From: pierre cyr <pbcyr@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 17 Oct 1998 10:27:58 -0500
Charles J. Stivale wrote:
> A few years ago (August 1996), I made a report to the U of Michigan Press
> about two books by Pierre Levy, _L'Intelligence Collective_ and _Qu'est-ce
> que le virtuel?_ regarding whether the Press might want to publish them as
> translations. These works have since appeared in Plenum Press (NYC),
> respectively, as _Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in
> Cyberspace_ (1997) and _Becoming Virtual: Reality in the Digital Age_
> (1998). Here is that report, fyi:
> (1998). Here is that report, fyi:
> August 1, 1996
> LeAnn Fields
> University of Michigan Press
> 839 Greene St,
> PO Box 1104
> Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1104
> Dear LeAnn,
> I've had an opportunity to look at the two books by Pierre Lévy
> that you asked me to consult. Of the two, I am more inclined to
> recommend L'Intelligence Collective (abbreviated IC) for publication
> rather than Qu'est-ce que le virtuel? (abbreviated QV), but I will
> provide an assessment of both for your information.
> The complete title of IC translates as: Collective Intelligence.
> For an Anthropology of Cyberspace, In the prologue, Lévy declares
> that with the new global communications made available in
> 'cyberspace,' we henceforth inhabit a "nomad planet." In this book,
> he wants "to bring to light the major stakes for civilization that
> are linked to the emergence of multimedia. To explain why "we have
> again become nomads," Lévy argues that "moving about no longer mrely
> means displacement on the earth's surface, but rather crossing
> universes of problems, inhabited worlds, vistas of meaning." The
> result, says Lévy., is that these "transversal,, heterogeneous
> navigations by new nomads explore another space, We are now
> immigrants of subjectivity" (9-10), The result of these
> intersections,. of the "new processes of thought and negotiation"
> available through them, is the possible "emergence of veritable
> collective intelligences" (12), However., such processes can be
> developed globally only if we "invent a language," a "beyond of
> writing, a beyond of language such that information processing might
> be distributed and coordinated everywhere, with it no longer
> remaining the terrain of isolated social divisions, but rather
> integrated naturally into all human activity, placed at the disposal
> of everyone" (15).
> As is evident just from these few sentences, Lévy has a gift for
> the catchy phrase and the broad vision, but he quite clearly comes
> down on what has been termed the "cyber-blissed"-end of the spectrum
> as regards the potential for computer-mediated communication. In his
> introduction, divided into the sections "Economy," "Anthropology,"
> "Social Connection and Relations to Knowledge," and "What is
> Collective Intelligence?", Lévy explores the current economic
> limitations for developing "collective intelligence," and suggest
> possible revisions currently under way (chapter 2). Lévy indicates
> that in the first section of the book (chapters 1-6, "Engineering
> the Social Connection"), he explores the development of the "Space
> of Knowledge": in chapters 1-5,, he considers an ethical approach for
> developing "collective intelligence" along "two complementary axes:
> one, of the renewal of the social connection vis-a-vis knowledge,
> the other, of collective intelligence properly defined" (26). In
> chapter 6, he considers an aesthetic dimension, arguing that "the
> major architectural project of the 21st century will be to imagine,
> construct and design the mobile interactive site of cyberspace"
> Then, distinguishing the Earth, the Territory, and the "Merchant
> Space," from what he posits as the "new 'anthropological space' of
> the 'Space of Knowledge'," he indicates that the second part of the
> book (chapters 7-15) provides a "detailed cartography" of these
> spaces. outlining this cartography briefly in the introduction, Lévy
> draws implicitly from the conceptual framework and vocabulary of
> "(de)territorialization" developed by Gilles Deleuze and Fé1ix
> Guattari in order to explain the origins of this "Space of
> Knowledge" as the "new horizon of our civilization" (21-26). He
> defines "anthropological space" (chapter 8), then considers problems
> of identity (chapter 9), meaning (chapter 10), space and time
> (chapter 11), and then the question of knowledge (chapters 12-14).
> The final chapter (15) is "the outline of a political philosophy
> conceived as a theory of relations between anthropological spaces"
> (34). Adopting metaphors familiar in the Deleuze-Guattarian
> framework, Lévy says: "Although the linearity of the text limits me
> at times to present things following a temporal order of succession,
> the 'Space of Knowledge' section works not as a history, but as a
> cartography, a conceptual tool box, a portable guide to
> anthropological mutation" (34).
> In an epilogue, Lévy wonders if what he has just posited is at
> all realistic and how it might be realized. He maintains that this
> project valorizes "technique" (applications of technology) "not out
> of blind fascination, but because it opens a field of action" (232).
> Developing a schema for understanding five domains of action (the
> imaginable, the possible, the impossible, the unimaginable, the
> doable), Lévy describes their interaction as "the great machine that
> causes the human world to shift positions." He argues that
> considering the "collective intelligence" project as utopian or
> unrealistic has no real meaning: "[Collective intelligence] is a
> utopia of the unstable and the multiple, responding to an ethics of
> the best rather than to a morality of the Good" (235), He concludes
> with the decidedly utopian suggestion that "the collective
> intelligence project assumes abandoning the perspective of power.
> . . Instead of thickening the fortresses of power, let us refine the
> architecture of cyberspace, the ultimate labyrinth" (239-240).
> The second, more recent book, QV, is a reflection on the broad
> question that the title asks, Rather than fear "universal
> disappearance, as Jean Baudrillard suggests," or a "terrifying
> implosion of space-time, as Paul Virilio announced," Lévy defends a
> different, non-catastrophic hypothesis: "among the forms of cultural
> evolution moving forward at the edge of the third millennium, and
> despite their undeniably somber and disturbing aspects, there is
> nonetheless a pursuit of hominisation," a term translatable as
> humanization, but that must also connote the "'becoming other' -- or
> heterogenesis -- of the human" (9-10). Lévy argues for understanding
> and thinking through the amplitude of "virtualization,," rather than
> fearing and condemning it.
> The outline of this study can be cited in its entirety:
> "In the first chapter, 'What is Virtualization?', I define the
> principal concepts of reality, possibility, actuality, and
> virtuality which will be used subsequently, as well as the different
> transformations from one mode of being to another, This chapter is
> also the moment to begin analyzing virtualization strictly defined,
> and notably the Ideterritorialization' and other strange
> spatio-temporal phenomena generally associated with it.
> "The following three chapters concern the virtualization of the
> body, the text, and the economy. The concepts previously developed
> are here applied to contemporary phenomena and provide a coherent
> means to analyze the dynamics of ongoing economic and cultural
> "The fifth chapter analyzes hominisation in terms of the theory
> of virtualization: virtualization of the immediate present through
> language, of physical acts through technical means, and of violence
> through contract. Thus, despite its brutality and foreignness, the
> crisis of civilization that we are undergoing can be resituated
> within the continuity of the human adventure.
> "Chapter six, 'The Operations of Virtualization,' uses the
> empirical materials accumulated in the preceding chapters to make
> clear the invariable kernel of elementary operations at work in all
> Processes of virtualization: those of a grammar, a dialectic, and a
> rhetoric, all broadened toward technical and social phenomena.
> "The seventh and eighth chapters examine 'the virtualization of
> intelligence'. They present the technosocial functioning of
> cognition by following a dialectic between objectivizing
> interiority and subjectivizing exteriority,, a typical trait of
> virtualization, as we shall see, These two chapters prepare two
> principal results: first, a renewed vision of 'collective
> intelligence currently emerging in the digital communication
> networks; second, the construction of an object concept (social
> mediator, technical support, nexus of intellectual operations) that
> completes the theory of virtualization,
> "The ninth chapter sums up, systematizes and relativizes the
> study's main points, then outlines the project of a philosophy
> capable of welcoming the duality of event and substance that will
> have been a background theme throughout the work:
> "Finally, the epilogue calls for an art of virtualization, a new
> aesthetic sensibility of which the cardinal virtue would be an
> expanded hospitality in this era of great deterritorialization"
> Hence, this study provides certain overlaps with IC, but the
> difference seems to be mainly in the manner in which in each study
> Lévy engages in theorizing. In IC, he engages a much more "material"
> and referential framework, the domain of global communications and
> particularly those facilitated by computer technology. However, that
> reference point is actually the basis on which he makes a bold and,
> for some, a highly speculative (not to say fantastic) outline of
> potentialities for humankind at this techno-social juncture. In QV,
> his emphasis is predominantly philosophical in addressing one term
> included in the expression "virtual reality," a term that had
> already generated a long history of reflection before being attached
> to the second term in recent years. The reference points for this
> reflection are also quite contemporary, e.g. images and techniques
> of the "hyperbody" (chapter 2), "hypertext" and cyberspace "texts"
> (Internet, WorldWideWeb) (chapter 3), the commercial market and
> finance as "virtual" bodies (chapter 4), However, Lévy's goals seem
> to be more philosophical than in the earlier work, and one
> indication of this lies in the difference of the scholarly apparatus
> between each: in IC, there is no bibliography, and all the research
> documentation (quite limited) is contained in the footnotes, In QV.,
> on the other hand, I find a single footnote (seemingly made necessary
> for legal reasons. 63), but the bibliography, quite extensive as
> well as annotated, provides a predominantly philosophical and
> contemporary frame of reference.
> As for potential sales and market, I believe that IC corresponds
> to the audience for a book like Michael Joyce's Of Two Minds. I see
> QV corresponding more readily to the "Theory Out of Bounds"
> collection that U of Minnesota Press publishes, but were there a
> collection of this sort at U of Michigan Press, then it would be
> quite appropriate there. Would either be beneficial in other ways? I
> believe that Pierre Lévy is one of the most important young thinkers
> in France, since he is able to couple the contemporary French
> philosophical modes of reflection to extremely pertinent
> sociocultural questions. Either work would show the press's
> foresight in making it (or them) available, and I think that IC best
> corresponds to the type of work that the press is presenting
> I hope that this is useful for your considerations. Feel free to
> contact me should you have any further questions.
> Charles J. Stivale
Thank you for posting that report. I just purchased Levy's Becoming
Virtual: Reality in the Digital Age last month (still looking for
Collective Intelligence). Not only was your analysis of the work right
on target, but your predictions for its sales and marketability were
uncannily accurate: I bought it along with Jose Gil's Metamorphoses of
the Body, a volume in the Theory Out of Bounds series! Bravo! Again,
thanks for that information.
p.s. - also bought your Two-Fold Thought on same shopping spree (blush)!