that Willard “can no longer stand what [he] put up with before, even yesterday” (ibid; Deleuze and Parnet, 2002: 126).

This example illustrates the fundamentally creative nature of the concept of becoming, and emphasises the potential for subjects to disengage with the processes to which they are subordinate (Due, 2007). My initial analysis of payday lending advertisements gave little attention to this creative conceptualisation of subjectivity, focusing instead on drawing out the discursive “truths” that are communicated through the structures of the images. This part of the analysis was of course important in order to understand how capitalism assigns us an individual subjectivity, however, exploring the concept of becoming would have added a valuable dimension, not least because it would have facilitated a discussion of the potential of individuals to undermine the recalcitrant categorisations steering their subjectivity.

loans4To return to the advertisements with a new interpretative lens, then, the images not only present the woman as a “molar entity” (static, and aligned with conventional principles of femininity), but they also provide an example of the “imperialism” of language over other processes of subjectivity (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988: 321; Lazzarato, 2014: 17). Lazzarato (ibid: 24) states that “language creates a representational web from which no one escapes”. Indeed for Deleuze (1990), language is inextricable from subjectivity, for it is processes of what “makes sense” to individuals that facilitates its formation. Deleuze (ibid: 20) comments that “it is difficult to respond to those who wish to be satisfied with words, things, images, and ideas”. Yet, “wishing” here can be considered by capitalism to be precisely the desired reaction; as a form of authoritarian governance, capitalism has a deep investment in the production of subjectivity as a method of control (Lazzarato, 2014: 21/ 24).

Such a powerful influence consequently stultifies the capacity of the individual for becoming. In the images, the woman is “defined by her form, endowed with organs and functions and assigned as a subject” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988: 321). The elements of colour, image, and text, work to comprise “woman” as a molar entity, thus stabilising an identity that slots in with the dominant binary aggregations of class, race, sex etc. (Grosz, 1993: 176). In becoming-woman, the individual must respond to the image such that they reject the identity it communicates, and embrace subjectivity as a multiplicity of continuous transformations (ibid: 178). However, as Grosz (ibid: 170) points out here, multiplicity is not an identity multiplied by n locations; multiplicity is characterised by countless connections and permutations. Deleuze and Guattari (1988: 296) are keen to assert that becoming must be a decentred, molecular process, and cannot be based on any identification with previous molar entities. In this context, becoming-woman necessitates the total destabilisation of the feminine molar identity (Grosz, 1993: 177).

The pragmatics of freeing up lines of flight, and catalysing becomings, is not made clear in Deleuze and Guattari’s work. Still, it serves as an important tool with which to start re-thinking the currently fixed nature of subjectivities, which I argue in (the specific context of) my dissertation to be responsible for reinforcing damaging normative gender ideals, and confirms capitalism as an apparatus that blocks individual expression (Firestone, 1970).

Much contention exists within feminist discourse surrounding the value of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming, not least because the thinkers’ call for the dissolution of identities has been likened to a marginalisation of women’s struggles (Grosz, 1993: 179). Consequently, Deleuze and Guattari have faced accusations of aligning with phallocentrism (ibid). Remedying feminist perspectives with a DeleuzoGuattarian approach in my doctorate studies is not something that will come without its challenges, however there is a body of literature in existence (of which Claire Colebrook and Elizabeth Grosz are significant contributors) that seeks to pose and answer questions around the issue. Exploring this in more depth, however, must be the topic for another post.

References:

Deleuze, Gilles (2004) Difference and Repetition, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, London

Deleuze, Gilles (1990) The Logic of Sense, Athlone Press, New York

Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Félix (1988 [2013]) A Thousand Plateaus, Bloomsbury Publishing, London

Deleuze, Gilles, and Parnet, Claire (2002) Dialogues II, Columbia University Press, New York

Due, Reidar Andreas (2007) Deleuze, Polity Press, Cambridge

Firestone, Shulamith (1970) The Dialectic of Sex, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York

Grosz, Elizabeth (1993) A Thousand Tiny Sexes: Feminism and Rhizomatics, Topoi, 12, pp. 167-179

Guattari, Félix (1995) Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Indiana University Press

Lazzarato, Maurizio (2014) Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles

O’Sullivan, Simon (2012) On the Production of Subjectivity: Five Diagrams of the Finite-Infinite Relation, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke

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the beginnings of a geography doctorate

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In the beginning, this was to be a study centred on subjectivity as a product, with an empirical concern for addressing the inequalities that I believe are perpetuated via the current representations of individual debtors under neoliberalism, of which there are a plurality. I have long been interested in the sharp paradox that comes with the modern culture of debt. Debt has been normalised, indeed encouraged, however there are certain discursive stipulations that dictate different shades of perceived responsibility, shame, and obligation; the mortgage debtor is perceived as an ambitious citizen, while the payday debtor is labelled as parasitic (Langley, 2009; Walker, 2011). Normative and dominant, these discourses shield from critique a culture that works to augment material desires while legitimating lenders’ exploitative practices, thereby burdening the debtor with a sense of absolute responsibility.

My principal concern resides with debt as a critical ingredient to the production of subjectivity and control of populations under neoliberalism, and the manner in which this serves to fracture individuals from attempts at collective emancipation. In my view, it is recalcitrant categorisations (of which perceptions around debtors codebt-is-each-one-of-us2mprise only a fraction) that lead us to contribute to and reinforce existing prejudice and stigmatisation via our everyday discourse and interactions.

However, my approach to this issue has shifted, or matured, such that I have turned my attention to a number of concepts that permit an exploration of processes of subjectivity, rather than the subject as a static entity. This is in light of my increasing awareness, and appreciation for, the post-structural theories that are working to critique the limits of representational modes of analysis, and explore the individual as a site of affective capacity and relational becoming. My study will engage primarily with, but not be limited to, the works of Deleuze and Guattari (both co-authored and individual), for whom traditional interpretations of subjectivity are phenomenologically reductive. For Deleuze and Guattari, the individual is not atomised; subjectivity instead denotes the liminal zone between individuals’ atomic parts, and encompasses the tendencies and thresholds that give rise to subjectivity as multivalent processes. The relevance of this for my study can be considered to be exploring the individual as a potential site for creating difference, and with the capacity to affect the formation of normative ideas and discourses.

This blog, then, will chart my journey from DeleuzoGuattarian novice to relatively well-knowledged (!) Each post will not necessarily relate explicitly to my thesis; I look forward to using this space to synthesise and become familiar with Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts in a number of contexts including aesthetics, film, and literature. I will also engage with the works of other thinkers who have influenced, or have been influenced by, Deleuze and Guattari, such that I can better engage with and address the issues that are important to me. Expect to see connections to the contemporary works of Elizabeth Grosz, Judith Butler, and Brian Massumi, but also to classic thinkers such as Nietzsche, Bergson, Spinoza, and Ravaisson.

I can’t wait to get started!

References:

Langley, Paul (2009) Debt, Discipline, and Government: Foreclosure and Forbearance in the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis, Environment and Planning, 41 (6), pp. 1404-1419

Walker, Carl (2011) Personal Debt, Cognitive Delinquency, and Techniques of Governmentality: Neoliberal Constructions of Financial Inadequacy in the UK, Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 22, pp. 533-538

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