[iDC] Theory Thread and (some) women

tt tterra at fastwebnet.it
Fri Jul 14 03:12:54 EDT 2006

  dear all

sorry for the delay in getting back to the list, a bit because of the 
usual business of life and a bit because I needed some time to think 
about how to react to the theory thread (I think the harshenss of the 
reactions I got at first was the result of my scarce familiarity with 
the list, before posting, without which posting always leads to trouble)

Yes, I understand people's intolerance of the new dogma (the 
deleuzenegrihardtvirnospinozaleibniz) and the fact that this is not that 
kind of list, but still I am not convinced.

The thing is that it has been forty years or more since a huge crisis 
invested the the philosophy of the Subject/Self, true within Western 
philosophy, but that is where the idea of a Subject/Self endowed with 
agency, but paradoxically tied to a collectivity, came from . Without 
this idea of the Subject/Self a large amount of concepts and ideas such 
as agency, class, identity, labor, public sphere, and even history (no, 
not an antidote, the whole understanding of what is history and what is 
historical research is put into question by this) do not hold up.

And this is not simply the fault of the Italian-French axis and their 
disciples, but it comes from the computer sciences, network theories, 
biology and physics (wienerbatesonmaturanaandvarela, the 
endosymbioticists, the neuroscientists and microbiologists, etc.). And 
it is crucial to rethinking (and hence experimenting) with new 
technologies. Feminist theory was among the first to pick up that this 
shift problematized first and most the Subject of Western philosophy, 
that is Man - who is the subject of history, public sphere, politics etc 
etc, and who, without even thinking about it, thinks of himself as the 
NORM/AL. As Michele, Laura and other women on the list in the parallel 
thread have pointed out in their postings, it is not simply a matter of 
getting those shy women to post. It is really deeply structural, 
epistemological, social, material, that is about the way we construct 
the world - and the way it positions women is a big symptom of it.

So, personally I am not bothered by the new dogma and by the 
proliferation of jargon, also because I think overall it affects 
relatively small groups and is not really touching the great 
institutional research bodies or much more diffuse doxas and dogmas 
about what the world is like. I think that out of all this chattering 
and quoting and showing off the jargon, something else will eventually 
come out and I hope it is not going to be simply a new theoretical fad, 
but some movement in thought which really makes a difference in life and 



Grant Kester wrote:

>Dear All,
>First, thanks to all the posters who offered descriptions of actual
>projects. I think this is one way to work through the  "politically
>transgressive vs. hopelessly compromised" impasse in discussions of
>net-based or other work and I¹ve found them very interesting to read. One
>suggestion would be to post a detailed description of a given project or
>practice for follow-up discussion, and even critique (especially if some of
>the list members have a substantive knowledge of the project). This is
>probably too formal for a list-serve format, but it might generate some
>valuable insights. 
>I¹m hesitant to pursue the ³theory² issue much further, since it seems
>pretty far afield of the list¹s primary focus, so I¹m starting this under a
>new thread (to save those who are bored to tears by this discussion any
>further pain). I assumed most list members would realize the ³plumpes
>denken² reference was tongue-in-cheek (it¹s a well-known quote from Brecht
>and I mentioned it in part because the Brecht/Lukacs debates open up some
>interesting questions relative to the relation between theory and practice).
>So, my intention wasn't intended to trigger the old "theory" vs. "practice"
>canard. I'm also assuming on this list that we can take it as axiomatic that
>all practices depend on certain more general (and often unacknowledged)
>assumptions, of which "theory" is only one possible form. It's not the
>unfamiliarity of the theory that I find troublesome, but rather the
>opposite. A particular theoretical paradigm drawn from a melding of Deleuze
>and Italian autonomist thought has emerged over the past decade or so as a
>new doxa (clearly this is not the only ³theory² that list members are
>interested in or influenced by). Like any paradigm it can be enabling
>(opening up new trajectories of thought, etc.) as well as constraining. And
>let me say at the outset there is much that I find useful and applicable in
>both of these traditions.
>One of the things that people found most liberating about Hardt and Negri
>was their willingness to postulate grand political narratives (after the
>unforgiving epistemic modesty of the Derridean tradition, and the disfavor
>into which terms like "class² and other grand recits had fallen). The
>solution devised by the post-war generation of French thinkers who have set
>the agenda for so much contemporary theory (Foucault, Deleuze, etc.) was to
>reinvent concepts that had been tainted by their association with history
>and telos (class oppression, revolution, etc.) through a quasi-biological
>language of ³power,² ³force,² ³desire,² and so on. This seemed to neatly
>solve the problem of historical specificity and change, but in fact it only
>deferred it, while at the same time promulgating a bio-essentialist
>formalism of de-historicized ³bodies² and ³desires² that would have been
>intolerable to an earlier generation of thinkers. Along with Hardt and
>Negri¹s willingness to engage in the kind of ambitious, globalizing
>political speculation that had fallen out of favor came the gesture of
>naming (³multitudes²). This is either audacious or arrogant depending on
>your perspective (it always seemed problematic to me to project a singular
>identity on such a vast swathe of the world's population).
>At any rate, one can hardly turn around in the current art and media theory
>world without bumping into a veritable sea of ³rhizomes,² ³multitudes,²
>³immaterial² or ³precarious² workers, ³nomads,² and Spinoza and Leibniz
>references without end. This new canonical formation has lent itself, in
>application, to a certain style of thinking (nominative, grandiose,
>generalizing, speculative, taken from a quasi-global distance), which
>parallels the tendency already evident in continental theory to universalize
>specific modes and moments of historical change (May '68 being the most
>typical, but also Turin in the Œ70s) as a kind of ethical and methodological
>template for all subsequent political transformation. Any residual guilt
>about this sort of a-historical and generalizing abstraction at the level of
>theoretical discourse is relieved by 1) an ostensible re-investment in the
>particular and the specific at the level of the body (³intensities,² etc.)
>and 2) a persistent discursive privileging of dislocation and discontinuity.
>Leaving aside the implications of endowing discontinuity with an intrinsic
>or necessary ethical content, the broader effect has been a movement away
>from close, historically situated readings of events or conditions. Instead,
>ala Deleuze, a given historical event (the tactics of seventh century
>Bedouin warriors, the novels of Kafka) simply functions as a brief,
>epiphenomenal illustration of an overarching bio-political system.
>The very success of this paradigm (as evidenced by the remarkable popularity
>of Hardt & Negri¹s Empire) has led, perhaps inevitably, to a formulaic
>application of it. Rather than beginning the analysis of a given project,
>historical event, etc. with a close analysis of it¹s context, it¹s
>contradictory and multivalent actualities, we search for illustrations of
>rhizomatic power, nomadic displacement, ³swarming² behavior, and so on). As
>a result it can be harder for us to grasp what is genuinely new or different
>in a particular moment of practice. I much prefer readings in which the
>theory itself is complicated, tested, and even challenged, through it¹s
>proximity to practice, even as the practice is illuminated by a given
>theoretical paradigm. Too often the works of Deleuze, Negri, Nancy, Badiou,
>Ranciere, Virno, etc. are used in a quasi-theological manner, rather than
>being interrogated and complicated in their own right. Theory is, or should
>be, a tool, not a liturgy. This is not intended as an attack on theory
>(which plays a central role in my own research) but simply a request to
>think about the ways in which we use theory or the ways in which theory
>functions for us as a form of practice. I guess what I'm calling for is a
>bit more self-reflection and honesty about the motivations and investments
>of those of us who traffic in "theory" (as subcontractors for the master¹s
>voice): the attractions and ontic payoffs, the pleasurable sense of mastery
>provided by a given mode of thought or expression, and the ways in which
>theory-as-doxa both enables and constrains our thought. I apologize for the
>somewhat rant-like quality of this post; and I should stress that it¹s
>directed as much at myself (I¹ve been guilty of everything I¹ve described
>above!) at anyone else.
>Best wishes,
>iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity (distributedcreativity.org)
>iDC at bbs.thing.net
>List Archive:

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