4 September 2018

Scrap Metal and Fabric: Weaving as Temporal Technology

The city is the force of striation that re-imparts smooth space, puts it back into operation everywhere, on earth and in the other elements, outside but also inside itself. The smooth spaces arising from the city are not only those of worldwide organisation, but also of a counterattack combining the smooth and the holey and turning back against the town: sprawling, temporary, shifting shantytowns of nomads and cave dwellers, scrap metal and fabric, patchwork, to which the striations of money, work, or housing are no longer even relevant.
—Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Since this is only going to be a short fifteen-minute talk, I'm going to present my argument very simply, and in form of a philosophical conspiracy theory.

It begins, like all good conspiracy theories, with a mysterious prophecy.


In the enigmatic closing line
of Zeros + Ones, Sadie Plant refers to Ada Lovelace's quiet development of the world's first working, fully-implementable, computer program — which Lovelace related to the invention of the Jacquard loom insofar as both realised a form of weaving — as 'a code for the numbers to come'. On the surface, the import of this sentence is simple enough. But it is more than just a superficial reference to the history of computation, time and the complex entanglements of both with women.

Ada Lovelace, who has only moments prior, called herself a prophet, cannot recognise the mark of either a woman or a man in her own writing. She has also just evoked in her assessment of her work's relationship to history, a temporality that any reader of Nietzsche would immediately (and not unironically) recognise as the 'untimely'. The 'numbers to come' is a deliberate echo of the Deleuzean 'people to come' which is an intentional remixing of two passages from Nietzsche, the second of which is the most intriguing for us (from Zarathustra):

Wake and listen, you lonely ones! From the future come winds with secretive wingbeats; good tidings are issued to delicate ears. You lonely of today, you withdrawing ones, one day you shall be a people: from you who have chosen yourselves a chosen people shall grow — and from them the overhuman.[0]

The 'code for the numbers to come’ is an enciphered premonition of the overhuman, one coincident with the intrusion of the untimely into linear history behind the mask of Lovelace's algorithm.

Artificial Intelligence

The cyberfeminist account of artificial intelligence is emergentist one, modelled on feedback: an artificially intelligent system is a system that learns by breaking down.

Where Plant remarks that 'intelligence cannot be taught: it is instead something that has to be learned’, Anna Greenspan writes that ‘in order for a machine to function “it must not function well” […] No longer dependent on the smooth functioning of clearly distinguished parts, cybernetic machines learn to adapt through their mistakes’.[1]

Plant emphasises that intelligence, construed cybernetically, cannot be limited to integral human agents alone. It is distributed and material. Like the woven image, pattern, or motif that arises out of the threads strung across the various looms and needles that populate Plant's writing, ‘intelligence is no longer monopolised, imposed or given by some external, transcendent, and implicitly superior source which hands down what it knows — or rather what it is willing to share — but instead evolves as an emergent process, engineering itself from the bottom up’ and appearing only later as an identifiable object or product: ‘the virtuality emergent with the computer is not a fake reality, or another reality, but the immanent processing and imminent future of every system, the matrix of potentialities which is the abstract functioning of any actual configuration of what we take as reality.’[2]


This account of artificial intelligence 
is reprised in the philosophical core of Zeros + Ones, which has the following structure:

A primary productive process, consonant with positive zero — or 'the matrix' — individuates a secondary, re-productive process that represses the conditions of its emergence in order to enter into the world of representation and recognition. Zero envelops one; it is not its (negative) other. But on the other side, its individuating power is masked by a superficial binarisation, where it camouflages itself as lack.

One erects binaries, represents, identifies and consolidates existing structures, it is actualised, primarily discursive, and recognising; zero dissolves binaries, dis-associates, mutates existing structures, and generates the completely new; it is simultaneously virtual and material.

Plant writes: 

The matrix emerges as the process of abstract weaving which produces, or fabricates, what man knows as 'nature': his materials, the fabrics, the screens on which he projects his own identity, and behind them the abstract matter which comes from the future with cyberfeminism. The matrix makes its own appearance as the surfaces and veils on which its operations are displayed.

For Plant, the emancipation of material forces corresponds to the emancipation of zero as the irruption of the utterly novel — first disguised as something else.

If, following the line of thinking initiated by the reference to Lovelace's computer program, we were understand the 'people' or the 'numbers to come' as shadows of an emergent, distributed, artificial intelligence, then the question that must be asked is this: under what disguise will it enter the world?


In the fourteenth plateau
of A Thousand Plateaus, ‘The Smooth and the Striated’, Deleuze and Guattari define two kinds of spatio-temporal arrangement integral to social — and specifically — modernistic development. Each of these configurations of space-time is related to a particular form of weaving and to the instantiation of a particular kind of political ontology.

Woven fabrics of the kind produced on a loom compose a striated space. A striated space is a closed system, it relies on a stable, metrically homogenous, spatially-delimited, fixed production process constituted via ‘two kinds of parallel elements’ (the warp and the weft) and is related by Deleuze and Guattari to a Platonic ‘royal science’, ‘in other words, the art of governing people or operating a State apparatus’.[3]

Felt, on the other hand, is a process that produces smooth space.

It implies no separation of threads, no intertwining, only an entanglement of fibres obtained by fulling (for example, by rolling the block of fibres back and forth). What becomes entangled are the microscales of the fibres. An aggregate of intrication of this kind is in no way homogenous: it is nevertheless smooth.[4]

Smooth space is an open system, infinite in principle, assembled via a metric that is internally heterogenous, without — therefore — assignable extensive coordinates (‘it has neither top nor bottom nor centre’, left, right, up, or down), and what comprises it is not fixed and mobile (like the loom’s warp and weft) but rather a distribution of ‘continuous variation’.[5]

Deleuze and Guattari continue to complicate the distinction, adding patchwork, which approaches the pole of smooth space in its ‘piece-by-piece construction, its infinite, successive additions of fabric’ and the fact that what they term ‘crazy patchwork’ connects together ‘pieces of varying size, shape, and colour’, ‘plays on the texture of fabrics’ and has ‘no centre’. Patchwork is ‘literally a Riemannian space, or vice versa’.[6]


The best way to understand the difference between the political implications of these two polar descriptions of space is to understand them as an extensive multiplicity and an intensive multiplicity, respectively.

Striated space is an extensive multiplicity: a set predefined by a homogenous metric in which additions of new elements do not alter the quality or the definition of the set, but simply add to it.

An intensive multiplicity, on the other hand, is a grouping that changes in nature for every new addition or subtraction. Its identity is composed internally, as a measure of what the set comprises, and how these elements are connected.

What smooth and striated declensions of space-time ultimately furnish us with are two distinct ways of thinking identity. The former always places a specific, pre-formed conception of identity first, and draws an extended configuration of difference in which every separate part necessarily refers back to this primary anchor in conceptual sameness, while the latter is a shifting, complex, intensive ‘identity’ premised on the molecular, secret machinations of primary difference.

To these configurations of identity — assembled alternatively from the cardinal numeracy of the one or from the intensive numeracy of zero, from (what Luce Irigaray called) 'the language of man', or from the immanent becomings of its 'infrastructure', the woman-machine continuum, including every admixture in between — one can append the Deleuzo-Guattarian concepts of ‘subjugated’ and ‘subject’ groups and the major and minor politics that are attached to them.

Subjugated groups are assemblages governed by an identity of units. Subject groups are in continuous assemblage, the group forming its identity in the smooth space of intensive space-time, and they are therefore less visible, and indeed, often invisible.

Minoritarian and majoritarian politics are politics — not of identities — but of space-times. And as space-times, following Kant, they produce and respond to different models of intelligence.

If identity is freed from the rationally conscious human self in this way, the space in which a ‘self’ can be philosophically constituted and understood becomes a far vaster terrain, its rules now pertaining to the mode of its individuation (minor or major, intensive or extensive, smooth or striated), rather than to some essence or prior quality appended to it in the already representational domain of the ‘language of man’.


In ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ Haraway warns of the dangers of identity politics, and talks about systems that define unity via filiation and/or genetic and natural origin stories against a negativised 'other', whose modality of connection or political solidarity is inarticulate and historically imperceptible.

In contrast to stable, 'natural' and filiative identities, Haraway espouses ‘learning how to craft a poetic/politic unity without relying on a logic of appropriation, incorporation and taxonomic identification’. Not ‘unity-through-domination’ or ‘unity through-incorporation’, but ‘unity-through-affiliation’ — which undermines all systems of definition based on an ‘organic or natural’ standpoint.[7]

Decoupled from a static, self-repeating human identity that continues intact throughout time, identity is freed as a shifting systemic structure that can be appended to certain complex assemblages at different times, running parallel but at different speeds and in different configurations, separate from the individuals we take to exist essentially and a priori, but which are indeed, part of a vertiginous array of systemic convergences. The principle feature of smooth space-times, which construct themselves ontologically as emergent, minoritarian political subjects via the processes of abstract weaving Deleuze and Guattari recognise in patchwork or felt, is their privileging of a regime of complex learning, over one that begins with a set of pre-programmed priors.

So, what strange tapestry might the perverse Furies of Abstract Weaving produce from this chaos of loose and wild threads?

The Numbers to Come

The missing link, I'm going to argue,
that will assemble the prophecy that connects the conspiracy of women and machines (initiated by Ada Lovelace and her weaving-inspired algorithm) to the enigmatic evocation of the 'numbers to come' in Zeros + Ones; the space-times, politics and ontologies of major and minor, subjugated and subject groups; the systems-theoretical articulation of a non-identitarian affiliation these reformulations make available to us, and the subsequent definition of artificial intelligence as, first and foremost, the generation of a synthetic space-time — can be found in the speculative political vision of patchwork: an obscure idea with a long anarchist pedigree, currently most typically associated with Neoreaction (or NRx) and the writings of Mencius Moldbug and Nick Land.

In 1960s and 70s France, the concept turns up repeatedly in the work of Deleuze, Deleuze and Guattari, Francois Lyotard, and Michel Serres, always within the framework of minoritorian politics, often in dialogue with cybernetics, and explicitly for Deleuze, as the mode of bringing about the advent of the 'people to come'.

For Land and NRx, patchwork describes the breakdown and fragmentation of the nation-state (a majoritarian, subjugated group) into a complex global fabric of small city-states or other alliances — 'patches' — premised, following the disposition of those who compose or set them up, upon either intensive or extensive configurations of space-time (subject groups or subjugated groups respectively).

As an immanent, intelligent system, patchwork evolves through the cauterisation of deficient nodes, those which operate as obstacles to the intensification and strengthening of the system as a whole.

One might speculate that its minimal ethical norm is thus one that selects against top-down, ‘patriarchal’, homogenous, regulated and controlled individuations and for heterogeneous, integrally diverse, and perpetually drifting synthetic individuations: the subject groups of minoritarian political space-times.
Thus, it is not bereft of ethical assessment, but rather comprises what could be considered the first properly irresponsible post-human ethics. Such an ethics is not discursive, nor does it betray a sensitivity to discursive structures, rather it is hard-coded into the selection mechanism of patchwork as assemblage survival — a species of spatiotemporal darwinism.

The identity of each patch is dependent on the space-time it produces and each 'city-state' can be understood as a sub-component of a complex artificially intelligent organism engaged in a process of auto-immunisation against overly striated nodes.

So: within the format of emergent artificial intelligence described by cyberfeminism, this highly-connected, minimally-integrated network of patches — assemblages that 'do not see themselves as the expression of the people but as the creation of new people, a “people to come”’[8] — can be understood as a description of sub-components in a massively distributed, emergent, global, patchwork AI that evokes, with utterly satisfying provocation, the ultimate neoreactionary vision of the future and the fulfilment of the prophecy of the people  or the numbers — to come.

This is the text-version of a paper that was given as part of a panel titled 'SpiralSpace: Atemporal Approaches to Post-Cyberfeminism' at a recent conference in Sydney. Linda Dement's codeworked cut-and-paste schizopoetic contribution can viewed here.


[0] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None (Cambridge: Cambridge Universiy Press, 2006), 58.
[1] Sadie Plant, ‘The Virtual Complexity of Culture’, Futurenatural: Nature, Science, Culture (London: Routledge, 1996), 203; Anna Greenspan, Capitalism’s Transcendental Time Machine, PhD Thesis, (Warwick, 2000), 190-191. 
[2] Plant, ‘The Virtual Complexity of Culture’, 204; 206.
[3] Gilles Deleuze and FĂ©lix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Continuum: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 524; 525.
[4] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 525.
[5] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 525.
[6] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 526.
[7] Donna Haraway, 'A Cyborg Manifesto', The Cybercultures Reader (London: Routledge, 2000), 298.
[8] Claire Colebrook, Understanding Deleuze (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2002), 63.


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