The last time I mentioned that I had recently read Félix Guattari’s early text and worked on it a bit. I also mentioned that I didn’t get around finishing another essay related to my work, and to the title of this blog. Well, the thing is that I’m still not done with either. I continued on the former, but, well, as I was on it, I ended up on a tangent. This essay will be on that, instead of what I had planned.
So, to give you bit of background, I recently finished that manuscript I mentioned in the previous essay and sent it to a publication. Nothing interesting about that, really. It’s just business, business being business, no hard feelings as long as business is conducted like business. That’s the case here as well, so no, this is not a rant about something where someone seems to have taken something personally. Plus, if you’ve read my previous essays, you know that, in my work, I’m not really interested in people, in their subjectivity, but rather what makes them or, rather, what could have made them act in this and/or that way, that is to say produced their subjectivity, so it’d be pointless to play some naming and blaming game.
Anyway, so I pitched my paper to a publication that deals with all things social and all things spatial, only for it to be quickly desk rejected, because, you know, it only made no sense, despite it focusing all things social and all things spatial, as well as being highly topical. My guess is that they get so many manuscripts that, business being business, they just look at the title page and if the title and/or name accompanying the title doesn’t tickle their fancy, then it’s just binned, like someone handing over a stack of stapled papers, only for the recipient to never even rest it on the table, instead of just throwing it in the bin. Well, whatever, happens, not to the best of us, but to the rest of us, like me. I then edited it for another publication, and we’ll see how that’ll go.
This publication might work out, but we’ll see. I can’t say I’m off to a great start, having my reference management software bug out on me, so that I managed to hand it over in the wrong style (you coder guys just couldn’t fool proof that menu where you do that choice, eh?). Okay, to be fair, it is my problem and I’ll take the heat for that fuckup. It was easy to fix, once I noticed it, so no biggie. Anyway, every time I submit something, somewhere, I have a feeling that it’ll end up somewhere else, eventually, knowing how the business works. Not that it matters, really, except being a waste of everyone’s time. The content will be the same and everything else that’s there, or is expected to be there, is just window dressing.
To be honest, and to get to the point, to what this essay is about, I don’t understand the faff, like, at all. If the content remains the same, if you make the same point, I don’t understand why would you give a fuck where it was published. When I read something, I’m there for that, not for that publication. Sorry, but, like, who the hell reads the publication? It’s not like any of us works with paper copies of actual volumes or numbers these days, all giddy about whatever it is that some other boffins have come up with lately, all chuffed about it, wondering what the next writer will have in store for us, as we flip over to the next thing. Come on! Come on! Said no one, no longer. Just image of that, hilarious. No. You look up stuff using keywords, like discourse and landscape, only to end up on something fairly random, be it an article, a book chapter or a book about it, or even, heaven forbid, a blog post, which you then assess without prejudice, not giving a fuck who wrote it, where it came out, nor when it came out. You are there for the content and if it’s there, it’s there. It’s that simple.
I love what Michel Foucault (302) stated about this in an anonymous interview with Christian Delacampagne, appearing in ‘Le Monde’, as subsequently published in English as ‘The Masked Philosopher’, as included in ‘Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984’:
“I will propose a game: the year without names. For one year books will be published without the author’s name. The critics will have to manage with an entirely anonymous production.”
Haha, imagine that! It’d be priceless and, I think, totally worth doing. He (302) is, of course, quick to note why this won’t happen:
“But I suspect that perhaps they will have nothing to say: all the authors will wait until the next year to publish their books.”
Haha, gotta love the way he explains why it wouldn’t work, after all, you know, people being people.
Anyway, so, if you didn’t get the point, that’s too bad. No, no, I’m kidding, I won’t leave you hanging. He (302) exemplifies this with a story of someone with a fancy psychology degree venturing into some, supposedly, God-forsaken part of the world, better known as Africa, to better understand what these, supposedly, primitive people have to say about what he has to offer them. He (302) notes that this westerner shows a film to these people, in hopes of gaining insight into whether they got the gist of the story or not. The thing is, as he (302) points out, that these people had little interest in the characters in the film, unlike the westerner, and, instead, focused on some seemingly random shit like “the passage of light and shadows through the trees”, not because they are idiots, or the like, no, no, but because it is we, the westerners, who are obsessed with characters, with people that we can name.
Now, you might object to that, in the sense that, surely, a name tells us what’s worth our attention. Well, yes and no. In a sense, yes, when we know that someone has something interesting to say, it is only likely that it’ll be the case whenever we run into them. I mean, you’d think that Foucault, of all people, would be happy about it, considering how he had a lot of interesting things to say. Ah, but, well, it’s not that simple, as he (302) goes on to add:
“Why have I suggested that I remain anonymous? Out of nostalgia for the time when, being completely unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard.”
So, in other words, no, in the sense that once we know someone, once it is attributed to someone, we tend to approach that person in a certain, preconfigured way, as he (302) on to specify:
“The surface contact with some possible reader was without a wrinkle. The effects of the book rebounded in unforeseen places and outlined forms I hadn’t thought about.”
What he means by this is that it may seem like a blessing to be a big name, but it is also a curse as people will end up approaching you and what you have to say in a certain way, just because what is said or written is attributed to that name. So, yeah, I was quite amused to get that desk reject. It was kind of obvious that my name wasn’t recognized, which is, of course, both a blessing and a curse. I mean it’s a bit shit to rejected, just because your name doesn’t ring any bells, but, then again, I don’t mind it because it really doesn’t matter where my work gets published, if the content remains the same. All I care is that someone gets to read it, for whatever reason they end up reading it, and, perhaps, gets something out of it, whatever that may be. I couldn’t care less if they credit me for that, for what they’ve learned. Good for them. It is also quite telling how the system works, how “[t]he name is a facility”, as pointed out by him (302).
It is only fitting that he (303) adds to this that he prefers to be anonymous, or, at least, would have preferred that, just like I do with these essays where I don’t keep referring to myself by name (albeit you can, I believe, see it at the bottom of each post, which may or may not have been the case in the past, and could figure it out quite easily), for certain reasons that I agree with:
“If I have chosen anonymity, it is not in order to criticize such and such, which I have never done.
Indeed. I don’t do this in bad faith, to fuck over people. I mean, I don’t hide the fact that I am the writer. I don’t make a fuss about it, but, yeah, I’ll acknowledge that I’m the writer if someone asks me that (not that you could ever be sure of that, because, perhaps, I’m not really me, but someone who acts in my stead, or, perhaps, I just sign these with my name and someone else writes these, as someone like Jacques Derrida might explain that). Also, I don’t even name the people, nor the institutions, when I disagree with them, not even if others would feel that is warranted. I wouldn’t do that even if I could do that, because I’m not fond of bad faith and ressentiment. Why do I do what I do then, the way I do it, in these essays? Well, I’ll let Foucault (303) answer that:
“It’s a way of addressing more directly the possible reader[.]”
Exactly. When you read these essays, you get to have a sort of one-on-one with me or, at least, a taster of it, what it is that I find interesting and worth discussing, without it actually being about me, because, well, if you want to know me, for what I’m worth, to you, I guess, it’s better to ask me to shoot some shit, having some pints at some pub or talk to me at my office, you know, whatever works. Sure, there is the occasional anecdote, or the like, but that’s there to amuse you. Life is too short to be serious all the time.
He (303) summarizes why it is better to not care about who expressed something:
“‘Since you don’t know who I am, you will not be tempted to look for the reasons for which I state what you are reading: let yourself go to the point of simply saying to yourself: this is true, this false. That I like, that I don’t. One point, that’s all.’”
Amen! If you like what you get from my essays, good, if you don’t, well too bad. Also, feel free to like what you like, to the extent that you do, and to not like what you don’t like, to the extent that you don’t like it. That’s all, as he (303) puts it.
I realize that I’m on quite the tangent here, can’t help it (not that I really care, because it is what it is, my house, my rules and what not, and you just have go with it, or not, if that is what you wish), and now I’m veering off to a tangent of a tangent, but I’ll just go with the flow here. To be serious, for a moment, this is actually connected to what I’ve written in the past about judgment, so I think it’s worth covering. In his (303) words:
“It’s crazy, that people like to judge. It’s everywhere, all the time. No doubt it’s one of the simplest things that humanity has been given to do.”
Ah, yes, the temptation to judge. It’s always there. I’m sure Gilles Deleuze and Friedrich Nietzsche would agree with Foucault’s take. Anyway, he (303-304) takes this to extreme, to really hit home with his readers:
“And you know that the last man, when finally the last radiation has reduced his last adversary to cinders, will take a wobbly table, sit down behind it and begin the trial of those responsible.”
Haha, true, so true. It just isn’t enough that you’ve gone through the effort of making sure that you’ve won, no matter what the cost. You just have to point out that it was their fault, that it was they, the others, that started it.
If you don’t get the gist of this, what’s so problematic about judging, well, he (304) does go on to add that:
“I can’t help thinking of the critic who would not try to judge, but bring into existence a work, a book, a phrase, an idea.”
Yeah, imagine that, a critic, someone who criticizes you, not to put you down, to reject you, but to create something better in its stead. Damn! That’s some next level shit right there! Why doesn’t that happen then? Well, it’s quite simple, really. Coming up with something new is difficult. It’s just so much easier to criticize without creating. Deleuze and Guattari (28) make note of this very issue in ‘What Is Philosophy?’:
“[W]hen [people] criticize each other it is on the basis of problems and on a plane that is different from theirs and that melt down the old concepts in the way a cannon can be melted down to make new weapons. It never takes place on the same plane.”
In more simple terms, criticism tends to work like this, saying: ‘ha, fuck you and fuck everything that you stand for.’ They (28) note what actually happens in criticism, or, rather, what should happen in criticism:
“To criticize is only to establish that a concept vanishes when it is thrust into a new milieu, losing some of its components, or acquiring others that transform it.”
Indeed. Criticism should be about looking into whether something works or not, what happens when we use this and/or that in another context. The problem is that such rarely happens, as they (28-29) go on to add:
“But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are [a] plague[.] All these debaters and communicators are inspired by ressentiment.”
Foucault (304) explains what we need instead of such plague:
“[They] would light the fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, snatch the passing dregs in order to scatter them. [They] would multiply, not the number of judgments, but the signs of existence; [they] would call out to them, [they] would draw them from their sleep. Would [the] sometimes invent them? So much the better.”
Followed by contrasting the two, as stated by him (304):
“The sententious critic puts me to sleep. I would prefer a critic of imaginative scintillations. He would not be sovereign, nor dressed in red. He would bear the lightning flashes of possible storms.”
At this point (304), his interviewer, Delacampagne, turns his attention to the role of media, which, to be clear, we typically take to mean any news outlet, be it published or broadcasted, in some auditive, visual or audiovisual form. Foucault (304) acknowledges that the role of someone who creates and those who address them is always uneasy. He (304) notes that, on one hand, you get this publicity, this attention, but, on the other hand, it means that some control over the work is lost in the process. He (304) states that a certain tension arises from this arrangement. All creators seem to wield some extraordinary power that must be kept in check, by the critics, yet everything appears to have been already done, kind of like just more of the same, which is hardly worth keeping in check. If it’s all just more of the same, which, to be honest, it often appears to be, why fear of it getting out of hand?
This turn his interlocutor to ask him whether there is, right now, a lack of creativity, of ingenuity, to which he (305) responds that he isn’t buying such argument, that, all the sudden, we have some period of decadence or intellectual drought. He (305) reckons there isn’t a shortage of creative people, but rather a shortage of outlets for creative people. What’s particularly interesting here is that he (305) isn’t blaming what we typically refer to as the media for doing too much, for expressing too many things. In fact, as already noted, he (305) is, instead, saying the more, the better. What he (305) wants is, of course, not just more of the same, in the same existing outlets, but more of all kinds of outlets:
“The problem is to multiply the canals, the bridges, the means of information, the television and radio networks, the newspapers.”
Now we’d add the internet here, of course, with all its platforms. He (305) isn’t happy with how people are in the habit of restricting the media, so that only some means or channels of information are legitimate, and others are not. He (305) rejects the idea that there is such a thing as too much information for us to handle. To be clear, I don’t think he (305) means that quantity is simply better than quality, or so to speak, but rather that there is something peculiar about the will to restrict people’s curiosity, as if it was, almost, a vice or a sin. What he (305) wants to do is to save curiosity from such stigmatization:
“The word … pleases me. To me it suggests something altogether different: it evokes ‘concern’; it evokes the care one takes for what exists and could exist; a readiness to find strange and singular what surrounds us; a certain relentlessness to break up our familiarities and to regard otherwise the same things; a fervor to grasp what is happening and what passes; a casualness in regard to the traditional hierarchies of the important and the essential.”
What he (305) goes on to add to this probably will probably seem familiar to you, considering that even this essay is now part of that:
“I dream of a new age of curiosity. We have the technical means for it; the desire is there; the things to be known are infinite; the people who can employ themselves at this task exist.”
Yes. The internet gives us plenty of opportunities to do that and many have embraced such opportunities. And yes, like I just stated, this blog is part of that, although I can’t say it’s my job. Now, as there’s been a proliferation of new media, you may feel like objecting to this, by pointing to the so-called ‘fake news’. Well, the good thing is that he’s (305) got you covered, but the bad thing is that I don’t think you’re not going to like it:
“There is no point in adopting a protectionist attitude, to prevent ‘bad’ information from invading and suffocating the “‘good.’”
In his (305) view, the problem is not that we have too much information, be it good or bad, but that we have too little information:
“Why do we suffer? From too little: from channels that are too narrow, skimpy, quasi-monopolistic, insufficient.”
So, he (305) reckons that instead of attempting to control the media, one should multiply the media:
“Rather, we must multiply the paths and the possibility of comings and goings.”
To be clear, by this, I don’t think he (305) means that more in the same outlets is better, but rather more outlets is better than fewer outlets. He (305) is, in fact, against homogeneity and all for heterogeneity:
“Which doesn’t mean, as it is often feared, the homogenization and leveling from below. But on the contrary, the differentiation and simultaneity of different networks.”
So, no, I don’t think he’d be happy with how social media works, not because he’d be against the idea of people having a voice, but because he’d point to the homogenizing tendencies of social media platforms. The so-called new media have ended up functioning a lot like the so called old or traditional media, kind of like having a certain editorial policy, not unlike a news outlet. If you think of the homogeneity that is involved, all of those echo chambers, I guess you could call the mass media, in the sense that mass has to do with a homogeneous mass or something that is meant for the masses, to homogenize them.
This leads his interviewer to ask what the role of universities is in all this, to which he (305) responds by stating something that you probably don’t like if you are an established academic or a protégé of one:
“Books, the university, professional journals—they are also media.”
Yes, they most certainly are. They do function that way. I mean they do mediate the message, the content. For example, think of journals. They typically indicate that they have certain goals and certain readership. They also have editors. In other words, they have some sort of an editorial policy. This means that some information is considered to be ‘good’ and some information is considered to be ‘bad’. It’s as simple as that, as pointed out by Foucault (305). Gotta admire his (306) willingness to point this out and really go with it, considering that he was part of the academic circles and involved in publishing, which means that he was doing this at his own peril (okay, maybe not here, this being anonymous back then, but he did express this kind of views in other non-anonymous contexts as well):
“The problem is to know how to play out the differences; and to know if it is necessary to establish a reserved zone, a ‘cultural park’ for the fragile species of scholar threatened by great ravages of information, while all the remaining space would be a vast market for the shoddy products.”
I think he is spot on here, calling scholars a fragile species that exists in a reservation, as if what’s outside the reserve threatens their existence, and I don’t mind stating that I agree with him, even though I’m fully aware that I do such at my own peril. Anyway, he (306) continues:
“Such a division doesn’t appear to me to correspond to the reality. And worse: it’s not at all desirable. To implement useful differentiations, there must be no division.”
So, to get to the point, to express the gist of this, to explain his main argument, he is against all kinds of vanguardism. He is pretty allergic to having some people tell others how things work, not because he isn’t aware that some people might know better and could thus be off use to others, no, no, but because it tends to end up taken for granted, as a fixed arrangement, so that the few get to judge what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’, for everyone else, without taking any responsibility for it, acknowledging that they might not only be wrong, but also serving their own interests instead of the interests of everyone who they claim to serve. I think he (306) manages to explain this quite neatly when he answers another question:
“What is [this about] if not a way of reflecting not so much on what is true and false but on our relationship to the truth?”
Exactly. No more good vs. evil, truth vs. falsity. Instead, it’s about acknowledging the relationship we have with what is called ‘the good’ or ‘the truth’. Simply put, before we jump to any conclusions, to judge whether this and/or that is true or false, good or bad, if not evil, we must address who it is that gets to make those conclusions, to judge that, and on what basis. It’s as simple as that. Just take a step back. In his (307) words:
“I would say at this point that [it] is a way of reflecting on our relation to the truth. But it must not end there. It’s a way of asking oneself, if such is the relation that we have with truth, then how should we conduct ourselves?”
Note how this isn’t as simple as good/bad, good/evil, true/false, which boils down to yes/no, accept/reject, type of conduct. He (307) acknowledges that such approach is highly tempting, which is exactly why people do it, why we keep encountering it, even among academics, even though people might think that academics are the exception to this:
“One understands that certain people are crying about the vacuum today and that in the realm of ideas they wish for a little monarchy.”
Well put, well put. There is indeed this temptation to set up some sort of monarchy, some sort of feudal system, what we today simply refer to as a hierarchy. What’s so tempting about it? Well, I’ve expressed this a number of times in my essays, but I think it’s worth reiterating. It’s about having a sweet gig and getting to keep that sweet gig. It’s just so much easier to do that, to have that position which allows you to exercise power over others, just because, just because it is your position that entitles you to do so, instead of having integrity, instead of keeping yourself in line, at all times. It’s just way more convenient that, instead of reflecting on your relationship with the truth, it is you (possibly in connection to some others, a select few, that vanguard) who gets to define the truth. It is you. You get to express the Will of God because, in this arrangement, you are God.
He also mentions a couple of other things in this interview, but I only wanted to address what I found particularly interesting in it. I’m sure you can look it up yourself. This is all, for now. I hope to get to one of those two essays, but we’ll see. I have a feeling that I’ll end up on another tangent or series of tangents before I do, but, yeah, we’ll see.
- Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari ( 1994). What Is Philosophy? (H. Tomlinson and G. Burchell, Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
- Foucault, M. ( 1996). The Masked Philosopher (J. Johnston, Trans.). In S. Lotringer (Ed.), Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984 (L. Hochroth and J. Johnston, Trans.) (pp. 302–307). New York, NY: Semiotext(e).