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…

BwO: *Who* Does the Earth Think It Is?! – Notes on Geology of Morals

Here are my notes for Buddies without Organs Episode #4 – find episode notes and links here.

My first appearance on this illustrious podcast might have been a little clumsy – I’ll be the first to admit that – but I did in fact have some decent notes prior to recording. Matt pre-empted some of what I wanted to say in his opening section, and I didn’t want us to be repeating ourselves, so instead I kinda jumped haphazardly into my notes (I’ll get better at this podcasting business, mark my words). Below you’ll find said notes, focused on the theory-fiction aspect of this essay, along with a couple of other bits that I wanted to post here for posterity.

When Sean first suggested The Geology of Morals he said something along the lines of “We’ll have fun with this one.” Fool that I am, I thought that meant this was going to be a light or easy essay. But it’s not, not at all. It is however fun, and a big part of that comes down to the narrative framing device Deleuze and Guattari use here. That device is of sitting in on a lecture given by Professor Challenger, which is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it means that Challenger becomes a stand-in for Deleuze and Guattari themselves because he is the one presenting their ideas, which means it also gives them a chance to pre-empt their critics:

Besides, the professor was not a geologist or a biologist, he was not even a linguist, ethnologist, or psychoanalyst; what his specialty had been was long since forgotten. In fact, Professor Challenger was double, articulated twice, and that did not make things any easier, people never knew which of him was present. He (?) claimed to have invented a discipline he referred to by various names: rhizomatics, stratoanalysis, schizoanalysis, nomadology, micropolitics, pragmatics, the science of multiplicities.

Secondly, it allows them to put a variety of thinkers in conversation with each other. Obviously a framing device isn’t necessary here, because any number of philosophical texts do the same thing without it, but, again, it’s a fun way to do so, and even brings in an element of hyperstition. Arthur Conan Doyle is mentioned at the very opening of the essay, so even if you’re unfamiliar with When the World Screamed, the simple mention of ACD means it’s fair to assume that Challenger is a fictional character. It gets interesting then when D&G start to bring in these other “characters” in conversation with Challenger, but when you check the endnotes you find these are real scientists and thinkers. There’s something about the light presentation of these dense ideas reinforced by this web of research that gives the essay a certain, shall we say, je ne sais quoi (hey, D&G are French, so it works). It gives the essay an extra feeling of depth, which is one of the ways that I can feel hyperstition – when I feel unmoored, unsure of what’s real and what’s fiction.

(Some other things that give me that hyperstitional feel:

  • Luke Rhineheart’s The Dice Man
  • The film The Fourth Kind

And other experiences that are immediately lesser if you open up wikipedia and go looking for truth…)

Third, the essay on the whole is about content and expression, and the tension and connection between those two modes. So what do D&G do with this subject matter – with this content? They write it as theory fiction. They use a form of expression that might bring attention to itself and reinforce the content for the reader as they go through the essay. The piece itself acts as a meta-metaphor for the content of the essay (and seeing as most of the talk of strata in this essay went over my head, it was the other metaphors that I really latched onto, meaning I couldn’t very well miss or ignore this one).

And lastly, I’m coming back to this, I know, but it’s fun. It’s a dense essay, but throughout they’ll bring you back to the framing device and give you a breather before carrying on. It’s simple but really effective. As that framing story unfolds, we see Challenger’s authority challenged, his lecture become a puppet show and a shambles, and the man himself turns into a lobster – a lobster giving a lecture to an empty room. (This ending is peppered with Lovecraft references, but Challenger’s transformation just pet me in mind of William S. Burroughs’ All American De-Anxietised Man.)

For more on theory-fiction, A Theory Fiction Reading List.

And while we’re on the topic of theory and also literature…

What’s the art, if I can say that, what’s the literary dimension of writing theory? It’s a genre of literature, Marx is a literary genius. We sort of lose track of that, creating language to describe new situations but in ways that don’t lose track of their genesis and genealogy. To write theory as a literary genre, to tackle that, rather than recycle these terms we picked up from the great famous names.

Mckenzie Wark, interviewed at Believer Magazine

That might not always be easy to see if we get lost in the theory itself – in the ideas and the intellectual aspect apart from the aesthetics (if we get caught up in the content and forget the importance of expression), but I think this essay does a great job of reinforcing her point.

There were also a couple of quotes in this essay that put me in mind of Object-Oriented Ontology, which is something I got interested in largely in regards to my novel Repo Virtual, but which I want to read more on if only because it seems like an effective battering ram against anthropocentric thinking…

To express is always to sing the glory of God. Every stratum is a judgment of God; not only do plants and animals, orchids and wasps, sing or express themselves, but so do rocks and even rivers, every stratified thing on earth.

And this:

The development of the associated milieus culminates in the animal worlds described by von Uexkull, with all their active, perceptive, and energetic characteristics. The unforgettable associated world of the Tick, defined by its gravitational energy of falling, its olfactory characteristic of perceiving sweat, and its active characteristic of latching on: the tick climbs a branch and drops onto a passing mammal it has recognized by smell, then latches onto its skin (an associated world composed of three factors, and no more). Active and perceptive characteristics are themselves something of a double pincer, a double articulation.

And lastly, there was a vein in this essay about evolution and/as deterritorialisation that really grabbed me, but I might end up expanding on those thoughts at a later date. So for now, I shall say goodbye and that I’m glad to be here with all you buddies.