you can’t count how much we owe one another. It’s not countable. It doesn’t even work that way. Matter of fact, it’s so radical that it probably destabilizes the very social form or idea of “one another.” But, that’s what Édouard Glissant is leading us towards when he talks about what it is “to consent not to be a single being” (Fred Moten in Harney & Moten 2013, 154).
Ecosophic democracy would not give itself up to the facility of consensual agreement: it will invest itself in a dissensual metamodelization (Félix Guattari 1996, 272).
In Oranges are not the Only Fruit Jeanette Winterson writes that “if we are eighteenth-century gentlemen, drawing down the blinds as our coach jumbles over the Alps, we have to know what we are doing, pretending an order that doesn’t exist, to make a security that cannot exist” (1985, 95). I am opening this chapter by way of Winterson’s eighteenth-century gentlemen because their drawing down of the blinds against the unpredictable and more socially entangled qualities of life is present in much Western, social, political, and intellectual life. It is at the core of the conception of the humanist subject and at the center of the exploitation of much else for the sake of fabricating and maintaining a feeling of (false) security for this subject.
While regularly challenged by more radical art, design, and participatory democratic practices, the liberal subject—and its comforts—still too often operates as one of the main conceptual bases for both a more commercial interface design and dominant (neo)liberal constellations of democracy. The two are related. For example, (neo)liberal democracy could be understood, at least in part, as a model of interaction involving numerous interfaces that attempt to draw down the blinds against the social complexity of the world and against the entangled qualities of “minor social life” (Moten in Manning 2019a, n.p.).
Both (neo)liberal democracy and the more conventional notions of the interface need to be rethought because they are mutually implicated expressions of a more fundamental modern fabrication of the Subject, a fabrication that is ultimately oppressive. I have therefore followed eco-feminist Val Plumwood’s call and place this “conceptual foundation of oppression”—which includes the drawing down of the blinds—“at the very centre” of an exploration into what qualities could shape both a more fully social interface and a more fully social democratic practice (1993, x).
A further aspect of the problems involved is that the gentlemen’s insistence on their (false) sense of security participates in a positing of the world and its (non-European) ‘others’ in terms of what Denise Ferreira da Silva (2007) calls affectability. In her work on the construction of race, Ferreira da Silva describes this exploitative positing of affectability as the “condition of being subjected to both natural (in the scientific and lay sense) conditions and to others’ power” (xv). Ferreira da Silva argues that this “social scientific arsenal” ultimately “reproduces or repositions the others of Europe in affectability” (170).
The gentlemen’s participation in the creation of a false sense of security involves the troubling fabrication of a distancing of themselves from affectability. Following Ferreira da Silva I would argue that this fabricated distancing constructs a “separability,” one which seems to render the European gentlemen un-affectable. And the gentlemen know what they are doing: they profit from positioning others in affectability and this profit provides them with a sense of both comfort and (false) security.
In sum, via such operations as the pulling down of the blinds, and the fabrication of separability, a colonial and capitalist “arsenal” has been deployed “that produces … the [self-enclosed] subject of transparency, for whom universal reason is an interior guide, and subjects of affectability, for whom universal reason remains an exterior ruler” (Ferreira da Silva 2007, xxxix). In her “Black Feminist Poethics,” Ferreira da Silva seeks to free affectability and “the Category of Blackness… from the scientific and historical ways of knowing that produced it in the first place” (2014, 81).
The gentlemen in the coach on the Alps have played their part in (re)producing such exploitative “ways of knowing.” They are constructed as sovereign subjects, separated from the world and the “affected ones” (Harney 2013, 5), while “the affected” ones, together with the earth itself, become the means of capitalist exploitation and profit for the humanist subject of reason (Harney 2018, 97). Stefano Harney’s genealogy of contemporary capitalism and logistics, and his work on the “slave world,” demonstrate how the humanist subject of reason becomes “an end” for itself, which actively participates in the construction, enforcement, and exploitation of the affectability and the collectively produced means of the affectable ones, notably in slavery (97). According to Harney, these “means are utilized for but one end: the production of profit and cispatriarchy.” In turn, both profit and cispatriarchy “support and make possible this illusion of self-authored man who can declare himself an end” (100).
In other words, the fabrication of “self-authored” sovereignty (which Harney refers to as involving a “straightening” [2018, 108-110]) is also the end point of a “europhallic” production of subjectivity (Moten 2003, 203). Modern (neo)liberal democracy and much mainstream interface development, in that they too assume self-authored sovereign subjects, also serve such a europhallicism. At the heart of all this, according to Moten (2015), europhallic “modernity (the confluence of the slave trade, settler colonialism and the democratization of sovereignty through which the world is imagined, graphed and grasped) is a socioecological disaster.”
In this chapter it is especially the conceptual aspect of this socioecologically disastrous foundation of separability and oppression that informs my interest in trying to figure more transversal understandings of the production of subjectivity, social life—interfaces as part of this production—and what Guattari calls ecosophic democratic practices. The general idea in this chapter is that these need to be practiced along the lines of more ethico-affective and trans-subjective logics (see Guattari 1995 & Ettinger 2006), rather than within the logic of the exploitation that enables the separability of Western individualism. Such trans-subjective logics are also key to refiguring the concept of the interface in ecosophic, rather than (neo)liberal and europhallic, terms.
A more ecosophic democratic logic must not then concern the separability of any sovereign subject of reason or conceive of an interface simply in terms of interaction between self-enclosed subjects (see Massumi 1995, 189). Rather, ecosophy should tend to the communality involved in what Fred Moten, following Édouard Glissant, terms a “consent not to be a single being” (Glissant in Harney & Moten 2013, 154). Harney & Moten write that “[w]e owe one another the exhaustion of their physical and metaphysical regime, which means blowing up the structure that is grounded in the idea of one and another” (2018, n.p.). The conceptual structure to be destroyed is a structure that, while pretending it doesn’t exist, exploits the affective middle—“inseparable difference” in Ferreira da Silva’s (2016) terms. It protects the likes of Winterson’s European gentlemen. As previously mentioned, it also produces a logic that constitutes the very foundation upon which the notion of both (neo)liberal democracy and the interface rest.
With regard to the interface, but also with clear implications for thinking democracy, Andrew Goodman explains that the very ideas of “discrete interfaces are problematic in that they might be seen to imply a world inhabited by ideal, internally stable, objects [and subjects], between which interactions occur. The interface’s role, in such modes of thinking, is to rejoin entities that are by implication discrete” (Goodman 2018, 177-18; see also Massumi 1995). This is a problem because in such an approach “the complexity of continued unfolding and relation to the dynamic” ecologies and potentials of our socially entangled world “is greatly diminished” (177-78).
In the last section of this chapter I’ll consider two participatory artworks that figure the interface in a more socially entangled manner: Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013) by Ken and Julia Yonetani and Collective Fabulations—Propositions for Social Dreaming (2019) by Andrew Goodman and Erin Manning. Both artworks re-cast the notion of the interface from the perspective of the potentiality of the affective middle. From the perspective of this middle there is no privileging of “self-protecting,” enclosed, subjects (Moten 2018a). The works do not construct a traditional interface between stable, self-enclosed entities. Rather the works engage a more social becoming. Both Crystal Palace and Collective Fabulations foster the creation of more immanently emerging interlacings, to use Lone Koefoed Hansen and Jacob Warmberg’s term. Koefoed Hansen and Warmberg have coined the concept “interlace” as an alternative to the “idea and practice of the interface,” because the notion of the interface “is derived from the medium as a representational surface” that “demands the overview of an autonomous consciousness” (2005, 169): the separability of our gentlemen again!
The interlacings in Crystal Palace and Collective Fabulation—Propositions for Social Dreaming are different. These interlacings are trans-subjective (rather than intersubjective). They lace together a care for our “entangled differences” rather than for self-sufficient autonomy (Harney & Moten 2018). Both artworks open the blinds. Yet they also acknowledge the opacity of the inseparable affectability immanent to all events and encounters. I hope to show that these works invite us to “consent not to be a single being” and lead the way toward more general ecosophic and truly social democratic practices. However, before turning fully to a consideration of these participatory installations, let me first bring Guattari’s concept of dissensual ecosophic democracy into encounter with Édouard Glissant’s notion of “a consent not to be a single being” (2011, 5).
Glissant is influenced by the work of Deleuze and Guattari, and it is about time that we enrich Guattari’s ecosophic thought by way of Glissant (and the Black radical tradition). First, I’ll briefly explore Guattari’s notion of ecosophic democracy. Thereafter I’ll turn more fully to the work of Glissant, before considering the transformative sociality of the ecosophic interlacings at work in Crystal Palace and Collective Fabulations—Propositions for Social Dreaming. Ferreira da Silva, Harney, and Moten will keep us company along the way.
According to Guattari all ecosophic practices must concern heterogeneous becoming and an “opening onto multiplicity” (1995, 30). There is, thus, in Guattari’s notion of ecosophic democracy, little room for a liberal representative model based on transparency and consensus among a bunch of self-enclosed, supposedly rational subjects. Ecosophy does not concern itself with the being of these self-contained subjects. Neither does ecosophy accommodate the capital accumulation by such subjects. Indeed, for Guattari such subjects are an illusion because there “is no [separate] being already installed through temporality” (30).
I’ve suggested that the logic of separability concerning being that enables the humanist subject—and enables the accumulation of capital to such a subject—creates the privilege and power of Winterson’s gentlemen. In doing so, it also “smashes all other modes of valorization” (Guattari 1995, 29). Guattari writes that the model involved is the “great reducer of ontological polyvocality” (1995, 29). What is called for then must resist separability—because separability can exploit the affectability of others (and the earth)—and tend to difference: “difference without separability” (Ferreira da Silva, 2016). As I read it, this implies that the more ethical moves toward ecosophic democratic practices should concern neither consensus nor dissensus between self-enclosed subjects. Instead, according to Guattari such ecosophic practices should concern a different kind of dissensus, within a “dissensual metamodelisation” (Guattari 1996, 272).
It is important here to think Guattari’s understanding of dissensus together with his idea of metamodelisation. The key thing to note is that metamodelisation does not privilege any one model, certainly not that of an individual subject (Guattari 1995). Rather, ecosophic dissensual metamodelisation concerns practices, and those that are “more collective, more social and more political” (29). Such practices must involve a discordant and entangled polyvocity. And they should, I propose, foster conditions conducive to a consent not to be a single being. Such a consent would “call for an existential participation based on an immanence that must be endlessly” attended to (Guattari 1996, 266).
Ecosophic dissensual metamodelisation does not then imply dissensus as often understood in the humanist terms of a disagreement between separate, self-enclosed subjects. This more humanist understanding of dissensus too easily ends up serving and representing the rights of our European gentlemen only. Instead, ecosophic democratic practices could be thought of as resting on a “dissensual metamodelisation” that involves a prior consent to nourish the cacophony and interlaced discord of inseparable, immanent difference. Read together with Ferreira da Silva, Guattari’s dissensual metamodelisation could be seen to work with the conditions of a “difference without separability,” for which liberal democracy and its humanist understanding of the subject (formulated as separability) allow very little room.
In the context of the themes of this book I should perhaps stress, again, that I have gone with Koefoed Hansen and Warmberg’s (2005) concept of the interlace, rather than the mainstream idea of the interface. The notion of the interface doesn’t lend itself well to an ecosophic democratic approach, because broadly speaking the very idea of an interface is more attuned to a liberal understanding of relations of consensus or dissensus between self-enclosed, supposed sovereign subjects. An entangling interlace, on the other hand, escapes separability and lends itself well to ecosophic dissensual metamodelisation.
It is then, precisely, the kind of entangled differences suggested by Glissant’s consent not to be a single being that are important to Guattari’s thought on ecosophic democratic practices. And even when, in his last published piece—“Remaking Social Practices”—Guattari (1996) also addresses more mainstream politics in its “major” mode, this is never at the risk of losing the more minor qualities of ecosophic metamodelisation.
Such minor qualities are also key to Glissant’s Poetics of Relation. The general emphasis throughout Glissant’s work is relation, opacity, and difference, rather than identity, transparency, and unity. It is with this kind of emphasis, in a late interview “One World in Relation,” that Glissant introduces the notion of a “consent not to be a single being” (2011, 5). Here Glissant, like Guattari, is interested in “the moment when one consents not to be a single being and attempts to be many beings at the same time” (5).
In this interview Glissant also makes some important observations about Western democracy as that which orients the direction of much of the world. However, the notion of direction at work in a poetics of relation is opposed to the self-serving direction of powers within the logic of separability and unity at work in the gentlemens’ navigation of the world. For Glissant relation does involve direction, but relation must never pull down the blinds to the complexity of the world. Thus, for him relation “is a direction which is not the direction toward unity but which remains a direction in any case” (2011, 10). Glissant notes that when it concerns navigating direction in the West, democracy “is one of the most fully realized forms that has [been] undertaken” (10). However, Glissant does not see Western representative democracy as “the only possibility” (10). Modern democracy has a very problematic history, particularly concerning “colonial aggressions,” and Glissant stresses that “A democratic country should not be able to be a colonialist country” (10). Glissant urges the creation of practices that generate alternative, more relational contacts, directions and “opening[s] in [and for] the world” (10). It is interesting to note here that Guattari, in his last published piece, “Remaking Social Practices,” also asks us to invent new ways of navigating direction and openings for connection. He calls for us to create a new ecosophic “compass by which to orient” ourselves (1996, 262).
Glissant’s own work concerns itself to a large extent with the openings involved in a poetics of relation specific to the diversity of African diasporas. He is particularly concerned with “the forced diaspora imposed by the West through the slave trade (2011, 5).” He says “it seems to me that, if we don’t think about that properly, we won’t be able to understand what we ourselves can do, as participants in this African diaspora to help the … world to realize … its multiplicity (and to respect itself as such)” (5).
It is this kind of thinking in Glissant that has influenced Harney and Moten’s writing on the experience of the terrible conditions of (the Middle Passage) from Africa to the Americas. They write about the terrible price that was paid by the enslaved Africans experiencing the capture in the hold of the slave ships (Harney & Moten 2013, 87-99; see also Harney 2018). However, Harney and Moten also suggest that something else emerged from the “hapticality” of the extreme violence of being thrown together in the hold—what emerged was a “feel” of the capacity to “consent not to be one” (2013, 97-98). They propose that here “the self [and separation] is not what comes first” (Moten 2013). In Poetics of Relation Glissant explains:
Although you are alone in this suffering, you share in the unknown with others whom you have yet to know … People who have been to the abyss live relation and clear the way for it…. For though this experience made you, original victim floating toward the sea’s abysses, an exception, it became something shared and made us, the descendants, one people among others…
We know ourselves as part and as crowd, in an unknown that does not terrify. We cry our cry of poetry. Our boats are open, and we sail them for everyone (1997, 8-9).
In response to Glissant, Moten spells out how “middle passage opens up … the capacity to exercise a capacity … and that capacity is the consent not to be a single being” (2013, n.p.). For Moten this capacity produces “a particularly lovely” and fortunate “way of thinking.” He stresses that what emerges is a mode “of human existence which is not predicated, in the first instance, on the belief that the self comes first” (n.p.).
Moten is also interested in how people who have not suffered the middle passage and all that followed, or are not descendants of people who have, can encounter “the capacity to exercise” the capacity to “consent not to be a single being.” He asks the important question of what people who have participated in, “or have been administering the regime in which other selfhoods have been interdicted”, can “learn from this?” (2013, n.p.).
It is this question in particular that has motivated this chapter. “The capacity … to consent not to be a single being” certainly cannot be encountered by aiming to attain a fixed, self-enclosed subject position or by falling back on the principles of liberal representative democracy as a general and all encompassing social practice. Why not? Because this cuts out the experience of co-affectivity in terms of lived “difference without separability,” and that enables the positing and exploitation of the “affected ones” (Harney 2013, 5).
In this chapter, I have wanted to emphasize that it is time for: “black social life” (Harney & Moten 2013, 18), “minor socialities” more generally (Manning 2019a), and an emphasis on practicing the ability to “consent not to be a single being.” All three should more explicitly inform the takeup of Guattari’s notion of dissensual ecosophic democracy. Because, according to Harney, “we need more than the European thesis to fight the European model in its fully realized form” (2013, 5)—fight the violence done by it to specific groups more than to others. And at the same time Glissant reminds us that, “we should” never “try to bring everything under the same uniform” model or the notion of the universal (2011, 7). This is the case because for Glissant the concept of the universal could be understood to involve a problematic “abstraction” from the “weave of the living,” and clinging to the universal allows us to “forget [all] the small differences” interlaced in this weave (9).
It seems to me that in many ways Glissant’s implicit notion of an abstraction from “the weave of the living” is in accord with Alfred North Whitehead’s problematization of “the bifurcation of nature” found in much Western thought and science (Whitehead 2007, 26-48). Such a bifurcation pulls down the blinds against the “mutual immanence” (Whitehead 1938, 164) involved in living “difference without separability.” It separates nature in terms of a nature apprehending (our European gentlemen) and nature apprehended. Erin Manning points out that this bifurcation of nature produces “an account of experience that separates out the human subject from the ecologies of encounter” (2016, 28-29). While at the same time it perhaps also helps create the very possibility of the subject. Whitehead proposes instead that human sensory perception and mentality are not separate from this world but are an immanent part of it (this is very unlike the conviction of our European gentlemen and their liberal democracy). What if we take this seriously? What if that which apprehends the world is not of a different nature to the rest of the material world? It would follow that the dominant mode of representing issues and experience as if from some other (secure, distant, and un-affectable) place collapses. What is needed, in part then, is adding life—difference without separability—to the abstractions involved in the creations of concepts (see Whitehead 1938). This is precisely what Glissant—as well as Manning, Harney, Moten, and others—manages to do so beautifully. Like Brian Massumi has always done, they engage “the thinking-feeling of what happens” (2008, n.p.). They add (social) life to concept creation by situating it in the “feel” of inseparable difference.
It is, however, commonly assumed that reality is ‘out there,’ separated from us, and that when we talk about, judge, or represent certain events or people this is from a position somewhere else (from an unaffectable and europhallic position) not actually involved in the events themselves. However, for Whitehead, human perception is an immanent part of any event. In this affective field of events, thinking and feeling, and the actual and the virtual, become-together in actual situations.
Ferreira da Silva stresses that we must not privilege a “separability” that favours a “subject of universal reason”—our European gentlemen (2014, 82). She is critical of modern ontology and epistemology in this regard, especially of the violence done by their privileging of transparency and universal reason. Instead, she proposes a “re-imagining [of] sociality” in which difference becomes “the expression of an elementary entanglement” (2016, 65). This reimagining is important because, if we read Ferreira da Silva together with Whitehead, “the bifurcation of nature” that Whitehead attempts to overcome is also a bifurcation that in part constitutes the racialization central to modern thought and (neo)liberal democracy.
In terms of the themes of this book I would say that the concept of the interface itself partakes in upholding such a bifurcation. As mentioned, in such a bifurcation, as a kind of operation, the supposed “transparent subjectivity” that modern thought constructs is white (and unable to be affected by the world and the “affected ones” [Harney 2013, 5]). Like Glissant (and Whitehead for that matter), Ferreira da Silva therefore urges a move away from the notion of the “subject of universal reason” and the concept of the universe as such (2014, 82). She suggests that we instead develop Leibnitz’ concept of the plenum. The plenum is co-affective—not a universe but a world of relational difference without separability. In the plenum there is no separate subject of universal reason or bifurcated nature. In the plenum everything is interlaced and affects everything else (Ferreira da Silva 2014). In Ferreira da Silva’s poethics of difference without seperability we are all affectable, because ultimately “we are connected to everything else” (Ferreira da Silva in Desederi & Ferreira da Silva 2015, 4).
A Poethics of Relation for the weave of the living—for the plenum—must concern itself with opacity and difference in relation rather than transparency and likeness between that which is separate. Relational difference is key. For Glissant: “it is the living stuff of life.” According to Glissant, “there’s no likeness and differences; there’s only differences.” And it is “the rhizome of these differences,” difference without separability, rather than self-enclosed subjects as such, that “forms the weave of the living and the canvas of culture” (2011, 19).
This weave of inseperable difference could, as I’ve argued, also be seen as important to Guattari’s concept of ecosophic democracy (practiced as dissensual metamodelisation). And remember that ecosophy also emphasizes the equal importance and inseparable interlacings of the registers of social, environmental, and psychic/mental ecology in any practice (Guattari 2000).
In sum, as mentioned, Guattari is concerned with praxis and heterogenesis and he tells us to seek out and celebrate difference, dissensus, and discord, rather than a social praxis based on consensus between sovereign or like-minded subjects. He wants to compose a polyphonic “new subjective music” (1996, 267). This is important. Yet, to truly foster the creation of “the conditions” (see Manning 2016, 23) for ecosophic democratic practices capable of creating alternative openings for direction and contact in the world, and for these practices to retain ethico-political value—to really lose the europhallic anchorings of the liberalism inherent in modern representative democracy—it is useful to encounter both Glissant’s “consent not to be a single being” and Whitehead’s non-bifurcated nature: the plenum!
In short, if the possibility of the consent not to be a single being is considered as playing a constitutive part in ecosophic heterogeneous practices then the dissensus involved needs to be considered as metamodelisation of relational difference without separability, not as dissensus between self enclosed subjects. If we put too strong an emphasis on dissensus alone we do not necessarily fully shift the emphasis away from the transparent subject of liberal democratic practice. Producing such a shift is perhaps best done if we think Glissant’s “One World in Relation” in terms of a co-affective plenum. To reiterate, in a co-affective plenum, as in affect and any “encounter-event” more generally (Ettinger 2006, 173) everything is differentially interlaced and “we are never alone” (Massumi 2015a, 6). Neither are we alone in the participatory works Crystal Palace and Collective Fabulations—Propositions for Social Dreaming. These works hold us in encounter and answer the call for us to let go of “the fiction” of who (we think) we are as self-determined, enclosed subjects (Moten 2019, n.p.).
SOCIAL INTERLACINGS FOR A WORLD IN RELATION
I Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013)
Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013), by Ken and Julia Yonetani, is a response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Crystal Palace “is comprised of 31 chandeliers” (Yonetani & Yonetani, n.d.). The artists explain that “antique chandelier frames have been refitted with uranium glass and UV lighting” and “once switched on, the UV bulbs cause the glass beads to glow with a haunting green. The 31 pieces signal the 31 nuclear nations of the world, and the size of each chandelier corresponds to the number of operating nuclear plants in that nation” (Yonetani & Yonetani n.d.)
I experienced Crystal Palace when the installation was first exhibited in Sydney, before the completion of all of the 31 chandeliers. I went to the opening with my dear friend Doris McIlwain and her family. Doris had been invited to write about the work, and my own thoughts on Crystal Palace are influenced by McIlwain’s beautiful piece, titled “Contained Fear: Ken & Julia Yonetani’s uranium art” (2012). At the beginning of the article McIlwain explores the actual making of the chandeliers and the uranium glass beads in some detail:
The transformation of the radioactive glass beads from Eastern Europe—containing up to 2% of depleted uranium—into chandeliers which glow green when illumined with UV lights evokes grandeur past. This linking across time and cultures of antique structures from garages in Portugal and Europe with contemporary nuclear by-products, is real work. Julia [Yonetani] describes the ‘nightmare of re-wiring them’ of ‘linking the uranium glass beads together, with threads of stainless steel with nylon covering’ (2012, 31).
Because the uranium in the chandeliers’ glass beads is depleted, it should not pose an actual danger, but when switched on, the haunting green light of the chandeliers, while beautiful, is also quite eerie. Many at the opening of the exhibition lingered at the entrance and remained there for the duration of the event (see Figure 2).
Due to the depleted uranium in the chandeliers, the work was very effective in terms of immediating the fear of nuclear disaster and radiation more generally. McIlwain writes that “[t]he linking work of the Yonetanis is to connect across time and cultures, shedding light on a fear we should all share.” She notes that “[t]here is an eternal and invisible danger with radiation” and that “if we form a nested sense of self that is trapped in a cell of present time, we lack the means for emotional investment in the future to help us to override the motivation to ‘act opportunistically and myopically’ that arises from temporal discounting where ‘later counts for less than now’” (2012, 30-33).
For those at the opening who resisted a more myopic self-protection and braved encountering the work, the experience was powerful in terms of creating a sense of being in the feel with those living much closer to the disaster zone (see Figure 3). For those who entered the work fully, the beginnings of a “capacity to consent to not be a single being” emerged: uncertainty was present and a kind a “fragilization” happened (Ettinger 2009). This made perceivable just a fraction of “the feel” of uncertainty, danger and fear that must have been experienced by those much closer to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. A concern for more than one’s own self was present and with this an immanent sense of a quite differently interlaced sociality began to form. The work allowed no space for the act of positioning others in “affectability,” for the sake of maintaining the security of self-enclosed subjects. Rather I would suggest that an entangled “minor sociality” emerged (Manning 2019a). The social pull of the depleted radioactive ‘interfaces’ formed an interlace, which concerned our different but entangled situations. The interface here becomes what I would term an ecosophic interlace.
The installation as a whole worked the tissue of “the weave of the living”—the co-affective plenum. The chandeliers didn’t really represent and were not signifiers of disaster, as such. Rather, the entire encounter-event rendered radiation, and thus our “difference without separability” visible. A “consent not to be one” began to emerge when encountering the work fully. The individual chandeliers comprising Crystal Palace became crystals of time. And the feeling of the situation concerning the Fukushima nuclear accident became “trans-situational,” to use Massumi’s term (2002, 220). The work in encounter, like the production of the chandeliers themselves involved a actual linking (McIlwain 2012)—an interlacing—which made felt our one world, co-composing, in entangled relation.
In a situation of nuclear disaster and/or climate change and/or the current global pandemic, everyone is ultimately affectable. However, that is not to ignore the problematic fact that, at the moment, entire populations, or sections thereof, are again positioned in the role of affectability for the sake of protecting the social distancing and sense of security of “self-protecting” subjects.
This is why the kind of challenges posed by Julia and Ken Yonetani’s work are necessary. Such works hold us in encounter and “open up the sense of what might yet be … open up the sense of that which is … profoundly needed” (Haraway in Weigel & Haraway 2019).
Crystal Palace resists the positioning of others in affectability (for the sake of self protection) and fosters practices that don’t separate us but enable us to be “in the feel of each other” and “of the earth” (Harney 2018, 100-109), in order to better care for the world and all creatures in differentially entangled relations. In that sense the installation involves an ecosophic—reconfigured—‘social’ democratic practice. Crystal Palace works the inseparable ecologies of the social, the environmental, and the subjective/mental. Encountering the work involves an interlacing, which takes us to the non-bifurcated plenum and calls for us to live differently and to both foster and tend to a more entangled poethics of the world.
II Collective Fabulations—Propositions for Social Dreaming (2019)
The same can be said of the collective fabulations created by Andrew Goodman and Erin Manning’s propositions for social dreaming. They write:
Dreams, we propose, are collective fabulations that expose experience to its excess … Our project will activate speculative diagrams that map not the interiority of a dreamscape (as Freud or Jung might have us do) but the collective plane where dreams trouble the notion of the self-enclosed subject, where “dreams elude their dreamers on every plane” (Le Guin 2003, 14, italics original; Goodman & Manning n.d.).
Goodman and Manning’s Propositions for Social Dreaming is a complex, networked work. Unlike Crystal Palace, the ecosophic interlacings in Collective Fabulations—Propositions for Social Dreaming include analogue sensors and computational and algorithmic components. Yet, it would be to miss the richness of the three networked, fabric quilts to describe Social Dreaming simply as a high tech, interactive work.
Collective Fabulations—Propositions for Social Dreaming is inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin’s (2003) short story: “The social dreaming of the Frin.” Goodman and Manning tell us that on the Frinthean plane “dreams co-compose between the dreamers”—human and animal alike. Le Guin writes:
To escape from the dreams of others or to have a private dream, or secret dream, the Frin must go out alone into the wilderness. And even in the wilderness, their sleep may be invaded by the strange dream visions of lions, antelope, bears, or mice (2003, 77).
Propositions for Social dreaming invites us to enter a similar plane, where dreaming and experience more generally are distributed across many bodies, human or not, and across our different “sleeping environments” (Goodman in Goodman & Manning 2019, n.p.). Goodman says that “the dreams co-compose in a kind of ecological practice” and that the “dreams will become doubly ‘social’: shared both between participants and between participants and the larger physical environments in which they sleep” (n.p.).
The propositions for collective fabulation engage three beautifully crafted—networked—quilts designed and made by the artists. The quilts lend themselves to being exhibited in a gallery or across different gallery spaces. However, at the time of the writing of this chapter the quilts are housed—for a six month period—in three homes, across two continents: Castlemaine, Australia; Montreal; and our home here in Sydney. With this collective and deeply relational project the artists ask: “[w]hat if home were less the mortar that achieves a boundary than a proposition to rethink collectivities-at-a-distance?” (Goodman & Manning n.d).
Manning suggests that Propositions for Social Dreaming “challenges our ideas of home” (2019b, n.p.). And Le Guin writes about the Frin that “[t]heir dreams are truly common property” (2003, 76). I would say that the ideas of home that the artists are concerned with, just like the social dreaming of the Frin, cease to be bound up with the idea of private property.
The quilts contain a lot of intricate detail and are as different as the dreamers. The yellow satin quilt made by Goodman is quite futuristic (see Figure 4). The shiny satin is covered in small, matt, pocket size orifice-like craters and long intertwined feelers—tentacles possibly. These call to mind Octavia Butler’s fiction, which I know Goodman has read. It is interesting to note here that Ferreira da Silva also looks to the “female black” characters in Butler’s fiction. She looks to them in order to “signal the kind of imaging of the world, announcing a Black Feminist Poethics” (Ferreira da Silva 2014, 82). This kind of poethics, she argues, calls for “the end to the world as we know it.” It announces an end to the Western “narratives of science and history that sustain the transparent trajectory of the subject of universal reason [our European Gentlemen again] and … its grip on our political imagination” (82). Ferreira da Silva writes that this kind of poethics enables us to “[w]onder about another praxis and wander in the world, with the ethical mandate of opening up other ways of knowing and doing” (82).
Propositions for Social Dreaming attempts something very similar. And like the female characters in Butler’s novels, Propositions for Social Dreaming, like Crystal Palace, enables us to consider both the “incalculable” value (Moten 2018b; Manning 2019a) as well as the pain involved in “existing in bodies that have not been delinked from the plenum” (Ferreira da Silva 2014, 93-94). In terms of Octavia Butler’s female characters they are also bodies “whose existence is marked by the determinations of capital, raciality, and heteropartriarchy” (93-94). Bodies who have not been “delinked from the plenum” escape self-enclosure but it is important to note that what is gained from this kind of “consent not to be one” cannot be separated from the pain. On the Frinthean Plane the nightmares, for example, are a part of the shared collective dreaming too. There is no self-enclosed subject, on the one hand, and subjects positioned in affectability on the other. In the shared social dreaming everything is connected and affects everything else. This implies that on the Frinthean Plane it is not possible to close the blinds to the world for the sake of creating a feeling of false security. On the Frinthean plane it is impossible to posit others in affectability for the sake of a self-protective separability.
In any event, the two quilts made by Erin Manning have a very different quality to the satin quilt. They are made of old linen and cotton “sleep and undergarments” (Manning 2019b). These garments have been hand dyed and stitched together by the artist. They have an intimate domestic quality to them. The quilt I’m living with at the moment is composed of multiple pieces of sleep and undergarments that have been saffron dyed. Manning used just one gram of saffron and one bath of dye. She tells me that saffron was “a means of exchange” and was said to have “equaled one gram of gold” (n.p.). Manning calls saffron a “fugitive dye.” The last pieces of fabric dyed in the bath are the lightest in color. This is quite different to Manning’s indigo quilt. Indigo is a dye with real longevity. The indigo quilt is also different in the sense that it can be “worn as a dress” (n.p.).
Despite their beauty, or possibly because of it, these quilts call to mind class difference, and domestic and slave labour (Manning 2019b). Manning, says “often quilts have been made by African American women but claimed by white people” (n.p.). In regard to this Manning is concerned for “all the stories that stay unheard.” The saffron quilt is composed of so many interlaced garments and stories. This quilt in particular makes me think of the times, places, and situations where sleeping spaces are less private or where numerous children or grown-ups due to the exploitation of their shared means, for example, share the same bed.
Whereas the yellow satin quilt made by Goodman calls to mind Octavia Butler’s Black Feminist Poethics of inseparable difference, Manning’s saffron quilt made me think of Saidiya Hartman’s “lovesong to the wayward.” Hartman writes with the Black women who were “everyday revolutionaries,” but whose stories have remained unheard. In her “lyrical homage to the minor” (Halberstam in Hartman, 2019) Hartman draws attention to their fugitive ways of practicing kinship. She shows us how “[f]lexible and elastic kinship were … a recourse of black survival, a practice that documented the mutuality and generosity of the poor” (Hartman 2019, 91).
The saffron quilt with all its interlaced garments also render visible the reality, as well as the possibility, of a much more flexible and fluid mode of creating kinship and home.
In sum, the quilts are composed of networks—ecologies—of entangled relations. Manning asks: “how is it to sleep with all these sleeps?” (2019b). Goodman and Manning invite us to find out, to live with and/or sleep under the quilts, and to also share and entangle our dreams and sleeping environments across the network. Collective Fabulation as a whole activates a mutual generosity.
As regards the more technical qualities of this networked work Goodman explains that there are very long “bent sensors” embedded in the individual quilts. These sensors register the different ways the quilts fold during sleep, for example, and the pressure of the bodies of people or animals (cats appear to be particularly drawn to the quilts). There are also numerous small light sensors stitched onto the quilts (see Figure 8). And Goodman tells me that overall the “quilts thrive on variation” (2020a, n.p.).
Each quilt is connected to a laptop computer and the three quilts are “connected via computers and the internet” (Goodman 2019). The quilts communicate across the network and the communication, Goodman says, is potentially registered as “subliminal sonic micro vibrations” emitted by tiny speakers in the quilts (n.p.). This, together with the saffron scent, adds to the liveliness of the quilts.
It is crucial to note that the algorithms involved are not designed to capture or store any data picked up by the analogue sensors but to only “register and redistribute the rate of flow of data” (Goodman 2019, n.p.). Goodman explains that “they immanently register the intensive differentials” (2020a, np). They “ordinally sort and then gift these differentials to each other in ways that enfold their processes into self organising entanglements” (n.p.). This implies that the “rate of flow of data” can be gifted “to other streams of data” and the algorithms themselves can change very slowly over time (n.p.).
Le Guin’s idea of the sociality of the dreaming being dispersed and entangled—evading private property and involving a “consent not to be one”—is similar to the sociality of the algorithmic work itself. As the title itself suggests Goodman and Manning’s is a very social work and the social dreaming does not belong to human beings only. Rather, the kind of sociality produced across Social Dreaming incorporates socialities beyond the human.
In regard to these socialities my concern has been that the more oppressive conceptualizations of (a liberal) humanism are reinforced not only in ideas and practices of liberal democracy but also in many standard understandings of the social and social interaction. This is subsequently actualized in much mainstream commercial interface design, possibly in the very concept of the interface itself.
I’m thinking here in particular of an (un)social media platform like Facebook, which enforces both an individualizing faciality and a dividualising data capture. Both sides of this serve the capitalist function of separating us. Possibly even of “straightening” us and of “making us white,” to use the words of Stefano Harney (2018, 108). This is not to say that moves of creative subversion cannot exist within such platforms. However, my concern is that “the conceptual foundation of oppression” (Plumwood 1993, x), underlying the supposed consensual and rational, but essentially separating, and now often dividualizing tendencies, involved in many of the more normative interfacings, needs to be challenged. It needs challenging because otherwise it can too easily follow that well-intended moves toward promoting difference and more participatory democratic practices risk leaving the hauntings of a europhallic and white, humanist normativity intact. If these are left intact, affectability (which in the case of ‘social’ media platforms like Facebook now also includes data as our “lost means”) is again turned towards profit, exploitation, and patriarchy. While these may no longer be working directly for the subject as such (Harney 2013) they still end up supporting the separability of our white ‘gentlemen.’ Indeed, there is within the contemporary capitalist and dividual fields of control—of data for example—also a push toward separability (away from our shared communual means and trans-subjective feel).
In order to challenge this separability, which, as just mentioned now also works at a dividualizing level, I’ve followed Ferreira da Silva’s suggestion and engaged with practices that foster connection. I should emphasize here that, for Ferreira da Silva, it “is not so much about reconnecting” because we “are always already ‘connected’” (Ferreira da Silva in Desideri & Ferreira da Silva 2016, 5). What is needed, according to Ferreira da Silva, is for us to “[r]ecall (…make actual) the (virtual) connection because we live with the illusion that we are isolated, self-enclosed—or as they say ‘self-possessed’ individuals” (5). But we are all affectively entangled, and it seems to me that an important ecosophic step is to practice a care for the mutually inclusive affectability of entangled difference (Massumi 2017, 58). This is precisely what happens in Propositions for Social Dreaming—in both the creation of the quilts and the computational work itself—and I would like to again point to Stefano Harney, because he writes:
This seems to me to be our task—to find ways where we can remain open to each other, allow our means to explore the full entanglement of our lives together and our full entanglement of this love, pain, and joy with each other in and of the earth (2018, 109).
For many of us this must involve a remaking of social practices—and the creation of more entangled ways of living. It is important to ensure that this move becomes as ethically responsible as possible. This is best done by tending to the field of inseparable difference. This is where social life—and dreaming—is actualized and lived. And it is in this more lively and immanent field of relation that new social practices can be invented.
Propositions for Social Dreaming and Crystal Palace both tend to this field of inseparable difference and move beyond europhallic and straightened conceptions of the interface, which work at keeping us apart. In encountering these works the sociality of entangled relation is felt.
Now with regard to the ethical responsibility for “being in the feel of each other,” as already mentioned, I agree with Harney that “we need more than the European thesis to fight the European model [of separability] in its fully realized form” (2008, 177). I’ve therefore throughout this chapter deviated a little from the very valuable Foucaudian genealogy of knowledge, power, and the Western subject (who arguably is becoming more and more straightened). I do think that Deleuze (1995)—in following Foucault’s diagnosis of power—is correct in suggesting that we have largely moved from a disciplinary society to a dividualizing society of control. And Deleuze (1995) himself and others too, have already very convincingly suggested that moves from the dividual field of control back to becoming and to the transindividual level of experience are possible (see Massumi, 2014; 2015a and 2015b). Nevertheless, like Goodman and Manning, I’ve opted in this chapter to also look beyond the genealogy of Western man and his modulation by control toward genealogies of women’s lives, Black life, and other “minor socialities” (Manning 2019a). If our focus is exclusively on the move from an individualizing disciplinary moulding to a dividualizing modulation (dominant modes of dividualization under late capitalism, as mentioned, also rest largely on separability) it could go unnoticed that the becomings of minor socialities—while exploited by capital, logistics, discipline, ableism, and algorithmic control—are not, and have not been, totally captured by such major forces. In other words, minor—more wayward—modes of social life, while often violated or excluded, may not be totally captured by contemporary control and its dividualizing separability. This is because this kind of sociality does not, to begin with, rest on a conception of the social as constituted of relations between self-enclosed individuals (see Manning 2019).  As Propositions for Social Dreaming shows us—in the very design of the quilts and their connections—a different kind of entangled sociality emerges from a consent not to be one: “inseparable difference.” This is rendered perceivable in the saffron quilt in particular. A consent not to be one emerges by way of the interlaced entanglement of all the different garnment.
In short, in Collective Fabulations the social, and with it, relation is not conceived of as a constituted bond between self-protecting and enclosed individuals. Rather sociality concerns the inseparable difference and complexity of Glissant’s “weave of the living.” Here ethics must involve both a refusal to judge from afar and “a refusal” of the subject as an endpoint.
Harney writes that this refusal, found in “[o]ther histories, other ways of living,” suggests “that not being capable of being an end in oneself, indeed ever fully being oneself” involves an incompleteness of self, and a “mutuality” “of means”:
Our ability to be in the feel of each other is historical and magical, painful and beautiful. It emerges in its strongest form—from a thousand rivers—in the nautical event, the first horrible logistics [the transatlantic slave trade] dedicated to the ends of man/Man (2018, 100-101).
According to Moten this feel involves a “refusal” of “being self owning” and “self sufficient” (2018a, n.p.). More generally, Moten proposes that with such a refusal comes a consent to “risk … the reality or fiction of who we are” (in our self sufficiency). Moten suggests that this undoing (for some an undoing of europhallic subjectivity) is best “experienced communally and within the context of some powerful kinds of social support” (n.p.). According to Moten (2018) it can be frightening and even dangerous to come undone alone—lose the fiction of who we think we are as self-enclosed individuals. Yet together in “entangled difference” and “incomplete sharing” it becomes possible (Harney & Moten 2018). This is precisely what is made possible by the social collectivities immediating across Crystal Palace and Collective Fabulations—Propositions for social dreaming.
In terms of Collective Fabulations—Propositions for Social dreaming it is key to remember that the activity registered by the analogue sensors is not stored as data anywhere, “only ever differentially registered and shared as flows of rates of activity” (Goodman 2020a, n.p.). It can therefore not be controlled by a separating contemporary dividualism. I would say that the activity of ‘the data’ here itself forms a communal or social support of shared means. Here the shared “means are enlarged, enriched, and entangled for each other” (Harney 2018, 100). Collective Fabulations—Propositions for Social Dreaming creates a trans-dividual collectivity of shared entangled means—as well as of social dreaming—rather than a separating dividualism (or individualism) based on capitalist exploitation and control.
In Collective Fabulation—Propositions for Social Dreaming, what Goodman refers to as the “liveliness of the data” (activity) belongs to and is shared across the co-affective plenum (2020a, n.p.). It escapes control and separability and can be gifted as flow across and within the three quilt setups, across “the weave of the living.” In this it escapes being posited as an affectability that is at the service of the separability of europhallic and capitalist control.
Goodman has written about the importance of thinking the algorithmic in ways that departs from europhallic, white, and neurotypical logics (Goodman 2020b; see also Manning, 2019a). This is key to understanding the workings of the algorithms in Propositions for Social Dreaming. We’ve seen how the dreamers “consent not to be a single being,” and cease positioning others in an exploitative affectability. The same can be said to take place at the level of the algorithmic work and the rates of flow of activity/data. All this creates a poethics of social relation, at every level of the work. What is created is a truly social gift economy (Goodman 2019). This kind of communual sharing economy works transversally across the entangled registers of the social, the technical, the environmental, and the subjective/psychic.
In sum, Manning and Gooodman’s proposition is to socially dream and fabulate “some kind of ethically responsible way of being in the world with other things” (Moten in Harney & Moten 2013, 108). As mentioned, this is not done well in isolation. And housing a quilt and tending to it is like living with a number of different but entangled creatures. You care for them and tend to them and their larger environments—including the computational setup as well as the quilts themselves. You do not quite know what they feel or experience and you cannot control what they get up to. But you become sensitive to the entangled presence of other creatures and ecologies, even if these are at a distance or unknown, and very different: snow and a more severe manifestation of the Covid 19 pandemic in Montreal and extreme heat and bush fires in Australia, for example.
Collective Fabulations—Propositions for Social Dreaming creates ecosophic interlacings, which enable us to dream, share, and fabulate together, and to let go of the dominant Western ideas and practices that foster separability.
The work returns us to the “weave of the living” and actualizes the potentially of living “difference without separability”—even at a distance. It fosters a true sociality that doesn’t separate the human from this weave. And unlike many commercial, supposed social, media platforms it offers an alternative to both self-enclosure and a separating and exploitative data dividualisation. It also acknowledges and values that for more than a few, separating from the weave of the living—from the plenum—was never an option.
Collective Fabulations—Propositions for Social Dreaming cannot be thought of as democratic in the liberal sense of the term. Collective Fabulations does not do its work on the major plane of politics but it does create a minor plane of real sociality. By way of conclusion I would like to again point to Le Guin’s short story. The short story is published in a collection of stories titled Changing Planes. Remember that, according to Ferreira da Silva, everything affects everything else. And this implies that collective molecular movements happening on the minor plane of the weave of the living participate in the remaking of social practices (Guattari 1996). It may even influence the major plane of Politics, because as Massumi writes:
when macro-structures miniaturize themselves and work to usurp the ground of the micropolitical with scaled-down versions of the dominant generalities, that is fascism. When micropolitical flourishings proliferate to produce a singularity, in the sense of a macrosystemic tipping point, that’s revolution (2015a, 82).
- See Maria Hynes for a much needed consideration of what would constitute a truly social design practice. Hynes argues “that design interventions … must be seen to be social, rather than interventions upon the social” (2019, n.p.). ↑
- Moten continues to write that this “socioecological disaster … can neither be calculated nor conceptualized as a series of personal injuries” (2015, n.p.). ↑
- I’m not suggesting that we overthrow liberal democracy on the major plane of politics (see Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). And it is indeed scary what is happening to liberal democracy at the moment. However, it feels strange to pull all our efforts toward attempts at saving a practice of democracy that rests on a europhallic enlightenment model.↑
- This is perhaps the reason as to why Guattari in his call for new ecosophic practices calls for a “search for new social interactivities” (1996, 267). ↑
- In 2009 filmmaker and cultural theorist Manthia Diawara accompanied Glissant on the cruise ship Queen Mary on an Atlantic voyage. Diawara filmed the voyage and their conversation around Glissant’s anti-imperialist philosophy of relation to produce the documentary One World in Relation (2009). A published interview followed of the same title. ↑
- I want to note here that while running with the concept of “consent not to be a single being,” Moten also stresses that “Glissant’s notion of consent is actually in excess of his poetics of relation!” (2018, 225). And Ferreira da Silva explains that “[w]hen the term poethics first came to me, I was not seeking for a descriptor for an attitude … but really for a praxis, as a way of existing (doing and knowing) that resonates with Glissant’s view on poetics, though my intention is to do away with the ‘I’ and the ‘Other’ that he writes in ‘relation’” (Ferreira da Silva in Himada and Ferreira da Silva 2016-2017,109). ↑
- Manning says that she is inspired by Annie Albert’s textile work and she understands fabrics and garments to be “the soft architectures of our lives” (2019b, n.p.). ↑
- In his analysis of contemporary power operations Massumi (2015b) terms these operations: Ontopower. Ontopower could be understood to have taken hold of the affective middle and Massumi argues that a resistance to this mode of power cannot really be separated from its field of operation. It thus involves of a “counter-ontopower” (Massumi 2017). See also Brunner & Fritsch 2012 and Brunner & Raunig 2015. Brunner and Raunig also look to Harney and Moten. ↑
- Here I’m thinking in particular of the black undercommon sociality that Harney and Moten articulate so well (but also of Massumi’s Parables for the Virtual, Ettinger’s Matrixial Metramorphois, Ferreira da Silva’s Black Feminist Poethics, Sadia Hartman’s Wayward Lives, and Manning’s work on neurodiversity). A conceptual or genealogical consideration of the possibilities and cares involved in the various ways of living “difference without separability” emerges in such work. Work which all concerns itself with “a life” and becoming that is truly social, rather than self-enclosed (Deleuze 2005). This kind of concern has always been present in Brian Massumi’s activist process philosophy (as well is in his work around affect). For a closer engagement with Massumi’s earlier work, in particular, see Bertelsen 2012. I should note that, although I don’t engage with Massumi’s work in explicit detail here, this chapter, like my previous writing, has been informed by his work. ↑
- If “dividual” is still the right word to use here? ↑
- But that is a good thing because as Deleuze points out “[t]here’s no democratic state that’s not compromised to the very core by its part in generating human misery” (1995, 173). As we have seen, Moten goes further and refers to liberal democracy as playing a very active part in the creation of a “socioecological disaster” (2015, n.p.). ↑