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.)
Guattari’s thoughts on the liberation of human beings from labour are striking in their actuality today. The substitution of human workforce with robots has long since taken place in the manufacturing industry. Starting now the service industry finds itself in the same situation. It won’t be long before computers can perform juridical, economical, medical services. As spare time for humans ever increases, Guattari’s cry for meaningful (artful) occupations rings out unheard. Instead politicians keep clinging to the notion of full-time work for everyone as the solid societal foundation.
What’s constantly underestimated in utopian forecasts is people’s need for consistency. This is evident when he turns briefly to architecture, and bases his judgement only on what’s suitable for contemporary material needs. Archaism and folklorism are his terms for those complexes of thought ascribing value to consistency, essentially recognizing that aesthetic experiences be defined as meaningful relations between user and object. Meaningful because the extentional relations represent the intentional ones. The inner images of the world and of architecture don’t necessarily change as easily as the outer ones do, they abide to other laws of the psyche.
How true don’t Guattari’s thoughts hold on the invasive commercialism of our days? Capitalism has moved into our lives and become an inseparable part of them, shifting focus from the production of commodities to that of messages, values, emotions.
Also, Guattari notes how Integrated World Capitalism is dependent on the establishment of “stimulation” with zones of misery and poverty in the developing countries. In the developed countries their equivalents are the groups of people stuck in unemployment and marginalization.
 Paulsen, Roland. DN, artikel, After Work – när datoriseringen tar bort jobben 2015-04-29
 Guattari, Félix. The Three Ecologies, article. p. 21f
Jane Bennett writes hopefully in her book Vibrant Matters about the subjectification of things as an answer to the desire for alternatives to and ways out of the race to the bottom of the narcissistic consumerist society. However her train of thoughts has a long way to go to have an impact on the contemporary public, whose image of the world situation is at best influenced by professor Hans Rosling’s statistics focusing on the level of education, infant mortality, vaccination programs against common diseases and similar exclusively human concerns.
Certain concerns of Western thought a little over 100 years ago spring to my mind. Following the all-encompassing changes brought about to British society in the 19th century by industrialization, disrupting social and economic life, a new sense of realism arose in intellectual and artistic circles. On one hand it opposed the idealism of the academic, which can be said to represent an old abstraction of the things, reducing them into instances of governing ideals. One the other hand it countered the new threat from the mass-production of industrialization. The new abstraction consisted in the machine, housing the actual expression of the thing, while the commodity being produced was rather a bi-product. The proposed alternative was centred on human beings. Humans as creative force, the human creation as the central concern and the thing, the object, constituting its witness. It upgraded man violently, with the degradation of industrial labour as the backdrop. It postulated an individualistic take on man, the personal ability to create meaning, apart from a collective one. Denouncing industrial mass-production meant a more gentle use of resources.
Over a century later Bennett’s vital materialism recognizes the way that raging consumerism has plundered the earth of its resources and threatens to devastate man’s home. Human intentions do not suffice to explain or lay the foundation for chains of events. Instead entire swarms of factors are recognized as underlying. By defining the action concept without including intention, all objects can be included, human and non-human alike, living and non-living. As the concepts “efficacy, trajectory, causality” are used to define actions, all worldly objects become potential actors, in groupings (assemblages), with other entities. Instead of animating nature and objects (like the animism of indigenous people and fetishism) the soul is sucked out of humans, leaving them on the same level as everything else existing in the life-world. Parts of humans form alliances with parts of other entities and become assemblages acting according to their potentialities. No qualitative differentiation between human and nonhuman action.
A theory as hands-on as this can’t help but pronouncing normative ethics: “We need not only to invent or reinvoke concepts like conatus, actant, assemblage, small agency, operator, disruption, and the like but also to devise new procedures, technologies, and regimes of perception that enable us to consult nonhumans more closely, or to listen and respond more carefully to their outbreaks, objections, testimonies, and propositions.” Challenging.
Arts-and-Crafts was all about the presence of man within his things. Vital materialism aims at upgrading the things, the nonhuman, to the human level of significance. The things aren’t loaded with the human spirit; it’s not man who invests himself in the things, but man denouncing his supremacy, acknowledging its non-existing exceptionality. Actually quite the opposite.
 Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter, 2010. p. 31
 Bennett, 2010, p. 34
 Bennett, 2010, p. 108
While burning wood, scrubbing it and burning it again and again, I have some time to think. The Philosophies course is still very present in my mind, but I cannot get lost in the intensity of my thoughts because I have to take care of the fire, an attention seeking element. I have space for my thoughts to roll around in the background, though. My focus returns to what my hands are doing. Even though the burner is a rough tool, I can use it quite precisely. When I cool the wood in water and start scrubbing off the charcoal surface, I feel with my hands every little bump, every line, every change since the last scrubbing. I go back to the burner and follow the same lines with the flame, either erasing them or defining them more, depending on how the water moves, comes up to the surface, and then evaporates. I think of what Felix Guattari said in The Three Ecologies about heterogenesis: “Individuals must become both more united and increasingly different” (p.45). Initially, I perceived this as an opposition. The more I think about what it could mean, and how it can be applied, the more these two elements turn into complements. When I, as an individual become more united with my community and surrounding, I am more committed to it. At the same time, when I become increasingly different, I am more aware of myself. My actions and their consequences and I become more responsible, which connects back to my commitment. Looking at what my hands are doing at this moment, I see the actions of my burning in the wood. I see heterogenesis in my work process, at this precise moment: it is the way I watch over the details in my wood, how they change, how precious they are to me, and how aggressively and firmly I burn the wood down to a small piece. Both are necessary to create the tension and delicacy I am searching for in my work; they do not oppose but rather enrich each other. These two examples, of how I can begin to understand heterogenesis, remain in my mind for the following days. I talk to friends and colleagues about it. We agree that we are very accustomed to think in dualities. It is quite a challenge to endure seemingly opposing things, feelings, thoughts, etc., to just give them space, to not judge them as two sides of a coin, as an either/or, but let them be equals, floating around. Even in this example I continue to think binary, but our world is composed of so many elements, and heterogenesis is not a dual system. So: I am not only a committed, responsible human. I am a committed, responsible and emotional human. I am a committed, responsible, emotional l and stubborn human. I am a committed, responsible, emotional, stubborn and foolish human. All at the same time and with the same right to exist. How nice.
I continue working on my burned piece of wood. It has become thin and fragile. As it is now, I do not like it because it is stuck in between different kinds of shapes and messages. Is it not dual, not contrasted enough for me? Indeed, I would prefer it to be thin and strong or thick and fragile. It is very hard for me to endure its current indecision. Is indecision the opposite of heterogenesis? Or is it a part of it? Where is the connection between a united, different individual and my abeyant piece of wood? United and different is what I am looking for in my work, not indecision. So, how can the piece move from indecisive to heterogenic? This is what I need to find out. Go.
“Profile of the Industrial Revolution as Exposed by the Chronological Rate of Acquisition of the Basic inventory of Cosmic Absolutes – the 92 Elements” R. Buckminster Fuller (1964)
Link to high-res version pdf: wdsd_phase1_doc3_thinking-45
Guattari presents a seemingly hopeless take on the condition of the planet by stating that the earth is undergoing an intense techno-scientific transformation that is causing an ecological disequilibrium that threatens the continuation of life on the planet’s surface.
Furthermore the deterioration of human life concerns not only man’s relationship with the natural environment, but also the social networks, and the erosion of human subjectivity itself. Guattari strongly warns against responding to these problems with merely further technocratic solutions and instead he urges that “only an ethico-political articulation – ecosophy– between the three ecological registers (the environment, social relations and human subjectivity) would be likely to clarify these questions”. He argues for a reconstruction of social and individual practices of social ecology, mental ecology and environmental ecology and writes ”The only true response to the ecological crisis is on a global scale, provided that it brings about an authentic political, social and cultural revolution, reshaping the objectives of the production of both material and immaterial assets.”.
Apart from outlining negative impacts on the current human way of life, such as the fundamental problem of profit economy and its related power relations, as well as the erosion of subjectivity caused by the ‘standardisation and reduction of mass-media’, Guattari returns again and again to the (negative/problematic) role of techno-scientific progress.
“Wherever we turn, there is the same nagging paradox: on the one hand, the continuous development of new techno scientific means to potentially resolve the dominant ecological issues and restate socially useful activities on the surface of the planet, and, on the other hand the inability of organised social forces and constituted subjective formations to take hold of these resources in order to make them work.”
“So our machines get smarter and we get stupider” (Benjamin Bratten)
While Guattari agrees that it would be absurd to return to the past in order to reconstruct former ways of living he is acutely aware that “neither human labour nor the natural habitat will ever be what they once were, even just a few decades ago” and he predicts that the acceleration and irreversibility of techno-scientific progress will lead to further ‘existential tension’.
One of the reasons for this, is according to Guattari, the increasingly apparent limit of humanity’s techno-scientific power. Because while industrial capitalism has aided our enhanced knowledge and technological capabilities beyond belief we’re still faced with massive inequalities, diseases and wars and Guattari specifically brings up examples like the Chernobyl and AIDS as warnings of what ‘backlashes’ that ‘nature’ has in store for us.
At the same time Guattari forecasts that natural equilibrium will be increasingly reliant upon human intervention, and that a time will come when drastic measures will have to be taken in order to regulate the relationship between oxygen, ozone and carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. The prospect of the creation of new living species – animal and vegetable – appears like a highly likely scenario that nevertheless sparks the question of ethics (Guattari p. 44). Sociological, media, and design theorist Benjamin Bratton also recognises that technologival progress appears as both wonderful and horrifying at the same time, and to make them serve good futures he sees the need to talk more about preventing certain potential innovations that we do not want from happening, “innovation just isn’t a strong enough idea by itself”.
Here I would like to add another concern regarding technology formulated by Benjamin Bratton as a ‘placebo technoradicalism’, that is having to much faith in technology, and not nearly enough commitment to technology. There seem to be strong tendencies of using technology to simply reaffirm the comfortable without dealing with the hard stuff. Similar to Guattari’s ideas about transversality Bratton states, “If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation”. In this case the placebo is even worse than ineffective because it is capable of diverting human interest, enthusiasm and outrage “until it’s absorbed into this black hole of affectation”. “Because, if a problem is in fact endemic to a system, then the exponential effects of Moore’s Law also serve to amplify what’s broken”.
I am deeply fascinated by Agnes Denes project Wheatfield, a Confrontation, as presented in Peg Rawes text “Architectural ecologies of care”. Having said so, it is impossible to deny that it is the images of the project that fascinates me. Everything else is gone by now. The wheat is harvested, the tools returned to a farm somewhere in upstate New York, the volunteers have gone back to art school and most likely graduated by now, the adjacent World Trade Center buildings have tragically collapsed, and the landfill has been turned into real estate projects with sheets of asphalt or astroturf rolled out over the interstitial spaces between all the new stuff. What remains are the digitalized images. Yet, as Pew Rawes notes, the resonance that the project had “is evidence that aesthetic ecologies are oscillating social, environmental and mental relations.” There is an immediate compelling power in the images of the project, as Agnes Denes stands in a field of wheat with the World Trade Center as a backdrop. Wheatfield can be seen as an ephemeral, full-scale montage that questions the spatiotemporal partitions between food distribution and the global economy through the production of an immediate juxtaposition between these different worlds.
There is aesthetics at work here. It is interesting to consider Peg Rawes reading of the aesthetics of care in this project, perhaps more so than in the artist’s own statement of the work operating on a symbolic level as an obstruction of real estate value or as an attempt to highlight global issues concerning hunger or inequalities. Rawes convincingly argues how Bateson, Guattari and Spinoza all consider aesthetics as deeply intertwined with the care and wellbeing of others, both human and non-human substances.
Following Rawes reading of Guattari’s transversal thinking, Wheatfield can be seen as an “ethical re-integration of repressed other natures (both anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric) into traditional and advanced technologies and scientific realms.” Central in this understanding of aesthetics is the production of difference in an ongoing process of re-singularization. We recognize here Guattari’s call for heterogeneous struggle as something that does not require the constant homogenization of different scales and practices, but instead urges for us to become at the same time “more united and increasingly different”. The aesthetics of Denes work is therefore not only a visual juxtaposition of different objects and things, but also aesthetical in the meaning that it introduces a set of sensorial and temporal conditions that are usually kept apart. For example there is the sound of the wind blowing in the wheat field next to the noise of the traffic, the slow growth cycle of the crop next to the high pace trading of the stock exchange, the amber color of the wheat next to the concrete and glass nuances of the high rises, etc. All of these aspects are part of the aesthetics of care in the sense that they introduce a specific sensorium with a number of “voices” new to a particular milieu. In other words, the aesthetics opens up for difference.
 Peg Rawes, “Architectural Ecologies of Care,” in Relational Architectural Ecologies: Architecture, Nature and Subjectivity, ed. Peg Rawes (London: Taylor & Francis, 2013).
 Ibid., 46.
 Ibid., 41.
 Ibid., 49.
 Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (London: Athlone Press, 2000), 45.