..........................Monday, August 10, 2009

The ConnectDeleuze Presentation

Below is what @evilitlsquirrel will be presenting at the beginning of the Molecular Twitter Party session at the ConnectDeleuze conference, which co-insides with the last hour and a half of the Party!

Note the slides for this presentation can be found here.

“Experiment, never interpret”

… Deleuze and Parnet exhorts us in their essay on Anglo-American Literature in Dialogues, and it is in this spirit that the Molecular Twitter Party is taking place. It is an attempt at practising with the creative process that Deleuze called Thought using contemporary technology that is fast becoming a familiar part of our lives. It is an attempt to consider how Deleuze continues to be a useful, practical thinker, allowing us to negotiate with the world, while this world is changing.

I expect most of you here are to some extent familiar with the Internet phenomenon that is Twitter. The current tagline on their homepage is “Share and discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.” (SLIDE 1) - something which shows how Twitter itself has become something that it didn't ever expect. The site set up promoting itself to be a tool to keep in touch with friends and family, by way of short 140 character messages relayed in across the net or via a mobile phone text service. Since starting in 2006, it has become something far more deterritorialized than the “real-time short messaging service” that it describes itself as.

To use Twitter, you sign up and create an account, which is distinguished by a name prefixed by the @sign and a customizable picture to go with it. Then you start speaking (or Tweeting) and listening. To hear what someone is saying you follow them. As you continue tweeting, you hope that someone will follow you. (In the early days you could listen to “everyone” but this has now become a preposterous wish with millions of users). You can direct your tweets to someone by adding their @name in your tweet.

Starting out on Twitter is an experiment, it feels a little like taking a step into the ether itself – your tweets feel like they loose themselves in the din. Who cares what you have to say? You scan the unfathomable amounts of messages out there for something interesting (there is a search tool to help you filter all of this information). However, slowly you find yourself becoming part of a network of Tweeters, or Tweeps, that are saying things that interest you, and who seem interested in what you're saying. Suddenly it starts making sense.

From there you learn to use hashtags (a way of marking the topic of your tweet by prefixing words with the hash sign), and to ReTweet (the practice of tweeting a message you like again marking its originator with RT in order to spread it to your followers, who don't necessarily follow the same people as you). You become a dab hand at finding what people say regarding topics that interest you, and you join in (or deliberately refuse to) the global debate of the so called Trending Topics – the terms that are the most used on Twitter at any point in time which range from the revolutionary (#iranelection) to the banal (#threewordsaftersex).

This was the trajectory of my collaborator’s experience, and mine. As we found ourselves stuck in front of the computer working, Twitter started off providing some light relief, but instead ended up providing inspiration. Personally, while searching for the use of the term Deleuze, I followed and was in turn followed by people who shared my interest in the philosopher. I tweeted bits from books, questions and thoughts and received interesting and thought-provoking replies, I considered and engaged in discussions that others started. All in 140character chunks. A restriction that, by the way, turned out to be, in the words of one of my collaborators on this project, an “enabling constraint”: the imperative to conciseness was an impetus to clarity, an impulse to post spontaneous ideas, and encouragement to quick thinking. It was liberating: rather than belabouring ideas and worrying about the “correct” ways of saying and thinking, concepts get thrown out there, into the Twittersphere to sink or float.

“Don't have just ideas, just have an idea. Have short term ideas”, Deleuze and Guattari say in their introductory chapter to A Thousand Plateaus on the “rhizome.” Indeed, it was difficult NOT to be struck by the way our (mine and my like-minded Tweep's) activity on Twitter resonated with some of the key ideas in that seminal work, most immediately and obviously perhaps is the rhizome. Twitter seems to embody many of Deleuze and Guattari’s descriptions of the rhizome, which displays, they say, “Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other.” Each person of Twitter, whose Twitter-stream represents a line, can connect to any other, this creating nodes in a vast rhizomatic grid of Twitter-streams. There have been some interesting attempts at visualising this.... (SLIDES 2, 3, and 4) These images are perhaps what Deleuze and Guattari would call Twitter Plateaus or Milieus – multiplicities without beginnings or ends that connect to other multiplicities, arbitrarily centred on the singular points of a particular Twitter user (here me @evilitlsquirrel and the other half of the Molecular Twitter Party @troyrhoades). Not only is every Twitter user in the middle of a network without beginning or end, but each tweet is an intermezzo in a conversation without beginning or end, all with infinite potential interlocutors.

But Twitter itself is not only just the rhizomatic connections between people. In fact without its “content”, the Tweets, it would not really exist. In this sense Twitter is not only rhizomatic, but perhaps nomadic. The nodes, the points, of the Twitter users are not only fixed points which generate and communicate Tweets, but relays, points that the trajectory of messages made up of a strange type of indirect free discourse pass through. The @you, a larval self consisting of a potential picture and “name”, on Twitter can be as loose a version of yourself as you want. I, a picture and a name. Anonymity is a distinct possibility as are multiple Twitter accounts (conversations with yourself?), multiple users of one Twitter streams, and even automated robotic Twitterers. In a sense Twitter allows us to reach the point where, as Deleuze and Guattari say, “it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves... We have been aided, inspired, multiplied” ATP 3.

Much of Twitter's uniqueness lies in the way that it is the information itself that is at its core, which is aggregated, accessed, relayed, amplified, varied, transformed (and corrupted) by the use of hashtags and ReTweets. There is a “cloud” of information out there (SLIDE 5) belonging to no one and everyone. A rhizome made out of Twitter-stream-lines emanating from thousands of tiny Twitter-selves.

But if Twitter offers the opportunity to become-molecular, to speak as a foreigner or ETRANGER – stranger in one's own language, both in the sense of stuttering, telegraphic messages, and in the sense of being a Twitter-self, stranger to others and to one self, it also exemplifies how one can become-molar, how flows are captured, territories established, points fixed and lines segmented – for humans after all, Deleuze tells us, are segmentary animals. As the visualizations show us we inevitably see things in centres, we always look for limits and perhaps we have to, pragmatically, to cope with the world, and certainly to cope with Twitter. The myriad of sites offering analysis of Twitter streams are a case in point – we seem to always want to determine and quantify. (SLIDE 6)

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari speak of lines with supple and rigid segmentarity: those that flow, connect and diverge freely, and those that become stuck, blocked, unified or overcoded. It starts when centres resonate in points of accumulation, when lines lose ability to bud, and centres that were provisional become fixed, essential, predetermined. One of central questions of this intersection between Deleuze and Twitter is how to quantify this process. At which point does Twitter become rigid? The natural process of connection, of relay and amplification of information, that which makes Twitter so rhizomatic, is the beginning of a process of accumulation: a retweet includes a hashtag, a hashtag is retweeted until it becomes a trending topic, the trending topic (displayed on each user's Twitter page) in turn influences what is Tweeted, amplifying itself. To some Twitter offers a great opportunity for influence – maximizing followers, dominating Trending topics. (SLIDES 7 and 8). Capture of these processes by commercial and political interests is a fact. The Twitter streams become overcoded, all resonating to the same tune for a while. But, perhaps, only EVER for a while, and of course the #iranelection is the current example.

Twitter’s use during the unrest following Iran's recent elections became headline news. Twitter was heralded as a new revolutionary force, allowing people speak freely, disseminate otherwise repressed news and mobilize. While on the one hand Twitter was undoubtedly influential in disseminating information about the events in Iran, on the other hand it could be criticized for its unreliability and corruptibility, the brevity of many peoples superficial involvement in the “green movement” from the secure comfort of their homes, the sudden pressure to support the movement among Twitter users, urging people to turn their pictures green, influencing many who had little understanding of the stakes involved, and so on. But of course each of these criticisms can easily be turned into a positive point: a multitude of versions of events were available, where force of numbers allowed verification of facts, those not usually politically aware had their horizons broadened, and the apathetic were spurred into action, however small. The possibilities and pitfalls of Twitter as a tool for political activism is one of the key points of discussion at the Molecular Twitter Party.

Certainly, Deleuze and Guattari's concepts and terms seem to offer us a good toolkit with which to approach these questions. Twitter is good of example of the fact that a rhizome, as Deleuze and Guattari say, “ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.” A rhizome is a network of BOTH rigid and supple lines; these lines never exist on their own. Nothing is ever completely molecular or completely molar. Can we then say, retweeting Deleuze and Guattari with variation, that on Twitter “everything is political, but every politics is simultaneously a macropolitics and a micropolitics.

So in the spirit of Deleuze's exhortation to experiment, rather than interpret, the Molecular Twitter Party is using Twitter itself to think with and about Twitter. If Twitter is a machine, an assemblage of Tweets that is moved by the desires of its Twitterers; in what way, we ask, does it plug into the State and into the War machine?

Perhaps, in the same way as Deleuze shows us how the technology of cinema allowed us to think time-space in a whole new way, indeed, allows us to THINK in a whole new way, so perhaps We can consider how Twitter is a new way of THOUGHT. Simply equating Twitter with a revolutionary War machine is too simple, but perhaps Twitter offers an opportunity for, in Deleuze and Guattari’s words, “A thought grappling with exterior forces instead of being gathered up in an interior form, operating by relays instead of forming an image, an event-thought, a haecceity, instead of a subject-thought, a problem-thought instead of an essence-thought or theorem; a thought that appeals to people instead of taking itself for government ministry.” As such, despite its detractors, those who see Twitter as frivolous or even dangerous, it deserves to be taken seriously, as THOUGHT. For even the most molecularized line is always under the sway of molar currents, not to speak of microfascisms. And as Deleuze and Guattari say, “the less people take thought seriously, the more they think in conformity with what the State wants.”

The idea for the Molecular Twitter Party emerged from the connection between the tweets of four people on Twitter. As most Tweeps, we all tweeted about things that interested us, from the highbrow to the banal. Deleuze and Twitter, and what we had for dinner. We though a virtual dinner party where we would enjoy wine and food and a good discussion about twitter theory sounded like a fun thing to do. The idea grew into something bigger, ramifying and connecting to this conference, morphing and becoming as a molecular twitter party. It is an experiment, and as such it will not always run smoothly, but here we are, and we're hoping it will show the potential of practical Deleuzian Thought today, the kind of joyful serious thought that doesn't just reproduce either the ideas of the State or the Ideas of Deleuze, but that produces new ideas, constantly in process and constantly connecting and ramifying, without a beginning or an end in the intermezzo.

We now invite you to join the Molecular Twitter Party here and now in medias res...


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