Parables for the Virtual

Movement, Affect, Sensation

Parables for the Virtual

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: Published: April 2002

Author: Brian Massumi

Cultural Studies > Affect Theory, Science and Technology Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

Although the body has been the focus of much contemporary cultural theory, the models that are typically applied neglect the most salient characteristics of embodied existence—movement, affect, and sensation—in favor of concepts derived from linguistic theory. In Parables for the Virtual Brian Massumi views the body and media such as television, film, and the Internet, as cultural formations that operate on multiple registers of sensation beyond the reach of the reading techniques founded on the standard rhetorical and semiotic models.

Renewing and assessing William James's radical empiricism and Henri Bergson's philosophy of perception through the filter of the post-war French philosophy of Deleuze, Guattari, and Foucault, Massumi links a cultural logic of variation to questions of movement, affect, and sensation. If such concepts are as fundamental as signs and significations, he argues, then a new set of theoretical issues appear, and with them potential new paths for the wedding of scientific and cultural theory. Replacing the traditional opposition of literal and figural with new distinctions between stasis and motion and between actual and virtual, Parables for the Virtual tackles related theoretical issues by applying them to cultural mediums as diverse as architecture, body art, the digital art of Stelarc, and Ronald Reagan's acting career. The result is an intriguing combination of cultural theory, science, and philosophy that asserts itself in a crystalline and multi-faceted argument.


Parables of the Virtual is required reading for anyone working with digital art. The complex relationship of the user’s body to the work of art in this field has no theoretical language in either the history of art or cultural theory. It is from these emerging theorizations that scholars can approach related issues such as digital aesthetics and the relationship of digital cultural forms with other media.” — María Fernández , Art Journal

“[A] new voice that has great potential for cinema studies and theoretical discourses in the humanities in general. . . . [A] challenging read that forces the reader to think actively about the usefulness of interpretative language.” — Angela Ndalianis , Leonardo Reviews

“For performers and performance scholars, this paradox [of the virtual] is both a blessing and a curse—constituting those life-altering experiences that elude the resources of representational and deterministic language—and always at the very heart of performance studies.” — Michael Levan , Text and Performance Quarterly

"As an open system, the book functions as a Deleuzian Socius, a space in flux with the movement of different strata of the real. A static structure in flux. The movement that is integral to Deleuze’s Socius is best exemplified in the soccer match essay. The ball is the point that sets the essay in motion, activating the faceless, schematic players on the field. Soon they are intensities in relation to one another on a field of immanence. The event that is theorized here takes on more variables into its equation: the players, the referees, the audience; it spills out of its frames. It spills into airwaves and spills out of television sets into living rooms and through the membrane of the households. It also spills out in a different direction. From the space between the covers of the book, the text spills out in the real space occupied by the reader. This movement does not function through mediation, but through conversion of intensities from the abstract to the concrete and constantly back and forth again. From science to philosophy, from text to reader, the vibration makes the structure tremble. The space that Massumi builds spills out. What holds it together is its liquid movement." — Jakub Zdebik , Literary Research

"Massumi has brought to fruition a profound theoretical statement . . . as well as a direct engagement with cultural studies as academic practice. . . . If Massumi's project is to render thinkable movement, sensation, and the quality of experience, each of these chapters takes a slightly different and apparently successfully approach." — Adam Gall , Cultural Studies Review

"Parables is an important (detailed and far-reaching) attempt to re-vision via Deleuze-inspired speculation what feeling (or being?) humans could be when we jettison the deterministic empiricisms of the past. In so far as these diverse and competing modern, post-Kantian psychologies assumed they were 'about' the one class of objects--the species Homo sapiens, they were mostly humanistic, or at least anthropocentric." — Philip Bell , Continuum

"Reading Massumi on philosophy's 'gloriously useless' undertakings is a breath of fresh air in the foul wind of culturecrats insisting on the social relevance of humanities research, waiting in the wings to finger the next round of tokenism in the same manner as genetics has done to ethics. . . . Parables of the Virtual is the latest chapter in the Deleuzean challenge to constructivist cultural studies and theory. . . a post McLuhanatic meditation liberated from the yoke of dignity." — Gary Genosko, Topia

“Have you been disappointed by books that promise to bring ‘the body’ or ‘corporeality’ back into culture? Well, your luck is about to change. In this remarkable book Brian Massumi transports us from the dicey intersection between movement and sensation, through insightful explorations of affect and body image, to a creative reconfiguration of the ‘nature-culture continuum.’ The writing is experimental and adventurous, as one might expect from a writer who finds inventiveness to be the most distinctive attribute of thinking. The perspective Massumi unfolds will have a major effect on cultural theory for years to come.” — William Connolly, Johns Hopkins University

“It is not enough to describe Massumi’s book as a brilliant achievement. Seldom do we see a political thinker develop his or her ideas with such scrupulous attention to everyday human existence, creating a marvelously fluid architecture of thought around the fundamental question of what the fact of human embodiment does to the activity of thinking. Massumi’s vigorous critique of both social-constructionist and essentialist theorizations of embodied practices renews the Deleuzian tradition of philosophy for our times.” — Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago

“This is an extraordinary work of scholarship and thought, the most thorough-going critique and reformulation of the culture doctrine that I have read in years. Massumi's prose has a dazzling and sometimes cutting clarity, and yet he bites into very big issues. People will be reading and talking about Parables for the Virtual for a long time to come.” — Meaghan Morris, author of Too Soon Too Late: History in Popular Culture

"After Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Guattari, the great radical empiricist protest against naïve objectivism and naïve subjectivism resonates again, bringing wonder back into the most common day experiences. After reading Brian Massumi you will never listen to Sinatra or watch a soccer game the same way again." — Isabelle Stengers, Free University of Brussels


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Brian Massumi is Associate Professor of Communications at the Université de Montréal. He is the author of User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari and First and Last Emperors: The Absolute State and the Body of the Despot.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: Concrete Is as Concrete Doesn’t

1. The Autonomy of Affect

2. The Bleed: Where Body Meets Image

3. The Political Economy of Belonging and the Logic of Relation

4. The Evolutionary Alchemy of Reason: Stelarc

5. On the Superiority of the Analog

6. Chaos in the “Total Field” of Vision

7. The Brightness Confound

8. Strange Horizon: Buildings, Biograms, and the Body Topologic

9. Too-Blue: Color-Patch for an Expanded Empiricism


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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2897-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2882-7
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