2:00pm - 2:30pm
Deleuze and Social Totality
FU Berlin, Germany
As Max Horkheimer argues in an influential essay written in the 1930s, what distinguishes ‘critical theory’ from ‘traditional theory’ is that the former is ‘not a storehouse of hypotheses on the course of particular events in society’ but ‘constructs a developing picture of society as a whole.’ What this quote underlines is the central importance of the concept of ‘social totality’ for critical theory and left-wing thought in general. Yet, as is best expressed by Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that ‘there’s no such thing as society,’ the concept has lost much of its appeal since the rise of neoliberalism in the 1980s.
In a sense, the demotion of concepts like ‘society as a whole’ is mirrored by some of today’s most prominent cultural and social theories, which represent (like Latour’s Actor-Network Theory) the shift from critique to postcritique and dismiss thinking in terms of ‘abstract’ totalities or overarching modes of production in favor of concrete actors, networks, assemblages, or territories. The aim of this paper is to determine the place of Deleuze in this constellation. Although authors like Manuel DeLanda have used Deleuze and Guattari’s assemblage theory to make a case ‘against totalities,’ I will argue that the Marxist leanings of the latter resist such appropriations. What my paper will highlight, then, is a particular tension in Deleuze’s socio-political philosophy which, on the one hand, is eager to present a meticulous account of the heterogenous multitude of actors, connections, materials, technologies, and populations, while, on the other hand, not abandoning the desire to adequately conceptualize the ‘open totality’ of social systems and modes of production.
2:30pm - 3:00pm
(CODE)TERRITORIALIZING AIRSPACE. FROM THE REGULAR NON-PLACE TO A SINGULAR ANY-SPACE
University of Lodz, Poland
It is a perfectly singular space, which has merely lost its
homogeneity, [ ... ] so that the linkages can be made in an
infinite number of ways. It is a space of virtual conjunction,
grasped as pure locus of the possible.
—Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1
The intensive digitization and automation of the airport terminal—equally motivated by the steadily growing interest in air travel, the risks it involves, and security challenges it poses nowadays—has enfolded sensory machines into its material structure, thus transforming it into a sensing code-space. Accessing and processing (not only biometric) data inaccessibly to perceptual consciousness and operating at a temporal scale beyond its scope, these visceral, sousveillant, technologies instigate aesthetic processes of singularization that profoundly change the representationally established, traditional perceptual model of sense experience. Curiously, this is paralleled by, and also actualized through, the rise of the generic style which is evidenced by hypermodern airport architecture, design and topography. In light of the above, this paper will begin by accounting for the conceptual inadequacy of rendering the airport in terms of non-lieu, and further look at the environmental manners the sensory co(d)entanglements along with the concomitant artistic desire for genericity deterritorialize it into un espace quelconque. Drawing upon the works of Deleuze, Guattari and Simondon, as well as from the fields of media ecology and cultural studies of space, I will dispense with the idea of place as a humanistic (i.e. anthropocentric and anthropomorphic) perception, and advance a proposition to read—and learn to experience—airport as a singular and generic space that has lost its homogeneity by engendering machinic sensibility. Rather than refute (let alone follow) the dominant postmodern tradition, I will instead deepen its understanding and demonstrate how its Nietzsche-inspired event of removing foundations can yield a whole new manner of sensing (any) airport (code)space.
3:00pm - 3:30pm
“After this Nothing Happened”: The Naturalistic Force of ‘No-thing’
Johns Hopkins University, United States of America
This paper explores the sympathies between Deleuze’s process ontology and naturalistic Indigenous cosmologies. By drawing on Deleuze’s notion of ‘the exhausted’ and Malabou’s ‘destructive plasticity,’ I speculate on what persist or insists despite and in spite of the power of social structures of domination. I will explore the possibility that ‘no(-)thing’ expresses touchability, i.e. a universally shared differential ontological field, as the naturalistic image of Indigenous thought that is akin to Deleuze's own rhizomatic image of thought. Perhaps naturalistic Indigenous cosmologies and Deleuze’s ontology can offer ways to deterritorialize/decolonize our habituated notions of identity.
Taking the example of the Crow nation, the philosopher Jonathan Lear in his book Radical Hope explores the meaning of the statement: “After this nothing happened” (Plenty Coups in Lear 2006, 2). The statement was uttered by the chief of the Crow Plenty Coups after the nation was confined to a reservation. Lear’s (culturalist) interpretation is that ‘nothing’ in the above statement means that Indigenous peoples were (temporarily) robbed of their ‘horizons of intelligibility’ where their bodily practices were stripped of their traditional meanings. Despite this loss, Lear still identifies a possibility to resuscitate a traditional Crow identity and he calls this possibility ‘radical hope.’ In contradistinction, I offer a Deleuzean reading of ‘nothing’ - a ‘no(-)thing’ that signals something other than a loss of cultural intelligibility, that signals something other than an effect of material and semiotic violence. This ‘no-thing,’ then, signals a persisting indigenous image of thought and a notion of identity that goes beyond a recuperation of a traditional past.
Blaz Skerjanec is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He holds a B.A. and an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Ljubljana and an M.A. in Gender Studies from the Central European University. His research interests focus on excavating a minor, naturalistic strand of thinking in the Western canon (including Lucretius, Spinoza, Nietzsche, William James, Whitehead, Deleuze, Guattari and, perhaps surprisingly, Derrida) and the ways it challenges thinking about and enacting identity politics in our contemporary historical moment. His research focuses on investigating the role naturalistic thinking plays (or doesn’t play) in the fields of indigenous political theory, queer theory and ecocritical thought.