One of the things I’m did this past spring was an independent study—a vehicle by which to move through my dissertation’s tentative bibliography, at a pace of around two books at time, every two weeks, and to write short comparative analyses of the texts. These books covered intersections of philosophy, psychology, theology, machine consciousness, and Afro-Atlantic magico-religious traditions, I thought my reviews might be of interest, here.
My first two books in this process were Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and David J. Gunkel’s The Machine Question, and while I didn’t initially have plans for the texts to thematically link, the first foray made it pretty clear that patterns would emerge whether I consciously intended or not.
[Image of a careworn copy of Frantz Fanon’s BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASKS, showing a full-on image of a Black man’s face wearing a white anonymizing eye-mask.]
In choosing both Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and Gunkel’s The Machine Question, I was initially worried that they would have very little to say to each other; however, on reading the texts, I instead found myself struck by how firmly the notions of otherness and alterity were entrenched throughout both. Each author, for very different reasons and from within very different contexts, explores the preconditions, the ethical implications, and a course of necessary actions to rectify the coming to be of otherness.
Dylan Matthews on Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti’s background as a critical theorist:
“Nobody wants to be a shill for your brand,” former Buzzfeed chief creative officer Jeff Greenspan once told New York Magazine for a profile of the company’s founder, Jonah Peretti. “But they are happy to share information and content that helps them promote their own identity.”
So where did Peretti get that idea? Peretti’s academic writings offer one clue. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz in 1996, Peretti published an article in the cultural theory journal Negations entitled “Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Contemporary Visual Culture and the Acceleration of Identity Formation/Dissolution.” After the paper was mentioned in New York’s Peretti profile, Critical-Theory.com’s Eugene Wolters read through it, and found that it more or less lays out (and critiques) Buzzfeed’s entire business model—a full decade before the company was founded.
In brief, the paper argues that, going forward, capitalism will need to be constantly producing identities for people to adopt at an ever-increasing rate. And now Peretti’s at the helm of a firm that’s doing exactly that.
This reminds me of Zizek quoting Jean-Jacques Lecercle about how Deleuzian thought ironically became the ideology of the ruling class. In this excerpt, Lecercle imagines a Paris yuppie reading Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy:
he incongruity of the scene induces a smile – after all, this is a book explicitly written against yuppies /…/ Your smile turns into a grin as you imagine that this enlightenment-seeking yuppie bought the book because of its title /…/ Already you see the puzzled look on the yuppie’s face, as he reads page after page of vintage Deleuze…  What, however, is there is no puzzled look, but enthusiasm, when the yuppie reads about impersonal imitation of affects, about the communication of affective intensities beneath the level of meaning (“Yes, this is how I design my publicities!”), or when he reads about exploding the limits of self-contained subjectivity and directly coupling man to a machine (“This reminds me of my son’s favored toy, the action-man who can turn into a car!”), or about the need to reinvent oneself permanently, opening oneself up to a multitude of desires which push us to the limit (“Is this not the aim of the virtual sex video game I am working on now? It is no longer a question of reproducing sexual bodily contacts, but to explode the confines of established reality and imagine new unheard-of intensive mode of sexual pleasures!”). Is today’s popular culture not effectively permeated by Deleuzian motifs, from the Spinozean logic of imitatio afecti (is this impersonal circulation of affects, by-passing persons, not the very logic of publicity, of video clips, etc., where what matters is not the message about the product, but the intensity of the transmitted affects and perceptions?) to new trends in childrens’ toys (the so-called “Transformer” or “Animorph” toys, a car or a plane which can be transformed into a humanoid robot, an animal which can be morphed into a human or robot… is this not Deleuzian? There is no “metaphorics” here, the point is not that the mechanical or animal form is revealed as a mass containing a human shape, but, rather, the “becoming-machine” or “becoming-animal” of the human, the flow of continuous morphing. What is blurred is also the divide machine/living organism: a car transmutes into a humanoid/cyborg organism – therein resides the horror…)?
Christopher Vitale has been writing essays comparing Buddhism and, for want of a better term, post-structuralism. I don’t feel like I know enough about either subject to know how well he does.
Here’s a bit from the first in the series:
Meditation, then, is practice in separation from narratives and images which we have felt determine some aspect of who or what aspects of ourselves and/or our world are. As each thing comes by in our mind, we separate from it. I’m thinking that thought, but I am not that, it doesn’t bind me, I’m free from it, I can separate from it. I feel that emotion, and yet, it doesn’t control me, it is a part of me, I acknowledge it, I see it as caused by its contexts, but I am free to choose to dive into it and explore it, or let it fade, because I’m not that. I’m rather, a principle of infinite negativity, to use a Hegelian term, a site of infinite creativity. I am only limited by my relation to my contexts, and I can alter this through action, by making the world a better place, a freer place.
And this desire to free the world doesn’t mean doing what we think is best for it, to control it. Rather, it means to try to help the world free itself from its own chains, its own illusion of the necessity of the narratives and images, the essences, which imprison it. It is to want the world to self-actualize, on its own terms. A good therapist wants this both for themselves and their clients. This is what a Buddhist means by compassion.