Sunday, October 21, 2007

Labyrinth of the Straight Line

Using the example of the caucus-race in Alice in Wonderland, Deleuze lays out the principles of the ideal game (The Logic of Sense, "Tenth Series of the Ideal Game"):

  1. There are no preexisting rules, each move invents its own rules; it bears upon its own rule.

  2. Far from dividing and apportioning chance in a really distinct number of throws, all throws affirm chance and endlessly ramify it with each throw.

  3. The throws therefore are not really or numerically distinct. They are qualitatively distinct, but are the qualitative forms of a single cast which is ontologically one.

He offers some further description:

The unique cast is a chaos, each throw of which is a fragment. Each throw operates a distribution of singularities, a constellation. But instead of dividing a closed space between fixed results which correspond to hypotheses, the mobile results are distributed in the open space of the unique and undivided cast. This is a nomadic and non-sedentary distribution, wherein each system of singularities communicates and resonates with the others, being at once implicated by the others and implicating them in the most important cast. It is the game of problems and the question, no longer the game of the categorical and the hypothetical.

(pp. 59-60, Deleuze's emphasis)

The ideal game can only be thought as nonsense, and for that reason "it is the reality of thought itself and the unconscious of pure reason" (p. 60). Is freedom then nonsense? Is freedom the affirmation and ramification of chance, the reality of thought and the unconscious of reason? We'll see if that isn't beside the point.

Deleuze revisits the eternal return, noting two types; one which is cyclical, the other which occurs on a straight line. "Do we then sense the approach of an eternal return no longer having anything to do with the cycle, or indeed of the entrance to a labyrinth, all the more terrible since it is the labyrinth of the unique line, straight and without thickness" (p. 64). I'm a bit confused about the relation between the line of Aion and the living present:

The present does not contradict the Aion; on the contrary, it is the present as being of reason which is subdivided ad infinitum into something that has just happened and something that is going to happen, always flying in both directions at once. The other present, the living present, happens and brings about the event. But the event nonetheless retains an eternal truth upon the line of the Aion, which divides it eternally into a proximate past and an immanent future.

(p. 63)

I'm lost. I'm looking to the living because Deleuze asks whether the terrible labyrinth of the straight line commands an ethics of Effects (p. 62), and I can imagine at least an ethical relation to living beings. On what model, though, do I think an ethics of Effects? Not morality, for that is the model for games with other principles, and I have the impression that Deleuze has laid out the principles of the ideal game in order to get at a new model for thought and conduct. The ideal game is "without responsibility" (p. 60). The thought implies that the ideal game has no relation to ethics. We could look to an ethics inscribed in its principles (which must not be confused with rules in this case), but if there is an ethics in its playing it does not involve responsibility. Do voices carry in the labyrinth of the straight line, calls and responses, any voice whatsoever? It has no thinkness. It is not a tube, but precisely a line. Would Deleuze's ethics of Effects then be an ethics without communication, or would it be totally enveloped in communications and resonances? Does it matter to whom something communicates? Does the labyrinth of the straight line communicate with the living present?

How is that we have personal relations with ideational configurations? The question's been passing through my mind and that may explain some of the questions I am posing about the ethics of Effects. Deleuze's philosophy, it may be said, is not personalistic. However, the effect of calling for an ethical relation to Effects–and in addition Deleuze's idea of the eternal return asks to be thought of as ethical–is to call forth a person for whom projects and relations can be ethical. This may be a profoundly self-centered ethics, about the proper care of the Thinker; yet on the other hand it may be extremely broad, commanding us to accept responsibility for farflung Effects. I can only speculate. The labyrinth of the straight line has me tied in knots.

For those who might say my concern for the personal in an ethics of Effects is out of place, I am genuinely curious to learn how an ethics without persons is being thought. We might begin with the question, What is an ethical relation to nonsense?

Labels: , , ,

posted by Fido the Yak at 8:10 AM.


Anonymous Yusef said...

"What is an ethical relation to nonsense?"

Can you explain what you're looking for here a little better?

If I was responsible for supplying flight coordinates to a pilot but instead gave twinkle twinkle little star, I don't think it would be said I had an ethical relation to nonsense.

If I was responsible for supplying a bedtime story to a young girl, and gave twinkle twinkle little star, I think that would be an ethical relation to nonsense.

October 23, 2007 7:41 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

In those examples I see ethical relations to other people, to crew and passengers on the one hand, and to a young girl on the other. Of course that latter example also means that there is a relation to nonsense, though it wasn't what I had in mind. I had in mind something more like nonsense for the sake of nonsense. I kind of had in mind the case of free jazz, which almost fits Deleuze's description of the ideal game. (I was going to post a video of Don Cherry, Rashied Ali and James Blood Ulmer which I can't find now on YouTube, but showed an audience looking awfully bored for the first five minutes, which touches on the question of whether the ideal game would be interesting to anybody, as Deleuze says it wouldn't. Ali was totally into it, for sure.) There are ethical relations when any art is displayed or performed. Since the commitment to art is usually deeper or broader than the commitment to display, there may be on the part of artists (and amateurs and connoisseurs to an extent) a cultivation of a capacity to play with nonsense, and it might look like nonsense for the sake of nonsense. Does it make sense to speak of an ethical relation to nonsense for it's own sake? Does the adult care giver who learns nonsense stories, riddles, and games do so for the sake of nonsense? Should he?

I guess I had in mind the question of whether a relation to nonsense, like playing the ideal game, is truly liberating. I think there are moments in history or in life history when it is, but it can become dull, deadening even. Anyway, an idea that we should liberate ourselves with or through nonsense doesn't strike me as a completely ethical imperative. It's more about a relation of the self to the self. I think of ethics perhaps in a too restricted fashion as a relation between self and others. Of course, you can't have a completely ethical relation with others if the self isn't free. So perhaps Deleuze is suggesting that freeing oneself is a step on the path to an ethics of Effects. But that's not quite right either, I'm afraid, because there is also a freeing oneself of the self, and after that I'm unsure of the road to an ethics. To jump ahead:

"Nietzsche establishes the effective ideal game. We do not seek in Freud an explorer of human depths and oginary sense, but rather the prodigious discoverer of the machinery of the unconscious by means of which sense is produced always as a function of nonsense. And how could we not feel that our freedom and strength reside, not in the divine universal nor in the human personality, but in these singularities which are more us than we ourselves are, more divine that the gods, as they animate concretely poem and aphorism, permanent revolution and partial action? What is bureaucratic in these fantastic machines which are peoples and poems? It suffices that we dissipate ourselves a little, that we be able to be at the surface, that we stretch our skin like a drum, in order that the 'great politics' begin. An empty square for neither man nor god; singularities which are neither general nor individual, neither personal nor universal. All of this is traversed by circulations, echoes, and events which produce more sense, more freedom, and more strength than man has ever dreamed of, or God ever conceived. Today's task is to make the empty square circulate and to make pre-individual and nonpersonal singularities speak–in short, to produce sense" (pp. 72-73).

I'm critical of this position because I think we all are condemned to personhood. It thus strikes me as paradoxical, optimistic, and not genuinely ethical. I don't want to cling to my beliefs, but I have yet to meet anybody who doesn't want to treated as a person, despite their best efforts, which I acknowledge. So I ask, Who cares about freedom, strength and sense? And if the answer is, "Nobody cares about freedom, strength and sense," why should I pay heed?

You may be in a very good position to criticize my criticisms, so I hope this has given you a sense what I'm looking for.

October 24, 2007 9:29 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

It occurred to me your question "What is an ethical relation to nonsense?" has meaning in terms of one of your recent comments to me: "form is retrospective to the event." If form is retrospective to the event, the event is encountered as formless( nonsense?) One is not encountering the event as one "informed" - one is playing by ear, so to speak. I'll leave this fragmentary, because I have no idea if you'll relate to it this way at all.

October 24, 2007 10:22 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Keen insight.

Is ethics retrospective to the encounter? (That's a different questions but....) I should be able to think a relation to the encouter or the Event prior to the emergence of sense (or even entities for whom relations have sense). To begin to answer the question the ethical relation to nonsense is one of openness. Is that the how of the relation and not the relation itself? I get confused. Does "We should respect the Event" prejudice or determine the relation? "We should have an indeterminate relation to the Event" doesn't sound like much of an ethical injunction, but maybe it is.

October 24, 2007 10:36 AM  

Post a Comment

Fido the Yak front page