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Institutional brains and literary simulation (or simulated literature?)

by on April 13, 2013

In the spirit of DeLanda and the emergence of greater orders of complexity from lesser ones, here are a few reactions to the first half of Philosophy and Simulation, presented in a somewhat jumbled non-sequence. This sort of thing always happens near the end of the semester, when prep for seminar papers leads to interesting textual combinations. In this case, my reading of DeLanda is taking place concurrently with those of additional texts by DeLanda, Deleuze, Deleuze & Guattari, Franco Moretti, and a bunch of stuff about Nazis and Genghis Khan.

(Here’s hoping a greater degree of complexity/order emerges in subsequent writing.)

  • In the first chapter, DeLanda introduces the concept of gradients as “the capacity of intensive differences to act as energy storage devices” (9). Deleuzian influence seems clear here – beyond the discussions of channels/conduits and energy in A Thousand Plateaus, there seems additional resonance with Deleuze’s discussion of memory in Difference and Repetition, which we’re reading in Prof. Copjec’s seminar. I wonder – can we put Deleuze’s discussion of memory in that text in dialogue with the sort of discussion of memory gates (in simple computer programming) that DeLanda engages in subsequently?
  • Language, literature, texts & contexts as (autonomous) energy storage devices. A sexy idea! Maybe it could mean something?
  • There is a lot of interesting overlap between what I have read, thus far, in Philosophy and Simulation and DeLanda’s (first, I believe?) book, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. His discussion of war games, in particular, is intriguing – in particular, I am thinking of DeLanda’s discussion of the development of war games by the Prussian (and, later, German) general staff in the late 19th and early-20th centuries. He characterizes the general staff as a sort of emergent institutional brain (we have these brains to thank for much of the 20th century). Deleuze would place such an emergent entity in opposition to a ‘war machine’ – indeed, the war machine and the state and it’s military apparatus are defined in antithetical terms in the formulation of Deleuze and Guattari. I wonder, however, if DeLanda would agree here?
  • More speculation: the academy/humanities/texts & discourse – a sort of institutional brain. Does the humanities have a general staff? (MLA as GHQ?) I get the sense that most lit scholar would prefer – if they even think about such matters at all – to think of the humanities as more akin to a war machine, antithetical to state apparatuses of control. (I certainly would). But this doesn’t seem to be the case.
  • It would be pretty awesome to see a sort of Game of Life simulation pertaining to the development and circulation – the evolution and “life” – of literary texts, genres, and paradigms. Literary discourse as a material phenomenon, with physically discernible effects. A Franco Moretti-esque sort of distant reading – a simulated reading (or reading simulation?)
  • Reading DeLanda makes me want to check out some of Ian Bogost’s earlier work – particularly his texts that deal more directly with games and simulation. It seems like DeLanda and Bogost would make nice complements to each other in this regard.
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From → Quadruple Object

4 Comments
  1. jmdaven permalink

    I wonder to what extent the humanities have an institutional brain compared to say the sciences. I would on first look think that there is less of one for a variety of reasons, among which would be that for the sciences there seems to be a more hierarchical structure of applying for grants and receiving grants that requires a selection committee that in turn might act as a sort of institutional decision making apparatus. They decide what questions are worth answering. It so happens that many of these decision makers have direct corporate ties, and thus the sciences institutional brain might be accused of having more direct contract to the capitalist’s exploitation of others. I’m uncertain, but I’d guess that MLA and the humanities are less easily implicated, though implicated all the same, and toiling with an internal struggle of war machine vs. institutionalized practice.

  2. I love the thought on The Game of Life simulation on the development and circulation of literary texts. To jump back to Latour, it almost seems like an A.N.T. map of the creative process: one bit of info inspires a thought, which inspires a character, which inspires a plot, that requires a chain of actors to move said plot, etc. This seems similar to how I understood the Game of Life analogy: you have a thought, and if the neighboring spaces are alive, then you have a plot progression, if they are not, than you have a small detail, or maybe a derailed attempt at a plot (failed plot?). As for the circulation of literature, i guess that depends on the reciprocity of each person who engages the work, so would intellect be the gradient in terms of literature?

    I like the idea of the text being an autonomous energy storage device, but what disorder could befall such a gradient? Would it be the decay of the material object, because that seems more corporeal than what I typically expect from the “energy system” that would be the literary work.

    • I imagine decay of the material object would certainly be one way for disorder to befall such a system — or any number of material objects, for that matter. I’m not quite sure where DeLanda falls with regards to materialism. I know Morton, for instance, endorses a realism that is not a materialism, in line with his “there is no matter/nature/environment” claim — but I’m not sure where DeLanda falls with regards to this.

      That is an interesting question regarding disorder and entropy. I imagine he would treat language and symbolic action itself as a physical entity (I’d say I agree with the characterization). Mostly, I’m just bouncing ideas around at this point.

    • Then again, perhaps DeLanda would describe the work of literature as a virtual abstraction? Real, but not actual?

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