Comments on Massumi and Manning

A note on some parts of Massumi and Manning’s interview on a cryptocurrency of affect:

Massumi and Manning: “The idea is that we would find ways, associated with the affect-o-meter [EE: not described, but apparently some kind of technology that would work in the same way a ‘mining’ operation works in Bitcoin] we were describing earlier, to register qualitative shifts in the creative process as it moves over its formative thresholds, and moves back and forth between online operations [EE: turning social media data mining toward anti-capitalist ends] and offline events [EE: requiring that the measure of the surplus value of life considers the shift between online and offline encounters means that these two separate ecologies don’t generate value unless they are integrated]. What would be registered is the affective intensity of the production of surplus value of life [EE: Massumi’s Spinozism makes me think that this has something to do with joy, but Henry Thoreau also has an account value as a surplus of life, wildness], its ebbs and flows. The membrane would consist in a translation of those qualitative flows into a numerical expression [EE: This is obviously where the biggest difficulty lies, in translating qualia into quanta without collapsing the richness of the qualia], which would feed into a cryptocurrency. Basically, we’d be mining crypto with collaborative creative energies—monetizing emergent collectivity.”


The Pollinators of Technology

On the night of Monday, April 3rd, a man stood in the middle of the intersection at Franklin and Columbia in Chapel Hill, NC. Within minutes, thousands of people poured out of bars, houses, apartments, fraternity and sorority homes, and who knows where else, barrelling down the largest streets in the town to join him. There’s a video that shows it happening in high speed. The University had just won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament which (if you don’t know) is a very big deal.

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On Awareness

There’s a zen koan about master Nan-in and a younger monk, Tenno, who had been studying with his teacher for ten years. Tradition went that a student had to study this long before they were qualified to begin teaching, and Nan-in had invited Tenno over for tea to celebrate his pupilship coming to an end. Since it was raining that day, Tenno wore clogs and brought an umbrella, and left them by the door when he entered Nan-in’s home. After his guest had sat down, Nan-in asked Tenno, “I assume that since it is raining, you brought an umbrella. Correct? And did you put it on the left or the right of your clogs?” When he didn’t have an immediate answer, Tenno stood up and returned to the monastery in order to continue as a student for six more years.

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Beasts at Bedtime: A Review

When my partner and I were expecting our first child, I remained obstinately distant from all parenting books. I had adapted, and taken to heart, Rainer Rilke’s advice to Franz Kappus about avoiding introductions to great works of art, and reckoning that, in the poet’s words, “such things are either partisan views, petrified and grown senseless in their lifeless induration, or they are clever quibblings in which today one view wins and tomorrow the opposite.” Rilke’s point seems to be that introductions do more to obscure our ability to reach the work of art than elucidate it. Since a child is, among other things, a living, breathing work of art, it took very little for me to translate the great poet’s advice to the work of child-rearing. Surely no book would truly help me approach a task as infinitely arduous and dizzyingly beautiful as bringing a human being into the world.

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Descartes’ Doubt

The way I explain Descartes’ deduction of the soul is like this: for Descartes, anything can be doubted. Take any mental representation (the blossoming cactus in front of me, my partner across the desk, the sparrow in the tree outside, the thought of a triangle, etc.). Since it is simply a representation of the thing in question, then it is possible that there is a disconnect between the representation in my mind and the thing itself. Furthermore, it might be the case that there is not any real thing that corresponds to the image I have in consciousness. In other words, it may be possible that everything that occurs to me, everything that strikes me, everything I hold in consciousness is pure fantasy. In fact, the world as such might not “really exist,” and even more disturbing, might not exist at all. I have an image of myself that I represent to my consciousness by collating all my memories, my felt being, etc. but that all might be pure fantasy as well. I can, in other words, doubt the existence of essentially everything. That’s possible.

What saves Descartes is that there is one thing that it is logically impossible to doubt: i.e. the (f)act of doubting. This has to be understood as a verb. Doubting entails doubting, and there’s no way around that; or, if the act of doubt were doubted, then that (f)act would still exist. Now, since the structure of language is such that any verb requires a subject, Descartes reasons that some-one must be the actor carrying out the (f)act of doubt. But this is Descartes’ little trick: he deduced the absolute existence of thought, but because he is not interested in evaluating the nature of language, he misses the fact that maybe actions don’t entail subjects. Or at least that they don’t entail the atomized, liberal ego that he ends up presenting us at the end of the section on doubt. It feels, as Nietzsche points out, like he just wanted to get us to the existence of the soul and that the operation of doubt was only mediate, and not to be taken seriously.

So, Descartes’ doubt is a paradox:

On one hand, we say that it is “methodological.” This implies that it is “merely theoretical,” i.e. that no one should take the possibility of the non-reality of the self and the world very seriously. It only operates as a means to the end of proving the existence of God and the soul, and should not be taken as anything more serious.

On the other hand, we have to take it completely seriously, or else the whole thought experiment loses its force. If I didn’t, for example, really think that the “world” or “the self” or “God” might possibly be non-existent, then why bother giving a shit about the conclusion to which Descartes comes?

What if, instead, we did take it seriously, rather than leaning back on the “methodological” character of his doubt like infirm thinkers leaning on crutches? What if we take his doubt through to its conclusion: The structure of doubt does entail the absolute and immanent possibility of thought. The (f)act of doubting is evidence of a sui generis mind (broadly construed). But that does not necessarily entail the existence of an ego.

Descartes takes us to the deepest mystery of consciousness, as if we were jumping down a bottomless hole (a void?), and then bungee-cords us back onto the surface of things with the introduction of the ‘cogito’ as ‘ego.’

Top 10 most extreme holiday adventures of 2014

This experiment could just as easily result in the following conclusion: I think, therefore thought is an inherent property of the kosmos. In other words, if Descartes did not sneak the transcendental ego in through the back door, then we could take up his argument as an introduction to some kind of panpsychism.

January Thaw

Today, we propped open the doors and set the windows wide. It’s time in Michigan for what the locals call the “January thaw,” when for a week or so, the temperature rise, the snow melts, and you can even hear a few birds. The last bit, I think, is not so much due to the rise in temperature, but to the fact that your home isn’t so much a cave during the thaw. All the thresholds of the home are restored to their amphibious state, somewhere between the in- and outside.

When comfortable access to the outdoors are a given, as in the spring, fall, and most of summer, I don’t think I pay so much attention to the background notions that doors make in us. I mean that in winter, one is very conscious of the fact that we’ve made architectural boundaries between the domestic and the commons. You do everything you can to shut out the cold, to keep in the heat. At certain points in summer, this is true as well, but it isn’t so extreme. In the moderate seasons, when the doors are closed and windows fastened, we aren’t so aware of the way that shutting out the world affects our understanding of home. We don’t have quite so much homility. But the winter shuts you in, like seeds underground.

The thaw, then, is a time when, after being privatized for months, we have a brief period to bring the outdoors in, and all of the cloistered air that is swept out into the cool afternoon breeze is like a breath for everything inside that has choked for so long on the winter stalemate. The January thaw is a time for contemplation of the effects that our domesticities have on our psyches.

A cardinal perched in the tree just outside the open window.