Rhizomes and Wrenches

A writing machine of an anthropologist "oriented towards experimentation with the real."

Why rhizomes? Because we all sprout from a surface which conceals an ordered chaos of transhuman connectivity. Because learning how to map our rhizomes is at the same time learning how to chart sedimented and flighty paths into our lives, into our worlds.

Why wrenches? Because thought is constructive and concepts are tools. Because the tools which are available determine the work we can do.

January 25, 2008

Writing Machine

I knew it would happen. I knew I'd sit here staring at the “create new entry” screen of this blog site wondering where to start. There's something intimidating about beginnings, about the blank page or screen. For me it's not just the unbounded potential that comes with the smooth space of the empty writing surface. It's also some kind of deeply embedded notion, in me anyway, that makes me think I have to be right or well reasoned before allowing words to slip between my guarded lips. I've internalized some sort of mechanism that makes me think I have to have it all figured out, whatever it is, before clicking the keys to form even the first word. I'm getting over it, though, after many years of exploring and internalizing new concepts. I'll try to tell you a bit about it.

That feeling of certainty is an illusion anyway and a mental mechanism which I try to resist. As if digging right into my brain Gilles Deleuze, in the book Difference and Repetition, asks: “how else can one write but of those things which one doesn’t know, or knows badly? It is precisely there that we imagine having something to say. We write only at the frontiers of our knowledge, at the border which separates our knowledge from our ignorance and transforms the one into the other. Only in this manner are we resolved to write. To satisfy ignorance is to put off writing until tomorrow—or rather, to make it impossible.”

Well, that's easy for him to say. Both Deleuze and Guattari didn't seem to have the same sort of fear I have, or at least they seemed to bypass it. How? They did so quite ingeniously by redefining what is important about speaking and writing. There is no point to fearing wrong statements, since that is not what writing is all about. Speaking and writing aren't about producing accurate representations of reality. Expression is about creation, creating possibilities of thought, desire and action which may not have been possible otherwise. It is about effect and affect. It is about making something happen in me, the writer, and in you, a reader, and somewhere in between, the world. And, really, no one has any sure bets on how all of that happens. Chaos theory meets the writing machine!

In his book on Michel Foucault, Deleuze writes about writing as a kind of cartography. Writing is mapping. We can think of that cartography as a mapping of the thought process of the writer. We can think of it as an attempt to map out an object or an event. But but those notions of the map are locked into representational thinking and will eventually lead us back to the place of judgment where good representations are lauded and bad ones are mocked. So we should start there, with how our notions correspond to the real, but we should not end there. Our maps are not just maps OF something; they are at the same time maps TO something.

That may be a funky distinction, but it's a crucial one I think. Take a look at an obvious example of a map, say the world map. Is it a transparent representation of the world? If so, then why is the northern hemisphere almost always on top? Does the earth float north-end-up in space? Or, is there some sort of a thought, a desire, embedded in that kind of mapping? Taking it a step further, can't we think of that kind of a map as an attempt to influence the way we see the world and our position within it? And that we uncritically do likewise by repetitiously using such a map to “view” our world should demonstrate to us a similarly embedded desire. Isn't it nice to be on top of the world? Don't we, in general, at some possibly hard to admit level, want to stay up there? Check the net for “upside down” and “reversed” world maps. The ones with Australia at the top of the world are pretty popular... ...well, you know where.

This, to me, is what it means to say that we should be oriented towards experimentation with the real. First, we recognize that we are inscribing and producing rather than describing and reproducing when we make utterances, when we chart maps, when we attempt to represent. Second, we recognize that what we are all constituted from moment to moment in complex connections with multiple systems at multiple levels. I'll try to map this idea of things out further as this blog develops for it is too challenging for me to dwell on at this particular moment. That is, in part, because I think we haven't developed the right terminology, the right concepts, to be able to understand ourselves and our world in these ways. Though, systems and complexity thinking are surely a good starting point. Anyway, the idea here is that we are influenced, though I prefer to say constituted, by the arrangement of forces and factors which rise up from within us and arc through us from beyond and between. And all of this is important, I think, because it allows us to think about the way the maps we use to experience and navigate our realities articulate with other maps. What we are, what we know, what we perceive extends beyond what we can sense. And thus we should move through empiricism to chart the more abstract machines which draw stuff together in particular arrangements as well as to make room for emergent and immanent reconfigurations of those machines and arrangements. Hmm, well, see what I mean? All of that didn't nearly make as much sense as I'd have liked. I can perceive it, somehow, but stumble around my brain looking for ways to clearly chart it out for the both of us. I'll try again another time soon.

And this is why it is crucial to write, I think. If you work at it a bit you'll realize that it's not that difficult to reach a point where you can no longer effectively describe how you think things are or should be. Often when faced with those sorts of blockages, we turn around and find a path that is more easily recognizable, perhaps something mapped out in advance for us. But in doing so we should at least be aware that we are satisfying our ignorance, as Delezue argued.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are discussing something important with others, perhaps in a class, perhaps with friends, at work, wherever, and you hit a point in the discussion where someone asks a question or makes a statement which you can't respond to? That happens to me often, I admit. And what do we do at that moment? Sometimes I feel ignorant and ashamed and frustrated. But in a certain sense, we should be proud that we've just identified those frontiers of our understanding or the edges our ability to communicate our notions effectively to others. If we take note of that frontier and use it as a starting point for further exploration, then we've just engaged in a productive sort of exercise where we can eventually transform ignorance into knowledge, transform notions into conceptual tools. And for me, this is what writing and often even public speaking is about. It's about exploring thought and finding or creating new thoughts. And never forget, new thoughts make new worlds!

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