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Mind the Gap
Simon O’Sullivan, On the Production of Subjectivity: Five Diagrams of the Finite-Infinite Relation, Basingstoke and New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, 300pp; £60.00 hardback

Simon O’Sullivan’s provocative new book approaches the problem of subjectivity on a number of interrelated levels. Firstly it is a work of philosophy, collapsing the binary oppositions of subject-object, self-other, finitude-infinitude and desire-ethics by turning to an immanent tradition of thought, grounded in Spinoza and continuing through Nietzsche and Bergson to the collaborative work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Running counter to the idealist and transcendentalist genealogy of thought that spans from Platonism to the Cartesian Cogito, whereby difference, desire and being are necessarily the result of an external causality, in Spinoza being is singular, univocal and self-affirming. Spinozan ontology is the self-conscious cause of itself - with no dependent need on an external other. Secondly, Spinozism is an ethics, a speculative, practical mode of living, a joyful auto-affection involving an enquiry into what a body (and therefore thought) can do in terms of its ability to affect and be affected in turn. Immanence then, is a life and nothing else: complete power, complete bliss. It partakes of essences and their intensive states, regulated by internal vectors of varying speeds and slowness rather than an ordering signifying function that reduces being to a discursive functionalism. For O’Sullivan, the key question becomes, ‘Does what we do in our lives produce sadness or joy? Are we rendered impotent and paralysed, or active and generative? It is in this sense that the battleground of subjectivity, it seems to me, is affect’ (p7).

Finally, following Guattari, this is an ethico-aesthetic positioning of the subject as a speculative artistic creation. In this sense, O’Sullivan combines Guattari’s strategy of ‘metamodelisation’ with the painter’s diagram, which Deleuze utilizes in his study of Francis Bacon to pass through chaos and catastrophe while at the same time avoiding the twin traps of orthodoxy and cliché. Thus ‘Metamodelisation’ is a processual, combinatory and synthetic logic which doesn’t just signify and represent but communicates suggestively by spiralling out from pre-existing models to create a new synthesis, one characterized by different speeds to the discursive, thereby producing a new form of thought. Similarly, the diagrammatic (or abstract machine) does not function to represent a pre-existing real, but rather, as an operative set of asignifying and non-representative lines and zones, constructing a real that is yet to come.

As an artist and philosopher, O’Sullivan is ideally positioned to explore and exploit this multiple trajectory, and indeed his book is not only an insightful and often subtle exegesis of the ‘literature of immanence’ but also an active intervention into its creative potential, its ethical subjectivities ‘to come’. Organized as a series of five stand-alone case studies, each chapter produces a fruitful convergence of dialogues and encounters. Thus we have the immanent commonalities between Spinoza, Bergson and Nietzsche (Chapter 1); the ethico-aesthetic discourses of Foucault (‘The Care of the Self ’ as a special kind of knowledge accessible only via technologies of transformation) and Lacan (Chapter 2); Guattari’s evolution from a concern with [End Page 162] the finite-infinite relation to biopolitics (Chapter 3); a contrast between Deleuze and Badiou’s notion of the event (virtual and active respectively) and its relation to the body; and finally the collaborative work of Deleuze and Guattari and the role of chaoids and probe heads against the ‘black hole-white mask’ over-coding function of faciality. Equally important is that each chapter is also accompanied by its own series of diagrams, which evolve and mutate to create new composites and relations of adjacency, the speculative germ of a new order or rhythm.

O’Sullivan’s key first move is to position the subject as an intrinsic part of the object, as a manifestation of the finite woven into infinite. This necessarily entails a focus on ‘subjectivity’ - which is processual and fluid - rather than the ‘subject-as-is’ (as an homogenized entity). Subjectivity is by its very nature pragmatic and speculative: it must be carried...