is a growing if "minority" sector of works by contemporary artists can be
seen as exemplary of what Felix Guattari dubbed, in the last book before
his death, "the new aesthetic paradigm." This is not solely because, due
to the great virtue, or deficiency as you would have it, of Deleuze and
Guattari's theories is that they can be fruitfully applied to almost any
and every field of human and nonhuman endeavour. When we look at the body
of work of an artist like Gary Hill, who eschews the term "video artist"
although he has largely worked in video and video/installation from his
beginnings as a sculptor, we see someone who has always highlighted and
implicated certain issues of catastrophe theory and cybernetics when working
through the gaps and voids of communication which he has taken as his main
subject; Hill's recent transitional works lend themselves to a certain "chaosmosis"
through their treatment of what has been called a "tantric technology" (1).
The writers Gregory Bateson, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Lewis Carroll and
especially Maurice Blanchot have been critical foils or platforms in Hill's
work, and in these textual inspirations alone Hill provides an interesting
test case for Guattari's propositions of "machinic heterogenesis" which
intend to advance beyond Heidegger and his by now familiar problematics
of humanity and technology.
could also argue that given the peculiar realities of cyberspace, for example,
the relevance of Levinas' ideology of the "face" (2)
is challenged as well; the question is whether the socio-political realities
of new technologies and current artistic practices have delivered us into
a situation where Guattari's "new aesthetic paradigm" makes for a more compelling
description of contemporary actualities.
What is this "new aesthetic paradigm" that forms much of the basis of Guattari's Chaosmosis? Following Francisco Varela's definition of a machine as "the set of inter-relations of its components independent of the components themselves" (3), that is, machines characterized by a set of relations, or flows, and not by their particular materiality or shell of embodiment, Guattari has proposed a critique of the Heideggerian equation as set forth in his 1953 essay "The Question Concerning Technology" (4). In proposing that the fourfold Aristotelian doctrine of causality and instrumentality was insufficient to probe the essence of technology, Heidegger argued that modern technology evinced "revealing," but of the nature of "challenging," not the bringing-forth of poiesis. In regard to nature, this challenging is a "setting upon": "Everywhere everything
ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just
so that it may be on call for a further ordering. Whatever is ordered about
in this way has its own standing. We call it the standing reserve" (5).
The "standing reserve" is "the way in which everything presences that is
wrought upon by the revealing that challenges. Whatever stands by in the
sense of standing-reserve no longer stands over against us as object" (6).
Heidegger writes that a airliner sitting on a runway may appear to be an
object, yet it is really a "standing-reserve, inasmuch as it is ordered
to insure to insure the possibility of transportation," and "must be in
its whole structure and in every one of its constituent parts on call for
duty, i.e. ready for take-off."
For Heidegger although the human is the force that drives such challenging, humanity itself is challenged more originally than the energies of nature, and never itself completely becomes a standing-reserve; this challenging specific to technology is brought forth by a destiny beyond humanity and its works and drives and perception. Heidegger calls this gathering or "challenging claim" Gestell, or enframing, that "destining of revealing" (7). It is only by opening itself to this ordained encounter that humanity can be taken "into a freeing claim."
danger of technology is that humanity may miss the call to "experience...a
more primal truth"(7). Stated in the context of
a nostalgia for ancient, classical Greece where sciences and the arts were
not differentiated but united under the rubric of techné and the bringing
forth of poiesis, Heidegger holds out the hope that once again it can fall
to art to evince a "poetic revealing," uncovering the true essence of the
technological, and revealing the limits of the ceaseless ordering of nature
and existence. Art's promise is that it is both kindred to the essence of
technology and foreign to it.
Guattari questions the residual humanism of this ordering which 'reveals the real as "standing reserve"' as "essentially operated by man and understood in terms of a universal operation, travelling, flying." Guattari asks 'Does this "standing-reserve" of the machine really reside in an already-there, in terms of eternal truths, revealed to the being of man? In fact the machine speaks to the machine before speaking to man and the ontological domains that it reveals and secretes are, on each occasion, singular and precarious' (7). Guattari argues that "far from apprehending a univocal truth of being through the techne...it is a plurality of beings
|as machines which
give themselves to us the moment we acquire the pathic and cartographic
means of reaching them" (8).
For Guattari, the "machinic-technical world," at 'the "terminal" of which present-day humanity structures itself,' is buffeted by "horizons of constants and the limitation of the infinite velocities of chaos...But, this very same world of semiotic constraints is doubled, tripled, and infinitized by other worlds which under certain conditions seek only to bifurcate out of their Universes of virtuality and engender new fields of the possible" (9). Guattari is clear on how great is the importance of engendering these new fields, since "an ecology of the virtual is just as pressing as ecologies of the visible world;" Guattari even speaks of these ecologies in their more mundane and practical sense as possibly leading to what he calls a "post-media era" characterized by social creativity and active reappropriation of the media and its instruments. The "aesthetic paradigm" is central for Guattari, he makes clear in many other writings, in an ethical and political sense in reinventing forms of life, language, and social practices, in assuring survival value in the three ecologies of the environment, the socius, and the psyche (10).
articulating the "processual" capabilities of this manifold, rich and virtual
"machinic heterogenesis," Guattari tries to enunciate the qualities of such
an assemblage or configuration which "extracts its consistency by crossing
ontological thresholds, non-linear thresholds of irreversability, ontological
and phylogenetic thresholds, creative thresholds of heterogenesis and autopoiesis"
(11). The example of fractal symmetries for Guattari
shows how the notion of scale has to be altered to include the ontology
engendered by the "fractal machines" which invent the scales they traverse,
which were nevertheless "already there." In these equations the true area
of an island, for instance, is infinite, its projective area finite and
positive, but any concept of its dimension is dependent and inseparable
from point of view. These paradoxes of fractals are only comprehensible
once one has been released, and once one has been freed from interpreting,
these phenomena or assemblages in terms of "energetico-spatial-temporal
coordinates." This example of fractals can be supplemented by another, even
more familiar one pointed out by molecular biologists, that of the genetic
code imprinted by DNA, a chain of being validated and mediated by proteins,
the matter which was originally encoded;
as Jean-Pierre Dupuy and Francisco
Varela have argued, all such efforts to ground the autonomy of the living must
necessarily take the form of these paradoxical loops of autopoiesis; the
logic of the cell is one of self-production by a circular determination
between its boundaries and its dynamics, which both produce these boundaries
and is made possible by them (11). It is in this
sense that Derrida, for his part, refers to DNA as another "trace," a chain
of supplements. Such phenomena offer up a definition of complexity -- they
cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts nor are they separate from their
products. Whereas these complex systems reveal a intermixed and only apparent
hierarchical constituency they are linked up via this model of circular
causality Varela has termed "operational closure". This manner of being
Guattari writes, is not being identical to itself, but is rather a "processual,
polyphonic Being singularisable by infinitely complexifiable textures, according
to the infinite speeds which animate its virtual compositions" (12).
This "ontological relativity...is inseparable from an enunciative relativity."
In this universe, the multifarious "existential machines" cannot be mediated
by Transcendent signifiers which the sciences have long since been freed
of but "are to themselves their own material of semiotic expression."
this situation, Guattari writes, "Patently, art does not have an monopoly
on creation but it takes its capacity to invent mutant coordinates to extremes;
it engenders unprecedented, unforeseen and unthinkable qualities of being"
(13). What Guattari terms "enunciative relativity"
is called forth from the self-affirmation of the "existential nuclei," the
"autopoietic machines." This "new aesthetic paradigm" works with, by, and
through scientific and ethical paradigms, not least since these arenas operate
through similiarly creative "processual relays" -- "technoscience's machinic
Phylums are in essence creative, and because this creativity tends to connect
with the creativity of the artistic process" (14).
What Guattari, and Deleuze, have staked out here is a new relationship between
science and art. In What Is Philosophy? they argued both scientists
and artists "map chaos;" the scientists bring back "variables that
have become independent by slowing down," the artists "varieties
that no longer constitute a reproduction of the sensory in the organ but
set up a being of the sensory, a being of sensation, on an anorganic plane
of composition that is able to restore the infinite" (15).
For Guattari, it is not only the scientific machine, technical machines
as well as the mystical machine, the literary machine, to only name a
few, but "every species of machine" that is located "always at the junction
of the finite and the infinite, at this point of negotiation between complexity
and chaos" (16).This coexistence on a plane of
double immanence is proffered by the "initial chaosmosic folding." Creative
intensities are born in this potentiality of "the event-advent at the
heart of limited speeds at the heart of infinite speeds," where the virtual
is converted into the possible, the reversible into the irreversible,
or the deferred into actual difference; this "chaosmosis" does not swing
between order and disorder, being and nothingness, shape and shapelessness,
but rather is a "relative chaotisation in the confrontation with heterogenuous
states of complexity," producing sensible bifurcations "inscribed in an
irreversible temporality" that remains in play with "a-temporal reversability,"
or "the incorporeal eternal return of infinitude"(17)
best summarized for Guattari by Mallarmé's famous opening lines
in Un coup de dé s :
concludes in his poem that has been characterized as the first poem of
virtuality, or "virtuality avant la lettre " -- "All Thought emits a Throw
of the dice." Yet this would not be a Pascalian wager with pre-established
categories, but of infinitely expandable chaosmodic foldings. As Guattari
acknowledges, much of the "new aesthetic paradigm" is consonant with Marcel
Duchamp's observation many years ago that "art is a road which leads toward
regions that are no longer governed by time and space."