history’s network

December 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

rhizomeWhat patterns do we find when we look to the past of people and things? When we look to the past of people who have lived in the margins, how do we misunderstand their stories? When we look to the past, do we ever consider the importance of things and ideas that are not human? For this paper the emphasis will be to look at the autobiographical American Indian stories of Simon J. Ortiz and Joseph Bruchac. This will be done while trying to contend with several overarching themes, theories and ideas. The attempt will be to pass the American Indian experience, in these particular examples, through modes of thought not typically used in such an endeavor. To begin with we’ll look at Walter Benjamin’s conception of history and the not so obvious problems that arise when we don’t approach history critically. Then, we’ll briefly look at a study done by Susan L. Star and Geoffrey C. Bowker that coincides with Benjamin’s history, where they suggest that residual categories are lost by the wayside in the name of strict organization. Bruno Latour and John Law’s Actor-Network Theory will be the next focus as a unique method in which to reorganize our typical perspective that accounts for non-human agency as much as it considers human agency. This will segue over to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and their innovative exploration of rhizomes, multiplicity and deterritorialisation. Before all of that, we’ll attempt to draw an outline that takes into account our popular story/narrative/stereotype about the past and present of the American Indian experience. This short paper is an uncharted map that hasn’t been drawn yet. To chart it will be a way to designate what we can know and what our limitations might be. This map will lead us not to a fixed, demarcated destination. It will lead to a series of ideas that will then lead us somewhere else—off the map.

We already know part of the story of the American Indians, but let’s review it as we remember it. Their story is an aspect of our American history. It is our story too. Looking back, our memory tells us that the Europeans travelled to the New World to find a new way of life. They were sometimes running from their oppressors in Europe, and once over here, they could invent another way of living. Often they were running away from the people who were telling them how to live their lives. We know that life was hard for these brave colonizing people, the Spaniards, the British, the Dutch, the French, the Germans and the many others. Before this, life was also going along with the pre-colonial hardships for the natives, the Indians, yet with the onset of the Europeans, their sufferings grew exponentially, disease, injustice, war and hatred all coalesced into what we are taught. The Indians were treated unfairly, their land was stripped from them and they were forced into newly oppressive ways of living, thinking and being. The Indians were not Christian and they were not white. Nothing would be the same and nothing can be reversed—the damage has already been done. The regrettable assimilation took some time. Their descendants tell their history, their stories, their myths and legends against the backdrop of the white man’s engulfing narrative. They too are history’s children. In fact, this narrative is a way their stories are told. Everything after this has to take these things into consideration. It is how we understand the American Indian stories now and that past that is gone.

Before we dive headlong into an analysis of American Indian narratives, we should clarify that the above mentioned way of looking at how the stories are understood and mediated, is through our western eyes, our American/Eurocentric perspective. This doesn’t mean, however, that Europeans (and by extension Americans) have always repeated the same tired patterns that got us so confused in the first place. The Europeans we’ll turn for answers in this paper are avid and often subtle critics of the way things are, the way things were, how things have been portrayed, how history has been told, and how to see things from another vantage. For these thinkers, it has been to their benefit to be on the inside of western culture in order to critique it from the outside. We, no matter what ethnicity, need to caution against continuing to make the same hegemonic mistakes of any so-called oppressors, past and present.

The most obvious place to turn our attention, before ANT and the rhizome, is to question the way we understand history, the way history has been told and by whom. The German philosopher, critic, and historian Walter Benjamin is someone to turn to for a unique view of history, particularly with one of his last essays “On the Concept of History” (also known as “Theses on the Philosophy of History”). It’s important to know that this was written around the time Benjamin was fleeing Nazi Germany during World War II, ending up in Spain only to commit suicide in 1940, oddly, same year the essay was written. This is not a random point because it directs us to the notion that Benjamin was critical of the status quo. Historical ideology needs to be called into question directly or indirectly. When we accept things as they are, we suffer for our acquiescence as well. Benjamin was critical of a view of history as truth simply waiting to be discovered. The British sociologist Graeme Gilloch, in his book Walter Benjamin, writes that for Benjamin’s way of thinking about history “…the image of the past becomes a source of, and focus for, contemporary struggle and conflict. What has been is always open to (mis)appropriation and erasure” (225). This is amplified in Benjamin’s essay when he underscores the idea that a history of the vanquished is told by the victors “…not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious” (¶ 6). And later, Benjamin continues with the idea that history is a story told by the victors “the spoils are, as was ever the case, carried along in the triumphal procession. They are known as the cultural heritage” (¶ 7). With any American Indian narrative things are lost, people are forgotten and an Indian’s history is spoken of with condescending pity. Yes, the Europeans took the land, but they can’t exactly give it back either. If blatant misunderstanding thwarts our view of the present moment, then how can we ever imagine the same problems cannot cloud our view of the past, recent and distant? There are plenty of things in the past we’ll never have the ability to summon up. Gilloch quotes Benjamin as saying “the task of history is to grasp the tradition of the oppressed” (226). The trickery of the oppressor always sounds correct under the guise of rational/national progress and in the name of doing good for the sake of others who are less able to so for themselves. However, when doing well entails a dogged insistence on cultural assimilation at any cost, who loses? We often make the careless mistake to demonize people who enforce cultural assimilation, while at the same time stubbornly insisting that everyone follow our line of thinking and if they don’t then they’re in need of improvement because we know better. ‘They are bad, we know better.’ Little do we know, that yes, this sounds innocent, yet if allowed to persist unchecked, it leads to overt oppression and the obliteration of contrary ideas. These long lasting paradigms, unbeknownst to us, are under the surface. To this, Benjamin insists that “The subject of historical cognition is the battling oppressed class itself” (¶ 12). The battling oppressed need to make their voices heard to tell their histories from beyond the blur of stereotypes, myths and rumors. As Gilloch shows, Benjamin’s way of telling history is focused, to a certain degree, fragmentary, which means that a defeated history will “…be only represented as fragments, debris and detritus” (227). This means that in our view of the American Indian context, we can see that there has already been plenty of loss, and this loss cannot be entirely recovered, even with a history that arrogantly aims to be complete. This pattern of history is not what we readily recognize, since we continually want to recover all that has been lost in the mire of nationalism and hatred.

In a 2007 paper by Susan L. Star and Geoffrey C. Bowker, “Enacting Silence: Residual Categories as a Challenge for Ethics, Information Systems and Communication” the emphasis is on showing that in this day and age certain things fall beyond typical categories that are too difficult to classify into neat classifications, resulting in being overlooked, forgotten, or rejected. This idea that we often have a tough time accounting for that which we cannot account for, is similar to Benjamin’s way of doing history, Star and Bowker write “A system without the possibility to understand the history and sociology of its residual categories desiccates stories it already labels ‘unknowable’” (274). The history, people and language that fall outside the normal is easily passed over, thus challenging the normative ways we mis-categorize and ignore what we don’t understand. Even when we dare to think of the English language that American Indian history is usually related as the white man’s lingua-franca, we forget that things are easily lost in the gloss of retelling—in another language. The pattern is now less of a homogeneous past, instead, it is heterogeneous, it becomes tough for us to recognize, and it doesn’t fit all our biased traditions. This heterogeneity will be looked at in more detail later when we compare it to an American Indian narrative to Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and to the rhizome.

Simon Ortiz is an American Indian from the Acoma Pueblo tribe located in New Mexico. He spoke his native Acoma as a child. His story is found in a collection of biographical sketches of various American Indians included in the book I Tell You Now. His autobiographical essay titled “The Language We Know” tells a familiar yet personal story. He opens by giving the reader insight into his relationship with language, how he loves it and how it caused him pain. Ortiz does the difficult job of expressing that he had a love for his native language, while at the same time expressing that he doesn’t speak it much “I had come to know English through forceful acculturation” then, he writes “significantly, it was the Acoma language, which I don’t use enough of today, that inspired me to become a writer” (188). He outlines his history of having to go to an American Indian boarding school where English was the rule, with no room allowed for his culture and, of course, no room allowed for his language. Ortiz addresses this unilateral theme “…I felt an unspoken anxiety and resentment against unseen forces that determined our destiny to be un-Indian” (191). This is a strange and uncomfortable mix of being forced to learn one way in order to better appreciate what you originally had to begin with. It is in this fracture that we anxiously look for what has been lost that might not be found. Benjamin’s oppressive Germany suddenly resonates with how we perceive our own disfigured American past. If we think everyone needs to live life in one way, then we’re not allowing for the possibility of another way of living one’s life. We are often under the illusion that we know this now, after the fact, but do we honestly practice it in our everyday lives?

Actor-network theory (ANT) was developed sometime in the late 1980s by the social scientists Bruno Latour, John Law and Michel Callon. In a paper titled “‘The Social’ and Beyond: Introducing Actor-Network Theory.” The British archaeologist Jim S. Dolwick, is keen to illustrate a primary feature of ANT “Here [with ANT] the definition is significantly extended from humans-only to include anything and everything that might be associated together” (Dolwick, 36). This means that traditional social theory was centered on the human activity and human agency, and rarely, if ever, extended to the non-human activity and non-human agency. For ANT, agency “…is regarded not as a unique human quality or force, which act upon the world, but as an action that is shared with the world” (Dolwick, 38). Every thing, human and otherwise, becomes important when we set out to identify a network. Also, as Dolwick indicates “…ANT places more emphasis on how associations are made…” (36). ANT is less of a theory about networks and more about how networks are connected and associated. ANT, as Dolwick describes it, is also about human and non-human agency. It must be repeated that the non-human things, ideas, entities, organizations, groups, microbes, objects, things, etc. have their influence, affect, pressure, temptation, power on us as much as we have on them, and it is the fluid interconnectedness that ANT wants to bring to our attention. Dolwick underscores this further “…the focus for them [ANT and its proponents] is not on the ‘object’ (in isolation), but on the ambivalent subject-object imbroglio, defined as ‘actor-network’” (38).

We’ll look now to the French philosopher of science Bruno Latour and the British sociologist John Law to define ANT a little more specifically. For Latour an actor-network must not be confused entirely with a standard network of, say an engineering network, a telephone network, etc. As Latour indicates in his essay “a technical network in the engineer’s sense is only one the possible final and stabilized state of an actor-network” (2). So, it is not just a clean-cut technical network that has to be delineated and, as stated with Dolwick, and according to Latour, ANT “…does not limit itself to human actors but [it] extends the word actor—or actant—to non-human, non-individual entities” (2). For our application of how ANT is associated with the American Indian, Latour’s points are easy to see. For instance, with Ortiz, mentioned earlier, his network has to do with his immediate family, his family’s relationship with the land, the land as it is associated with the violence of early colonialism, the land’s inherent value, the current post-colonial concerns of reservation life, his school/s, his farm, how the English language was enforced onto to him, his stories, his parents, the U.S. Government, and all the other connections resulting from an elaborate web of associations that can be thought of as actors in his unique instance. Consider this point and in addition, consider the fact that there can be networks that extend off of all those things, apart from him, as well. When James Bruchac, who was a so-called half breed, writes about his life in “Notes of a Translator’s Son” in the same book of American Indian stories I tell You Now, he asks “do we make ourselves into what we become or is it built into our genes, into a fate spun for us by whatever shapes events?” (199), suddenly we see a possible connection in relation to ANT. It becomes a little easier to answer that it has to be both, his genes and his environment that shape his events, because we can think of events happening in his environment to be his network in action. Bruchac’s network helps create what he is and he helps create what his network is. What is fascinating about this approach is that everything Bruchac and Ortiz detail about their lives, is really an ultra-specific network and all the actors are named. The human actors are obviously named and the non-human actors are also elaborated. For example, with Bruchac’s childhood home “…it is an old house with grey shingles, built by my grandfather…” (199). Ortiz’s family of subsistence farming “…I learned to plant, hoe weeds, irrigate and cultivate corn, chili, pumpkin, beans” (189). These things form a network of relationships and associations, whether we want to call them American Indian networks, spatial networks, or even farming networks that extend way beyond Bruchac’s.

It is easy to sort though some (and only some of) the ways the non-human actors have played a part in the American Indian past, starting with the most obvious contested questions of land, territory, reservations, relocation, and language and so on. These things must be taken into account when we think of their networks, as a matter of fact, these things usually rise to the top of the way we remember the American Indians. Then we must additionally recognize that the American Indian networks can extend far away from these purely obvious things. Let’s not forget that all this also applies to us and that we are not always in control of the relationships and how we are affected by them and how they are affected by us. We are nothing if not in a network.

For another proponent of ANT John Law, in his paper “Actor-Network Theory and Material Semiotics” ANT falls under the “…disparate family of material-semiotic tools, sensibilities and methods of analysis that treat everything in the social worlds as a continually generated effect in the webs relations within which they are located” (2). In this way, the network remains open. The network doesn’t stop making new associations. As for the semiotic approach, the word actor, or actant is important. This is because ANT borrows the definition of an actant from semiotics. In Marcel Danesi’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media, and Communications, under the entry for “actant” we find that an actant “…is, in effect, who or what perpetuates or endures specific actions in a narrative” (5). Perhaps due to ANT’s semiotic/linguistic ties, while writing about ANT, Law touches on how translation is related to the network “to translate is to make two words equivalent. But since no two words are equivalent, translation always implies betrayal…” (6), surely, a network includes language and its translation. The way this translation operates works to clarify as much as it distorts and reconfigures. In Bruchac’s aptly titled “Notes of a Translator’s Son” he talks about his avoidance of the calling himself an ‘Indian’ and with a touch of ambivalence he accepts it, but he prefers to call himself a metis “…in English it becomes ‘Translator’s Son.’ It is not an insult, like half-breed. It means that you are able to understand the language of both sides, to help them understand each other” (203). Yes, he writes to us in English and not in his native Abenaki language, and in this, even in translation, we are limited in how much we’ll retain of his actual past. His is a voice that is aware of the limitations of language and this is part of his network—and it is heterogeneous. His network is not always recognizable. We’ve noticed it before, and in this case it is specific, it won’t always look like the predetermined categories we’ve have prescribed for it. Like us, American Indians are creative and they have already learned how to contend with the restraints of history, and so have we, but this doesn’t stop all ignorance. The network of understanding has to remain open, while paradoxically knowing that there will always be closures, obscurities, ignorance and erasures. Ominously, Law tries to sum up ANT by suggesting that “there is nowhere to hide beyond the performativity of the webs” (16). Since we can’t escape, we can at least recognize the patterns that stare at us from the past and that continue to form the future. The networked map of an American Indian past (and present) overlaps with everyone else’s, even if we think it doesn’t.

Jim Dolwick helped us to move into the connection between ANT and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s (D&G) concept of the rhizome. As Dolwick outlines, they have to make the case that the rhizome is against the arboreal (tree-like) ways of thinking and organizing (34). What this means is that Western thinking has consistently clung to the metaphor of a tree, where associations, categories, and meanings are derived from, for instance, the Tree of Knowledge and the like. The botanical metaphor of the rhizome is not like this, since a rhizome lacks the centeredness of a tree’s roots and branches. Dolwick says that the idea of the rhizome “…is depicted as a decentered system of points and lines, which can be connected in any order and without hierarchy” (34). Also, as we’ve noted over and over again, with ANT, D&G’s rhizome takes into account the non-human actors. In D&G’s celebrated book of the 1980s A Thousand Plateaus, the opening chapter takes us right into the concept of the rhizome amidst other complicated permutations of their philosophy. “Multiplicities are rhizomatic…” (8) D&G write, showing that the multiple is not the unified, or arboreal, therefore demonstrating that the rhizome is inherently multiple and multiplying. Interestingly, we find a passage about ants (the insects) “you can never get rid of ants because they form an animal rhizome that can rebound time and again after most of it [the ant colony] has been destroyed” (9). This reflects ANT’s insistence that there is nothing outside a network, and it also emphasizes the persistence of insect connectivity. D&G elaborate and try to summarize what their rhizome is “…unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to trait of the same nature…” (21). American Indians were not always linked to the Europeans, but now they are, and this rhizomatic pattern is map-able. Remember too, that since we normally come to these things from the arboreal way of thinking, everything has its source, its trace, yet with the rhizome the networks can be tough to recognize. “The rhizome is an acentered nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a general and without an organizing memory or central automation” (D&G, 21). In Bruchac’s story, he takes us through his childhood, to a slightly unrecognizable part of it “my junior year of high-school I was still the strange kid who dressed in weird clothes, had no social graces, was picked on by the other boys, scored the highest grades in English and biology, and almost failed Latin and algebra” (198). Here, if we insist on a center, we can find one, but if we don’t, we start to loose the stereotype of this man as an American Indian. His clothes are playing a part in how he’s treated, his emphasis on the different subjects in school he’s interested in, or not, becomes part of his network—another rhizome. It is only when we require that his story needs to be thought of only in one way that we start to lose what D&G wanted to show us with the rhizome. If we can’t let go of a unilateral way of seeing his past, then we’re not seeing his multiplicity and multiplicity as a D&G concept. In an online reference for the term “multiplicity” Nicholas Tampio shows that multiplicity also steers away from the arboreal because “…their [D&G’s] method aims to render political thinking more nuanced and generous toward difference” (1). An American Indian story can always have a unique reading. Their story need not always be about oppression and loss.

Back in A Thousand Plateaus, D&G connect the rhizome to deterritorialisation. “Every rhizome contains line of segmentarity according to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, signified, attributed, etc., as well as lines of deterritorialisation down which it constantly flees” (D&G, 9). This is fascinating when we are looking at the American Indian with his history with the non-human land itself, the land that was taken (now known as the United States) and the land that replaced their former territory (the reservations). The critical part of what D&G imply is that when there is an established sense of territory, the possibility for that to be disrupted is contained within it, in the form of deterritorialistion. Territory contains it very undoing. Adrian Parr in The Deleuze Dictionary writes on the entry for “Deterritorialisation/Reterritorialisation” where it “…inheres in a territory as a transformative vector; hence, it is tied to the very possibility of change immanent to a given territory” (67). When Ortiz at the end of his essay talks about the continuing of oral traditions of his people, he talks about the obvious barriers “…it is amazing how much of this tradition is ingrained in our contemporary writing, considering the brutal efforts of cultural repression that was not long ago out-right U.S. policy” (194). Here we see this concept of deterritorialisation in its full effect, the process of acculturation deterritorialises the Indians to create a new territory. The Indians have had to reterritorialise their traditions in spite of the efforts to eradicate it.

As we recall any of this history, we remind ourselves of the other histories told alongside this, including our own. We, of course, know of the African Americans who were hated because they were not white, while their work was exploited. We barely remember the way the Spanish (and by extension the Mexican) history in the New World has been maligned and is now forgotten, lost and ignored. When we think of ANT and the rhizome, we should take into account that these are methods to expand our thinking, instead of always trying to narrow people and things down to one or two general stereotypes. However, this should still include the view that everything stems from one source. In other words, we still have to allow for the opposing view, because if we didn’t, we’d have to ignore the very thing that got us in here to begin with and that it is part of the network. American Indians and how their story is told, is generally obscured and misunderstood, as much as they’re never to be reduced to one singular memory since their story is our human and our non-human story—multiplied together—and then some…

Aurelio Madrid

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. “On the Concept of History.” The Marxist Internet Archive. Trans. Dennis Redmond, 2005. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.

Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Liegh. “Enacting Silence: Residual Categories as a Challenge for Ethics, Information Systems, and Commincations.” Ethics and Information Technology. 2007. 273-280. PDF. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.

Bruchac, Joseph. “Notes of a Translator’s Son.” Swann and Krupat 195-206.

Danesi, Marcel. “Actant.” Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media, and Communications. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2000. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.

Dolwick, J. S. “‘The Social’ and Beyond: Introducing Actor-Network Theory. Journal of Maritime Archeology, Vol. 4. Springer Science + Business Media. 2009. 21-49. PDF. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.

Gilloch, Graeme. Walter Benjamin: Critical Constellations. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 2002. Print.

Latour, B. “On Actor Network Theory. A Few Clarifications Plus More Than a Few Complications.” Soziale Welt, Vol. 47. 1997, 369-81. PDF. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.

Law, J. “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics.” Heterogeneities. 2007. 1-21. PDF. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.

Ortiz, Simon. “The Language We Know.” Swann and Krupat 185-194.

Parr, Adrian. ed. “Deterritorialisation/Reterritorialisation.” The Deleuze Dictionary. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2005. 66-69. Print.

Swann, Brian and Arnold Krupat eds. I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Authors. Lincoln, NE. University of Nebraska Press, 1987. Print.

Tampio, Nicholas. “Multiplicity.” Encyclopedia of Political Theory. 2010. SAGE Publications. PDF. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.


deleuze & nietzsche on death mountain

September 18, 2011 § 9 Comments


Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs / Reflexman, C-Print, 75 x 95 cm

Deleuze and Nietzsche on Death Mountain

“Longing is the agony of the nearness of the distant.” —Heidegger

The following dream report is a fictional account of the 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze. The dream is narrated by Deleuze and is concerning the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It is well known that Deleuze wrote extensively about other philosophers: Spinoza, Hume, Bergson, Leibniz, and of course Nietzsche. Deleuze was famously contra Hegel, so his exploration of other thinkers noticeably positioned his thought far away from the absolutions of Hegel. This moving away from Hegel for Deleuze, is detectible with Nietzsche’s death of god. The death of god began to alleviate the philosophical need to ‘bring it all together.’ Philosophy was taking this radical turn with Nietzsche, to then be steadfastly affirmed with Deleuze. Importantly, Nietzsche’s ideas on force and forces (the will to power) are fundamental to his notion of affirmation. Affirmation is a life force, whereas ressentiment (reactionary force) is life-denying. This is what the dream transformations are all about. The reason a dream report is used here as a backdrop, is to reference the creative side of philosophy that both thinkers continually ascribed to. This creative force is to be countered by the notion that philosophy need only to be preoccupied with defining truth, bringing things together, or unifying a systematic way of thought. All of that was Hegel’s job, as it was Plato’s work too. When we actually read Deleuze and find the words: affirmation, difference, and multiplicity, these (with many others) all stem from his close re-reading of Nietzsche.  Nietzsche offered a way out of the old ways and Deleuze takes this seriously enough to be heavily influenced by his self appointed teacher/s. With this said, bear in mind that Deleuze’s way of implementing ideas still follows a great tradition in philosophy, which is to return those who have come before us. Yet, this is a radical return to find the new in the ideas of the old. It is a way of passing through knowledge to find less of an identity and more of what is unfamiliar, thus creating another frontier for anyone to look for an alternate way of seeing things—over and over, never to be the same again.  —Aurelio Madrid


These days working in Vincennes exhaust me like a sedative taken when one cannot sleep, and precious sleep itself becomes work to find fresh again. The last few weeks have seen me becoming listless enough to begrudge what I can’t have. All this has been reminding me of what’ll never be the same and is always lost. To be sure, we share in what’s gone. The best of these dark days have been sleep worthy. I’ve been dreaming again, entering that valued space where a waking fantasy cannot recreate what the dreaming mind will manifest on its own.

I’ll write of a specific dream that causes me considerable worry, but not enough to become frightened off by the powerful images that are to be remembered as I make note of them here.

Shivering, I found myself near Heidegger’s hut on Todtnauberg (Death-Mountain), located in the Black Forest somewhere in obscure southern Germany. This tiny place is the famous retreat of Heidegger’s, where he’d eventually put together Being and Time. He found his peace here, away from them, the crowds he hated so much. In this setting I was expecting to find the old woodcutter busy at his typewriter, instead I found a dirty white-haired Nietzsche wrapped in a sleeping-bag as if he were homeless. I could safely say he was homeless here on Death Mountain, as summer was wearing off and a withering fire was put in motion to affect a little warmth for the now run down place. I instantly knew this was an older Nietzsche, a man who was here after death. Here we were together in my dream, Mr. Deleuze and Mr Nietzsche looking through each other for the first time.

While my mind’s eye pieced the scene together, he pulled out an insistent translucent arm and pointed near to where I stood, “See, this is the tarantula’s hole! Do you want to see the tarantula itself? Here hangs its web: touch it so that it trembles.”[1] I immediately knew to what he was referring to, and I was a little put off by the idea that he could be referencing himself as the tarantula. I had to quickly dismiss this because I detected that characteristic ironic sneer. The tarantulas in his Zarathustra were there to represent the poisonous people who sit around and wait self-righteously to attack those who are living freely, as he saw it. The life-affirmers live instead of contemptuously waiting to react and bite like the spider. He wasn’t here waiting for anyone, let alone me.

Although I shuddered at his macabre reference, I had to agree with him, to barely mutter under my breath, “Everywhere we see victory of NO over Yes, of reaction over action.”[2] His blurry crossed eyes glared towards me, he then stared out to the single window, and then Nietzsche became fixed on an odd photo of an overburdened camel on its fore-knees. The camel carries the heavy load of past morality, those tired values that are not yet gone and weigh the poor animal down, just like we are weighed down. No one had to tell me what this symbolized once I recognized it in the picture, tossed there on that greasy floor.

Surely, I had been toying with all these ideas of his lately, which could explain why he was performing as he was, without so much as an obligatory hello. It is unfortunate that philosophy should have ever become a condemnation of life. Thought over life is not worth living.

“Of all these heaviest things the carrying spirit takes upon itself, like a loaded camel that hurries into the desert…”[3] His outsized yellow-white mustache looked to be a burden as he said this. The legendary facial hair was a part of the mask he couldn’t do without. We want put these burdens upon ourselves as the ancients did when they privileged lofty thought over the fallible body. His mask was faded, yet couldn’t ever be an equivalent to these age old restrictions.

“We are always asked to submit ourselves, to burden ourselves, to recognize only the reactive forms of life…,”[4] I half said this aloud and to myself. I couldn’t tell if he knew I was still there. He was still listlessly looking out the window. I walked over to look out too. To my amazement, I could see a bright golden lion wandering around a clearing in the forest some hundred feet away, his fur was more radiant than blond. The animal’s presence over there assured me that I was in the company of my god-less hero, the master of allegory, a man of health and of suffering, this was a man of foreword looking visions.

His cracking voice then lightened and became youthful as he talked about the lion, “Once it loved ‘thou shalt’ as its most sacred, now it must find delusion and despotism even it what is most sacred to it in order to wrest freedom from its love by preying.”[5] This was the golden lion of my homeless visionary, the critic and destroyer of stagnancy that was tirelessly represented by the old ways. Nietzsche had to proclaim the death of god as a way to solidify his place in the transvaluation of Christian nihilism, as he was also the harshest critic of the requisite nihilism that resulted with god’s absence. Man could be empty without a god, getting rid of the divine solved only a fraction of man’s problems. We had to look for answers from within ourselves, and we had to crawl out of those arcane devotions to those ascetic religious and secular illusions with the new-found courage of a lion.

I had to leave the hut to get a closer look at the precious lion. I’d never see it again, this was my last chance to say goodbye to that myth of his. Walking out into the clear air only revived my fear that this beautiful scene would be ending soon. Everything is to return only as difference, a repetition of movement becoming a force of will. Becoming is a force of life immanent in our lives moving forward, changing us always. This will never be the same, and it’ll never be the self-same drama of our dreams again. I walked out and found no lion, and I easily cried, thinking that these tears would somehow replace that which once was. Acceptance of our pain only brings about a minor comfort. Life requires creative and experimental force to keep us from devaluing it any more than we should.

I held my head down to return to the hut, as night was encroaching. I opened the door and didn’t find my Nietzsche. I had to rub the tears from my face to believe what I saw there inside the warming room. There on the bed, where the old man once was convalescing, a calm baby sat upright reading a book. He noticed me right off, and with his delicate infant hand turned a page and waved to me to come nearer to read from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. “The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a wheel rolling out of itself, a first movement, a sacred yes-saying.”[6]

I awoke with these last words and all I could say, as strange as it sounded on my lips, was ‘YES to life! YES to life!’ Only a child that once was the now dead Nietzsche in my dream could help me see this as I never have before. This was all I needed to move on, to think ahead and to live my life as never before.

Aurelio Madrid

[1] Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, eds. Adrian Del Caro and Robert B. Pippen, Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, p. 76.

[2] Deleuze, Gilles, Nietzsche / Pure Immanence – Essays on a Life, intro. John Rajchman, trans. Anne Boyman, New York: Zone Books, p. 75.

[3] Nietzsche, Friedrich, op. cit.: p. 16.

[4] Deleuze, Gilles, op. cit.: p. 71.

[5] Nietzsche, Friedrich, op. cit.: p. 17.

[6] Ibid.: p. 17.

deleuze’s hume (the ‘science fiction writer’)

July 26, 2011 § Leave a comment


(…from an engraving of David Hume from his the history of England Vol. I (1754) modified with Gilles Deleuze’s quote.)

Hume’s empiricism is not a rationalism. With empirical thinking we are looking to how we know things away from the a priori & instead we have chosen to look at what can be known via experiences & the senses. For Deleuze’s Hume we’ll know that “…empiricism has always harbored other secrets.” (PI/35)* This is a “science fiction universe.” (PI/35) As with science fiction we are presented with an alternative world that is also presumed to be the world as it can be. Science is indeed a way to know something & to know it, it must be an inquiry. The inquiry is looking into the ways that empiricism legitimizes itself in the “seemingly fictive world that empiricism describes…” (PI/36) So, we’ll agree with Deleuze to see that empiricism starts off as matter of associations. Not only an association of things as we know & experience them, but also as things working together & how actions causally move together. This is a disciplined practice of relations.

Once we’ve established the way we understand the world empirically, we can then see Deleuze’s Hume as knowing the difference between the relational world & the world of terms that surround & try to explain all this. This kind of difference is a point to be explained . With rationalism we might be tricked into assuming that this idea of relationships is already embedded in our terms of understanding, enough to ignore them. This might also be done with rationalism looking for another more definitive set of terms that wishes to explain a relationship with things that are internal. Empiricism is not looking for these internal relationships, it is instead looking for “… the exteriority of relations.” (PI/37) But, this can, as Deleuze says, be absorbed by the fact that these relations do start in the mind as knowledge & ideas. This problem is resolved by externalizing the terms & ideas from the relations, where we’ll have a view of our relations & a view to our knowledgeable relation to the terms that are applied to such empiricism.

The empirical world is “…a world in which thought itself exists in a fundamental relationship with the outside…” (PI/38) This is the difference between the ‘and’ of the way we combine things, that is replacing the ‘is’ that wishes to define everything as coming from an a priori source of knowing. This is a world of combinations, exchanges, interactions, interferences & so on. Deleuze explains that Hume’s thought is doubled-up with the ‘atomism’ of thinking that is applied to every minutiae of time & space, that is then combined an ‘associationism’ that understands this atomism as a relation to the terms of experience. “On the one hand, a physics of the mind, on the other, a logic of relations.” (PI/38) Now, we’re officially away from a place that’s all about judging & away from looking inward, to then take notice of a world that’s about conjunctive thinking.

Relations are the impressions we have of our environment & not completely knowing what is “…presently given…” (PI/39) The impression I have of something doesn’t always match up to the thing given. This too will relate to the way ‘I’ rely on knowing this thing, this chair for example, as we become accustomed & habituated to a view of what that chair is. We cannot, as Deleuze explains Hume, look to a reason for such things, it is futile to pin-point why the mind is habituated into looking for a reason for everything, other than sheer habit. “The relation is itself the effect of so-called principles of association, contiguity, resemblance causality, all of which constitute a human nature.” (PI/39) Again, we’re not looking into an a priori permanence. Human nature can be said to be the way in which are passing through these ideas. Hence, Hume’s work is to alleviate the notions of self, god & the world. If these relations, impressions are human nature, then what of that? The importance is to be found in the effects of the causes, since “…[this is] the way relations function as effects of those causes & the practical conditioning of this functioning.” (PI/39) With Deleuze’s Hume, causality is to see clearly that it is the idea that is presented with something that has not been given, We already will have had  a previous experience & so causality can have us believe that the sun will shine tomorrow, as it probably will, yet such an occurrence has not happened in actual fact, as it is something that is always in the future, that is our causal relationship to be. This kind of belief is where knowledge starts for Hume, as we ‘know’ the sun will shine. Causality has to ‘know’ enough to go outside of experience to a future effect that has not occurred. Because of this, human nature’s habit is to confer knowledge onto belief so that an effect will be something we can work with wholeheartedly & with knowledge.  The fusion of experience we have of something happening is brought together in the imagination as this habit & the observable experience as known from our past causal dealings. This is how, through Deleuze’s Hume, we’ll envision relation as a key part, if not the whole, of causality & human nature.

(Madrid’s Deleuze on Hume handwritten notes)

The human mind traverses ideas in an organized way & it works in a fantastical way that privileges randomness. Human nature is such that it’ll apply strictures & boundaries to flights of fancy—an ordering of randomness. We have  the imagination that has the capacity to merge these fictions as viable products of the mind. Metaphor, although unreal to a particular situation, can allow us to see a relationship that might not have been clear before & this too is going beyond actual experience to admire a repetitive fiction of causal effects through language—the language of metaphor. This can be enough to learn from & to enjoy, as in the arts of poetry, song, education &c. Fiction allows itself to not be tamed & subdued by nature, instead it is comfortable going beyond all this to form newer fantasies. Deleuze’s Hume is not for a concept of error “…we are not threatened by error, rather much worse, we bathe in delirium.” (PI/43) For Deleuze this is “…a great displacement in philosophy…” (PI/42) Even a fictive causality can work to mediate fantasies along with human nature, while still maintaining an illusion “But the illusion is considerably worse when it belongs to human nature…” (PI/43) A real mediation isn’t always performed on the actual illusions, delusions & ‘incorrigible’ disbeliefs. Self-satisfied belief believes its own way of deluded knowing. These things have to do with human nature too, indeed an organizing of half-baked ideas “…where no fiction can be corrected, but where each instead plunges into other fictions.” (PI/43) As we know, Hume was known to be an atheist & these views that show the expanse of human nature, also speak to his views on religion, from which he was trying to work out of. Certainly, there is an observation of Hume’s that suggests that beliefs can be in opposition to the principles of human nature. “Modern skepticism is based on the status of relations & their exteriority.” (PI/44) We have with skepticism, belief as the base for knowledge & we have skepticism’s knowing the difference between knowledge & that which is working against knowledge’s flights of fancy. Skepticism too, in Hume’s context is delegitimizing the self, world & god. Thus, this is the reaching to our fullest of our legitimate beliefs & to our lowest misunderstood beliefs. Therefore, Deleuze shows that “For if everything is belief, including knowledge, everything is a question of desire of belief, even the delirium of non-knowledge.” (PI/44)

At this point, we’ll try to see openly that an inquiry into knowledge leads us through the thickets of imagination & human nature. This is only a start & not the whole story with Hume. Passions guide our associations & the relationships we attach to those associations have their seat with the passions. All of this is combined with with human nature to the find our inclinations. The passions, however, must not be seen as the associations we make, as the two are distinct from each other. The passions have control of the priorities we place on things. But, this passion can require a tempering of the ego, whereas, it is assumed that the ego cannot run wild in civilized society. The ego can’t, as it is believed, go unchecked & must thereby open itself to other views from where a social contract can grow. This is one view, whereas Hume’s has to do with an idea that we’re governed by ‘partiality’ & not always an overbearing egoism. This partiality is what should really be called into check “…how to pass from a ‘limited’ sympathy [partiality] to an ‘extended generosity,’ how to stretch passions & give them an extension they don’t already have.” (PI/46) This is how the partialities need to get beyond themselves to create something other than the artifice of a social contract. The passionate artifice is to be embraced rather than the strict opposing of the ego. Hume’s position is the encouragement of artifice to foster growth, invention & new ways of thinking differently than before—a break from tradition.

(Madrid’s Deleuze on Hume handwritten notes)

Deleuze illustrates again that when human nature & knowledge restricts the ‘illegitimacy’ of fantastical beliefs, we’ll have to know better than to always restrict the passions in this way. The proposition can then be a matter of extending the possibilities of the passions into an artificial enhancement that will open up beyond the boring limitations of human nature. “In short, it is up to the imagination to reflect passion, to make it resonate & go beyond the limits of its natural partiality & presentness.” (PI/48) Art is about extending the passions to inspire new relationships. The reverberations of the effects of artistic creation extend the possible into the future. Human imagination can create great kitsch & easy, shallow reflections of the imagination, as the imagination can also create a fantastical artifice that’ll teach & enliven future generations. With all of this, we’ll still be forced to reckon with customs governance, taste, tradition & yes, beliefs. These institutions & mindsets sanction credibility. “resemblance, contiguity causality…” (PI/49) all work with knowledge & human nature to manage ‘reflected sentiments’.

Again back to the relationships Hume was showing, as Deleuze tells us “the principles of association find their true sense in a casuistry of relations that works out the details of the world’s culture & law” (PI/51) Then we’ll be sure to see that Hume’s philosophy is about relations & perhaps we’ll be so bold to imagine that the same kind of relation applies to Deleuze’s philosophy. … & yes, these are the relations that are before ideas.

Aurelio Madrid

*(PI/00): Deleuze, Gilles. “Hume.” Pure Immanence: Essays on Life. Trans. Anne Boyman, New York: Zone Books, 2001, pp. 35-52.

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