Saturday, July 2, 2011

Genesis - Michel Serres

"The multiple is the object of this book and history is its goal." p. 7

Another slim work from French philosopher Michel Serres, this one examines the manner in which things, namely time and history, come into being. In under 140-pages Serres is able to make a nuanced, complex and convincing argument for the relationship between what he calls noise and the manner in which the world flows around us. Serres compares our existence to being immersed in a sea that we willfully, and often at our own peril, ignore in the hopes of clarity surrounding concepts, sciences and relationships. What we call information and phenomena, we willfully separate from the background noise of existence and attempt to treat as if these things exist in and of themselves, when really this separation comes at the end of many long and intensive human labors.

Central to this work is an understanding that what we treat as clear and bounded entities - purities - are really turbulences of redundancy and uniqueness. Were things to be all redundancy and no difference, then there would be no uniqueness and thus no passage of time. Were things all unique with no redundancy then any passage would be meaningless as we would be caught only in an unrelated series of moments. Thus we exist between two poles, in a messy world that we gather under named concepts and entities. What Serres calls ichnographs, are agglomerations that are treated as multiplicities and not straight-jacketed into monisms. This is like accepting that numerous things make up the ocean, and that treating it as a single unit is a form of rational violence of simplification. By dealing with phenomena as multiplicities, we can maximize possibility and  limit the violence of simplification.

For Serres the turbulence of noise forces the meandering and displacement that creates history. Classifying things, straight-jacketing them, slows down turbulences and effects the impacts of relationships. The less things are able to meander beyond their status, the less they interact in novel ways, thus, the less history there is. Serres sees history itself as born out of the soup of noise, of turbulences, of the mixed-up ocean of things. By allowing for multiplicity we allow for unknowns, not only in our own lives, but also in the things around us. It is the ability of these multiplicities to circulate in all their mixed-upness that gives birth to the world.

"History is not born of provinces, but of circumstances." p. 100