henk oosterling on science, myth, and deleuze and guattari’s dogon egg

Originally published in: “Oedipus and the Dogon: Myth of Modernity interrogated” in: H. Kimmerle (ed.). I, We and Body. Amsterdam 1989, p.27-45.

Dogon egg

Dogon egg

Let’s return to our initial question: does myth function in Western discourse and how does it function in this specific Western discourse that Capitalisme et Schizophrénie, in spite of all its radical intentions, still is? Is it an ideal that the writers want to revive and transform in order to solve specific Western problems? Is it the answer? Or is it only an illustration of another organisation of our desires that they propose? Is there any presciptive value, or do they offer it to the reader as a description that has an indirect critical function?

Well, whatever their intentions may be, to me it can’t be more than an aesthetic proposal for another body experience or an example of how actual and historical forces inhabit the individual body. In showing an articulation of the Other and opening up a space in which difference productively emerges, one is able to develop a critical instrument. As such, the Dogon myth can function as an actual figuration of that limit conception, that Artaud named the “body without organs”. As Deleuze and Guattari say themselves: the Dogon egg is a splendid theory of signs. It provides a theory of signification. But I think that, once we look at the Dogon society, we also become aware of hidden and condemned aspects of our own society, aspects we can’t see any more because of the apparent disappearance of the constitutive power of myth and religion.

This book reveals how desire is inscribed in the body in a cruel way and connected, by ignoring the mediating role of the family, immediately to the social field and history. It shows us a different meaning of time. The thinking of the Dogon is focused to the past, not the future, and completely unfamiliar with the idea of development and fulfilment in a near future. The time circle is oriented to the star Sirius which eclipses every sixty years, in which Dogon society revitalises itself. History, social planning and collective self-realisation find their essential expression in the Dogon egg. Its constituting power can open our eyes to the ritualizing functions of science in our modern educational and therapeutical practices, that can be recognized as rituals, in which science tries to fasten its grip on the body. Generally speaking it focuses our attention on the implicit mythological and ritualizing aspects of modern science.

I’m not sure whether I can draw this parallel, but perhaps we can recognize this tension in the recent discussion in Africa about the status of philosophy. On one side the oral traditions and the local systems of thought are emphasised as the original form of African philosophy, which is qualified as ‘ethnophilosophy’. On the other side, one tries to bring, by means of a theoretical instrumentation, these local stories onto a theoretical level. This discussion touches our issue because the relation between myth and science here also seems to be the main target. The critics of ethnophilosophy are aiming their attack on the irrational elements in the local systems of thought. The modernist tendency in African thinking would rather strip itself of these irrational elements.

In an article entitled Mythe et philosophie – Réponse à Elungu, Towa et autres, Irung Ishitambal’a Mulang(1) criticizes the radical division between these two points of view. In the English summary it is stated:

“The radical dichotomy between the rational and the mythopoeic is misleading, since philosophical thought, from presocratic to present times, is informed in no small measure by mythical elements. Not only have thinkers like Plato and Marx used forms of expression that properly belong to myth but, too, philosophers and philosophy as such can’t proceed without in some measure having recourse to these forms of expression.”

Here I would like to assert that in Western thought, in spite of the fact that we have tried to banish myth in a radical way from our conception of world and history, we involuntarily reintroduced it in a very peculiar way. In order to display this point to its full extent I refer to a discussion which has been initiated decennia ago by Adorno and Horkheimer in their Dialektik der Aufklärung. They state that the rational discourse of Enlightenment, which has become the dominating discourse in Western philosophy, has produced a new myth: the autonomous subject. Although modern philosophy flatters itself with the thought that it completely freed itself from the shackles of mythology and externally imposed authority in the form of religion, many 20th century philosophers have recognized the fact that, as in myth, Enlightenment gets trapped in mythology with each step it takes in order to enlarge the distance between itself and mythology.

In the beginning of the Enlightenment, myth seemed to be transformed into sheer objectivity: the project of the Encyclopedia tried to objectify religious and mythical phenomena and transform them into positive forms of knowledge. Further on, Kant grounded this knowledge in the transparency of the autonomous, self-reflexive subject. But, as Adorno and Horkheimer conclude, this subject, who thought he was the lord of creation and the driving force of history, became a myth himself. His urge to develop and to finalize, to objectify and dominate, has produced counterforces which he can no longer control.(2)

Adorno and Horkheimer come to the same conclusion as Mulang: myth and enlightenment are interrelated. Historically we can easily locate the perverted effects of the irrationality of the enlightened bourgeois society in our time: in fascism the lower middle class embraced a secularized myth. It used and destroyed democracy and autonomous subjectivity in favour of technological violence in order to physically destroy the Other: Jews, gypsies, communists and homosexuals. But in spite of its perversion it did not solely function in a negative way by providing a justification for racism, totalitarianism and genocide. Myth also offered to a completely destroyed community, as postwar Germany obviously was, a new identity and feeling of solidarity. It connected German society once more with ongoing historical events. In other words, the functions of myth were apparently still very active in this proclaimed rational society.

(1) Irung Ishitambal’a Mulang, “Mythe et philosophie: Réponse à Elungu, Towa et autres”. In:Quest, vol. 1 no. 1, 1987, p. 12.

(2) Max Horkheimer/Theodor W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung. Amsterdam 1947, p. 22.

This excerpted from the essay published HERE.

deleuze and guattari and africa: southern responses



Dogon egg

The egg, symbol of the Dogon people of Mali, used by Deleuze and Guattari as an example of the “body without organs”.

In recent years there has been a widespread surge of interest in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Although Deleuze and Guattari studies is still in its infancy in South Africa, many of the themes that emerge from their individual and collaborative works – a politics of deterritorialisation, an ethics of becoming, a materialist ontology and so forth – hold great promise for thinking through and engaging with the complexities of contemporary South Africa and Africa more broadly, with pressing concerns around identity, geopolitics, culture, art, time, memory, autonomy, oppression and justice desperately calling for a bold, radical new praxis.

With the emphasis on Africa (but also keeping in mind what Deleuze says about the untimely), this conference aims to explore a wide range of topics related to the work of Deleuze and Guattari, showcasing local research and providing a supportive space for anyone interested in learning more about their compelling but difficult oeuvre, with all its lines of flight, war machines, virtual multiplicities, concrete assemblages and Bodies without Organs.

Go HERE for more info.

orphan drift this thursday at bolo’bolo

What do you get if you mix equal parts cutting edge continental philosophy, voodoo, psychedelics, underground dance music, cybernetics and multimedia experimentation? The notorious Orphan Drift!

Happening this Thursday, 25 July, from 20h00, Bolo’bolo Anarchist Info Shop and Vegan Cafe are delighted to announce an evening of Orphan Drift, featuring several short films from founding member Mer Roberts as well as a talk by UWC cyberculture theorist Delphi Carstens, followed by an almost certainly lively open discussion.

Orphan_Drift_540x300Here’s a taste of what you can expect on Thursday evening:

In the mid-90s, the legendary Cyber Culture Research Unit at the prestigious Warwick University was formed: their university-funded activities included producing collaged texts of Deleuze and Guattari, William Burroughs and binary code, theorising the occult underpinnings of markets, composing abrasive electronic music and, ostensibly, consuming inhuman doses of psychedelics as often as possible, much of this via the ORPHAN DRIFT collaborative artist project. A few years later, the CCRU was no more; founding member Nick Land – a genius philosopher and agent provocateur – had achieved full meltdown / deterritorialization and Sadie Plant, author of the well-known Writing On Drugs, had disappeared from sight.

The legacy of the CCRU is very much alive today though, a subterranean influence for the very latest movements in philosophy.

Mer co-created the collaborative artist and hive mind 0rphan Drift in London in 1994. Although it was predominantly made up of visual artists, it also involved sound designers, concept engineers and media activists.

As an artistic entity, 0rphan Drift is known for immersive and visually complex works which use the sample and the remix extensively, treating information as matter and the image as a unit of contagion. The art produced is science fictional and immersive. It complicates the distinctions between material and immaterial phenomena and dimensions, both in content and media. Much of its work explored mimetic patterns of desire, production and consumption- particularly in relation to the rapid technological changes happening at the time- drawing heavily on cyberpunk fiction, polyrhythmic electronica and the underpinnings of African religious systems. This was the social context in which its shifting layers of frightening, disturbing, abject, schizophrenic, beautiful, deconstructive, poetic and fragmented frequencies were able to take affect.

0rphan Drift is cross-contextual and made extensive contributions from 1994 – 2004 in the social arenas around contemporary art, underground music and cyber-feminism/post-structural philosophy. 0D has participated internationally in over a decade of exhibitions, screenings and performance, exhibiting extensively in the UK, Europe, Canada and the States, including at the Cabinet Gallery and Tate Modern in London; writing the Scifi-theory text ‘Cyberpositive’, and featuring in DJ Spooky’s ‘Sound Unbound’ in the ‘Renegade Academics’ chapter. It contributed cybervisuals to the set of Stephen Speilberg’s ‘AI’ and ‘Minority Report’ features and Leftfield and NIN world tours, worked frequently with Kode 9 and participated in 10 years of international Video art and AV Electronica art events in Norway, Germany, Canada, UK, South Africa and USA.

We now collaborate between Cape Town and San Francisco and continue to make science fictional work which is guided by a neo-futurist sensibility and clearly a progression from our earlier work. Our new video work ‘Wilderness of Elsewheres, Colony 1’, which maps contemporary global concerns with survival, insecurity and the unknown, has been shown in Santiago and San Francisco and we subsequently produced a series of Post Apocalyptic postcards for Shadowshop; Stephanie Syjuco’s parasitic shop at SFMOMA. Recently we made video for Delphi Carsten’s Capetown Tedx Talk, ‘Hyperstition’, and were commissioned make ‘You Its Eyes 94-13’ for screening at CTM13, Berlin.


1: You Its Eyes. 1994-2013, 30 minute video remixing 0D’s earlier work
0D employs different frequencies and overlapping rhythmic patterns to activate submerged regions of the brain and create intimacy and proximity through video-sonic signal. The goal of 0D, writes Simon Reynolds (1996), is “the liberation of texture from its environment, of energy-flux from contoured form with the goal to recreate the intensity of being lost”. 0D describes the individual ‘self’ haunted by a sensory cross-talk of signals from realms beyond the physical. Voices from imagined futures haunt the contemporary technological landscape. Feedback from the machines evolves into an unfamiliarity of speed and complexity, coding the textual body and imagination as tools for change. The invisible, fantastical, and anarchic called upon here are what Deleuze and Guattari define as the essence of virtuality. These intensities carry the sorcerous forces that technology and science unleash as they delve further into the quantum, the chaotic and the abstract.

“Surrounding the human self and its island of experience lies a raging sea of intensities” (D&G). All journeys into this space involve a succession of becomings autistic, mimetic, contagious and machinic.

2: Hyperstition – A talk by Delphi Carstens
Delphi is a lecturer at UWC, as well as half of the duo which makes up Groovy Troopers Productions – creators of temporary autonomous zones in the form of art & trance festivals. Delphi is currently completing a doctorate thesis, and will present on: “hyperstition” — a neologism coined by Nick Land that combines the words ‘superstition’ and ‘hype’ to describe how fictions become fact and how our narratives (stories) shape our world. It also describes, particularly, the narrative of capitalism, which is driven by hype and speculation and, which more importantly, turns fictions into facts. One very important fiction that Delphi will be discussing is the fiction of the apocalypse. Focusing on the current secular meaning of apocalypse as well as how popular culture views our current global crisis and the importance of imagining ourselves differently. Hyperstition also describes the nexus where myth or magic and science meet. Delphi explores the world of hyperstition to describe the manner by which hype and speculation become facts in contemporary society. The future is looking uncertain and how we imagine this future may be more important than we realise. This talk will be both an intellectual and a felt experience.

3: A Wilderness Of Elsewheres. 2009, 10 minutes
A two-screen installation in which dark abstract video spaces flow into bright photographic landscapes (the raw desolate tundras of southern Africa), populated and de-populated by animated collages of architecture and fashion, cut and scanned from contemporary print publications. A deliberate rhythmic awkwardness creates an alien time frame. The screens share a soundscape, made from a wide variety of samples including glaciers melting and rocket launches, composed into a sonic ‘event’. The work is imbued with post-apocalyptic sensibility, urges to the neo-romantic and the science fictional blending of first and third world materiality. At once immersive and deconstructive, the work is collision, co-habitation, evolutionary fever-dream.

Join us in mapping the outer edges — and do come earlyish if you want to sit down while doing so ;) !

nevermind the bollocks, here’s deleuze and guattari

[E]ffective differences pass between the lines, even though they are all immanent to one another, all entangled in one another. This is why the question of schizoanalysis or pragmatics, micropolitics itself, never consists in interpreting, but merely in asking what are your lines, individual or group, and what are the dangers on each.

JR at Desperadoes', Observatory, Cape Town, 15  May 2013. Photo: Rosemary Lombard

JR around the pole at Desperado’s Saloon, Observatory, Cape Town, 15 May 2013. Photo: Rosemary Lombard

What are your rigid segments, your binary and overcoding machines? For even these are not given to you ready-made; we are not simply divided up by binary machines of class, sex, or age: there are others which we constantly shift, invent without realising it. And what are the dangers if we blow up these segments too quickly? Wouldn’t this kill the organism itself, the organism which possesses its own binary machines, even in its nerves and its brain?

What are your supple lines, what are your fluxes and thresholds? Which is your set of relative deterritorialis­ations and correlative reterritorialisations? And the distribution of black holes: which are the black holes of each one of us, where a beast lurks or a microfascism thrives?

— Deleuze and Guattari: Toward Freedom. Read more HERE.
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