- The Power of the Virtual: Intensive Movement
Erin Manning’s Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy is a work based in radical empiricism that seeks to unlock the power of such concepts as the virtual and the immanent. Proposing a power of “embodied cognition,” Relationscapes looks to the immanence of future concepts in “prearticulated” thought and the virtuality of movement in its incipience. Such potentiality creates what Manning terms a “generative nexus between action, perception, and conception” (2). Relationscapes then significantly elaborates the usefulness of this nexus in our lives—not as a “how-to book” on movement, but as a criticism of ontologies of being and an analysis of the productivity of notions of becoming, from the specificity of what Manning calls becoming-bodies to more diffuse cultural-becomings. The -scape suffix of the title perhaps shares some similarity with Arvin Appadurai’s invocation of this term, meant to serve as a framework for thinking flows of connection across disconnected spaces. Here, singularities of becomings are tied together to argue for a model of collective subjectivization that resists reduction to a collective as unity, a coherent body-populace.
In order to give concrete definition to this speculative project of “taking form,” Relationscapes turns to the performing and visual arts in order to exemplify a Deleuzian power of becoming. This work shares much with Deleuze’s writings on art, relying on his concepts of a plane of immanence and the logic of sensation, yet Relationscapes often relies on art objects to clarify the concepts that Manning sets out. For example, a quasi-chaos of sensation is expressed in Étienne-Jules Marey chronophotographs that make movement “dance.” Deleuze, on the other hand, proposed an intrinsic relation between art and philosophy in which philosophy can work out the concepts in art’s nonphilosophical understandings. As John Rajchman pointed out in The Deleuze Connections, the relation between art and philosophy in Deleuze is not one of “judgment and object, but of ‘resonances and interferences’ across two different kinds of practice or activity, neither of which is situated ‘above’ the other.” A conflict in Relationscapes revolves around this tension between speculative philosophy and its links to representative practices of art— a tension witnessed in Manning’s exclusive focus on affect in art and in the contest in the book between concepts such as “preacceleration” with terms of value such as grace and even beauty.
Manning defines preacceleration as “the virtual force of movement taking form” (6). This incipient action is the basis of relational movement, a matrix of movement meant to collapse the active/passive dichotomy between the speaker and listener, the artist and spectator, mind and body, actual and virtual. The importance of this “movement yet-to-come” derives from models of subjectivity found in Deleuzian notions of the “people yet-to-come” and Guattari’s ideas of collective subjectivization. Manning’s relational movements set bodies into dynamic encounters where the incipience or potentiality of the yet-to-come is not foreclosed, but is held open: individuals become sensing-bodies in motion, subjects are displaced in favor of “infra-individuations.”
While the necessity of such a notion of collectivity without unity has been elaborated significantly by authors such as Jean-Luc Nancy and Giorgio Agamben, Manning’s contributions to a philosophy of immanence are based upon examples of visual and performing art that (disturbingly) arise from a history of collective mythic unity these previous authors work against. That is, they are based upon Étienne-Jules Marey the scientist whose studies of the “human machine” have been dissected by historian Anson Rabinbach for making possible models of alienated mass labor that structure Taylorized factory production, on Italian Futurism and its complicated love story with Fascism, and ultimately on Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi films that monumentalize authoritarian power and seek to naturalize racist images of the National Socialist body populace. With regard to Riefenstahl, Manning’s argument that politics is already imbedded in aesthetics is a productive approach to a field dominated by Walter...