Now I’m going to go somewhere completely unrelated. I shouldn’t be surprised that in D&G’s essay about the war machine they somehow managed to succinctly describe culture war online discourse, but goddamn if this doesn’t sum things up.
Similarly, feelings become uprooted from the interiority of a “subject,” to be projected violently outward into a milieu of pure exteriority that lends them an incredible velocity, a catapulting force: love or hate, they are no longer feelings but affects.
To me, this is talking about the way that, at this current point in our cultural conversations, people too easily project their own feelings about a particular piece of art – whether those are positive feelings the person wishes to defend, or negative feelings they wish to reify and attack in the form of other cultural commentators. Now, that projection wouldn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but the word here “velocity” ties in to a thread that D&G will pick up later where they’re talking about the difference between weapons and tools. They suggest that speed is the defining aspect of a weapon, and gravity is the aspect that defines a tool. They don’t really define what they mean by gravity here – or if they did, I missed it – but I think that ties in perfectly with this little cultural tangent that jumped out at me here.
Shooting off a tweet or a twitter thread is fast, and anyone who’s spent any amount of time on twitter knows it can be a weapon. On the other hand there’s gravity, which I take to be the serious and measured consideration of a piece of art or culture – allowing yourself to be caught up in the gravity of it, to consider it on its own terms, consider how its gravity interacts with your own, and not simply react with speed, basic love or hate.
There’s another section later on:
In a sense, it could be said that […] thought has never had anything but laughable gravity. But that is all it requires: for us not to take it seriously. Because that makes it all the easier for it to think for us […]. Because the less people take thought seriously, the more they think in conformity with what the State wants. Truly, what man of the State has not dreamed of that paltry impossible thing — to be a thinker?
This certainly seems to tie into the culture war discussions around art, and that seemingly innocuous phrase that has served to flatten the very idea of cultural criticism: Let people enjoy things.
People are allowed to enjoy whatever hollow pap they want, but the sentiment is also used to discourage criticism and conversation that might focus on a piece of media’s flaws – particularly ideological ones. You only need to look at the involvement of the US military in the production of Marvel films, and the way the ideology of the films is in support of US imperialism and hegemony to see how something as seemingly wholesome at first glance as “let people enjoy things” is actually the death knell for both challenging art and vital cultural criticism.
And it’s that final bit that really grabs me – “what man of the State has not dreamed of that paltry impossible thing – to be a thinker?” Just think of all the lib-brained takes being churned out by the commentariat week after week – all these people who consider themselves to be true thinkers but who unquestioningly regurgitate the ideology of the State. Maybe it’s always been this bad, but D&G certainly feel prophetic here.