My first appearance on this illustrious podcast might have been a little clumsy – I’ll be the first to admit that – but I did in fact have some decent notes prior to recording. Matt pre-empted some of what I wanted to say in his opening section, and I didn’t want us to be repeating ourselves, so instead I kinda jumped haphazardly into my notes (I’ll get better at this podcasting business, mark my words). Below you’ll find said notes, focused on the theory-fiction aspect of this essay, along with a couple of other bits that I wanted to post here for posterity.
When Sean first suggested The Geology of Morals he said something along the lines of “We’ll have fun with this one.” Fool that I am, I thought that meant this was going to be a light or easy essay. But it’s not, not at all. It is however fun, and a big part of that comes down to the narrative framing device Deleuze and Guattari use here. That device is of sitting in on a lecture given by Professor Challenger, which is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it means that Challenger becomes a stand-in for Deleuze and Guattari themselves because he is the one presenting their ideas, which means it also gives them a chance to pre-empt their critics:
Besides, the professor was not a geologist or a biologist, he was not even a linguist, ethnologist, or psychoanalyst; what his specialty had been was long since forgotten. In fact, Professor Challenger was double, articulated twice, and that did not make things any easier, people never knew which of him was present. He (?) claimed to have invented a discipline he referred to by various names: rhizomatics, stratoanalysis, schizoanalysis, nomadology, micropolitics, pragmatics, the science of multiplicities.
Secondly, it allows them to put a variety of thinkers in conversation with each other. Obviously a framing device isn’t necessary here, because any number of philosophical texts do the same thing without it, but, again, it’s a fun way to do so, and even brings in an element of hyperstition. Arthur Conan Doyle is mentioned at the very opening of the essay, so even if you’re unfamiliar with When the World Screamed, the simple mention of ACD means it’s fair to assume that Challenger is a fictional character. It gets interesting then when D&G start to bring in these other “characters” in conversation with Challenger, but when you check the endnotes you find these are real scientists and thinkers. There’s something about the light presentation of these dense ideas reinforced by this web of research that gives the essay a certain, shall we say, je ne sais quoi (hey, D&G are French, so it works). It gives the essay an extra feeling of depth, which is one of the ways that I can feel hyperstition – when I feel unmoored, unsure of what’s real and what’s fiction.
(Some other things that give me that hyperstitional feel:
- PKD’s VALIS
- Luke Rhineheart’s The Dice Man
- The film The Fourth Kind
And other experiences that are immediately lesser if you open up wikipedia and go looking for truth…)
Third, the essay on the whole is about content and expression, and the tension and connection between those two modes. So what do D&G do with this subject matter – with this content? They write it as theory fiction. They use a form of expression that might bring attention to itself and reinforce the content for the reader as they go through the essay. The piece itself acts as a meta-metaphor for the content of the essay (and seeing as most of the talk of strata in this essay went over my head, it was the other metaphors that I really latched onto, meaning I couldn’t very well miss or ignore this one).
And lastly, I’m coming back to this, I know, but it’s fun. It’s a dense essay, but throughout they’ll bring you back to the framing device and give you a breather before carrying on. It’s simple but really effective. As that framing story unfolds, we see Challenger’s authority challenged, his lecture become a puppet show and a shambles, and the man himself turns into a lobster – a lobster giving a lecture to an empty room. (This ending is peppered with Lovecraft references, but Challenger’s transformation just pet me in mind of William S. Burroughs’ All American De-Anxietised Man.)
For more on theory-fiction, A Theory Fiction Reading List.
And while we’re on the topic of theory and also literature…
What’s the art, if I can say that, what’s the literary dimension of writing theory? It’s a genre of literature, Marx is a literary genius. We sort of lose track of that, creating language to describe new situations but in ways that don’t lose track of their genesis and genealogy. To write theory as a literary genre, to tackle that, rather than recycle these terms we picked up from the great famous names.Mckenzie Wark, interviewed at Believer Magazine
That might not always be easy to see if we get lost in the theory itself – in the ideas and the intellectual aspect apart from the aesthetics (if we get caught up in the content and forget the importance of expression), but I think this essay does a great job of reinforcing her point.
There were also a couple of quotes in this essay that put me in mind of Object-Oriented Ontology, which is something I got interested in largely in regards to my novel Repo Virtual, but which I want to read more on if only because it seems like an effective battering ram against anthropocentric thinking…
To express is always to sing the glory of God. Every stratum is a judgment of God; not only do plants and animals, orchids and wasps, sing or express themselves, but so do rocks and even rivers, every stratified thing on earth.
The development of the associated milieus culminates in the animal worlds described by von Uexkull, with all their active, perceptive, and energetic characteristics. The unforgettable associated world of the Tick, defined by its gravitational energy of falling, its olfactory characteristic of perceiving sweat, and its active characteristic of latching on: the tick climbs a branch and drops onto a passing mammal it has recognized by smell, then latches onto its skin (an associated world composed of three factors, and no more). Active and perceptive characteristics are themselves something of a double pincer, a double articulation.
And lastly, there was a vein in this essay about evolution and/as deterritorialisation that really grabbed me, but I might end up expanding on those thoughts at a later date. So for now, I shall say goodbye and that I’m glad to be here with all you buddies.