Patchwork is not a Model (Part 2)

I must admit, my previous post on this was a stray thought had in the pub whilst reading Bonnet’s The Order of Sounds — a deeply interesting book which has far more to offer than first appearances suggest — which is to say, beyond the realm of sound studies which is its primary focus. It’s the kind of book that masterfully cultivates all these little offshoots in the mind as you read through it. It’s awesome.

“Patchwork is not a Model” was one such stray thought that felt like a nice little provocation to throw into the midst of all the recent “I’m just not convinced by patchwork as a model” tweets I have seen more frequently on the timeline recently. Not to single anyone out. I have heard seen this phrase more times over the last 9 months than I can possibly remember. It’s common.

I wrote the post in about five minutes, right before having a chat with my prospective — I guess now confirmed — PhD supervisor. We talked a bit about Mark’s work, how his suggestion that what we need now, as ever, is a previously unimagined and perhaps unimaginable “collective subject” and how this call to noumenal arms has been the jumping off point for this project that I have been incessantly sketching out on this blog since January.

There was an interesting moment where he suggested that the answer to Mark’s question “Is there no alternative?” is a very affirmative “yes”. Right now, we are seeing nothing but the proliferation of alternatives — “alt-this and alt-that” — but these alternatives still feel somewhat impotent in the swarming face of capitalism. Impotent because they feel like an explicit product of its currently fragmentary constitution.

The suggestion made in various places on this blog is that this sense of proliferation and fragmentation — the inherent engine of a post-capitalist patchwork geopolitically and subjectively understood — is the key to what comes next, but we have to first consider it for what it really is rather than swipe at everything with the broad brushstrokes of our similarly proliferating “realisms” — capitalist, nationalist, etc. (The irony of a term like “capitalist realism”, of course, is that it explicitly signifies the absence of the Real.)

“…Patchwork as a model” feels like such a broadstroke to me and one which I think this blog has routinely written against, if not so explicitly as in that very brief post.

To expand further on what I meant by that post:

Bonnet’s use of the Borges story is related to listening and the way that the sublimation of sound into structures of meaning removes something from the experience. Sound is all too readily subsumed into language, into the “administered sensible” (as he calls it more generally in The Infra-World).

Bonnet’s compelling argument through his (so far) translated works is very much that there is something beneath language, some infra-sensible which we cannot help but automatically administer into the semiotic but which must surely still be there. It is a project considering the transcendental outside of the sensible. He writes in The Order of Sounds:

It is through the action of regimes of discourse and of modelizing tensions that sound speaks to listening, and becomes audible. The primary problem of listening is to identify and establish the traces in sound that will permit listening to grasp and appropriate it. But the trace ‘exhibits the (voracious) property that the geographical system has of being able to transform action into legibility, but in doing so it causes a way of being in the world to be lost’.

In causing a ‘way of being in the world’ to be forgotten, though, it proposes another way, an aggregative vision, a vision of aggregation that structures and coordinates the position (and condition) of its being in the world. Tracing and marking are the instruments of possession, the premises of language and of the structured universe. […] What the model or map delivers is the objectivation of experience via the representational operation provided by a system of language.

Why this is relevant to patchwork, I think, is that it is likewise an attempt to consider the already inherent fragmentary properties of human experience and its politics prior to them being formulated into the homogenised spatio-temporal regime of the State.

I think this is the key point explored to my early Yorkshire Patchwork essay, “Lovers’ Flight: The Gothic Line in ‘Wuthering Heights” in which I meander from the structures of language to the Oedipal family and State. Wuthering Heights is precisely the kind of novel that resists a modelling. You can draw a map of the spaces in which the novel takes place, and some editions have, consisting of the houses and the space between them, but the moors themselves, the in-between, where libidinal energies fly free, are explicitly resistant to cartographic assimilation and I do not think this is a coincidence.

(A follow-up essay on moors themselves has been in draft limbo for a very long time now, but an extension of this argument to be explored via the example of the Moors Murders, is that, even today, they are spaces associated with nefarious, transgressive activity which are wholly resistant to the omniscient powers of the State.)

Central to the Gothic is this resistance of administration and the holding on to a way of being in the world, the eerie (dis)appearance of which is both uninstantiated and on the edge of being lost. This is why patchwork is an eerie politic to me. It must resist administration into contemporary (capitalist, neoliberal) subjectivities and instead be nurtured so that it might grow into something else.

What I’d like to do here, in light of the above expansion on my initial thought, is address some of the comments / posts written in response to “Patchwork is Not a Model” by Ed Berger and Michael James.

Ed was the first to respond in the comments below the original post, writing:

It seems to me that the slippage towards patchwork-as-model has to do with how Moldbug articulates it, as both a thought experiment (and thus only an ideal) and as a blueprint (though doubtful that it can actually be executed?). Land, meanwhile, takes it as both an extrapolation of the currently-existing world (meta-neocam as heuristic) and as a kind of solution to the current crisis. Land at times presents it as an “operating system” that is running, making the patches into kinds of programs. I dunno if this metaphor exists in Moldbug, but this does start to a kind of conceptual slippage towards patchwork-as-model, in that it suggests that some agent is doing the programming.

I think this is precisely what I mean also. This eerie agency at work beneath; in the depths of things. Patchwork’s “infra-model”. Ed continues:

The ‘soft’ reading, which I think is more Moldbuggian, is that this is the case, that humans instantiate patchwork as political program, but the ‘hard’ reading – the Landian reading – is that yes, ‘programming’ is happening, but its the byproduct of emergent computational intelligence taking place at the systemic level. Interestingly, in this sense we have a space of tension, in which patchwork does appear as simply a continuation of abstract social domination, but the counterpoint to that is that it is literally the mechanisms of that abstraction that provide escape from it, if ‘turned’ the correct way.

Maybe a way that clarifies things is by thinking patchwork not as operating system per se, but apprehending it as a temporal force – that is, we continue to think “patches” themselves in their spatial configurations (“blocks” of space-time, per D&G in ATP, would be the most accurate presentation imo), while the “patchwork” is this ungroundedness through which these fluctuations unfold, and ultimately annihilates them (not necessarily in a “dark” manner, but as the kind of Dionysian shattering that the 3rd synthesis of time inflects). Maybe this gets us closer to bridging the gaps to the Deleuzian patchwork, tangled as it is to both active experimentation and positive affirmation, the Yes of Dionysus against the Yes of the Ass.

Michael James, whose recent chat on Justin Murphy’s YouTube channel on patchwork and communism is a must watch on this topic, writes below:

Quickly, I don’t know why we wouldn’t see it both as a model (as blueprint, strategy, heuristic) and as something to be empirically instantiated (as infrastructure, economic systems, territory)?

Or, rather, I think we need cognitive models of patchwork to start the process of re-imagining what ecosystemic social assemblages are and can be (free as is possible from existing ideologies of statecraft, community, etc.), and technical models to go about the work of actually building them and possible assist others to reproduce them with modifications to fit a given bioregion – that is, if bolstering our patch viability by networking them and building cross-patch alliances is on interest.

So far, I agree. Cognitive models are certainly a necessity. I won’t ignore the fact that the more ethereal and abstract horror approach of this blog emphasises antecedent aesthetics rather than contemporary action. That’s not to say the latter is not of interest but I can’t feign to be a well read in these areas as Michael or Ed and I greatly admire the work they have both been doing to more rigorously formulate actionable alternative.

In line with our initial elaboration here, I think Michael is right to say, in his post, that patchwork is “both model/diagram (heuristic, blueprint, strategy) and as something to be empirically enacted (as material configuration, infrastructure, economic apparatus, territory)”. What I think is likewise worth emphasising, however, is this apparent undercurrent that we find exacerbated in various fictions. That which is resistant to the consolidatory baggage of cartographic and infrastructural understandings of space and self. It is a fine line and a slippery nuance but one which I want to privilege and hold aloft, consciously aware of the risks of allowing patchwork to linger in elusiveness to the point of impotence.

Michael continues:

Models are how we hook rationality to action, and how we diagram fields of problematization and possibly. If we don’t continually model, work, revise, work, model, work, revise we run the risk of a) continuing the reactive and maladaptive ad hoc nature of social organizing practices since the emergence of agriculture, and b) will fail entice and/or activate agent-participant’s understanding of what they are a part of and how they can engage with it (thus decreasing the cognitive attraction and positive “buy in”).

If I prefer to elaborate the aesthetic problems of patchwork over this kind of materially productive thinking it is because that I think a major part of what is needed for patchwork to be instantiated as a radical alternative is the kind of horrorist outsideness that is integral to Land’s elaborations of Moldbug’s project on Xenosystems — even (maybe even especially) for more explicitly left-wing variants on the process.

Which is to say, rationality is relative — and I think an eschewing of rationality as it is presently understood by the populist left is something that needs course-correcting before a properly leftist project of patchwork can be formulated. This is not to say the left needs a little bit of the contemporary right but that the left has already largely strayed from its own historic sense of radicalism and outsideness — a point that Land recently acknowledged in his chat with Justin Murphy in an interesting and far more nuanced than usual way.

I should stress I don’t lump Michael’s own work in with this, both on- and offline — the latter he discusses in his chat with Justin which I found fascinating if alien to my own (potential) experiences. But the warnings he highlights here are two-fold for me. The potential missteps of not modelling are as present as the potential missteps of continuing the problematic results of consolidation that patchwork is, for me, inherently against. (Although not cleanly and the paradoxes and contradictions remain messy all the way down.)

Complex socio-ecological situations call for adequately complex cognitive and technical models [plural] that avoids both violent reduction (of everything from food-chains to human cognition) and over-articulation that would overtake our capacity for comprehension and cause dissonance. A particular ‘patch’ is much more than its abstract diagram and models, yet patchworking as such seems to require such models (ontographies?).

Also, what Ed said….

Here, I think, is the key. Patchwork is certainly, in line with Deleuze and Guattari, a double-pincer move and I do agree that both pincers must be emphasised. My attempts to emphasise one — which I perceive to be more maligned — over the other, must be wary of forgetting about its opposite altogether.

In his post, Michael further expands and reconfigures this comment and my thought on it largely remain the same as above. Michael writes:

How many times have we read/heard the admonition that ‘the map is not the territory’? Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski remarked that “the map is not the territory” and that “the word is not the thing”, encapsulating his view that an abstraction derived from something, or a reaction to it, is not the thing itself. Korzybski held that many people do confuse maps with territories, that is, confuse models of reality with reality itself. This, of course, is a truism that seems obvious when stated, but can often be forgotten in our attempts to understand complex problems and then communicate about them when seeking solutions. Xenogothic rightly refers to Jorge Luis Borges’s one-paragraph short story “On Exactitude in Science” (1946), as lesson on the tensions and challenges (and often absurdness) of modelling and exactitude.

(This is, again, a perfect encapsulation of the ground Bonnet is working with, I think, and why I found his passage initially relevant.)

That said, I do think we desperately need cognitive models of patchwork to even start the process of re-imagining what massively complex ecosystemic social assemblages are, and can be, free (as possible) from existing ideologies of statecraft, community, etc. We also require technical models to go about the work of engineering and administering actually existing patches. Without both of these types of interacting modeling projects how could we possible track patch dynamics in ways required for operational efficacy, or cognitively navigate the patches of which we are enfolded within?

These technical and pragmatic dimensions of patchwork theorizing and modelling cannot be ignored.

I think part of the un-unpacked critique that I am finding in Bonnet is key here, and relates specifically to his use of the phrase “administration” in relation to the subject. He writes in The Infra-World: “The administration of the sensible, as a structural harness facilitating strategies of distribution, intervenes at all stages of the process of the reception and exposition of the sensible.” He continues:

The second stage of the administration of the sensible, which is truly that of its distribution, is the moment of its mediatization and its ‘routing’. The represented, perceived part of the sensible is precisely the communicable part, that is to say the sensible of which we can have a common experience. Every community must a priori be founded as a community of sensible experiences. It is in seeing and hearing the same things and in rendering them communicable, that is to say in testifying to them, that a sensible capable of distributing a community can be constituted.

This sense of mediatization and the uncommunicable being absorbed into hegemonic structures is very much on my mind at the moment as Robin and I have been discussing it at length in relation to space, capital and Eerie Cornwall. (An important if brief snippet here.)

This is, of course, not contradictory to what Michael or Ed are saying, but what concerns me is the work to be done to ward off the hegemonic processes of administration that are already deep-rooted. For instance, Bonnet goes on to highlight Jeremy Benthem’s panopticon as one of “the most celebrated and accomplished examples of a modelling of space designed to distribute and administrate the sensible”, highlighting how structurally important this is to class systems and the state even today. He goes on to warn of the double-edge of administration as it has long been put to use:

[A]ny means necessary will be seized upon in order to retain the subject’s very faculty of perception under the empire of power — from the tactical use of drugs and toxins to the fanaticisation of masses, via (and this is doubtless the principal procedure) acculturation, education, and the disciplining of the ear and the gaze. Learning how to see, how to hear, knowing what to touch and when to touch it: this is what is implied by the administration of the sensible in its educative or disciplinary (depending on your point of view) dimension. It lays the groundwork for an ethics and a policing of the sensible.

This is not to forget Michael and Ed’s own emphasising of multiplicity but this is something that I think requires more emphasis at present to counteract prevalent understandings and thought processes — the productive engine of difference must be more effectively distinguished from the consolidatory and hegemonic functions of administration.

In this sense, it would be just as easy to have titled my post “Patchwork is Not Just a Model” but I am anxious to guard against potentialities of slipping back into hegemonic administration — at least at this stage.

Nevertheless, Michael’s later suggestions remain cogent and necessary to keep in mind. I will concede that much. It is not my intention to throw the baby out with the bathwater but I nevertheless want to taken it out and dry it off before putting it back in something else…

Michael concludes, leaving much more food for thought:

Another important consideration here is that modelling is required if we are interested in assisting others to reproduce – with the necessary modifications to fit bioregional specificity – patches in a similar vein as ours. Reproducing like-oriented patches would help bolster our own patch viability via networking cross-patch alliances resulting in trade, mutual protection pacts, etc.

Complex socio-ecological situations call for adequately complex cognitive and technical models [plural] that navigate the twin-errors of reductionism (which would fail to track the flows and functions of everything from food-chains to human cognition to swarm dynamics) and the kinds of over-articulation that outstrips our capacity for comprehension, resulting in systemic psychological and social dissonance.


We know that any particular patch is much more than its abstract diagram and models, just as we should (for the reasons outlined above) be aware that patchworking as personal-to-social endeavor seems to require such ontographies to navigate effectively.


  1. ” I think, is that it is likewise an attempt to consider the already inherent fragmentary properties of human experience and its politics prior to them being formulated into the homogenised spatio-temporal regime of the State”
    it is indeed worth attending to how things actually are (fragmentary and to some degree or another improvised) and not rushing to abstract/reify them but there is nothing eerie at work just people and stuff, the uncanny if anything is how we sometimes respond to the juxtaposition and or con-fusion of the two, we being moody critters as Heidegger an co have noted.

    1. Well, the eerie, as Mark uses it, along with the weird, is a further development of the uncanny — expanding on it for instances where it lacks necessary nuance. What is at play between people and stuff is, arguably, semiotics and what Bonnet calls the “administered sensible” so I think there remains more at work here — which I’m working on articulating with Robin right now. It’s precisely this next noumenal level down that I want to try and, paradoxically, give a voice to.

      1. but what is it literally composed of and how does it register? next time yer out and about and feel eerie see how the the non-human critters around you (bugs, birds, sheep, etc) are acting and if anything environmental has registered with them.
        Semiotics is a name for something we do and not something independent of our doings.
        here is Rorty sounding (to my ears anyway) like D&G:
        “In the Davidsonian account of metaphor, which I summarized in Chapter I, when a metaphor is created it does not express something which previously existed, although, of course, it is caused by something that previously existed. For Freud, this cause is not the recollection of another world but rather some particular obsession-generating cathexis of some particular person or object or word early in life. By seeing every human being as consciously or unconsciously acting out an idiosyncratic fantasy, we can see the distinctively human, as opposed to animal, portion of each human life as the use for symbolic purposes of every particular person, object, situation, event, and word encountered in later life. This process amounts to redescribing them, thereby saying of them all, “Thus I willed it.” Seen from this angle, the intellectual (the person who uses words or visual or musical forms for this purpose) is just a special case – just somebody who does with marks and noises what other people do with their spouses and children, their fellow workers, the tools of their trade, the cash accounts of their businesses, the possessions they accumulate in their homes, the music they listen to, the sports they play or watch, or the trees they pass on their way to work. Anything from the sound of a word through the color of a leaf to the feel of a piece of skin can, as Freud showed us, serve to dramatize and crystallize a human being’s sense of self-identity. For any such thing can play the role in an individual life which philosophers have thought could, or at least should, be played only by things which were universal, common to us all. It can symbolize the blind impress all our behavings bear. Any seemingly random constellation of such things can set the tone of a life. Any such constellation can set up an unconditional commandment to whose service a life may be devoted – a commandment no less unconditional because it may be intelligible to, at most, only one person. Another way of making this point is to say that the social process of literalizing a metaphor is duplicated in the fantasy life of an individual. We call something “fantasy” rather than “poetry” or “philosophy” when it revolves around metaphors which do not catch on with other people – that is, around ways of speaking or acting which the rest of us cannot find a use for. But Freud shows us how something which seems pointless or ridiculous or vile to society can become the crucial element in the individual’s sense of who she is, her own way of tracing home the blind impress all her behavings bear. “

        1. Yeah, those are the questions we are asking ourselves. Although “literally composed of” makes for a feedback loop which we’re trying to break free from.

          Semiotics is certainly a name for something we do which is part of what makes Bonnet’s investigation transcendental and he says much of what Rorty says here before expanding outwards from it into what he calls the “infra-world.” Rorty does sound like D&G here, or, more specifically, like Deleuze, and much of Deleuze’s writing on signs and events is in the background here, particularly his writings on intensity.

        2. well I would think one would be inclined to try and be clear about what (if anything other than figures of speech) one is talking about, what its characteristics/properties are and how one knows, etc. if that’s a feedback loop to escape it sounds post-human. I think Rorty’s take on “living” metaphors is not unlike D&G on the anomalous or phantasms like Ahab’s White Whale.

        3. There’s certainly an inclination but the difficulty of doing so is precisely the point, is what i’m saying. You can’t literally say it. That’s why it’s transcendental and I won’t aim to solve that puzzle in a blogpost.

        4. I can’t say with any certainty but the history of philosophy suggests there’s something of worth in the enquiry at least.

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