Rooted in our language is a bias. It’s a bias that we can hardly be blamed for, based as it is in our conception of ourselves as distinct entities whose existence can be felt, from one moment to the next, through time. Nature appears to move ‘forwards’, the ice-cube melts if left unattended, the scream in the night dissipates into silence.
For very similar reasons we see society as a progressive entity. The 19th Century, Positivist appeal to a human reality that moves towards an ultimate goal still lingers in our rational arguments, in our science, in our humanist rhetoric. Again, we see technology as endlessly progressive. The tractor is fundamentally better than the plough, the internet trounces the telephone; the mailed envelope; the scream in the dark night.
But forwards is not the only way that things can move.
Most days I head to the British Library and pick up my pile of books from the counter. At the moment half of them are about ‘play’, about the systems of rules that mediate human games and what the order of games can tell us about human social activity. The other half of my book pile is made up of works of philosophy written in the last 30 years. Works by Deleuze, Serres, Agamben and Foucault. Their work speaks to me in a non-progressive way. Deleuze and Serres especially expound systems of thinking that grow like a supernovae or a colony of slime mould. From one perspective the supernovae is a system destined to implode, its central core rebounding the slew of material manufactured in the star’s long lifetime, out and into the wider cosmos. A slime mould, similarly, appears to be a system destined to grow, procreate and expand its genetic impact on the world. Both of these systems though can be better understood if we take them out of their human perceived, progressive contexts. To really grasp the supernovae one must understand the laws that govern its cycle of energy ebb and bloom. The same laws that govern the life cycle of the slime-mould. Thermo dynamics and the transitional principles that underlie physical systems – as seeming chaos bifurcates into autopoietic order.
How these principles underlie the philosophy of Deleuze and Serres is difficult to summarise here, and also dangerous. I am still a novice when it comes to their theoretical paradigms. What can be said though is that their principles are non-progressive, non-positivistic. The order they see in social systems, in cultural artefacts and metaphysical constructions is better understood as order determined by thresholds rather than historical movements, by the flow of information between systems, rather than the inevitable consequences of scientific and social orders.
At present I am working through the vague notion that our systems of symbolic communication would be better understood through their non-linear logics. That sacrifice and sacrament, scribe and inscription, digital code and malleable media are each a series of complexity thresholds in a grand order of semiotics that has been growing and blooming, shrinking and decaying in time with the ebb and flow of human culture and technology.
I write this here as an annotation on things to come (on my website). It is not a delineated path of enquiry. It is merely a structure I intend to topographically identify, map and encourage. Here’s to Gilles Deleuze and Michel Serres, as well as some other names I will label their accomplices, such as Giorgio Agamben, Manuel de Landa, Lev Manovich and a whole heap more.