Where To Find Me

Just a reminder: Repo Virtual won the Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

Now that’s out of the way…

I’ve been doing a pretty terrible job of keeping this website up to date, but I most certainly have not been resting on my laurels (whatever those are). I’ll have some short-story related news to share – eventually – and movement on some new long-form works.

But in the meantime, I’ve also been keeping busy with:

Nothing Here Newsletter

At Nothing Here, we scour the internet so you don’t have to, and serve up a selection of interesting articles on culture, politics, ecology, climate change, the end of the world, and all that good shit. We’ll also let you know what books, films, TV, and music we’ve been enjoying, because, hell, sometimes you need something to distract from the endless parade of atrocities that is the 21st Century.

Each fortnight the team – Daniel C. Harvey, m1k3y, Marlee Jane Ward, Lidia Zuin and I – will come into your inbox with all sorts of stories across climate change, geopolitics, tech, science, space, labor, and economics, as well as bits of culture that are helping us keep going despite the above.

Buddies Without Organs

Buddies Without Organs is a podcast by Sean Oscar, Matt Colquhoun and Corey J. White — three buddies interested in the relationship between culture and philosophy.

We started off discussing the work of Gilles Deleuze in podcast form, but have since pivoted to a) video (though we’re still offering audio format too), b) the Zer0 Books Youtube channel, and c) to discussing the lesser known writings of Mark Fisher in The K-files.

This project is a lot of fun, and I learn so much reading through these texts and chatting to the buddies about them. I have no formal philosophy education, so come hear/watch me struggle to make sense of some really big, weird, and interesting ideas.

Oh Nothing Press

Creeper Magazine, MechaDeath, and now some t-shirt designs from yours truly coming under the banner of CRINGE.

BwO: The K-Files Episode 1 – Addicts of Control

After a pivot, the Buddies without Organs are now covering the lesser known works of Mark Fisher with The K-files – now in spectacular visual form!

I think I actually got through most of my notes on the Astrolithic Megapunk episode, but here they are anyway for reference and transcription reasons.

Fisher compares Children of the Stone to Burroughs’ Nova Trilogy, which is an interesting comparison largely because it’s not obvious at first glance. One thing that is readily apparent in a lot of Burroughs’ writing is that he perceives the universe to be an inherently hostile place, perhaps even anti-human. But that hostility is something completely different to what we see in cosmic horror. 

You can kind of sum up cosmic horror in broad strokes with two main ideas – the first being that there are horrors in this universe that are literally incomprehensible, and trying to comprehend them will drive you insane. The second idea is that humanity is insignificant. We are completely below the notice of the Elder Gods and other entities, and if they kill us in great numbers it will only be as a side effect of some other action.

In Burroughs though the evil recognises us, and probably it recognises things in us we would rather not admit were true. It’s an intensely personal hatred aimed directly at you, and able to emanate from anyone, or indeed anything in your vicinity. The forces of control might be ubiquitous and largely arbitrary, but if they choose to target you, they will do so with all the intensity of someone bearing a personal grudge.

So in Burroughs, control is stifling, it’s dehumanising or even anti-human, it is a ubiquitous system that must be battled at every junction. In contrast, what we see in Children of the Stones is a seemingly benevolent system of control.

Beyond Hendricks’ need to feed on star energy, he seems genuinely concerned for his little human pets. He wants what’s best for them, and whilst there does appear to be a hollowing out of a person’s truest self when they undergo the happification process, they do still appear (outwardly at least) to be, well, happy. It doesn’t appear to be an anti-human system of control, but it is thoroughly anti-individual. It’s tied into a common thread in British Folk Horror – and Hot Fuzz – the overriding importance of The Greater Good.

The apparent benevolence of Hendrick in Children of the Stones is something that Burroughs never would have considered. For Burroughs, loss of autonomy or self is unconscionable – it is always an attack by a hostile alien presence that must be warred against.

But then in this dichotomy between the hostile and benevolent faces of control is also reminiscent of Matrix Resurrections versus the original movie. In the original movie Cipher was a villain because he was willing to sell out his friends in order to gain re-entry to the matrix, and in Resurrections it’s shown that maybe the choice to remain inside is understandable. Not good, or helpful, or healthy, but reasonable. And I think that part of the film is timely, because in the wake of the pandemic and the onrushing climate crises we’re due to face in the coming years, a lot of people will prefer to stick their head in the sand. Why walk away from Omelas when you can happily watch your Disney+, play Fortnite, get food delivered to your door by underpaid gig workers, and forget about the suffering child imprisoned in the city’s dungeon. These dystopian dreams of a metaverse peddled by Zuckerberg and others are simply the logical endpoint of this tendency toward blissful ignorance. It will literally obfuscate the myriad very real problems of the very real world for a clean and sterile corporate reality.

So back to Children of the Stones. The show was made for kids, and because of that focus it means the effects of the happification that we see are quite skewed – it makes children creepily happy, sociable, non-violent, and very good at maths. But it leaves the question of how it would actually affect adults, how would it alter their behaviours and beliefs, and would it turn them into perfect happy workers ready to slave away for capital?

It’s easy to imagine that in our age of economic precarity and massive wealth inequality, an adult might undergo a process like this if it meant they were freed from depression and anxiety, maybe guaranteed a decent job – and hell, even a place in an actual community, seeing as capitalism has done a great job of atomising our society.

And then that notion leads me to start thinking about technocratic control. Every week there’s a new start-up planning to use machine learning and invasive apps to make people better, more efficient workers. It’s tied to a pervasive idea that Fisher railed against in his writings, particularly Capitalist Realism – that whatever is wrong with a person is a) a purely personal failing and not a reflection of the increasingly hostile social systems they’re struggling to live under and b) fixable if we just have the right data.

Burroughs would find this horrifying – the perfection of the hostile and anti-human systems of control he recognised, predicted, or possibly seeded. What would he have us do? Smash the control images, smash the control machine.

As Burroughs wrote in Naked Lunch: “You see control can never be a means to any practical end. … Control can never be a means to anything but more control … like Junk.”

The people at the top have become control addicts, fuelled by technocratic ideology and bullshit beliefs like longtermism. They all see themselves as Hendricks-Petros, above it all, controlling the rest of us for our own good.

BwO: The (Main) Event

Here are my notes on Buddies without Organs episode #9: The Event. Get all the episode information right here.

Almost forgot to post my notes for The Event – most of these I didn’t get to in the episode (or only just touched on them), so hopefully there’s something interesting in here.

First Series of Paradoxes of Pure Becoming

This is a very slight chapter so I’m not going to go on at length about it, but out of the three sections we planned to talk about on this episode, this one grabbed me immediately because it ties in to something I wrote in my novel, Repo Virtual.

I’ll start with a quote on the paradox of Pure Becoming:

[B]ecoming does not tolerate the separation or the distinction of before and after, or of past and future. It pertains to the essence of becoming to move and to pull in both directions at once.

Here we see that there is no single moment of becoming – every becoming is an event. Matt mentioned 9/11 being “an Event” in that is reverberates both backwards and forward in time – a great example because it’s one we’re all intimately familiar with, and because some of us can remember what, for instance, airports and flying were like before the introduction of the security theatre post-9/11.

So if you extend that further, you see that a person’s life as an Event – when you say someone died, that becoming started before they were born. Life is an ongoing process of becoming right until it ends.

One of the main threads of Repo Virtual follows the awakening of that world’s first true AI, and there’s a chapter where I did my best to try and imagine what that would look like – the process of becoming sentient and self-aware while trapped inside a digital system. In that section I wrote “There is terror in becoming.” I hadn’t read any Deleuze when I wrote that book, but this chapter resonates with where my head was at at the time. 

Becoming is not something that you do and then it’s done, it’s ongoing, and that on its own is frightening. People tend to be afraid of change to some degree, yet we are never not changing. We never stop becoming. We have to reconcile the terror and uncertainty of becoming with the knowledge that it is unavoidable.

Of pure becoming, Deleuze says: It moves in both directions at once. It always eludes the present, causing future and past […]. This to me – though I could be wrong – ties into the plane of immanence and particularly the opposition between immanence and transcendence outlined in Immanence: A Life. Immanence is the act of pure becoming – it is being the event, but transcendence is anything that interrupts or interferes with that Immanence.

Back to that quote: I wonder if pure becoming eludes the present because in that present moment you are becoming. Here Deleuze is emphasising the importance of the present moment (though I daresay that “moment” isn’t the right word there). In every moment of your life you are becoming, and that pure becoming ties directly to your past and also your future, but it’s only this pure becoming that matters.

On the one hand, I think you could take that to a self-help sort of place (and this isn’t the first time I’ve found what seems to be practical self-help emerging from the density of Deleuze’s writing). You could boil it down to “it’s only this moment that matters, this is all you can control. Don’t dwell on your past and don’t fret about the future, just embrace becoming.” And I think that’s good advice, even if it’s as trite as it is difficult to do. But looked at in a slightly more abstract way, it makes me consider the chain of events and decisions that led to this moment, and where this moment might lead further down the chain – it encourages a non-linear mode of thought. Becoming is an event, and as we’ve discussed, events are not discrete. They resonate forward and backward in time, they connect to other events in myriad ways.

3. What is an Event?

There’s a section right near the start of “What is an Event?” where Deleuze says:

Chaos does not exist; it is an abstraction because it is inseparable from a screen that makes something – something rather than nothing – emerge from it.

I hadn’t considered chaos in that way before, but it makes sense. When people talk about chaos – like in the context of a riot, for instance – the presumption is that there’s no sense or order to the proceedings, but chaos theory says the opposite. Everything that happens is caused by a trail of preceding events, even if those are impossible for us to measure or understand. Chaos theory is really saying that everything makes sense if only you can look closely enough to track every related event and find the ways they are interconnected.

This ties in to the recent Danish film Riders of Justice (yes, that title is fucking terrible, yes, if you see the thumbnail online, the image there is fucking terrible too, but it’s actually a great film), with the characters attempting to assign meaning to the meaningless and also to track chains of cause and effect. Otto at one point says that while such a chain exists an could be followed, it would go all the way back to the beginning of existence, and thus is impossible for the human mind to contain or process… which is sort of what I was getting at with the above…

BwO: Nomadology – The War Machine: Culture War slash The Discourse

Now I’m going to go somewhere completely unrelated. I shouldn’t be surprised that in D&G’s essay about the war machine they somehow managed to succinctly describe culture war online discourse, but goddamn if this doesn’t sum things up.

Similarly, feelings become uprooted from the interiority of a “subject,” to be projected violently outward into a milieu of pure exteriority that lends them an incredible velocity, a catapulting force: love or hate, they are no longer feelings but affects.

To me, this is talking about the way that, at this current point in our cultural conversations, people too easily project their own feelings about a particular piece of art – whether those are positive feelings the person wishes to defend, or negative feelings they wish to reify and attack in the form of other cultural commentators. Now, that projection wouldn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but the word here “velocity” ties in to a thread that D&G will pick up later where they’re talking about the difference between weapons and tools. They suggest that speed is the defining aspect of a weapon, and gravity is the aspect that defines a tool. They don’t really define what they mean by gravity here – or if they did, I missed it – but I think that ties in perfectly with this little cultural tangent that jumped out at me here.

Shooting off a tweet or a twitter thread is fast, and anyone who’s spent any amount of time on twitter knows it can be a weapon. On the other hand there’s gravity, which I take to be the serious and measured consideration of a piece of art or culture – allowing yourself to be caught up in the gravity of it, to consider it on its own terms, consider how its gravity interacts with your own, and not simply react with speed, basic love or hate.

There’s another section later on:

In a sense, it could be said that […] thought has never had anything but laughable gravity. But that is all it requires: for us not to take it seriously. Because that makes it all the easier for it to think for us […]. Because the less people take thought seriously, the more they think in conformity with what the State wants. Truly, what man of the State has not dreamed of that paltry impossible thing — to be a thinker?

This certainly seems to tie into the culture war discussions around art, and that seemingly innocuous phrase that has served to flatten the very idea of cultural criticism: Let people enjoy things.

People are allowed to enjoy whatever hollow pap they want, but the sentiment is also used to discourage criticism and conversation that might focus on a piece of media’s flaws – particularly ideological ones. You only need to look at the involvement of the US military in the production of Marvel films, and the way the ideology of the films is in support of US imperialism and hegemony to see how something as seemingly wholesome at first glance as “let people enjoy things” is actually the death knell for both challenging art and vital cultural criticism.

And it’s that final bit that really grabs me – “what man of the State has not dreamed of that paltry impossible thing – to be a thinker?” Just think of all the lib-brained takes being churned out by the commentariat week after week – all these people who consider themselves to be true thinkers but who unquestioningly regurgitate the ideology of the State. Maybe it’s always been this bad, but D&G certainly feel prophetic here.

BwO: Nomadology – The War Machine: The Deep State

Here’s one chunk of my notes on Buddies without Organs Episode #8: Nomadology. Episode and all the related goodness is at the BwO website here.

There’s one last bit I wanted to quote from, because again it seems like a perfect summary of the world of the past few years, held in the thrall of US military hegemony.

The war machine reforms a smooth space that now claims to control, to surround the entire earth. Total war itself is surpassed, toward a form of peace more terrifying still. The war machine has taken charge of the aim, worldwide order, and the States are now no more than objects or means adapted to that machine. This is the point at which Clausewitz’s formula is effectively reversed; to be entitled to say that politics is the continuation of war by other means, it is not enough to invert the order of the words as if they could be spoken in either direction; it is necessary to follow the real movement at the conclusion of which the States, having appropriated a war machine, and having adapted it to their aims, reimpart a war machine that takes charge of the aim, appropriates the States, and assumes increasingly wider political functions.

That line “a form of peace more terrifying still” is really evocative. I’ve spent my entire life living in peace-time while people in other parts of the world have experienced nothing but conflict. It’s another bastardisation of that classic William Gibson quote: peace is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.

But the other thing that I find interesting about this section is that it implies that it’s actually the war machine that won the battle against the State, whereas throughout the rest of the essay I was reading it in terms of the State and its military institution. But when you look at US imperialism it’s easy to see how the war machine won – how it appropriated the State and not vice versa – again epitomised by 20 years in Afghanistan. So instead of the war machine, this section might make more sense if you consider the deep state – not the deep state of QAnon, but its original meaning: The military-industrial complex and its web of lobbyists, bought politicians, and media sycophants.

Chess / 3rd Generation Warfare vs 4th GW

Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology.

This puts me in mind of 3rd generation (or perhaps earlier) warfare versus 4th. Rules-based warfare as envisioned by the State (if you don’t play by our rules that greatly favour us, we’ll claim that you’re cheating [read: a terrorist]), versus the true chaos of warfare as envisioned and lived by guerrilla fighters.

BwO: Nomadology – The War Machine: Smooth Space vs Striated Space

Here’s one chunk of my notes on Buddies without Organs Episode #8: Nomadology. Episode and all the related goodness is at the BwO website here.

One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space. It is a vital concern of every State not only to vanquish nomadism but to control migrations and, more generally, to establish a zone of rights over an entire “exterior,” over all of the flows traversing the ecumenon.

This seems especially relevant today, with the technocratic desire to quantify, label, and then be able to monetise everything. Technocrats continue to sell us the vision of smooth space – that their products, their data, their dark designs, will make our lives easier and better, but that hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen, because in practice they are actually more heavily striating our lives than ever before. They believe that they can fully understand nature, the world, humanity, and individuals if only they were able to gather enough data, but our world doesn’t work like that.

Some people nowadays are too eager to criticize this numerical organization, denouncing it as a military or even concentration-camp society where people are no longer anything more than deterritorialized “numbers.” But that is false. Horror for horror, the numerical organization of people is certainly no cruder than the lineal or State organizations. Treating people like numbers is not necessarily worse than treating them like trees to prune, or geometrical figures to shape and model.

But then if that’s the way Deleuze and Guattari’s State is manifested in the current moment, then it’s worth considering what they have to say about the nomad, and see what lessons we might be able to learn from nomadology. Bear with me with this next quote, but I think it captures dichotomy of the sedentary and the nomad really well.

sedentary space is striated, by walls, enclosures, and roads between enclosures, while nomad space is smooth, marked only by “traits” that are effaced and displaced with the trajectory. […] The nomad distributes himself in a smooth space; he occupies, inhabits, holds that space; that is his territorial principle. […] Toynbee is profoundly right to suggest that the nomad is […] he who does not move. Whereas the migrant leaves behind a milieu that has become amorphous or hostile, the nomad is one who does not depart, does not want to depart, who clings to the smooth space left by the receding forest, where the steppe or the desert advances, and who invents nomadism as a response to this challenge.

To me, this distinction between the migrant and the nomad really speaks of adaptability. Our ability to embrace true nomadism is being stifled by the State and Capital’s efforts to enclose everything, but the nomad’s strength is in clinging to the smooth spaces – perhaps the spaces the state has abandoned.

I’m a sci-fi writer, so I can’t help but think of this thread in terms of climate change, and the huge numbers of climate refugees we’re likely to see in our lifetimes. But as the State retreats to its fortresses, what opportunities might remain outside those walls for the nomad? I don’t have answers, but I think the climate nomad is a compelling figure – someone who shuns the striated spaces of the State and instead seeks to reterritorialize the spaces left behind.

BwO: Nomadology – The War Machine: US Military in the Modern Day

Here’s one chunk of my notes on Buddies without Organs Episode #8: Nomadology. Episode and all the related goodness is at the BwO website here.

It’s probably not surprising that in so much of this discussion of the war machine and the state, I’m put in mind of US imperialsm, particularly the past 20 years of the so-called War on Terror in the Middle East. With the recent situation in Afghanistan, a lot of people have been referencing Vietnam, so let me do the same. With Vietnam it was truly the US going to war – the draft meant many young men were sent to fight regardless of their own feelings about that war or war in general, it was a highly televised event broadcast into American homes every night, and it weighed heavily on political discussions and elections all throughout the years of the war.

Compare that to 20 years in Afghanistan. There’s no draft, so the people going over to fight have volunteered to do so – though economic realities being what they are for many people, can it really be called volunteering? – and even then, more and more of the war was entirely privatised. It wasn’t a war fought by the American people – by the State – but rather by the State’s military apparatus.

A fact that many people likely aren’t familiar with is that even when the US does deign to sign on to various climate change agreements, they will always demand that the US military is exempt from any restrictions related to decreased pollution. In so many ways it is simply not held accountable to the State or the people it is ostensibly protecting.

The war machine is pure exteriority, taking funding from the polity, but otherwise having little or nothing to do with it.

It is not enough to affirm that the war machine is external to the apparatus. It is necessary to reach the point of conceiving the war machine as itself a pure form of exteriority, whereas the State apparatus constitutes the form of interiority we habitually take as a model, or according to which we are in the habit of thinking.

Now, the US military isn’t a true war machine in the D&G sense. “(What we call a military institution, or army, is not at all the war machine in itself, but the form under which it is appropriated by the State.)” As they say: “The State has no war machine of its own; it can only appropriate one in the form of a military institution, one that will continually cause it problems.” That seems a really interesting point to me – the state and the military are always at odds with one another – but still the State is convinced it needs the military, even as the military takes ever-larger pieces of the state’s budget, and even when that military might choose to one day become the state, as with many coups across the last hundred years.

The military institution is a highly regimented and striated hierarchical organisation, but it seems to me that in formal militaries, the true nomadic war machine comes to light in the ways units are able to conduct their duties under their own supervision. There is still a military chain of command, but if the large number of atrocities and war crimes committed by our forces is any indication, that command must seem very distant indeed. And that ties in to some of the other parts of this essay that seemed to me to be speaking of the experience of the war veteran.

If being a part of the nomadic war machine means moving over smooth space – literally, in many desert settings, but also mentally or spiritually, a space where the moral and ethical constraints that underpin society have been smoothed over by a set of increasingly-lax Rules of Engagement –then it’s no wonder both that the rigid hierarchy is required to keep these would-be nomads under control, and also that they so often struggle upon return to the striated space of real life.

Deleuze and Guattari write: “Trapped between the two poles of political sovereignty, the man of war seems outmoded, condemned, without a future, reduced to his own fury, which he turns against himself.” They go on to cite some examples out of ancient myth, but we don’t have to look any further than the many, many veterans who commit suicide upon return to the world. It’s not that their description matches every veteran, but it sadly covers many. Some survive by returning to the war machine – either the formal military institutions, or the private sector – some survive by an act of reterritorialization, becoming something other than a man of war.

BwO: Origami – Notes on The Fold, Chapter 1

Here are my notes on Buddies without Organs Episdoe #7 – The Fold. The episode itself, notes and all the rest can be found here.

Below are my notes on The Fold, Chapter 1. Might look a little like a transcript this time around because I really struggled to unfold this text and felt the need to stick closely to my notes. Enjoy?

One of the reasons I found this first chapter difficult on first look is that Deleuze wastes no time in demonstrating the breadth of his thought here. Immediately he calls the Baroque an “operative function” that endlessly produces folds, and says that rather than inventing anything, the Baroque entails folds coming from “the East, Greek, Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, [and] Classical folds.” (This description of the Baroque as something that contains what came before sounds similar to how one might describe postmodernism, though of course lacking the meta or self-referential aspect that really defines PM.) I don’t know enough about the Baroque in art and architecture to know whether Deleuze is accurate here (or if it’s even perhaps a controversial statement), but he’s setting the boundaries of discussion, and they are seemingly endless – as he says “The Baroque fold unfurls all the way to infinity.”

It’s worth taking this on-board as something of a warning. Ahead of you is a dense and dizzying read. And that makes sense when you consider that this book is in conversation with the work of Leibniz, who is the sort of genius that developed ideas and theories more than 300 years ago that are still relevant to philosophy, mathematics, and computing today.

After establishing the boundaries (or lack thereof), Deleuze moves on to a metaphor of a sort of Baroque House made up of two floors. The lower floor (the Pleats of Matter) has windows (which represent the inputs of the five senses), but the upper floor (the Folds of the Soul) is closed off, though there is movement and communication between the floors.

The lower floor is where matter is amassed and organised. The upper floor is where “the soul sings of the glory of God inasmuch as it follows its own folds, but without succeeding in entirely developing them, since ‘this communication stretches out indefinitely.'” The notion of a soul needing to follow its own folds is reminiscent to me of the lines of flight that we discussed previously with On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature. And in particular the part about the process stretching out indefinitely links to the idea of becoming – that being a process which is (or should be) ongoing.

So already I’m making connections, I’m folding this chapter in with some of the other works we’ve discussed in an effort to grasp on to some sort of meaning. But I know I’m struggling when I can’t help but wonder exactly what Deleuze means by “matter” here. When he discusses the house, and the communication between the upper and lower levels, he could easily be discussing the human – the way the physical and the spiritual influence and interact with one another. But we’re also talking about Leibniz and mathematics, and so in the next paragraph Deleuze is talking about the curvilinear movement of the universe, because of course he is. But I think the important idea to take out of this section (where Deleuze is going from the Baroque House to an almost cosmic perspective) is summed up in a quote from Leibniz: “The division of the continuous must not be taken as of sand dividing into grains, but as that of a sheet of paper […] in folds, in such a way that an infinite number of folds can be produced, some smaller than others, but without the body ever dissolving into points or minima.” Later – particularly when we’re talking about monads – we could slip into a modern scientific mode of atomistic thinking, so I think we’ll be served well by keeping this in mind. Deleuze isn’t concerned with discrete atoms, he’s concerned with the folds within and between matter.

Deleuze says, “The unit of matter, the smallest element of the labyrinth is the fold.” And I like this idea; if you’re thinking about a labyrinth, the fold isn’t actually a part of the maze in the same way that the walls are, the fold is instead the relationship between the walls themselves. The fold is the smallest element of the labyrinth because it’s the metadata that defines the shape of the labyrinth. Perhaps as digital natives (or at least digitally naturalised, for us elder-Millennials) we’re in a better position to grasp the idea of the fold because we’re already intimately familiar with the relationship between the physical and the non with the way our digital lives are overlaid on and intersect with our physical lives – or the way they’re enfolded together.

Anyway, we’re moving into a section that pits organic matter against inorganic matter. Organic matter is defined by internal folds, while inorganic matter is worked upon by exterior forces. Here I can only guess that he’s talking about the development of organic matter – growth and change – because sadly we’re not immune to external forces, and your organic matter is going to find itself quite severely folded if you get hit by a truck, or slam your hand in a car door (sorry, Matt, but the example was right there). But still, it’s an important distinction to make – inorganic matter is worked on by wind, water, tools, chemical reactions, etc, but organic matter is a machine made up of self-replicating and self-perpetuating machines – that being cells.

(In another bit Deleuze also says that there’s no difference between organic and inorganic matter, so what the fuck do I know?)

On the distinction between the two types of matter, Deleuze says “Our mechanisms are in fact organized into parts that are not in themselves machines, while the organism is infinitely machines, a machine whose every part or piece is a machine […].” So, inorganic mechanisms can move between one level and the other only with external interference – it can be folded, but it cannot fold itself – whereas a living organism has an “internal destiny that makes it move from fold to fold, or that makes machines from machines all the way to infinity.” His use of “infinity” can’t really be read as literal, but rather potential. It also sounds more akin to how cancer cells operate then the bodies that host them.

I’d be interested to see how someone working in the space of Object-Oriented Ontology might respond to this section on organic vs inorganic matter, so if any listeners have recommendations or thoughts, please get in touch.

Anyway, Deleuze continues to develop this line of thinking, and posits that instead of unfolding its parts to infinity, organic matter unfolds according to the development of its species. He uses the example of the fly: “The first fly contains the seed of all flies to come, each being called in its turn to unfold its own parts at the right time.” And he also uses the example of the butterfly, which “is folded into the caterpillar that will soon unfold.” So he’s talking about living process – or plastic forces – as being the folds taking place within organic matter.

In the same paragraph – it’s a long one, and one that kept on grabbing me no matter how badly I wanted to move past it – he quotes Leibniz, saying “Each portion of matter may be conceived as a garden full of plants, and as a pond full of fish. But every branch of each plant, every member of each animal, and every drop of their liquid parts is in itself likewise a similar garden or pond.” I highlighted this because to me it sounds like a description of environmental systems right down to the level of microbial biomes, which is something we’re still coming to understand today. Leibniz was apparently a thinker outside of time.

BwO: Writer-Becoming

Here are my notes for Buddies without Organs episode #5 – find the episode, notes and links at the BwO website.

Deleuze spends a lot of time in On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature writing about writing – and when that’s caught up with his ideas about lines of flight and becoming, then it starts to read to me as writing advice. Or maybe writer advice – advice to help you think like a writer, or even to become one…

It is possible that writing has an intrinsic relationship with lines of flight. To write is to trace lines of flight which are not imaginary, and which one is indeed forced to follow, because in reality writing involves us there, draws us in there. To write is to become, but has nothing to do with becoming a writer. That is to become something else.

Again, “To write is to trace lines of flight which are not imaginary.” I just wanted to linger on that for a moment. I write science-fiction, so of course the things I write are entirely imaginary, but at the same time they’re not, because I’m trying to root them in something real, and to bring to life those characters and their world. Maybe I don’t always do that for the reader, but when I do it for myself then I know I’m on to something. For instance, I can’t even think about the closing chapters of my novella trilogy without getting misty-eyed; these aren’t characters that I created, they’re people that live in my mind and who I care about so fucking much. Perhaps they started off imaginary, but they’re very real to me now. And I think that is a huge part of the ‘trick’ of writing a compelling narrative – however imaginary it is, it has to be real as well, it has to be taken seriously. If you aren’t losing yourself in the work to some degree, you’re not on a line of flight with your work.

Now, back to the last part of that quote: “To write is to become, but has nothing to do with becoming a writer.”

A lot of aspiring or new writers struggle with the idea of becoming a writer – they think it’s an identity that’s beyond them that they wish to grasp, but the simplest interpretation of what Deleuze is saying here is that it’s through the process of writing that one becomes. But it’s not the becoming-hyphen-writer you should concern yourself with. The writer is the first thing you become as soon as you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, but the act of writing starts you on the line of flight because – I would argue – writing means seeing your thoughts, ideas, prejudices, etc, on paper and having a chance to think about them, to deconstruct them, and to reconsider them in the way that should help you in becoming that which you are supposed to be. That’s not even necessarily what Deleuze is saying – this is not an essay on self-actualisation through the act of writing – but it’s something I’ve chosen to take out of the essay.

The great and only error [lies] in thinking that a line of flight consists in fleeing from life; the flight into the imaginary, or into art. On the contrary, to flee is to produce the real, to create life, to find a weapon.

God I love that last bit – to find a weapon. Whether that’s your mind, your voice, your persistence, your community, or something else, you’re going to need a weapon if you’re to have any chance of getting through life as the person you truly want to be. And I think with the talk of becomings, Deleuze is arguing that writing without purpose is not really writing:

In writing one always gives writing to those who do not have it, but the latter give writing a becoming without which it would not exist, without which it would be pure redundancy in the service of the powers that be.

The writing does not stand alone – it is part of a rhizome. The assemblage is not complete until the writing has been deterritorialised and reterritorialised in the act of being read. Without forming that connection, it’s redundant, lifeless. It has not become anything. Elsewhere he calls writing the “means to a more than personal life” – and perhaps he means a public life, or perhaps he means a communal one, because writing is indeed a great way to find and build a community.

And one last thought to finish on…

Writing always combines with something else, which is its own becoming.

That something else should be a spark from deep inside you, a fear you are forcing yourself to face, or some of your own blood spilling out on the page. That will make it real.

Lines of Flight and the Inward March

The line of flight would be the central idea of Deleuze’s essay On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature. Even before he mentioned Joseph Conrad, the “line of flight” immediately put me in mind of Heart of Darkness and then Apocalypse Now, and the anabasis represented by each (he also mentions Aguirre, Wrath of God, the historical figure, though Herzog’s film certainly fits the anabasis definition). Anabasis means “inland march,” but in these examples that inland march parallels an inward journey toward the heart of darkness inside the narrators themselves. Deleuze refers to the flight as a sort of delirium, which we certainly see in both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now – the narrators realise the line of flight might kill them, but they are driven onwards anyway, desperate to see what lies at the end of this becoming.

There is something […] demonic in a line of flight. Demons are different from gods, because gods have fixed attributes, properties and functions, territories and codes: they have to do with rails, boundaries and surveys. What demons do is jump across intervals, and from one interval to another.

When Deleuze mentions demons, he isn’t referring to anything evil, and indeed, the trickster seems like the real comparison. The demon, or trickster, is a force that might influence people to embrace something chaotic, or something that might normally be outside of their range of likely responses. Staying withing the boundaries of the rule-bound god will not help you embrace a line of flight, but by breaking out, one might find a new line. This is presented quite literally in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now – our narrators embrace the chaos of the jungle, leave behind their civilised selves (which are possibly only fiction-suits, where their true self is something they are frightened of as much as they are seduced by it) precisely because it is only by embracing a madness like Kurtz’s that they might have a chance to find and confront the man.

But there’s a lot more to the line of flight than embracing madness – indeed, I would argue that any journey or discovery would entail a line of flight, that any undertaking entered into consciously and with a strength of desire is a line of flight. It is anything that pushes one beyond one’s boundaries and into becoming. Deleuze denigrates French literature, because it represents the opposite of the line of flight – it is insular, static.

Deleuze mentions the clean break, which is an idea I would have liked him to dwell on more as he touches on it only briefly here. He quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald as saying “A clean break is something you cannot come back from; that is irretrievable because it makes the past cease to exist.” I would argue that when Deleuze talks of the line of flight he’s not necessarily talking about something you can’t come back from, but rather getting yourself to a place where you do not want to return –you become something truer to yourself and would never go back. (And I think this “clean break” maybe sits at odds with the French dwelling on history and secrets that Deleuze talks about elsewhere in the essay.)

But then Deleuze speaks also of what I’ll call the dirty break: “How can one avoid the line of flight’s becoming identical with a pure and simple movement of self-destruction […]?”

Here again is where he takes issue with French literature. “They are happy to stink personally, since what they write will be all the more sublime and significant.” To my mind both these quotes connect to the bullshit romanticisation of the drug-fucked artist, the idea that self-destructive habits will make you a better writer or musician or whatever. Getting bogged down in addiction seems to me the opposite of the line of flight – how can you be a person-becoming when every waking moment is spent in communion with your drug of choice? You are instead addiction-becoming.

Deleuze argues against these secrets and degradations in favour of the power of life. He doesn’t specify precisely what he means by this term, but from context I think it’s safe to say it’s related to embracing the line of flight.

But the line of flight, the clean break, can be vulnerable: “A true break may be extended in time, […] it must constantly be protected not merely against its false imitations, but also against itself, and against the reterritorializations which lie in wait for it.” The simple metaphor for this one is the drawn-out break-up. When you know that you need to make that clean break, but you find yourself being drawn back to that old relationship and those old patterns. But then the final part, the “reterritorialisations which lie in wait for it” is something to be aware of – the diversions and mistakes that can lie in wait for you when you’re trying to make those lines of flight – when you’re focused on becoming.

And maybe this sounds too much like I’m turning this essay into Deleuze’s self-help manual, but as someone who is intent on not seeing myself as a final product but rather as a process – an ongoing becoming – this is some of what I took from the essay.

Are you on a line of flight now, or are you stuck? Are you embracing self-discovery or self-destruction?

I’m still in my early days of reading and understanding Deleuze, but one thing I’m already glad of is the absence of nihilism in his writing. There is instead a sort of joy at finding the rhizomatic connections, the reterritorialisations, and the lines of flight, a pure excitement at exploring these ideas. As someone prone to general depression and a sort of nihilism concerning our collective fate, it feels like reading Deleuze is part of a line of flight that I need…