Friday, February 29, 2008

A Language of Gifts

A Dictionary Entry...

There is a movement within the Western world away from the negations inherent in modern political and institutional talk, away from the negations of psychiatric and self-help discourses, toward a world more attuned to languages of affirmations. However, the very difficulty within such languages becomes apparent in the effort to leave a talk of negation, for a negation of negations becomes necessary (and perhaps it might be necessary). However, there is another way to engage in such talk.

Let’s talk gift-exchange.

A focus upon the movements of gifts within rhizome networks.

A sort of economics – an economics often at odds with the typical economies of the Western world. For example...

Money is not essential. Take a guess how the typical Western economy likes that idea!

A way of to survive in harsh environs – one is always attuned to the gifts of the other, one responds to the gifts of the other, the gift keeps moving, and it finds a way to keep us alive.

Perhaps a requisite way of life – just try and go-on without it!

Is an exchange -- therefore, is unavoidably communal. There are no singular bodies here, the gift-exchange necessitates a world of others.

The exchange is not simply between two people, but moves, often with great rapidity, along viral lines, through rhizome spaces.

The gift is never originated. It is always given in response to a previous gift. The gift is always in response... No beginnings in the movements of gift-exchange -- no endings either -- always in the middle!

The gift is never about what I have given, but always about my response to the gift given by another.

I believe this is one of the more important aspects of the gift-exchange -- the act of giving the gift is minimized by the giver, and the gift of the other is made much of.

The goods required to live successfully in life are not obtained through institutional negations, through identifying and giving language to undesirable personal or social pathogens, then, by setting in place a professionally-devised plan designed to remove the undesirable pathogens.

The goods required to live successfully in life come to us in rhizome spaces by means of innumerable gift-exchanges.

The goods required to live successfully emerge for us in response to the goods we receive through life, nature and community. They always come in the context of a sensed and sensual and responsive life.

Unlike affirmation/negation, positive/negative, health/illness (and many dualisms like this), the gift-exchange has no clear opposite.

The gift-exchange often occurs between animals and people – human and non-human creatures moving in response to the gifts of the other.

The purpose of gift-exchange is not acquisition. The purpose is connection. The gift-exchange is about relationship.

The gift-exchange is not about justice and fairness (though it may be at the basis of justice and fairness). Fairness and justice are abstractions to be applied to all people in all situations. The gift-exchange moves not to abstractions, but rather in response to a specific and sensual world, to particular person or group of persons (or creatures), and to a unique and unrepeatable moment in time.

The gift-exchange only exists in a real and sensual world – never in abstract realms.

While the gift-exchange occurs in sheer abundance, it only truly occurs in one specific, singular moment. This dichotomy is easily understood when in the actual moment of gift-exchange.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

On Lines and Points

A short posting -- just a few thoughts...

A line is just a point in motion (a favourite thought of Deleuze).

Perhaps we should cease to worry about making a point -- and try drawing lines instead!

What might these points-in-motion look like anyway?

Experiments in some sort of truth which insists upon travelling. A frog truth -- hopping from pad to pad...

A note cannot make music -- a line of notes has that potential!

A line of notes makes music most exquisite and most disturbing when engaging in play with other lines of notes. Lines enwrapped and raptured. Harmonies and dissonances.

Lines of flight -- Yes, the falconer knows.

Lines of wing and piercing lines of a raptor's cry (just other lines of music) -- mingling, crossing, joining, sparring, loving, hunting. Lines moving in free hand, or rather with free wings, composing arial curves and inverted parabolas.

Lines of relation. The falcon returns; stepping upon a leather glove. She is not tame... she just lives with us.

Simple lines, repeated for eternity. . . .........................................

Make no point of it...

Friday, February 15, 2008

On the Possibilities of Listening and Seeing

What happens when one wishes aside the powers-at-be, when one ceases to mould oneself according to hand-me-down authoritative certainties? Within such clearings, is it possible to listen to a world where nature is able to speak? Is it possible to hear to a world where humanity is able to sing and cry and laugh ? Some say, No!! Some say we can only hear within and according-to our cultural constructions -- we cannot truly hear nature, or humanity for that matter either. But others, while denying any unqualified certainties, also say, Why not? Why not listen? So, if we can listen, if we do listen, what might we hear?

According to George Elliot, in our listening, we might not just hear nature we might be overwhelmed in our hearing.

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
Nature, then, can certainly be heard, and can certainly be seen, but these encounters might occur with a thunderous aplomb, over there on that other side, beyond our usual hearing and listening. And, apparently this hearing and seeing comes to those who carefully create some kind of a keen vision and a certain feeling for ordinary life. Yes, an opening of perceptions, not to the exceptional, not to the typical causes for applause, but toward the ordinary and the overlooked. Within such a turn in listening and seeing (through all our doors of perception), nature roars and engulfs.

What to others a trifle appears
Fills me full of smiles or tears
For double the vision my eyes to see.
And double vision is always with me.


He who would do good to another must do it in Minute

General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite,
and flatterer.

William Blake

William Blake also talks of such listening and seeing. First of all, he suggests that we might, in our seeing, see a double vision... that is, both a this and a that! Nothing simple: always thorny, never clear and precise. Nothing comfortable in this perception, for options are not resolved, they just seem to accumulate. Blake also notes that our seeing will be in particular, not general. We will see details, minute ones, again accumulating, creating abundances. Not details, organized and arranged, but rather, specifics, scattered and amassing. For Blake that is all we can see, all we will see, all that is possible to see. Seeing anything but such details places us, according to Blake, in the company of scoundrels.

One more thing from Blake, he invites us to see seeing as a creative activity – the imagination and the body moving together, experimenting, making things, producing new assemblages.

Vain, foolish Man! wilt thou believe without Experiment...

I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s
I will not Reason and Compare; my business is to Create.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Just a Word...

The Beautiful Imperfections of Talk

Never seek to tell thy love,
Love that never told can be;
For the gentle wind does move
Silently, invisibly.

William Blake

I remember a good fifteen years ago now, I was asked to do some therapy work with children, youth and families connected to a First Nation community school in British Columbia. One of my first ‘clients’ was a young man, perhaps fourteen years old. This young fellow hardly talked at all. I was supposed to engage in ‘therapy’ with him (something that seems to necessitate some form of conversation) yet he wouldn’t/couldn’t talk, at least not much. To most questions I asked him he responded either with silence, or with a shrug of the shoulders and a small grunt of “Don-know!” Yet, this silence never felt like a form of resistance, the boy seemed to enjoy being with me. Not knowing what else to do I would go for walks with him in the forest around his school. We would find a log, we would sit and listen to the chickadees and the jays, we would notice the various forms of life in movement around us. Little was said, yet, it felt like something good was occurring. After a few weeks of engaging with him in this manner (and feeling most guilty because I wasn’t doing anything that looked like ‘therapy’) I saw the boy’s mother in the school hallway. Upon seeing me, she called out my name, ran toward me and gave me a warm and appreciative embrace. Then she thanked me for, as she put it, “working with my boy.”

Clearly, something was happening that was perceived as helpful. But, it was happening within the silences, within and through a very minimal talk. Something good was occurring as we walked together, as we looked together at life in movement around us. For, we both had bodies which could move and walk, we both had eyes which could see, and, when these bodies and eyes found ways to move in response to each other, in shared actions, something good was created. The whole meaning of talk was transformed for me, talk become something inextricably connected with our joint walking and seeing. Never transcendent to the walking and the seeing.

I have learned to value the connection between talk and life, but, even more, I now see talk embracing a certain responsibility, even an obligation, to return to the lived and walked life. A talking which returns -- always returns to a lived world. Deleuze put it succinctly, reflecting upon Nietzsche’s thoughts, suggesting that life enables thought, therefore thought should in turn affirm life -- instead of mangling life, as it all too often does.

I return to this young man and to many more like him. I return to his mother, to the lines that pull upon her heart, lines of love -- mother to son. For in these places the pull of connection between word and life is strong. Words are called upon, but they are called to respond to the movements of a life, the pulls of a love, to the appreciations of a mother’s embrace.

Yet, at the same time, while words may be called upon, may even be required, they never, ever feel adequate, they never encapsulate all that is sensed in the walk and the life. And, in a way, this seems most appropriate, for the privilege is given first of all to the walk and the life, not to the words. Perhaps words are always secondary in that they are tools for honouring life, for celebrating it, for responding to it. They do not capture it, they can never truly dominate or manipulate it. Words emerge from life, are conceived and delivered by life, and therefore are called to return to life, even though the return is always insufficient.

Words, as obligations, as responsibilities -- not to tear and destroy, not to find fault, not to count sins, not to account for apparent deficits, not to diminish (there is far too much of all of this), but rather -- to enter into responsive relationships, to honour, to love, to count loves, to receive and respond to gifts in abundance. To do all of this, to the best of one’s abilities, knowing all the while the very impossibility of ever truly getting it complete and right.

Words therefore become pragmatic and clumsy tools, rough-hewn, which in spite of all these limitations, return to give honour to life. Words give. Words become gifts. They become simple, handmade gifts, carefully crafted, and anything but perfect. And they must NOT be perfect, for the perfection would tear the very lines of connection within the gift.

So, in light of these responsibilities and obligations, just a word -- a word of thanks, for all these young men... and their moms.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Yet another item for the new Dictionary (of sorts)....

[And] / [Is] -- a distinction awoken to me through my reading of Gilles Deleuze. One of those few seemingly small distinctions which tend to topple mountains and trigger earthquakes!!

The conjunction [is] directs our minds and our hearts into worlds wherein multiplicities are condensed and the “one” is produced. We are summoned to ask: “Is it this? Or, is it that?” We narrow something down, make a decision, give a fixed name and definition. We are obliged to place this thing we have now named and defined into its appropriate location within an ordered hierarchy, and ensure it is fixed and unalterable.

It’s not easy to escape such processes. Varied establishments incessantly divide up nature into categories, names are assigned, placements are given, roles are provided. And, of course, people too! Constantly, repetitively our places in the world are defined, our functions and tasks are established, prior to our encountering them. We enter the world of [is]! We are proprelled into identity. We discover something rigid, constricting, little room for movement. It seems that dark and depressive affects often weigh heavy within such a milieu.

I suggest that the Alive, and those rhizome movements of nature, of which we are inescapably part, pay little interest in [is]. Life awakens, not the determining and restricting procedures of [is], but the unending additive processes of [and]. Why need our inquiries into life lead either to a this or a that? Is there not always much, much more? Why not this [and] that, and the other also, as well as that, and that, and that? The [and] continually producing affirmations, producing connections, rhizome lines and nodes, producing movement, a hopping from thing to thing to thing, and creating assemblages -- not organizations. Life swirls and surges within such abundances.
So, why suggest that this distinction might topple mountains, trigger earthquakes? Because religion, science, education, medicine, if not most of our institutional inventions, preoccupy themselves with worlds of [is]. Religious beliefs are determined, named, limited, enforced and made eternal. Science, in its resolve to know what something [is], usually does not add, but subtracts, it isolates variables, removes unwanted influences, reduces a realm of study to its most limited structure. Education, medicine, and a host of other disciplines and hierarchies also follow suit.

Yet, life seems in processes of constant addition! Over and over again, this [and]) that!

A linkage to Gregory Bateson emerges. For Bateson insisted that our questions of life, whether scientific or otherwise, connect to the inescapable plays of relationship and the layered ecologies in which these inquiries are imbedded – the opposite of an isolation of the variables. He repeatedly called for an additive direction in science, and other human affairs. He goes as far to suggest that a disregard for ecologies and relations -- one could say, a disregard for the necessity of the [and] -- creates new, often unliveable and destructive ecologies and relations.

Just a quick caveat – I think of the distinction between [is] and [and] as primarily a metaphorical distinction, more to do with thoughts and actions than mere words. And a note of warning -- It would seem rather silly and impossible to attempt to redeem language by trying to remove or limit the word [is]!! Perhaps, we should just say No to removals -- even the removal of [is]...

Bring on the additions!!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

More Dictionary Items -- Rhizome and Bearing Witness

Following are two more sections for the new Dictionary (of sorts)....


This description of rhizome is taken from an earlier post in this blog.

The rhizome is a botanical image. It describes a certain kind of assemblage that connects together through networks of nodes and lines.

Think potatoes, grass, poplar trees -- Many believe that the largest trees in the world are not sequoia or redwoods but rather poplar trees, for poplars are rhizomes. In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains one will notice that, in the fall, a large section of a hill will turn yellow, while the other sections are still green. These patches of poplar trees are actually one genetic organism, one large rhizome assemblage.

Think weeds – almost every weed in your garden -- Rhizomes are productive spaces, enabling effective and flourishing movement through terrain and barriers often seen as impenetrable and impossible.

Think of human creations such as telephone systems, the internet, and, to some extent, the power grid -- Human creations, even institutional creations are not always institutional in structure, sometimes they appear in rhizome form. This is especially true of some human creations that involve many diverse and loosely connected players.

Rhizomes are typically found underground. They are not usually conspicuous -- If one opens the paper or turns on the evening news, one is primarily given stories and information pertinent to institutional life. Rhizome life is not usually considered news-worthy. Rhizome movements are powerful, but are not as easily visible.

Rhizomes are made of nodes and lines that connect the nodes -- nodes connected with numerous lines which in turn connect to other nodes and lines. Think the American interstate system. Think prairie dog towns. Imagine the ‘communal’ not as relations with local institutions, not as a realm of service institutions, but rather as rhizome connections, as lines connecting with people, places, animals, things. Think of our communal worlds as rhizome abundances.

Rhizomes have no practical beginning, ending or centrality -- Imagine that one wanted to get rid of the crab grass in one’s lawn. The idea of going after the beginning grass, the one that started it all, or the latest frontiers of crab grass, or the boss crab grass – this type of thinking is insanity in the worlds of rhizomes. Rhizomes are not influenced by such linear and rank-oriented interests. Military-type might is notoriously ineffective at influencing rhizome community.

Rhizomes are extremely difficult to destroy -- Rhizomes in nature, or the communal rhizomes– they are all most difficult to destroy. We must stop thinking of rhizome-like things as if they were vulnerable, instead we must see them as resiliant and brimming with creative powers.

We are suggesting a view of humanity, of relationships, of community, even of mind and body that is like rhizome. We are suggesting worlds outside of bodily encasement, beyond familial identity, outside of that which is typically conceived of within the language of ‘system’, toward lives that are tied by uncountable lines to uncountable bodies, where relationships of many different types become engulfing and repeatedly formative. These rhizome connections are certainly about relationships with people, but they are also about so much more -- they are about relationships with animals and plants, relationships with air and water, relationships with landscapes, relationships with buildings and rooms and spaces and lines of travel, relationships with relationships, relationships with countless other assemblages, whether created by people or by nature (as if that distinction can be maintained), relationships with cars and rivers and musical instruments, relationships with music itself, relationships with values and goods and affects such as love, humour, romance, sadness, loneliness, joy, annoyance. All these and numerous other assemblages not mentioned and not previously considered are connected to us and through us within rhizome space.

Bearing Witness

In the Old Testament book, Song of Songs, there is a marvellous dance which ensues. Two lovers exchange these exquisite, poetic affirmations of the other, or more precisely affirmations of the body of the other. These affirmations become this swirling, ecstatic crescendo of words – words coming from and words returning to bodies. Relations between words and bodies are created within the Song of Songs which can feel most foreign to a Western sensibility.

It must be stressed that the desire of these words is repetitively affirmation, affirmation of the body, affirmation of love, affirmation of the very sense of the Alive. The words in Song of Songs seem to be boiling over with affirmation desires.

Following these sections where the lovers engage in such vollies of affirmation, appears a further work of affirmation. A new realm of words joins into these swirling flows. A chorus emerges, new bodies appear, and these bodies break out into song, celebrating the words and actions of the lovers themselves. This chorus also affirms with both poetic and embodied words, but its affirmation is focused upon the very affirmations of the lovers’ themselves. A second-order affirmation is added -- affirmations of affirmations. Much later in history the necessity of this process was repeated by Nietzsche. He suggested that affirmation, on its own, is not sufficient, for added to this affirmation must come an affirming of affirmation itself. This was one of the meanings he gave to the Eternal Return, a return of affirmation upon affirmation.

A specific type of work is described here. It is a work of bearing witness. Not a form of bearing witness which counts the wrongs or articulates dimensions of illness, but rather a work which bears witness to and joins within the swirling words of the lovers. It is a work worthy of song, it is a work of affirmation, a work where the lives of people, and other forms of life, are honoured, are recognized, are celebrated. And also, this is a work which repeatedly affirms the affirmations, which joyfully bears witness to the work of bearing witness.

From Song of Songs, through Lucretius, Spinoza, Hume, through Bishop Berkeley, Nietzsche and D. H. Lawrence, and more recently through Bateson, Deleuze and Derrida, and, of course, through many more, a work is described, that is the work of affirming the affirming movements of life itself.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Dictionary (of sorts) for the Territories of the Alive

I recently decided to take on a new project. I want to create a dictionary (of sorts) where various words and phrases which I have found to bear significance are brought to life. However, this dictionary will pin nothing down, has no interest in precise definitions. Instead it will share thoughts which carry some intensity to myself. I will, from time to time, present these thoughts within this blog, as the various components are created. These will not be intentionally presented in any alphabetical order (though it just dawned on me that all three sections I am publishing today begin with "A"). Just a few pieces at a time, as they are made.

Here are three words for today...


Abundance creates worlds which are in stark contrast to those realms oriented around deficit and lack. It is a concept which draws a person toward the contingencies of the Alive, toward the uncountable movements of plants and creatures. In matters of production, abundance moves counter to the efficiencies and straight lines of bureaucratic and capitalistic production (minimum expense for maximum production) toward the apparent wastefulness, the chaos of nature, along with the necessary attractions of animal/plant sexual production. Abundance can be profuse, inescapable, seducing, noisy, comforting, frightening and overwhelming. It also can awaken the soul to an almost mystical reverence toward life.

If you want a sense of the possible feelings associated with abundance:

1) take a loaf of bread into the midst of a flock of seagulls;
2) take a young child into a grocery store;
3) listen to the dizzying, and satisfying interplay of melodies within a Bach sonata;
4) submit to the beats and textures, harmonies and dissonances of much contemporary electronic music; or,
5) just count the weeds in your garden.


Assemblage: for practical purposes... think Lego!!

It is a concept often used by Deleuze and Guattari. Associated with "assemblage" is the idea that people are creative animals. With opposable thumbs, complex languages, and requisite communal connections, people are seen as makers of things. Human hands and voices create – they assemble.

While the inclination of the human-service industry seems generally directed toward identification of problem and deficit, followed by interventions to fix the identified wrong, the idea of assemblage tends to move to very different places, it turns toward people in their very acts of creation. We are invited to see these acts of creation, and the assemblages created as persistent and repetitive affirmations of life.

There is here a clear move away from negations, away from knowledges of problem and lack. However, there is also not a simple reverse move toward knowledges of the positive. Rather, the idea of assemblage, calls forth not just words of affirmation, but an active engagement in the very sociality of creating. Together we make things, endless varieties of things, thoughts, "assemblages" which affirm and honour the Alive.

So, the move is from deficit to affirmation, from knowledges to acts of creation, and from the singular to the communal.


To me, the word “Alive,” is not the same as the word “life.” We usually think of life as clearly distinguishable – something is usually considered living or it is not. We tend to leave little room for doubt. However, the Alive, as I see it, is something which is sensed. It is felt, it is encountered, but it can never be subjected to proofs. The architect and author, Christopher Alexander, writes about the Alive. He talks of how in our encounters with buildings and courtyards and other creations sometimes we are able to experience the Alive, yet at other times the Alive seems much more difficult to meet up with.

I see direct connections with the idea of rhizome, where the Alive moves in varied speeds down rhizome-like channels. The Alive, connecting people and places, animals and plants, tying all of that to the wind and the sea, to rocks and soil, buildings and roads, rooms and hallways, moving, bouncing between such numerous and varied liaising nodes. The Alive requires the social, it requires abundance, it requires relations, uncountable connections.

And, the Alive emerges within intensities rather than words. It emerges through a thickening of sense and feeling -- though it can appear within intensities which arise amidst our own relations to the relations between words.