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<eyebeam><blast> Barthes, Derrida and Deleuze/Guattari

Dear Brian Holmes and Sjoukje van der Meulen

Sjoukje van der Meulen asked:

>"How useful, for example, would be the work of Barthes and Derrida as a
>starting point for analysing hypertext? What is the importance of
>Deleuze & Guattari's influential idea of the rhizome as a philosophical
>framework for the web?"

Brian Stated:

>But I'm struck by the operations of
>what Raymond Williams calls the "selective tradition." It seems to me
>that figures like Barthes, Derrida and Deleuze/Guattari conceived their
>writing tactically, in response to the rigid disciplinary structures
>that governed intellectual and social life in sixties France. Plus they
>had very different positions - Barthes beginning very close to the
>Communist Party, Brecht, Russian formalism, and so on, Deleuze more
>Maoist, encouraging transgressions of the rationalized body, what he
>called "becoming-animal,"  Derrida maintaining a philosophical respect
>for the gulf between the disseminating letter and the absolute,
>unattainable, never-embodied or knowable Law. In their different ways,
>each sought a confrontation with a powerful alterity. But it's as 
>though a kind of selection had operated in the eighties, particularly 
>in the American universities. The divergent positions are now conflated 
>into celebrations of a free-floating textual indeterminacy which 
>banishes any form of agency, subjective or otherwise.

In terms of my own writing, I think of Barthes, Derrida and
Deleuze/Guattari as being central to examining hypertext, virtual
reality, new experimental forms of recombinatorial media; as presenting
an innitial set of ideas to build on; to refer to. We live in a
different time... these new media environments create a set of new
relations, although many relevant issues are brought up by those
thinkers.  It does not bother me that they have different political
motivations. What is of interest is how we can come to understand these
new forms of media in relation to previous observations about media, as
we build a set of ideas about the present. I do not wish to banish
agency, I wish to examine agency in relation to the complexity of
contemporary media context: to examine interaction with works of art; to
examine aspects of inter-authorship; to explore intelligent feedback
mechanisms;  to observe the nature of agency within complex
inter-authored systems; within experiential environments.

Brian states:

>And the infinite permutations
>of semiotic combinatory systems or the restless prowling of
>schizophrenic desire fit in perfectly with contemporary capitalism's
>need for the constant proliferation of short-lived, magnetically
>attractive symbolic products, tailored for highly individualized
>consumption... Perfectly adapted to the anti-disciplinary transmission
>structure of the internet.

I think the question is much more complex than you pose it. I also think
that as an artist one can embody paradox -- a paradox that both wishes
to illuminate how meaning arises in such environments, while at the same
time authoring or inter-authoring the environment to function as a work
of art.


Below is More from my Ph. D.  (under construction)
"Recombinant Poetics: Construction and Navigation in Interactive Art"

Deleuze and Guattari's description of the rhizome in A Thousand Plateaus
is relevant here:

The rhizome is an acentered, non hierarchical, non signifying system
without a General and without an organising memory or central automaton,
defined solely by a circulation of states... Unlike a structure, which
is defined by a set of points and positions, with binary relations
between the points and the bi-univocal relationships between the
positions, the rhizome is made only of lines: lines of segmentarity and
stratification as its dimensions and the line of flight or
deterritorialization as the maximum dimension after which the
multiplicity undergoes a metamorphosis, changes in nature. (Deleuze &
Guattari, 1987, p.21)

Each experienced operative poetic element constitutes a potential "line
of flight" and will subsequently be discussed as shifting or oscillating
fields. Thus, as elements are permutated and experienced by the viewer,
"fields of readings," (see also N. Katherine Hayles) through poetic
construction, are placed in juxtaposition and act upon each other,
perceptual shifts. The viewer's perceptual field co-mingles with a
and its disruption and/or use. As a "rhizomatic" vehicle, the computer
potentially acts as a central automaton, containing elements of
and subsequent deterritorialisation. The work is one territory of the
Rhizome, multiple viewers and alternate contexts of examination extend
this rhizome across differeing kinds of space.

When we are asked to reflect on the complexity of contemporary
electronic environments ranging from hyper-text environments to virtual
worlds exhibiting complex authored behaviours, one can see the necessity
for the creation of an environment inviting varying juxtapositions of
most complex nature. We could look at this as an extreme extension of
realm of "Pragmatics," taking into account the qualifying aspects of the
complete digital environment in terms of text, image and sound
interrelation. Derrida states:  "Every sign, linguistic or
non-linguistic...can...break with every given context, engendering [and
inscribing itself in] an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is
absolutely illimitable. " (1988, 79; bracketed addition by Derrida into
self quoted text) 1

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari state:

"Consistency is neither totalizing nor structuring; rather it is
deterritorializing (a biological stratum, for example, evolves not
according to statistical phenomena but rather according to cutting edges
deterritorialization). The security, tranquillity, and homeostatic
equilibrium of the strata are thus never completely guaranteed: to
regain a
plane of consistency that inserts into itself the most diverse systems
stratification and jumps from one to the other, it suffices to prolong
lines of flight working the strata, to connect the dots, to conjugate
processes of deterritorialization. We have seen that signifiance and
interpretation, consciousness and passion, can prolong themselves
these lines, and at the same time open out onto a properly diagrammatic
experience. All of these states or modes of the abstract machine coexist
what we call the machinic assemblage. The assemblage has two poles or
vectors: one vector is oriented toward the strata, upon which it
distributes territories, relative deterritorializations, and
reterritorializations;  the other is oriented toward the plane of
consistency or destratification, upon which it conjugates processes of
deterritorialization, carrying them to the absolute of the earth. It is
along its stratic vector that the assemblage differentiates a form of
expression (from the standpoint of which it appears as a collective
assemblage of bodies); it fits one form to the other, one manifestation
the other, placing them in reciprocal presupposition. but along its
diagrammatic or destratified vector, it no longer has two sides; all it
retains are traits of expression and content from which it extracts
of deterritorialization that add together and cutting edges that

"A regime of signs has more than just two components. It has in fact
of them, which form the object of Pragmatics. the first was the
component, which shows how a form of expression located on the language
stratum always appeals to several combined regimes, in other words, how
every regime of signs or semiotic is concretely mixed, On the level of
one can abstract forms of content, most successfully  if emphasis is
on the mixture of regimes in the form of expression:  one should not
however conclude from this predominance of a regime constituting a
semiology and unifying forms. The second, transformational, component,
shows one abstract regime can be translated, transformed into another,
especially how it can be created from other regimes. This second
is obviously more profound, because all mixed regimes presuppose that
transformations from one regime to another, past, present, or potential
a function of the creation of new regimes). Once again, one abstracts,
can abstract content, since the analysis is limited to metamorphoses
internal to the form of expression, even though the form of expression
not adequate to account for them. The third component is diagrammatic:
consists in taking regimes of signs or forms of expression and exacting
from them particle-signs that are no longer formalized but instead
constitute unformed traits capable of combining with one another. this
the height of abstraction, but also the moment at which abstraction
real; everything operates through abstract-real machines (which have
and dates). One can abstract forms of content, but one must
abstract forms of expression; for what is retained of each is only
traits. That is why an abstract machine that would operate purely on the
level of language is an absurdity. It is clear that this diagrammatic
component is in turn more profound than the transformational component:
creation-transformations of a regime of signs operate by the emergence 
ever-new abstract machines. Finally, the last, properly machinic,
is meant to show how abstract machines are effectuated in concrete
assemblages; it is these assemblages that give discreet form to traits
content - the two forms being in reciprocal oresupposition, or having a
necessary, unformed relation that once again prevents  the form of
expression from behaving as though it were self-sufficient (although it
independent or distinct in a strictly formal way.)"

"Thus pragmatics (or schizoanalysis) can be represented by four circular
components that bud and form rhizomes." (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987,

Recombinant Poetics seeks to create a technological apparatus that
the above relations by rendering them experiential in nature, thus
generating a meta-machinic assemblage. This will be elucidated in a
subsequent chapter. We will here seek to define a series of relations
might inform the potential operative media-contents of such an

Central to the construction of a Recombinant Poetic mechanism is the
concept of the "conceptual machine." A "conceptual machine" can be
as a machine engendered by language and in some cases via images. In the
next chapter we will expand on this description and define how the
of the conceptual machine can bridge artistic, philosophical and
technological realms. Such "conceptual machines" are generative by
In an essay entitled Post-modern Generative Fiction, Bruce Morrissette
states that

"In fact, any sort of artistic intentionality constitutes a kind of
"generator," as does the deliberate adherence to outward forms such as
rhyme schemes, stanzas, cantos, or chapters. As we shall see, it is not
always easy to distinguish between generative formulas and self-imposed
forms or limits, such as a sonnet with its fourteen lines, its
and its tercets." (Morissette, 1975, p. 253)

In a Recombinant Poetic work, the "generator" potentially becomes part
the work itself. Thus the production of the work can be viewed in a
meta-operative fashion. This enables the user of the system to both
entertain the functionality of the generator, working on one part of the
process of the production of the work, as well as the "output" from the
generator, formed through interaction with the generator as another part
this process of production/interaction. Each aspect of the process is
experiential in relation to a meaning/becoming, that we will elaborate
in a subsequent chapter. Morissette continues in his analysis of

"Our object here is to present a synchronic, contemporary analysis of
generative theory and practice in post-modern literature and film.
the novel and the film of fiction are our chief interests, some
are required into nonfictional areas, especially in literature. This
becomes apparent if we start by dividing types of post-modern generators
into two main classes, linguistic generators and situational generators.
The latter almost inevitably produce fictional structures, while the
may be limited to poetry, or to texts of non-fiction prose. The most
evolved generator works will contain both types. "(Morissette, 1975, p.

We can state that works exploring Recombinant Poetics would seek to be
"linguistic" and  "situational" generators. Unlike Morissette, we are
seeing a generator of complex poetic worlds containing a number of media
elements of text, image and sound, as well as time-based media. We must
remember that virtual space is a fictional space; an illusion, even
it may be directly tied to non-fictional, physical elements or

Deleuze / Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis:  University
Minnesota Press
Johnson, Barbara, ed. Freedom and Interpretation. New York: Basic Books,
1993. pps 144-146

DERRIDA, J. (1988) Limited Inc. Evanston, Il. : Northwestern University
Press p.79

MORISSETTE, B. (1975) Post-Modern Generative fiction. Critical Inquiry.
Winter 1975. 254


Bridging the Artistic and Literary with the Technological

Bridging the Artistic and Literary to a technological history, and
to Recombinant Poetics, is the notion of viewer association triggered
through "conceptual machines." We have briefly discussed above,
machines in relation to the "cut up method." To further our definition:
"conceptual machine" can be defined as a machine engendered by language
in some cases via images. In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuse and Guattari discuss
related notion of "Desiring- Machines." (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983,

"Desiring-machines are binary machines, obeying a binary law or set of
rules governing associations: one machine is always coupled with
The productive synthesis, the production of production, is inherently
connective in nature: "and..." "and then..." This is because there is
always a flow producing machine connected to it that interrupts or draws
off part of this flow (the breast-the mouth). And because the first
is in turn connected to another whose flow it interrupts or partially
drains off, the binary series is linear in every direction. Desire
constantly couples continuous flows and partial objects that are by
fragmentary or fragmented. Desire causes the current to flow, itself
in turn, and breaks the flows... "

"...Every "object' presupposes the continuity of a flow; every flow, the
fragmentation of an object. Doubtless each organ machine interprets the
entire world from the perspective of its own flux, from the point of
of the energy that flows from it: the eye interprets everything-
understanding, shitting, fucking- in terms of seeing. But a connection
another machine is always established along a traverse path, so that one
machine interrupts the current of the other or "sees" its own current
interrupted." (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, pps. 5& 6)

Our "conceptual machine" functions as a desiring-machine, in fact the
techo-poetic prototype created for this project has been entitled - The
World Generator / The Engine of Desire. It is interesting to note that
Deleuze and Guattari are looking at the machine as being both a
and/or a mechanical construct. This is particularly relevant to our
in that we are specifically exploring interaction between biological and
electro-mechanical entities within organism-like systems. In the article
Generative Systems in Visual Art; Diane Kirkpatrick states:

Visual Artists today seem to be drawn to two divergent kinds of systems.
Through the transformation of visual information, both systems offer
insights into some of the ways in which we understand the world, some of
the ways in which our perception functions, and some of the ways we
about perceptions of information. The first system sets up a closed
analytic structure which becomes a generator as each of its possible
internal relationships is explored and made visible. Much of the work
such a system falls under the critical label of "conceptual art." The
second kind of artistic generative system creates one work or idea that
uses that to generate the next, which in turn generates the next and so
(Such a system is closer to the sort which Ludwig Bertalanffy calls
"organic systems," while a closed  analytic system resembles what
Bertalanffy terms  "analytic machine theoretical.") (in Generative
Literature and Generative Art, 1983, p. 17)

The kind of "insights" that Kirkpatrick discusses are central to our
project, where we have sough to create both a "poetic" system as well as
functioning discourse mechanism: a meta-machinic assemblage (Deleuze and
Guattari, 1987, pps. 144-146); enabling the examination of specific
juxtapositions of media elements, promoting  "insights into some of the
ways in which we understand the world, some of the ways in which our
perception functions, and some of the ways we think about perceptions of
information." as well as  enabling the exploration of emergent content
related to the 2nd class of generative system she describes, where "one
work or idea that uses that to generate the next, which in turn
the next and so on." I will here seek to further clarify the notion of
conceptual machine. As stated above; A "conceptual machine" can be
as a machine engendered by language and in some cases via images. Such
"language" can take many forms:
* a description of a process as in the emergent textual mechanisms of
Lewitt used to generate visual works of art;
* a recipe as in the cut-up works of Lewis Carroll, Tristan Tzara and
Dada and Surrealist artists;
* a poetic text as in Duchamp's Green box, Fluxus Boxes and operative
poetic works by Raymond Queneau;
* a working virtual model as in digital simulations. A flight simulator
functions as a conceptual machine;
* in the form of language or images, "translated" onto a punched card
in the Jacquard loom and Analytical Engine);
* via an algorithm as in computer programs;
* through the operative properties of computer code as linked to a
graphical user interface and/or expressive external device (robot,
videodisc, etc.);

In both Anti-Oedipus as well as in the Kirkpatrick text, one could make
connection to a series of ideas which were initially explored in terms
cybernetics. An organism-like, self organising system is one that
a form of equilibrium with the elements and the processes that
it. We will see that we are attempting to construct a "conceptual
of poetic elements, to function in a self-organising manner within a
computer-based environment, in the service of the experiential
of complexity. This project also seeks to enable a generative function
related to the construction and navigation of artistic content; the
"production of production" as stated above by Deleuse and Guattari.

"'The free living organism and its environment, taken together, form an
absolute system... the two parts act and re-act on one another.'
(Ashby,1952) This notion is not new, not with Ashby or even Wiener, for
Ashby quotes scientists as early as 1906 who made the same observations.
But Ashby refines it, introducing other concepts such as stability (what
MacKay called equilibrium), a mode of survival in the organism. Or in
intelligent system of any description. A key passage focuses this idea: 
determinate 'machine' changes from a form that produces chaotic,
behaviour to a form in which the parts are so coordinated that the whole
stable, acting to maintain certain variables within certain limits-how
this happen?" The answer is that the machine is a self-organizing system
that responds to stimuli, changing its behaviour, and in some sense its
shape, in order to achieve stability- what Ashby chose to call
ultrastability."(McCORDUCK, 1979, pps. 82-83)

Thus the notion of the "conceptual machine," functioning in a
self-organising manner within the apparatus of the computer, is a
reflection of the software / hardware paradigm. We have sought to
examine a
relevant literary and artistic history which could be used to inform the
construction of an operative prototype, exploring particular aspects of
complexity within an experiential, emergent environment. Instead of the
system being "a determinate machine," the emergent nature of the project
suggests that we are enabling the creation of an "indeterminate
made operational through the construction and navigation of a fixed
of elements as explored by an engaged user of the system.

W.Ross Ashby
ASHBY, W. (1952) Design for a Brain. New York: Wiley. Also appeared as
"Design for a Brain," Electronic Engineering, 20 (1948), 379-383. these
references are from the corrected 1954 edition of the Book.

CAWS, M. (1982) A Throw of The Dice Will Never Annul Chance in  Stephane
Mallarmé. Selected Poetry and Prose. New York:  New Directions

Gilles Deleuze
DELEUZE, G. (1993) The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Minneapolis and
London: University of Minnesota Press p.31

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia. Preface by Michel Foucault. Trans. by Robert Hurley, Mark
Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis, MN: University of
Minnesota Press, 1983.  p. 5

Umberto Eco
ECO, U. (1989) The Open Work.. Cambridge, MA:  The President and Fellows
Harvard College p.8

Nick Herbert
HERBERT, N. (1985) Quantum Reality. London:  Rider and Company

david leach, Dianne Kirkpatrick
KIRKPATRICK, D. (1983) Generative systems in Visual Art  in  Generative
Literature and Generative Art: New Essays. edited by David Leach.
Fredericton, N.B., Canada:  York Press,  p. 17

McCORDUCK, P. (1979) Machines Who Think. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and
Company pps.82 - 83


Bill Seaman
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