Massumi, Brian. Concrete is as Concrete Doesn’t [Movement]

From Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002)

When I think of my body, and ask what it does to earn that name, two things stand out. It moves. It feels. In fact, it does both at the same time. It moves as it feels, and it feels itself moving. Can we think a body without this: an intrinsic connection between movement and sensation, whereby each immediately summons the other?

Moments to remember:

  • The project of this book is to explore the implications for cultural theory of this simple conceptual displacement: body – (movement / sensation) – change (1).
  • [Of signifying gestures performed by the mediated and discursive body:] Make and unmake sense as they might, they don’t sense. Sensation is utterly redundant to their description. Or worse, it is destructive to it, because it appeals to an unmediated experience. Unmediated experience signals a danger that, if anything can be, is worse than naïve realism: its polar opposite, naïve subjectivism (2).
  • “The Body.” What is it to The Subject? Not the qualities of its moving experience. But rather, in keeping with the extrinsic approach: its positioning (2).
  • How does a body perform its way out of a definitional framework that is not only responsible for its very “construction,” but seems to prescript every possible signifying and counter-signifying move as a selection from a repertoire of possible permutations on a limited set of pre-determined terms? How can the grid itself change? (3)
  • The idea of positionality begins by subtracting movement from the picture …When positioning of any kind comes a determining first, movement comes a problematic second. (3).
  •  Since the positional model’s definitional framework is punctual, it simply can’t attribute a reality to the interval, whose crossing is a continuity (or nothing). The space of the crossing, the gaps between positions on the grid, falls into a theoretical no-body’s land. Also lacking is the notion that if there is qualitative movement of the body, it as directly concerns sensings as significations. Add to this the fact that matter, bodily or otherwise, never figures in the account as such.(4).
  • When a body is in motion, it does not coincide with itself. It coincides with its own transition: its own variation (5).
  • [invoking Deleuze] Here abstract means: never present in position, only ever in passing. This is an abstractness pertaining to the transitional immediacy of a real relation – that of a body to its own indeterminacy (its openness to an elsewhere and otherwise than it is, in any here and now) (5).
  • One way of starting to get a grasp on the real-material-but-incorporeal is to say it is to the body, as a positioned thing, as energy is to matter (5).
  • Integrating movement slips us directly into what Michel Foucault called an incorporeal materialism. This movement-slip gives new urgency to questions of ontology, of ontological difference, inextricably linked to concepts of potential and process, and by extension event – in a way that bumps “being” straight into becoming (6).
  • A path is not composed of positions (6).
  • A thing is when it isn’t doing. A thing is concretely where and what it is – for example a successfully shot arrow sticking in a target – when it is in a state of arrest. Concrete is as concrete doesn’t (7).
  • It suggests that a distinction between extensive and intensive is more useful than any opposition between the “literal” and the “figural” if what we are interested in is change (7).
  • The dynamic enabling the backformation is “intensive” in the sense that movement, in process, cannot be determinately indexed to anything outside of itself … It is in becoming, absorbed in occupying its field of potential … It is still the same thing by definition – but in a different way, qualitatively changed by the passing event. The concept nature is of modification, not essence (7).
  • The emphasis is on process before signification or coding (7).
  • The problem is no longer to explain how there can be change given positioning. The problem is to explain the wonder that there can be stasis given the primacy of process (8).
  • Another way of putting it is that positionality is an emergent quality of movement (8).
  • It is not enough for process concepts of this kind to be “ontological.” They must be ontogenetic: they must be equal to emergence (9).
  • If passage is primary in relation to position, processual indeterminacy is primary in relation to social determination (9).
  • To say that passage and indeterminacy “come first” or “are primary” is more a statement of ontological priority than the assertion of a time-sequence. They have ontological privilege in the sense that they constitute the field of the emergence, while positionings are what emerge (10).
  • it is important to keep in mind that there is a contemporaneous difference between social determination and sociality … The idea is that there is an ontogenesis or becoming of culture and the social (bracketing for present purposes the difference between them), of which determinate forms of culture and sociability are the result (9).
  • The field of emergence is not pre- social. It is open-endedly social. It is social in a manner “prior to” the separating out of individuals and the identifiable groupings that they end up boxing themselves into (positions in grid-lock). A sociality without determinate borders: “pure” sociality (10).
  • Possibility is backformed from potential’s unfolding. But once it is formed, it also effectively feeds in. Fedback, it pre-scripts: implicit in the determination of a thing’s or body’s positionality is a certain set of transformations that can be expected of it by definition, and that it can therefore undergo without qualititatively changing enough to warrant a new name (10).
  • The distinction between potential and possibilitiy is a distinction between conditions of emergence and re-conditionings of the emerged. Conditions of emergence are one with becoming. Re-conditionings of the emerged define normative or regulatory operations that set the parameters of history (the possible interactions of determinate individuals and groups) (11).
  • On the list of distinctions it becomes difficult to sustain in any categorical way are those between artifact and thing, body and object – and even thought and matter. Not only do these relay in reciprocal becomings; together they ally in process. They are tinged with event (12).
  • The status of “natural law” (the normative self-regulation of nature; nature’s selfrule) becomes a major theoretical stake – as does the naturalizing of cultural laws, with which cultural theory has more traditionally been concerned. The problem has been that the concern for “naturalization” was one-sided, only attending to half the becoming. Of tremendous help in looking at both sides is the concept of habit. Habit is an acquired automatic self-regulation. It resides in the flesh. Some say in matter. As acquired, it can be said to be “cultural.” As automatic and material, it can pass for “natural” (12).
  • “Incorporeal materialism” has a date with empiricism (12).
  • The kinds of codings, griddings, and positionings with which cultural theory has been preoccupied are no exception to the dynamic unity of feedback and forward, or double becoming. Gender, race, orientation, are what Ian Hacking calls “interactive kinds”: logical categories that feed back into and transform the reality they describe (and are themselves modified by it in return) (12).
  • As usual, it is not a question of right and wrong (nothing important ever is). It is a question of dosage. It is simply that when you are busy critiquing you are less busy augmenting. You are that much less fostering (14).
  • The logical resources equal to emergence must be limber enough to juggle the ontogenetic indeterminacy that precedes and accompanies a thing’s coming to be what it doesn’t (14).
  • Generating a paradox, then using it as if it were a well-formed logical operator, is a good way to put vagueness in play (14).


  • thinking about how movement is implicated in writing – as writing performs a kind of thought in act and follows the conceptual displacement: body [usually fingers] – (movement [scrawling, typing, painting,etc.] / sensation [texture 0f materials, sound of tapping/scratching, warmth of device, smell of ink, pressure on keys/pencil, seeing thoughts take shape on paper/screen]) – change [of materials, position, self, the social].
  • but also as massumi points to a trend in two decades of cultural theory focused on stases, the Subject, the position. this makes me think of the value of process writing [as movement] and the ways that the transitional moments are the transformative ones.
  • and i appreciate that he doesn’t entirely disparage “the grid,” but rather acknowledges position (and placement) as cultural matter “inseparab[e from] and contemporaneous” to passage/process (10).

To consume:

  • Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution,“The Possible and the Real” (The Creative Mind)
  • G. W. Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics
  • Gilbert Simondon, L’individuation psychique et collective (&/ Muriel Combes, Simondon. L’individu et collectivité)
  • Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What?
  • Jane Bennett The Enchantment of Modern Life: Crossings, Energetics, and Ethics

3 thoughts on “Massumi, Brian. Concrete is as Concrete Doesn’t [Movement]

  1. Pingback: Massumi, Brian. Concrete is as Concrete Doesn’t [Sensation] | {kin}aesthetic composure

  2. Pingback: Sedgwick, Eve. Touching Feeling Introduction | {kin}aesthetic composure

  3. Pingback: Massumi, Brian. The Autonomy of Affect, I | {kin}aesthetic composure

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