Friday, March 09, 2018


Many have been considering the concept of “consciousness”, encouraged by the expanding scientific consciousness of the mechanisms of human consciousness — how it works, what it's for.  In the previous century the awareness was of the UNconscious revealed — or at least implied — in disciplines like psychoanalysis, which have since been exploded by neurology, in much the same way as realization that there was an unconscious exploded the Enlightenment rationality idea that persuaded mostly men (mostly young, “educated”, and white) that they knew their own minds and were entirely in control.  But look where that has brought us.  What has been consciously been achieved?

We constantly project our own humanness onto what is around us, outside our skins.  Can the universe have consciousness?  Many — this time include women and autochthonous peoples — want to believe that non-humans, even non-mammals, even non-animals, can have consciousness.   When they pick a leaf off a bush, they imagine the bush says “ouch.”  That’s a jokey way of talking about it.

I’m going to pick out of that haystack of wondering a little needling question: can the universe have a sub-conscious?  I mean, as a whole, as an existence, can there be a subconscious — meaning forces below perception that are therefore out of our control?  An “un,” “sub,” “under” consciousness that has nothing to do with human feelings?  So?

This is a question along the lines of the boy asking the philosopher whether dogs have souls.  The answer he got was that no one knows, but that we should act as though they did.

We should act as though the galaxies have a shared and active subconscious.

I’m not talking about morality or control or systems.  I mean something more like a sea-change, shifting, emerging, secret.  Nothing like a “soul” or “spirituality” because those are anthro-preoccupations.  I’m talking about “standing waves,” harmonics, moving shapes across time, the mottled hide of existence.

Metal cutouts with patterns from "standing waves"

Today I’m pondering the partnership of Deleuze and Guattari who worked together so closely that they are often called “Deleuzeguattari”, one word.  In an Aeon essay Edward Thornton, who is a student at the department of philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, wrote about them.  The premise is that the two, considered as though one, actually were quite different from each other, though fitting together.

First of all, I’m interested in how dialogue, defined and guided by empathy, can bring ideas from sub to "woke" consciousness, perhaps as between a therapist and patient, but reshaped to be between equals.  There are examples through time.  C.S. Lewis said the key to friendship was loving the same topic but having quite different approaches to it.  “The secret to their alliance — was their mutual distrust of identity.  Deleuze and Guattari were both resolutely anti-individualist: whether in the realm of politics, psychotherapy or philosophy, they strived to show that the individual was a deception, summoned up to obscure the nature of reality.”  Thornton describes this as “progressive, Marxist-inspired, anti-capitalist politics of joy.”

So Thornton is not talking about conscious/subconscious but rather about a parallel tension between individual and group.  Can a group have a subconscious?  Isn’t that the premise of Erikson’s books about individuals who “embodied” the time in which they lived:  Luther and Gandhi?  Who “embodies” right now?  (Don’t say Trump, though a cynical case could be made.)

Guattari saw how the collective will of the Russian Revolution had collapsed into the hierarchical power structure of bureaucratic state communism.  Now, he saw the same process occurring in miniature in every group he joined.  No matter how communal the initial struggle, sooner or later the collective will dissolved into competition between individual desires — with one person eventually emerging as the leader, at the expense of the others.”  He worked as a psychoanalyst at an avant garde mental health hospital where his controlling metaphor was combating “alienation” that dehumanizes, divides into compartments that have no relationship among themselves.  The infamous “boxes.”

Then came the Sixties/Seventies revolution.  Deleuse responded to it, saying “what appears to us in experience as an individual . . . gains its identity only as an effect of diverse forces that are in constant tension with one another.”  We blame the Internet with causing so much social turmoil and opposition, but maybe it was the turmoil and opposition that created the Internet, or at least a desire for it strong enough to drive its creation.  What name would we give that desire?  Communication?  Or something less admirable, like control or greed.  Instant shopping.

So where is our desire now?  What do the long for?  What is the universe craving?  What are true universal desires that keep being distorted by mercantile goals, something to sell to individuals.  Deleuzeguattari spoke of “Oedipalisation” as the strategy of "making a child desire his mother, who is always held away by the power of the father.  The goal is a passive individual who will 'turn up to work, obey the boss, compete with the neighbors, and consume an endless stream of commodities.'”

So the new role of this thinker was the schizoanalyst.  (And here all the time you were thinking that “schizophrenia” was something bad!)  This is the program:

  1. Find those processes of desire that deviate from capitalism.
  2. Follow each to their most extreme conclusions, to allow them to escape from the restrictions of capital.
  3. Align these different processes to create a “molecular revolution.”
When they shoot film in the Oval Office, I’m always conscious of the bronzes, since I was married to a sculptor and we built a bronze foundry.  One is the familiar Remington of a bronc breaker, now made passé by horse whisperers, a figure of domination by force.  The other one — and I should check to see who made it — is a buffalo being attacked by wolves.  Bob Scriver’s version was a moose breaking through ice and therefore vulnerable to wolves.  The lesson of both is a natural recurring opposition that Bob called “The Mighty and the Many.

Maybe the Mighty is the Platonic, Cartesian, “STEM”, white and male mainstream.  The Many is the various but patterned force of the group.  The capitalism of the buffalo and the moose who live off the resources of the land, versus the desiring hunger of the meat-eating predators who eat the grass second-hand and return the leftovers to the earth.  But what is under the ice?  Is global warming going to plunge us into the unknown?

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