humming along

I’ve spent most of the day (in between emails and phone calls) doing some final twiddling with my We Can Be Heroes paper. As usual, now that I’ve had quite some distance from it as it has moved through the review process, I can see all sorts of terrible glaring holes in the argument and discussion. And, as usual I’m filled with doubt as I prepare to send it out into the world of publication. I think it’s true that we’re our own worst critics….so I bravely battled on through the final editing, ignoring the looming vision of the very different paper that I now think it could become.

The suggestion was that I broaden my theoretical allusions in footnotes etc….that is, I should point out the resonances with what I am saying about Deleuze and resistance, with more of his writing, including A Thousand Plateaus. It was strange going back to this book which almost eight years ago was my first encounter with poststructuralism. In particular, I was struck again by Brian Massumi’s foreword.

“The reader is invited to lift a dynamism out of the book entirely, and incarnate it in a foreign medium, whether it be painting or politics. The authors steal from other disciplines with glee, but they are more than happy to return the favour. Deleuze’s own image for a concept is not a brick but a “tool box”. He calls his kind of philosophy “pragmatics” because its goal is the invention of concepts that do not add up to a system or belief or an architecture of propositions that you either enter or you don’t, but instead pack a potential in the way a crowbar in a willing hand envelops an energy of prying.” (xv)

What’s interesting is that I think it took a good eight years for any of the concepts in this book to start to really resonate with me (and I am the first to admit that I am a long way off understanding even half of it). On first reading, I found it oh so abstract and difficult. The language is challenging and the writing style (admittedly in translation) is free flowing. Today, though, as I delved back into the book in a search for some appropriate quotes, I could see how over the past few years through the gestation of my phd, I carried many of these concepts with me and they were gradually illuminated by accompanying theoretical readings as well as my ongoing engagement with television. Massumi also likens engaging with the book to buying and listening to a record.

“When you buy a record there are always cuts that leave you cold. You skip them. You don’t approach a record as a closed book that you have to take or leave. Other cuts you may listen to over and over again. They follow you. You find yourself humming them under your breath as you go about your daily business.” (xiv)

And now with the benefit of hindsight I can see how this was true for my own concern with television and it’s potential for resistive formations. This was a tune I had been humming since my honours thesis (prior to A thousand plateaus). And it was the “refrain” that I returned to again and again through the phd process, until it finally formed into the thesis. And now, I also find myself returning to it, each time humming basically the same tune, but with the differences of time, opinion and new thoughts producing variations on the theme.

The music analogy is particularly resonant for me I guess. And Massumi’s continues it in his final statement as to how readers should approach the book.

The question is not: is it true? But, does it work? What new thoughts does it make it possible to think? What new emotions does it make it possible to feel? What new sensations and perceptions does it open in the body?
The answer for some readers, perhaps most, will be “none”. If that happens, it’s not your tune. No problem. But you would have been better off buying a record.

Ha Ha……

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