In Medias Res

But is that a very good place to start? Can there even be a start at all?

All this talk of rhizomes, creativity, agency, and affect has got me thinking up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. I mention these “quark-y” states of matter because they are anything but hierarchal. Though they technically make up elementary building blocks in the hierarchy of existence, they are constantly in a state of flux, particles that are inherently themselves but yet can not be independently observed because the energy it would take to break the force between quarks (or the color force) would just create a quark-antiquark pair instead. I will admit, I know very little about quantum physics, basically that whole last sentence was carefully Googled (<— I love that this is a legitimate verb now). Yet, I use the quirks of quarks to also try to frame a much larger thought nebula rummaging through my mind after reading and digesting the thoughts and research of Brennan, Deleuze & Guattari, and trying to also connect them back to the ideas about Media and Matter from Kember/Zylinska and Bennett, respectively.

So I thought a good way to first try and think about our physical world, and dissect my own bias against categorization and direction in it, was to first think of the multiplicities and complexities of the quantum one. It’s gonna get a little complicated at first because I think to come to a better understanding of more concrete readings, we have to dive our brains first into the deep end that are the Rhizomes of Deleuze and Guattari. My goal by doing this is to open the mind a little without all of it falling out. This is also my attempt at trying to think this through too as I write, feel free to jump out or in at any point (they might even work better when disjoined). [Also disclaimer, I’m mainly using physics as a connecting point for thought, this may go very poorly depending on if I’m confusing something/everything. Which is highly likely]

So back to the quantum metaphor to leap into Rhizomes! When we last left off our intrepid mind map was focused on the quantum realm, but alas, our very focus on a piece of this ecology leaves us without precision in the other parts of it! A trait of rhizomes that is similar to the uncertainty principle. Where there lies a fundamental limit to the precision that one can know a particle’s position and momentum at the same time, because as you become more precise in one measurement, you become less precise in the other. This can also be extrapolated to even energy and time, but the basic gist of it is the more constrained one variable is the less the other/s are.

We measure, with our senses and our tools to get an understanding of a system, substance, or other object so that we can codify it and know what to do, or how to react. Yet in our codifying, we have to leave out something. Rhizomes are a tough thing to grasp, in Deleuze & Guattari’s text (henceforth referred to fashionably as D&G) the points in rhizomes are characterized as being “connected to any other, and must be” and that this multiplicity has neither “subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature”.

Well first off, that’s a lot to think about. But I want to focus on what happens when you try to codify, or pin down a part of a Rhizome. D&G have an example of trying to are like the weeds in a cabbage patch, or experiencing grass from the middle (not looking up at it or down from above at it). Rhizomes move in directions of motion or dimensions, rather than the natural hierarchy of the root system of a tree. You cut a piece of a rhizome off, it doesn’t die, it changes. It is wholly adaptable, there are no binary points only lines of stratifications, segmentarity, and flight. D&G are not exactly saying that a rhizome is inherently better (actually the rhizome is pretty non-moral) but it is biological example of a different way to think, and understand systems. So why try and use the uncertainty principle to talk about something seemingly unrelated? It’s because to even think about a rhizome in its entirety, we start to lose sense of the variable of time or its direction. The more we understand the complexity of its position at a given point of time, we lose out on the momentum of the system because it wholly reinvents itself, and will whether we are watching or not.

This whole conversation is also about a measure of why this should matter to us. Because at a point it doesn’t become about a thought-experiment, but a very real affective rhizomic situation. Theresa Brennan in her writing in “Transmission of Affect” talks about how you can feel the “atmosphere” of a place. The transmission of which is a complicated hodgepodge of both environmental and one’s own physiology, psychology, and multiple factors. Whether it’s empathetic affect that another human being has on a person, or the natural or design environment around them, the actual way it would affect feeling is not linear.

The environments in psychoanalysis that we create try to fix things in these environments, and can sometimes block the rhizomatic processes of affect and lines of flight by putting up “boundaries” in the geopolitical maps of individuals or groups as mentioned in D&G (meaning creating barriers that are physical or mental in space and psyche). As Brennan says there is “too much affective stuff to dispose of, too much that is directed away from the self with no place to go”. This makes us build up our own “private fortresses” of anti-affect, in an attempt to limit negative affect (which is pretty futile). Yet at the same time this causes a larger issue where affect is denied all together.

These kinds of walls are nothing new in New York City. I can relate, I put up a lot of affect blocking walls just because I get very anxious about a lot of things including confrontation, long hallways, and online writing. These are barriers to negative affect because I like to keep things contained in discrete units that I feel like I can control (HA). The only other option would be go down a line of flight, which is equally as troublesome and anxiety ridden because I have responsibilities to take care of, and to liberate myself from it would (in my view) cause more harm than good at this juncture. So instead of change the whole rhizome of self, I and many others build our own stratification to control the encroachment of negative affect. The problem with this is that (other than creating more blockages to positive affect at the same time), it is nearly impossible because we react hierarchically to an affect that is rhizomic in nature. We try to precisely control and design to fit into, or block, a position of affect. But with us preoccupied with our respective shields we miss the momentum of affect, or where it is going, and later have to constantly adapt accordingly. Basically, this uncertainty principle makes it hard to control an affective environment. Whether you put up boundaries and hold positional ground, or become like water and adapt to the rhizome of affect, you will at some point have to account for the other eventuality (because like in physics and guerrilla vs. incumbent tactics the more you become like one, the less you are like the other). Which is better? Depends on what you prefer, or if you want to find a happy equilibrium.

Honestly, I am sorry you had to read that, my brain kind of hurts from writing it and I’ll admit it’s kind of confusing, but it was hopefully a good representation to the beginning of my thought process without being unduly pretentious (though I feel super pretentious at the moment, not a great feeling). I’m a little in despair though, because it seems one can never really account for all eventualities in either direction. Are we forced to either protect ourselves from, or immerse ourselves in, affect both negative and positive?

Well on an individual level, basically yeah, things are hard to predict and are nebulous. There is very little control on your part for affective patterns outside of yourself (other than your own blockages from them). But, I still think these concepts have a larger imperative because of the possibility for all matter to have affective capabilities (whether that is on humans or otherwise) and that rhizomic map is not just  about affect but how matter itself tends to branch out.

Bennet talks in her text “Vibrant Matter” about the agency of matter, and the “thing power” of materiality. In it there is the often used metaphor as matter coming together like music (which is actually used as a metaphor for rhizomes and affect) because of the varied way that chords of combine with other materiality. I love the idea of matter, rhizomes, and affect coalescing in symphonies of existence, an inanimate cry to no one in particular saying “we are here” left only by the echo of their matter. But seeing as I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of scientific concept metaphors, I’m gonna bring in another one that bridges more into chemistry. Conservation of energy/matter is important in understanding thing-power I believe because it has to concern with all matter and from within it I think we can find that truly, like the rhizome, nothing ever really ends.

In that respect nothing ever really has efficient causality for a beginning either. Matter continues to be flung across the universe from self-destructive stars to coalesce into larger forms, and will continue long after we are gone. Most of what we experience at this moment is in medias res of existence. The rhizome fits very nicely into the non-identity proposed initially by Adorno in Bennett’s writing. The issue with non-identity, at least for our understanding of things, is that there is a gap between that thing and our representation of it. In the same way, when examining rhizomes we can not determine precisely both its position in time, and the momentum of the system. I think they may be similar is the regard because both the rhizome and non-identity are trying to encompass the existence of the effects and affects of matter or a thing, which we try to represent but can’t holistically accomplish.

Now to not ramble on endlessly, I’m going to bring this back to why this matters to us studying media, in medias res of systems of effect and causality that we can’t even begin to fully grasp. It is because no matter what the system is we have to understand, admit, and allow for variables of the unknown (or the frustration of the non-identity) so we can more completely mediate what we choose to focus on as important or meaningful in that position. This is admittedly hard especially if, like me, you are faced with the daunting prospect of illiteracies in a multitude of knowledge areas. Whether it’s the difference between what we see and what a machine reads, or the difference between the things we interact with and what those things do on their own trajectories, there is so much that is variable. At the moment, I think it is our trajectory to acknowledge what we lose when we ultimately have to focus on either the trend of momentum or the semi-certainty of position, and more importantly acknowledge what things are focused in on us (animate or otherwise). 

It’s these rumblings of connection that these pieces have brought out a curiosity to find these layers of affect in the rhizomes that surround us in our everyday life. Sure, we can never truly map all the variables that surround us, but I wanted to focus on focal points in these systems that we gravitate around and morph our paths and blockages into. Living in New York City, a city who’s history and vibrancy weaves a landscape of experience and causality that creates the spaces that we inhabit, and use, everyday. Vital to this city’s rhizome is literally it’s lines of connection. Electricity, water, bridges, land, New York may be mostly concrete, but no one would live here if it weren’t for these necessities of infrastructure. If there is any indication of the affect of inanimate matter and its agency into the lives of humans, its in the matter we’re addicted to. I hope to chart these crisscrosses in human and matter related contexts to see how the designs and the substances themselves have shaped the city in its own way, and vice versa.

That’s about all for now,

-James J. Fan


~ by jamesjfan on February 8, 2016.

6 Responses to “In Medias Res”

  1. Your connection to physics is very interesting and I like your writing style.

  2. I thought that this was the best post that made use of the readings and information that we had in class, but it also was good at tying these ideas to real experiences. Plus, I like the stream-of-consciousness style of writing, so it was interesting to read this in your voice.

  3. Love the subtle pun you put in there.. definitely engages the reader right off the bat! You dove into a lot of tricky subjects and managed to explain them well enough for the reader to understand. I loved the use of stream of consciousness (Jack Kerouac is my all time fav. author to use such a technique) and it really lets us get a better understanding of your own perspective and musings.

  4. By far the best content- you really went above and beyond in breaking down your thought process in relation to what we read in class and how it was meaningful to you.

  5. In terms of substance and style, I think you did this the best. I think you do an excellent job of connecting our readings together and using them to communicate with one another. It’s dense (and you admitted that as well) — but your first-person, conversational style made it somewhat easier to follow. I like that you seem to challenge the notion of understanding in your post. I’m envious of the fact that you seem to know what you’re passionate about and have a clear direction of what you want to focus on.

  6. Although I thought you could have used some text interruptions, I really liked the way you dissected the readings. The way you write and the connections to your own life were really helpful to me in terms of looking at and comprehending the texts in a new and better way, I think you did the best job in interpreting them. I was able to follow along and understand what you were saying even though I usually need text breaks to stay focused! 🙂

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