Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Transversality as ontology and ecosophy.

With transversality we appear to have a powerful and subversive tool with which to combat the problem of bureaucratic sclerosis, capable of a direct and intentional opposition to institutionalisation. As Guattari contends, “there is nothing inevitable about the bureaucratic self-multilation of a subject group” providing they are able to confront “irrationality, death, and the otherness of the other.” (MR, p.23). Transversality allows him to draw on alterity in a less cautious fashion than Sartre, as a resource with which to engineer opposition to bureaucratisation at the unconscious level. On this basis permanent transversal analysis breaks down both horizontal and vertical structures, generating transitional objects which auto-correct the aim of the subject group. However this conception is not without drawbacks, perhaps inherent in the psychoanalytic context from which it springs. Whilst Guattari explains that interpretation is not performed by someone “that adopts the role of the ‘analyst’”and might be performed by “the idiot of the ward if he is able to make his voice heard” (MR, p.17) this statement is less subversive than it superficially appears.

If only subject groups are capable of elucidating their own objects (hence able to speak for themselves), and the emergence of such groups depends on the analyst’s skilled manipulation of transversality, then the analyst retains a degree of authority. Perhaps this is inevitable given that transversality (akin to deterritorialization in A Thousand Plateaus) is not an unqualified good, rather a process which must be applied with caution and expertise to avoid traumatic and destructive outcomes. This threatens to replicate the active party/inert working class schema characteristic of dogmatic Marxism, relocated to the unconscious terrain of schizoanalysis. It also demonstrates the cost inherent in the use of transversality, the loss of the kind of genuine agency which Sartre was so keen to preserve. What is more, as Guattari ontologises transversality in his later work this erasure of agency and the focus on subjectivation over actual praxis (or functioning as its equivalent) becomes ever more evident.


i Cartographic ontology and the ecosophic object.

In Chaosmosis Guattari develops a complex theory of interactions between individuals, groups and pre-personal machinic elements of subjectivation. Here he abandons any notion of a traditional personological account in favour of a radically decentred metamodelisation of the unconscious, where “beneath the diversity of beings […] there is a plane of machinic interfaces” (CH, p.58). Here subjectivity produces itself and is always collective because “the unconscious is above all a social agencement, the collective force of latent utterances. Only secondarily can those utterances be divided into what belongs to you or me.” (MR, p.257). Subjectivity then is an emergent property, arising from interactions between four ontological functors (machinic phylums, material fluxes, existential territories, and incorporeal universes of value, containing components which are both virtual and actual, discursive and non-discursive). These distinct ontological domains are traversed and interfaced by entities termed collective assemblages of enunciation, collective in that they “exceed the problematic of the individuated subject”, and enunciative in the sense of a process of semiotization (rather than representation or signification reducible to a single subject who enunciates).

Bruno Bosteels has noted that because the schizoanalytic practice of mapping transversal linkages between functors is not one of representation, it acquires an entirely praxical dimension as “a process of autopoiesis rather than mimesis” developing “openings onto the virtual and onto creative processuality.” (CH, p.31). In other words it is an absolutely creative act itself. This develops a characteristic from the earlier work, the blurring of the boundary between action and interpretation. If as Guattari claims it is “the map that, somehow, engenders the territory” what of the position of the cartographer themselves? When he returns to discuss the practice at La Borde in Chaosmosis, it is explicit that now “only the network of nuclei of partial enunciation […] could arguably hold the title of institutional analyser […] the psychotherapist […] is only a link in this complex apparatus.” (CH, p.71). This erasure of the analyst but the continuation of the analysis, a mapping without a cartographer so to speak, demonstrates the absolutely immanent nature of the ontology Guattari is proposing. By no longer privileging the analyst within the institution or political movement Guattari appears to better conserve the notion of subject groups as genuinely autopoietic. But this also raises a serious question as to the role of the agent, now that the task of creating the conditions for the production of subject groups has shifted into the pre-personal domain of collective assemblages.

Guattari’s political concerns also become increasingly transversalised, into a new articulation he terms ecosophy: a transversally linked series of mental, social, and environmental problematics. Here virtual ecology is just as important as the ecology of the actual, the ecology of art forms as significant as the ecology of life forms. In the face of integrated world capitalism, and the threat posed in every ecological register by the technological transformations this has brought with it, (most importantly the serial type of mass media subjectivity) only a praxis which traverses the actual and virtual, the mental, the social and the environmental, will be sufficient to meet the challenge. As posed in Chaosmosis the chief ecological problem is an investment of human desire in production for its own sake. The issue then is how to “change mentalities, [to] reinvent social practices that would give back to humanity […] a sense of responsibility” requiring in turn “a refoundation of political praxis” (CH, pp.119-20). This praxis is to be focussed upon the deconstruction of the market in favour of centring all economic activities on the production of subjectivity.

The role of the group within the new problematic is set out in The Three Ecologies (1989). Guattari is interested in the development of the group desire, acting in opposition to more personological forms of social subjectivation. Instead of a social ecology revolving around the self or the family (key elements of the kind of mass mediatised identity cultivated by integrated world capitalism) we need to encourage “auto-referential subject-groups, which open onto the socius and the cosmos” (3Es, p.39). Such subject groups are formed by collective assemblages of enunciation rather than what Guattari describes as “mechanisms of empty repetition” (3Es, p.40). Guattari identifies two key movements in capitalist subjectivation: on the one hand an ever increasing split between the serial subjectivity of workers, an underclass, and the elite subjectivity of the executive classes. On the other a kind of reterritorialisation of the family to recode old workerist identities with new middle-class ones. To counter these forces social ecology must move into a post-media age, facilitated by the takeover of mass media outlets by subject groups, replacing the homogenous processes of capitalist subjectivation with newly singular, productive, responsible ones. Guattari’s concern here is “to institute, in particular, new systems of valorisation” (3Es, p42) rather than a fully worked through model of a new society. Such systems of valorisation would work to inculcate a politics of dissensus, rather than totalisation, a “multifaceted movement” principally concerned with “heterogenesis, […] processes of continual resingularisation” (3Es, pp.44-5).

A transversal ecosophical politics certainly has many advantages, chiefly the ability to think the compossibility of a diverse range of problematics within a single theory. In this respect it can better approach the irreversibly interlinked issues of contemporary geopolitics in a way which perhaps, for example, Badiou’s discrete truth processes might be unable (given that the zone of compossibility is reserved for philosophy itself). But at the same time the wide ranging “continual movement from one ‘front’ to the other” (MR, p.257) of transversal politics hazards the melting away of a singularly and committed politics in such a mêlée of assorted interests. What gives ecosophy a consistency that this description belies however, (and in spite of its extraordinary array of concerns, from media reforms, to reorganization of the free market, to the need for new experimental post-communist alliances), is its ceaseless return to just one question, subjectivation. This is not unproblematic in itself, for though within institutional psychotherapy this is legitimately the primary issue, is there not a distinction to be drawn between such contexts and the political or ecological sphere? Whilst his advice to the green movement to “concern itself, as a matter of priority, with its own social and mental ecology” (CH, p.129) has some merits, is this alone necessary? In other words, in focussing so closely on forms of subjectivation, does Guattari not remain too closely tied to the subject (albeit radically depersonalised, fragmented, machinically derived, transversally linked to a myriad of other ontological registers) at the cost of active political praxis?


ii. Transversality: intersubjective relation or intrasubjective self-differentiation?

If in his early work Guattari appeared to accord a privileged role to the analyst, his later conception erases this in favour of an immanent ontology ultimately determined by the activities of machinic pre-personal entities, the collective assemblages of enunciation. In so doing the later work can be identified as being more closely in line with that of his collaborator, Gilles Deleuze. Such systems have drawn criticism of late for conferring on the actor a kind of paralysis, perhaps even erasing the decisive subject altogether. Though Guattari himself is clearly deeply concerned with subjectivation, in the final analysis whilst subject groups are active, they are entirely dependent on pre-personal processes of formation. As he puts it

“it is less by way of voluntary decision than by induction of an unconscious collective assemblage that the psychotic is led to take the initiative, to accept responsibility” (CH, p.70 emphasis my own).

Guattari continues to use the Sartrean terminology of responsibility here, but it is responsibility of a most curious kind, (submissive responsibility by induction) and certainly not the sort that Sartre himself would recognise. The subject group is passive because it depends on a force outside or behind it to lead it towards the moment of autopoiesis. In this sense (and contra Genosko’s assertion that transversality in the later work has removed its psychoanalytic scaffolding almost completely) the psychoanalytic origins continue to overdetermine his group theory. Peter Hallward has critiqued Deleuze’s valorisation of the virtual over the actual for leading to a subject without agency or strategy, and hence whose decisions are devoid of genuine consequence. Similarly in Guattari’s own work though there is a great deal of strategic discourse, it is almost entirely focussed on a domain prior to the emergence of the subject itself. This reduces agency to a play of chasmotic processes, machinic assemblages without an engineer, self-engendering maps without a mapmaker.

Further, once ontologised and immanentised, Guattari’s processural theory of assemblages begins to present a problem for transversality’s status as a properly relational operator. Relation might be considered to require that between terms there exist a degree of tension, the condition of real alterity itself, the otherness of this term in relation to that. In Sartre’s system, due to his need to maintain the original posit of absolute subjective freedom, this tension is extremely high, and relation (between for-itselves at least) is cautious or even threatening, giving rise to positive characteristics only under the most exceptional of circumstances (i.e.: the group-in-fusion). From a Deleuzean point of view Sartre’s alterity is “totally compromised by an-all-too empirical acceptance of the other” or of the other as genuinely other. In Guattari’s later system alterity is set at an extremely low tension, given the lack of real autonomy for any of the components in the system (either human individuals or pre-personal machinic assemblages). Guattari does not conceal this, instead explicitly foregrounding the linkage connecting subject to object, focussing on the excluded middle, rather than the specificity of either term in themselves. Transversality allows this foregrounding and much more than merely that. In Chaosmosis it enables Guattari to think the existence of mutant virtual entities, described as

"half-object half-subject [with] neither inside nor outside […] becomings - understood as nuclei of differentiation [which] agglomerate in the same transversal flash the subject and object, the self and the other" (CH, pp.92-3).

At the level of these virtual machines transversality ushers us into a Deleuzean universe wherein relation is a term for the self-differentiation of reality itself. The ontologisation of transversality destroys the very idea of relation between discrete, specific, and autonomous items which are properly other to each other and must be understood precisely as a becoming other not a relation between others, an intra-subjective self-differentiation rather than an inter-subjective operator.

30 comments:

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