Thursday, December 28, 2006

Meditation on Personal Connectivity

A passage from Deleuze and Guttari's A Thousand Plateaus (1987, Minn. Press, pg. 29) hits me:
"There is a desert. Again, it wouldn't make any sense to say that I am in the desert. It's a panoramic vision of the desert, and it's not a tragic or uninhabited desert. It's only a desert because of its ocher color and its blazing, shadowless sun. There is a teeming crowd in it, a swarm of bees, a rumble of soccer players, or a group of Tuareg. I am on the edge of the crowd, at the periphery; but I belong to it, I am attached to it by one of my extremities, a hand or foot. I know that the periphery is the only place I can be, that I would die if I let myself be drawn into the center of the fray, but just as ceertainly if I let go the crowd."

And somehow the dream feels right to me. It's a feeling I get when I walk in the wildlands anywhere, a feeling, a pull, to the network of earth/biome/spirit mixed with the individuality of my being, which more and more I think is an illusion. The "me" that I think I am, the one who writes this blog, who is the subject, I am coming to see is merely a point of connection to everything else, an instance of thought process in the dance of interconnected dances, processes, instances. When I walk in the desert or even on the sidewalk in the city, I know about the process that is me, walking, and I know that process is a fleeting moment, a moment when the cells of "my" body connect with concrete or stone or sand, when the chemicals in the air electrochemically network with the neurons attached to my nose and I smell smoke, in the fireplace on Madison Street or in the air around the campfire. But like Franny in her dream, I am schizophrenic: I am afraid to give up my Self, and I can't seem to let go and join the natural world, not really.

Because my leg hurts, and I have to quit smoking, and I need to work, and I have bills to pay, and I think I need to force myself to do right things, over and over, and I can't seem to do it by connecting to the universe but I can't do it if I don't connect to the All-in-All. And sometimes everything is outside of me, most of the time, and it is just me, inside my aching body, willing to feel everything but unable to feel anything without setting me, my individual mind, in the subject position: I feel, I need, I ache, I am angry, lonely, alone, just me.

And everything seems impossibly far away.

But then I'll read about someone else, or talk to a person on the bus, or go for a walk and pet a cat on its front lawn, in the sun, warm, glowing on my face and I feel the earth solid under me, comforting my feet, and the network substantiates itself in me once more, on the sidewalk, at the cat's front lawn, in the sun. Even in University Heights I can perceive the swarm of matter and evergy around me, pulsing with universal being, for a moment. In the desert that moment lasts longer, and stays in my soul--if it is really mine--for the next time. On a walk in the natural world, which is everything, whether its is in the Sierras or in the desert or in the neighborhood, we are all together most of the time.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Friend is Passing

Chris over at Creek Running North is transitioning with his friend Zeke. Please go over there and read about the magic and wonder of friendship and life, change and everything.

Much love to Zeke.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Van Dyke's Abstract Machine

The goal of the colonial project is to distribute the strata of State along a plane of consistency that assigns landscapes a function, a use, a purpose; however, by territorializing the spaces of the desert southwest to function as a border and as a resource bank, the colonial project creates the empty spaces of sublimity, the ruptures where aesthetic abstract machines, which function to deterritorialize, can emerge. The process of writing I describe in this essay is, like the painting process articulated by Stephen Zepke in Art as Abstract Machine, “first of all, an articulation of its finite and infinite dimensions, an art of creation that in its finite processes of construction absolutely deterritorializes the world (destratifies it Deleuze and Guttari will say) and expresses its destratified and infinite ‘plane of consistency’” (Zepke 118). The aesthetic is an abstract machine that is what Deleuze and Guttari call a “line of flight,” a process of deterritorialization, an emergent property that moves from one stratification to an infinite plane of consistency where one can, like Van Dyke says of an antelope on the plain, see in all directions. The State apparatus sees this movement as a flight to another stratified plane of consistency; the desert becomes “tamed” in its emptiness, a framed picture of empty sandstone mesas, with ancient ruins of a long-forgotten people. Such is the picture John Van Dyke surely had in mind when he wrote The Desert.
John Van Dyke may have proposed to fossilize the desert landscape into a gallery of beauty, but his nomadic project, the act of walking across the sands, belies this goal. The meshwork Van Dyke generated in his aesthetic, or to put it more exactly, the meshwork into which he was inserted was, in the early years of the twentieth century, a stratified landscape on the brink of deterritorialization, a process he sparked with the abstract machine of his writing aesthetic. Like the wasp and the orchid, Van Dyke and the desert are engaged in simultaneous processes of de-and re-territorialization, making up a network constituted by flows of energy and materials, ideas and language, that grow and flow towards possibility, adding elements and materials, periodically expanding and contracting over a landscape that always, already contains the traces of its stratifications and destratifications. As we shall see, with the dawn of the 21st century new materials, global in scope and human in their nomadism, will fly into the system, walking across the dehydrated sands to tell their own stories of savage beauty.

John Van Dyke, The Desert: Further Studies in Natural Appearances
Pictures: Borderhack, Defenders of Wildlife, Univ. of Arizona, Desert Survivors

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

the Wasp and The Orchid

Remarkably, the Western Stream Orchid (pictured) has found a home at the 49 Palms Trail near Joshua Tree National Park. No one really knows what wind blew the seeds here so long ago, or if this is a relict population from the good old days of water wonderfulness during the Pleistocene, but it doesn't matter because the system still works, and that's a fancy enough piece of naturalness as it is. And speaking of that which no one really knows, how the heck do I relate this to Literature? Hmmm.

(from a paper I just turned in)

In their introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guttari describe the process of what they call “deterritorialization” and “reterritorialization” that occurs when a wasp lands on an orchid. “The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing, of the wasp,” they write; the flower steps out of its botanical plane, its territory (which we human beings have assigned it with language) to genetically connect using the wasp as its carrier of pollen (Deleuze 10). The wasp is deterritorialized, that is, inserted into another territory of meaning, by “becoming a piece in the orchid’s reproductive apparatus,” but it reterritorializes the orchid by responding to the flower as an insect, and by inserting its function into the reproductive system of the orchid (10). This instance of natural cooperation between heterogeneous processes, animal and plant, they call “rhizomatic,” an interconnection that emerges not out of structural elements that constitute essential principles of each organism, but out of intense interconnection of multiple possibilities in functions, in flows of matter-energy that are open to different planes of analysis. The relationship between the orchid and the wasp is an example not only of the material flows that occur in nature but of psychic flows that occur in our thought processes: we may think of the orchid as a result of its genealogical roots, evolved over millennia of responses to environmental milieus into a stratified state of orchid-ness that just happens to look like an alluring wasp; we may also think of a wasp as a nomadic bit of genetic flowing, populations of which have evolved the most effective way to gather nectar, which just happens to be to make virtual love to a flower.

These matter-energy flows and the functions that integrate with them constitute Deleuze’s and Guttari’s ontology, which attempts to describe structural types of morphogenesis, of becoming, and these types can be applied, notes Manuel Delanda, to a wide variety of contexts (Delanda 500). These structural processes Delanda positions into two types: strata, which “are composed of homogenous elements” that may be considered in terms of territorialization, a process that is hierarchical and moves toward stasis, and “meshworks” (what Deleuze and Guttari call “self-consistent aggregates”), which “articulate heterogeneous elements as such” (500). The genealogical evolution of a wasp or an orchid, expressed as a historical “tree,” is a strata, a species; the network of processes that make up the parallel evolution of wasp/orchid, expressed as a “rhizome,” is a meshwork, an ecosystem. The strata proceeds towards deterritoriality, becoming heterogeneous; the meshwork proceeds towards territoriality, becoming stratified. Delanda and others who study this ontological method insist that these ways of knowing describe actualities in fields such as geology, biology, socioeconomics, linguistics; Delanda believes that “a deep, objective, isomorphism underlies the different instantiations of strata and meshworks” (501). So the description of the wasp and the orchid describe not only a metaphor for accessing actual structures, but the structures as they are actually formed and evolve.

The syrphid fly is the most probable pollinator of the stream orchid, near as anyone can tell.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guttari, A Thousand Plateaus
Manuel Delanda, “Immanence and Transcendence in the Genesis of Form.” South Atlantic Quarterly. 96 (1997): 499-514.
syrphid fly--High Plains Integrated Pest Management
orchid--Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences
rhizome--some place called "the grange" in australia I got off the internet

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Conjugate Deterritorialized Flows" --Giles Deleuze

I have been wandering in the sands of a borderland desert, looking for water, desiring to quench, to quaff, to drink from a lost well, a hidden spring, a secret stream. I was lost. I am still walking the pages of the drylands, in the language of salt, of death, of fences, roads, trails, blisters, fear, hope. I turn the page to the next sign, the other paragraph, the distant mountains and I know on the other side, el otro lado, the ancestral flow mires itself in a genealogy so familiar to me, so ancient, and my mother, God rest her soul, remembers the journey north from Mexico, is a remembrance from whence I came. I fear not finding water but am more afraid of standing still in the safe havens of the American Fortress, the dream-social that parches my soul, dries my desires, dehydrates my wanting until I die, a death stood up against a cultural wall, an execution mandated, administered, by that which would keep me from moving.

I read across a century of desire that has been blocked, paved, dessicated, effaced, fenced, walled, enforced, and I have read into the texts, perusing line by line the performance of ideas, memes, cultural flotsam that has rolled across the sand, across the border like butterflies, like dried rolling leaves, brittle seedcases of genetic drift, flowing and returning, blossoming at the confluence of water and earth and air, heated by the sun, blasted to hardness, to archival footprints of books and trails that threaten death to those who cross, who walk, who transgress territorial imperatives. I will read John Van Dyke, Dr. W.J. McGee, Edward Abbey and Luis Alberto Urrea as they trace the flow across the frontier and attempt to map the travelers, to walk along the border of the abstract machine that runs straight as a razor across hundreds of mile of land that is named after the Devil, a Satanic line one can see from space, as I hover, will hover, have hovered, over the barrier between Mexico and the United States, in front of a computer, seeing nothing but lines on a screen. I am turning the pages of a book that has no end, no beginning, but starts when I walk, when I finally walk.

It is possible the text will emerge.

And from that possibility blossoms hope, my desire for a love of land, a desire to share the wonder, a wishing, longing to love the people who walk, who transgress, and wish them well on their journeys. I want to give them water when they are thirsty but I will read instead; in the text I may find conception as they, writing, walking, pine for redemption. While these writers languish in the books, archived in ink and paper, I read and ache for them, want for them, hope for them to find water. And that hope springs eternal.

This really happened:

I was standing on a desolate plain, surface gently rolling with tides of stones, dark against the light sand, a desert pavement treeless and paved with ancient volcanic ejecta, inscribed with countless trails made by gophers, tortoises, rabbits, humans, coyotes, shamans, and as always now in the California desert, cars. But I was in the open, exposed to the sun with no place to hide and I could see for miles to the low mountains near Paso Pichacho. It was silent, daylight streaming quiet as I looked across the landscape at the glitter of the stones in the sun. I heard the faint buzzing and as I turned to the east I could barely see the swirling gray living cloud as it bounced, flowed, meandered in the air at neck height across the plain, coming in my direction. I was wide open to anything that would come by; I felt like the tallest thing for miles, except for a very few dried out willows in a distant wash, or the occasional man-sized cholla or ocotillo. The swarm was coming my way.

The buzzing grew closer, but it still looked like a gray moving mist, a magic cloud swirling over the desert floor, and I stooped to my knees so as not to be the only thing for it to fly into on its journey over this Sacred Land, this Trail of Dreams near the Colorado River. I started to see individual bees as the cloud became more particularized, but their buzzing was foreign to me—they, it, was not interested in me. It was kind of like standing beside a moving train, a train that ignores one as it moves clacking down its tracks, and this swarm of bees, moving in the holy direction, southeast to northwest, Rattlesnake’s direction during the Creation, had much on its mind and it wasn’t me, and for that I was grateful. As the cloud passed over me scattered bees individually flew close to me, close enough for me to feel their wings, and for a moment I was engulfed in humming, and I felt watched, examined, momentarily under surveillance, as the swarm passed overhead, three feet above me and then the mist was passing to the northwest, its back to me, whom it had ignored, and I slowly stood up and watched it as the swirl of misty blackness, a living smoke, trailed away in the bright air to its destination.

I now understand that what I saw (and what I was) was an ontological instance, a kind of abstract machine.