Larval Subjects . July 9, 2007
Of Cooking, Mixtures, and Milieus Posted by larvalsubjects under Assemblages, Constellation, Emergence, Immanence, Individuation, Intersubjectivity, Lacan, Lars Watch, Networks, Organization, Populations, Potential, Relation, Symbolic, Symptom, Systems, problems
Among all activities, cooking is, for me, perhaps the only activity that rivals that of philosophy. I track down recipes on the internet like other men pursue that elusive perfect pornographic pictures. I can browse the market for hours in much the same way that I can lose myself in the Seminar Co-Op in Chicago. One of the difficulties with much social theory is the abstraction at which it is developed. We think of groups in conflict with one another as abstract identities, where properties are intrinsic to the subject-position in question. The question then becomes one of how to liberate a particular fixed identity with respect to a particular oppressive system. All too often we assume that the subject will be the same when this shift in the distribution takes place.
If cooking is instructive for the social theorist, then this is because cooking teaches us to think in terms of mixtures, processes, intensive transformations, intensities, and irreversible processes. Tomato, garlic, cumin, and olive oil are not the same after they are mixed and heated. Rather, a qualitative transformation takes place… A transformation that is irreversible. Cooking is chemistry, rather than physics. Where, in classical physics we are enjoined to think atoms impacting one another in relations of force such that the atoms nonetheless retains its identity, changing only in velocity, chemistry leads us to think mixtures, temperatures, pressures, etc., that lead to qualitative transformations of the elements involved. The garlic is not the same after it is cooked and mixed. Nor can I return the garlic to its previous uncooked state. Rather, it has undergoing a qualitative transformation that now has different potentialities. For instance, if I roast garlic in tinfoil and olive oil in the oven, I can now spread it on a nice loaf of sour dough bread like butter, whereas before this would not have been possible. Under these conditions, the flavor becomes sweet, where before it was pungent.
Cooking, chemistry, requires us to think a milieu of individuation where a milieu of individuation is to be understood as the relation something entertains to other things in the world such that it would not be that thing without these other things. If you enjoy wine then you know that where the wine comes from and the year the wine was made make a tremendous difference as to what the wine is. Wine, wine grapes, always emerge in a milieu of individuation defined by the weather, the soil conditions, other plants, animals, and insects in the region and so on. Wine from one and the same vinyard can be radically different from one year to the next. The same is the case with cheese. Each individual entity is itself attached to a world, a local morphogenetic field, through which it produces itself as an ongoing process by interacting with that world.
The same, then, would be true of social organization. Always it is necessary to look at the morphogenetic field, the milieu of individuation, the mixture, the feedback loops, the processes, the vectors, into which particular human bodies exist. Women, men, families, etc., are not the same when individuated on a feudal manor as they are when individuated in Manchester at the height of the industrial revolution. What are the respective problems leading to invention within these respective fields? Why did the steam engine come to power trains and factories during the industrial revolution and not in the Roman empire (the Romans used steam engines to power children’s toys)? What new potentialities are released as a result of a change in milieu? For instance, how does thought, communication, identities, political organization, and social groupings change as a result of the internet… If at all? These are questions that can only be thought by thinking chemistry and mixtures: mixtures born of technology, of histories weaving themselves together, of diverse cultures encountering one another, of personal histories, of different languages, of economies, of conditions that differ from year to year perpetually forming different assemblages and new individuations as a result of aleatory encounters…. Not utopia, just new and different problems and potentials. “Social Assemblages and Agency“ Chemistry, Cooking, and Non-Linear Causality
Rhetorcian Says: July 11, 2007 at 3:54 pm
Thank, Dr. Sinthome. This is great. Your discussion of cooking gives me a fresh insight into why I enjoy gardening. I’m fascinated by the way seeds germinate in particular soils, with a particular moisture level, how they become plants, how those plants interact with the sun, water, compost, and bugs, how the plants battle with “weeds,” etc. My Bermuda grass is grass in my lawn (I fertilize and occasionally water it) but a weed the moment it encroaches into my garden territory, when it becomes deterritorialized, much like the student who recently sold me an appliance at Sears. When we uneasily confronted each other at Sears, I was a weed to her and she was a weed to me. But after I made my purchase, I made a comment about seeing her Monday in class, which made everything better.