A People as an Abstract Machine
I would like to begin here with a quote from Gilles Deleuze who has been a true inspiration, at least for me. Here is the quote:
“Literature consists in inventing a people who are missing” (Essays Critical and Clinical).
In many ways, these words resonate in today’s challenge for contemporary philosophy, a challenge that philosophy nonetheless cannot take without also committing itself to a certain kind of deliverance.
But what is this deliverance?
In a manner of speaking, it is deliverance from thought and an entry into the world of the non-thought where everything that is shaped by thought and language by extension falls flat. But it is also in that new world, in the empty space of thinking, of speaking and writing, that everything can start a new process of creation, a new literature, a new consciousness of earth and ocean, which in all known histories of civilization has always been responsible for the birth of a new people.
Incidentally, the beginnings of an ever-changing humankind are always willed by mythologies, by that movement of imagination that creates a void, a vacuüm to fill in if only to separate the past from the present, and by so doing, a process of creation unfolds, ex nihilo. But it is also in this light that the movement of imagination can go wrong in which case Deleuze’s warning in Desert Islands is a compelling reminder:
At the same time, this movement of imagination is subject to those human conditions that make mythology possible. Mythology is not simply willed into existence, and the peoples of the earth quickly ensured they would no longer understand their own myths. It is at this very moment literature begins. Literature is the attempt to interpret, in an ingenious way, the myths we no longer understand, at the moment we no longer understand them, since we no longer know how to dream them or reproduce them. Literature is the competition of misinterpretations that consciousness naturally and necessarily produces on themes of the unconscious, and like every competition it has its prizes.
Here, the unconscious is the force behind why a people succeed or fail, the unconscious as a literary contest of misinterpreting the myths ‘we no longer understand, since we no longer know how to dream them and reproduce them.’ Incidentally, aesthetics has provided an opportunity for this literary contest to immortalize a failure; aesthetics as a misinterpretation of the unconscious force of creation. In a manner of speaking, the way we appreciate literature as an art form, or the way we blur the distinction between imagination and reality, between its form and content, has distinguished ourselves as a people.
I am referring here to aesthetics as seen by proponents of high culture as a matter of taste and judgment, and not as a matter of pursuing a new origin and by implication of a new people’s consciousness; in the language of Deleuze, a prototype of a collective soul. This proto-consciousness is also an aesthetics but a non-standard one, averse to standard taste and judgement, that which does not serve an exemplary causality such as standardized forms of sensibility, of taste and judgement. It is in this context where Deleuze, this time in tandem with Guattari, describe a people as a model of non-standard aesthetics in the form of abstract art:
Multidirectional, with neither inside nor outside, form nor background, delimiting nothing, describing no contour, passing between spots or points, filling a smooth space (A Thousand Plateaus)
Hence, Deleuze and Guattari refer to a people as an abstract machine. As an abstract machine a people is indiscernible to standardized and hegemonic controls of sensibility, of promoting standard taste and judement. It is also in this sense that a people is in itself a power of the false (Cinema 2), in a manner of speaking, of the falsification of aesthetics. Yet, Deleuze and Guattari were not misled into thinking that this people exist in the present. To them this people are still missing, hence, the role of literature to invent them, to summon them, and educate them of the prize of absorbing too much aesthetics in their heads in the sense we described above.
In our history as a people, we get what we deserve for our failure to dream, to reproduce and understand those myths that created us as a people. This failure is what we mean by aesthetics. And its prize has acquired a very consistent form, the consistency of our nation’s tragic betrayal. Quoting from his essay in Philippine Star, National Artist F. Sionil Jose has this to say:
Behind this tragic failure is betrayal — we betray one another — and most of all, we betray ourselves, our ideals, our morality.
Look back: Diego Silang was betrayed. The revolution of 1896 was betrayed by the Pact of Biak-na-Bato — and earlier, Bonifacio was betrayed; and in turn, Aguinaldo was betrayed as well.
In more recent times, today, we are constantly betrayed by political charlatans. (F. Sionil Jose, History as prison, and as liberation)
This is our history as a people, a people misinterpreting the myths that created us. If this is also the history of how aesthetics has held us in submission to protocols of taste and judgement, of satisfaction and enjoyment, in the guise of today’s capitalist culture industry, it is time that we take heed of literature, still a work in progress, and its challenge to standard aesthetics.
It is time we invent ourselves as a people, as embodiment of non-standard aesthetics, as abstract machine, a people as a true work of art.
Text of my welcome remarks read during the Philosophy Circle of the Philippines Panel Discussion on the theme ‘Aesthetics, Oppression, Justice’ held at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines on February 28, 2012.