Cultural Geographies
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DOI: 10.1177/1474474013491926
published online 25 June 2013 Cultural Geographies
Andrew Lapworth
Habit, art, and the plasticity of the subject: the ontogenetic shock of the bioart
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DOI: 10.1177/1474474013491926
Habit, art, and the plasticity of
the subject: the ontogenetic
shock of the bioart encounter
Andrew Lapworth
University of Bristol, UK
This paper develops a vitalist conception of habit as a means to theorize the material capacity
of art-encounters to reconfigure and reinvent the subject. Drawing principally on the innovative
conceptualization of habit articulated in the philosophies of Félix Ravaisson and Gilles Deleuze,
where it is theorized as a much more volatile and creative force of repetition that makes change
possible, I first explore how habit pushes our contemporary understandings of the subject
through an attentiveness to its ontogenetic emergence from material and affective processes
and ecologies, as well as its plastic susceptibility to immanent disruption. Second, and through an
engagement with the bioaesthetic and micropolitical thought of Deleuze and Guattari, I argue that
it is precisely on the ontogenetic terrain of plastic habits that art-encounters might be understood
to intervene. I unpack this empirically through an engagement with the bioartistic practices of
the Tissue Culture and Art Project (TC&A), whose ‘semi-living’ installation art, I argue, stages a
disruption of pernicious contemporary habits in favour of new and creative capacities for thinking,
perceiving, and relating to the nonhuman.
habit, plasticity, subjectivity, Ravaisson, Deleuze, bioart
We overlook only too often the fact that a living being may also be regarded as raw material, as something
plastic, something that may be shaped and altered.
Characterized by collaborative and interdisciplinary practices at the intersection of the arts, sci-
ences, and biotechnology, ‘bioart’ names an emergent genre of contemporary art in which biologi-
cal materials and scientific tools and protocols become an integral part of the artistic process as
well as the artwork itself.
The subject of numerous exhibitions and workshops over the past few
Corresponding author:
Andrew Lapworth, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, University Road, Bristol BS8 1SS, UK.
491926CGJ0010.1177/1474474013491926Cultural GeographiesLapworth
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decades, bioart is increasingly lauded as a critical site through which to engage publics on the vital
socio-cultural, political, and ethical issues raised by contemporary developments in biotechnology
and the life sciences.
Formed in 1996 by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, and housed in the SymbioticA
artistic research laboratory in Perth, Australia since 2000, the Tissue Culture and Art Project
(TC&A) is one of the world’s most prominent bioart collectives, whose work to date has been
interested in exploring the potentials of tissue engineering as a medium of artistic expression. In
particular, their bioartistic research has sought to engage the increasing capacities of contemporary
biotechnologies to create and manipulate a number of what they call ‘semi-living entities’, defined
as artificially designed biological systems requiring technological intervention for their growth and
maintenance, and which are utilized in the production of certain commercial products.
By staging
evocative encounters with the semi-living in the space of the gallery, Catts and Zurr state that their
primary motivation is to reimagine the ontological status of these entities outside of biocapitalist
logics of instrumentalization and consumption, and thus to challenge the audience’s perceptions
and relations to their own and other (human and nonhuman) bodies.
Occupying a liminal space
between the born/manufactured and the living/nonliving, TC&A’s semi-living artwork can also be
understood to intervene in recent debates around biopolitics, pushing us beyond a focus on the
discipline of bodies and organisms by making sensible the new molecular and interstitial terrains
opened up by biotechnological interventions, as well as unsettling habitual conceptions of what
‘counts’ as a biopolitical subject.
TC&A’s bioartistic practice can thus be seen to evidence what Georgina Born and Andrew
Barry have recently described as the ‘logic of ontology’ in art-science practice: an orientation
towards altering existing ways of thinking about the nature of art and science, as well as transform-
ing the relations between artists and scientists and their objects and publics.
It is this understand-
ing of the capacity of bioart to effect ontological change that I want to develop in this paper through
a theorization of art-encounters as ontogenetic events that materially produce, rather than merely
represent, subjects and worlds.
More broadly then, this paper intervenes in recent debates within and beyond cultural geogra-
phy concerning the role of art in the reconfiguration and reinvention of the subject. The relation-
ship between art and subjectivity is by no means a novel concern, and has in fact served to stimulate
a number of geographical engagements with art, particularly since the discipline’s ‘cultural turn’ in
the 1980s. Utilizing iconographic and semiotic approaches inherited from the humanities, these
‘new cultural geographies’ initiated critical explorations of the potentials of art (particularly repre-
sentations of ‘landscape’ in painting, photography, and film) to inform practices of domination and
empowerment and to infuse the assertion or subversion of identity and subjectivity.
The recent
advent of non-representational styles of thought within geography, however, has opened up new
and dynamic ways of theorizing art according to the proliferation of creative difference rather than
the reproduction of the same, conceiving artistic representations as events that have performative,
creative, and material effects in the world.
To further theorize how art-encounters can do more than affirm or critique a pre-existent subject
in the world, but might also help bring new modes of thinking and feeling into being, this paper
spotlights habit as its conceptual pivot. In turning to habit, however, I want to move beyond the
tendency in the social science literature, stemming from the way it has been conceptualized histori-
cally, to theorize it as a stultifying mechanism that binds the subject to automatic and thoughtless
repetitions. Instead, I engage with an alternate, ontological tradition of theorizing habit encapsu-
lated in the spiritualist vitalism of Félix Ravaisson, and later developed in the thought of William
James and Gilles Deleuze among others, which imagines habit as a much more dynamic force of
repetition and continuity that makes change possible.
Following these thinkers, habit invites
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creative understandings of the immanent nature of the human subject through attentiveness to the
anti-Cartesian foldings of thought and matter that constitute us as beings-in-the-world, as well as
the molecular and pre-conscious forces that alter the subject’s ongoing dynamism at the cusp of
their becoming-meaningful for us.
Habit also provides a way of grasping the plasticity of the
subject, and thus its openness to transformation both through ‘subtle alteration and gradual, incre-
mental change’ (e.g. in forms of training and discipline), as well as more sudden irruptions in the
tissue of experience brought about by the shock of an encounter.
In this paper, I argue that it is
precisely on the ontogenetic terrain of plastic habits that art-encounters might be understood to
In theorizing this ontogenetic and irruptive potential of encounters with bioart through the con-
ceptual lens of habit, this paper draws together two concerns currently animating cultural geogra-
phy and related fields First, the singular, performative, and affective texture of encounters with
bioart challenges us to theorize art beyond the inherited analytical frames of representation and
signification. The turn away from representation here is a turn toward materialist ontologies, and
following Elizabeth Grosz, an understanding of art as immanent to the forces of the real, and thus
directly implicated in material processes of ontogenesis that give birth to new bodies, new ways of
being, and possibly new subjectivities.
Following from this, the second concern pertains to recent
attempts, inspired by non-representational and vitalist modes of thought, to rethink the subject in
terms of process and becoming. Starting from an understanding of the subject as produced, as the
contingent effect of a process, this work argues that the subject cannot be privileged as a transcen-
dental given, or serve as the irreducible basis of ontology, epistemology, and politics.
Instead, and
as Daniel Smith writes, subjects are increasingly imagined as dynamic and emergent multiplicities,
‘the actualisation of a set of virtual singularities that function together, that enter into symbiosis,
that attain a certain consistency’.
Recent work within and beyond geography has sought to
explore and develop this genetic conception of subjectivity by urging attentiveness to the various
material, molecular, nonhuman, technological and affective processes and agencies implicated in
the formation of subjects.
Understanding the subject as emergent from immanent material and
affective ecologies has also opened up new ways of thinking processes of subjectivation as a key
terrain of political intervention, with work attending both to contemporary apparatuses and tech-
nologies of biopolitical control that attempt to produce certain (contingent) subjectivities, environ-
ments, spaces and practices, as well as the creative experiments with such techniques and
technologies (particularly, although not exclusively, artistic) through which new potentials for life
and living might be cultivated and acted on.
This notion of creative experimentation certainly
resonates with the bioartistic practices of TC&A, which can be understood as opening a space for
the manifestation and reworking of material, nonhuman and biotechnological agencies toward a
more porous and plastic sense of the human subject.
However, in response to these non-representational and new materialist approaches to subjec-
tivity and art, two key questions often arise. Firstly, if we understand the subject as radically con-
tingent, as the always provisionary terminus of primary ontological movements, then how do we
account for the seeming endurance of particular modes of subjectivity, as well as the subject’s
sense of itself as something coherent and continuous?
And secondly, how are these singular artis-
tic experiences registered so as to have transformative effects and resonances, a duration or ‘after-
life’, beyond the momentary instance of encounter in the gallery space?
In this paper, and as
noted above, I explore the conceptual trope of ‘habit’ as a potential address to these questions, and
through an engagement with the philosophies of Ravaisson and Deleuze, seek to mobilize a more
dynamic and creative apprehension of the concept in the pursuit of two main aims. First, and fol-
lowing David Bissell, I pursue an understanding of habit as the volatile ground of the subject,
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operating through a dual logic that serves to generate forms of consistency and continuity whilst
also presupposing capacities for subjective transformation and reinvention.
The first part of the
paper thus highlights how habit pushes our theorizations of the subject in three main ways: as
emergent from ontological processes that both precede and go beyond it (section 2); as metastable
and open to novelty and chance through repetition (section 3); and finally as embodied and
emplaced within relational circuits of affect and sensation (section 4). Second, I develop this onto-
logical conception of habit as a means to rethink the experience and politics of bioart. Section 5 of
the paper fleshes this out through an engagement with the bioartistic practices of TC&A, whose
‘semi-living’ installation art, I argue, stages a disturbance of pernicious contemporary habits in
favour of new and creative capacities for thinking, perceiving, and relating to the nonhuman world.
Ontogenetic habits and emergent subjects
In the philosophy of both Félix Ravaisson and Gilles Deleuze, the concept of habit is central to an
analysis of subjectivity and its constitution. Their theorization of habit is rooted in a critique of the
negative and mechanistic evaluation that permeates modern philosophy. This account, initiated in
the metaphysics of Descartes and developed by Kant, describes habit as ‘pure mechanism, routine
process . . . the disease of repetition that threatens the freshness of thought and stifles the voice of
the categorical imperative’.
Understood as involving an absence of contemplative thought and
attention, habit is thus conceptualized as the enemy of not only philosophical reflection, but also of
rational judgement and moral action in general. The crux of Kant’s Enlightenment project is pre-
cisely the emancipation of reason from all historical contingencies, cultural prejudices and bodily
influences; from tradition, the illusion of the senses, and from habit.
We may attribute this nega-
tive conceptualization of habit to dichotomies regarded as crucial to philosophy since Descartes:
between mind and body; freedom and necessity; subject and world.
Redeeming habit from Enlightenment detractors, Ravaisson, in his seminal treatise Of Habit,
argues that habit cannot be understood in mechanistic terms, and that it forces us to think beyond
the Cartesian dichotomies identified above. Ravaisson thus belongs to a second theoretical tradi-
tion (initiated by Aristotle and moving through the scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas, the empiri-
cism of David Hume, the spiritualist vitalism of Maine de Biran, the phenomenologies of Maurice
Merleau-Ponty and Paul Ricœur, and the philosophy of Deleuze) that understands habit as a pri-
mary ontological phenomenon; as a ‘way of being’, and as ‘not merely a state’ but ‘a disposition,
a virtue’.
By emphasizing that it be thought of as an active disposition rather than a static state,
Ravaisson argues that habit has to be understood both ontologically – as constituting the being of
those beings able to contract habits – and dynamically – habit is what remains of a repeated
Operating according to a double law, in which the continuity or repetition of a sensation
or change enacts a weakening of receptivity (or passivity) and the exaltation of spontaneity (or
activity), Ravaisson states that the modifications attributed to habit must be explained by a trans-
formation in a subject’s potentiality – that is to say a power of moving or acting – into a tendency
to move or act in a particular way. Therefore, and in contrast to the Kantian apprehension of habit
as a stifling mechanism that inhibits individuation, Ravaisson argues that habit actually serves to
open the subject to ontogenetic transformation, giving rise to new capacities and tendencies that
entail new modes of acting and understanding. Or as Ricœur succinctly writes: ‘To acquire a habit
does not mean to repeat and consolidate, but to invent, to progress’
However, writing in 1838 at the height of the ‘spiritual vitalist’ movement in French philosophy,
Ravaisson’s conception of habit is predicated on a clear distinction between the organic and inor-
ganic, arguing that the ‘empire of immediacy and homogeneity that is the inorganic realm is a
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surface hostile to the contraction of habits.
Habits instead require an internal disposition or virtue
upon which to take hold, and thus Ravaisson’s conception requires a principle of individuation
anterior to habit (which he terms ‘Life’ or ‘Organization’), generative of relatively preconstituted
individualities that can be affected by its formative force.
Writing over a hundred years later in a
very different philosophical and scientific context to Ravaisson, it is the philosophy of Deleuze,
and particularly his attempt to theorize the connections and continuities between the living and
nonliving through a conception of ‘nonorganic life’, that would push habit to the heart of material
becoming and differentiation across both organic and inorganic domains.
Deleuze’s theorization
of habit emerges initially from his encounter with the philosophy of Hume, where it provides a
response to the empiricist problem of how we pass from the atoms of experience, the flux of dis-
tinct and independent perceptions, to something like a coherent and organized human subject. The
importance of habit as the ‘constitutive root of the subject’ is evidenced most clearly in the preface
to Empiricism and Subjectivity, where Deleuze writes:
We start with atomic parts, but these atomic parts have transitions, passages, ‘tendencies’, which circulate
from one to the other. These tendencies give rise to habits. Isn’t this the answer to the question ‘what are
we?’ We are habits, nothing but habits – the habit of saying ‘I’. Perhaps there is no more striking answer
to the problem of the self.
Here Deleuze goes further than claiming that the subject has habits that stabilize the ongoing flux
of the world, to argue that we are habits, ‘formed and produced as habitual processes across bio-
logical, psychological and social realms’.
Viewed through the conceptual lens of habit, subjects
are thus no longer seen to be individuated by essences, but rather by the assemblage and articula-
tion, both spatial and temporal, of their patterns or regularities of gestures, practices and
In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze develops these initial reflections on the role of habit in
the production of subjectivity in two main ways. First, he extends Hume’s analysis of habit beyond
a practical and psychological terrain to consider habit as a motor of individuation throughout the
organic stratum, arguing that ‘every organism, in its receptive and perceptual elements, but also in
its viscera, is the sum of its retentions, contractions and expectations’.
Habits thus concern not
only the sensori-motor habits that we develop as active creatures but also, and before these, the
passive syntheses of heat, light, water, nutrients and so on that compose us organically. Second,
habit is also vitally important as the first passive synthesis of time, contracting independent instants
into a static line of time, with past and future figuring as dimensions of the present. It is this syn-
thesis, occurring in rather than by the subject (hence ‘passive’), that grounds the historicality of the
subject, providing the empirical foundations for the syntheses of memory and intellect.
Habit is
therefore what gives a being the impression of its existence as something continuous, an ‘impres-
sion of selfhood’, making it possible to retain the changes that occur and to anticipate that they will
One of the key implications of this ontogenetic conception of habit is that it forces us to rethink
the subject as the emergent effect or epiphenomenal product of material processes such as habit,
rather than as a transcendental necessity or norm. For both Ravaisson and Deleuze, habits are what
render the subject coherent to itself, serving as ontological anchoring points to the ongoing flow of
experience. Habits also lend the subject a certain consistency and durability, shielding it from
shocks of expression that might otherwise be overwhelming, and cleaving open a conduit for action
and response. However, central to both thinkers’ accounts is an understanding of habits as at once
creative and limiting: ‘habit as pharmakon’.
As David Bissell notes, the ‘holding as protecting’
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that habits perform can become a ‘holding as preventing’; habits that once granted grace, ease and
facility may degenerate into convulsive tics.
A vital materialist ontology of habit, as found in
Deleuze’s work, is thus oriented against those particularly inveterate or (in Nietzsche’s terms)
‘enduring’ habits that serve to curtail the subject’s capacity to affect and be affected, and which
limit the field of possible becomings.
Understood as emergent, however, the subject represents a
changeable possibility; the binds of intransigent habits may be weakened and unravelled in favour
of new ways of thinking, feeling, and being affected. It is this subjective dynamism and immanent
susceptibility to disruption afforded by habit that I want to unpack in the next section through an
engagement with theorizations of its volatile affective and plastic force
Plastic habits and metastable subjects
Individuation by habit has traditionally been conceptualized as a rather conservative process,
involving the gradual adaptation of a being to external circumstances and stimuli. Comprising a
relatively stable way of seeing, perceiving, acting and thinking, habit has thus been understood as
opposed to the new and the surprising.
Ravaisson, however, argues that habit, far from forming a
set of fossilized or deactivated traces of repetition, is in fact constituted by a resource of future
possibilities: ‘habit remains for a change which either is no longer or is not yet; it remains for a
possible change’.
The contraction of a habit thus inscribes in being the very possibility of chang-
ing again. As Claire Carlisle notes, the generative effects of habit imply the dynamism of subjectiv-
ity, ‘emphasizing the fact that one is continuously forming, whether re-forming or re-affirming, the
The dynamic subject thus bears traces of its previous actions and encounters, its material
structure composed as an archive of felt experience conditioning subsequent actions.
Influenced by the spiritualist vitalism of Ravaisson, but writing from within the radical transfor-
mations in the psychological and physical sciences occurring during the early 20th century, the
American pragmatist William James decisively places habit at the centre of any account of material
genesis and becoming: ‘the moment one tries to define what habit is, one is led to the fundamental
properties of matter. The laws of Nature are nothing but the immutable habits which the different
elementary sorts of matter follow in their actions and reactions upon each other’.
For James, the
phenomenon of habit in living beings is a function of what he terms the plasticity of the organic
materials that compose their bodies. Understood as plastic, James thus argues that beings are noth-
ing but relatively stable ‘bundles of habits’, possessing structures weak enough to be open and
susceptible to transformation from outward forces or inward tensions (which he terms ‘chances’),
but strong enough not to yield all at once.
This concern with the plasticity of bodies and novelty
within ontogenesis has also recently been explored in the philosophy of Catherine Malabou, par-
ticularly through her engagement with neurological notions of plasticity, which replace determin-
istic theories in neuroscience with an understanding of the brain as a ‘self-cultivating organ’,
continuously formed through the individual’s actions and interactions:
A great deal of the development of the human brain is accomplished in the open air, in contact with the
stimuli of the world, which directly influence both the development and the volumes of connections . . .
the more time passes, the more the ‘first plasticity’ loses its determinist rigor. The sculptor begins to
improvise. Bit by bit, the modelling becomes that which our own activity imprints on the connections.
In contrast to a notion of neuronal flexibility, which implies the docility of the brain and the pos-
sibility of its co-option by capitalist initiatives aimed at changing behaviours and shaping neuro-
logical responses, the concept of plasticity mobilizes a logic of bodily adaptation that implies both
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sculptural moulding and the fashioning of form as well as explosive capacities for change: ‘to talk
about the plasticity of the brain means to see in it not only the creator and receiver of form but also
an agency of disobedience to every constituted form, a refusal to submit to a model’.
the simultaneous development of consistency and exposure to outside forces and influences, the
plastic power of habit thus potentially leaves ‘a trace that can displace itself, modify itself, and
transform itself through repetition of a past function’.
In addition to plasticity, the formative effects of habit also imply the affectivity of the subject.
As Spinoza famously argues, the nature of a body depends on its capacity to affect and be affected
by other bodies;
we are formed by what we suffer, and these sufferings affect us precisely insofar
as we are able to receive and retain impressions, and to be modified by them.
Writing on habit,
Ravaisson frequently draws on the ideas and lexicon of physiologists when describing the conta-
gious quality of habits, stating that ‘life continually suffers external influences’, and thus our habits
are contracted not only inwardly, but also from those around us, ‘catching their mannerisms,
accents, intonations, modes of dress, and even their vices and virtues’.
Ravaisson’s reference here
to the importance of environmental and situational conditions highlights that habits can be traced
only partially within the physical body, for they are constitutive of a lived body that is irreducibly
social. This foregrounds a conception of subjectivity as relational, emplaced and embodied, exist-
ing as a nexus of relations with other bodies (human and nonhuman) and an associated milieu
(intensive space of emergence). Within such a framework of affective and relational habits, subjec-
tive change or transformation can thus be understood to potentially emerge from encounters or
events that serve to deterritorialize the subject, displacing it from habitual configurations of tran-
sindividual relations and interactions.
Theorized as plastic and relational, habits thus constitute the volatile ground of the subject, serv-
ing to form and sustain ‘the self’ whilst also opening up capacities for spontaneity and change. The
habit-subject might therefore best be described, following Gilbert Simondon, as a metastable
entity: a fragile state full of tensions and potentialities that is always capable of further change and
Embodied habits and artistic subjects
Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a
fundamental encounter.
For Deleuze, instances of genuine creativity and novelty arise from encounters. Writing on thought
in Difference and Repetition, for example, Deleuze argues that a subject does not choose to think,
but is instead forced to thought through the violence of an encounter, through shocks of the outside
that provoke a disequilibrium or short-circuiting of sensorial and cognitive habits.
In Deleuze’s
terms, an object of encounter’s primary characteristic is that it can only be sensed (sentiendum). An
object of recognition, on the other hand, is not only that which can be sensed, but that which may
be attained by other faculties (recalled, imagined, recognized). With such a non-encounter our
habits of being and acting in the world are reaffirmed and reinforced. An encounter, as Simon
O’Sullivan notes, disturbs this self-confirming mechanism, operating as a rupture in our habitual
modes of being and thus in our habitual subjectivities, forcing us to think differently.
This ruptur-
ing is accompanied by a second concomitant moment of creativity; the formation of new habits,
new ways of thinking and feeling, around which a different kind of subjectivity might crystallize.
Deleuze thus contends that art, in bringing these moments of rupture and creativity into conjunc-
tion, is a complex encounter-event that brings about the potential for something new.
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In both Ravaisson and Deleuze’s account of habit, the body is foregrounded as the site through
which habits are formed and undone. Habit is, as Brian Massumi writes, ‘the body’s defence
against shocks of expression. It “recognizes” every arriving perception as being “like” an impulse
the body has already integrated as functional life content’.
Operating outside logics of recogni-
tion and representation, Deleuze argues that what moves us in the encounter are forces rather than
identities: the encounter is on its leading edge an affective event.
Affects, following Deleuze, are
thus not an attribute or property of individuals, though they may become organized by the subject’s
sensorial and cognitive habits into personal feelings and emotions, which are culturally modulated
expressions of the encounter’s felt intensity.
Instead, and as Massumi argues, affects are best
understood as impersonal forces, which through their participation in the virtual always exceed
pre-existing significations and articulations.
As a thoroughly relational force, affect is also that
which connects us to the world; it is the matter within us responding and resonating with the matter
around us.
I argue that if art-encounters are able to interrupt habits, then it is because they impact directly
on the compositional and affective forces of the body. Deleuze’s extensive writings on art (both
sole-authored and in collaboration with Félix Guattari) are particularly attentive to this potential,
situating art in immanent relation to the material forces and creativity of nature and (more-than-
human) life.
In Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, for example, Deleuze conceives of artis-
tic creation in terms of the harnessing and channelling of affective forces, and the affordance of a
concrete apprehension of the material rhythms and energies that render the body.
This conception
is further developed in What is Philosophy? where Deleuze and Guattari theorize art in terms of a
‘bloc of affects’ that intensify and transform bodies, forcing us to reconfigure our relational and
affective entanglements with other (human and nonhuman) bodies.
In theorizing ‘art’ through the lens of affect then, Deleuze and Guattari foreground two main
instances of creative encounter. The first concerns the confrontation between a specific artist-sub-
jectivity and specific materials, each of which themselves are already the envelopment of potential.
What particularly interests Deleuze here are the practical strategies that artists devise (e.g. the
‘diagram’ in the paintings of Francis Bacon), to surmount clichés and conventional habits (aes-
thetic, technological, perceptual) and to liberate the virtual traits and tendencies of their expressive
The second encounter Deleuze and Guattari foreground is between spectator and art-
work, involving a different kind of production of subjectivity from the habitual. Guattari’s solo
writings on ethico-aesthetics are particularly attentive to this subjectivizing potential of art-
His work emphasizes the importance of artistic practice and experience in the recon-
figuration, or what he terms ‘resingularization’, of ourselves and our relation to the world; for ‘the
constitution of new complexes of subjectivation’ that ‘offer people diverse possibilities for recom-
posing their existential corporeality’.
Art does this, Guattari argues, by producing a rupture in
sense, detaching materials and objects from their semiotic content and the dominant significations
circulating in the social field. This rupturing event produces a new kind of rhythm, or what Guattari
terms the production of mutant centres (foyers) or subjectivation, opening the subject to new fields
of virtuality and universes of reference. Guattari thus provides a conception of art-encounters as
ruptures (with habitual modes of being and acting), but also as germs of a new synthesis; ‘entirely
mutant ways of seeing, of feeling, of being’.
For Deleuze, processes of subjectivation, and indeed
of individuation more generally, can be considered as a continual process of folding: the subject as
a topology of variable folds of matter, of time, of knowledge, and of force.
The concept allows
Deleuze to think inventively about the production of subjectivity, as it is through the fold that the
subject is exposed to the nonhuman forces (sensations, affects) of the plane of immanence, which
are folded and incorporated in the production of new modalities of being and new means of
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expression. Artistic practice, by propagating different sensations and material assemblages to those
that surround us on an everyday basis, is thus afforded an explicitly ethical dimension through its
experimentation with new ways of folding self and world, and its enhancement of our powers for
affecting and being affected.
Finally, Deleuze and Guattari’s materialist ontology of art invokes a different sense of the poli-
tics of art-encounters. This is clearly not a politics in the typical – or molar and signifying sense –
of a confirmation or subversion of an already-existing subject in the world. As Simon O’Sullivan
writes, ‘while art may indeed involve itself in critique, the critique of representation or the appara-
tus of capture that feeds off creativity, it can also plug us into the creativity and fundamental pro-
ductivity in and of the world that is ontologically prior to this capture’.
Instead, what Deleuze and
Guattari provide might be termed a micropolitics of ontogenesis that urges attentiveness to art’s
intensive powers of deterritorialization: its capacity to rupture habitual modes of thinking, relating
and being, and to invent new modes of association and existence, new potential forms of life.
is precisely this capacity of encounters with bioart to disturb and rewire habits of, in particular,
thought, perception, and relationality that I want to unpack in the remainder of this paper.
Interrupting habit: theorizing the micropolitics of bioart
Habits of thought and the modulation of affect
To date, academic commentators and art critics have typically interpreted the experience of bioart
through a narrowly psychobiological lens: either as the result of mindless fascination with the bio-
technological equipment or as a quasi-instinctive response of disgust to the ‘fleshiness’ of the
artistic materials.
As Robert Mitchell argues, such accounts simplify the experiential encounter
with bioart by parsing out agency and passivity to different ‘sites’, locating the ‘capacity to act
entirely on the side of the surrounding context of bioart (corporately driven biotechnology) while
positioning the audience as the passive, entranced objects of these actions’.
This in turns feeds
into a critique of the politicality of TC&A’s bioartistic practice, suggesting that insofar as bioart
dazzles and fascinates, it disables capacities for critical reflection on the tendencies and ethics of
contemporary biocommerce.
The concept of the affective encounter developed in the last section, I argue, provides a useful
lens through which to theorize bioart’s interruptive power beyond such naturalist and rationalist
logics. Striking the body with a sheering ontogenetic intensity that can only be felt, affect induces
new thoughts that surmount habitual modes of reflection and contemplation. The realm of affect is
thus understood as a realm of potentiality that occupies, and opens up, an interval between excita-
tion and response. The highest operation of thought, as Massumi writes, is therefore not to arrest
or master thought’s self-propagating movement, but rather to harbour and convey its generative
Through the production of new compositions of affect, the art-encounter thus calls
upon the unpredictability and plasticity of the habit-body in order to interrupt our processes of
cognition, to short-circuit our sensori-motor habits, so as to force thought into another, unforeseen
and creative, space.
The possibility of unsettling habits of thought is a crucial aspect of the encounter with the bio-
artworks of TC&A, whose installations, I argue, attempt to extend the experience of affect, rather
than allowing it to resolve into situated and qualified perceptions and cognitions, through a number
of techniques. This prolongation and perpetuation of affect depends in part on the sense of unverifi-
ability and the suspensions of certainty that TC&A produce by combining two 20th-century tradi-
tions of artistic framing aimed at confusing the distinction between ‘life’ and ‘art’: the technique of
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the readymade and performance.
First, TC&A draw on the tradition of the readymade to establish
the plausibility that the objects brought into the gallery are indeed functional and bioscientific
equipment originally intended for, and used within, the laboratory but subsequently appropriated
by the artist for use within the space of the gallery. The highly visible assemblages of glass, metal,
petri dishes, fluids, and fleshlike substances in installations such as Victimless Leather and Semi-
Living Worry Dolls are unstable materialities, engendering within the spectator an embodied oscil-
lation between a sense of reflective distance (‘this is just art’) and a sense of overwhelming presence
(‘this is real!’). Second, and as Mitchell highlights, TC&A frequently incorporate performative
events and rituals in their exhibitions in order to produce a much more extended sense of the space
and time of the bioartwork.
In the conclusion to the Disembodied Cuisine installation, for exam-
ple, spectator and artwork were quite literally combined through a ‘feasting ritual’ in which semi-
living frog steaks grown over the previous eight weeks were cooked and eaten in a nouvelle cuisine
style dinner. Therefore, although one initially encounters TC&A’s semi-living sculptures as dis-
crete and concrete objects in a microgravity bioreactor with clear borders, the various performative
interactions (in-situ and online) produce a subsequent confusion about the precise spatial boundaries
Figure 1. Unstable materialities in TC&A’s Victimless leather: a prototype of stitch-less jacket grown in a
technoscientific ‘body’. Medium: biodegradable polymer connective bone cells. © Tissue Culture and Art
Project (2004). Photo: Ionat Zurr.
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Lapworth 11
of the artwork, and encourage an affective sense that both the origin and future of the artwork
remain indeterminate and open.
Habits of perception and relationality: the killing ritual
Following Ravaisson, we might say that we are caught as creatures of habit in the world on a
certain spatio-temporal register; our perceptions are suffused with anticipation, expressing a set
of expectations that help to constitute what they actually become. Habits of perception thus
‘orientate’ us to the world in particular ways, directing our attention towards some objects (not
just physical objects, but also thoughts, feelings, judgements), whilst relegating others to the
‘background’ of awareness.
In her recent book Vibrant Matter, Jane Bennett takes aim at a
particularly inveterate habit of perception: the modernist habit of parsing the world into inert
matter (it, things) and vibrant life (us, beings). This ‘distribution of the sensible’, Bennett
argues, ‘feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption
. . . by preventing us from detecting (seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling) a fuller range of the
nonhuman powers circulating around and within human bodies’.
However, and as highlighted
in my discussion of plasticity and affectivity earlier, anticipatory habits of perception are not
static or self-contained. Rather through our participation in a world of becoming replete with
shifting material forces and agencies, our habits of perception periodically encounter new
events, minor interruptions, and submerged tendencies that demand creative responses, thus
rendering perceptual habits as a medium of possible transfiguration.
In articulating a vital
materialism that takes seriously the entanglements of human and nonhuman materialities in
social and political life, Bennett contends that the ethico-political task at hand is to cultivate
and augment capacities to discern and experience the nonhuman vitality that we are and that
surrounds us, to become perceptually open to it.
At stake in the encounter with bioart, I argue, might be an altering – a switching – of our per-
ceptual and intensive registers. One of the most evocative means by which this is achieved in the
artwork of TC&A is through the visceral aesthetics of the ‘killing ritual’. At the end of every instal-
lation, TC&A face the ultimate challenge of an artist – destroying their creations. As Catts and Zurr
state, transferring living materials across international borders is extremely difficult, and because
of the high costs involved in ‘feeding’ them under sterile conditions there is usually no one willing
to adopt the semi-living sculptures.
Devised as a mediation on the temporality of living art and
the responsibilities that emerge from the manipulation and creation of living systems, the killing
ritual is usually performed by taking the semi-living sculptures out from their sterile containment
in the techno-scientific body of the bioreactor, and inviting the audience to touch (and be touched
by) the sculptures. The bacteria that exist in the air of the gallery and on our hands contaminate and
prove fatal for the sculptures, hastening their death. For Ravaisson, touch is the archetypal sense,
mingling activity and passivity, subject and object: to touch something is both to act on the world
and to be affected by it. The air of the gallery, a killing factor here, can no longer be conceived as
an empty space, as it is inhabited by a myriad of life forms cohabitating on the basis of exchange.
The affective encounter instigated through touch thus provokes an embodied sense of the abun-
dance of life with which we share our living space, disarticulating molar notions of the ‘natural’
and ‘self-contained’ body, and giving rise to a new body, an ‘extended body’, that connects and
folds embodied individuals, technical devices, and elements of the organic and inorganic worlds in
new ways.
Our habits, Ravaisson argues, take root in passivity: in sensations and in feelings that have since
faded to obscurity. The force of habit for Ravaisson, as well as for philosophers such as James and
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Hume, thus lies to a great extent in the degree to which it remains concealed.
Therefore, if habit
resides in passivity, then it is at the level of sensations, feelings, and involuntary thoughts that an
awareness (and potential unravelling) of tendencies and habits might be cultivated in order to bring
into view other configurations of life. By inviting us to see, think, feel and taste the semi-living, I
argue that encounters with TC&A’s bioartworks are relational and generative subjectivizing events
that give rise to new capacities for affecting and being affected by vibrant matter. The potential of
the killing ritual to alter habits of perception is clear in the testimony of a number of participants
who did not believe the sculptures were alive until they were killed:
[The semi-living jacket in the Victimless Leather exhibition] started growing, growing, growing until it
became too big. And [the artists] were back in Australia, so I had to make the decision to kill it. And you
know what? I felt I could not make that decision. I’ve always been pro-choice and all of a sudden I’m here
not sleeping at night about killing a coat. That thing was never alive before it was grown.
In this paper I developed a vitalist conception of habit as a means to understand art’s material
capacity to reconfigure the subject. Drawing on the more ontological understandings of habit as a
volatile force of difference in the work of Ravaisson, James, and Deleuze, as well as Deleuze and
Guattari’s materialist theorization of art, I argued that art-encounters might be understood to inter-
vene in material processes of ontogenesis through their capacity to rewire the habits of the subject,
inscribing new ways of thinking and feeling around which different modes of subjectivity might
constellate. The final section of the paper sought to flesh these arguments out through an engage-
ment with the bioartistic practices of TC&A. Whereas commercial applications of biotechnology
often attempt to limit individuation by using semi-living entities as ‘factories’ for the creation of
certain products and relations, bioart might instead be understood to illuminate a ‘theatre’ of
Figure 2. Image from Pig Wings – Killing Ritual, Biofeel exhibition, 2002. Medium: biodegradable polymer,
bone cells, and glow-in-the-dark plastic coffin. © The Tissue Culture and Art Project (2002). Photo: Ionat
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Lapworth 13
individuation in which new and creative potentials for thinking, relating and being are staged and
I thus explored the capacity of encounters with bioart to disturb habitual modes of think-
ing and perceiving the nonhuman (as inert, passive, raw), and to generate what might be termed,
following Donna Haraway, response-able modes of ethical comportment, which open and attune
subjects to the embodied, affective and emotional impacts and responsibilities arising from the
manipulation, consumption and exploitation of the semi-living.
Affirming a world of aleatory encounters and becomings, Nietzsche rallies in The Gay Science
against those ‘enduring habits’ introduced earlier that bind subjects servilely to their routines, their
customs, and their convictions.
However, even more intolerable for Nietzsche would be a life
without any habits at all – ‘a life that would demand perpetual improvisation’.
In contradistinc-
tion to both then, Nietzsche praises what he calls those ‘brief habits’ emerging from dislocations of
being brought about by the shock of an encounter (mentioning here illness, new ideas, and particu-
larly artistic experience), which provide temporary modes for transforming the affective and rela-
tional qualities of life.
It is an error, however, to think that such temporary encounters are
sufficient in themselves to completely unravel the subject’s enduring and intransigent habits: both
Ravaisson and Nietzsche remind us that habits of being are not broken in a day. Instead, they might
best be understood as interruptions or shocks to established habits of reaction and response, events
of the unknown that alter or energize thought and perception along unforeseen paths. Enrolled into
particular diagrams of habit, such ‘brief habits’ become incipient forces festering with pluri-
potentiality that may, under new circumstances, jump from below the thresholds of articulation and
consciousness into new and creative adventures of thought, desire, and action.
Although beyond
the remit of this paper, the power of habit therefore also speaks to the reverberations of encounters,
or how such shocks to habit can spread, intensify and resonate.
By foregrounding the ontogenetic
and resonant registers of art-encounters, theories of habit thus articulate and contribute towards the
development of a more vital materialist cultural geography of art.
Huge thanks to J-D Dewsbury and David Bissell for organizing and inviting me to contribute to the AAG
annual conference session in 2011 on ‘Powers of Habit’, as well as for their extremely supportive and thought-
ful suggestions on earlier iterations of this paper. Many thanks also to Tim Cresswell and the anonymous
referees for their detailed, pertinent, and really constructive comments.
This research was made possible through an Economic and Social Research Council 1+3 postgraduate stu-
dentship award (Studentship Award No. GEOG.SC1902.6525 ).
1 H.G. Wells, ‘The Limits of Individual Plasticity’, in R.M. Philmus and D.Y. Hughes (eds), H. G. Wells:
Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), pp.
36−9. Quoted in O. Catts and I. Zurr, ‘Semi-Living Art’, in E. Kac (ed.), Signs of Life: Bio Art and
Beyond (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), pp. 231−47, p. 231.
2 ‘Bioart’ is admittedly a broad and contested term. For artist Eduardo Kac, it is the engagement with bio-
technology on a material level that distinguishes bioart from artistic engagements with the biosciences
which use traditional or digital media to address biotechnological themes or concerns. Recent work
described as ‘bioartistic’ includes artworks that variously deploy, for example, tissue culture engineer-
ing (the Tissue Culture &Art project), bio-robotics (Stelarc), genotype and phenotype reprogramming
(Marta de Menezes), transgenic art (Eduardo Kac), bacterial art and textiles (Anna Dumitriu; davidkremers),
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interspecies art (Art Orienté objet), and body modification (Orlan). See E. Kac, ‘Art that Looks You in
the Eye: Hybrids, Clones, Mutants, Synthetics, and Transgenics’, in E. Kac (ed.), Signs of Life, pp. 1−27.
3 Bioart has also proven a fruitful terrain for geographers and social scientists exploring a range of theo-
retical questions and concerns, including practices of ‘art-science’, questions of biopolitics in relation
to emerging technologies, the commodification and transformation of ‘the body’, and more-than-human
geographies. See in particular D. Dixon, ‘Creating the Semi-Living: On Politics, Aesthetics, and the
More-than-Human’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, NS 34, 2009, pp. 411−25;
R. Mitchell, ‘Simondon, Bioart, and the Milieu of Biotechnology’, Inflexions, 5, 2012, pp. 68−110; C.
Abrahamsson and S. Abrahamsson, ‘In Conversation with the Body Conveniently Known as Stelarc’,
cultural geographies, 14, 2007, pp. 293−308.
4 Catts and Zurr state that the biochemical products produced by tissue engineering and semi-living enti-
ties have a variety of commercial applications, particularly within the medical (e.g. tissue engineered
cartilage for replacement procedures) and pharmaceutical industries. The commodification and con-
sumption of the semi-living is thus a recurring feature of TC&A’s work, particularly in their mediations
on exploitation and ‘victimless’ consumption in Disembodied Cuisine (2003) and Victimless Leather
(2004). Further details regarding their current projects can be found on their homepage <http://www. >.
5 TC&A’s semi-living sculptures are produced by seeding artificial biopolymer scaffolds with endothelial,
muscle, and osteoblast cells, and then immersing the sculptures in a solution rich with nutrients and
growth factors in conditions that emulate the body (37°C, 5% C02 ). O. Catts and I. Zurr, ‘Semi-Living’,
p. 234.
6 On the visceral aesthetics of bioart and its relation to contemporary biopolitics, see in particular D.
Dixon, ‘Creating’, pp. 421−3; G. Giannachi, ‘Exposing Globalisation: Biopolitics in the Work of the
Critical Art Ensemble’, Contemporary Theatre Review, 14, 2006, pp. 41−50; and J. Hauser, ‘Biotechnol-
ogy as Mediality: Strategies of Organic Media Art’, Performance Research, 11, 2006, pp. 129−36.
7 G. Born and A. Barry, ‘Art-Science: From Public Understanding to Public Experiment’, Journal of Cul-
tural Economy, 3, 2010, pp. 103−19, p.105.
8 I use the concept of ‘ontogenesis’ here in the sense developed in the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon,
where it is understood as ‘the becoming of being’, thus designating a mode of thought that takes as
ontologically primary not a world of pre-constituted individuals and subjects (unity of being), but rather
a world of creative and genetic processes of individuation that give rise to these provisional forms (unity
of becoming). See G. Simondon, ‘The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis’, Parrhesia, trans. G.
Flanders, 7, 2009, pp. 4−16.
9 See in particular D. Cosgrove and S. Daniels, The Iconography of Landscape (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1988); S. Aitken and L. Zonn, Place, Power, Situation and Spectacle: A Geography of
Film (Lanham, MA: Rowman and Littlefield, 1994); S. Smith, ‘Beyond Geography’s Visible Worlds: A
Cultural Politics of Music’, Progress in Human Geography, 21, 1997, pp. 502−29. On the recent history
of geographical engagements with art, see H. Hawkins, ‘Geography and Art. An Expanding Field: Site,
the Body, and Practice’, Progress in Human Geography, 37, 2012, pp. 52−71; and S.G. Cant and N.J.
Morris, ‘Geographies of Art and the Environment’, Social and Cultural Geography, 7, 2006, pp. 857−61.
10 See, for example, M.A. Doel and D.B. Clarke, ‘Afterimages’, Environment and Planning D: Society
and Space, 25, 2007, pp. 890−910; D. Dixon, ‘The Blade and the Claw: Science, Art and the Lab-Borne
Monster’, Social and Cultural Geography, 9, 2008, pp. 671−92; and S. Carter and D. McCormack, ‘Film,
Geopolitics, and the Affective Logics of Intervention’, Political Geography, 25, 2006, pp. 228−45.
11 Within cultural geography, and drawing on the recent translation and uptake of the work of Ravaisson,
the ontological status of habit is currently being re-imagined as a useful trope for theorizing the ongoing
and mutual constitution of bodies and milieus, as well as the participation of the material environment
and ecologies of the nonhuman in the production of human thought and action. See the papers by D.
Bissell, ‘Thinking Habits for Uncertain Subjects’, Environment and Planning A, 43, 2011, pp. 2649−65;
J-D. Dewsbury, ‘The Deleuze-Guattarian Assemblage: Plastic Habits’, Area, 43, 2011, pp. 148−53; and
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J. Ash, ‘Technology, Technicity, and Emerging Practices of Temporal Sensitivity in Videogames’, Envi-
ronment and Planning A, 44, 2012, pp. 187−203.
12 J-D. Dewsbury, ‘The Deleuze-Guattarian Assemblage’, p. 151.
13 D. Bissell, ‘Agitating the Powers of Habit: Towards a Volatile Politics of Thought’, Theory and Event,
15, 2012, n.p.
14 E. Grosz, Chaos Territory and Art (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008); See also S. O’Sullivan,
‘The Aesthetics of Affect’, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 6, 2001, pp. 25−35.
15 See J. Read, ‘The Production of Subjectivity: From Transindividuality to the Commons’, New Forma-
tions, 70, 2010, pp. 113−31; and J-D. Dewsbury, ‘Unthinking Subjects: Alain Badiou and the Event
of Thought in Thinking Politics’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32, 2007, pp.
16 D.W. Smith, ‘A Life of Pure Immanence: Deleuze’s Critique et Clinique Project’, in G. Deleuze, Essays
Critical and Clinical (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. xi−liii, p. xxix.
17 See in particular J. Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (London: Duke University
Press, 2010); D. McCormack, ‘Molecular Affects in Human Geographies’, Environment and Planning
A, 39, 2007, pp. 359−77; N. Rose, The Politics of Life Itself: Power and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First
Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); P. Adey, ‘“Ten Thousand Lads with Shiny
Eyes are Dreaming and their Dreams are Wings”: Affect, Airmindedness and the Birth of the Aerial
Subject’, cultural geographies, 18, 2010, pp. 63−89; and B. Anderson, ‘Affect and Biopower: Towards
a Politics of Life’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37, 2011, pp. 28−43.
18 See N. Thrift, ‘From Born to Made: Technology, Biology and Space’, Transactions of the Institute of
British Geographers, 30, 2005, pp. 463−76; B. Braun, ‘Biopolitics and the Molecularisation of Life’,
cultural geographies, 14, 2007, pp. 6−28; and J. Ash, ‘Architectures of Affect: Anticipating and Manipu-
lating the Event in Practices of Videogame Design and Testing’, Environment and Planning D: Society
and Space, 28, 2010, pp. 653−71. On ethico-aesthetic techniques and practices, see D. McCormack, ‘An
Event of Geographical Ethics in Space of Affect’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers,
28, 2003, pp. 488−507; and F. Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, trans. by P. Bains
and J. Pefanis (Sydney: Power Publications, 1995).
19 B. Braun, ‘Environmental Issues: Inventive Life’, Progress in Human Geography, 32(5), 2008, pp.
667−79, p. 675.
20 P. De Bolla, ‘Toward the Materiality of Aesthetic Experience’, Diacritics, 32, 2002, pp. 19−37, p. 35.
21 D. Bissell, ‘Agitating the Powers of Habit’.
22 C. Malabou, ‘Addiction and Grace: Preface to Félix Ravaisson’s Of Habit’, in F. Ravaisson, Of Habit
(London: Continuum, 2008), pp. vii−xx, p. vii; see also C. Carlisle, ‘Between Freedom and Necessity:
Félix Ravaisson on Habit and the Moral Life’, Inquiry, 53, 2010, pp. 123−45.
23 C. Carlisle and M. Sinclair, ‘Editor’s Introduction’, in F. Ravaisson, Of Habit (London: Continuum,
2009), pp. 1–21, p. 6
24 F. Ravaisson, Of Habit, trans. by C. Carlisle and M. Sinclair (London: Continuum, 2008), p. 25.
25 M. Sinclair, ‘Ravaisson and the Force of Habit’, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 49, 2011, pp.
26 P. Ricœur, Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary, trans. by E. V. Kohak (Chicago:
Northwestern University Press, 2006), p. 289.
27 Ravaisson, Of Habit, p. 29.
28 A. Toscano, The Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuation between Kant and Deleuze (Lon-
don: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 122.
29 On Deleuze’s concept of nonorganic life, see in particular G. Deleuze, Pure Immanence: Essays on a
Life, trans. by A. Boyman (New York: Zone Books, 2001); and E. Grosz, Becoming Undone: Darwinian
Reflections of Politics, Life, and Art (London: Duke University Press, 2011), pp. 26−39.
30 G. Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature, trans. by C. V.
Boundas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), p. x.
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31 I. Tucker, ‘Everyday Spaces of Mental Distress: The Spatial Habituation of Home’, Environment and
Planning D: Society and Space, 28, 2010, pp. 526−38, p. 530; On Deleuze’s ontogenetic conception of
habit, see also Toscano, Theatre.
32 G. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. by P. Patton (London: Continuum, 2004), p. 93.
33 For reflection on the syntheses of time in Deleuze, see N. Widder, Reflections on Time and Politics
(Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008), especially pp. 86−99.
34 C. Malabou, The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality, Dialectic, trans. by L. During (London: Rout-
ledge, 2006), p. 64.
35 Malabou, ‘Addiction and Grace’, p. xix.
36 Bissell, ‘Thinking Habits’, p. 2655. On the tics of habit, see Ravaisson, Of Habit, p. 51.
37 This vitalist assessment of habit is not a moralistic judgement of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ habits based on tran-
scendental criteria (what must I do?), but rather a clinical ‘evaluation’ of the immanent mode of existence
a habit implies (what can I do?). Following the vitalist schema, ‘healthy’ habits are understood as those
that enhance the body’s capacity to continue entering relations and to affect and be affected. See F.
Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. by J. Nauckhoff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p.
168; and G. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. by R. Hurley (San Francisco, CA: City Light
Books), pp. 122−30.
38 H. Bergson, ‘The Life and Work of Ravaisson’, in The Creative Mind, trans. by M.L. Andison (New
York: Philosophical Library, 1946), p. 275.
39 Ravaisson, Of Habit, p. 25.
40 C. Carlisle, ‘Creatures of Habit: The Problem and Practice of Liberation’, Continental Philosophy
Review, 38, 2006, pp. 19−39, p. 27.
41 W. James, Habit (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1914. Reprinted in Bibliolife paperback edition), p. 4.
42 James, Habit, p. 1.
43 C. Malabou, What Should We Do With Our Brain?, trans. by S. Rand (New York: Fordham University
Press, 2008), p. 20.
44 Malabou, What Should We Do With Our Brain?, p. 6.
45 Malabou, What Should We Do With Our Brain?, p. 22.
46 See B. Spinoza, Ethics, trans. by W.H. White and A.H. Stirling (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions
Limited, 2001), pp. 99−110. See also Carlisle, ‘Creatures’, p. 26
47 Ravaisson, Of Habit, p. 31; Carlisle, ‘Creatures’, p. 27.
48 This may explain why, as Claire Carlisle argues, ‘a change of scene or environment is sometimes
sufficient to break a habit. However, if this change of scene is only temporary, then the break with
habit might well prove, on returning home, to be merely an interruption’. Carlisle, ‘Between Free-
dom and Necessity’, p. 141. On displacements in the body-brain-environment circuit of habit, see
also D. Bissell, ‘Habit Displaced: The Disruption of Skilful Performance’, Geographical Research
49 G. Simondon, ‘Ontogenesis’, pp. 4−16.
50 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 176.
51 The relation of creative thought and the shock of the outside is also discussed in G. Deleuze, Cinema
2: The Time-Image, trans. by H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta (London: Continuum, 2005), pp. 151−81.
See also W.E. Connolly, A World of Becoming (London: Duke University Press, 2011), especially pp.
52 S. O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation (Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 1.
53 B. Massumi, ‘Introduction: Like a Thought’, in B. Massumi (ed.), A Shock to Thought: Expression After
Deleuze and Guattari (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. xiii–xxxix, p. xxxi.
54 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 176.
55 The ‘space in-between’ affective and subjective/emotional registers has become a key topic of debate
in recent human geography. I follow a Spinozo-Deleuzian understanding of the relation between affect
and emotion not as a direct correspondence, but rather in terms of dissonance and oscillation, a constant
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feeding back and forward between registers in the production of the new. See L. Dawney, ‘The Motor of
Being: A Response to Steve Pile’s “Emotions and Affect in Recent Human Geography”’, Transactions of
the Institute of British Geographers, 36, 2011, pp. 599−602. For alternate perspectives, see in particular
S. Pile, ‘Emotions and Affect in Recent Human Geography’, Transactions of the Institute of British
Geographers, 35, 2010, pp. 5−20; and E.K. Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performa-
tivity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).
56 B. Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (London: Duke University Press,
2002), pp. 23−45.
57 In What is Philosophy?, for example, Deleuze and Guattari write ‘perhaps art begins with the animal, at
least with the animal that carves out a territory’. A simple example given in A Thousand Plateaus is the
bird song, understood as a territorializing refrain, producing a kind of home and thus a kind of ‘subjectiv-
ity’ for the bird. We might therefore position art practice as a particular kind of affective refrain in this
sense – the production of a particular kind of new subjective territory. See G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, A
Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by B. Massumi (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1987); and G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. by G. Burchell and
H. Tomlinson (London: Verso, 1994).
58 G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. by D.W. Smith (London: Continuum, 2005),
p. 40.
59 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, p. 169. See also E. Grosz, Chaos, Territory, and Art.
60 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, p. 193 Emphasis in original. On this point see also J. Rajch-
man, The Deleuze Connections (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000), pp. 113−42; R. Bogue, Deleuze
on Music, Painting and the Arts (London: Routledge, 2003); and D. Ambrose, ‘Deleuze, Philosophy and
the Materiality of Painting’, in C.V. Boundas (ed.), Gilles Deleuze: The Intensive Reduction (London:
Continuum, 2009), pp. 101−22.
61 See in particular Guattari, Chaosmosis, pp. 1−32. See also the excellent analysis in M. Hynes, ‘The ethico-
aesthetics of life: Guattari and the problem of bioethics’, Environment and Planning A (Forthcoming)
62 Guattari, Chaosmosis, p. 7.
63 F. Guattari, ‘On Contemporary Art’, in E. Alliez and A. Goffey (eds), The Guattari Effect (London: Con-
tinuum, 2011), pp. 40−53, p. 41.
64 See in particular Deleuze’s later works: G. Deleuze, Foucault, trans. by S. Hand (London: Continuum,
1999), pp. 86−9; and G. Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. by T. Conley (London:
Continuum, 2006).
65 S. O’Sullivan, ‘From Aesthetics to the Abstract Machine: Deleuze, Guattari, and Contemporary Art
Practice’, in S. Zepke and S. O’Sullivan (eds), Deleuze and Contemporary Art (Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, 2010), pp. 189−207, p. 194.
66 A Deleuze-Guattarian micropolitics of art thus operates under a different logic; it emerges from this play
with matter and the production of difference. Of course not all art allows novelty to emerge in the form
of new insights, new identities, or new ways of being, such as in the case of the ‘decorative arts’, or art
colonized and recruited in the services of devotion or mass consumption.
67 See C. Gigliotti, ‘Leonardo’s Choice: The Ethics of Artists Working with Genetic Technologies’, AI and
Society, 20, 2006, pp. 22−34; and J. Rifkin, ‘Dazzled by the Science’, Guardian, 14 January 2003.
68 R. Mitchell, ‘BioArt’, p. 73.
69 See L. Birke, ‘Meddling with Medusa: On Genetic Manipulation, Art and Animals’, AI and Society, 20,
2006, pp. 103−17.
70 B. Massumi, ‘Like a Thought’, p. xxxi.
71 R. Mitchell, ‘BioArt’, p. 78.
72 R. Mitchell, ‘Bioart’, p. 84
73 I am especially thankful to Ionat Zurr and Oron Catts for providing the images for this paper.
74 S. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (London: Duke University Press,
2006), pp. 25−63.
75 Bennett, Vibrant Matter, p. ix.
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18 cultural geographies 0(0)
76 Connolly, Becoming, p. 56
77 Bennett, Vibrant Matter, p. 14.
78 Catts and Zurr, ‘Semi-Living’, p. 239.
79 I. Zurr and O. Catts, ‘The Ethical Claims of BioArt: Killing the Other or Self-Cannibalism?’, AANZ
Journal of Art, 4, 2006, pp. 167−88.
80 Carlisle, ‘Between Freedom and Necessity’, p. 141.
81 Paola Antonelli, head of New York MoMA’s art and design project and curator of the Victimless Leather
exhibit in 2008. Article accessible online at <
82 B. Stiegler, ‘The Theatre of Individuation: Phase-Shift and Resolution in Simondon and Heidegger’,
Parrhesia, 7, 2009, pp. 46−57. See also Mitchell, BioArt, p. 113
83 D. Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
84 On the issue of enduring habits, Nietzsche writes: ‘Enduring habits I hate, and I feel as if a tyrant had
come near me and as if the air I breathe had thickened when events take such a turn that it appears that
they will inevitably give rise to enduring habits; for example, owing to an official position, constant asso-
ciation with the same people, a permanent domicile, or unique good health. Yes, at the very bottom of
my soul I feel grateful to all my misery and bouts of sickness and everything about me that is imperfect,
because this sort of thing leaves me with a hundred backdoors through which I can escape from enduring
habits.’ F. Nietzsche, Gay Science, p. 168.
85 Nietzsche, Gay Science, p. 168.
86 Nietzsche, Gay Science, p. 167.
87 Connolly, Becoming, p. 116.
88 Bissell, ‘Thinking Habits’, p. 2661.
Author biography
Andrew Lapworth is a graduate student at the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol.
Drawing on recent philosophies and theories of ontogenesis, new materialisms, and new vitalisms, his doc-
toral research is interested in exploring the practices, logics, and ethico-political potentials of contemporary
‘laboratories’ of transversal and experimental art-science research.
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