Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Cartographies
This piece by Brian Holmes contains some useful analysis of information as postmodern myth of rational control. I also blog this as a reminder to myself to that I have to read Lewis Mumford soon. The Guattari things I am less interested in, as for example Brian choses to overlook the failure of Guattari's radio project in Paris and, a bit mistakingly I suggest, calls it a tactical media project.
A desiring mind seeks infinity, and finds it today in a proliferation of signals: electromagnetic waves beaming down from the skies, fiber-optic cables emerging from the seas, copper wires woven across the continents. The earthly envelope of land, air and ocean – the realm of organic life, or biosphere – is doubled by a second skin of electronically mediated thought: the noosphere. It’s a vast, pulsating machine: a coded universe grown complex beyond our grasp, yet connected at every pulse to the microscopic mesh of nerve cells in our flesh.
Such is the contemporary circuit of communication. Its existence raises two basic questions. What will be the destiny of this intangible planetary skin? And how does it unfold in our own bodies?
Picture yourself long ago, as a child, discovering the pairs of terrestrial and celestial globes that are found in the museums of the old European sovereigns. The room is inexplicably empty, and you, the child, chance on the twin rotating spheres with their intricate designs, clasped in heavy armatures of wood and brass. One of them sketches the contours of land and sea in meticulous detail, while the other paints extravagant fantasies over a map of the stars. But what is the relation between the continents and the constellations? Why give such rigorously equal weight to fact and imagination? What has the lion, the crab, the archer, the serpent, to do with the compass or the colonies? And why would the sovereign have wavered between the two?
Seen from the child’s perspective, the terrestrial and celestial globes mark the split between a physical science of the territory and a free-floating realm of the imagination. The precisely drawn lines of latitude and longitude speak of exploration and conquest, of industry and trade; while the mythical figures of the celestial globe beckon elsewhere, toward mysterious constellations of universes. It was here, you might imagine, in this very room, that the geometric cartographer parted ways with the mystical astrologer. But wasn’t it also here that the highest task of the artist first emerged: that of giving form to the heavens, of rearranging the stars above our heads?
The historian of technics, Lewis Mumford, had a different way of telling this story. In his final book, The Pentagon of Power – the second volume of The Myth of the Machine – Mumford explained how astrology itself had contributed to the royal sciences of the early Renaissance:
It established as a canon of faith a belief in the strictest sort of determinism; for it interpreted singular life events in terms of collective statistical probabilities, based on data originally gathered from a mass of individual biographies, collected and collated, it is reported, by royal mandate. Thus royal patronage had not merely promoted star-gazing but laid the groundwork for the more austere and pragmatically useful determinism of the physical sciences. Once firmly embedded in the mind, this assumption would even lead a proud mathematician to boast that from a sufficient knowledge of a single event the position and state of every other particle in the universe could be predicted. That unfortunate exhibition of intellectual hubris laid the foundation at an early date for the dubious alliance between scientific determinism and authoritarian control that now menaces human existence.1
Read more on Brian Holmes blog:
Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Cartographies - or, the Pathic Core at the Heart of Cybernetics