Franco Berardi (Bifo) — Sensitivity to the rhizome

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Franco Berardi (Bifo) — Sensitivity to the rhizome
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Sensitivity to the rhizome.
The unpredictable is the finishing point of a process that is too complex to be reconstructed in cognition by the human brain and too fast to be executed by the human brain. Even though we cannot divine the unpredictable by means of the tools of the rational mind, sensibility can intuit it. Sensibility is the faculty that allows us to grasp the co-evolution of a-parallel beings that has nothing to do with one another.
Sensibility is the faculty of tuning to the rhizome.
Principle of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. Collective assemblages of enunciation function directly within machinic assemblages; it is not impossible to make a radical break between regimes of signs and their objects. […] The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid’s reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980: 10)
On the ontological, teleological or even the physical plane, the wasp and the orchid are not homogeneous. They even belong to two different natural realms. But this does not prevent them from working together in the sense of becoming a concatenation (s’agencer) and in so doing generating something that was not there before, namely a machine. Any material concatenation is a machine when considered from the perspective of its functioning rather than its being.
‘Be, Be, Be!’ is the metaphysical scream that dominates hierarchical civilisation, to which rhizomatic thought replies: ‘Concatenate, Concatenate, Concatenate!’
The principle of becoming lies in concatenation.
[…] a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp. Each of these becomings brings about the deterritorialisation of one term and the reterritorialisation of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialisation ever further. There is neither imitation nor resemblance, only an exploding of two heterogeneous series on the line of flight composed by a common rhizome that can no longer be attributed to or subjugated by anything signifying: […] the a-parallel evolution of two beings that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1999: 10)
So far we have been concerned with conjunction, the creative concatenation of bodies that neither follow a pre-ordained design, nor obey any inner law or finality. I will now distinguish between two modalities of concatenations: one will be called conjunction, the other connection (in the properly operative, technical and digital sense of the term).
In the C14th the German mystic Heinrich Suso published Horologium Sapientiae. The Christian world had just begun to use mechanical clocks and Suso foresaw the significance of the transformations that such a measuring device would introduce into the notion and perception of time. The human perception of natural time as duration began and this regularity introduced an artificial order to the sequence of social events. The beating of time introduced the principle of a second, artificial reality produced by technique of mathematics applied to human reality. Which time corresponded to God’s time: the conjunctional time of duration where events occur according to emotional temporality, or the connective time that reduces different temporalities to a single measure?
Conjunction is a becoming other. In contrast, in connection each element remains distinct and interacts only functionally. Singularities change when they conjoin, they become something other than what they were before their conjunction. Love changes the lover and the combination of a-signifying signs gives rise to the emergence of a previously inexistent meaning.
Rather than a fusion of segments, connection entails a simple effect of machine functionality. The functionality of the materials that connect is implicit in the connection as a functional modelling that prepares them for interfacing and inter-operability. In order for connection to be possible, segments must be linguistically compatible. Connection requires a prior process whereby the elements that need to connect are made compatible. Indeed the digital web extends through the progressive reduction of an increasing number of elements to a format, a standard and a code that makes compatible different elements.
The process of change underway in our time is centred on the shift from conjunction to connection as the paradigm of exchange between conscious organisms. The leading factor of this change is the insertion of the electronic in the organic, the proliferation of artificial devices in the organic universe, the body, communication and society. But the effect of this change is a transformation of the relationship between consciousness and sensibility, and the increasing desensitisation in the exchange of signs.
Conjunction is the meeting and fusion of round and irregular shapes that are continuously weaselling their way about with no precision, repetition or perfection. Connection is the punctual and repeatable interaction of algorithmic functions, straight lines and points that overlap perfectly, and plug in or out according to discrete modes of interaction that render the different parts compatible to a pre-established standard. The shift from conjunction to connection as the predominant mode of interaction of conscious organisms is a consequence of the gradual digitalisation of signs and the increasing mediatisation of relations.
The digitalisation of communicative processes induces a sort of desensitisation to the curve, the continuous process of slow becoming; and a sort of sensitisation to the code, sudden changes of state and series of discrete signs.
Conjunction entails a semantic criterion of interpretation. The other, who enters in conjunction with you, sends signs that you must interpret the meaning of, by tracing if necessary the intention, the context, the shade, the unsaid. Connection requires a criterion of interpretation that is purely syntactic. The interpreter must recognise a sequence and be able to carry out the operation foreseen by the ‘general syntax’ (or operating system); there can be no margins for ambiguity in the exchange of messages, nor can the intention be manifest though nuances. The gradual translation of semantic differences into syntactic differences is the process that led from modern scientific rationalism to cybernetics and eventually made the creation of a digital web possible.
The term posthuman was introduced into philosophical debates by Donna Haraway and her Cyborg Manifesto paved the way for a new field of thought by revealing that it was possible to reinvent nature and subvert the forms of its subjection to male and capitalist domination. We should take into account the torment, the historical violence and the psychic suffered involved in this posthuman transition. Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto is presented as an ‘ironic dream’ and its main concern is the inclusion of machines, monkeys and women in the cultural realm. As the male history of humanity has kept these animals outside of the realm of history the posthuman transition must also be regarded as the crisis of that modern male humanism, which claimed to submit nature, the body and emotion to will and history. In this crisis, the man in decline, like Samson with the Philistines, promises in fact to involve women, monkeys and machines….
As a senile, moribund white male I can only reach the feminine conclusions drawn by Donna Haraway in her cat-like leap by retracing the history of the exhaustion of illusions, hopes, lies and illuminations generated by humanism in modernity. I intend to complete the course as a via cruces and a painful settling of accounts with everything we believed in, built and imagined. Everything we fought for.
My vision of posthuman transition revolves around the alternative between conjunction and connection and takes the realm of sensibility as its main object. I intend to discuss the sensible body extensively. Intelligence, reason and consciousness are mainly treated here as modulations of sensibility: sensibility to change, departure, flow and beauty. In the conceptual field of aesthetics I wish to reconstruct postmodern and incumbent posthuman becoming. The transition from conjunction to connection appears to be a crucial perspective for understanding this millennial juncture. The question can only be comprehended from the perspective of sensibility, its withering, retirement and dissolution.
Conjunction is the endless readiness of bodies, signs and events to form rhizomes: the concrete, carnal and erotic concatenation of each pulsating fragment with each other pulsating fragment. In connection, only what fulfils the standard of compatibility can connect: not every thing can connect with every other thing. In order to enable the connection of distant communicative agents we must provide them with tools to access the flow of digitalised information. The posthuman is the world where connection replaces conjunction and thus provokes a change of perspectives in the realm of labour, communication, emotion and affect.