The Line: Boundary, Connection, Outline, Inquiry
The boundary line separates this from that. National boundaries are called borders, they indicate the line of demarcation between this country and that. By crossing such a line, the set of laws, the cultural practices and often the spoken language will change. Of course, one imagines a flock of migrating birds crossing a border completely unaware of any significant change in the environment. We think of the line between countries as being stable, the power of a sovereign nation is used to defend its borders. But if we zoom out and select a larger increment of time, we would see that even national borders are fluid—they move with a specific viscosity, velocity and trajectory.
The line also connects this and that. Wittgenstein discussed thinking as a process of seeing connections, discovering connections and making connections. Lines can converge, cross or run in parallel. (and if we admit the visions of the string, super-string and M (membrane) theorists – each line may exist in parallel universes where all their permutations are expressed.)
The line of inquiry, tends, in its character, to gravitate toward the one or the many. We can think of these methods as the “either/or” and the “both/and.” The line of inquiry that models the one seeks to purify and clarify itself, it cuts off connections to things that it sees as outside of its concept. A boundary line is enforced, an outline of a shape is drawn, an ideal template is generated through which the world can be sorted and filtered in a binary action (fits, doesn’t fit). The ideas of internal coherence, self-consistency, and conceptual integrity emerge from this approach to thinking as the elimination and reduction of the multiplicity of meaning. This is the process of clarification and the removal of the non-germane. The power of this kind of inquiry is measured by its ability to defend its borders. Its sovereignty and its identity depend of the continued existence of a bright line of demarcation.
When this mode of the line of inquiry begins to unwind, its identity, the central image/concept begins to blur. The borders are breached, foreign connections are established and begin to gain purchase. The viscosity, trajectory and velocity of the line are now in play, the inquisitor has lost exclusivity of editorial control. Here we connect to another kind of line. As lines of inquiry unravel and are overcome, they disperse into a sedimentary layer making up part of the next line of inquiry.
If we take a step back, we can see that every line of inquiry is composed of layers of sediment. At the height of its power, it’s able to cover over these historical sources and present itself as a simple, coherent, consistent identity. Its origin is either proclaimed to be ex-nihilo or a new history of its birth is created.
In the opening section of Deleuze and Guattari’s essay “Rhizome,” it says:
We wrote ‘Anti-Oedipus’ together. As each of us was several, that already made quite a few people. Here we have used all that drew near to hand, both the closest and the furthest away.
Deleuze sees the starting point, not as identity, but as a set of lines. Although it should be noted that the boundaries of this set are fluid. A person, or a line of inquiry, is always already composed of many threads, at whatever moment we choose to call ‘the start.’ These threads are spun into a yarn, braided into rope, disassembled and remade over and over again. They are spread out like a spider’s web, or wound into a ball.
As individuals and groups we are made of lines, lines that are very diverse in nature. The first type of line (there are many of this type) that forms us is segmentary, or rigidly segmented: family/profession; work/vacation; family/then school/then army/then factory/then retirement.
What of the line of inquiry that begins as many and seeks to connect to many? Is there a thinking that asks after multiplicity from the first moment? This mode, from the perspective of its polar opposite, can only be described as disruptive, anarchic, incoherent, gibberish, illogical, unrealistic, unfocused. What can one say about a line of inquiry that doesn’t defend its borders? A line that exposes its mixed origin of birth— from sources both ‘closest and furthest away.’ What kind of line doesn’t drive toward clarity and sharp, bright lines; but rather makes connections as they emerge. How are we to find meaning in such a swirl of chaotic crossed lines. Can meaning emerge from such a maelstrom?
The task seems impossible if we remain ensnared in the logic of identity. If we believe that each intersection of lines must establish identity and dominance or be defeated and ground into a sedimentary layer of its betters. (The logic of identity is also tightly tied to the economics of value through scarcity.)
It’s inevitable that the whirl-pool of electronic information movement will toss us all about like corks on a stormy sea, but if we keep our cool during the descent into the maelstrom, studying the process as it happens… we can get through . (McLuhan 1995)
For a line of inquiry that consists of seeing, discovering and making connections, meaning and value emerge from the swarming and clustering of connections in the unfolding of real-time. Meaning and value have the potential to be very fluid. The sorts and filters aren’t permanent exclusions, they’re qualities of a view. What is important to us one day may seem unimportant the next. This is not to say that meaning a value must always move at a high velocity. These lines have different qualities of viscosity, some move very slowly, some quite quickly. Meaning emerges at the point at which we engage the interface.
The electronically induced technological extensions of our central nervous systems… are immersing us in a whirlpool of information… the aloof and dislocated role of the literate man of the Western world is succumbing to the new intense depth participation… decentralising – rather than enlarging – the family of man into a new state of multitudinous tribal existences. (McLuhan 1995)
These lines, these borders, are surfacing with more visibility in our everyday lives. The borderline between work, family and friends used to be a physical line defined by the boundaries of a workplace. The telephone began the disruption of that space, and thus, the personal phone call was prohibited or limited. This same policy has transferred to a personal connection to the Network. Control of a corporate image means that employees must be silent. The brand must speak with a clear and pure voice— all signal, noise absent.
The iPhone expanded the disruption by overlaying a powerful personal Network connection over the limited connection of the workplace. An inversion of the relative power of technologies has amplified the rupture. If the Network is the computer, the personal connection has access to the computer; while the corporate connection wears blinders. Access to multiplicity provides more access to power, value and meaning, than the narrow scope of the corporate machine.
Women were the first to have to deal with the reality of multiple (social) networks overlaying the workplace. They have the potential to be simultaneously workers, mothers, daughters, wives and more. Men were only too happy to leave their role as ‘father’ at home— and exist solely as a worker in the workplace. The ability of a worker to be all the people she can be may ultimately surface as a civil rights issue.
The boundaries of the Network and the Nation State begin to cross and struggle for power when the US State department asks Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance because of real-time events in the Middle East. This is the beginning of a moment where the Nation state will inscribe its sovereignty within the outlines of the Network. The borders of a territory are surfacing as both physical and virtual.
Borders will continue to try to control lines of connection; the question that emerges is whether the locus of power, meaning and value is moving toward the line of connection, and away from the boundary line that excludes.