‘…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 organization, 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)
This is an extended version of a paper I gave in Sydney at the start of last month, which is, in turn, an expurgated version of a long essay written over a year ago that deals with patchwork, prophecy, temporality and cyberfeminism – and is currently only available in the very rare and difficult to obtain Cave Patchwork Reader– but which should turn up online or published somewhere sometime in the future.
Anyway, because it’s a lengthened-shortened version of what is essentially a much more convoluted argument, I’m going to present my central thesis about patchwork very basically in series of cumulative arguments…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 in an unsigned footnote to a paper by Louis Menebrea on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine 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 lines earlier, 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, and which notably turns up at a crucial juncture in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus:
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.
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.
The cyberfeminist account of artificial intelligence is emergentist one, modelled on feedback: an artificially intelligent system is one that learns by breaking down. Where Plant remarks that ‘Intelligence cannot be taught: it is instead something that has to be learned’, Anna Greenspan (who was of course, a core component of Ccru alongside Plant) 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’.
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 her writing, ‘[i]ntelligence 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.’
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 binarization, where it camouflages itself as lack. One erects binaries, represents, identifies and consolidates existing structures, it is actualized, 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 to 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 (in the de juremode which is so important to the project) 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’.
Felt, on the other hand, is a process that produces smooth space: ‘[i]t 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.’
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’.
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’.
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. If I have a collection of red objects, and I add or subtract other red objects, these additions and subtractions do not feed back into the nature of the set itself. Its identity is presupposed and, as a result, remains intact.
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. Claire Colebrook provides an example based, not on a primary sameness—for example, the criteria of the colour ‘red’—but on the spectrum of electromagnetic frequencies that make up light—a substratum of difference in itself. If ‘I have a multiplicity of dynamic forces’, she writes, ‘say the light that makes up a perception of [a colour], and alter the amount or speed of light, then I no longer perceive the same colour. The difference in quantity alters just what this is a set or multiplicity of.’
Deleuze and Guattari provide the perennial examples of speed or temperature. ‘An intensity, for example, is not composed of addable and displaceable magnitudes: a temperature is not the sum of two smaller temperatures, a speed is not the sum of two smaller speeds. Since each intensity in itself is a difference, it divides according to an order in which each term of the division differs in nature from the others.’
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 this should be added the proposition that striated space subordinates time to space, while smooth space sutures the two together so that space is ultimately articulated by its position in—and though—time. Put another way, an intensity is a difference in time that manifests, for us, spatially.
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 calls ‘the language of man’, or from the immanent becomings of its infrastructure, the woman-machine continuum aligned with zero, 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. Majoritarian space-times are representational, logical, and symbolic; minoritarian space-times are abstract and pre-representational.
In a text from 2011 entitled ‘Kinds of Killing’, Nick Land considers the politics of minoritarian and majoritarian space-times in relation to the legal definition of genocide, which, as he reminds us, was developed in the wake of the catastrophe of the Holocaust and articulated by the United Nations’ ‘Resolution 260’ in 1948 as an ‘[act] committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group’.‘Is genocide,’ he asks, following the definition of the crime based on a distinction founded in the isolation of a particular, already existing, kind of identity, ‘really worse than killing a lot of people?’.Such a question interrogates the ontological substance of a group. Put another way, the question seeks to examine whether or not there is a legitimate, value-based difference involved in the destruction of a subjugated or majoritarian group, compared to the destruction of a subject or minoritarian group of the same number? To aid in clarifying the real nature of such an interrogation, Land, in a similar fashion to Deleuze and Guattari, distinguishes between what he calls ‘feature groups’ and ‘unit groups’.
A feature group is determined by logical classification. This might be expressed as a self-identification or sense of ‘belonging’, an external political or academic categorisation, or some combination of these, but the essentials remain the same in each case. Certain features of the individual are isolated and emphasised (such as genitalia, sexual orientation, skin-colour, income, or religious belief), and then employed as the leading clue in a process of formal grouping, which conforms theoretically to the mathematics of sets.
Meanwhile, a ‘unit group’ is an assemblage of actors comprised of functional units in which ‘members belong to a group insofar as they work together, even if they are devoid of common identity features’.Among such assemblages, one finds tribes (so long as they are determined by ‘functional unities rather than the categories of modern ‘“identity politics”), cities, states and companies, and historical examples such as the ‘“soviet” or “danwei” work unit’ in opposition to the feature group of social class.This is, adamantly, a systems-theoretical, and not a humanist, lens for broaching questions concerning the value of mortality and annihilation. To underline this, Land offers the example of a skin cell.
Its feature group is that of skin cells in general, as distinguished from nerve cells, liver cells, muscle cells, or others. Any two skin cells share the same feature group, even if they belong to different organisms, or even species, exist on different continents, and never functionally interact.
The natural unit group of the same skin cell, in contrast, would be the organism it belongs to. It shares this unit group with all the other cells involved in the reproduction of that organism through time, including those (such as intestinal bacteria) of quite separate genetic lineages. Considered as a unit group member, a skin cell has greater integral connection with the non-biological tools and other ‘environmental’ elements involved in the life of the organism than it does with other skin cells—even perfect clones—with which it is not functionally entangled.
In this terrain, the definition of an individual shifts accordingly. Beyond the limited designation of a human, with a history and a consciousness, an individual is intelligible simply as any ‘self-reproducing whole exhibiting functional or behavioural integrity’. Land nonetheless uses this non-anthropomorphic example to re-situate the question of genocide within recent human history, by going on to ask how one would then evaluate the 1937 Massacre of Nanjing on the scale of historical atrocity—‘an act of violence directed against a city’ or a unit group, wondering if it is truly ‘no less worthy of specific legal attention than a quantitatively equivalent offence against an ethnicity, or determined population type’.
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 that individuation (minor or major, intensive or extensive, smooth or striated, unit or feature group), rather than to some essence or prior quality appended to it in the already representational spectacular-political domain.
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. Once an identity has been ascribed to particular phenomena it can be policed, have enemies defined for it, and overlook potential lines of alliance or what she calls ‘affiliation’: a strategy of connection premised on ‘affinity, not identity’.
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.
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 or ‘unit groups’ 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.
Interestingly, this reprises a debate common to critical interrogations of artificial intelligence. As its development has progressed through history, artificial intelligence has shifted from models of logical deduction based on formal languages and employed principally for the validation of proofs, to complex genetic and evolutionary algorithms and neural networks that enable what we now refer to as machine learning.
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, feature and unit, 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 minoritarian 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, feature group) into a complex global fabric of small city-states or other alliances:—’patches’—premised, as is the disposition of those who compose or set them up, upon either intensive (vampiric) or extensive (filiative) configurations of space time (subject/unit groups or subjugated/feature 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), embarking on an emergent, multi-polar process of [to quote Land] ‘runaway intelligence implosion’.
‘When a city ‘works’ it is not because it conforms to an external debatable ideal, but rather because it has found a route to cumulative intensification that strongly projects its ‘own’, singular and intrinsic, urban character. What a city wants is to become itself, but more — taking itself further and faster. That alone is urban flourishing, and understanding it is the key that unlocks the shape of any city’s future.’
One might therefore fairly conjecture that patchwork’s minimal ethical norm is one that selects against top-down, ‘patriarchal’, homogenous, regulated and controlled individuations, and for heterogeneous, integrally diverse, and perpetually drifting synthetic individuations: the subject or unit 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 posthuman ethics. Such an ethics is not discursive, and nor does it betray a sensitivity to discursive structures, rather it is hard-coded into the selection mechanism as assemblage survival—a species of spatio-temporal, intellegenic darwinism.
A selection for the ‘strong against the weak’, to put it in a Nietzschean register. Or, to say the same thing but in far less nuanced words: Patchwork is an auto-suicide machine for fascism.
So: within the context of the emergent artificial intelligence espoused by cyberfeminism, this highly connected, minimally integrated network of patches—assemblages that [to quote Claire Colebrook] ‘do not see themselves as the expression of the people but as the creation of new people, a “people to come”’—can be understood as a description of sub-components in a massively distributed, emergent, global, patchwork AI that evokes, with utterly satisfying provocation across the spectrum of both feminist and reactionary politics, the ultimate neoreactionary vision of the future and the fulfilment of the cyberfeminist prophecy of the people, or the numbers to come.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Adrian del Caro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 57. This passage is quoted by Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane (London: Penguin, 2009), 382.
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.