Saturday, August 14, 2010


Since I downloaded this rather a long time ago, I’m not sure where I got it and will have to search to avoid being a plagiarist. But in the meantime, I’ll try for a translation.

SMOOTH SPACE a Deleuzeguattarian concept:

"Smooth space" exists in contrast to "striated space"— a partitioned field of movement which prohibits free motion. Smooth space refers to an environment, a landscape (vast or microscopic) in which a subject operates. Deleuze and Guattari explain:

“Smooth space is filled by events or haecceities, far more than by formed and perceived things. It is a space of affects, more than one of properties. It is haptic rather than optical perception. Whereas in striated forms organize a matter, in the smooth materials signal forces and serve as symptoms for them. It is an intensive rather than extensive space, one of distances, not of measures and properties. Intense Spatium instead of Extensio. A Body without Organs instead of an organism and organization.

“Conducive to rhizomatic growth and nomadic movement, smooth space consists of disorganized matter and tends to provoke a sensual or tactical response rather than a starkly rational method of operation or a planned trajectory.”

I think these men are somehow using categories developed from observations of muscle tissue. Some muscle is “smooth” and involuntary, controlled without our awareness or voluntary intention. Some muscle is “striated” or striped, mostly the voluntary muscles of arms and legs. We control them with our purposes, our knowledge.

The explanation above suggests several undefined dualities, upon which I pondered as I drove to Great Falls and back yesterday. “a partitioned field of movement” is clearly the highway, divided into two lanes headed north and two headed south with a grass and ditched median. The landscape yesterday was sodden with rain, a scene of Payne’s gray and yellow ochre with dark old windbreak lines of bush and nodes of blackened trees near homesteads. In places there were signs of pipelines and fiberoptic cables running alongside, bits of railroad track left from when that was vital transport, and high tension electricity lines -- all running along the highway north and south, using the road as a guide, knowing it would be necessary to maintain all these lines though they will all persist long after their usefulness, long after the reasons for creating them are gone. Even the fields were in lines left by planters and other lines left by swathers and bailers; the stubble lines will persist through the winter when they will be filled with snow.

Haptic means hands on, which I suppose means my hands on the steering wheel. But my mind feels around just as hands do, grasping ideas. I’m thinking about something overheard at Carl’s funeral. I think it was Gordie who remarked to a friend, “When all these religious people were conservative, a person could tell what they were thinking. But now that they’re liberals coming around, you can never figure them out.” (No rules.) And I thought about remarks from the local clergy, who used to host small groups of visiting Methodist youngsters in the summer, eager to do and learn. Last summer one church had fifteen different groups, some of them only adults, several denominations, and at war among themselves. It will be necessary to impose striations (rules) because they can’t handle smooth.

When the UU Leadership School Movement was still alive and pulsing, it was decided to run an experiment the third year: throw open the smooth space and see what happened. In a few days we had run aground, broken into factions. We saved ourselves by taking a vote to discover one most-trusted person, giving her (sic) a half-hour to make a decision, and then doing what she said. It worked. Until one evening we made too much noise and the retreat center ranger came to rebuke us -- then we hid and let the Real World highest ranking clergyman (sic) go out to apologize and promise to reform. Most smooth spaces exist inside striated space, it seems to me.

Striations make the smooth space possible: “a starkly rational method of operation or a planned trajectory” allows the “ sensual or tactical response.” So it is the logistical knowledge of time-tables and credit card systems that allows Kilian to quickly make arrangements to send a boy and/or Tim to an unknown space of smooth land and water where life is a potential rather than a given, packed with stone and wind and recently caught fish, woodsmoke, water in pails, clotheslines and skateboarding birds. A small rhizome to put arms around.

When I had finished my shopping list at Marketplace, which is a big box cluster just under the bluff where the Great Falls airport and Air Force base is built in striations of concrete landing strips, I stood for a moment under the tree-scraping gray clouds. Suddenly there was an explosive sky-cracking roar overhead where unseen jet fighters leapt into the air -- not just one, but a team, converting cataclysmic power into heart-swelling but minutely controlled aerobatics high above the clouds. I would argue once again that it was the striations of drill, rules, mechanical adjustment, computerized measurement, and human desiderata that set young men on a thunderous trajectory across the towering smooth space of open sky. Cover your ears! Do not build your house next to an airport! In a few minutes the clouds broke and we were all drenched.

In Valier my smooth space is a glowing computer screen where I sometimes rest my stinging palms directly on the glass, attracted by an expression, a view, a written idea -- hoping to absorb it haptically, even the faces of boys clear round the planet. I love the videos of familiar hands or that recurring dance-like curve of arm. To dance one needs a smooth dance floor.

The prairie, the sea, the beach, the desert, the grasslands are not, I think, what Deleuze and Guattari had in mind. Their thought is quite social. But I always turn to the land. By the time I drove home, the sky was breaking open like a geode and amethyst and topaz crystalline light spilled over the gleaming fields across the long slow curves laid down by a primal sea. Fences were only small striations, light pencil lines along the verges. This is why I'm not a scholar and lose all the footnotes.

But then, I'm working with a poet and a pack of boy videographers who skateboard. While I write, they fly, converting the striated space of bannisters, stairs, curbs, walls and rails into pure space.

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