Sunday, February 05, 2006

Deleuze and high culture

As D&R readers might know, last term I taught a graduate seminar called, "The Problem of the Media in Deleuze and Guattari." Their philosophy was, needless to say, very much on my mind at the time, and my seminar provoked a lot of issues that I tried to work through here.

I'm on a teaching leave this term to write my book, and although it engages tangentially with Deleuze and Guattari's individual and collaborative writings, it's hardly a Deleuzo-guattarian project in any obvious sense. Perhaps that, in conjunction with my not teaching this term, explains why D&R has taken a turn away of late from D+G. All that's just a longwinded way of saying that it's time again for me to revisit their work.

I've been re-reading Deleuze's Logic of Sense for fun (sick, I know), and in the course of reading something occurred to me. Deleuze's engagement with the writings of Lewis Carroll is one of the few examples I can think of in which he engages with might be called "popular" artifacts. (I also vaguely recall D+G making a passing reference to actor Robert De Niro's "becoming crab" somewhere in A Thousand Plateaus.) Now, I realize that in many places Deleuze discusses fiction--the writings of Proust, Melville, Kafka, Woolf, and others. Those, however, arguably are canonized works of Literature--not "popular culture" in any obvious sense. What's also striking to me is the utter contempt Deleuze seemed to hold for television, as evidenced most of all in Cinema 2.

Now, I'm pretty sure someone else writing about D+G already has addressed the issue of Deleuze's tendency to extrude his philosophy from "high" cultural artifacts. If D&R readers could remind me of who that is, I'd be appreciative. Even so, I want to raise the matter again, for two reasons. First, I want to affirm how radical Deleuze's philosophical method is, despite his propensity to turn to "high" culture. His project of seeking the philosophical in the "non-philosophical" is quite compelling, and indeed it adds a nice dose of humility to a discipline that once put forth the idea of the philosopher-king. Second, I want to pose a question: what might a Deleuzian-inspired philosophy look like, were it more oriented to popular artifacts? I see the work of people like Charlie Stivale and Brian Massumi responding to this question, at least in part, though I do think it could be explored further. Are there philosophical concepts waiting to be extruded from, say, a mainstream TV program like Cold Case? Or a popular artifact like the TV itself?


Glen Fuller said...

ian buchanan in the last chapter of _deleuzism: a metacommentary_ entitled "Deleuze and Popular Music" is worth reading. I think he is the one you are thinking of. Stivale wrote a biting review though... here is an earlier version of buchanan's piece:

stivale's comment in reply:

stivale's review of buchanan's book (need subscription):

depending on what angle you are taking Ken Wark's _Virtual Geography: Living With Global Media Events_ is good for some (early) work that can be read as combining some aspects of Deleuze's LoS with the classic media studies concept of "media events". Wark's recent _hacker manifesto_ may be relevant, too.

I have done some work that thinks through some aspects of the affective dimension of media events (conceived of in a similar way to Wark above, but I figured it out before reading his work and mainly drawing on Massumi's stuff). As yet it is still unpublished as I have not had enough time to polish it and I need to finish my bloody dissertation!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ted,

Skip Buchanan (sorry Glen!). Dan Smith and Tim Murphy's "What I hear is thinking too: Deleuze and Guattari Go Pop" is pretty spiffy. At:

My old 'Sound Affects' piece at Gil's cultstud-l also tries to filter D+G through Bjork, Roy Orbison and Groundhog Day (I originally wrote it for high school students). Another old piece of mine from the Australian journal Antithesis casts them (plus Spinoza) alongside Neneh Cherry's 'Homebrew.'

Steven Shaviro's blog is often terrific on such matters, especially when it is film-related and sometimes hiphop too. And Glen and Mel G and Jon Beasley-Murray and Ann Galloway and ... I got to get me one of these blog thingies one of these days.

Anonymous said...

I like this relating of D&G's theories to electronic music, digital recording, and DJing.

Glen Fuller said...

hey greg! your (earlier) essay certainly addresses some of the same stuff as buchanan in a much more accessible way, I hadn't read it before! But you don't make the (mistaken!) assertion that Deleuze was an anti-pop high-culture modernist!!!! that is what ted was after and i haven't come across anyone else make this assertion as clearly as buchanan. Though i totally forgot about the 'deleuze and guattari go pop' essay! Just shifting gears a bit, there is a line from that that captures the difference between the buchanan piece and the go pop piece:
"Pinhas was to Heldon what Robert Fripp has been to King Crimson: a restless experimenter driven not by the demands of the music market, but by a desire to create new sounds and new structures that is, from Deleuze and Guattari's point of view, the fundamental drive of all philosophy." (par 16)

I think buchanan was attempting to think through using the concept of the refrain how radio stations 'captured' an audience through capturing the 'affects' of that audience. It was more a political economy angle, and it reminds me in some aspects of the argument of Jonathen Beller's work on cinema:

"The cinema, I shall be arguing, is a first instance of these other "higher forms" of mediation. With the globalization of capital it may turn out that economic expansion is presently less a geographical project and more a matter of *capturing* the interstitial activities and times between the already commodified endeavors of bodies. *Every movement and every gesture is potentially productive of value*. I am speaking here of media as cybernetics, of capital expansion positing the body as the new frontier. [...] We are thus dealing with two distinct yet interactive sets of relations here. In the first set, capital cinema regulates perception and therefore certain pathways to the body. It is in this sense that it functions as a kind of discipline and control akin to previous methods of socialization by either civil society or the labor process (e.g., Taylorization). The second moment, related yet distinct from the first, is the positing by capital cinema of a value-productive relationship which can be exploited--i.e., a tapping of the productive energies of consciousness and the body in order to facilitate the production of surplus value." (par 6,7)

my whole dissertation is on this stuff of 'capturing' albeit looking at different pop culture assemblages!! I certainly haven't figured it out sufficiently yet (well i probably have for my dissertation, but I am not happy with it. I think i will need to read some stuff on crowds/ mediated-crowds/audience-as-mediated-crowd, anyway...)

btw, this is the link to greg's 'sound affects' essay:


Anonymous said...

There's an old article in Stanford Humanities Review by Ted Byfield and Lincoln Tolbert (might have gotten the last name wrong) on television and it's quite Deleuzean in that it sees TV as, well, a subset of problems related to glass.

I'm really torn on D&G for the study of media and so I'm going to take the unpopular position here. They're great for thinking "form" in a variety of interesting ways and for prying your head out of ossified categories but I am absolutely opposed on aesthetic and political grounds to their pretty consistent affirmation of avant-garde strategies and denigration of "low" genres.


Ted Striphas said...

Hi All,

Wow! Thanks for such a rich and interesting set of responses to my post. I really appreciate all the citations, commentary, and perspective. I'm also pleased to have seen some debate ensue.

Clearly theres's a lot more to say and a lot more to do. One starting point would be, I think, an inventory of those comparatively rare moments when Deleuze &/or Guattari reference pop cultural works. For my part, I do recall a passing reference in Cinema 2, I think, to The Talking Heads. I'm sure there are more. For me, the point of such a survey would be to see what, among the popular, stood out to D/D+G and to figure out why. I suspect The Talking Heads might have provoked Deleuze in part because they were something of an avant-garde pop band at the time, though, I'd add, a pop band nonetheless.

I'm going to say this, and I may regret it, but I've long felt that Raymond Williams' Television: Technology and Cultural Form might be read as a more popularly-minded counterpart to Deleuze's cinema books. Call it intuition, call it crazy, but I thought now might be an appropriate time to put that out there.

Anonymous said...

Ted, have you looked at Richard Dienst's _Still Life in Real Time: Theory After Television_? His opening chapter 'The Outbreak of Television' offers some nice insight on Williams' Television book, and the last chapter of the book is largely focused on Deleuze's cinema books. It's been a while since I read the book, and I remember some of the argument as problematic (though damned if I can call up specifics now, even scanning my margin notes). oh well. Greg

Ted Striphas said...

Hey Greg,

Thanks for the tip about the Dienst book. Though I know of him and his work, I haven't read this particular text. I'll be sure to check it out. In the meantime, glad I'm not the only one thinking the Williams-Deleuze connection (as I know you are, too).