maker democracy, collaboration, experimentation (Tim Rayner)

Tim RaynerMaker democracy: Roberto Unger, progressive politics, and collaborative experimentation”: there are many words to parse in this title, a veritable lexicon of the changes within and against the walls of the academy, relating a critique of established institutions, perhaps, from the critical legal studies standpoint, through non-cognitive assurances of legal knowledge. But then, too, within the networked world writ large, there are the maker stories of disruption.

What has become the spirit of “maker” – hacker– that animates the disruption of the do-it-yourself culture, creative disruptions outside the political sphere like that of “human centred design, hackathons, and the maker movement“, that have inspired in turn Maker Day? Are they become mere creative? Or are they become less political? We might well ask. Indeed, we must ask.

And “democracy”—what can it provide by way of questions if not answers? Rayner claims that we live “[I]n an age in which our best institutions are failing us, in which political parties on the left and right seem incapable of taking action to forstall the crises that everyone sees on the horizon”. And so, Rayner goes on, “we need new thinking”, only to affirm that we can “have fun and be creative, and to work with people on disrupting the political imagination” in Maker Day, that is, but no less “an incredible political opportunity” in which “a fraction of the ideas will be implemented”, for example. What can democracy do, after all? Can the very noun itself, “democracy”, come to be used as a verb? Indeed as a transitive verb? In other words, what if we could all democracy?

Then, there’s Roberto Unger, the founder of the critical legal studies, the leftist movement in modern legal thought and practice, through which he seeks to realise what he terms the “empowered democracy”. Unger aims at creating a more open and synthetic set of social institutions in which individuals and groups can interact, propose change, and effectively empower themselves to transform social, economic and political structures.

There is, however, a conflict in Unger’s exploration of institutional reform, intellectual one, which provides a basis for undermining the democracy. The exploration is held back by his own view of progressive politics. For Unger, progressive politics is managed in the interest of “a trenchant critique of existing institutions and an ethos of collaborative experimention oriented towards refashioning institutions for the good of all”. The ambition for governmental reform that gave rise to a challenging of Obama’s second-term presidential candidacy in 2012 is crossed over into the needs for recognition. As Rayner points out:

Only the trauma of defeat, Unger explained, would force the party to rethink its strategies, tap into its progressive roots, and reinvent itself as the progressive party it is supposed to be.

The conflict is distraction from the reformist politics. It in part reflects Unger’s mentality as a hacker. Unger “thinks about institutions in the same way as hackers think about code: get in there, take it apart, play around with it and make it better”. Where the hacker comes to identify with the code she or he is hacking, Unger comes to identify with “the trauma of defeat”. When “the hacker comes to identify with his or her own commodification”, explains McKenzie Wark (2004) in A Hacker Manifesto, “[R]ecognition becomes formal, rather than substantive. It heightens the subjective sense of worth at the expense of objectifying the products of hacking as abstraction” (Wark 2004:40). Heeding the assertion, one might say that Unger redefines what the trauma of defeat is. He reclaims the common interest of the party in sharing the trauma or its shared responsibility of recognition for its progressiveness. From this policing of the radical, reformist politics arises a new conflict. “Commentators on the left and right were dumbfounded by this argument. Calling on party faithful to participate in their own defeat violates the laws of political logic”.

Unger’s hacker mentality is not, however, without value. Rayner sets up a thought experiment to demonstrate this.

The thought experiment I’d like to propose involves bringing together Unger’s argument concerning how progressives should attempt to revivify democracy with the empirical observation that collaborative experimentation is increasingly shaping the zeitgeist.

Rayner has observed that Unger “addresses the wrong community in his call to arms”. Unger does this by “calling on progressives in the world of party politics (a world that is constitutionally resistant to disruption) to embrace collaborative experimentation”. Rayner’s suggestion, then, is that Unger “reach out to progressives in the maker movement to lead the charge”.

It is of great importance that Rayner’s insistence upon collaborative experimentation is matched up with his own experimental mode of thought. What is remarkable about such engagement is that Rayner gives an account of how Unger will be able to bring about a transformation of experience. Rayner does this not only by disrupting Unger’s view of progressive politics. He does this by “reconfiguring” Unger’s hacker mentality, recharting its place in maker democracy, and reviewing its location in collaborative experimentation. This is less a project in the nostalgiacs of recuperation than a renewed struggle to set free Unger’s reformist politics from constraint that is imposed upon the self. As Wark writes, “it is the act of hacking (“as a pure, free experimental activity”) that composes, at one and the same time, the hacker and the hack” (Wark 104). By marrying the hacker and the hack, Unger and the maker (movement) in this manner, Rayner gives an important portrait of how one becomes the facilitator of a discussion on our interdependence.

Of great interest to me is Rayner’s move away from reformist politics and towards micropolitics within an engagement with microtechniques. In several other posts I have read in Philosophy for Change, Rayner seeks to start a dialogue amongst his audience about what he sees as something that we haven’t done a lot of conscious consideration of. Rayner points the way towards a different way of paying attention to our world and of putting it into our own perspective. He shows an eagerness to imagine things otherwise than they are, transform them not by diminishing or distorting them but grasping them in what they are or could be. It is akin to the sense of care – care for life that a reader is taken aback, if forgotten, that we’re at the potential of the tip of collaborative experimentation.

Climate change, earthquake, tsunami, financial crisis, war…things happen. But then, too, we–social creatures–try to connect up with others, humans and non-humans, via technology, that push beyond those limits that will generate a transformative effect. Perhaps it is beyond necessity that makers democracy.




electronic image, differential media

This is a small departure for reorganisation of my last post on The Fallen Present: Time in the mix. Contracting and extending some of the ideas in the last entry, my focus here will be on electronic image. Last but not least, many thanks, Andrew, for the dedicated work and sharing them online for open access.


The junction of cinema and new media holds, unlike cinema alone, the all-encompassing field involved (Murphie 2007: 8). At the same time, it is “an open network of networks” (8). The “network of networks” has elements open—totally open to its own transformations (8-9). There is never an entire underlying situation, discernible and static, as a “whole”(9). Within the field, electronic images constantly change the way they are organized (9). They are prone to interferences with an image that interrupts the course of their emergence. (Deleuze 1989:265). While resonating with activity involved, the new digital image plays an important role in shaping the field or networks. More importantly, it destroys “stable and identifiable media forms and processes” (9). Such is the landscape of what has been dubbed “new media” or “differential media”, with an emphasis on “the flow of electrons, the ongoing flow of technics and cultures” and a focus on “the creation of this environment” as the preferred mode of cultural and technological encounters (Murphie 2003:8). It is an important part of a “technocultural ethics” of alterity, coordinated through affect-driven encounters — “life as process, the passage of worlds through each other” (9).

Murphie draws attention to the historical trajectories and technocultural imaginaries that together constitute the particular meanings and practices of electronic images in “differential media”. Of particular interest here is what Deleuze has described as the “cinema’s new syntheses of time” (8). This is a context which marks a “transition from a movement-image, an image of the secondary effects of time, to a time-image, in which we both experience and question time itself”, and to an electronic image (8). Deleuze’s argument is that the political connection between the times of cinema and the new times of the electronic cannot be simplified in terms of “psychological automata” (Murphie associates this with “today’s cognitivist controls”) or, a shared allegiance to a singular dictator such as Hitler (Murphie 2007:8-9). Deleuze proposes the idea of an “overloaded brain endlessly absorbing information” as a way of discussing the complex and historical dynamics between “power, knowledge and our ‘own’ cognition” that together produce this particularly voracious shot (9). Deleuze contends that accepting that “the shot” which “is less like an eye than an overloaded brain endlessly absorbing information” is the foundation for ‘new aesthetic’ that accesses a new constitution of the experience of time” (Deleuze 1989:267) (Murphie 2007:9).

But then how do we understand Deleuze’s new aesthetic or will to art? After all, Deleuze claims that movement-image had so far served as a poor substitute for “cinematographic images”, as cinema had developed as a “time-image” before the new psychological automata relied on technology (Deleuze 1989:267). Deleuze’s new aesthetic is one set in motion “in terms of an enhanced cinematic apparatus, with a brain which has a direct experience of time, anterior to all bodies…” (9). For those heeding the call for the new aesthetic, the intent is to abandon the movement-image and enable “another will to art” based on “yet unknown aspects of the time-image” in terms of the electronic image (Murphie 2007:9). Murphie goes on, electronic images “will have to be based on a reconfiguration of the basic experience of time” (9).

Then, there’s ‘image’ and ‘time’ conflation here. At this point my hypothesis of the new aesthetic is: it is hinged upon the idea that while we encounter the new image, we encounter and ask questions of ‘time’ itself at the one time.

The new aesthetic elides some details and internal contradictions. For Deleuze, while the times of electronic have born the fruit of brain development through “a direct experience of time, anterior to all bodies…” they draw strength from the nature of information. The times of electronic inherit from the times of cinema. Unmistakable is its resemblance to the “psychological automata”, especially those “internalizing ‘Hitler’” (9). Incorporating Hitler as part of “costs” resulting from technology and use of electronic, we in turn envision the roles of information as “constituting his (‘Hitler’) image in ourselves” (Deleuze 1989:269) (Murphie 2007:9). Unless the dominance of “Hitler” in the electronic is contested, and unless the triumphant historical and political narratives of a shared allegiance to a singular dictator (perhaps standardized forms of media) are overcome, Deleuze suggests, the Hitler version of electronic automata will continue to reverberate and gain strength. It is no surprise then that Deleuze argues, “it is necessary to go beyond information in order to defeat Hitler” (9).

In contrast, to attempt to “revisit” these times, to review their temporalities in political histories, can be less a project in the nostalgics of recuperation than a renewed event to relive the liberatory agendas, strategies, and visions of electronic image in the network of networks. One might simply say that electronic automatism can or perhaps should be, just like Nazism, understood as a thing of the past. And move on. Murphie cautions against hastily dismissing intent and affect as simply perfunctory. After all, “affective relations, that is, come before discrete packets of information”(Murphie 2007:13).

Heeding the assertion that “[T]he new electronic image, however, also provides a way ‘beyond information’”, we see differential media, while “drawing our attention to difference as intensity, to movement, to sensation, to ongoing affects”, “draw out the possibilities for an analysis of technical dynamics that is reducible neither to mechanics nor to biology nor to anthropology” (Murphie 2003:8). In the introduction of the essay, Murphie maintains:

“I will tease out Deleuze’s notion of what I am calling a differential image, and suggest in passing the idea of a rich but differential present as something often embraced by network cultures, in opposition to these cultures’ tendencies toward obsessive-compulsion” (Murphie 2007:2).

This aspect of “teasing out” initially troubled my understanding of affect. But I see Murphie’s gesture as something like gently pulling Deleuze’s ideas of electronic images into separate strands. This is far from promulgating that Deleuze’s ideas are no longer valid today; rather, it is finding something out from them, something that “draws our attention to the world as our perceptual frames” (9). Drawing from the technical dimensions of culture on electronic images, as seen earlier in this post, Murphie discusses Deleuze’s efforts to “will the art (aesthetic of electronic images”, taking seriously the complex interplay between their historical experiences, motivations, and practices. The anticipated dissonance turns out to be not only aesthetic and political, however, but historic as well. This is because electronic image “never quite resolves itself into a full and stable image…and its therefore always open to its own connectedness…” (9).

Electronic images depend on the power of the “network of networks”, whereby the new image not only constantly transforms the way they are organized, and shapes the networks into differential media.

Moving around “Radicalising Non-Philosophy” 2

As I look back my last post, I realise that a concern with non-philosophy was there with me in the context of Zen’s non-philosophy. Given that I am not acquainted with Laurelle’s notion of “non-philosophy”, I was trying to make the former a passage to the latter in order to approach Terence’s ideas. But, giving the matter further thought, I realised that there is an essential difference between making an assemblages and receiving one. A thinker knows his/her work as a farmer knows a land s/he has cultivated and recultivated, while a receiver is confronted by the same work as one is in the farms by a crop s/he has never seen before.

Now, on the other hand, I learn from Terence’s work that one of the issues at stake in the discussion of “non-philosophy” is the conflation of concept generating and differential activities with transformational state of self-creation or with that of knowledge/methodological creation for (interdisciplinary) research. This seems to reveal the degree to which the current configuration of “non-philosophy” has been altered from the previous generation of Continental philosophers (Terence includes Feverabend, Deleuze, Lyotard, Derrida and Foucault in this category here), and to which “non-philosophy” seems to have been fixed in the “anything-goes” imagination by a century of scientific and other methodological imperatives. Furthermore, the recurrent myths of anarchism without rules in philosophy’s modern origins, however imaginary, appear to contribute not only to linear notions of “empirical progress”, but also serve to ideologically fix what can only be epistemologically, scientifically, theoretically, ontologically, and perhaps socially (as in all of the senses mentioned above) contingent applications of knowledge.

Just as “non-philosophy” has changed; perhaps philosophy has changed; or at least it may be said that philosophy has been repurposed, opened up, left for all those interested. What has happened in this process between “non-philosophy” and “philosophy”, I cannot know. But I imagine this to be a philosophical question, one that Feyerabend could have asked, like: What other possibilities might exist for philosophy in the popular imagination, what significance might philosophy have outside of the practice of academy? As Terence writes here:

“Feyerabend wanted more responsibility, not less, and proposed that all those concerned, in citizen assemblies, should decide on what ontologies, theories, methods to apply and not just the experts”.

If you visit Terence’s blog and this (thanks to Terence for directing us here), you see that Terence and other thinkers, independently or collectively, have been prying “non-philosophy” out of the confinement of academic philosophy for some extended collaboration, and continue to explore “non-philosophy” in terms of its philosophical phenomena. Here I refer not to practices of generating new concepts, subverting or transforming philosophical content or formats, but to experiments of collaborations themselves such as micro-blogging, which are not, in the end, alienating, but very much with us: experimental, material and affective. Such practices of collaboration propose entry points into realms that surround us daily but escape from our unassisted perceptions: the otherwise inaccessible (or hard to access) philosophical terrains folded by the activities of philosophical and non-philosophical thoughts/experiments (scientific, aesthetic so on).

I’m not sure if this is an accurate description of “non-philosophy”, but in my understanding of it now, those that are not confined to the framework of academic philosophy that appear to be experimental, material and affective, opening the doors of the philosophy to whom it may concern that happen to be in the environment are perhaps the beginning of “non-philosophy”. But I suspect there are those who are in the environment, and  somehow either move to a halfway point and say “controversial” or depart to a greater distance and question whether this “non-philosophy” is philosophy at all. If this was the case, this is perhaps telling the extent to which the openness exists in the fields of “non-philosophy”.

The Zen garden of Ryōan-ji reflects its environment, presenting to the spectator images of mountains, rocks, rivers, mists, and many more, according to the situation. And while looking at the constructions set up by the founder Hosokawa Katsumoto, it is inevitable that one will see other things, if they happen to be sensed, through the network of imaginary or ethereal wires.  John Cage writes in Silence: Lectures and Writings,

“There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot”(Cage, 1961, 8).

Photo associated with this project found via Creative Commons at:

Foto: © – Shubert Ciencia – Creative Commons

Photo associated with this project found via Creative Commons at:

Moving around “Radicalising Non-Philosophy”

Thank you very much, Terence P. Blake, for the post Radicalising Non-Philosophy. This was as much a stimulating read as it was challenging piece, as it became an introduction for me to his work and the work of François Laurelle.

As I was new to the subject matter, I was trying not to step on too many toes, especially by resorting to exegesis or linguistic analysis [further signaled by the fact that I was asking earlier: what does it take for a thinker inside and outside the academy of philosophy to do “non-philosophy”?] In particular, I was trying to set aside the connotations of the term “(doing) the multiplicity” or making a leap into a world of multitudes, the world which fades away and comes again, I suppose, but what is at the back of it retains its grace (understood here as something like immanence) unchangingly, although at this point running out of my ways and addressing why it stood out to me as a phrase indicative of a shift in my perspective of “non-philosophy”.  My attempt here will be to move around Terence’s “radicalising Non-Philosophy” somehow. What I try to do is to explore this area of possibility in which the composition will take place. For starters, I am remixing below:

When it is said that philosophy from the inception is “also and inseparably non-philosophy and needs to be consistently so” or namely, an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present (meaning “hallucination”); “edified on the basis of the struggle against other modes of relation to the real”, and I guess that that would evolve around the struggle for an intuitive or experiential understanding of reality in which we all are, and even more;

When it is said that everyone is “a prophet of immanence” and then“making the leap into immanence” can be left to our own natural bodily perfection—the perfection of reality, to an extent that everyone performs a certain “part” as s/he occupies a definite position in society; that s/he is assigned a place where s/he is asked to render her/his service to a member of the society s/he belongs to, and in this connection;

When it is advisable that this network of social relationships is not to be ignored if the work of the philosopher and the non-philosopher such as Deleuze in collaboration with Guattari, Guattari in collaboration with Deleuze, is to be preserved and enhanced, all this is telling that there ought to be no disturbance or usurpation of names, titles, and parts, of religious or non-religious affiliation so forth.

Given all this while at the same time, taken into account the fact that an appreciation of the fine opportunity to observe philosophy’s “structural founding principle” isn’t always already just-in-time and on the idealized condition, but rather in-process, I hereby ask: what does it take to give to the object of “non-philosophy” something living in its own right as the ground of philosophy?

To ask this a bit differently, and that is to return to my original question, how is it possible to consider that the non-intellectual or non-discriminatory mind that is simply inclined to go ahead with whatever conclusion rational or irrational a thinker arrives at and then go on without looking backward or sideways (paying little or no attention to righteousness or the ethical or moral conduct of some kind) and in that sense, the mind is in full possession with mind (as in no-mind-ness>mind-less-ness, like a brave samurai warrior, manifests itself (or its embodiment of life) as an actual achievement of “non-philosophy” in time, though perhaps, inevitably, out of ‘space’ and ‘order’)?

Following are not accounts of the answers to the questions I have posed so far, but the account of “discrimination”. “By discrimination,”—and here I follow what Daisetsu T. Suzuki (2011) writes in Zen and Japanese Culture, “the Zen masters mean what we have when we refuse to accept Reality as it is or in its suchness, for we then reflect on it and analyze it into concept, going on with intellection and finally landing on a circulatory reasoning” (35).

I will not enter into too much detail in regard to the interrelationship of Zen with “non-philosophy” and/or “philosophy” in each of its own mode of discrimination or intellection. Suffice it to state here that Zen “refuses to commit itself to any system of philosophy” and that this being so at least in principle, a not-philosophy or non-philosophy, as it is practiced in the context of Zen, could be nothing else but an acceptance of facts of reality as they are (36).

But we know in one way or another, that the mind is capable of naturally forgetting or purposefully refusing to accept the reality as it is for various reasons—both the known and the unknown—reasons ranging from the gloomy weather, a lack of sleep or coffee to the commitment to serious academic or political engagement or dynamic imagination. In this respect, there is every probability of the Zen (or Zen-like) mind taking on discrimination, or better intellection or philosophy anywhere anytime. When the Zen master who is open to such a reality of the mind is asked, “What is Zen?” the answer is sometimes ‘Zen’ and sometimes ‘Not-Zen” (36). Once again, the answer emanates from the notion that “[F]acts of experience are accepted as they are” (36).

Returning to Terence’s post, it is noted at the beginning that: “sometimes I wonder “What! all this conceptual creation and analysis to get to the idea that we are Future Christs who can use philosophy as materials without believing in its structural founding principle?” And toward the end it is stated that: “In fact I would prefer to talk in terms of non-religion”. This suggests that the understanding of principle alone cannot lead one to mastery of making movements (of the mind, the body, its muscles and limbs so on). Training in technique, be it in spirituality, non-/religion, non-/theology, or non-/philosophy…is also not to be neglected. In other words, training is not to be one-sided, just like philosophy and non-philosophy are like two wheels of a cart.

In conclusion, Terence is telling us, in the shoes of William Blake, perhaps naturally, to have an inner light on the spirit of non-/philosophy. Blake’s poem seems to suggest that the spirit must back the art, which is gained by deeply looking into the inmost secret space of the mind (something like ‘mind of no mind’), as if it were night, darkness, light…

I would like to conclude this note with Yagyu Tajima no kami Munenori’s poem:

“Behind the technique, know that there

Is the spirit (ri):

It is dawning now;

Open the screen,

And lo, the moonlight is shining in!”.