Archive for September, 2007

A Philosophy of (Energy) Flows

I attended my first Meetup last week, the Lowell Philosophy Meetup, and I brought a copy of A Thousand Plateaus:  Capitalism and Schizophrenia.  One of the other two guys who attended asked about the title, and I stumbled through an explanation.  Because I didn’t know quite how to respond, I dug in to some of the secondary sources and guidebooks I have to see what they had to say and found a few interesting quotes regarding energy flows.  This one, from the “Capitalism” entry in the Deleuze Dictionary, says that

Deleuze and Guattari [D&G] insist any given social formation restricts or structures social movements or flows. They claim that these flows are not just the flows of money and commodities familiar to economists, but can be seen at a variety of levels: the movements of people and traffic in a city, the flows of words that are bound up in language, the flows of genetic code between generations of plants, and even the flow of matter itself (the movement of the ocean, electrons moving in metals, and so forth).  Thus, D&G’s political thought begins with the premises that nature itself, the Whole of existence, is at once a matter of flows, and that any society must structure these flows in order to subsist. . . . D&G call this process of restriction, or structuring, ‘coding’. They conceive coding as at once restrictive and necessary. . . . Both Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus include lengthy analyses of different kinds of societies and the ways in which they code flows.

This quote reminded me a lot of Manuel Delanda’s book A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, which is a history of some of these very topics (it’s broken up into three sections on geological, biological, and linguistic history) and which views reality as “a single matter-energy undergoing phase transitions of various kinds. . . . Rocks and winds, germs and words, are all different manifestations of this dynamic material reality, or, in other words, they all represent the different ways in which this single matter-energy expresses itself” (I *love* that quote!).

The other source I saw a reference to flows of energy was the old Ronald Bogue classic Deleuze and Guattari, which was one of the first explanatory books on these two difficult thinkers.  My first time through it, about 15 years ago, I really struggled with it, but I get it much more now (perhaps because I’ve read a handful of these types of texts since then, many of which are much easier to take in).  In talking about the concept of the “desiring-machine” as introduced in The Anti-Oedipus, Bogue writes:

Every machine ‘is related to a continual material flow (hyle [Greek:  matter]) that it cuts into’ , and ‘each associative flow must be seen as ideal, an endless flux’ (AO 36) or universal continuum of unceasing production.  A flow of milk between a breast machine and a mouth machine, or a flow of words between a mouth machine and an ear machine, the fluxes that pass through machines may be actual flows of physical matter, flows of energy, or flows of information (in a very loosely cybernetic sense). (91)

Todd May’s introduction (Gilles Deleuze:  An Introduction) has an excellent and clear explanation of Deleuze’s concept of the machine:

One way to approach D&G’s politics is to see them as offering a new political ontology. . . In the collaborative work D&G perform together, they offer a variety of starting places, a variety of concepts that are agile enough to insert at different political levels. One of the concepts they rely on the most is that of the machine. . . .The machine is a concept that can be situated at the level of the individual, the society, the state, the pre-individual, among groups and between people, and across these various realms. It is a concept that offers ontological mobility, and thus can capture what overspills the dogmatic image of political thought. (121-22)

The phrase “ontological mobility” really nails it I think.  In fact, it’s fair to say that Deleuze’s is an ontology of mobility.

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23 September 2007 at 9:07 pm 3 comments


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