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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.

More on the Antigone Complex

Ribbons of New Subjective Action

Yesterday I began thinking about the potentials of an Antigone Complex – how I would love to do an online, philosophical reading group on that play in the spirit of Mikhail’s Braver reading group, there is so much philosophical groudwork there, the play has been so conceptually influential its not even funny – thinking in particular about just how tempting and difficult defining a complex is. We want to think of a complex as a kind of double-bind that the subject finds herself in, in the classic sense that the supposedly Oedipal subject is confronted with a kind of inevitable loss (which – now he – then must either accept or deny with consequences). I am struck how Antigone has no such kind of difficulty. She is already inscribed within the matrix (and we use that word literally perhaps) of her powers, however involute that is. Hegel wants to find in her a kind of primative form of the law which the State must eventually sublate, and there is plenty of fodder for conceptions of opposition in the play, Sophocles just loves them, but there is something more happening here. She is a kind of ribbon-thread that runs up through all those oppositions, not joining them together, not holding, but rather transversing them. Kreon, the most fatherly of the fatherly, is not an opposition to her. She runs right through him. She is an apparition to him. The fatherly and the law is her natural order, the water to her fish. She is most dextrous there.

It must be kept in mind that Antigone is a child. Likely understood to be perhaps 13 or 14 by the Greek audience, her boldness, her transfigurative dress in male clothing (“I say now I am not a man, but this girl is a man!” line 484) is something well beneath opposition, something coming right out of the woodwork of the bones. And yes, there is a distinct aura of sterile opposition here, from the lexical facts of her name right on up, but I sense that history has mis-read even this. (I recall my idiosyncratic professor of Greek telling me that her name was commonly understood as “replacement child” the child named after the stillborn birth of another. She is the generation that comes after.)

When thinking hard about the play when retranslating it I came across a reading that claimed that the play should be named Kreon, in the manner in which the title denotes the figure that is going to go through the tragic anagnoresis. Antigone, though she comes to mourn her wedding to death, is not transformed, but transforming. What would a complex of the subject look like that held this capacity?  She is catalytic in the literal and Sapphic sense of the word. And seems to hold within her many of the Zuggtmonic drive principles that have recently been pondered here. I cannot help but think of the confusion that many miss, that there were TWO burials of her brother Polyneice’s body, the first having a very possible purely naturalized explanation – the sleeping guards awoke to find the body nearly invisible and disappeared, covered over by a dust storm. Antigone in this sense acts as a kind of overcoding of the supernatural/natural imaginary relation human beings necessarily have, a subject’s capacity to act right out of the nexus of the material and natural worlds: the subject as apparition (but not subjectivity as having-appeared).

Guattari and Deleuze have an insightful passage in a thousand plateaus  that invokes many of the capacities of Antigone; though she, the political girl, is not mentioned by name (Joan of Arc), she haunts the description:

The girl is like the block of becoming that remains contemporaneous to each opposable term, man, woman, child, adult. It is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl. Trost, a mysterious author, painted a portrait of the girl, to whom he linked the fate of the revolution: her speed, her freely mechanic body, her intensities, her abstract line or line of flight, her molecular production, her indifference to memory, her nonfigurative character – “the nonfiguration of desire.” Joan of Arc? The special role of the girl in Russian terrorism: the girl with the bomb, guardian of dynamite? It is certain that molecular politics proceeds via the girl and the child. But it is also certain that girls and children draw their strength neither from molar status that subdues them nor from the becoming-molecular they cause to pass between sexes and ages, the becoming-child of the adult as well as of the child, the becoming-woman of the man as well as of the woman. The girl and the child do not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman; the girl is the becoming-woman of each sex, just as the child is the becoming-young of every age. Knowing how to age does not mean remaining young: it means extracting from one’s age the particles, the speeds and slownesses, the flows that constitute the youth of that age. Knowing how to love does not mean remaining a man or a woman; it means extracting from one’s sex the particles, the speeds and slownesses, the flows, the n/ sexes that constitute the girl of that sexuality. It is Age itself that is becoming-child, just Sexuality, any sexuality, is a becoming-woman, in other words, a girl.

We see here the factor of the start that does not become (the girl does not become a woman), a kind of straition that cuts through and across sedimentations. There is tendency though in such a pure-becoming grasp to lose track of the materiality of Antigone, her history, if we are to find a complex of her, to instead turn her into something of a mathematical vector, which she certainly is not. She is a person, a subjectivity. A traveling body. Not simply a molecularization. And it is not true that the “girl” does not draw her power from the molar, for Antigone’s very invisibility, her capacity to stand before Kreon, to transpermeate straight to the tomb, is due to her place among the molar/Father, as “a child”. The girl in molar determination granted access. And though we understand what Guattari and Deleuze mean when they say that the becoming-girl does not become woman, it is most certainly only in juxtaposition to the capacity to pre-figure woman, to nacently BE woman, that a definite constitutional and apparitional power is achieved. Molecularity does not circulate merely on its own osmosis plane (something that I think both G and D would agree with).

So I resist the idea of making Antigone into a kind subjectivity of pure-becoming. It is much more attuned to her relationship to a pre-posited history of genealogical twisting (an incest of directives) into which she is born. She is not just thrown-into-the-world, but born-into a necessary and profane involution. It is the subjectivity of a pre-existing perversity. Is this twisting, this born-into twisting (a twisting that Sophocles calls αὐτοφώρων ἀμπλακημάτων – “a self-suspicion twist of blood” of the father and the mother) related to the semantic twisting of conflating explanations for the first burial of Polyneices? I think so. The material (natural) and the imaginary (affective projective) fold themselves into a twin-layered parallel construction, and as such the Antigone subjectivity is able to step in between, in the infintesmal crease, to persist, to stand and live in the gap, and then act, so as to appear. Perhaps what Nicola referred to as the “tiniest diety”. Indeed in the play Antigone performs as something like the tiniest deity. There is something there, including her polymorphous capacity to functionally perform under what Butler calls an equivocality of kinship (which really isn’t so much equivocal as dextrously polyvalent), one in which the sign carries a certain apparitional and inhabited vocability that renders Antigone the ability to seem to speak right out of Space, that needs to be developed and clarified.

 

[A related post in dialogue on Antigone and the possibilities of an Antigone Complex by Anodyne Lite: Two Versions of Antigone]

Once upon a time, “…and the hippo was allergic to magic”

Let this Child Tell You Her Tale…

A Response to Larval Subjects

It seems that Larval Subjects and I had a bit of back and forth over the importance of Lacan in reading the projects of both Deleuze and Guattari. New to her/his weblog, I did not realize the extent to which she/he was committed to Lacanian principles, and my struggle to provide a Deleuzian/Spinozist critique of Lacan ended the conversation from her/his end.

Below is my last posted response to the exchange, for what it is worth, she/he thinking it best not to allow posted (which is fair). For the sake of completion I post my response here. I actually have appreciation for the Larval Subjects weblog, where some very interesting points are being made.

LS: “You seem to be of the view that the analyst is doing something to the analysand… Namely tracing everything back to lack or absence. In point of fact, nothing of the sort actually takes place in the analytic setting. The analyst barely says anything at all, often simply repeating certain phrases or remarks that the analysand makes, occasionally modifying them slightly.”

Kvond: You seem to slip back and forth between one-on-one analysis, and theories of Being meant for societal prescription (the second of which I thought we were talking about by and large), as you wrote,

[LS:]“I’m looking for is more along the lines of a social formation that doesn’t lead to Oedipal hierarchy on the masculine side or the search for the guru and unassailable network relations on the feminine side.” Read more of this post

Big Dog: Our Selves

Witness (and I do mean witness…behold) the latest robotic lifeform, Big Dog.

What I am most interested in are my (and others) instictive ethics responses to this display. Watch the quadruped climb with jutting rhythm up the hill, making almost a prance of it, watch it recover elegantly from a sidelong kick, and wince as it stumbles upon the ice. It is large like a mammal we would identify with (it struggles within the same range of physics that we do). It headlessly searches. (Be aware of how the camera also constructs our response, as it rises from the lowground into our now accustomed docu-camera view of the Real.)

I am interested in how our bodily foundations of ethics and rationality come from how we view other things to be as ourselves (a primary Spinozian thesis…the imitations of the affects: E3p27, If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect.). I recall Wittgenstein’s gnomic advisement about the difference between the capacities for pain between that of a fly and that of a stone:

Look at a stone and imagine it having sensations.-One says to oneself: How could one so much as get the idea of ascribing a sensation to a thing?…And now look at a wriggling fly and at once these difficulties vanish and pain seems to get a foothold here…(PI 284)

Now, the composite of behaviors from a thing we are most predisposed to think of as being closer to a stone than a fly suddenly, ephiphanically (and my wince is epiphanic), “get a foothold here”. We can conceptually separate out ourselves from the imitations of our actions, but then we get to an interesting ethical divide. Our predecessors are admonished by history for not being able to perceive how the Black, the Jew, the Muslim, the Indian, the poor, the woman, the animal, the child was “just like us”, bled and winced as we did. Some elements of the soul (aspects of mentality) were denied certain classes. The operated like “us”, but internally their experiences were at variance, only dimly similiar.

I want to ask, what are the ethics of our witness ?

I want to ask, what are the ethics of our dismissal of mechanism as mechanism?

Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the Abstract Machine in the confluence of this witness I think takes “foothold” as well. When concrete machines sympathize, the abstract machine seems to show through:

We define the abstract machine as the aspect or moment at which nothing but functions and matters remain. A diagram has neither substance nor form, neither content nor expression. Substance is a formed matter, and matter is a substance that is unformed either physically or semiotically. Whereas expression and content have distinct forms, are really distinct from each other, function has only ‘traits’ of content and expression between which it establishes a connection: it is no longer even possible to tell whether it is a particle or a sign. A matter-content having only degrees of intensity, resistance, conductivity, heating, stretching, speed or tardiness; and a function expression having only ‘tensors,’ as in a system of mathematical, or musical, writing. Writing now functions on the same level as the real, and the real materially writes.

a thousand plateaus

[quote courtesy of Fractal Ontology, whose recent post reminded me of the text]

Illustrated Deleuze and Guattari

Seeing What is Said

In love for the pictured, yet still methodological investigation of ideas, I would want to direct you to Marc Ngui’s illustrative study of the first two chapters of Deleuze and Guattari’s (I really do want to write “Guattari and Deleuze” each time I see that coupling) a thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia.

Spread the affects of ideas:

click: Marc Ngui (2005)

 

Grasp and Appreciation

One cannot promise you that Guatarri and Deleuze’s dense, remarkable writings will be more understandable upon viewing these drawings, but they very well may be more enjoyable. And one really does need to reconsider any strict dichotomy which separates understanding from enjoyment. Inspiring.

Becoming Intense and Longitude: Deleuze and Guattari

Deleuze and Guattari define a body by the terms latitude and longitude, such that each “body” would have a reading in each register, as they put it:

D&G wrote:
Latitude is made up of intensive parts falling under a capacity, and longitude of extensive parts falling under a relation.

-a thousand plateaus, Becoming-Intense, Becoming Animal (257)

They credit this discovery to Spinoza. Latitude is read in degrees of power [or intensity]. In this way the traditional dualisms of Idea and Body are subsumed under the body itself, and expressed in both intensive and extensive states. What is interesting in this model is how it borrows from global positioning. A body, as it grows more intense, will, it seems, expand in its proporitionality to the globe. In reading this model of Spinozist thinking, can one imagine that one can increase in latitude without an isomophoric increase in longitude? This seems impossible in the Spinozist framework. Yet Deleuze and Guattari’s hypothesized lines of flight seem to elicit just such an intensification, a latitudnal line that expands in intensity without expanding extensively. A composition of music, the scribbles of black marks made by Bach perhaps, would seem like a line of flight without longitudnal expanse, until taken up in history. Yet is this a proper reading? Perhaps the composition itself marks out a bodily, that is extensional relation of parts the cut across our customary boundary lines, taking up the extensional intensities of influence (the clop of horses outside his window, the spatiality of notes played when he was a child, the distance between keys on a keyboard, [an infinite list] etc), into a single assemblage of which it is only the burg of vast ice. And how are inadequate ideas to be represented here, which would be intensifications which do not compose as powerful extensional relations, as are imagined? The globe itself presumably would be the Body without Organs of Substance and Nature.

 

 

 

[For a more elaborate approach to Deleuze and Guattari, see the entry "Orchids, Wasps, Beetle's and Crickets: A Menagerie of Change in Transgender Identity"]

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