Diagrams seem to be having something of a moment. Their usage in all branches of philosophy is well documented; from the hard edges of logic problems, to Lacanian Strips and Tori to the soft intensity of Deleuzean and Bergsonian planes of matter and experience….

I came across many in the last 12 months of studying the voice. Curious and often baffling attempts at mapping the intersecting spaces of body, subjectivity and sound, perhaps attempting to locate an elusive voco-fragment hovering within the blank and potential page which give space to the lacuna between these concepts; as if the only way to spot it is to compose a line of best fit amid the scattergun mess of crosses on the grid – one of which may hit the mark.

While the notion of a diagram as a pedagogic tool meant to clarify and enlighten is widely accepted, there are doubtlessly cases in which it might actually make things worse (see below!) – but perhaps again this has to do with gaps. Gaps in knowledge and an absence from the point of thinking in which the diagram originated; to be coldly presented with such a visual maze is perhaps to miss out some steps in the process. In other words there must be more – there must be text or demonstration – a collective thinking through so that that all the elements can nestle into sense. With nothing else around it, the diagram below would be as useful without its mysterious labels than it is with them.

So perhaps you need to be there. Or RE-be there. If not originating the diagram itself, it becomes necessary / helpful to redraw it - to map the lines for yourself. In some cases this might negate the unifying or democratising space of scientific accuracy that the conventions of diagramming suggest -but it does allow a more personal shading and figuring whose subtle diversions can point toward a particular, subjective understanding.

The notion of originating diagrams as a parallel or even proxy practice for conceptual unpacking is also interesting. For a recent project I ended up approaching a literary essay in exactly this manner – with Nabokov’s infamous exam questions (devised for his English Literature class at Cornell in the 60s) as a starting point, I attempted to investigate the use of slow motion in Kafka’s Metamorphosis via a measured method of data collection and meticulous graphing, rather than via more tried methods of text or research based enquiry. This idea of applying un-native methods across genres, media and practices was introduced to me by Kate Briggs, a writer and translator whom I met through the experimental publishing house Information as Material. The idea of a more ‘hands on’ approach to making theory or marking reading immediately appealed to me as it seemed to somehow dislodge certain conceptual barriers – in the sense that adhering to other rules and conventions allows a certain circumventing of the usual obstacles to thought – a more direct route though if you like. 

I haven’t tested it extensively but the operation in this case was certainly a success, opening up and shedding light on a feature of the novel that I would not have noticed otherwise. Plus the visual methodology was intensely satisfying – liberating even.

Simon O’Sullivan’s new book “On the Production of Subjectivity: Five Diagrams of the Finite-Infinite Relation” too deals in exactly this notion; explaining a series of diagrams which allowed the writer a freer approach to theoretical work, in many cases acting as the pathway to ideas that would not have emerged otherwise. Also, within contemporary philosophical thinking – these info-images act as morsels of vocab or stretches of code within some kind of shared language or conceptual plane. They can be overlaid, combined, cut and pasted and edited together – O’Sullivan unlocks one particularly interesting strain of thinking via the juxtaposition of Bergsonian and Lacanian visual concepts. In thinking along these lines I notice too (for the first time) that the troublesome diagram I mention above, which to me had always looked like a spinal, corporeal structure – bares more than a passing resemblance toBergson’s Cone of Memory (below), spiralling upwards like a hurricane from a trapezoidal plane of matter or axis of experience. 

Could this accidental observation elucidate something about the initial image that had previously eluded and baffled me. Perhaps so. Perhaps more than a forensic understanding of its complex terms may afford.

So again, it appears that a slippage and desire to work, perhaps roughly, with this scientific rigour, is the way through to new thinking and understanding.

I listened to a discussion by O’Sullivan this evening on the topic of Bergson and memory, which centred around his notion of the pure past and the presence of universal matter that lingers in varying proximities to the black holes of our relative experience – shaping the world as we see, feel and remember it. The discussion of our relationship to these various, elusive elements of time and action caused me to think about Graham Harman’s ideas around Object Oriented Ontology – which attempts to move away from an anthropocentric philosophy and to explore the inner lives of objects - as equally caught up with notions of time and emotion as these may no doubt be.


Hi! Very interesting info, I like you post some further information to look at. Im sorry but I wanted to know the name of the second diagram in the post, its quite interesting and want to do some more research on it

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