Friday, 24 September 2010

Wolf Becoming Anus

Many thanks to Brother G for drawing my attention to this. I'm no slacker when it comes to reading impenetrable philosophy. For instance, I've been able to read Louis Althusser *and* understand the points he's been arguing (though I do have memories of spending about an hour trying to understand two particularly dense pages in his Reading Capital). But everyone's favourite Marxist wannabe submariner has nothing on the bizarre works of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.

I know these guys are important fellas in the history of 20th century philosophy. Both of their works ran with a number of post-structuralist themes around decentering the subject, the problem of how we 'do' thought, how things constantly shift and metamorphose into other things, deterritorialisation/reterritorialisation, and a host of other issues. I've had no problem thinking through these sorts of issues in graduate essays past with recourse to good, solid materialist dialectics. But, as Martin Heidegger once noted, legibility is suicide for philosophy.

And so it is for our deceased pomo friends. With that in mind, what the hell are we supposed to make of this from their A Thousand Plateaus?
'For in the end the anus also expresses an intensity, in this case the approach to zero of a distance that cannot be decomposed without its elements changing in nature. A field of anuses, just like a pack of wolves. Does not the child, on the periphery, hold onto the wolves by his anus? The jaw descends to the anus. Hold onto those wolves by your jaw and your anus. The jaw is not a wolf jaw, it's not that simple; jaw and wolf form a multiplicity that is transformed into eye and wolf, anus and wolf, as a function of other distances, at other speeds, with other multiplicities between thresholds.' (p.36)
Answers preferably not on a 700 page tome. And please, no jokes about this blog becoming arse.


Jim Jepps said...

I'm loath to say this, because I don't really do language policing but am I being a bit over sensitive to think that describing Althusser as "everyone's favourite Marxist lady killer" is a bit, well, distasteful?

Feel free to ignore me if you think I'm wrong but seeing as he did murder his wife it feels a little bit wrong to belittle the killing in that way on a blog that's at least partly informed by feminist politics.

Sorry, genuinely not meaning to be picky or anything.

Phil said...

You're right, Jim. By the time you read this it'll be changed to reflect a rather more obscure Althusser biographical fact.

Jim Jepps said...

Cool. The new reference escapes me which makes it satisfyingly obscure.

David said...

Good grief! That quotation reminds me of the nightmares I had trying to interpret Mulholland Drive using their theories.

For me the antidote to Deleuze and Guattari’s chronic logorrhoea can be found in the writings of Noel Carroll, specifically in his 1998 book “A Philosophy of Mass Art”. The highlight is probably the chapter on ideology, in which Carroll clearly explains several competing definitions of the term (including Althusser’s), before refuting them and advancing his own.

Sadly he neglected to include an explanation of what ‘Wolf becoming anus’ means! (I guess you can't have it all...).

jgw said...

I hope so. Jim's reaction was mine as well - and, I assume, other people's.

Lobby Ludd said...

I have a vague recollection of an essay by Primo Levi on 'difficult writing'. He makes the point that it is the primary duty of the writer to make the effort to be understandable, not of the reader to understand. (He does not discount the fact that some things are difficult to understand, and that effort is required by the reader.) Perhaps that is by the by.

I accept that the paragraph you cite is taken out of its context, but still consider it to be nonsense. Could its authors paraphrase it? Could they paraphrase it, say, a year later and the meaning be consistent to that and the original? I doubt it, the authors seem to be indulging in a private use of language. As private language there is no way it can be consistent with itself, since meaning is public, not private. These are words without meaning.

Boffy said...

Come on surely the meaning is obvious, isn't it?

SamG said...

I am with Boffy here, are you lot thick or what?

David Ellis said...

Yes it is obvious. He is telling us that the arse hole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Ever since Marx put an end to philosophy it has become ever more obscurantist because as is mentioned in the post without that there is nothing.

andy newman said...

sorry, i am just a horny handed engineer, and I have never heard of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.

But does this not quite clearly refer to Freudian categories of the unconscious where th field of wolves is referring to the case of Pankejeff desrcibed in Aus der Geschichte einer infantilen Neurose

The field of anuses refers to the anale phase of child'd pschosexual development in the freudian schema.

te ansl stage is one where the child focuses inwards, and I would suggest that the above passage, while admittedly opaque, is poking fun at freud, while simulataneoulsy pointing out that consciousness of the self cannot be seperated from consciousness of the other; and that there is a fluidity between individuality and society.

just a suggestion.

David Ellis said...

`The field of anuses refers to the anale phase of child'd pschosexual development in the freudian schema.'

Ahhh, that old chestnut.

Andrew Coates said...

In his autobiograhpy, L'avenir due longtemps Althusser describes, along with a history of intellectual and political career, the mental illness that afflicted him throughout his life.

It is a tragic story, not least for his wife, Helene. It is indeed glib to refer to him as 'everyone's favourite Lady Killer'.

Alhtusser's Pour Marx is, I would have thought, accessible to most people who've got a basic background in Marxist philosophy. Lire el Capital is often difficult, not only Althusser's contribution but Balibar's and (in French editions only) Ranciere's and Macherey's. But it is worth reading as a rigorous analysis of categories, even if one ends up disagreeing with it.

As for Mille Plateaux, one of the most important aspects of it Phil is the influence it had on Negri - as is plainly visible in Empire and Multitude. Negri co-operated with Guattari - in fact I met him at Guattari's Papageno group.

I have only read it in English but felt every line was a fairly literal translation from the French. As with Althusser this kind of rendering tends to put it at a higher level of abstraction than it in fact is at. Though having read both of its authors in French (try D. on Foucault btw) I'd say they have a taste for some pretty baroque phrases and oddities.

Btw comrades told me that some of Guatarri's Papageno group had been his patients as well.

Meanwhile Suffolk County Council are privatising all their services. We were out campaigning against the policy this morning.

Betamax Minded said...

One can only conclude that this pair of philosophers have no ideas at all and have fallen back on talking absolute bollocks in the hopes people will regard them as really deep.

Would be Philosphers of the world remember...

"Interpreting the world is not a career choice, changing it is."

Doug said...

Surely all we need to know about the great Marxist Althusser is that when things kicked off in France in 1968 he scuttled off to Torquay for the duration. My hero.

harpymarx said...

Phil, I am kinda astonished as someone who ought to know better that it didn't occur to you when you wrote, "everyone's favourite Marxist lady killer" is offensive. The fact jim, in this case, had to bring attention to it, again, Phil did it not occur to you that it's not funny in any way, you have a political consciousness, don't you?

Was it meant to be funny, a glib attempt to make humour out of the fact Althusser strangled his wife? I do take umbrage as many women are murdered by current or x-partners, that's a reality and no laughing matter.

I can also imagine that there will be some who think I am taking this too seriously but I just don't see violence against women as funny.

Some things just aint funny, no matter what motives lie behind the comment.

Btw: Althusser, utterly over-rated.

Phil said...

It was an unacceptable, glib attempt to get a cheap laugh. Proof that I can be pretty thoughtless too. Criticisms duly noted - it won't happen again.

harpymarx said...

Good to see that Phil :)