QUOTE CLUB: DEVIATION / by Kulturfolger

This idea goes to the heart of philosophy, that is, metaphysics. If we had only the principle of identity, we would be mute, motionless, passive, and the world would have no existence: nothing new under the sun of sameness. We call it the principle of reason that there exists something rather than nothing. From which it follows that the world is present, that we work here and that we speak. Now this principle is never explained or taken up except in terms of its substantives; the thing, being and nothingness, the void. For it says: exist rather than. Which is almost a pleonasm, since existence denotes a stability, plus a deviation from the fixed position. To exist rather than is to be in deviation from equilibrium. Exist rather. And the principle of reason is, strictly speaking, a theorem of statics. If things exist and if there is a world, they are displaced in relation to zero. And if there is a reason, it is this inclined proportion. If there is a science, it is its evaluation. If there is a discourse, it speaks of inclination. If there is a practice, it is its tool. We do not exist, do not speak and do not work, with reason, science or hands, except through and by this deviation from equilibrium. Everything is deviation from equilibrium, excepting Nothing. That is to say, Identity.

Michel Serres, The Birth of Physics


The phrase 'far from equilibrium' is borrowed from the field of thermodynamics where, especially in the last four decades, it has come to refer to the special states of a system in which it is most likely to produce radical, productive and unforeseeable behaviours. When close to equilibrium, the disturbances, anomalies and events passing through a system are easily absorbed and damped out; but as a system is moved further from its rest places it becomes increasingly ordered and differentiated. The more ordered and differentiated, however, the more unstable and expensive (in terms of energy required to sustain it) the system becomes. Instability, it turns out, is the precondition of creativity. But because of its cost-in terms both of the energy required to produce and sustain it as well as in terms of the damage to the status quo that must invariably be repaired following every transformation- instability and invention are rare. Among the abiding mysteries of contemporary knowledge- in addition to the workings of the brain, of evolution and of Nature itself-is the mechanics of history and historical change. It is simply not known how history works, why change is constant yet not random. Causality has often proved to be a good myth to live by, but no more than that. We accurately think of ourselves today not only as citizens of an information society, but literally as clusters of matter within an unbroken informational continuum: "We are all," as the great composer Karlheinz Stockhausen once said, "transistors, in the literal sense." We send, receive and organize, and when no longer capable of sustaining these three functions, we disintegrate and die. But so long as we are vital, our principle work is to capture and artfully incorporate the signals that surround us. Life is a case of maintaining a very delicate structure-ourselves- a significant distance from equilibrium at nearly all times, and at others-in order to evolve, grow and invent- very far from equilibrium indeed. In common parlance, equilibrium and instability have opposite associations: equilibrium is calm and steady and sure, instability is danger and impurity itself.

Sanford Kwinter, Far from Equilibrium


light’s lives lurch
           a once world quickly from rises
army the gradual of unbeing (fro
on stiffening greenly air and to ghosts go
drift slippery hands tease slim float twitter faces)
Only stand with me, love! against these its
until you are, and until i am dreams...

ee cummings


Looking back is what keeps open the possibility of going astray. We look back, we go behind; we conjure what is missing from the face. This backward glance also means an openness to the future, as the imperfect translation of what is behind us. As a result, I would not argue that queer has “no future” as Edelman suggests — though I understand and appreciate this impulse to “give” the future to those who demand to inherit the earth, rather than aiming for a share in this inheritance. Instead, a queer politics would have hope, not even by having hope in the future (under the sentimental sign of the “not yet”) but because the lines that accumulate through repeated gestures, the lines that gather on skin, already take surprising forms. We have hope because what is behind us is also what allows other ways of gathering in time and space, of making lines that do not reproduce what we follow, but instead create new textures on the ground. It is interesting to note that in landscape architecture the term desire lines is used to describe unofficial paths, those marks left on the ground that show everyday comings and goings, where people deviate from the paths they are supposed to follow. Deviation leaves its own marks on the ground, which can even help generate alternative lines, which cross the ground in unexpected ways. Such lines are indeed traces of desire, where people have taken different routes to get to this point or that point. It is certainly desire that helps generate a queer landscape, shaped by the paths that we follow in deviating from the straight line. Even if queer deviations shape the grounds we inhabit, we should still avoid making deviation into a ground for queer politics. To resist making deviation into a ground is not to say that it does not matter which lines we follow. It does matter.  Some lines, as we know, are lines that accumulate privilege and are “returned” by recognition and reward. Other lines are seen as ways out of an ethical life, as deviations from the common good. Despite this, queer is not available as a line that we can follow, and if we took such a line, we would perform a certain injustice to those queers whose lives are lived for different points. For me, the important task is not so much finding a queer line but asking what our orientation toward queer moments of deviation will be.

Sara Ahmed, Orientations - Toward a Queer Phenomenology