Eminem’s threshold of intensity

In a somewhat fortuitous and nerdy connection, the first time I heard Eminem’s latest album immediately what came to mind was Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of a plateau. Eminem is the prince of intensity, that is, he sustains intense levels of energy or a plateau that neither collapse nor climax. In the translator’s foreword to A Thousand Plateaus Brian Massumi’s offers a preliminary definition regarding the notion of a plateau:

In Deleuze and Guattari, a plateau is reached when circumstances combine to bring an activity to a pitch of intensity that is not automatically dissipated in a climax. The heightening of energies is sustained long enough to leave a kind of aferimage of its dynamism that can be reactivated or injected into other activities, creating a fabric of intensive states between which any number of connecting routes could exist (p. xiv)

Eminem’s experimental dynamic music subsists at a level that neither swerves beyond all identifiable limits of uncontrolled chaos nor into a register of smothering rhythm. Instead, he maintains a functioning system between the two extremes of a stable, consistent strata and an unstructured flow. Eminem’s music is, therefore, paradoxical: the condition of possibility for his unique lyricism is the fundamental both / and of pure chaos and pure order. To fall to either side of the delicate balance would undermine his success. In their isolation, to use the language of Deleuze and Guattari, unstructured flow would be the ‘cancerous body’, obstructed flow the ‘fascist body’.

Eminem raps at the edge of chaos: his rap is “is both complete, ordered, and incomplete and chaotic” (Jeffrey Bell, Philosophy at the Edge of Chaos, p. 10). In this sense, his songs are ‘chaosmic’: simultaneously excessive and contained. As Bell says, in another context, chaos and cosmos must be kept in precarious equilibrium: “Neither chaos nor cosmos should be realized to the exclusion of the other. A functioning system would collapse under either of the two possibilities – pure chaos would destroy just as readily as pure cosmos, for to function a system needs order and predictability (cosmos), but to be able to adapt to novel, unforeseen situations a system needs to experiment with untried, uncommon methods (chaos). Both chaos and cosmos are necessary…” (p. 36).

For Deleuze and Guattari, this non-actualized undifferentiated force always subsists virtually within all dynamic systems but is not identifiable as such. Instead, it is only every accessible as filtered, sustained and contained in a given actualized stable state. Moreover, “stable, identifiable states and systems presuppose, as a condition of possibility, dynamic, virtual systems” (p. 173). That is to say, unrestrained force continues to inhere in an identifiable system as its circulating life-blood even after it has stabilized in a concrete, determinate form. Identifiable systems, therefore, are always at risk of collapsing into chaos if the force becomes unrestrained past its threshold of order. Or, to go to the other extreme, systems are threatened by death when the flows are blocked—the equivalent of bleeding an organism dry. It goes without saying: all living systems are in flux by nature.

Although I believe any song of Eminem’s would have suited for our purposes, Eminem’s rap in ‘No Love’ is explicitly at the threshold of intensity in the same manner that Massumi identifies at work in Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of dynamic systems. If Eminem had pushed the lyrics closer together the unity would seemingly have been lost. Similarly, if they had been spread apart he would likely cease to be interesting or significant (he might as well be ‘dead’). Eminem sings as though he’s about to derail. State otherwise, he’s at the edge of chaos. I’d like to see how far he could ‘deterritorialize’ the flows, that is, how close he could get to the limit of absolute chaos while still maintaining some semblance of structure. Experimental jazz improvisation certainly adopts a similar strategy of chaosmos, I just happen not to have as many examples at-hand.

I actually tried to see what I could do to ‘nomad-ize’ Eminem with Final-Cut Pro, but given my limited knowledge of the program (which is none) my deterritorializing efforts were frustrated. I had attempted to simply cut out the choruses, instrumental fillers and other ‘extraneous’ movements to get to Eminem in his ‘purity’. Although, upon further reflection, I think this approach is fairly crude, viz. it presupposes that everything surrounding Eminem’s lyrics is supplemental, inessential and prosthetic. If I were to try the process again I would have to rethink my strategy. Suggestions are certainly welcome.

For those more interested in chaos theory, here is an excellent post.



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