Author Archives: Colin

An Ethics of the Moment

“The long-term importance of Deleuze & Guattari’s collaborative work is to have provided the metaphysics corresponding to the ’emergent’ scientific paradigm of our day: non-linear complexity.”

-Eugene W. Holland, “The Image of Thought in A Thousand Plateaus” (2014)

Is metaphysics the guiding project of A Thousand Plateaus, however? Certainly much of the book is dedicated to the assembly of a bricolagic metaphysics machine: the Nomadology and Capture plateaus, for instance, make many claims about the behavior of phenomena concentrated upon the alloplastic stratum. The Linguistics plateau, in condemning swaths of the burgeoning discipline as tainted a priori by reality-ignorant presuppositions, proposes many a truthhood about the essential nature of language and social organization. Still, the introductory Rhizome plateau ends with a veritable call to arms (and legs, and branches, and other organs of every sort):

“Write to the nth power, the – 1 power, write with slogans: Make rhizomes, not roots, never plant! Don’t sow, grow offshoots! Don’t be one or multiple, be multiplicities! Run lines, never plot a point! Speed turns the point into a line! Be quick, even when standing still! Line of chance, line of hips, line of flight. Don’t bring out the General in you! Don’t have just ideas, just have an idea. Have short-term ideas. Make maps, not photos or drawings. Be the Pink Panther and your loves will be like the wasp and the orchid, the cat and the baboon.”

Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari
“1. Rhizome” in A Thousand Plateaus (1980)

Very nearly a total moral code unto itself. Mille Plateaux refrains in the main from issuing outight orders, but this rhapsodic overture declares its purpose in a joyful imperative mode. Before it is anything else, the Rhizome plateau is an ethics project: this is how to live the good & honest life under a schizoid capitalist regime.

This morning I thought about the symbiosis of Ethics and Metaphysics: can any Ethics be considered coherent, practicable, and efficacious without appealing to a Metaphysics no less virtuous? It would seem not; as a general rule, philosophy seems to demand that anyone audacious enough to systematize good & evil in toto ought to filter their commandments through the most thorough possible apprehension of Nature.

The main objective of A Thousand Plateaus, it seems to me, is to imbue the reader with an “Ethics of the Moment” – with the word “Moment” referring here to something like D&G’s usage of “haecceity” – a dynamic and fluid Ethics by means of which the capitalized subject can isolate phenomena (an ontological practice), observe entities & behaviors without discounting the true schizophrenic richness of their histories (a metaphysical practice), and apply the full creative resources of their Desire to determining the right action (an ethical practice) in accordance with the array of supple concepts inherited from the book. A Thousand Plateaus trains its reader to “do philosophy” (extract a perfectly singular concept of “the good behavior” from a perfectly singular state of affairs) in the proceeding from one instant to the next.

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Why the song “Born to Run” revs me up

The trajectory of temporary tonics in Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run lends a sense of epic distance and fantastic voyaging to a song whose melodies and local progressions, in isolation, are not especially noteworthy.

From the very first guitar ‘n glockenspiel riff, the song spends two long verses and a sax solo using chords drawn exclusively (almost) from the E major diatonic palette (EM, AM, BM, C#m, F#m7).

Beginning with the words “Beyond the Palace…”, however, the harmonies vacate the established key: now we hear, twice, a new progression (DM – GM – AM – CM) whose final C major chord (“an everlasting kiss”) behaves as the dominant of the subsequent phrase in F major (a.k.a. The Neapolitan, bII).

With a I-V-I oscillation in F major (again the sax is highlighted), the Neapolitan is secured only fleetingly as a new tonic, then we’re hoisted unceremoniously up a semitone to an F#M chord. Under this F#M a rising chromatic crawl in the bassline motivates a motion to BM: yet another V-I in a non-tonic key (this time it’s the Dominant, V).

In punchy syncopated unison, the band plunges chromatically through an entire octave: from B down to B with everything in between, including a suspenseful hangup on the penultimate C. Upon reaching the low B, misleading signals seem to convey the song’s completion – the final note is sustained while the drums abandon all allegiance to meter in a cymbaline wash, reinforced by a crunchy atonal organ cluster. Forward momentum is suddenly dispersed into an a-rhythmic field of noise.

The Boss, yelling “One, Two, Three, Four!”, reignites this momentum just before the false ending is explosively banished in a revelatory return to E major. “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes,” sings Bruce an octave higher than in the first two verses, “on a last-chance power drive.” The guitar/glockenspiel riff that served as the tune’s wordless intro is now cleverly “jammed” into simultaneity with the lyrics.

Having journeyed through remote key areas like the Neapolitan, and in light of a weak false conclusion rendered integral to a strong final cry for escape, effects like registral shift and motivic “jamming-together” are heightened well beyond the impact they might have achieved without the tonal forays that intervened.

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