A reading method that I practice is to explain in my own words the texts I currently read. This slow and active approach to philosophical concepts helps me to understand the concepts better and creates a connection between theory and practice. When I give an account of a paradigm in my own words, I have taken the first step of finding my own expression for it, of braking it down into its units and making it accessible for me. Longhand writing supports this process immensely and slows it down even further. Connecting my own words to my praxis then is a natural step as the theory has already gone through my hands. I see it a bit like a digestive system. I take in lots of stuff, trust that my body and mind can deal with it and then give it a new expression.
One snippet of Guattari’s text really struck me. It seems important to my work, but I do not understand it and in order to get closer it, I paraphrase it. The quote is:
“I myself have come to regard the apprehension of a psychical fact as inseparable of enunciation that engendered it, both as fact and as expressive process. There is a kind of relationship of uncertainty between the apprehension [la saisie] of the object and the apprehension of the subject; so that, to articulate them both, one is compelled to make a pseudo-narrative detour through the annals of myth and ritual or through supposedly scientific accounts [descriptions] – all of which have as their ultimate goal a dis-positional mise en scène, a bringing-into-existence, that authorizes, ‘secondarily’, a discursive intelligibility” (p.37).
Accepting this ‘uncertainty’ opens a space for observation and a crack to dig my fingers in. I can try to elicit , put into words, what is in between object and subject:
The perception of a psychical fact is inseparable from an accumulation of expression that surrounds this fact. One cannot separate the perception of a psychical fact from the assemblage of expressions that surround it, “both as fact and as expressive process”. What does this part mean? It does not make sense to me.
To articulate object and subject one seems forced to look at myths and rituals which provide an almost-story. One can also try to legitimise one’s expressions through science. Both wish to create an authorisation of the expression of the difference between subject and object.
Each part of the conceptual toolbox needs further investigation and further exploration of the tools that I have begun to shape and use. Each part provided insights and thoughts around topics that are present in my artistic work and I hope to be able to connect them in a satisfying way. For now, I will observe the space and the objects around me, talk to them and listen.
(Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, London: Athlone Press, 2000.)
My next approach is to mix the snippets of text so that I read them in a random order. I want to know if they still make sense, change their meaning or become unbearable. English is not my first language, and I have to look up more words now, as I cannot guess their meaning without context. Also, I develop wishes of how Guattari could continue to develop concepts in the missing parts of an argument. I have precise questions, which is new and satisfying. As I cannot possibly skim the text and make sense of a phrase mainly through its context, I need to read the phrases as singular expressions. A lot of the phrases turn into powerful statements, and I dwell on them trying to take in their magnitude. Does this happen because I add the lacking context in my head, just like a future predicting tarot card will always fit into the bigger context of my life? Have I found an entry point into the text and begun to grasp it, or am I fooling myself with a trick and in fact staring at a mirage? Am I getting closer to the text or further away?
When I read The Three Ecologies by Félix Guattari for the first time, I was struck by the depressive and pessimistic view of our society, which seemed to predict that everything was going to hell. Reading the text decades after it was written, it seemed that no solutions have been found, and if anything the problems have gotten worse. Guattari’s rampant writing style adds to the breathlessness with which I read. I got the impression that I could deal with his ideas better if I could cut out his rage, which is why I started rearranging The Three Ecologies. I cut as I read and piled up snippets of text in the categories: predictions of a chaotic future, descriptions of present problems, attempts at solutions, psychoanalysis. My attempt is not to analyse the concepts of the ecologies but to be able to enter the text in the first place. As the text turned into little pieces, I realised how many ideas for solutions he offers, but they had drowned in the negative chaos when I read the first time. In fact, the pile with attempts at solutions is the biggest.
The part I named psychoanalysis is the clearest to read. It is well structured, lacks the rambling writing style, and I have hardly taken it apart. Why is this the only part of his ecologies that I detect so clearly? This question stays with me, and I will have to read the text many more times before I will be able to answer it.
(Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, London: Athlone Press, 2000.)
The idea that objects have an agenda upon which they act and influence humans is a provocation to me and to most people to whom I talk about this. After an initial expression of “No, that’s not true; that’s crazy!” my dialogue partners are intrigued and want to know more. But here is the issue: I don’t know more, I can only pose questions, I do not have answers. I can only continue to wonder “what if?”. What if I only believe to be in charge of the objects around me? What if I am blind towards an active world of things? How can I ever know? Where could be the entry points into this world?
I find an entry point provided by George Bataille in his text “The Notion of Expenditure”. He describes a way we interact with objects, give and take. His example is a sacrifice of money in return for “sexual love” when buying a diamond necklace (p.170). He points out that the beauty of the stones is not sufficient to want them. It’s the sacrifice of a big amount of money that provides the right thrill. But one could also say that the stones actively give the excitement to the buyer. What then, does the object gain? Attention and energy. Something key is happening in this transaction. People have died to fulfil a transaction as mentioned in the example. Could an object be an author of such a compulsion? Looking at this from a different angle, I can state that the all-encompassing element in these scenarios is space. What if the objects were not to have an agenda and a will of their own but the space around them instead? Objects, animals and humans constantly change their position to each other and thus change their space. What if it is in fact space that exercises influence over us? What are the consequences of this scenario? What happens to the hierarchies between objects, humans and space?
Let’s go back to the example by Bataille and add some cheesy details to it: A man buys a diamond necklace for one million euros and gives it to his woman as a present. In return, he receives the thankful reassurance of his manliness as a strong provider as well as sexual attention for a month. She might never actually wear the necklace because it is too expensive, and instead store it in her safe. If the necklace had willpower of its own would it not want to be a bit cheaper, so that it will be admired in public often or be bought by a museum to be on permanent display? I am imposing a human value system on the necklace, when I think that if I were a diamond necklace, I would not want to live in a safe, neither would I want to be part of a transaction of this sort. If on the other hand the space around the actors had willpower then this show makes more sense to me. Why would the space want this transaction? What would it gain from it? Why is it the best solution? I imagine the space cares more about general harmony and less about the destiny of a single object. The goal might be to keep a peaceful relationship between a man and a woman. It might not actually care but react on voids and flows of energy, filling voids and keeping balance between different flows. But then again, non-human entities must have their own value system that I cannot even begin to imagine.
At this moment my partner crashes into my room to tell me that scientists have found Einstein’s gravitational waves. A ripple of space-time matter passed earth, and it was measured! That sounds as scientific as it sounds mysterious and I wonder if this is a crucial underlying part of my undertaking: Logic and mystery go nicely together if allowed to be. Which leads me to the following temporary conclusion: The change in perspective of who or what acts is an insightful but difficult thought construct. Logic and mystery together can lead the way towards interesting questions and answers, which might not present themselves in words but come along in unexpected forms.
(Georges Bataille, ’The Gift of Rivalry: ‘Potlatch’ ‘, in Fred Botting and Scott Wilson eds. The Bataille Reader, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.)