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Tag Archives: Change

Ontological Privilege: Massumi on the Priority of Change

Massumi here reshuffles his cards in the stacked deck, so that the aces will fall into his hand.

Indeterminancy and determination, change and freeze-framing, go together. They are inseparable and always coincide while remaining disjunctive in their modes of reality. To say that passage and indeterminancy “come first” or “are primary” is more a statement of ontological priority than the assertion of a time sequence. They have ontological privilege in the sense that they constitute the field of the emergence, while positionings are what emerge. The trick is to express the priority in a way that respects the inseparability and contemporaneousness of the disjunct dimensions: their ontogenetic difference.

Parables of the Virtual, 8

I want to approach this field/emergence logic of priority from a Spinozist point of view (surprise). We at first see some strong general homology. The “field” of change and process is Natura Naturans (nature naturing) and the emergent positionality is Natura Naturata (nature having been natured), and there is even the rough correspondence to the diminishment of the importance of the modes that some readings have imposed on Spinoza (all the way to Hegel’s accusation of an acosmism). This is significant, and something I always want to stress when people try to impose an Idealist (18th century German) interpretation on Spinoza. The modes are the very means by which Substance exists and acts (E3p6dem). They are not secondary, or less real. What is key about this is the prescription of human action implied in any diminishment of “positionality”, the sense that positioning or framing comes after (in any sequitor fashion) the processes themselves. Instead, all our degrees of power, being, pleasure, perfection changes are real and coincident changes in semiosis. This is to say, following Spinoza’s treatment of the affects, our changes in capacity are changes in the idea we have of ourselves in the context of the world itself, but not reflective changes in idea. We do not look at ourselves in a mirror (of consciousness or any other), and then make adjustments in idea. Rather, our concrete “position” is itself a positional change. This goes down into a radical sense of what (self) affirmation is, a non-reflective (relatively) autonomous embrace which includes that which cross-currents our own being, propelling us out to mutualities.

Massumi at this point, in his counter to positional, linguistic philosophies I think is very well placed. But there is a difference I believe between our ratio-imaginary mappings (including mathematics) of semiotic differences, and informational semiotic change involved in process of becoming that Massumi is trying to prioritize. The “field” is not just processes of becoming that underlies a surface of concretizations or condensations, but must be semiotic (that is to say, informational) itself. What he calls “freeze-frames” are both imaginary, but also real, let us say, edge-of-chaos determinations. Which are strictly speaking determinations without being opposed to (linear) indeterminancy.

Another way of stating this is, perhaps: There is no “disjuction”.


On Massumi’s Parables of the Virtual: Movement

Opening lines…

When I think of my body and ask what it does to earn that name, two thing stand out. It moves. It feels. In fact, it does both at the same time. It moves as it feels, and it feels itself moving. Can we think of a body without this: an intrinsic connection between movement and sensation whereby each immediately summons the other.

I am reading Brian Massumi’s 2002 book now, and this blog is going to go through a bit of a change. Part of this transformation perhaps will be my reading of Massumi’s book, which I hope has the heft to throw me forwards. If not, it may be a mere diminishment. Selective responses to Massumi should appear here, perhaps as small gateways forwards.

To Massumi’s opening lines. Yes, body and movement. Note his reflexivity though. It moves as it feels (feeling=movement), but it feels itself move (movement=feeling itself). I wonder if he is conscious of this importation? Further, there is a dimension of feeling that he does not seem to consider in his binary. This is the feeling of densification. The feeling of sitting down into. The sensation which is only a movement by analogy. A heading down towards zero.

I write in the margins…

“I do not trust “change” in the concept – it is an utter denial of real change which neither a multiplicity, nor a difference  (somehow these binaries bleed as leeches). Change is a connectivity and a cohesion that does not bend back – you want to call it a fold.”

What do I mean by that? There has always been a fear of change that wants to domesticate it through ab-straction, it seems. And sometimes the worst of these are philosophies of change, those that attempt to depict it, praise it, raise it up. Who had more fear of change…Heraclitus or Parmenides? Nietzsche or Spinoza? I fear Massumi’s binary for the body. It cosies up to movement. But he is also right that philosophies of rupture missed something about change and movement, ever searching for the periodic gash, whether it be a revolution or symptomatic rent of the Real. This is just another fear of change, genuine transformation that occurs in the microbes of the soil, the smallest places, continually. As he writes of past recent philosophies…

The slightest ongoing qualitative change paled in comparison paled in comparison to the grandness of periodic “rupture”. Against that possibility, the everyday was the place where nothing ever happens.

I know that Massumi wants to work this sense of movement into Deleuze’s metaphysics of difference, one of the least interesting aspects of his thinking. I am hoping for more.