Notes on Buchanan, I. (nd) ‘Deleuze and the Internet’, A/V 6 [online]

[Buchanan is on video delivering a lecture, like all the speakers in this online journal. God it's dull]

We should use Deleuzian concepts not just to name or recognise things but to analyse them.  We’re going to analyse the Internet in this case.  The Internet’s been important in affecting a number of transformations, especially of the body, identity and the notion of place, which used to be rooted in sociological and historical dimensions— for the enthusiasts, all this has been broken by the Net.

In Thousand Plateaus, we are told that we find segmentation in dualistic forms, and relations operating from neighbourhoods to global circles [better discussed in Dialogues in my view].  Bodies get captured by the incorporeal, as in the Society of Control piece.  The old divisions of class and race, for example, are breaking down and being replaced by a classification based on debt.

However, it would be premature to think of the Internet as a body without organs.  The work on the society of control already implies that we have already developed a digital body one that is not the same as our physical bodies.  Foucault, in Discipline and Punishment, a book dedicated to AntiOedipus, argued that the sovereign already had two bodies (physical and social), and so did the condemned man as well.  This is the origin of the modern notion of the soul, for Foucault, which emerges from the technology of the body—it is real, an effect of power.

With the notion of the body without organs, Deleuze and Guattari go beyond Foucault here in developing this notion of the social body, or the soul.  The notion of a collective body without organs can be seen as a plane of consistency. Foucault  sees this notion as underpinned only by coercion, whereas Deleuze and Guattari focus on the voluntary submission to power [and the cognitive and ontological necessities as well?].

Although Artaud is often referenced as the source of the notion of body without organs, his conception actually had only a small influence,a  prephilosophical one in Deleuze’s and Guattari’s terms: he described the symptoms, but never developed the concept.  His notion is still too individualistic. The real influences were Lacan, Spinoza, with his notion of longitude and latitude and Marx, with the concept of mode of production [for what it’s worth I disagree with this—see my comments below].  We might take the Marxist approach as expressing the real priority, one which subsumes the others.  The mode of production displays a constellation of partial objects and organises desire, and brings into being production through various molecular elements.  This replaces Freud and the oedipal mechanisms.  The body without organs also expresses Spinoza’s immanent substance, and again the partial objects belong to it. 

The whole analysis makes sense in terms of Marxist discourse, seen explicitly in Anti Oedipus, where desiring production is connected to social production.  The concept of desire expresses the real, but is best seen as an heuristic.  There are elements of anti production in both its social and personal forms.  The socius [rather obscure term, normally stands for the social body?] Is the presupposition of labour for Marx, the surface on which productive forces roam, the quasi cause of those forces, in Deleuze’s term [and a very odd term it is—see Logic of Sense].

In Thousand Plateaus, the principle of analysis follows two phases, first how things are constituted, and second how things actually happen.  Butler has a similar idea with gender that is both a transforming and a quasi causal element.  So is race and class.  The point is that it’s impossible to avoid having a gender [so it constitutes us], but it is also a rigged game, where one gender turns out to convey superiority in a number of important areas [how things actually happen].  Butler tries to argue this by suggesting that sex is the biological underpinning of gender, its quasi cause.  The whole system is a mechanism for power.  It seems natural, but its origins are concealed.

The body without organs works like this too by constituting actual bodies and then concealing their origins.  In this constitutive sense, it produces a whole plane of desire and immanence.  The point is that this is difficult to grasp by ordinary thought [no-one can do it, outside an elite French university of the 1970s].

So how might we access and analyse the body without organs?  One approach is to ask what ought to be.  In the case of the Net, what sort of network should it be—distributing, facilitating consumerism, or connections?  At the moment, it’s still not clear which one of these dominates.  In the early 1990s, for example it was seen as being rather like TV a service to be regulated to avoid the obvious dangers.  In Australia, they took the expensive decision that access to TV ought to be free, available to all, with only the information restricted by a quota system [so much news, so much children’s television]. But the Net was seen as something different, subject only to specific forms of legislation, for example to prevent child pornography [but still a Good Thing to have universal access to?] 

Defenders have always argued it should be freely accessible, and some enthusiasts see the Net as a body without organs, a classic source of freedom.  However, the issue might be, as Guattari suggests in Chaosmos, what actually is produced and what circulates on it.  The notion of freedom tends to be discussed in a rather limited way, for example by looking at Google’ s problems with the Chinese government.  Lurking in the wings is the liberal concerned for the freedom of business to operate a and for free speech.  Google actually defended their decision to compromise with the Chinese government, by saying that the denial of any access would be worse [a rationalisation, Buchanan implies].

In fact, Google has always only been interested in access to markets, and providing it for multinational corporations.  The enthusiast’s view of the Net is therefore a fantasy: it has never developed as a ‘commons’.  Indeed if it is a commons, it is rapidly being enclosed by multinationals such as Amazon [and there used to be a lot of concern about corporations developing their own intranets, rather like universities have done.  I wonder if Buchanan’s university has got one?].  Take the recent interest in the convergence of mobile technology with Net access.  Google sees the potential of this development to allow underdeveloped countries to participate, where there are no land lines, and ownership of PCs is low.  This would be liberating, democratic for Google, and would end the digital divide.  It would provide a population with alternative sources of information enabling political debate. 

However, these are abstract freedoms, and they ignore the issue of content.  Google is pursuing a market strategy.  It already offers substantial surveillance of its customers, and publishes regional data on usage patterns, for example.  Curiously, the national press in Britain sees this as just very interesting, and raises no objections about customer surveillance or snooping.

The Net has been seen as a rhizome, and this is one way in which Deleuze has become rather popular in the ICT community.  For example Poster has seen the Net as non hierarchical, with no central ruler, rhizomatic precisely in the sense of Deleuze and Guattari in Thousand Plateaus.  There [?]  Deleuze and Guattari offer certain criteria—a rhizome offers maximum interconnectivity, available at any point; it cannot be reduced because it consists of dimensions rather than actual elements; it cannot be altered at any point while remaining the same in other points; it varies and expands rather than reproduces; it is infinitely modifiable, acentred and acephalous; there is no structural or generative model [I have paraphrased here].

However, we should not look at connectivity in principle without looking at intentions [which reintroduce the notion of the human subject or agent—see below].  Before Google and other search engines came along, people supplied their own forms of connectivity—they surfed, going from point to point between useful sites, which were often listed and circulated on paper; there were no user friendly domain names in those days either.  The Net then could certainly not be described as multidimensional, akin to cyberspace, or a multiplicity, and it was much limited in size.  However, expansion has not brought about the change in itself.  Other issues remain—is the Net a matter of dimensions, or actual units?  Is each site a new dimension?  Will the removal of one element change the whole network?  [A question that invites the answer no—sites come and go all the time]. Does the Net vary and expand or reproduce?  Here again, actual intentions are important—is the population of users dynamic or conservative?

The Net is getting simplified, as businesses and consumerism dominate it.  Much of the activity is about finding out things, contacting businesses, and accessing readymade content such as podcasts and downloads.  The Net has absorbed elements from television and magazines as well as providing new interactive possibilities: it is now the master text for communication, it simplifies and colonises.

Perhaps the most important issue is whether the Net is infinitely modifiable.  Deleuze and Guattari do not go very far in their explanation of this potential of the rhizome, but is it is supposed to be providing the potential for experiment rather than revealing some structure or unseen path which connects people.  The rhizome produces the unconscious and therefore new desires.  [So does the Net do this?]

The issue is how people choose to use the Net.  Can choices prevent the Net becoming acentred and acephalous?  The reality of use suggests a different possibility, that potentials are not realised, that arboreal tendencies are still strong, that communication goes some point to point rather than pursuing a line of flight.  Google searches reflect interests rather than dimensions, and the activity is heavily commercialised.  Google searches provide a kind of stability, or hierarchy of choices in rank order.  The searches also operate on a snapshot of the Net taken the day before, they are never live.  Google indexing can be seen as a kind of centring, and this activity can be manipulated by advertisers.

So, we need a reformulation of the problem rather than just trying to analyse the Net by analogy with the concept of the rhizome.  The Net could be a global body without organs, but we need a new interrogation that sees maximum connectedness only as an ideology, while searching is the dominant activity.  Consumer demand drives use.  The phenomenal growth of the Net and its corresponding computing power derives from the commercial benefits of searching and buying.

[What a strange and paradoxical article, or rather lecture, starting out by promising to use Deleuze and Guattari to actually analyse the Net, but then having to introduce serious modifications to Deleuze and Guattari to get anywhere.  First of all, we have to suggest that Deleuze and Guattari are Marxists, and this is only partially true—they say they are, but they also reject a number of fundamental Marxist concepts, including the notion of social class and its reproduction, the notion of ideology, and the surface/depth or base/superstructure model.  Marxism is heavily modified in AntiOedipus to become a kind of minor analysis of linguistic overcoding and territorialization.  The postscript on the society of control doesn’t seem to be Marxist, since there is no [class] agent interested in controlling people to meet its own interests:like Foucault {another deathbed marxist}, D and G have broken with class politics and extended politics so much that it is everywhere and nowhere.

Having shoehorned Deleuze and Guattari into Marxism, we can then pursue a pretty standard Marxist analysis of the Net as dominated by commercialism and consumerism, at least once we have reduced the Net to the activities of Google.  Buchanan actually uses the forbidden term ‘ideology’ in this analysis.  Strangest of all, however, is his insistence on agency, intention and active use, and all of these are severely rebuked in Deleuze and Guattari, or at least in Deleuze’s analysis of subjectivation and individuation, collective utterances and all the rest of it.  So who is doing the intentions and the agency?

I think the whole analysis shows that Deleuze and Guattari cannot be ‘applied’, at least not without adding all sorts of concepts that don’t really belong to them.  This is hardly surprising.  Deleuze sees philosophy as different from science and social science, operating with concepts that are not supposed to be just applied through dubious processes of recognition or analogy.  The rhizome is a good example—what a bizarre and abstract pure network it has turned into in D's and G's hands, far more interconnected, acentred and acephalous than any actual rhizome or network. In fact, it is not at all clear why philosophers want to develop concepts of this bizarrely abstract kind at all, but it’s probable that it won’t do social analysts much good to follow them.

In an old phrase of Althusser’s, the point of (Deleuzian) philosophy is to produce (Deleuzian) philosophical knowledges.  This article by Buchanan, and the very interesting book by Delanda on the war machine {and Semetsky who applies Deleuze mostly by turning him into Dewey}shows that applying Deleuzian philosophy actually means largely forgetting Deleuzian philosophy altogether and getting on with something far more specific concrete and interesting.]

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