Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Introduction to Transformation: Philosophy

"Are we human, or are we dancer?"
The Killers, Human


In the middle there was nothing. Then we adjusted our perception of the (w)hole we found ourselves and in the empty darkness, stars began to arrive. Even in the dark, the dark was a thing. We can begin to feel wonder-fully queer with every-thing. It, like us, is at the same time alien, yet familiar; ever shifting, never resolving. It is with us, between us, in us, as us. "The universe sings your song" writes the Killers "and tonight I sing along." In it, the fire of the darkness speaks of many things, but all become riddles.

In what follows I put together a sampling of thought and thinkers that will be revisited later. In doing so I trace how from the history of "philosophic" discourses we discover a world-view of things from the position of the middle. In it they lend their collective voices to help articulate "The Holey Paradox of Transforming Things" and thus define ontological status in Queer Materialism.

The Holey Paradox of Transforming Things is... the metaphysical quality of being that functions as both a thing and the act of the thing as well as the thing and the act of the thing which simultaniously over-throws it as such. Things slip, bleed, coexist BETWEEN states and motions which are not only hybrids but taken to their extreme ontological paradoxes. While dialectics keeps such statuses apart, viewing that mediation and cohabitation is impossible, Queer Materiality proposes that all is mediation and coexistence.

The logic of dialectics leaves us with holes, in speech, in law, in our thought and in our bodies, and Queer Materialism affirms these holes but dispute their status as void. Holes are close to Chaos, but one which is the source of all Forms. Holes are the limit and death of all things, because they are the point in which the self utterly becomes other as it becomes utterly itself. Holes are our metaphysical paradox of being and they are queer because they defy expectation and ontology, including the deterministic and nihilistic views that should have the universe locked in stasis or forever lost in a "void." It may very well be, as Slavoj Zizek suggests, that such holes are the revelation of an transcendent material unconscious, but as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari interject, the unconscious is not empty but packed.

Things are not dead but queerly alive.


I. The Luminescent Darkness:
Beyond the Strobe Light of Being

Zeno and Democritus: Key Concepts
  • Paradox
  • The Non-Existence of the Void
Zeno, famous for his riddles and paradoxes stated that motion was impossible because it requires a void, a nothingness, in order to move. As 'nothing' is impossible to imagine, Zeno suggests, it must not exist and motion must not be possible. Democritus, in developing his atomic theory of the universe, simply ignores and over-writes Zeno by observing that motion does in fact occur and thus there must be a void. Need Zeno's argument and Democritus' observation be contradictory however? Parmenides also argued that nothing is not possible as a void, because in such a case, nothing would be a something. Another paradox, which Democritus likewise ignores. What Democritus seems not to explore is that paradox may be the composition of existence. Nothing as something and things bound up in a kind of nothingness, or in this case, existence as motion. Things move but without existence ceasing to exist as a full entity. It grows, moves and transforms of an in itself. It itself provides acts as its own void, its own time and space. Time-space.


II. Living Fire:
Bringing Things Together

Heraclitus: Key Concepts
  • Fire is the Quintessential element
  • All things come into being by rarefaction/condensation
  • "All things come about through opposition"
  • "Strife is Justice"
  • "Everything flows"

If we accept that things defined by an initial paradox of being-nothingness, then we can begin to conceive that paradox may account for more of the metaphysical qualities of being. Positivism, as opposed to a primal nihilism and dualism, will require then an affirmation that opposites, as we define them, do not destroy each other but coexist and are present in degrees within each other. That is to say, justice (that which is and is necessarily so) is the strife-tension which the paradox sustains and why dialectics, in keeping them apart, moves towards a belief in an central nothingness to the (w)hole of existence.

Likewise then, singularity versus multiplicity can also be considered as a paradox. One element (substance) which is all together itself and across/between/trans-es different forms, trans-forms itself as the multiple. Substance and motion is then also inherent in it paradoxically. Matter and energy. Matter-energy.

Heraclitus speaks of "rarefaction" and "condensation" of fire into all the known elements, which can then be interpreted to mean that forms are an action of this substance, a becoming, which constantly shifts because it requires motion to exist as such, and motion means change. Even in the appearance of repetition or sustenance, we see the motion of becoming-self, becoming-thing through time. All things are different forms, "condensations," temperatures, speeds or "intensities" (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari).


III. Queer Motions:
Beyond the Line Dance of Determinism

Epicurus and Lucretius: Key Concepts
  • Atoms (being) and the Void (non-being)
  • The Swerve

Before things seem to fall into place into a messy but deterministic materialism, we must save ourselves from missing out on an important queer swerve into the direction of...we don't know yet.

Contradicting Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius move the discourse of atomism away from the mechanistic model of things and suggest that just as if there was an initial "nothingness" or even unmoved "thingness" that there would be no difference/motion/transformation without an inherent disturbance in its track of being/becoming self:

"When atoms move straight down through the void by their own weight, they deflect a bit in space at a quite uncertain time and in uncertain places, just enough that you could say that their motion has changed. But if they were not in the habit of swerving, they would all fall straight down through the depths of the void, like drops of rain, and no collision would occur, nor would any blow be produced among the atoms. In that case, nature would never have produced anything" ~ Lucretius, On the Nature of Things.

If existence, non-existence, genesis or reproduction simply followed the straight line of replicating the constant same linear motion then we would have trouble accounting for the diversity and difference we observe in things. There then seems to be a queerness, a chaos, at play in the machine which brings it to life. The chain of events is broken by the miracle of change and suddenly not only is something NEW created, but far from being an irrelevant link in the monotonous line, this thing at this time and place becomes all important. It has erupted from the gears of fate to become present as itself, a self beyond the machine.

Lucretius uses this "swerve" or queerness to account for free will, but admits that it is not fully free, as it finds itself still falling and all the more now contingent on the swerving of other things. Thus while it may seem to provide a basis for the "soul" or "mind" or "will" in the human, it complicates it by giving the same trans-vitalistic power to all things in, of and beyond the body.

Breaking free from the straight line dance of determinism we begin break-dancing, but in a club filled with other things, it becomes a queer mosh-pit. Thus while becoming a "self," which comes into being by and as a part of the "other" be it the dance partners, the club, or the thing that was and contained the chaos.


IV. Transcendence Dances:
On the Back of the Particular

Ovid: Key Concepts
  • Chaos and the "Meta" Morpheus
  • Linear/Hierarchical and Transcendent Temporality

Writing in a paradoxical style, Ovid weaves a narration in which one story and thing bleeds into another so that particularities become queered together. And yet Ovid begins with a creation story, one that more or less categorizes events into discernible, almost teleological stages?

It is the same paradox that meets us in his content as well. The genesis story in the Metamorphoses begins with a primal chaos in which a positivist and a nihilist may both be at a loss, because while there was a "thing" it so lacked "form" so as to be hard to consider as a thing and Ovid himself comes close to calling it a no-thing.

This queerness incarnate, as we might at first believe is then interrupted arbitrarily and spontaneously by a shaper, above all other gods, a "meta" thing, a Morpheus persona. From this the things and the transformations of the universe and the poem take shape and blur together.

Or rather that would be the case if we ourselves think of this Genesis sequentially and categorically. If we accept the invitation to imagine chaos (or that which is not defined by form) then it likewise exists outside the form of time and space. If it is the seed/substance of all things, we may as well consider it to be in all times and places equally (if all is one in it as Ovid writes). Thus what we have is not a Genesis in the past, but a Meta-Genesis which is eternal and ever present. The chaos, or queerness, is the common disruptive substance in all things particularly and which transcendently (not hierarchically ascending or descending, but rather BETWEEN stages) exists. Far from the removed/raised transcendent middle of deconstruction here transcendence is exactly the perspective of the middle and between things. If there is a "meta" language, as there must be for as Jacques Lacan criticized even saying "there is no meta-language" is a meta-statement par excellence, it is written, however illegibly in the free/queer play of things.

This "meta" Morpheus must also be, as its transcendent descriptors seem to imply, completely in the present as well as in a sense irreverent to time. As form, it itself has no form or place; beyond the forms it becomes through the particular and thus it exists itself as ultimately BETWEEN them.

So do we have Chaos/Substance on one hand and Form/Fate on the Other? If both seem to transcend the plot of the universe as a meta-plot throughout it then we could instead say that they are paradoxically the same thing and yet different motions. It/they are it/them-self the same/other to it/them-self and everything else. If there is a Transcendent God in Ovid, it is then a Queer one, a Trans-former of ontological substance-qua-action set against the eternal stasis of Platonic Forms.


V. Mosh Ontology:
Between Packed Bodies

  • Quasi-Objects/Black-Boxes
  • Parasites/Hybrids
  • Transforming/Mediation

In the tradition of Ovid, Michel Serres theorizes a perspective of atomism and ecology which is generated from Chaos. Things are alive in Serres's world-view, given the power to queer/alter/act on their field and trajectory. He introduces the idea of Quasi-Objects as way to break past the polar divide of dialectical psychoanalysis's object/subject split. There is mediation, all things mediate and all is mediation. From the phenomenological level, the mind is not distinct from the body but is the body, both in its nuerology but also in its interconnections with other organic and inorganic matter which allow it to function. But as we explore further into the depths and outer limits of things we find how big and small things become themselves and have a vitality through an interwoven transforming power, a queerness, a chaos, a swerve that gives its personality. Each of these "things" or ontological ecologies can be taken as a whole and function like a block-box, or an atom (unbreakable thing) to serve as a block participant in other ecologies. But each black-box can be opened to find more and more such ecologies, which already bleed across into others. Its always already transformed.

Bruno Latour follows Michel Serres's trajectory but moves away from his more poetic and chaotic Ovidian tendencies. Latour is more concerned with networks and if he too follows in Ovid's foot-steps, he participates more in the line of the "meta" Morpheus, insofar as he focuses on (trans)formation as identity. Things bundled together and acting in sequence or interrupting the chain to provide moments of change and independence, a mutation, a queerness, are what brings the things we observe to life; by acting both as a trans-actor who delivers action from place to place but as a trans-former that changes what is being done. Like Serres's "parasites" a thing is formed only by and as an ecology; thus he also borrows the language of black-boxes and hybrids. From his meditation on hybrids he likewise considers how quasi-objects are the status of all things, as to consider things as either subject or object would be to problematically separate mutually extant qualities and to attempt to halt a network of mediation which brings things into themselves in order to be considered. As a result of which, if we are to address the identity of a thing/person, we must take into account both its subjective and objective qualities. We must address how it as an ontological thing is also alien to itself, thus undermining this ontology, so that a self-identification and othering-alienation is a status which is not simply based on perception, but is an action of the network. Becoming self (objectively) and performing selfhood (subjectively) are for quasi-object networks diverted ways of considering the same contingent events.

Here we see our Queer Materialism beginning to come back into the familiar language of Queer Theory. It does so by in some ways denying the denial of social-construction model of identity, but only after transforming the social into and together with the material and the psychological. Quasi-objects, writes Latour, are "far more social" than the subject and harder than the "hard stuff" of objective reality. Performativity, as it has been since Judith Butler said that "sex is already gender" is more than skin deep; it is the skin too. Like Latour's puppets, "we" as "subjects" exist as a performance of "objects" just as much, if not unequally more, than the reverse. That is, of course, if we could consider ourselves as a singular consciousness, which as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari explore, we cannot do.


VI. Bending Both-Ways:
When Its Hard to Know Whose Hand is Whose

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
  • Rhizomes/Becomings/ Intensities
  • "One of Several Wolves?"/Molarity and Molecularity

In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari begin with two chapters which in many ways bring together much of the possibilities for the metaphysics of Queer Materiality, concerning the question of the Rhizome and One of Several Wolves? In the first we see the queer substance of being (or rather becoming) and in the later how this becoming manifests as trans-formation that is as the same time one and a multiplicity.

Rhizomes and not trees, Deleuze and Guattari, are the more useful model for life and generation. This is because rather than suggesting a linear hierarchy as trees do, rhizomes grow in a multitude of queer and simultaneous directions. The rhizome becomes more like a knot or a node and less of a command center, in which the life of the material throughout it governs its divergent actions. Every growth is in some way contingent on others but free as well to express moments of free drift. Rhizomes are a living model of the queer substance of metaphysics.

The question of "One or Several Wolves" is for us a action of trans-formation. Just like the ecologies/black-boxes/networks of Serres and Latour can act as one and simultaneously bleed into others and become subdivided, so to does the "wolf" in Deleuzian thought. Molarity (oneness) and Molecularity (plurality) is presented by Deleuze as not dialectic contradictions, but a paradoxical status of all things. The multiplicity is a thing for Deleuze as it signifies this hybrid numerical status. Things are queer because they act like a pack of wolves, wandering in directions together but with packs/wolves within the pack that conflict or are carried along passively with the others. Multi-sexuality, trans-sexuality, drag-sexuality are the status of things and as such constantly queer any desire or identity.


VII. Becoming Queer:
On the Dance Floor

Manuel de Landa and Elizabeth Grosz: Key Concepts
  • Matter-Energy Flow
  • Genetic Flow/Evolution qua Mutation

Deleuze and Guattari look at materialism in a variety of scopes, and subsequently inspire Manuel de Lanada and Elizabeth Grotz to look at wide views of time-space to see how the field performs a queer ecological assemblage.

Within the realm of history, physics and some biology, Manuel de Landa's matter-energy in a Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, based on Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's concept of the matter-energy relationship via difference and intensity, enters into the discourse and move us towards an understanding materiality in a queer register. A universe (or universal being) which is full but ever increasing and forming (thus more accurately understood as a universal becoming). de Landa describes this convection as flow and argues fervently against the conception of events as a linear progression and instead models things as a both-and, a constant trans-formation of substance so that it does and is a multiplicity of things/acts at once, constantly overthrowing/disturbing its own ontological status.

Within the realm of biology, Darwin's theory of natural selection put forth in the Origin of Species describes how one life-form out survives others and thus allows for their genetic material to be replicated...but the difference which produced this other life-form (which its different and advantageous qualities) is based on the chaos of mutation*; or a queering of the genetic pattern and the life-forms identification with even its own progenitors.This reading of Darwin was explored extensively by Elizabeth Grosz in Chaos, Territory, Art, but halted at the point of sexual difference and not continued along into a theory of queer materialism.

Following this logic, even among life-forms that do not require intercourse (conventionally conceived) there is a moment towards the creation of difference and not total self-replication. This is to say that read allegorically (as it so often is) we experience not a stage-model of the lesser creature giving way to the superior, but a constant furnace, or womb, of creative difference which undermines itself ecstatically.


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