Impulses-becoming-Traces (Chapter I)
There is perhaps no better way to start thinking about images than with the idea of the Thought-Image, a concept attributed to Francois Laruelle in a chapter of Tétralogos (2018). This book, a book about affects and dreams, sets out to claim that a newImage of Thought is flowering in our minds that is reflective or indicative of developments in the fields of Quantum Physicsand Process Ontology over the last century; a shift from Being to Becoming (Prigogine, 1980).
“Standard non-philosophy brings about another experience of thought. The real is no longer made of objects, autonomous terms or terms in-themselves, and furthermore not made of elementary microobjects (signifiers, partial objects). It is the end of specular realism and modern micro-fetishism that wrongly believes to have been done with it. The new model of the real is a quantum type: it is ultimately constituted by asymmetrical or strange dualities, continuous on one side, discontinues on the other, like unilateral quanta.” – Laruelle, 2018: 152
The notion of an Image of Thought implies that we underpin our understanding of the reality around us with intuitive models. Even the sentence – a reality around them – presupposes a particular take on metaphysics, one that gestures to the notion of discrete subjects in space.
To elaborate, the kind of models one has of “science”, like the structure of an atom, or the order of the cosmos, act as a blueprint for everything else. Without us realizing, a particular model of subatomic physics can seep its way into a subject’s understanding of the social, or of themselves. The way a subject experiences themselves is transformed by these Images of Thought. Laruelle’s work seems to imply that at the core of our experience of reality and of ourselves, is an Image that has been installed. The Image sits there like a prism, refracting and combining light, the Image is the lens that can be focused and tuned.
A common example of this can be found with the critique of Newtonian Thinking, which has been a relatively common discourse for a long time, especially since this turn towards the real asQuanta (Zohar, 2022: 15). In this particular critique, it is suggested that to view the universe as clockwork (see Figure 1.3), as Newton (supposedly) had done, pushes the subject towards experiencing the ebb and flow of the universe as overly deterministic, mechanical, rigid, and uniform in its pulse (Laruelle, 2018: 50). The claim here is not necessarily that to think the universe in one way makes it so, like, literally, but there are grounds to claim that how one imagines the universe, as a model, interferes with how one perceives it, just as a prism interferes with light. This is something of importance to understanding the situation we are in regarding Capitalism and the problem of hegemony.
A basic example of how the Quantum Theory affected sociology would be that of the atom and its structure (see Figures 1.1, 1.4). In a moment where one believes the atom to be either material, solid, or discrete (a solitary unit; self-contained), one may also assume that humans or celestial bodies are somehow the same; solid and discrete. The old atomic model of indivisible building blocks tempts someone towards experiencing a society as something composed of the same indivisible, discrete units, thus forming the traditional model of the social: there are individual social units that stack together to make collective units. In their unitary nature, all of these parts are disconnected, resulting in an experience of ourselves as not simultaneously individual and collective, but somehow lurching back and forth between the two. As a model, this old way of seeing the social is unintuitive, or constituted by the paradox of “a thing cannot be two different things at once”. Minimalism and Quantum theory intersect around the argument that the fundamental nature of reality must be, contrary to popular belief, of “stunning simplicity” (Turok & Steinhardt, 2008: 86), and indeed, the resolution between individual and collective can be simple.
The double-slit experiment, in particular, helped to dislodge what we might call the Object-Oriented Ontology (Nail, 2021: 8) because it showed, rationally, that a particle could be two things at once: a wave propagation and a photon. This experiment demonstrated superposition, a concept that offered an Image of Thought that would unhinge certain assumptions in other fields like Sociology. Before the notion of superposition, there may have been more of a temptation to argue that a subject is either a solitary unit or a contingent part (a whole or a partial). With the model of superposition, there need not be a resolution to this tension as it offers a means to just accept that a subject can, somehow, be both measured/observed
as a whole or as a partial simultaneously. By this point we have simply learned to accept the paradox that a particle can be rendered as both a point and a line.
To mention some of the shifts in how we understand atoms in Western science: at one moment, we begin to agree that atoms are divisible into protons, neutrons and electrons, and that they are largely empty, at least in the positivist view. After this, the component particles of an atom were also found to be assemblages, made up of smaller particles such as Quarks (Kleinert, 2016: 82).
What these changes in our understanding of atoms offered to Sociology was quite clear. Take for example the concept of the dividual (Deleuze, 1990: 4), where in place of what was once imagined to be a discrete, indivisible social particle, the subject is transformed into a “sample, dataset, or bank”. For example, to the machinery of Capital you exist as multiple identities that coincide with each other, “not because machines are determining, but because they express those social forms capable of generating [identities] and using them” (Deleuze, 1990: 5). On top of this, people experience each other as different things, and we are often quite familiar with the experience of the tension that can arise from different people experiencing others in different ways, because as machines they also have the capacity to create identities in you, and use them (to act as though they are real). It is hard to pin down an inner, discrete you, within all of these virtual identities that inhabit the same subject.
One commonly known aspect of Quantum Theory also regards the problem of “locating the electron”, a question which revealed that the electron is not really anywhere, it is not a point, it is a field with an electrical charge. In other words, every time you observe the electron, it has either moved, or you have moved it by observing it. We, like particles, are not points, but lines (Windsor, 2015: 157), we are largely indeterminate, especially when it comes to these virtual aspects of our becoming. Quantum Theory and Non-philosophy were saying something very similar, that everything which appears discrete, is really a relation; every object is a process (Nail, 2021: 23). Judith Butler used these developments in relational/processual metaphysics as a starting point in their work in Sociology. They offered a new way of understanding the Sexed Body that challenged traditional ideas that idealized organizing societies around gender lines by arguing that Sex is not material (Butler, 2011), and that, fundamentally, neither is the body. The body is no longer to be defined by its discreteness, but by its relations (Butler, 1993: 49). The body only exists because of its relations, and therefore those relations define us far more than the residue accumulating on those intersections. It implicates the body as something that can be understood as a point in a Quantum Field, which is not really a point but a line.
One of the most interesting ideas for us at Becoming is the concept of Quantum Foam, a sort of porous membrane underneath everything, sometimes imagined as a surface of densely packed bubbles on an infinite pool of liquid, but also sometimes romantically imagined as a complex mycelium anchoring the actual into the virtual (Ford & Wheeler, 2000: 522). This Quantum Foam is virtually unknowable to us, and its existence suggests that below the threshold of our perception exists a dynamic, bubbling pool, and everything we can know and understand bubbles out of that pool, rising up like waves on the surface turbulent waters. As waves rise out of the water, they pass across the threshold of what is knowable to us, and appear to jump into existence as some solitary event, some self-contained particle jumping in and out of existence.
Perhaps one of the more playful ideas encountered would be this notion from John Wheeler that there is only one electron in the whole universe, and that it simply pops in and out of the timeline, like a sewing needle passing through fabric, occupying all moments of time and all positions of space simultaneously (Feynman, 1965). We see distinct events because we do not see the continuum behind it, we do not see the roots, or we do not see the pool within which all of this dwells.
Subatomic particles are, effectively, traces of something else beyond, moments of something pushing on a surface, creating an impression. Phenomena impress upon us, they become noticeable, identifiable, and they take on an appearance. What we see as the particle is simply the trace that a process behind a particle leaves. In the same way, as “social particles”, we are effectively traces; we are apples that have fallen from some tree. We are as without-body as atoms are; we are apparitions; we are temporary, like particles.
It is quite romantic to imagine that, in the same way, thoughts and memories arise to us after moments of intensity cause things to rise up into our field of awareness. Ideas and thoughts as particles, as peaks of waves that we cannot see the roots of. There have been a few cute terms thrown around to encapsulate this way of seeing, but one of the more playful and enticing words for this is negativism. Positivism is something of an exclusive focus on what can be measured, what can be seen, observed, and what is traceable, so negativism partly dwells on what lurks below the perceptive floor. The undercurrents. The roots.
Queer Cynicism is another phrase that clasps at the string-like roots of what lurks below Becoming. To be cynical, as in Antisthenes or Diogenes, but to deliver that cynicism through queerness. In this sense, we can build an entry point to our interests through a great, queer cynical joke: Western metaphysics has been, for thousands of years, far too positive. This book endeavors to explicate what that means, and what that has to do with books and publishing. This book therefore intends to demonstrate the other ways in which Becoming endeavors to queer the process of publishing, or to reimagine it from the ground up.
Queerness, for us, has a specific definition that draws from Desmond Manderson’s interpretation of Judith Butler’s work Critically Queer (1993), and this definition is at the very heart of what we mean when we call ourselves a queer publisher. Manderson claims, for example, that Picasso’s work Guernica queered the Paris World Fair 1937, and it is in this sense that we hope to engage in some queer publishing:
All that has been offered so far is the beginning of an altered Image of Thought, a Negative Image of Thought, and some preliminary examples of how to re-imagine what happens before a publication enters our field of observation. For that is what publishing is, it is the process of making something public, taking something that is virtually unknown and unknowable, and bringing it across a threshold into the domain where other subjects can experience it or become aware of it. Who publishes particles? This book materialized as part of a larger process, because it became necessary, or because it became possible. The production of this book was seen as a way of opening up potential lines of flight – which in this case, in the most simple sense, means that the book was imagined to be able to open up new opportunities to enter new grounds. It is a process of becoming-shamanic, of using material to guide the immaterial across lines drawn between other lines:
“Picasso’s Guernica is essentially “queer”; it works not by how you look at the wall on which it is placed, but how you look at all the other walls on which it is not placed. It queered the Paris World’s Fair, savagely dismembering its aesthetic ideology of national unity. ” – Manderson, 2018: 11
“The shaman draws lines between all the points or spirits, outlines a constellation, a radiating set of roots tied to a central tree. This is the birth of a centralized power with an arborescent system to discipline the outgrowths of the primitive rhizome. Here, the tree simultaneously plays the role of a principle of dichotomy or binarity, and an axis of rotation. But the power of the shaman is still entirely localized, strictly dependent upon a particular segment, contingent upon drugs, and each point continues to emit independent sequences.” – Deleuze & Guattari, 2005: 211
Concurrently, we could return to the image of the apple tree, and understand this book as the apple that has fallen out of something else. The tree summons the apple as a bridge to something further, to call upon the next tree, to climb towards or out of something:
“The perfected apple that falls from the branch – what is produced – is dead. Save for the seeds it bears, the apple is only a remnant of the one life that runs through the apple tree.” – Ulysse Carrière, 2023: 31
This book was produced from within the very dwelling that is to be explicated here – as if it is an autobiography about itself – and it contains nothing but the seeds of something to come. Much of the narrative here regards the re-imagining of dreams, a fundamental shift in how we conceptualize them, and we attempt to use this model of dreaming as an Image of Thought, and play with imagining how this new Image of Thought changes how we experience other aspects of reality; how they act as a prism (see Figure 1.2).
As a simple introduction to the Image of Thought, we will argue that an experience of a dream is an experience of feeling as though you know what you are looking at, only to realize in retrospect it was something different entirely. Taking as a premise this idea that one cannot know what one is really doing until after it is done, the present moment becomes something of a petri dish, into which one may germinate seeds, or let things develop, or synthesize chemicals.
The essence of the present is that of setting processes in motion, or of conditioning processes already in motion. We imagine the Wisteria, planted to one day become decoration over a doorway, or one can imagine the Oak, planted to produce shade and to one day support a treehouse; one can imagine lichen organically synthesized to provide oxygen in an environment. This book is to be seen like that, as an act of setting processes in motion – it is a way of threading together some potential futures. This book is simply the reflection or impression of the initial impulse, the physical mark left by the passage of a trace as it dances on the edge of our perception, as it impresses upon the membrane from the other side.
There is something lurking below the perceptive floor that is emerging, of which this book is an early taste.