A previous essay of mine focused on the art of conversation, as discussed by Gilles Deleuze in part I of ‘A Conversation: What is it? What is it For?’, as included ‘Dialogues’. This time I’ll be looking at part II of the same text. It’s attributed to Claire Parnet. Whether this is actually the case or not, I don’t really know. I actually don’t even really care, but I’ll go with it.
Parnet (19-20) comments “the question answer procedure” by stating that it builds on dualism. One is always privileged over the other. For example, an interviewer is always the one setting the questions to the interviewee. As she (20) points out “[t]here is always a binary machine which governs the distribution of roles and which means that all the answers must go through preformed questions, since the questions are already worked out on the basis of the answers assumed to be probable according to the dominant meanings.” Exactly. Just as I pointed out in the previous essay. There is always this expectation, either me setting up the question so that I get the answer that fits the question, what I expect, (which makes asking the question pointless, the difference being that it now appears that the other person contributed something) or, rather, the other person expects me to expect certain answers and then goes with it. The point she (20) is making is that questions create certain expectations that ought to be met by the person expected to answer the questions. Conversely, straying from the question, not providing the expected answer is typically prohibited, as she (20) goes on to add.
She (20) explains the binary machine works by referring to what is known as ‘forced choice’. She (20) exemplifies how this works with a deck of cards, but I’ll leave it up to you to read that yourself. You’re familiar with how this works if you’ve ever filled in a survey or a questionnaire that presents you questions that can only be answered with two or more predefined options. The ‘good’ thing for the person conducting the survey or questionnaire is that there are no gaps in the data. It also makes the work way easier as there’s no need to go through the data, to process something open-ended into this and/or that category. Now, the thing is, however, that if there is not even an option to not answer the question, then you are forced to choose, minimally one or the other. For example, if someone asks you whether you prefer red or white wine, you can’t say that you don’t drink wine (or alcohol in general), that you have no preference, that you are fine with both or they go well with certain foods, or that you actually prefer rosé. Okay, let’s assume that you chose white, because you had to. Now you are asked whether you prefer Riesling or Müller-Thurgau. Again, you can’t answer that you have no preference, that you don’t like either of them or that you’d rather go for Viognier. One could, of course, give more options, but the point is that you are still forced to make a choice. The problem with this is that it can be used against people, to manipulate them. For example, you could be asked whether you support a certain cause or not (or this or that cause), only to use your answer to ask a follow-up question, along the lines of whether or not the support or lack thereof is problematic, and so on, and so on. The point is that you can corner people this way because the game is rigged from the start.
This also reminds me of how Jean-Jacques Lecercle handles this in ‘The Misprision of Pragmatics: Conceptions of Language in Contemporary French Philosophy’ when he (28) points out that by asking questions one can impose a certain position upon one’s interlocutor. Of course, when one opts for the question-answer approach, it’s not as simple as being assertive, like name calling people, as he (28) goes on to point out. It has the same function, it’s just way more clever to work through questions as you are using the other person as your foil. He (30) exemplifies this with a three-step formula, consisting of statement (what you want), inversion (shifting the apparent origin of the statement to one’s interlocutor) and echo (shifting the statement back to oneself in the form of a question). As he (30) goes on to point out, I can invert something like “‘I want you to do this’” into “‘you want me to do this’” and then echo it as a question ‘you want me to do this?’. In short, the point here is that use can use questions to impose on people, make them answer from a certain position that you set up and, to connect to this to forced choice, you can work your way through a series of questions, making it appear that the other person is saying this or that. Each question then just forces the other person more, making the person commit to things that that the person might not be willing to commit if there was no forced choice involved.
Anyway, back to Parnet (20-21) who provides real life examples of how the questions can be used to impose certain positions on people even in seemingly open-ended settings. She (20) points out that in psychoanalysis a patient may, for example, talk about a certain part of the country located by the sea (in French: mer), only to be interpreted as the patient speaking about a mother (in French: mère). Similarly, and even more tangentially, she (20-21) states a patient may be speaking of a Resistance leader called Rêne, only to be interpreted by the analyst as speaking about Rê-ne, about reincarnation or rebirth, about Renaissance, finally leading to mother again. She (20) also provides an example about how the analyst, which she aptly refers to as “the manipulator”, interprets a patient who speaks about an interest in joining a group of hippies (in French: groupe hippie) as talking about pissing (in French: gros pipi). Now, you may object to those interpretations as being hilariously tangential, but that’s exactly the point she is making.
Parnet moves on to discuss faciality, but as I’ve covered that quite a bit in the past, I’ll jump to something else, something which I think she explains particularly well. She (22) explains the problem of treating language as communicating information, as a matter of informatics:
“The schema of informatics begins from a presumed maximal theoretical information; at the other end, it puts noise as interference, anti-information and, between the two, redundancy, which diminishes theoretical information but also enables it to overcome noise.”
In other words, the task of language is seen as functioning to communicate maximal information from one person to another, transmitting it from point A to B. The problem is that there’s noise or interference, anti-information, anything that isn’t what is to be relayed from A to B. There’s also redundancy. It’s a problem in the sense that it always involves duplication, which limits how much information can be transmitted. If you say the same thing twice, there’s already redundancy. You only need to say it once. It’s simply unnecessary and takes away from what could have been said in its stead. That said, if there is noise, the package of information may get lost in transit. For example, if you are talking next to a construction site or your phone has poor reception, you may have trouble hearing what the other person is saying, so redundancy can be useful. Saying something more than once makes it more likely for someone to get it, albeit, of course, at the expense of what could have been in its stead. Parnet (22) is not, however, content with this existing schema. In a way it does still hold, but it functions different. In her (22) words:
“On the contrary, this would be: above, redundancy as mode of existence and of propagation of orders[.]”
What she (22) does is to indicate that, as discussed in the previous essay on the first part of this text, redundancy functions not to make sure that information is successfully communicated from A to B, but to make sure the order-words are propagated. She (22) uses the example of news. They do not simply provide you information, they tell you how things are, what the order of things is. They are also highly redundant. I mean, news do express the same stuff again and again. This is arguable even more the case than what it used to be, back in 1977 when this text was first published. Now news is everywhere, telling you how things are, making sure that you don’t think otherwise.
Parnet (23-24) moves on to summarize the issue or the theme that deals with the dominant image of thought which, in short, impedes thinking, the exercise of thought. She (23) aptly clarifies what Deleuze and/or Guattari mean by image, noting that it’s not about ideology, but the way things are organized, so that it “effective trains thought to operate according to the norms of an established order or power, and, moreover, installs in it an apparatus of power, sets it up as an apparatus of power itself.” This image builds around ratio, as in what is considered rational, reason, as in what is considered reasonable, and correctness, as in what is considered to be correct, as she (23) points out. To be more specific, firstly, it builds on the idea that there is good will and good nature, as in that “the thinker … seeks ‘truth’” and “possesses ‘the true’ by right, as she (23) further clarifies the image. Secondly, it relies on what is considered common-sense, brought you by the “harmony of all the faculties of a thinking being”, as she (23-24) points out. It just comes to you. Thirdly, it deals with recognition, assuming that a thinker simply recognizing things, this and/or that, as if they were there, waiting to be recognized as this and/or that, representing some fixed otherworldly idea that you recognize in the moment, as she (24) further clarifies. Fourthly, it is about error, in the sense that it has to do with how one must overcome errors in thought, those that make you mistake this for that, false as true, as pointed out by her (24). Fifthly, she (24) adds that it also deals with knowledge, that is to say what is considered truth and how it pertains to “sanctioning answers or solutions for questions and problems which are supposedly ‘given’.”
Following her (23-24) summary, she (24) moves on to reverse this Platonic schema, turning it upside down. Firstly, thoughts must not come from good nature or good will, but from “a violence suffered by thought”. Secondly, thoughts do arise from some harmony of faculties. They arise from taking each faculty to its limits of disharmony, in relation to the other faculties. Thirdly, thoughts are not tied to recognizing, that is to say coming across them in the world, as if preexisting. They are created during encounters. Fourthly, thoughts do not involve the risk of errors, but the risk of stupidity. Fifthly, thoughts are not defined in terms of knowledge. There is nothing preexisting to be recognized that one simply learns, and no set of given questions or problems to be posed or set.
She (25) also explains the Platonic schema as a matter of arborescence and contrasts it with rhizome. She (25) states that “trees are not a metaphor at all, but an image of thought in order to make it go in a straight line and produce the famous correct ideas.” She (25) specifies that:
“There are all kinds of characteristics in the tree: there is a point of origin, see or centre; it is a binary machine or principle of dichotomy, with its perpetually divided and reproduced branchings, its points of arborescence; it is an axis of rotation which organizes things in a circle, and the circles round the centre; it is a structure, a system of points and positions which fix all of the possible within a grid, a hierarchical system or transmission of orders, with a central instance and recapitulate memory; it has a future and a past, roots and a peak, a whole history, and evolution, a development; it can be cut up by cuts which are said to be significant in so far as they follow its arborescences, its branchings, its concentricities, its moments of development.”
In summary, arborescence is the model of a tree. Just imagine drawing a tree. You have a point of origin, the seed, from which it shoots up, only to branch out from the center and the branches to branch out. You can also look at a tree and work your way back, to see where it came to being, how it grew vertically and horizontally. You can also cut it up, piece by piece, to see how the different parts of the tree function. It is the same thing with the roots of the tree.
She (26) goes on to add that ‘schools’ (as in schools of thought) are arborescent. They always have “a pope, manifestos, representatives, declarations of avant-gardeism, tribunals, excommunications, impudent political volte-faces etc.” She (26) adds that there are always disciples, but these disciples are always sterile. I take this to mean that the followers of a certain school just do what they are told. They don’t really create or produce anything new, something that might differ from what they’ve been taught, hence the sterility. Just think of it, like how one’s offspring may well look a lot like and/or act like a parent, but there’s still always something new about them. That’s not, however, the worst thing about schools for her. She (26) argues that what’s worst is the way that schools crush and suffocate everything that has happened before and is taking place right now. In other words, schools seek to gain exclusive control of an area, to establish a territory that the members of school control according to their principles, and ward off any dissenting views within the territory or entering it.
She (26) contrasts arborescence with rhizome:
“Each decisive act testifies to another thought, in so far as thoughts are things themselves. There are multiplicities which constantly go beyond binary machines and do not let themselves be dichotomized. There are centres everywhere, like multiplicities of black holes which do not let themselves be agglomerated. There are lines which do not amount to the path of a point, which break free from structure – lines of flight, becomings, without future or past, without memory, which resist the binary machine – woman-becoming which is neither man nor woman, animal-becoming which is neither beast nor man. Non-parallel evolutions, which do not proceed by differentiation, but which leap from line to another, between completely heterogeneous beings; cracks, imperceptible ruptures, which break the lines even if they resume elsewhere, leaping over significant break …”
I think it’s worth emphasizing here that when one thinks rhizomatically, each act or thought (the same thing really, thinking not being separate from acting, or should I say occurring), is always linked to another thought or thoughts, which, in turn are linked other thoughts, and so on, and so on. Now, to be clear, this does not mean that everything is connected to everything else, but rather that things are linked to other things, inasmuch as they are, and those other things are, of course, then linked to other things, in as much as they are, and so on, and so on. Of course, we are jumping ahead here a bit by calling thoughts things, which may give an impression that thoughts are given, like a definite list of things that are then connected to other things. This is not the case. This is only the case inasmuch thoughts have come to being. This is why she (26) points out that this is the case “in so far as thoughts are things themselves.”
That said, this does not mean that there is a point origin that one can uncover by going back in time, tracing one thought to other thoughts until one reaches the first thought. Why? Well, because even that thought testifies to another thought, as she (26) points out. Now, this does not mean that going from one thought or a thing to another thought or a thing is pointless. No, not at all. It’s actually what you should be doing, going down that line, only to take another line, and another line, and so on and so on. That’s the point she (26) makes about becoming and non-parallel evolutions. Of course, nothing about this is neat, there being all these breaks, cracks, ruptures. That’s why sometimes it’s more of a leap that you need to make, not just following a line or a path. You might, of course, eventually end up where that leap takes you by following a line, but that’s already assuming something specific, somewhere that I want to be, which is not the point here. That’s why she (26) states that becomings are not tied to static notions such as man or woman, human or animal.
There’s also an interesting bit where Parnet (24-25) explains how author or authorship is usually understood as a matter of recognition, only to note that it is, as I’ve discussed in a previous essay, an author function, a figment of imagination of who this or that person is and what that person thinks about this and/or that. In short, she (24-25) explains how dealing with someone like Deleuze, Guattari or Foucault (or Hume, Nietzsche, Proust or Spinoza, to list all those listed by her), it’s always an encounter. I like how she (24) defines encounters with people as meeting those who are not waiting for you to produce them (as encounters). It’s just about vigilance, taking a chance, going with it, seeing through it, but without forcing it, without attempting to make something specific, something what you already know or recognize happen (as that’s a matter of probability, not chance). So, for example, when I’m reading this text by Parnet, it’s an encounter. She did not write this text knowing that I will be engaging with it, not to mention writing about it, perhaps misunderstanding something, which may or may not lead to something else by chance. I like the way she (25) explains this by stating that Deleuze and Guattari worked together not as individual authors but in dialogue, à deux.
She (26-27) extends this discussion into journalism, noting that, on one hand, the author-function has been put into question when everything is just like a piece of marketing, be they “articles, broadcasts, debates, colloquia, roundtables about a doubtful book which, at the limit doesn’t even need to exist”, yet, on the other hand, the author-function appears to have been reconstituted along those lines, so the journalist or the reporter, whatever you want to call that, is now, sort of, responsible for creating that event that the person covers, you know, like an author. I’d say yeah, that seems about right. I don’t think they simply just cover something that is taking place. A lot of the stories are tied to that journalist. They would exist without that person writing it or recording it, one way or another.
She (27) also points out when journalists are everywhere, everything is rendered as functioning in their service, or so to speak. This is actually the issue I take with journalism. I think there’s just something lazy, something rather dishonest about what is commonly known as interview. This goes back to the earlier issue about asking questions, how they are often used to position the interlocutor, to corner them, to force them to play a certain role according to the script written by the one asking the questions, that is to say the interviewer, the journalist. What the interviewer is doing is making it appear, as if, they were engaging in actual conversation, a dialogue, when, in fact, it’s a monologue. Sure, you can’t be sure if the interviewee will play ball, but, it’s only likely that the person will do that.
I did an interview last year. It had a very basic question-answer format, one-to-one. The thing is that I knew already how that interview would go, how that person would answer, so, in a way, it was just me, telling a story that I’ve written about the person, while making it appear as if the person in question had something to say. To me, this is just lazy and, well, dishonest. I know people don’t take it as such, but, yeah, to be clear, I for sure knew what the answers were going to be like. It was like me putting words in the interviewee’s mouth, even though, technically, I didn’t do that. It must have been the easiest piece of writing that I’ve ever done.
I knew it was going to be that way. I wasn’t fond of the idea, knowing full well that it was going to go that way, but, well, it was interesting to see it unfold, in real time. In a sense, it was like a kind of marketing, as Parnet (26) puts it. It’s also why I prefer to engage in conversations, where the other person is my interlocutor instead of an interviewee. The other person gets to have a say, but there is no question-answer format, no rules, no need to say anything, if it comes to that. It just, sort of, unfolds and we see where it goes. I even let the other person ask me questions, if it comes to that. I mean, why not? I then work on it, ideally in correspondence with my interlocutor and that’s then what gets published. It’s a lot more challenging for both, me and my interlocutor, but I think it’s better that way. So far it has worked well. What’s particularly interesting and rewarding about the way it works is the dialogue itself, what you and your interlocutor get out of it, instead of what gets published. The best thing is when things get completely out of hand and the discussion ends up some tangent that becomes more important than what you were discussing before that. That’s when the magic happens! Parnet (27-28) seems to agree:
“Creative functions are completely different, nonconformist usages of the rhizome and not the tree type, which proceed by intersections, crossings of lines, points of encounter in the middle: there is no subject, but instead collective assemblages of enunciation; there are no specificities but instead populations, music-writing-sciences-audio-visual, with their relays, their echoes, their working interactions.”
So, yeah, you just end up going somewhere, not even knowing where that is, what that even means, but that’s the charm of it. Anyway, I’ll let her (28) continue:
“What a musician does in one place will be useful to a writer somewhere else, a scientist makes completely different regimes move, a painter is caused to jump by a percussion: these are not encounters between domains, for each domain is already made up of such encounters in itself. There are only intermezzos, intermezzi, as sources of creation.”
In other words, it’s this being in the middle of things, in between, not this or that, me or him/her. I am tempted to babble more here, but, as she keeps on producing, expressing things so aptly, I’ll let her (28) continue:
“This is what a conversation is, and not the talk or preformed debate of specialists amongst themselves, not even an interdisciplinarity which would be ordered in a common project.”
I. Could. Not. Agree. More. This is exactly why I find myself amusing myself, coming up with mock-interviews where I play both roles, because, well, in a way that’s exactly how interviews work. If I can play both roles, why would I ask someone else to play that role for me, for the sake of it? Why would I ask anyone anything if I already know what the other person will reply? Why the fuck would I do that? What’s the point in that? In her (28-29) words:
“The boring thing about questions and answers, about interviews, about conversations, is that usually it’s a matter of taking stock: the past and the present, the present and the future.”
Ah, yes, stock questions, stock answers. More of the same, same old, same old. There may be something that changes, something evolves, but it’s all very predictable. She (29) adds that this is the problem with authorship, the author or the author-function, how it would appear that the author either remains the same, like this or that, or the person evolves or transforms while moving from one work to another. She (29) argues against this:
“[T]he embryo, evolution, are not good things. Becoming does not happen in that way. In becoming there is no past nor future – not even present, there is no history. In becoming it is, rather, a matter of involuting; its neither regression nor progression. To become is to become more and more restrained, more and more simple, more and more deserted and for that very reason populated.”
Now, you might be asking, what in the world is involution. That’s a good question, to which I’d answer that it’s about spiraling. Anyway, I’ll let her (29) define it:
“It is obviously the opposite of evolution, but it is also the opposite of regression, returning to a childhood or to a simple primitive world.”
In other words, it’s not about progressing, anticipating the future, nor about regression, longing for what was, as if it was the real deal, the true nature of things. She (29) really emphasizes that it’s about the simplicity of it, being restrained. For example, she (29) likens it to elegance, as opposed to being under- or overdressed. What is elegant? Again, a good question, but I believe that’s exactly her point. It’s not about being overdressed, what is considered too formal for the occasion, or about being underdressed, what is considered too informal for the occasion, as you can be appropriately dressed for the occasion, yet not be elegant. Elegance is just something you cannot buy in a store. There is just this grace or dignity to it, something, perhaps, restrained, something simple about it, which, somehow, makes it impressive. It’s like those pearl earrings that I see on her. There’s nothing special about them, as such. They are not something that stand out, yet, they do add something, something elegant. It is rather restrained, if you think of it. It’s hard to explain, which I guess is the point Parnet (29) makes.
Another way of saying this is to say that one is here and now, in between, in the middle, always adjacent, en route, on a path that has no beginning nor end, as she (29-30 goes on to explain it. Yet another way of expressing this is to think of of grasses and weeds as they are everywhere, yet, oddly enough, the way they are is, rather restrained, as she (30) points out. There’s nothing fancy about grass. There’s nothing central to weed or grass, no stand-out feature like with flowers, or, as she (30) puts it, “[i]t grows between”, “overflows by virtue of being restrained.” I like the way she (30) characterizes the act of a writing in this context as moving on the grass, as becoming-bison. Another way of thinking about how that works is fog, not being in fog, but being the fog that happens to between people, as she (30) goes on to add.
On the level of society, or socius, this is about state-ism and nomadism, as she (31) summarizes it, the former being arborescent (tree), the latter being rhizomatic (grass). In her words (31), “[t]he steppe, the grass and the nomads are the same thing.” Importantly, nomads are always in the middle, thus never out of place, or so to speak, always growing, expanding, as they only have geography, no history, no sense of time where one is not present, that is to say in past or in future, as she (31) goes on to specify. This is what troubles the state-ists. For them it’s bizarre. She (31) explains this in reference to Nietzsche, noting that nomads come across as appearing out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, no consideration of how things are organized and as if it was their destiny to do so. In other words, nomads trouble the state-ists because they don’t play by the rules. In fact, it’s not that the nomads don’t play by the rules (set by others, mind you), or so to speak, but rather that they don’t even acknowledge them. They don’t exist to them. They have their own rules, their own modes or organization, as she (32) goes on to point out. They don’t operate the same way so it’s hard to pin them down. They don’t even move the same way. They don’t have this extensive, point to point, approach to it. They don’t have this movement that is either absolute, from one point to another, or relative, as judged from another point, as elaborated by her (30-32). Instead, what matters in movement is speed, which is intensive, not extensive, as she (31) points out. It can even happen on the spot as it’s not about where one is positioned at any given time, as pointed out by her (32).
I’ll skip the bits where she exemplifies speed and jump to the final part of this essay where she (33-35) discussed binaries or dualisms. In summary, when you have a binary, you have 1-2 (or 0-1, if you want to start from 0). She (34) points out that we often like to think that we can escape such binaries by adding more terms to the equation, so that 1-2 (this or that) is now 1-2-3 (this or that or that) or 1-2-3-4 (this or that or that or that), but that gets us nowhere because a split is a split, no matter how many splits are involved. 1-2 involves one division. 1-2-3 involves two divisions. It may appear to be better than a single division and, perhaps, it is better than a single division, but the problem is that it, nonetheless, involves divisioning. You do not undo the divisioning by adding more divisions. In her (34) words, “[w]e can always add a 3rd to 2, a 4th to 3, etc.,” but “we do not escape dualism in this way, since the elements of any set whatever can be related to a succession of choices which are themselves binary” (as in this or that, followed by another … or that).
To overcome the dualisms, one should think otherwise, which is pretty much what Deleuze and Guattari attempt to make you, the reader, do in their work. I think eclectic is a fitting word here. In short, as she (33-34) goes on to point out, it’s not about 1-2 or 1-2-3, but about 1-6-18- 33, whatever, really. Instead of relying on ‘or’ one relies on ‘and’, so it’s not this or that (or that..) but just this and this (and this and this and this…). In her (34) words, “[a]nd even if there are only two terms, there is an AND between the two, which neither the one nor the other, nor the one which becomes the other, but which constitutes the multiplicity.”
She (35) returns the issue of a conversation or a dialogue, to point out that the way the first chapter of their book has two parts, but it’s not a matter of one opposing the other. It’s not an interview. In other words, the first chapter does have two parts, one written by Deleuze ‘AND’ another written by Parnet. As the chapter functions as a conversation, as a dialogue, ‘BETWEEN’ the two, as well as ‘BETWEEN’ you ‘AND’ them, it doesn’t even matter who wrote what. The point is not to get stuck on what Deleuze wrote ‘OR’ what Parnet wrote, possibly followed by some sort of dialectical move, but to just take what you get out of the conversation, as she (35) points out. What that is, well, that’s not important as you are not out to get this ‘OR’ that. Conversations are great in this regard. When you just engage with someone, let them speak and don’t force things on them, you’ll end up getting a lot out of it. Of course, you don’t know what is or will be, but that’s the charm of it.
- Deleuze, G., and C. Parnet ( 1987). Dialogues (H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam, Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
- Lecercle, J-J. (1987). The Misprision of Pragmatics: Conceptions of Language in Contemporary French Philosophy. Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures, 21, 21–40.