Thursday, April 06, 2006

On "communication"

Years ago I had something to say about this topic at the National Communication Association convention, and I find myself returning to it again. "It" is communication and what Deleuze and Guattari have had to say on the subject.

Anyone who's read A Thousand Plateaus, What is Philosophy? or pretty much any of their other individual or collaborative writings knows that D+G have little complimentary to say about communication, at least as the idea's tended to be conceived within modern Western thought. They get impatient when interminable conversation becomes the sum-total of philosophy or politics, and while there may be grounds for disputing their reduction of communication to talk (or signification or...), they nonetheless have a point: "communication" tends to be both an overworked and a poorly-theorized concept.

I mentioned the work of Harold Innis in my previous post, and here I want to do so again. What's fascinating about Innis' understanding of communication is that he uses it to encompass not only modern communication apparatuses and infrastructure (e.g., phones, radio, TV, etc.), but also such things are roadways, sea ways, canals, rivers, and more. There is, in other words, a remarkable materiality in his vision of communication that's linked solidly with the earth and the environment.

Now, it would be ludicrous to suggest that Innis and D+G offer anything approaching a similar perspective as each understands (and criticizes) the idea of communication. They do share a common interest, however, in the material facticity of communicative events, as well as a grounding relationship in the geos--the Earth. Like Innis, in other words, D+G are among the very few who to take seriously the communicativity (if that's even a word) of the natural world. That focus seems to me vital if "communication" is to remain a serviceable concept in contemporary political and intellectual life, especially if we take seriously the charge of de-centering North Atlantic modernity.


jeremy said...

You can probably get to the relations of communicativity...... in d+g by looking at bataille's On Nietzsche. Or... you could just use the semiological approach which pervades almost all of their work.

Ted Striphas said...

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for the note and for the citation. On the matter of D+G's semiological work--do you mean their material on content and expression? Or did you have something else in mind?

For my part, I'm also taken with Guattari's work in The Three Ecologies, where he examines the interconnection of (if I recall correctly) media, the natural world, and society.

Matt said...

I dig this line of questioning. Another interesting mode of addressing communication and D&G is through Spinoza's work in the "theological-political treatise" and his later and unfinished "political treatise." Etienne Balibar's wonderful little book, "Spinoza and Politics" lays out something like a Spinozist theory of communication that seems to offer a way to read communication as part of the "power" (potentia) to affect and be affected, and hence, as part of what we might call "material reality" of relations between things, people, etc.

ps. by the way, I'm one of gil rodman's students at the UofM working on bookstores and Deleuze, etc....

Ted Striphas said...

Thanks for touching base. I appreciate the citation. I wasn't aware of what Balibar has had to say about communication.

Apropos of your work on the book industry, and in light of the D/G/Innis/communication thread, I've been thinking a lot lately about the trees used to produce wood pulp, which eventually become the pages of books. Apparently Greenpeace organized a campaign last summer around the new Harry Potter release, since all US editions of the books were printed on unrecycled ("virgin") paper. I'm not sure why I'm sharing this anecdote, exactly, except perhaps to say there's a great deal of research left to do in this area.....