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Category Archives: Felix Guattari

The Becoming-woman of Machine in Avatar

A Comparison With The Fist of the White Lotus

[Early concept art for Cameron's Avatar]

In following up this rhizome series on Cameron’s Avatar, which involves this series of posts:

1. Avatar: The Density of Being, 2. Avatarship and the New Man: Reading Ideology, Technology and Hope, 3.Two Vectors of Avatar’s Cinematic Achievement: Affect and Space Interface, 4.Is the Medium the Message? Avatar’s Avatar, 5. Peking Opera and the Aesthetic Freedoms of Avatar.

I want to pick up on the last Peking Opera/Hong Kong Action reference, and open up a comparison I’ve suggested, between Avatar and the Kung Fu classic Fist of the White Lotus (1980, originally title among others Clan of the White Lotus). In each the process of education involves an implicit feminization of the more masculine powers, something that may have bearing upon both philosophical vitalism and the general fears about left, liberal, Hollywood pantheism. In Fist of the White Lotus the hero Hong Wending, played by the incomparable Gordon Liu (Liu Jiahui, forget Tarantino’s souless homage the character and actor in Kill Bill 2) seeks revenge against an evil martial arts master who has murdered nearly all of the hero’s Shaolin brethren. To be sure one has to be rather thoroughly steeped in the Hong Kong aesthetic to appreciate how the seemingly stilted plots, characters and actions of this film transcend into graced expression and very significant matters (or correspond to perceived weaknesses in Avatar), but it is enough to see that gender is under transformation in the film.

To give a sense of the storyline, Pai Mei “white eyebrows”, the evil villain high priest, has achieved a nearly undefeatable level of martial arts that required a highly choreographed combined attack of two persons, an attack used to defeat his twin brother. With the hero now a sole survivor after a White Lotus Clan ambush, having lost his martial arts compatriot, he has no way to fight this arch enemy and avenge his close friend’s death. The movie consists in Gordion Lui trying to perfect new forms of attack, and repeated showdowns that fail. The principle unusual powers that Pai Mei possesses are the bizarre defensive capacity to withdraw his genitals back into his body to protect them, and the ability to become so weightless that the force of any blow thrown just floats him back as if he were made of paper. 

At one stage in the hero’s development he comes into the tutelage of the wife of his fallen comrade, whose child she has now born. He believes that if he learns her “woman’s style” he may be able to combine it with his aggressive Crane and Tiger and finally be able to get close enough to strike his opponent. But first he must learn women’s work, he is told. This is the sequence of his feminization (the whole film is posted in parts on Youtube):

As the plot goes, this woman’s style is not sufficient to defeat the great Pai Mei, but it is componented to the skills that in the end prove necessary. The character must go through a feminization in order to draw up the powers of the feminine into his eventual expression of righteous force. Many of the social fears over the liberal creep of pantheism are no doubt linked to deeply entrenched gender notions, bodily configurations, cultural identifications with what is appropriate. One can see this in the conflict between the two kinds of technology in Avatar, the masculine puppetry and instrumental expression, machines operating in a kind of robotic Kung Fu like Hong Kong Tiger or Crane Style, and the limpid, synthetic and lithe Pandoran DNA lightness, which involved a distinct feminization of Sully’s body (the lengthening of his features and limbs, the corsetting of his waist, a general feline framing of his person). Sully learns, and becomes a mutuality of gender expressions, recovering a brute, warlike masculinity on the other side of woman. The mushy, spiritual New Ageism that makes much of the American Right recoil goes in two powerful directions. There are the strong gender (and sexuality) political questions that can at times dominate social discussion (for instance the question of Gay Marriage which rears its head and subsides with great tidal force), but these are intimately linked I believe to questions of technological synthesis, the way in which we feel the world through our technologies in such a way that they engender us, and steer us away from a much more (symbolically) masculine instrumental relationship to our capacities. The entire Gaia feminization of the world which some protest, and which marks something of the vitalisms of contemporary philosophy, are questions of immersion, how deeply should our body sink into our capacities, and feel our way forward through what is modern. The contest between instrument and embodiment is an aesthetic contest between distance and speed, something mediated by affect and our control of affects (most regularly codified and regimented in the register of gender). In this sense, the battleground of gender, in politics, and the seemingly reactionary political entrenchment on the issue of sexual rights and actions is to be expected, and in fact, respected, as the entire social body seeking equilibrium amid vast change in capacity to feel and do.

Animal, Woman, Child: Vitalism and Technology

To give some context to what is as stake, here is a selection from Deleuze and Guattari’s a thousand plateaus which I juxtapose to the gender, technological and conscience transformations of Avatar’s Sully:

What is a girl, what is a group of girls? Proust at least has shown us once and for all that their individuation, collective or singular, proceeds not by subjectivity but by haecceity, pure haecceity. “Fugitive beings.” They are pure relations of speeds and slownesses, and nothing else. A girl is late on account of her speed: she did too many things, crossed too many spaces in relation to the relative time of the person waiting for her. Thus her apparent slowness is transformed into the breakneck speed of our waiting. (292)

The girl’s becoming is stolen first, in order to impose a history, or prehistory, upon her. The boy’s turn comes next, but it is by using the girl as an example, by pointing to the girl as the object of his desire, that an opposed organism, a dominant history is fabricated for him too. The girl is the first victim, but she must also serve as an example and a trap. That is why, conversely, the reconstruction of the body as a Body without Organs, the anorganism of the body, is inseparable from a becoming-woman, or the production of a molecular woman. Doubtless, the girl becomes a woman in the molar or organic sense. But conversely, becoming-woman or the molecular woman is the girl herself. The girl is certainly not defined by virginity; she is defined by a relation of movement and rest, speed and slowness, by a combination of atoms, an emission of particles: haecceity. She never ceases to roam upon a body without organs. She is an abstract line, or a line of flight. Thus girls do not belong to an age group, sex, order, or kingdom: they slip in everywhere, between orders, acts, ages, sexes; they produce n molecular sexes on the line of flight in relation to the dualism machines they cross right through. (297-8)

Although all becomings are already molecular, including becoming woman, it must be said that all becomings begin with and pass through becoming-woman. It is the key to all the other becomings. When the man of war disguises himself as a woman, flees disguised as a girl, hides as a girl, it is not a shameful, transitory incident in his life. To hide, to camouflage oneself, is a warrior function, and the line of flight attracts the enemy, traverses something and puts what it traverses to flight; the warrior arises in the infinity of a line of flight. Although the femininity of the man of war is not accidental, it should not be thought of as structural, or regulated by a correspondence of relations. It is difficult to see how the correspondence between the two relations “man-war” and “woman-marriage” could entail an equivalence between the warrior and the girl as a woman who refuses to marry.61 It is just as difficult to see how the general bisexuality, or even homosexuality, of military societies could explain this phenomenon, which is no more imitative than it is structural, representing instead an essential anomie of the man of war. This phenomenon can only be understood in terms of becoming. We have seen how the man of war, by virtue of his furor and celerity, was swept up in irresistible becomings-animal. These are becomings that have as their necessary condition the becoming-woman of the warrior, or his alliance with the girl, his contagion with her. The man of war is inseparable from the Amazons. The union of the girl and the man of war does not produce animals, but simultaneously produces the becoming-woman of the latter and the becoming-animal of the former, in a single “block” in which the warrior in turn becomes animal by contagion with the girl at the same time as the girl becomes warrior by contagion with the animal. Everything ties together in an asymmetrical block of becoming, an instantaneous zigzag. It is in the vestiges of a double war machine— that of the Greeks, soon to be supplanted by the State, and that of the Amazons, soon to be dissolved—that Achilles and Penthesilea, the last man of war and the last queen of the girls, choose one another, Achilles in a becoming-woman, Penthesilea in a becoming-dog.

The rites of transvestism or female impersonation in primitive societies in which a man becomes a woman are not explainable by a social organization that places the given relations in correspondence, or by a psychic organization that makes the woman desire to become a man just as the man desires to become a woman.62 Social structure and psychic identification leave too many special factors unaccounted for: the linkage, unleashing, and communication of the becomings triggered by the transvestite; the power (puissance) of the resultant becoming-animal; and above all the participation of these becomings in a specific war machine. The same applies for sexuality: it is badly explained by the binary organization of the sexes, and just as badly by a bisexual organization within each sex. Sexuality brings into play too great a diversity of conjugated becomings; these are like n sexes, an entire war machine through which love passes. This is not a return to those appalling metaphors of love and war, seduction and conquest, the battle of the sexes and the domestic squabble, or even the Strindberg-war: it is only after love is done with and sexuality has dried up that things appear this way. What counts is that love itself is a war machine endowed with strange and somewhat terrifying powers. Sexuality is the production of a thousand sexes, which are so many uncontrollable becomings. Sexuality proceeds by way of the becoming-woman of the man and the becoming-animal of the human: an emission of particles. (299-300)

In a strong and distinct sense, every technological evolution requires a becoming-woman, a becoming-animal, a becoming-child, which necessarily must also involve distinct political reterritorialization of categories, a reaction, at the social-political level. Techologies are micro- molecular invasions of affect upon the body politic, one might say, and involve necessary immunological response.

Guattari’s Four Ontologies

For those who have never looked into the thought of Felix Guatarri, the nearly effaced thinker of the pair D & G, for which the name Deleuze can come to regularly stand, I post below a significant section from Gary Genosko’s admirable treatment of Guattari’s primary ideas, Felix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction. The selection deals with the history of analytic concepts found in two cartographic, schematic grids, and their principle meanings. They are called the Four Functors, or functional domains, but I prefer to think of them, and call them The Four Ontologies, in part to indicate their necessary disjunction and modal differences, in part to necessitate their immanent reality. For those only familiar with the works of their joint authorship, you may find interesting familiar terms and concepts in new contexts. Enjoy. I read the book some time ago and the diagram still stays with me.

Guattari’s diagrams and tables of the four functors and the domains proper to each tell us a great deal about his attempts to overcome simple problems of doubling couplets (all sorts of reductive dualisms), of evoking logical or semiotic squares in a segmental quadrature of deterriotorialization (the four domains result from segmentation of the plane of consistency). In CS (cartographies schizoanalytiques, 41) Guattari wrote of the “two couples” that constituted the four categories – actual and virtual and possible and real -to which he added other couples – some familiar, like expression and content (Chs [Chaosmosis] 60) and some less familiar but with a broadly semiotic lineage. (See figures 5.1a and 5.1b.) By the time of Chs, Guattari saw the expression and content couple as a problem to be overcome because it was still too much stained by linguistics and automatic contraction that would restrict the openness of assemblages of enunciation (the detour became a dead end). His reference to the left and right hand sides of the figure further exacerbated the question of whether or not his Fourth term consituted an advance over the ingenious Threes discussed in the previous chapter since he kept adding couple upon couple. The Threes are still very much at work here. Guattari advanced by analogy with the important form-substance-matter distinction – which he profoundly modified to describe diagrammatic deterritorialization by means of sign-particles between form and matter (IM [L'Inconscient machinique] 224-5) – in relation to the Fours: just as substance is the manifestation of form in matter, existential Territories are the manifestation of incorporeal Universes and machinic Phylums in material Fluxes (CS 84, n. 1), given that substance is akin to Territory, Universes and Phylum are akin to form, and Fluxes are akin to matter (unformed). The abstract machines of the domain of Phylum are new coding of the a-signifying semiotics with a purchase on material fluxes (Flux), whereas the existential incarnation (Territory) of the incorporeal constellations (Universe) metamodel as virtual rather than actual the former relation.

However, Guattari use the example of two options of Freudian cartography as they concerned libido and the unconscious to demonstrate the core features of Figure 5.1a. On the left side, libido either pursues a deterritorialized option toward abstract matters of the possible (Phylum), or is reterritorialized into the psychogenetic stages and dualisms (Eros -Thanatos) of stratified Fluxes; on the right side, the unconscious explores deterritorialized lines of alterity that are both original and unheard-of (Universes) or takes refuge in the Territories of the repressed according to various reterritorializing maps of the mind that Freud developed over the course of his career, most pertinently, between the dream book and the “The Unconsious”, “Ego and the Id”, and “New Introductory Lecture 31″. (CS 44-7; Chs 62). Guattari was also, like Freud, mapping the unconscious. Without being reductionistic, Guattari’s cartography of the schizophrenic unconscious is situated against but in the tradition of  the Freudian metapsychology of diagramming the psychical topography and the two systems (Cs. [Pcs.] Ucs.), description of their characteristics, communications, conflicts, classifications (of instincts), and emergence of the Ego-Id-Superego – the three regions – or indeed, the Lacanian tripartite Real-Imaginary-Symbolic. Guattari took great pains to decentre his cartography from the linguistic signifier, from the many psychoanalytics dualisms (primary-secondary process); to render the domains contingent and evolutionary is relation to technology, art and science, and avoid reductive prototypes of subjectivity (CS 32ff). Whether or not he was successful will need to be carefully considered.
 
What is the Fourth Term anyway?  How many is an open Three? The diagramming of the transversal relations between heterogenous domains: material and energetic Fluxes (F); an abstract machinic Phylum (P); existential Territories (T); leaves incorporeal Universes (U) that escape the coordinates of F, P, and T (CS 74). The  Fourth term is the virtual possible and, together with the actual possible, these envelop the actual real and virtual real. Guattari linked both powerlessness and unreachable foundations with Twos; pyramidal dialectical trees with Threes, and the generation of non-prioritized, proliferating trans-entity interactions that respected the principle of autopoesis with Fours…
 
…Guattari’s model of the unconscious had three types of energetico-semiotic quantic configurations describing interentity relationship: non-separability, or synchronic compossibility (intrinsic reference); separability or diachronic complementarity involving time and becoming (extrinsic reference); and quanitification operating between non-separability and separability, but not subordinate to them (non-separability being the semiotic superstructure of separability; quantification being the pragmatic superstructure of separability). Each had their own tensors (although Lyotard used this concept to describe a singular point of libidnal intensity such as Dora’s throat against the semoitic nihilism that a sign stands for something for someone, this extra-semiotic element produced libidnal intensity through force and singularity, like a proper name, as opposed to signifying meaning through differentiation; 1993: 54-6) and because Guattari was concerned with describing inter-entity relations by means of this mathematically derived concept, it may be thought of as a generalized vector of such relations. These relations, about which more will be shortly, are constrained by those between the levels of the unconscious that Guattari presented (it is evident from Figure 5.1a that there are NOT, for example, direct connections between Fluxes and Universes and Territories and Phylums, but Guattari invented indirect links by means of synapses). So, in the first instance, one of the tensors of non-separability is Expression and Content (extrinsic reference of deterriotorialization) and the other is System and Structure (intrinsic reference of deterritorialization). Both concern deterritorialization and this axis occupies the place of both possible and real in Figure 5.1a (where possible was, infinite, irreversible, deterritorialization, far from equalibrium, shall be; and where the real was finite, reversible deterritorialization close to equalibrium shall be (CS 86)). The tensors of separation are semiotic (engendering laterally, from their point of origin, sites of entities of meaning – hence largely Territorial functions functions) and the surplus value of possibility, which  relays the site of entities of meaning and transfers them, via synapes of effect – situated  between Fluxes and Phylums – and affect – situated between Territories and Universes – to pragmatic effects and subjective affects. The tensors of quantification are synaptic: they are, as suggested, relays for the transfer of the surplus value of possibility toward the sites of entities polarized as either systematic or structural. As I indicated in Figure 5.1a, each domain has a figure in which entities are situated: Fluxes=Complexions; Phylums=Rhizomes; Territories=Cut outs; Universes=Constellations. Although Guattari preferred to diagram the domains as four parallel sub-ensembles in a topological space in order to give some depth to an otherwise two-dimensional diagram such as Figure 5.1a and its variations, the latter were commonly used.
 
As for the metamodel’s contraints, there are restrictions on direct tensorial relations that I have already mentioned (but which the synaptics mediate); tensorial relations are subject to dyssynchrony;and the levels, corresponding to the three configurations governing inter-entity relations but based upon order of presupposition: Level 1 has no presuppositions; Level 2 presupposes Level 1 (semiotic); Level 3 presupposes Levels 1 and 2 (pragmatic and subjective). Guattari’s work is not very far removed in spirit from what Freud and Lacan did in their diagnosis and algorithms. Freud even went so far as to compensate for weakness in his diagrams, asking his audiences to make mental corrections. Constraints include how the id relates to the external world only via the ego, the specification of certain types of entities (cathetic intensities that are mobile or not), and topographic relations of semiological algorithms defined by two cumbersome structures (metaphor and metonymy), etc. Despite Guattari’s warnings abou the profound modification of psychoanalysis, he continually introduced codings that suggested precisely the diminishment of such modifications. For example, the fourfold segmentation of domains on the plane of consistency is based on two arguments:
 
      1. for discursivity, an ontological argument: if there is a given (donne/), there is a giving (donnant);
            – unity, discontinuous divisions of Territories and constellations of Universes (giving);
            – plural, continuous, fusional complexions of Fluxes and rhizomes of Phylums (given);
      2. for deterritorialization, a cosmological argument: two domains of intrinsic reference without immediate intersection yield a GIVEN corresponding to an intrinsic, systematic reference and a GIVING corresponding to an intrinsic structural reference;
            -finite, reversable, deterritorialization referenced around a point of equilibrium;
            -infinite, irreversable deterritorialization referenced far from a point of equilibrium
 
The problem is that giving-given corresponds to expression-content as does structure-system, on top of which Guattari develops his division of the unconscious into three levels reflecting the later topography of Freud’s ego-id-super-ego model, a primary, secondary, and tertiary unconsciousness, each with their own tensors. Remember the pairings that pile up in the two-dimensional Figures 5.1a and 5.1b, with their expansions, are worked by processual cycles (Figure 5.2 [not included here]) which seem to lack real depth. Guattari struggled with representing the four domains (CS 80).
 
      Level 1. Primary Unconscious
      Level of Intrinsic Reference: Systems and Structures
      Reversible Tensors:
      (a)   systematic referent, on the side of the given between sites of entities of Flux and those of Phylums (left side of Figure 5.1a) (i.e., systems that articulate material and energetic Fluxes on abstract machinic rhizomes);
      (b)   structural referent, on the side of giving, between between sites of Territorial entities and incorporeal Universes (right side of Figure 5.1a) (i.e., a musical structure that crystalizes rhythms, melodies of incorporeal Universes; a biscuit that conjures an incorporeal Universe of another time and place but, through globalization, becomes available everywhere, leads to the Universe’s implosion, and the existential Territories of subjectivity become ambivalent about their own taste)
 
SUMMARY: F=complexion; P=rhizome; T=cut out; U=constellation.
 
      Level 2. Secondary Unconscious
      Level of Extrinsic Reference: Semiotic Tensors
      Irreversible Tensors of:
      (a) persistence, vectorized from Systems to Structures (from given to giving):
            – sensible tensors virtualizing sensible contents within existential Territories (i.e., cutting out from diverse Fluxes a refrain of territorialization in an ethological assemblage, as in the Stagemaker’s upturned leaves on its display ground selected from the Flux of leaves);
            – noematic tensors virtualizing the noematic contents within Universes (i.e., smile of the Cheshire cat, unlocalizable as a point in space);
      (b) tensors of transistency, vectorized from structures to systems (giving to given):
            – diagrammatic tensors actualizing diagrams in Fluxes (i.e., a machine-readable magnetic strip of a bank card that, in conjunction with a personal identification number, provides access to an account);
            – machinic tensors actualizing abstract propositional expressions of rhizomic Phylums (i.e., the incorporeal faciality of Christ projected on machinic capitalist Phylums, already traversing spaces before being deployed; already always there).
 
SUMMARY: F-T=sensible; T-F=Diagrammatic; P-U-noematic; U-P-machinic.
 
      Level 3. Tertiary Unconscious
      Persistence and Transistency: Pragmatic (between F and P) and Subjective (between T and U) Synapes
      (adjusting the three configurations of non-separation, separation and quantification in different ways on earlier Levels: on L1, in the presentifcation of the backwards-looking potentialities of Systems and Structures; on L2, forward looking surplus value of possibility of semiotic concatenations)
      (a) Bivalent synapes result from the conjunction of two afferent tensors of consistency – F and P – effect of extrinsic coding (i.e., perception without foundation, hallucination) and T and U – affect of extrinsic ordination (i.e., a “real impression” of a dream).
      
      (b) Trivalent synapes result from the conjunction of two afferent tensors and one efferent tensor resulting in:
            — Consistency F – closed systems effect (i.e., closed cybernetic loop);
            — Consistency P – open systemic effect (i.e., micro-social systems upon which family therapy strives to intervene);
            — Consistency T – closed structural affect (i.e., function of the mature Freudian topography);
            — Consistency U – open structural affect (i.e., becoming vegetable, child, animal).
 
      (c) Tetravalent synapes either associate effects of extrinsic coding (consistency F and P) with open and closed systemic synapes or affects of extrinsic ordination (consistency T and U) with open and closed structural synapes:
            – pragmatic synapse (between F and P): an affect is virtualized when an assemblage is polarized by a relation of persistence emanating from pragmatic to subjective;
            – subjective synapse (between T and U): an effect is actualized when an assemblage is polarized by a relation of transistence emanating from subjective to pragmatic (hence, a play of virtual persistence implosion and actual transistence expansion without destroying the two poles of effect and affect).
 
SUMMARY: F-P=open systemic effect; P-Fclosed system effect; T-U-open structural affect; U-T=closed stuctural affect. (Note: summary based on correction to Table 3, CS 91); see also the tensors and entities mapped in CS 83.)
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