Sunday, March 28, 2010

Conducting Prudence

The instruction to be derived from Virno concerns practical reason:  drawing upon the lessons of the past to make a decision in the present situation promising the best outcome for the future well-being of the community.  Good judgment requires the virtue of phronesis, prudence.  Prudence is a virtue, meaning that it is a matter of disposition, a quality of character.  The practice of deliberative reason follows the paths of inference:  abducting from the particular conditions to the rules (an archive of maxims and proverbs representing the wisdom, the experience, of tradition and associated respected authorities).  The rules supplied the premises for deductions formulating hypothetical cases, which in turn inductively were applied to the situation.  The problem with practical reason today, Virno observes, is that there is not now, and never has been, a rule for applying the rule to a case.  The application requires a decision, and this decision represents the aporia of ethics.

The aporia is even more implacable than Virno admits, since in the sublime conditions of the industrial city the archive of maxims and proverbs recording the wisdom of collective experience lost all authority.  Moreover, the locus of causality disappeared from everyday life, to become accessible only to scientific expertise supported by technology.  Commerce filled the void, promoting through advertising the conversion of citizens to an entirely new state of mind, oriented along the axis of pleasure-pain.  Marchand cites a pronouncement made by one advertising agency in the 1920s to note the role commerce attempted to play:  "The product of advertising is public opinion; and in a democracy public opinion is the uncrowned king. It is the advertising agency's business to write the speeches from the throne of that king; to help his subjects decide what they should eat and wear; how they should invest their savings; by what courses they can improve their minds; and even what laws they should make, and by what faith they may be saved" (Marchand, 31).

Virno's proposal assumes that we are now living in conditions of a permanent "state of exception," in which the rules guiding judgment may be open to revision, to innovation, to testing against experience.  His suggestion to replace valid reasoning with the deliberate use of fallacies, in order to expose the enthymemes, the assumptions and values determining the ineffective deductions guiding decision-making, acknowledges the unconscious as a site of ethical decision unsuspected in premodern philosophy.  Ethics we now understand is beyond the reach of both reason and will.  Fallacies and joke-work are transitional forms manifesting the fourth mode of inference emergent within electracy:  conduction.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


One of the challenges of our Theory (D&G) is to construct a concept for thinking from the collective position of event.  Virno (on Target) contributes the procedure we are testing in Routine.
In the actual experience of talking, the road sign is language as a system of signs, while the different ways in which one can behave in the presence of these signs has to do with a universe of discourse language (with "the activity of the speaker who puts language into action," Benveniste: 256).  The distinction between the semiotic plane (sign) and the semantic plane (discourse), developed by Benveniste corresponds in many ways to the distinction between the normative plane and the applicative plane.  The semiotic system "exists in and of itself; it establishes the reality of language, but it does not require particular applications; the sentence, instead, the semantic expression, is solely particular"  (256).  The sentence is not a "habitual event"; rather, it is a unique, "evanescent" event (Virno, 105).
We may not "think" event directly, but write it, and receive it thus from ourselves (middle voice).  The crucial insight developed throughout Multitude is the focus on this moment of exchange, the twist in the moebius band of language, marking the imbrication of drives (body, natural regularity) in language (grammar, rule).  Julia Kristeva used similar vocabulary while naming the semiotic dimension "chora" (a term requiring further development elsewhere).  The point is that jouissance (bliss, blissence) associated with originary unconscious experiences of satisfaction (in psychoanalytic theory), are carried within discourse imbricated in the semiotic register of words.  Given the importance of the pleasure/pain axis to electracy, the usefulness of Virno's argument cannot be overstated. The value of Multitude is its foregrounding of the joke effect as announcing exactly the event of interference between the two registers.
The joke is a discourse--particular, unique, evanescent--that gives a reckoning of the difference between the semiotic system and the universe of discourse.  The comic effect derives, often, exactly from that coming and going between the two planes; inside one sentence one can see the diversity of the statute of the very same lexical entity, depending on whether it is interpreted as a sign, or as part of the discourse ("How's it going?" asks the blind man of the lame man; "Just as you see," the latter answers") (106).
In short, the event of Routine happens in the bit, in language and not only there, but in image discourse.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Virno functions as resource for the Target of our CATTt.  An immediate connection with this dimension of public policy disaster is his allusion to Hurricane Katrina through the metonym of the "Superdome."  A number of the students missed this allusion in their notes.
A theory of institutions that seeks to abandon the paradigm of sovereignty, without eluding the question of intraspecies aggression, must place at center stage that inviolable weaving together of the three levels on which human praxis is articulated: a) regularity, or "the common behavior of mankind"; b) defined rule; c) application contingent upon the defined rule.  None of these levels (and even less so, the application) constitutes a free zone, immune from so called "evil": all these levels are a theater for the oscillation between the good life and the Superdome of New Orleans (Virno, 36).
 The concern of Routine (in a project to place well-being at the center of electrate thought) must take into account Virno's observation, that virtue and evil emerge from the same capacities and faculties of human potentiality.  The oscillation signals we are in a threshold condition of cultural turbulence.  The Real speaks through the Superdome figure, intimating the catastrophe of winner-take-all values emblematized in this sports arena.  The natural and social disasters manifest at the Superdome allude to a further disaster of hypercompetition, the dangers of Entertainment as the site of emergent electracy.  Meanwhile, this scene is associated with a viral appropriation still in circulation, a photoshop joke, proving that a cliche (Nero and his fiddle) is also an archetype.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Paolo Virno's Multitude configures the Target register of the CATTt.  Our Target is a public policy issue, as it is manifested in the debates circulating in the public sphere, relative to our roles as consultants (egents) for the EmerAgency (a virtual consultancy).  The first step in seeking instructions from Virno is to situate his argument in the context of the history of philosophy (the discourse of our  Theory).  Virno himself identifies his work as addressing the problem of good judgment, prudence or phronesis, the virtue of practical reason.  Routine is constructed within a situation of our concern for a specific policy dilemma, requiring collective decision (deliberative rhetoric).  What should we do?

Virno explains the difficulty of this question, given that humans are open to the world, dis-oriented, indeterminate.  We will recognize in this description the terms of Aristotle's Ethics and Greek metaphysics (literacy) in general.  Literate metaphysics opened a plane of immanence to ontologize, identifying the reality of what exists in the substance of what is, the essence of entities, which is their nature, purpose, or end.  Aristotle named this essence with an invented portmanteau term, entelechy.  This concept (an operating principle of philsophy and hence also a concept in D&G's terms) is Aristotle's answer to Plato's question, asking about the relationship between being and becoming.  Plato proposed chora (space, a receptacle of mediation) as a solution, but Aristotle introduced time:  a thing becomes what it already is.  Reality has two dimensions:  the potential and the actual (dunamis and energeia). An acorn is a potential oak, and its actualization or becoming over time is guided by this inner nature.

In his Ethics Aristotle asked after the inner nature of humans.  What is our end (telos) or purpose?  Humans are unique in nature in that our own choices (proairesis) are included in our becoming.  There is nonetheless a guiding principle.  Human purpose is well-being, our goal or end is to thrive.  A measure of our well-being is in the experience of happiness.   Here is the immediate connection of Virno with our CATTt so far.  Theory and Contrast (D&G and Marchand), philosophy and commerce, are in a dialogical struggle to define the terms and construct the concepts most relevant for practical reason in electracy.  Virno now adds a philosophical approach to the arguments organizing the policy debates themselves, with a proposal for how to innovate within practical reason.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Persona as Corporate Mask

Marshall McLuhan's comments on Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp "mask" are relevant to our CATTt, providing a relay for synthesizing Event (as subject position), Conceptual Persona, Appropriation, Cliche.
The character in a mask is "putting on the audience" rather than expressing his personal feelings. Thus Charlie Chaplin did not spend his life expressing his personal feelings. Like any artist, he selected from the environment of his audience the equipment he needed. Chaplin chose only a small group of items: the costume of the middle-class nobody, the hidden gestures of the music-hall entertainer, the romantic outlook of Cyrano, the unlovable lover, and the foot positions of classical ballet. It was this latter inspiration that gave the bizarre highbrow aura to Chaplin's mask. To get into a role as opposed to merely having a job, is to put on the corporate social power of one's culture. In our still very literate society many people continue to seek corporate power by matching appearances. This has exactly the opposite effect from what is desired. It dilutes rather than enriches the experience, just as competition encourages people to resemble one another. The genuine role-player, on the other hand, doesn't have any competition whatever, since the items he selects from the environment from which to create his image are of the utmost inclusiveness. (McLuhan, From Cliche to Archetype).
In our case, however, there is no need to choose between "mask" and "expression," in the context of electrate identity formation, experienced as "extimacy" (the outside is inside).  The construction of our persona works through the middle voice:  We experience our collective subject position of event by means of the appropriated bits selected and combined into routine.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Laugh" Iconed

Appropriation in the context of electracy is a device for the formation of image metaphysics. Pop media is to electracy what natural language was to Greek philosophy. Philosophy formed practices of literate metaphysics as a second-order system based on written Greek. Image metaphysics similarly is extracted from mass media discourse. Here is an example of isolating a pop signifier.

Thanks to Geof Carter for this suggestion. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Is Maus/s's Gift Appropriate?

Nom de Guerre

A negative example for creating a conceptual persona is "Jihad Jane." 

Colleen LaRose spent long days caring for her boyfriend's father in a second-floor apartment in Pennsburg, a small town north of Philadelphia.  But online, federal authorities say, the devoted caretaker developed a daring alter ego, refashioning herself as "Jihad Jane" while helping recruit and finance Muslim terrorists -- and eventually moving overseas to kill an artist she perceived as an enemy of Islam" (Associated Press).
The story demonstrates the potential functionality of a persona as an interface for new alliances, rhizomes, possibilities for taking action on behalf of one's policy problem.  As Virno observed, virtue and (vice) draw upon the same resources. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Human Nature

Paolo Virno states that attitudes towards sovereignty or the civil state are determined by one's belief about human nature--whether humans are naturally good or naturally evil. A recent column by David Brooks provides specific examples, comparing the current Tea Party anti-authority views with the New Left movements of the 60s. But the core commonality is this: Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” is how Rousseau put it. Because of this assumption, members of both movements go in big for conspiracy theories.

The reference to Rousseau sounds a silent alarm. Brooks notes that neither movement had/has serious plans for what they might do if they actually came into power themselves. History does provide some analogies, beginning with the French Revolution and the Jacobins (declaring Rousseauist principles), responsible for the Reign of Terror (guillotine). Peter Sloterdijk's Critique of Cynical Reason reflects on what happens to so-called enlightened movements (motivated by beliefs in native goodness) when they acquire power. When people (the multitude) resist their ideals, the movements become "cynical." What cannot be achieved by persuasion must then be accomplished by force.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

True Fallacies

As is often the case with Python humor, this demonstration of the relationship between fallacious inference and humor is based on historical fact.  The scene is based on the life of Matthew Hopkins, the most famous witch finder of his day, who traveled the counties of Essex, Sussex, Huntington, and Norfolk, examining females suspected of witchcraft (fetishism).  Hopkins' ultimate test was that of "swimming."  The hands and feet of the accused were tied together crosswise, after which she was wrapped in a sheet and tossed into a pond. If she sank she was deemed innocent (albeit drowned). If she floated she was deemed guilty and executed.  In one year Hopkins oversaw more than sixty deaths by this means (Ulmer, Electronic Monuments, p. 165).

In our context we notice that the informal syllogism performed in our scene relies upon certain assumptions (beliefs), about the nature of reality, for example, that there are witches.  We may be reminded of D&G's reference to thought as "a witch's flight."  The reference to the inquisitor indicates a need for "fleeing" more than "flying."

Then there is the eponymous "rock/doom" band.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Definitions of bit on the Web: 
  • spot: a small piece or quantity of something; "a spot of tea"; "a bit of paper"; "a bit of lint"; "I gave him a bit of my mind"
  • a small fragment of something broken off from the whole; "a bit of rock caught him in the eye"
  • moment: an indefinitely short time; "wait just a moment"; "in a mo"; "it only takes a minute"; "in just a bit"
  • piece: an instance of some kind; "it was a nice piece of work"; "he had a bit of good luck"
  • piece of metal held in horse's mouth by reins and used to control the horse while riding; "the horse was not accustomed to a bit"
  • a unit of measurement of information (from binary + digit); the amount of information in a system having two equiprobable states; "there are 8 bits in a byte"
  • morsel: a small amount of solid food; a mouthful; "all they had left was a bit of bread"
  • snatch: a small fragment; "overheard snatches of their conversation"
  • act: a short theatrical performance that is part of a longer program; "he did his act three times every evening"; "she had a catchy little routine"; "it was one of the best numbers he ever did"
  • the part of a key that enters a lock and lifts the tumblers
  • the cutting part of a drill; usually pointed and threaded and is replaceable in a brace or bitstock or drill press; "he looked around for the right size bit" 
We may include a device learned from Derrida: the choral word. The names of our electrate concept (routine, bit) include all the meanings of the literate concept.

Creating a Brand Persona

Creating a Brand Persona
View more presentations from Jason Levine.
Here is some context for creating our conceptual personae, placing our construction in relation to branding and brand identity.  Brand is a strong contender for the site of subject position in electracy.  Our project appropriates this evolution of identity invention, reframing it within the process of apparatus invention.  Brand in this frame is subordinated to the larger emergence of avatar.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Literary Appropriation

A sign of timeliness is the appearance of this article in the NYT, Sunday, 2/28/10, reporting on the inroads that appropriation techniques from the other arts are making in the craft of literary authorship.
The Free-Appropriation Writer
The author in question is Helene Hegemann, whose novel about the Berlin club scene is a mash-up of unacknowledged quotations from other writers.  It is odd that the Times article does not mention the cut-ups of William Burroughs.