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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Deleuze, Guattari, Caillois and the lobster

On page 53 or Mille Plateaux, there is a picture of a lobster under one of the puzzling titles, all attached to a puzzling Chronotope, in that loaded gun of a book – a book that translates universal history into the Pynchonian idiom of the shaggy dog story.

I was not thinking of that book when I began my own lobster’s tale, but surely Geoffroy’s homard is not so far away from D and G’s appropriation of Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger. The story is told in the Professor’s voice (and remember, that voice becomes more and more animal as the tale moves on), and the choice of the lobster is emphasized from the beginning:

Dieu est un Homard ou une double-pince, un double-bind. Ce
n'est pas seulement les strates qui vont par deux au moins, mais
d'une autre façon chaque strate est double ( elle aura elle-même
plusieurs couches ). Chaque strate présente en effet des phénomènes
constitutifs de double articulation.

(God is a lobster or a double-claw, a double bind. It is not only the strata which pair up into twos at the very least, but in another fashion each strata is double (it will itself have many levels). Each strata presents, in effect, phenomena constitutive of a double articulation.)

One has to remember that Professor Challenger’s assertions are not signed by Deleuze and Guattari – no more than Socrates’ are signed by Plato. And who is this Professor Challenger? “The professor besides was neither a geologist nor a biologist, not even a linguist, an ethnologist, or a psychoanalyst, and it has been a long time that we have forgotten just what his specialty was.”

The tale of the lobster, or of analogies in science, is indeed a tale of specializations. In a wonderfully synoptic passage in his Philosophy of Money, Simmel writes that, in the modern condition, there are three inescapable large social factors – Mauss might have said total social facts – which engage all citizens: Law, Money, and “Intellectuality” – education/science. The tale as told by Simmel would go like this: where the early modern person could well escape the law (there was no real developed system of policing in Europe before the 18th century, and it took Napoleon’s troops to introduce a real police network in the German and Italian countryside in the 19th century), and could as well escape education, and could live largely on barter and home grown products (thus avoiding, for the most part, monetary transactions), it was impossible to escape religion. Modernization made religion escapable – in fact, one of the reasons the question of religion became so heated, and existed as a long time as one of the essential liberal parameters, was just the question of its escapability. But at the end of the modernization process, there was a new order of social factors that encircle the individual. One of them was the massive fact of education and science.

And it is by this route that we proceed to the science of analogies and exactly what kind of specialization such a science entails.

Geoffroy and Fourier, to be sure, were working in different intellectual domains in the 1820s, but they both inserted a notion of analogy that pointed to function, and operated through distortion – that is, the distortion of the impressions of common sense. Common sense sees the lobster crawling about on his belly – Geoffrey sees the lobster crawling about on his side. Fourier saw that underneath the homogenous desire is a world of perverse ones, a world that requires analogical vision. Analogy, thus, is not simply surface resemblence – for the surface is another strata, to speak like Professor Challenger, whereas the deep structure has a different form and content.

This is an intellectual discovery that is continually being made by Challengers and Columbuses. Among the discoverers is Roger Caillois.

Caillois is a man whose ‘specialization’ has also been long forgotten. Surrealist, student of Mauss, companion of Bataille, enemy of Borges, philosopher – and the sole practitioner of diagonal science, which takes up the utopian methodology of Fourier and seeks to reknit the disjecta membra of the world, or the map of the world, that has been dissected and allotted to various scientific disciplines. Caillois was fond of symmetries, crystals, and of metaphors that crystallized commonalities that are rejected by all the scientific specialists, each equipped with one lens of the great fly eye that views the entirety of the world, its formulas and their flow, each adjusted to a strictly delimited tissue of experience.

“Man, for the price of a thousand triumphs, a thousand victories ove rthe most specious ambushes, has without doubt distributed the givens of the universe according to the most fecund, the most coherent, and the most pertinent classifications. But this perspective surely does not exhaust the diverse combinations that are possible. It leaves to the side the transversal progresses of nature, of which one observes the power in the most far apart of domains, and of which I am going to give some poor examples. Such progresses straddle the classifications in use. Science can do little to restrain them as they are by definition interdisciplinary. They demand, besides, in order ot appear, the approaching of givens that are distant from each other, of which the study is pursued by specialists necessarily living in constant ignorance of each other’s work. However, one cannot exclude that these transversal cuts fill an indispensable role in explaining these phenomena which, in isolation, appear each time as aberrant, but of which the signification would appear for our better perception if one dared to align these exceptions…” [O, 482, my translation]

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