Friday, December 10, 2004

Apparatus and Machination: an approach to form

Like you, I'm suspicious of etymological analysis. But here's something I picked out of my Concise Oxford Dictionary tonight. In "The History of the World" I said, in effect, that (laboratory) apparatus is to science what (parliamentary) machination is to politics. I very much like that way of putting it. Now, here's what I discovered.

Apparatus comes from the Latin for "to make ready for", while machination comes from the Greek "contrivance". An apparatus, of course, is just scientific or technical equipment, while machination involves the laying of plots and intrigue.

(Readers of Foucault, by the way, will note that "apparatus" translates "dispositif" and that a disposition is a kind of readiness. Readers of Shakespeare, meanwhile, will note that Claudius' machinations are underscored with the slogan "Be in readiness.")

Now, a "scheme" (when it is not also just a plot) is "a systematic plan or arrangement for work or action". And it comes from the Greek for "form, figure". It is also the source of Kant's schematism by which the transcendental categories were to be somehow imposed on empirical experience. Lastly, we have the German "Bild", as in "Bildung", also meaning "form", and which gives us both "picture" and "image".

None of this proves anything, of course. But it indicates a direction. Between our scientific apparati and our political machinations, we have our imagery, the imagination at work (according to the plans, arrangements, plots, intrigues, etc. of our culture and our nature), and this is precisely the site of form. One should imagine (!) two enormous rigs, one material (the apparatus) and the other social (the machination). We connect the one to the other and call this thinking.

The task now is to make all of this experimentally plausible, that is, to devise (to contrive) clever ways of peeling images off appearances and applying them to surfaces. To think.

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