Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sensational Fiction and the Thrilling Enculturation of Correlationism

             D.A. Miller names the process through which reader and text enter into mutual yet vicarious contact with each other “thrilling,” an arcane nominalization of the verb “to thrill.” For Miller, thrilling harkens back to its originary 14th century meaning of the piercing or penetrating of material bodies. In claiming that Miller’s Too Close Reading shares much with Object Oriented Ontology, I pointed primarily to his revised scope of textual focus. His stress on the original meaning of thrilling – and in contrast the now common meaning of the word as a subjective emotional transport – hints at a deeper sympathy with OOO.
            Thrill, originally referring to material bodies’ penetration, undergoes a dramatic shift in meaning at the close of the 18th century, when it takes on its subjective, anthropocentric meaning of an emotional transport. Although first used in this modern sense in 1616 by Shakespeare (King Lear: “A Seruant that he bred, thrill'd with remorse, Oppos'd against the act.”), this meaning lay dormant until Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe used it in 1789 (Romance of Forest: “A kind of pleasing dread thrilled her bosom.”), followed sixteen years later by Romantic heavyweight Wordsworth (“Waggoner:” “His ears are by the music thrilled.”). That this anthropocentric shift in meaning emerges out of both Gothic fiction and Romanticism cannot be an accident. On the one hand, Gothic fiction is the thrilling genre par excellence, initiating a genealogy of fiction that peaked during the fin de siècle with Sensational fiction. On the other hand, Romanticism shares strong roots with Kantian idealism – the parallel German Romanticism, after all, took its philosophical cues from Kant and his descendants Fitche and Schelling. The crucial philosophical presupposition with Romanticism and its redefining of thrilling is the Kantian sublime, an intensely internal experience stemming from an external object, the representation of which infinitely exceeds the power of reason and intellect. The sublime, in this sense, is not something out in the “world,” but instead a subjective experience of the infinite excess of that world; accordingly it is an experience of human freedom. Thrilling, as an emotion transport, corresponds with the Kantian sublime in two crucial senses: first, as internal transportation and reorientation presuppositionally sparked by an external influence; second, as a purely human experience.
            Thus it is no accident that thrilling undergoes such a radical shift around 1800. To hazard a generalization, thrilling’s redefinition registers the emergence of correlationism.  What then, of the Gothic heritage and the gradual ascendency of thrilling’s currency during the 19th century?
            Using Google books new and amazing database tool, we can see that thrill’s usage steadily climbs throughout the later half of the 19th century – approximately the period when sensational fiction garners gross popular appeal – before briefly peaking around 1900 and ultimately climaxing at the close of World War I:
Now, while Gothic and Sensational fiction may appear different from the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth, they do, I argue, share a similar paradigmatic foundation. After all, Sensational fiction concerns the subjective experience of a thrilling transportation of characters and, ultimately, readers. Hence the excessive stress of such fiction on nerves, nervousness, and hysteria.
            Plugging nerve and hysteria into the Google book database we see for these nouns a trajectory similar to that of thrill: a steady increase in use peaking at the close of the nineteenth century.
Of course this pattern correlates in large part with, among other factors, the rise of Sensational fiction, broadly conceived. Yet, I wonder, might something else be going on with this historical trend? If thrilling and its progenies in fiction (nerve and hysteria) undergo a dramatic anthropocentric shift at the beginning of the 19th century, it is possible that the ascendency of these terms at the end of the century represents an intensification and widespread enculturation of the anthropocentric paradigm of correlationism. Of course tying correlationism with something as seemingly disparate as the sensational fiction of, say, Wilkie Collins seems farfetched, but I have a hunch that this radical hypothesis is, in truth, not that radical. 
            In Victorian studies it is now commonplace to understand the novel as a technology of bourgeois subject-formation, as what Foucault calls disciplinary power and Miller, in The Novel and the Police, defines as an “amateur supplement.” Given the novel's intense popularity during the Victorian period, it certainly had a dramatic impact on the underlying, paradigmatic conception of subjectivity within a capitalist culture (critics often turn to the most popular of English writers, Dickens, for evidence of such a subject-forming project). The novel’s cultural work, then, was to provide readers with a sense of what it meant to be an effective subject within the capitalist system at large. While 19th century critics lamented the rise of “thrashy” sensational fiction, this genre too participated in the general cultural project of the novel: producing subjects who effectively particulate in a capitalist system, albeit a system undergoing drastic changes during the fin de siècle (a shift to a predominately consumer-driven economy).
            Taking this critical conception of the Victorian novel’s disciplinary role and the concurrent rise of the anthropocentric “thrilling,” might we see the novel as also participating in the proliferation of a correlationist paradigm? Although it exceeds the scope of a single blog entry, this quirky hypothesis might help to historicize and expand our understanding of correlationism as not simply a philosophical issue, but a much broader cultural paradigm – a paradigm under whose bankruptcy we now limpidly drift and wallow in inaction over crucial issues like climate change. And if correlationism lies at the heart of sensational fiction and nouns such as thrilling, Miller’s evocation of the now arcane definition of a non-anthropocentric “thrill” serves as nothing less than an attempt to forge a post-humanist, post-correlationist interpretative method.

Monday, December 20, 2010

D.A. Miller's "Too Close Reading"

      And now for something different. In a recent Critical Inquiry essay, superstar Victorianist D.A. Miller sketches a new method of reading called “too close reading.” This hyper-focused reading short-circuits the traditional hermeneutics of New Criticism’s close reading, opting instead to comport itself towards textual elements at such a scale that they can no longer relate organically to higher levels of meaning. Accordingly, TCR involves two things: first, it rejects the close reading project and telos of offering a ‘reading’ or ‘interpretation of ‘the work as a whole’”; second, it seeks to both “bring out” a text’s “shadowy and even shady quality” and to measure “a text’s drive to futility” (“Hitchcock’s Hidden Pictures” 126). TCR performs these two tasks in order “to create— discreetly, for the true initiates—an alternative universe in which the celebrated storytelling, suspense, and entertainment of the manifest style all get derailed” (127).
            With TCR Miller gives us a horizonless method of reading. By focusing on textual aspects that not only fly below the radar of traditional close reading but also on those aspects that fundamentally dissolve a text’s telos or meaning, Miller sketches something not only very close to what I call gestic reading but also something that shares a lot in common with Object Oriented Philosophy. TCG obliterates all relational horizons (character, meaning, plot, theme), an approach inherently object-oriented because it seeks to sever a textual object from all its relations, thereby getting to the point of a text’s shadowy and shady withdrawnness. Thus, TCR marks out a text’s withdrawnness, its “secret style” (121).
Since his first book, The Novel and the Police, “secret” has never meant for Miller inscrutability; rather a secret is always an “open” secret, something hidden but nevertheless ultimately visible or knowable. Thus, in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train Miller locates marks of a secret style in the “hidden” appearances of Hitchcock himself: the director’s face on a book held by Bruno, a copy of Hitchcock’s Suspense Stories resting under Guy’s feet. These appearances may be hidden insofar as they are not readily perceivable, but they are nevertheless absolutely visible.
What is this secret style if not the mark of an object’s withdrawing from intelligibility? If a real object is never fully visible or knowable, then there must remain something marking the threshold across which the real object withdraws. For Miller, this threshold is located in a text’s secret style, which is, above all, composed of all those nondiegetic textual objects pointing to the shadowy and shady withdrawal of a real object.
         The philosophical scope of TCR should be overly apparent. By rejecting New Criticism’s “close reading,” TCR participates in a seemingly widespread trend in contemporary theory and philosophy: overthrowing correlationist tendencies. After all, the genealogy of close reading goes directly back to the Kantian divide between humans and external reality lying at the heart of correlationism. Close reading is, above all, a mastery of this divide: the reading subject becomes such only through an inclusive exclusion of everything it deems as not itself, namely the “text.” Thus the close reading relation is that stretching between a human subject (reader) and a non-human object (book). The reading subject evidences his mastery (aka his “subjecthood”) by manipulating the components of the textual object into a coherent whole. It is no wonder that close reading is central to the liberal humanist subject-forming project – hence all that bunk about a good reader making a good citizen (Sure being able to tell that Glenn Beck is full of shit will make you more critically “conscious,” but that doesn’t make you  better citizen. It only means you aren’t a Beckerhead and more that you than likely suffer from what Morton calls “beautiful soul syndrome.”).
         TCR tosses all of this philosophical and political baggage into the garbage heap and opts instead for a method paying no heed to the human-nonhuman divide. As Miller claims, TCR is too close not only in its hermeneutic focus, but also because of the intense intimacy it engenders between reader and text. This intimacy consists of a sort of vicarious contact that director and viewer, text and reader enter into: “the dream of touching Hitchcock— of probing his secret parts— had become indistinguishable from the nightmare of being touched by him, of being likewise deeply probed. English used to have a word for this horror: thrilling; it meant penetrating or piercing” (128-129). The thrilling point of exchange between the touching of the reader and the touching of the text is secret style. Thus, this nondiegetic style not only marks a real object’s withdrawal, but also serves as that which can mediate between the text and the reader’s real objectness. In this crucial regard secret style is gestically located on the threshold between the text and the reader, a threshold across which forces of vicarious contact ferry themselves.

How Object-Oriented is Agamben? The Unsavable

      Gleamed from Saturday's red-eye flight back east, some fresh evidence of Agamben’s object-oriented tendencies: the “unsavable.” Concluding Nudities’s first essay, “Creation and Salvation,” Agamben defines the unsavable in a manner that coyly suspends it from all relationality: the “unsavable . . . is that in which creation and salvation, action and contemplation, operation and inoperativity persist in every moment and, without leaving any residue, in the same being (and the same nonbeing)” (8).  Now, the list of paired nouns Agamben claims inhere within the unsavable without defining it ontologically, are all, within Agamben’s technical dictionary, relational. Takae creation and salvation, the focus of this essay. Casting aside the frustratingly religious overtones of these two terms, both are grouped under the heading of praxis (2), creation as the angelic work of emergence, salvation as the prophetic work “which makes creation comprehensible” (3). As praxis, both terms function as relational forces producing objects: created being and redemptive being. Creation and salvation, while being distinct from each other, remain, “nevertheless inextricable” (4) because of “the extremely close and yet disjointed proceedings” of each. The function, therefore, through a “rhythm according to which creation precedes redemption but in reality follows it, as redemption follows creation but in truth precedes it.” This field of polar tensions hovers around the unsavable in such a manner that neither creation nor salvation collapse and correspond with it: “created being and the potentiality [i.e. redemptive being, the terms for which shift throughout the essay] enter into a threshold in which they can no longer be in any way distinguished from one another” (8).  This threshold is the unsavable – a sort of middle or between drawing creation and salvation into intense promiscuity with each other, while, it must be noted, they only appear to ontologically collapse into each.  And, crucially for an elucidation of Agamben’s object-oriented tendencies, this threshold-between is the site where “the ultimate figure of human and divine action appear” in “opaque splendor, which vertiginously distances itself from us like a star that will never return” (emphasis added).
            Once again, here appears something like the image, but in such a manner that calls explicate attention to its fundamentally withdrawn nature. Of course, the unsavable is not a real object per se, but the site wherein not only the praxes creation and salvation enter into promiscuity with each other, but created being and redemptive being as well. I want to hazard an OOO reading of the terms created being and redemptive beings by extending the implications of Agamben’s own definitions. Created being, as produced by creation, is a real object; redemptive being, as produced by salvation, is a sensual object insofar as it makes created being comprehensible. Therefore, the site wherein created being/real object and redemptive being/sensual object are placed in tension is the threshold “unsavable.” Now, to extend this model to include my previous comments on the image, the unsavable corresponds with the image in that it is that which makes created beings and redemptive beings apparent, while it itself remains inapparent in vertiginous opaqueness. Thus, the unsavable is a site who consistency is inapparent appearance – or, simply, an image. 
            So, what we have in “Creation and Salvation” are a cluster of terms mappable within an OOO framework: creation and salvation as relation or sensual praxis; creative being as real object; redemptive being as sensual object. But again, we are presented with a figure that seemingly exceeds this framework: the unsavable. I am consistently at a loss with what to do with such a figure, be it the unsavable or the image. I have, however, a hunch: it is something that exists within the middle of the tensions structuring Harman’s quadruple object; or, perhaps more specifically, the unsavable, the image, and some other figures (the signature, among others) are the “faces” of this structural middle. This middle or between I envision as a sort of membrane of inapparent appearance. But again, the faces of this middle, being inapparently apparent, are neither sensual objects nor real objects (although the middle itself may turn out to be a real object in the end).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Title Change

In reconsideration of the title of my recent post on Deleuze, I have altered the title to "Anti-Deleuze: How the Deleuzian Victorianists Got Hardy Wrong." This is, I hope, more specific than the old title, which was far too wide sweeping and, frankly, unnecessarily controversial.

How Object-Oriented is Agamben? Withdrawnness and the Image Part II

     In my last post, I left out a crucial aspect of the image, an aspect that perhaps hints at the image's being neither a real nor a sensual object (a thesis I am still tenuously clinging onto). Concluding the previously quoted sentence, the image “is neither a mere logical object nor a real entity,” Agamben writes, “it is something that lives (‘a life’)” (“Nudity” 83). Putting aside Agamben’s aside (“a life” and its invocation of his essay on Deleuze’s “Immanence: A Life”), this assertion that the image is something that lives as the medium between real and sensual objects gets greatly complicated at the close of the paragraph. Unfolding the ontological status of the image, Agamben continues, “inasmuch as it is nothing other than the giving of the thing over to knowledge, nothing other than the stripping off of the clothes that cover it, nudity [image] is not separate from the thing: it is the thing itself” (84). How is the image not the real object, insofar as it is a living medium, yet also the real object, insofar as it is the giving over of the thing to knowledge? Further, this final statement is contradicts the immediately preceding claim, “the image is not the thing, but the thing’s knowability (its nudity).”
     Perhaps the key to this bizarre assertion that the image/nudity is the thing itself is the word “itself.” Much as in The Coming Community the phrase “as such” indicates a slight (messianic) difference between the thing and its appearance in language, might this “itself” indicate a similar division between the real object and its image? After all, Agamben claims that image=thing itself, not image=thing. What function is the “itself” playing? Here I can easily pull out a long genealogy of all such similar figures in Agamben’s thought: genius, dignity, persona, identity, and so on. Basically, then, the “itself” indicates not the thing/real object, but the embodied thing/real object within its appearance. The “thing itself” is, therefore, a certain modality of the real object. As this “thing itself” is the image, and the image is not the thing/real object, it could follow that the “thing itself”/image indicates something like what I asserted at the very close of my last post; namely, that the image is the pre-condition of vicarious contact. If the image is a certain, essential modality of the real object, it therefore serves as the medium through which the real object becomes a sensual object, and, of course, therein undergoing vicarious causation. Crucially, the image is neither real nor sensual object, but the membrane between the two. It is therefore the “face” of any object. Yet, I wonder, might the image itself simply be another real object in startlingly close proximity (even promiscuity) to the real object and its sensual object? Again, the “itself” would lead to this possible conclusion. But (and this is merely a closing question to be picked up later, perhaps in the context of apparatuses), might the image in some fundamental way inhere without become a part of the real object, perhaps as a sort of halo? As a halo, might the image be then both of the real object and of itself autonomously?
     One more comment. If the image is another real object it fits within an OOO universe of “objects all the way down.” If we crack open the medium-functioning image and we get another real object. But, for Agamben, the image does not participate in this breaking down. Rather, it is a sort of firewall against such a fragmentation: “One could define nudity [i.e. image] as the envelopment that reaches a point where it becomes clear that clarification is no longer possible” (89). Or, more simply, the image is that which “remains ‘inexplicable,’” a term the translators note as meaning, etymologically, “that which cannot be unfolded.” Thus, the image marks the withdrawnness of a real object such that the real object cannot be broken down into other objects. The image is, again, neither the withdrawnness of the real object nor the real object, but instead that which points to its withdrawnness. It is, therefore, the signature of a real object.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Object-Oriented is Agamben? Withdrawnness and the Image

     In my last post I set out to determine in what sense Agamben’s inoperativity is object-oriented, concluding that it is and it is not. Clearly, such an answer sidesteps the real question, how object-oriented is Agamben? This post will attempt to show how in two crucial regards Agamben evidences tendencies towards Object Oriented Ontology.
     A major feature of OOO is the assertion that there exist objects “all the way down.” In Prince of Networks, Graham Harman claims that because of the withdrawnness of all objects, whenever one “opens” any given object, we see that it is composed of other objects. And when we open those objects, we see more objects, an so on down into the rabbit hole. In “Nudity,” Agamben makes a nearly identical claim. Discussing Clemente Susini's anatomical wax sculptures, Agamben writes, “But no matter how much we open the wax model and scrutinize it with our gaze, the naked body of the beautiful, disemboweled woman remains obstinately unobtainable” (79). In the context of his essay, these comments do not refer simply to Susini’s sculpture, but to all real objects. Hence, like the sculpture, all real objects remain obstinately unobtainable. In this crucial regard, Agamben is object-oriented.
     Now, we have objects all the way down precisely because each object is radically withdrawn: “the being of any object is always deeper than how that object appears to us” (Harman 180-181). And by being radically withdrawn, the real object undergoes a series of divisions of which the split between a real object and its sensual objectness is primary (the others being between a real object and its real qualities [essence] and a sensual object and its sensual qualities [time]). A consequence of this primary division is vicarious causation; because all real objects are ontologically withdrawn from all other real objects, they can only contact each other through a third, mediating object. This mediator is, according to Harman, the inside of a sensual object. Thus the division between a real object and its sensual object becomes crucial in explaining not only movement and change, but also all interaction between real objects. In some way, then, this split breaks off the infinite downward spiraling of objects by creating a disjunction out of which the object becomes, to a degree, intelligible through its sensual object. The disjunction itself is not that which is intelligible, but rather what is intelligible is the sensual object produced through and out of this split.
     What does this have to do with Agamben? In “Nudity” Agamben sketches out a form of visibility -- nudity -- that takes shape as an inapparent appearance. That is, nudity is an appearance that signifies nothing because it has no content and is, thus, the pure appearance of a human. While the technical term nudity refers to humans in their pure and inapparent appearance, it belongs to the genus of “image.” Drawing upon Meister Eckhart, Agamben claims that in the image the “real thing” (i.e. real object) stands “trembling” and “quivering” in “the medium of its own knowability” (83). For Eckhart and Agamben, the image is, simply and profoundly, the pure knowability of the real object. And like nudity’s pure appearance, the image’s pure knowability is inapparent and nonsignifying because it too lacks content. The question now arises, is the image (and with it nudity) a real object’s sensual object?
     Decidedly not. Rather, the image “is a perfect medium between the object in the mind [sensual, phenomenological object] and the real thing [real object].” Accordingly, the image is “neither a mere logical object nor a real entity” because it occupies the between stretching from real object to sensual object. This medium or between is nudity’s pure appearance (appearance without secret, an inapparent appearance signifying nothing because it lacks content) and, in general, the image’s pure knowability. Thus, both nudity (corresponding to humans) and image (corresponding to all objects, humans included) constitute a medium of absolute knowledge, or, in other words, the pure knowability of objects.
     Yet “knowability” is a misnomer. “Knowledge” here is not in any sense correlationist or in any way connected with a cogito. Rather knowability refers to non-knowledge. Because the image is pure knowability, the capacity for any object to be known and made to inapparently appear, it is not properly “knowledge” insofar as it, in having no content, does not signify anything. For Eckhart, the image, as a medium between sensual object and real object, exists in a “between.” As quoted by Agamben, Eckhart asserts, “The forms that exist in matter tremble incessantly, like an ebullient strait between two seas.” The image, then, resides in a “zone of nonknowledge” (the “ebullient strait” between the seas of the real object and the sensual object) that, as Agamben claims in Nudities’ final essay, we “keep ourselves in [a] harmonious relationship with” through a “recipe” (“The Last Chapter in the History of the World” 114). Now, Agamben holds that as of yet, we have “no recipe for articulating a zone of nonknowledge,” not, however, because such a recipe is impossible, but because Western thought has focused solely on developing archives of knowledge (113). A recipe of nonknowledge is, therefore, completely possible, and, more importantly, crucial, as the zone of nonknowledge, in being constituted by imagistic pure knowability, defines the rank and file of the known (113). The problem with this zone is that, if peeled open, it will reveal nothing definite, because, after all, it is composed of inapparent appearances -- images. These images are, Agamben concludes, “gestures” (114).
     A quick recap: Harman gives us a four-fold division of real objects, the primary division being that between a real object and its sensual object. Thus, on the one hand we have objects all the way down because each real object is infinitely withdrawn, a point similarly made by Agamben. On the other hand, a real object connects with another real object only through a mediating third -- a sensual object, something that Agamben hints at with the image. However, Agamben’s image is located at a curious crossroads for each object: it belongs to neither the real object nor the sensual object, but instead it the medium between “the object in the mind and the real thing.” This medium could mean one of two things. First, it could mean that the image is the eidos of a real object, which Harman defines as the tension between a sensual object and a real object’s qualities. Second, the image could be something else entirely. Being the medium between real and sensual object, the image performs a role somewhat different from the eidos: the generation of all knowledge. The image is pure knowability and is accordingly an inapparent appearance lacking all signification. Thus the image is, on the one hand, not a real object insofar as it is partially a sensual object by being an appearance, and on the other hand it is not a sensual object insofar as it is partially a withdrawing real object in its inapparentness. Thus, the image finds itself located in a zone of nonknowledge located between the real and the sensual object. This zone is a between out of which an inapparent appearance becomes not only possible, but visible as a “gesture.” Thus the image is the gesture of a zone of nonknowledge, for which we need a “recipe.”
     What the heck is a recipe in this case? In cooking, a recipe is a form of “knowledge” in the broadest sense -- a comportment towards the real objectness of food. Accordingly, a recipe is a performance of the ingredients; or, in other words, it is, partially, a medium between real objects (the food) and a sensual object (the food in our mind). The recipe is, more properly, the vehicle through which the gesture or image stretching between the food and the food in our mind inapparently appears. Not the image or gesture itself, the recipe is that through which the medium is performed.
     Therefore, to return to my ongoing efforts to develop a “hermeneutic” of the gesture, I can no longer call this project a hermeneutic. Instead, what will be developed will be a recipe book.
     And for vicarious causation: the image or gesture does and does not mediate between real objects insofar as it is the potential mediator between real and sensual objects. Thus it is the pre-condition (“pre” not in a chronological sense) for vicarious causation without which a real object could never contact a sensual object, let alone a real object (through, of course, the sensual object). No image, no vicarious causation. For this reason, the image cannot be what Harman defines as eidos -- the tension between sensual object and real qualities that, like a real object, withdraws itself from all direct access.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Object-Oriented is Agamben: Inoperativity

      Now for the first of a possible series: How Object-Oriented is Agamben?

      Per Tim Morton’s comments on Agamben in a recent course lecture on Object Oriented Ontology (Agamben seeks to out-meta Heidegger, to find The Ground beneath Heidegger’s ground), my readings in OOO, and Agamben’s own recently published essay collection, Nudities, I feel it is time to put the radical Italian philosopher to the test.
     First, in regards to Tim’s assertion that Agamben seeks to out-ground Heidegger: he does, repeatedly and exhaustively. Take for example the final pages of The Open, where Agamben explicitly attempts to work beyond the aporia of Heidegger’ conception of the open and human Dasein. Yet, I wonder, is Agamben, in general, actually out-grounding in a meta-critique? While this question may not fit well with The Open, it does with the essay “Hunger of an Ox: Considerations of the Sabbath, the Feast, and Inoperativity.” Much like his concept of profanation, Agamben’s inoperativity is a process that renders all hegemonic (specifically “sacred” -- a term that for Agamben, means all life, activity, objects, and use within hyper-capitalism, which functions through sacralization, the jettisoning of objects from the realm of free use into a separate, isolated, alienated sphere) objects and activities free from “productive” ends. Inoperativity is, therefore, not abstinence or idleness, but rather “a particular modality of acting and living” that opens itself up through the suspension of the sacred (105). At first glance, inoperativity looks like a meta-process: one steps outside of hegemonic forces (hyper-capitalism) in order to enact a more authentic (or at the least, different) manner of living. This appears “meta” by such a stepping outside -- in the suspension of sacredness. However, to be properly “meta,” this suspension must double its glance back towards that which it enacts itself upon: our inoperativity would then distance itself from the forces imbricating living being in order to perceive them lucidly (“What is the Contemporary?” calls for such an activity: “Contemporariness is, then, a singular relationship with one’s time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance from it” [41]. Clearly, Agmaben's thought runs in two direction: a meta-grounding rightly criticized by Morton, and a radical lateral removal from all previous ground. This second direction is, to a degree, a minor chord in Agamben's work, although the political implications might attest to its ultimate significance).
     This, however, is not the case with inoperativity as sketched in Nudities. Inoperativity is simply a radically lateral removal and intervention in the processes of sacralization that seeks in no way to interpret or interrogate those processes. It simply is the modality of living and acting in a post-sacred society. If it has an aim it is merely “to open [human activities] to a new -- or more ancient -- use in the spirit of the Sabbath” (112) -- the hiatus of time in which all activities are stripped of their productive force. Suspension here is not an excepting process; inoperativity does not come about through a constituting exception of sacralization (this would be the meta-suspension -- a distancing that remains constitutively connect to that which it excepts). Instead, inoperativity is a radical suspension in which all aspects of sacralization are obliterated and those beings and activities that were previously imbricated in forces of sacralization are open to their free and proper play.
     Of course, Agamben repeatedly ties inoperativity to the human -- a decidedly un-OOO maneuver. And while this focus may in large part result from spatial constraints (“Hunger” is only eight pages long), it nevertheless represents a potential blind spot in Agamben’s recent work: the re-ascendant primacy of the human (granted a “humanness” not defined by the anthropological machine). Nevertheless, might inoperativity be extended to all objects? Take my earlier post on apparatuses. Near the conclusion, I claimed that the apparatus refers to a certain potentiality for capture inhering in any given object that is activated only when placed in the correct circumstances. For example, a book is simply a paper weight until it is picked up and read, therein serving its apparatic function of capturing the living being of its reader, who not only expropriates his/her mental faculties to the text, but his/her living being: he/she renders themselves relatively immobile and docile. Of course, the book prior to reading is still an apparatus (it captures the papers it rests on top of), but this is not the “proper” or intentional apparatic function of the book. Now, the book's undergoing inoperativity would be involve the cessation of its apparatic potential -- to capture both the mental and living being of humans and the mobility of a loose pile of paper. The book may still be read and sit atop papers, but it would do so in a manner that does not capture objects within a larger field of forces -- the reading-human within hypercapitalism, the papers within the strictures of an “organized” desk. This inoperativity of the book is performed by foreclosing the possibility of placing it within the contingent circumstances of capture. What was once a vessel ferrying one object into a larger object (the reading human into hypercapitalism) becomes merely an object. The book can therefore be read, but in so being read the book does not shuttle the reader into contact with hypercapitalism. The reader simply reads -- he/she enters into contiguous (vicarious) contact with the book through the sensual object “text,” a mediator hovering between the book and the reader that is both of the book and of the reader -- something like the “gesture.”
     Insofar he does not extend inoperativity to all objects, Agamben is not object-oriented; nevertheless, inoperativity does provide the means for an object-oriented analysis of apparatuses and the political consequences of contact and causation.

The Anti-Deleuze: How the Deleuzians Victorianists Got Hardy Wrong

      My first quarter of PhD coursework is officially over. It has been, not unexpectedly, a condensed, rapid, and profoundly re-orienting three months. In this, my first post since moving west, I will attempt an introduction to the new directions I will be heading for the foreseeable future.
     The big break through: Deleuze and the Deleuzian Victorianists got “it” wrong. This realization occurred through two independent progressions of thought. On the one hand, I began the quarter with the very vague hope of developing a hybrid research-theory project merging what I now see as a vastly scattered array of theorists into a reading of Jude the Obscure and, through that reading, a sort of pitiful methodological manifesto (a “look at me, this awesome first-semester PhD student with his world altering methodology!”). Back in early September, the project was to feature Aby Warburg, Benjamin, Deleuze, Object Oriented Ontology, and Agamben. What remained: some presuppositional OOO and a re-worked paradigmatology loosely based on Agamben’s (then) recent work. No Warburg (I am reading him right now -- I simply never had the time to do his “unnamed science” justice). No Benjamin. But plenty of Deleuze.
      Not, however, in a positive light. Mostly because of two Deleuzian Thomas Hardy studies (John Hughes’s Lines of Flight: Reading Deleuze with Hardy, Gissing, Conrad, and Woolf and David Musselwhite’s Social Transformations in Hardy’s Tragic Novels: Megamachines and Phantasms), I found a serious hindrance to my positive appropriation of Deleuze: the violent machine of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. I should have caught this sooner. As early as my final master’s essay, I have attempted to merge Deleuze’s machine with Agamben’s “suspended machine.” A quick re-cap on the term machine: in The Open, Agamben sketches out the machine as a relational force placing two independent “terms” into tension with each other such that they collapse into indistinction; out of this indistinction a decision is made; this decision, in the case of the anthological machine, places man and animal into tension, decides upon what is human, to the excepting detriment of the “weaker” of the two terms. This formulation should be familiar with my readers by now, as it is the structure of modern subjectivity I attempted to sketch last summer. I had previously claimed (and believed) that both Agamben and Deleuze performed a double suspension: they suspended the suspending of machines (a machine suspends through an exception-inclusion: the human is constituted through man’s excepting of the animal; through that expecting, however, the animal is included as the other/limit figure that ultimately constitutes the human). Agamben does this. And as I now realize, Deleuze decidedly does not. Rather, his definitive (and much ballyhooed) relational structure merely initiates a machine: deterritorialization places something (a living being, language, epistemic forms, etc) into dissolution such that a “decision” can be made that will serve as the basis for a new formation, reterritorialization. Now, for Jude the Obscure, Musselwhite claims that Hardy deterritorializes the hegemonic discourse of the Victorian realist novel, citing Jude's notoriously aberrant prose (a contemporary reviewer called the novel, “a somewhat dull novel” on account of its style). Fine. The novel’s prose is radically different from, say, George Eliot’s or Henry James’. But Musselwhite’s next Deleuzian step is the problem: citing Hardy’s insistence upon a “geometric” plot, Musselwhite claims that the novel reterritorializes itself in a manner mirroring fin de siècle consumer capitalism. The novel is, according to Musselwhite, schizophrenic, and thus Hardy must be a proto-Deleuzian practicing schizoanalysis seventy years before Deleuze and Guattari.
     Yet this deterritorialization-reterritorialization dynamic is a machine, whether or not it “mirrors” capitalism’s constitutive structure (i.e. the infinite proliferation of apparatuses). Jude performs much more than that. It asks for a radical resistance to reterritorialization, so much so that the first Deleuzian term (deterritorialization) no longer applies. Hardy’s novel is a novel of absolute horizonlessness -- a dimension in which all epistemic horizons have been obliterated. What this obliteration demands, then, is a hazarding of all thought and language within that dimension -- to risk ourselves without recourse to any reformulation of horizons. Hardy is, in this crucial regard, much like Agamben; he doubly suspends all machines. The Deleuzian model will, therefore, always fail at reading Jude.
     But why? What leads Deleuze back into the clutches of mechanization? Simply: monism, the assertion that all reality is ultimately composed of a singular and absolute substance. For Deleuze this substance goes by numerous aliases, most notably the “plane of consistency.”
     Now, this realization did not arise out of my work on Jude, but instead from Tim Morton’s incredible lectures on rhetoric. For the first nine weeks of the quarter, I was deeply resistant to Tim’s claims that Deleuze was a monist. I keep telling myself (and complaining to my partner) that Deleuze, or at least “late-Deleuze,” was no monist desiring to collapse all reality into a monistic goop. No, the monistic Deleuze was not the “real” Deleuze, but Deleuze-Guattari. Just look at his work on Leibniz or cinema . . . But then I re-read large portions on Anti-Oedipus (for work on Jude) and a smaller portion of Thousand Plateaus (for Tim’s course). And there is was, monism, staring out of deterritorialization-reterritorialization. For Deleuze (and I admit, these two works are by D/G, not Deleuze . . .) this process of ontological collapse works only because whatever two things are placed into tension with each other are ultimately the same. Thus they don’t merely dissolve into indistinction such that something new can emerge, but that they simply return momentarily to their monistic proper state (an ontological point 0) only to be reborn. Now Musselwhite is correct, to a degree, in asserting that this mechanization mirrors capitalism (the larger, paradigmatic framework being biopower, not simply “capitalism”), but positive moral valences thrown over this machine by Deleuze (and the Deleuzians) are troublesome, especially in context of D/G’s subversive hopes. Anti-Oedipus and Thousand Plateaus were, after all, designed as revolutionary texts seeking not only new methodologies or a new conception of lived experience, but ultimately as an ontology. By inadvertently mirroring the ontologically monistic machine of capitalism, Deleuze’s subversion simply becomes a new articulation of the very structure it attempted to revolt against. And this is perhaps why Deleuze’s philosophy is so popular: at the bottom of it all, we already know it because it implicitly reproduces the constitutive structure of the biopolitical society in which we live. (I still have one lingering hope: in the short essay, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” written a few years before he died, Deleuze appears to regret his previous valorization of deterritorialization-reterritorialization, seeing it then as what it always was: the mechanization of ontological violence constituting capitalism)
      This did not occur until last week, when writing an essay on Bacon’s “Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer,” which my last entry discussed. In this essay, I began with a quick breakdown of Deleuze’s conveniently concise method for reading Bacon’s paintings: through the three elements of Bacon’s paintings -- figure, contour, field -- a dual process of diastolic and systolic flows pass the figure into the field and the field over the figure, therein rendering visible the invisible body without organs. Having wrapped up a quick sketch of how “Two Studies” might be read according to this logic, I realized: these two bodies (cartoon and figure) don’t evidence both flows (a necessary indistinction in the Deleuzian logic). What the hell does this mean? And then it hit me, the entire quarter’s progression crystalline in a moment: this logic is a monistic machine! Diastole and systole are equivalent to deterritorialization-reterritorialization! And accordingly, all that such a mechanization will render visible is its own misplaced faith in an underlying substance girdering all reality.
     So some other process must be at work in Bacon’s painting that does, in fact, render living being in its facticity visible. As this process points my work in an entirely new direction (or, at least, clarifies much of my work for the last year), I will leave it for future posts . . .