Monday, March 29, 2010

Speed and Politics & The Smooth and The Striated

In this post I wanted to discuss a paragraph on page 480 in The Smooth and the Striated where Deleuze references Paul Virilio’s writings. He uses this moment to briefly detail the smooth and the striated as related to power. The smooth is not a haven from what Deleuze calls “diabolical powers of organization,” mostly referencing military and authoritarian powers. In Speed and Politics, (which is the text Deleuze is referencing) Virilio outlines his concept of “dromology” whereby political speed is diverted, harnessed, or otherwise plotted out by institutions of power. His ideas are well complimented by, and become clearer in relation to Deleuze’s. The striation of the smooth or the reimparting of the smooth on top of striated can be seen throughout Speed and Politics as techniques of power. For a practical example, Virilio describes the reimpartation of smooth space on the battlefield created by the armored car. Once the battlefield had become so rigidly striated with the embedding of fronts, bombardments and dugouts, within the already striated topology of the area, which contained tactical coordinates like the high ground and cover, war came to a stand still. The armored car’s introduction onto this space neutralized the borders made by landscape and by tactics allowing for a new, smooth, form of war. As Virilio writes on page 56, “The war of attrition had, from lack of space, spread out into Time; duration was survival. All-terrain (or rather sans-terrain) assault extends war over an earth that disappears, crushed under the infinity of possible trajectories.”

Kafka envisions these same processes in The Trial and The Castle. In The Trial Kafka’s main character, Joseph K, is assailed by a smooth power which cannot be combated since it cannot be defined. K does not know who is charging him or why he is being charged. Although the general form of a trial can be made out, it is spread out and amorphous in location and form. K cannot refute a claim which is not defined. On the other hand, we could look at the Barnabas’ father in The Castle, who attempts to petition for forgiveness from the authorities at the castle. These attempts are consistently turned away or redirected since there is no offending instance on the books. The punishment enacted upon the family exists within a smooth space that the striated space of bureaucratic power can easily deny even exists. Power’s use of both the smooth and the striated are essential to our readings of the terms, and to Deleuze’s handling of them. Our relationship with power (or more aptly its relationship with us) is inherently striating, even when employing the smooth, in that power seeks to define our relations. By turning to the smooth we turn away from power, even if the smooth is then striated by the mobile power following in our wake, or by us in an attempt to construct alternative power structures and/or simply a secure space of our own.

-Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa

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