Guattari’s Ecosophy and Nature as Machinic Assemblages: In Reading Literatures and Films by Kobo Abe

In this paper I will explore Guattari’s tactical idea of ecosophy (or virtual ecology) as the integrative moment of his itinerary in both theory and practice. In the mid 1970s Deleuze began using the term “strange ecology” in the mid 1970s, in his Dialogues with Claire Parnet, much earlier than Guattari, who began to engage with the problematics of ecology in the mid 1980s. In reference to literary authors such as Woolf, Melville, and Hofmannsthal, Deleuze (and Parnet) raised the notion of “unnatural participation” or “participation (or nuptials) against nature,” which later in A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari elaborated further in their detailed conceptualisation of “becoming” (woman, animal, and imperceptible). Guattari, for his part, also proceeded with this line of thought by proposing the notion of “the production of subjectivity,” combined with concepts such as “absorbent subjectivity” or “partial or pathic subjectivity” in his late work Chaosmosis. As Deleuze in Dialogues made a remark on the equivalence between a literary author and a traitor (or trickster), one of tasks of the novelist is “to lose one’s identity and face.” By writing something, the writer has to (can) become something itself, at the same time he or she has to disappear, to become unknown (Dialogue 33). The writer can invent a kind of field, environment, and ambience by becoming objects in writing (referents). Such writing always consists of “working between the two” rather than “working together” (ibid., 13), where “we are desert but populated by tribes, flora and fauna” (ibid., 9). Guattari’s late writings on ecosophy were drawn from the earlier conceptions of Deleuze. In this context, Japanese writer Kobo Abe must be addressed. Even a cursory Guattarian-influenced reading of two of his novels (later made into films in which he collaborated), The Woman in the Dunes and The Face of Another, affords us a certain creative interpretation on Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy, and Guattari’s ecosophy especially. In the mid 1980s, Guattari and Abe met for discussions a couple of times. Inspired by Abe’s avant-garde works in his novels and films, rather than merely apply the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari to Abe’s work this paper will focus on the perspective of “Nature as machnic assemblages” in Guattari’s late works.

Outtake

By looking at Dennis Adams’s 1998 film Outtake—a film that consists of Adams distributing photographic copies of 416 separate frames of Ulrike Meinhof’s 1969 film Bambule—I will discuss how the copying and redistributing of the seventeen-second sequence of Meinhof’s film asks us to think about a rather complex set of relations from difference to repetition, copy to cinema, cinema to the remake, the remake to history, and history to the recognition and repetition of images. What makes Outtake technically interesting in terms of copying is that it is a parody of the remake. Adams re-recorded the film as a site-specific art piece by attaching a camera to his arm as he distributed each still frame shot (one by one) to any passer-by who would take one.

Outtake literally copies the seventeen seconds of Bamuble. Nevertheless, the pace and the performance of this film on the Kurfurstendamm in Berlin comments on the fact that the film is both recognisable as a film and not recognisable as a copy of Meinhof’s film (even though it enacts the copying and distribution of her film). The films ask us to reconsider the relation of modern art to the culture of appropriation. But, more importantly, it asks us to consider the propriety of the image: How can one own an image if an image is only recognisable as an image once it has been repeated?

Outtake asks us to think about the semantics of what constitutes an image, presenting the image as volatile—vibrating, modulating, touching the mind with the power to unthink (disassociate) relations, images, and events. This talk will use Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (1994) to think about how repetition, appropriation, and the practice of unthinking challenges our understanding of copyright and, with it, the ability to own images or tether them to dogmatic thinking. Due to increasingly more restrictive copyright legislation, the artistic practice of appropriation has recently resulted in contentious copyright issues, which makes this art practice difficult if not illegal. A number of law cases have emerged that investigate the division between what constitutes a transformative work from a derivative one (as for example the copyright infringement cases against Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, and Jeff Koons).

Deleuze describes the work of repetition as “a work of inventing vibrations, rotations, whirlings, gravitations, dances or leaps which directly touch the mind.” It is this repetition of images, sounds, and sequences that allows us to recognise the work of art as a unique work (what is a unique work is always derivative, it must be recognised as such). But, according to Deleuze, with repetition also comes transgression—that is, repetition questions the unique work by treating it ironically, thus troubling any authorial claims to copyright. Repetition’s double articulation challenges how we determine copyright in the case of a work of art.

Nobody recognises Meinhof’s handiwork in the image that is handed out. It is only in the reassemblage of images that any resemblance to the “original” film takes place. Yet, what takes place is an assemblage of distribution or a dispersal of an abandoned work.

References

Deleuze, Gilles. 1994. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press.

Machinic Companions: Exploring Nonhuman Perceptions, Temporalities and Expressions

Scientific research needs objects and apparatuses for investigations, but usually forgets them when it retrospectively constructs objectivity. Karen Barad refers to this as a “quantum entanglement” between the object and the “agencies of observation.” In a guided screening of my film prendas—ngangas—enquisos—machines (16 mm, Cuba, 2014), I will trace how research tools are not to be understood as somnambulant immobilities but as intensive ecological and relational forces with autonomous qualities. The camera, for example, is undoubtedly a moving “body” with expressive capacities, formed by the entanglement of the different rhythmic worlds, rather than just cultural and technical equipment. It breathes. It doesn’t “capture” reality but dynamically disturbs it, or moves conjointly with its surroundings. It never remains at one speed or one affect throughout a film, but each change of speed and each affect, every tiny turn inside my head, becomes a real movement. The camera maintains a state of constant change and becoming together, or at the same time. It doesn’t conflate, but creates human and nonhuman assemblages by actualising symbiotic sensibilities in motion. Describing machinic (opposed to mechanistic) relations or alliances, Deleuze and Guattari come up with the seductive wording “machinic phylum.” Unlike biology’s classical animal or plant phylum, the machinic phylum decodes kingdoms, classes, orders, and families, and crosses them diagonally. The machinic phylum is natural and artificial, a “destratifying transversality.” The machinic phylum is helpful as it enables us to understand technology not just as tied to a human “evolution” but also as a living system that folds, unfolds, and refolds organic and machinic matter into one another. Learning from and accessing nonhuman perceptions, temporalities, and expressions turns a camera into a machinic companion and the making of art into a situated practice of ecology.

Durations of Knowing: Towards Attentive Anthropological Filmmaking

To elaborate a critique on the affiliation between anthropological filmmaking and the colonial projects of the West, we attempt to shift the attention from the conditions of representation to the questioning of the role representation plays in the techniques of power and domination. Our contribution will try to provide some examples that allow representation to be moved to a secondary position of importance and that highlight nonrepresentational features of film practice that still allow for a critical perspective.

Anthropological film and image production can be characterised (1) as a practice of perceiving and recording visible forms of doing and (2) as being in a direct relationship to knowledge on both sides of a recording device. One might say that such films are knowledge records. One of the general characteristics of film is duration; thus, anthropological films might be said to present durational knowledge. Our contribution will discuss the relationship between film practice and practices of understanding and comprehension as determined by two qualities: duration and attention.

Contrary to identifying the practices of understanding as constructing an immediate concept of a real temporal event, we will attempt to outline some characteristics of durational knowledge. We will rely on the concept of duration as a qualitative multiplicity elaborated by Bergson and Deleuze. According to them, multiplicity is heterogeneous and continuous, inexpressible in a unified manner. What is most important about knowledge as multiplicity is that it does not resemble the result of its implementation, and what is most important about film as a multiplicity is that it does not resemble what was filmed. For Deleuze, conditioned practices are empirical and individuated while the condition of this individuation will be different from the former, and thus impersonal and pre-individual. This allows us to say that knowledge and film practices are not representations of reality, rather they are a differential element of the reality without identity, they are virtualities.

While singling out virtualities, anthropological film also follows corporeal events. It attends a situation, a thing, or a subject. Attention is an event of following and of creation of relation, meaning that one pays attention to the others’ attention. Relations of attention are intensive, so they can hardly be accumulated and measured, but they can be described by their degree of power. We will present these two notions based on our own film work and compare them with the speculative use of images by French sociologist of science Roger Caillois.

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