Zizek on Speculative Realism: Thinking the Real

“The problem is not to think the Real outside of transcendental correlation, independently of the subject; the problem is to think the Real inside the subject, the hard core of the Real in the very heart of the subject, its ex-timate center.”

 – Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing

Mapping the four players of the original SR movement onto the board game of squares, Greimasian semiotic square at that, Zizek manipulates the elements to test out his own interpretive strategies. A grid that aligns Quentin Meillassoux’s “speculative materialism,” Graham Harman’s “object-oriented philosophy,”  Iain Hamilton Grant’s neo-vitalism, and Ray Brassier’s radical nihilism along a divine/secular and scientific/metaphysical four-score transposition and permutation of elements that serves his commentary. As he tells us:

Although both Meillassoux and Brassier advocate a scientific view of reality as radically contingent and apprehensible through formalized science, Brassier also endorses scientific reductionism, while Meillassoux leaves the space open for a non-existent divinity which will redress all past injustices. On the other side, both Harman and Grant advocate a non-scientific metaphysical approach, with Harman opting for a directly religious (or spiritualist, at least) panpsychism, outlining a program of investigating the “cosmic layers of psyche” and “ferreting out the specific psychic reality of earthworms, dust, armies, chalk, and stone,” while Grant, in Deleuzian fashion, locates the meta-physical dimension in nature itself, conceiving the world of objects as the products of a more primordial process of becoming (will, drive, etc.).1*

Continue reading

Meillassoux, Zizek, and the Hermetic Arts

“Through the intuition of the meaningless sign, I leave the physical world, where everything seems to have a cause, to penetrate the pure semiotic world – where nothing has a reason to be, where nothing has meaning – and where everything, in consequence, breathes eternity.”

– Quentin Meillassoux, Berlin Lecture

“Wherever there is number, there is beauty.”

– Proclus Lycaeus, the Successor

“The parallax gap is, on the contrary, the very form of the “reconciliation” of opposites: one simply has to recognize the gap.”

– Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing

“…where the coincidence of opposites triumphs, the principle of identity collapses.”

– Umberto Eco

“The reader can henceforth, with its movement, impregnate herself with the infinitude of the Master; with his ardent hesitation to rethrow the dice of modern poetry; with his possible existence, eclipsed and luminous – diffused in the intelligible and opaque essence of the Number.

– Quentin Meillassoux, The Number and the Siren

Is Quentin Meillassoux the Proclus of our age? His turn toward pure semiosis situates his thought within that Hermetic world of the Neo-platonists. Umberto Eco, another great semiotician, once summarized the main tenets of contemporary hermeticism as the infinite interplay of forces or interconnections of an open-ended universe; that there is no pre-existing meaning in the universe that language can uncover; that the presumption of any philosophy to assert a univocal meaning to the universe is doomed to failure; that the secret of the world is revealed under the sign of  emptiness or void.1

The result of the hermetic outlook is that interpretation is indefinite and arbitrary, contingent, and that we must accept a never-ending drift or sliding of meaning. On the one hand all phenomena become linguistic, while on the other language itself loses its communicative ability. Every revelation yields to yet another secret, ad infinitum. Eco goes on to tell us that hermetic thought leads to the collapse of the philosophical tertium non datur:

Hermetic thought states that our language, the more ambiguous and multivalent it is, and the more it uses symbols and metaphors, the more it is particularly appropriate for naming a Oneness in which the coincidence of opposites occurs. But where the coincidence of opposites triumphs, the principle of identity collapses.

Eco distinguished between two models of interpretation. One stemming from Greek rationalism, has its determining epistemological model in “knowing by means of the cause.” The rationality of this model rests in the construction of linear chains of causes and effects based on the principle of identity, which is expressed in the tertium non datur. “From these principles follows the method of thought characteristic of western rationalism, the modus ponens: if p, then q, there is p, therefore q” (p. 59). This is the basis of Western rationalism. Besides this model, there is, according to Eco, also a second one. Along with the concepts of identity and consistency, Greek thought developed that of constant metamorphosis, whose symbol is Hermes: the rationality of monocausal, irreversible linearity is constantly subject to the vortex of the boundless, the apeiron.

Continue reading

Anthony Paul Smith: On Laruelle and Non-Theology

“The invention of an afterlife would not matter so much were it not purchased at so high a price: disregard of the real, hence willful neglect of the only world there is. While religion is often at variance with immanence, with man’s inherent nature, atheism is in harmony with the earth — life’s other name.”

– Michel Onfray, Atheist Manifesto

Even if I am diametrically opposed to the theological and non-theological trend within nonphilosophy, I thought it worth exploring, and allowing for a review of Anthony Paul Smith’s essay from After the Postsecular and the Postmodern: New Essays in  Continental Philosophy of Religion. That I am an atheist goes without statement, but I have never allowed it to color my judgments toward other forms of philosophical speculation. To close one’s thinking off  from every aspect of philosophical speculation contrary to one’s belief system is to tyrannize thought itself. One must be open even to the oppositional trends in philosophical speculation. Most of all one’s integrity requires an honest appraisal of that thought, not its distortion.

Philosophers of late seem to be moving into nonphilosophical territory seeking out both orthodox and heretical philosophies, opening dialogues between opposing worlds to experiential practices rather than the abstract worlds of thought. It looks like Laruelle is presenting a modified form of some of those ancient practices within a secularized form that is offers religious and materialist scholars a new path forward. In a few posts now I’ve seen Laruelle as a key figure within many of those who are within or on the fringe of what was once termed Speculative realism. Whether this term and its key figures is worthy of its appellation is not my concern. What is of concern is this return to the hermetic and the neo-platonic One with its attendant resurgence of all those heretical counter-currents within the history of Christianity.

Much of this same turn to religion can as well be used by neo-materialists projects as part of a speculation on dissidence, political struggle, and the shaping of those lost ideas and practices that emerged in the utopian communal worlds of those very heretical historical groups, and of their very material experiential practices (theory in action) that have been at odds with all orthodoxies everywhere. For this reason I do think Laruelle’s thought is of value and might be turned to other more materialist confrontation with the Real-that-has-been-excluded from our very material world. Now for Anthony Paul Smith’s essay What can be done with Religion?

Continue reading

“We need useless theory more than ever today…” – Slavoj Zizek

“The source of man’s unhappiness is his ignorance of Nature.”

– Baron D’Holbach, The System of Nature

If one were to look for an early source of post-humanist ideology one could do no better than read the Baran D’Holbach’s The System of Nature. This work was an early and ably reasoned form of postscientific inhumanism, in which d’Holbach, arguing against religious supernaturalism, undertook to undo human consciousness, purposiveness, and initiative as philosophical primitives by reducing them to the material operation of causal laws. Yet, as one reads his work one will understand rather quickly that its roots lie in the deeper worlds of Epicurean and Lucretian theory and practice. He tells us that certain philosophers would be a metaphysicians before they have become a practical philosophers. That they quit the contemplation of realities to meditate on chimeras. They neglect experience to feed on conjecture, to indulge in hypothesis rather than following the simple road of truth, by pursuing of which, one can “ever reasonably hope to reach the goal of happiness” (Preface: They System of Nature).

Of this great work the powerful defender of humanism, Goethe wrote, that it “appeared to us so dark, so Cimmerian, so deathlike, that we found it difficult to endure its presence, and shuddered at it as at a specter. . . . How hollow and empty did we feel in this melancholy, atheistical half-night, in which earth vanished with all its images, heaven with all its stars.” One must realize that Goethe’s response is not an argument addressed against d’Holbach’s arguments but an expression of incredulity toward the world that is the consequence of d’Holbach’s arguments— a world that Goethe finds to be unreal, and also morally repulsive.

This is a world devoid of humanist constructions and frames of reference, a world beyond human need or support, a world that could go on perfectly fine without humans and their thoughts. But if this is so we must ask this question: is this world also becoming uninhabitable for the actual flesh and blood humans for whom such thoughts are thinkable? And, if so, what exactly does this mean? Maybe I should also ask: is this a real world? Or is this a world for theorists? If the world for us of the old humanist given is going away then what are the theoretical possibilities opening for us in this new world-of-theory?

Continue reading

(Para) academia: “Beware all ye who enter here!”

“I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face to face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company.”

―     Henry Miller,  Tropic of Cancer    

Fabio Cunctator of hyper-tiling posted an interesting and personal piece on  ‘para-academic practices’. After reflecting on Pierre Hadot’s reconstruction of the history of ancient philosophy, he “enthusiastically agreed with his indictment of late medieval and, mainly, modern ‘academic’ philosophy” and the need to return to the ‘streets’ where the praxis of philosophy would rejoin the life of humanity. But in a bewildering moment of despair he confesses that “I decided to leave academic philosophy altogether, tired with the self-referential and pretentious debates I heard around me. That didn’t work out very well after all.” It’s in that last minimalist statement of his failure outside the academy that is the guiding thread of his moralist diatribe.

(Before I begin I want to be explicit: what I see in Fabio is a figure of the embattled academic in the University today. If it seems to be a satirical portrayal below, I am doing it not as a personal affront to Fabio himself, but that he seems to represent an aspect of the academic world that feels threatened by change and the historical process that is transforming our world day by day through the New medias.)

Continue reading

Bryant, Spinoza, Negri: The Foundations of Materialist Thought

Materialism and collectivism are  fundamental aspects of constitutive thought. Ontological constitution can be  given only as the appropriation and accumulation of material elements, both  physical and social. … The reconstruction of the world is thus the very  process of the continual physical composition and recomposition of things — and,  with absolute constitutive mechanisms of historical, practical, and  ethico-political nature.

– Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly

William Forsythe’s Synchronous Objects.

After listening to a lecture online by William Forsythe (World renowned choreographer) and Alva Noë, author of Out of Our  Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness provided to me by dmfant from Anthem: video conversation. I began thinking about something Levi R. Bryant said along with my interest in Spinoza and Antonio Negri.

Flat Ontology and Spinoza: The Foundations of Materialist Thought

Levi R. Bryant once stated his views on Flat Ontology this ways:

Someone might remark that because a text has multiple layers there can be no flat ontology of the text.  In other words, it is here asserted that where there is a logic of depths and surfaces there is necessarily a vertical ontology.  However, this is precisely what flat ontology rejects.  If we take seriously that texts are composed of multiple layers, then only a flat ontology can properly preserve the layered nature of a text.  The claim that the text is flat is the claim that each of these layers is absolutely autonomy and irreducible to the others or that all of these layers are on equal ontological footing.  That is, flat ontology refuses a logic of expression that would reduce one thread, series, or layer of the text to another.  Instead, flat ontology would defend the dignity of each of these layers as a distinct multiplicity.  What is hereby refused is the reduction of anything to anything else.

– Levi R. Bryant (Larval Subjects) A Quick Remark on Flat Ontology

Continue reading

What is and What is not: Parmenides, Negation, and the Limits of Thought

“…materialism … is the view that every real concrete phenomenon is physical in every respect … a little more needs to be said; for experiential phenomenon … are the only real, concrete phenomenon that we can know with certainty to exist, and as it stands this definition of materialism doesn’t even rule out idealism … from qualifying as a form of materialism!”

– Galen Strawson, Real Materialism and Other Essays

Like a magnet that has two poles, one positive, one negative, and as Shakespeare once said “Never twain shall meet,” we could see that Idealism and Materialism are those poles; yet, what does this tell us about these two strange perspectives on reality? Within both Idealism and Materialism we have further mystifications: there are the twin poles of subjective and objective idealism and materialism. In physicalist science this is played out by mundane world of common sense folk psychology of modern macro-physics of all that is extensive and phenomenal; as against the quantum physics of all those immaterial particles that can only be inferred through mathematics and specialized instruments that test the effects of sub-atomic particles on our visible universe (i.e., particle accelerators, wave-particle duality, etc.).

Have we always been fighting over the positive and negative poles of certain paradoxical and theoretical illusions, rather than looking at what these separate philosophical principles were a part of all along. I know that the analogy of the magnet is not justified, that it is a misuse of a certain type of fallacy, yet it is instructive of how we can never overcome our prejudices and see that there may be more to the eye than the simple dichotomies that our philosophical visions allow us to think.

From Parmenides to Spinoza and Hegel and beyond the monism of the identification of Mind and Being, or Cognition and its Object has fought itself out in the struggles of philosophical speculation. Are the wars over? No. Can there ever be an end to these wars? Probably not. There are those that reduce Mind to Being, and others that reduce Being to Mind; and, still others that say to reduce things to either side of the equation is erroneous, that what must be done with such illusions once and for all is to make decisive division: that we must make a cut, divide the two from each other with only the neutral conceptual bridge to bind them, thereby separating thought from being forever. Yet, if they are be conquered and divided with only the concept to bridge the gap between them, then on which side of the divide will this belated neutrality trump: the ontological or epistemological, Mind or Being? Or, maybe we are asking the wrong questions about thinking and being.

Continue reading

Happy Holidays

A Lovecraft Christmas

Twas the night before Yuletide and all through the hole
Not a creature was stirring, not even a Dhole
Aldebaren hung at the right place at nine
In the hopes that Great Cthulhu would come out this time

The Fungi from Yuggoth, all snug in their caves
Were plotting to turn all the people to slaves
The Deep Ones in Rlyeh, the Ghouls in their graves
Were dancing and singing and acting depraved

When what do my wondering eyes should appear
But a mouldering sleigh and eight corpselike reindeer
With a horrible driver so leprous and reeking
I knew right away that my fear was unspeaking

The reindeer were gross, as they flew up from hell
And It hoarsely whispered and chanted a spell
Ia Shub Niggurath! Cthulhu ftagn!
Nyarlathotep! I summon you on!

As decomposed flesh before the charnel stench rise
And meet with the open air polluting the skies
Up to the housetop the horror it rose
And the gangrenous odors assailed my nose

And then in a slopping noise heard on the roof
The lumbering clomping of octopoid hoofs
As I drew in my head and was turning around
The horror lurched into my room with a bound

Its eyes how they pulsate
So bulbous and gory
This blasphemous creature
So noxious and hoary

I was frozen by fear, my feet woudn’t run
I threw up my cookies, this wasn’t much fun
It whispered my name and said “You come with I”
I tried to refuse and it said “Then you die.”

It came at my throat with its grim claws extended
But a miracle saved its victim intended
I had three Elder Signs in a slot in the floor
It screamed with a fiendish sound and went out the door

It sprang to its sleigh, and its team gave a surge
And away they all flew to the sound of a dirge
I heard it exclaim as it flew out of sight
“You’re lucky this time, for the stars weren’t right.”

by Paul M. Lemieux, copyright 1989

Meillassoux, Brassier, Laruelle and Gnosticism?

In a previous post on Quentin Meillassoux’s Berlin Lecture David Milliern whose blog milliern is well worth spending some time on brought up a some interesting thoughts which I quote at the bottom of this post. David tells us that his concerns about Meillassoux centered on his use of “kenotype”:

 I have this concern ever since reading Harman’s “Philosophy in the Making,” that Meillassoux is nonchalantly dancing along a precipice with his materialism that seems to threaten collapsing to idealism at any moment.  Much of my concern was assuaged, after reading Bergson’s “Matter and Memory” and Meillassoux’s article on that book, “Subtraction and Contraction,” pushing the notion (for lack of a better term) “givenness” into the same court as Bergson’s notion of image.  My concerns arose again in the Berlin lecture, because I can’t pin down why a “kenotype” is different from a concept.

I’ll begin my post with a brief introduction regarding “kenotype” itself, what place does it have in philosophical speculation and specifically in regards to Meillassoux’s use of that term in his own thought.

“Kenotype” (from ancient Greek, kainow, “new”) differs from archetype in that it offers a figurative, or generalized schematic eidos, of a historically new phenomenon, such as Meillassoux’s God of the Divine Inexistence:

A kenotype may be defined as a cognitive, creative structure, reflecting a new crystallization of some broadly human experience, occuring in concrete historical circumstances, but not reducible to them, and appearing as the first embodiment of a potential or future development. If in the case of the Platonic archetypes, the general precedes the concrete, as a pre-established form precedes materialization, and if in a type the two coexist, then in the case of a kenotype, the general is a final perspective of the concrete, which arises from history only to outgrow it, touching the borders of eternity. So that everything that can come into being has it metaimage in the future, since it prophesies or gives warning about something. This storehouse of metaimages is far richer than the strongbox of first images, where the ancient unconscious is contained (a sort of Pandora’s box). The openness of history is given to humankind as a birthplace for supra-historical content, where the permanent can obtain its “surplus value” and where its image can not only be preserved, but grow in time.1

Continue reading

Walt Whitman: On Lucretius and the Poems of Science

“What the Roman Lucretius sought most nobly, yet all too blandly, negatively to do for his age and its successors, must be done positively by some great coming literatus, especially poet, who, while remaining fully poet, will absorb whatever science indicates, with spiritualism, and out of them, and out of his own genius, will compose the great poem of death.”

– Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas 

Yet, it was not death, but life that old Walt sang through his leaves. A sense of bringing a new infusion life, of Nature, and of science, love, and a deep and abiding ethical stance toward fortune and misfortune that no longer fears death, but accepts it as a part of the life with no need for a remainder, an aftering, an immortality or beyonding. This is Whitman’s contribution to the ongoing Lucretian vision.

The full quote of that goes as follows:

“America needs, and the world needs, a class of bards who will, now and ever, so link and tally the rational physical being of man, with the ensembles of time and space, and with this vast and multiform show, Nature, surrounding him, ever tantalizing him, equally a part, and yet not a part of him, as to essentially harmonize, satisfy, and put at rest. Faith, very old, now scared away by science, must be restored, brought back by the same power that caused her departure–restored with new sway, deeper, wider, higher than ever. Surely, this universal ennui, this coward fear, this shuddering at death, these low, degrading views, are not always to rule the spirit pervading future society, as it has the past, and does the present. What the Roman Lucretius sought most nobly, yet all too blindly, negatively to do for his age and its successors, must be done positively by some great coming literatus, especially poet, who, while remaining fully poet, will absorb whatever science indicates, with spiritualism, and out of them, and out of his own genius, will compose the great poem of death. Then will man indeed confront Nature, and confront time and space, both with science, and con amore, and take his right place, prepared for life, master of fortune and misfortune. And then that which was long wanted will be supplied, and the ship that had it not before in all her voyages, will have an anchor.”

“For my own literary action, and formulated tangibly in my printed poems … that the sexual passion in itself, while normal and unperverted, is inherently legitimate, creditable, not necessarily an improper theme for poet, as confessedly not for scientist–that, with reference to the whole construction, organism, and intentions of Leaves of Grass, anything short of confronting that theme, and making myself clear upon it as the enclosing basis of everything,  I should beg the question in its most momentous aspect, and the superstructure that follow’d, pretensive as it might assume to be, would all rest on a poor foundation, or no foundation at all. In short, as the assumption of the sanity of birth, Nature and humanity, is the key to any true theory of life and the universe–at any rate, the only theory out of which I wrote–it is, and must inevitably be, the only key to Leaves of Grass, and every part of it.”

So it was this sexual passion, this ‘sanity of birth, Nature and humanity’ at the heart of this great poem that awakened again the Lucretian world of Epicurus for a modern world. How many have followed? In Song of Myself Whitman himself wrote in such a vein, but closer to Lucretius than even he knew. At one point a child confronts the poet: “A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands”. Wholly Epicurean, it may have been started by the master’s adage “The what is unknowable.” Starting from that truth, how could any of us answer the child?  Who among us could move as Whitman does, from not knowing to such vital guesses? A master of metaphor, like his disciples Stevens, Eliot, and Crane, Whitman accepts the Epicurean truth as against the Platonists (Emerson included). The what is unknowable because there are no ideal forms or archetypes, but only the thing/phenomenon itself, like the grass, the material world before us (small selection below):

How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owners name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly will I use you curling grass, It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon out of their mothers laps,
And here you are the mothers laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceasd the moment life appeard.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

               – Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Forbidden Desire: Arnaut Daniel, Mathematician and Troubadour

Graphical representation of the sestina algorithmic pattern

The inventor of the sestina, Arnaut Daniel, belonged to a group of twelfth-century poets–the troubadours–who needed, for their fame and fortune, to shock, delight, and entertain. . . The troubadours first appear in southern France in the twelfth century.  Their name is most certainly extracted from the verb trobar–meaning “to invent or compose verse.”  They were famous, celebrated, much in fashion, and eventually very influential on the European poetry of the next few centuries. . . They sang–their poems were always accompanied by music–for French nobles like the Duke of Aquitaine or the Count of Poitiers.  They competed with one another to produce the wittiest, most elaborate, most difficult styles.  This difficult, complex style was called the trobar clus.  The easier, more open one was called the trobar leu.  The sestina was part of the trobar clus.  It was the form for a master troubadour.1

What is commonly accepted, however, is that Arnaut lived in the latter part of the twelfth century. The Vida tells that he hailed from a castle named Ribérac in the bishopric of Périgueux in the Dordogne region of France. He was of noble birth and presumably had early contact with the nobles he would later entertain as a troubadour. The Vida mentions Arnaut as courting a married noble lady from Gascony, although it quickly points out that this forbidden love was believed to have remained unattained.

Although is it generally accepted that the romance genre of medieval Europe was  influenced by the French troubadour poets, the  poets were themselves influenced by the Islamic love poetry of Spain during the Islamic caliphate. The theme of forbidden love  graces the pages of many of the courtly love tales of chivalry that came out of medieval  Europe. The Iberian Peninsula, the meeting point of France and Spain (the Pyrenees),  harbored an exchange of culture in the twelfth century; this thesis will explore the themes  of forbidden love found in Arabian love poetry and their influence on the writing of the  troubadour poets.

Ibn Hazm an Andalusian Islamic scholar, litterateur, psychologist, historian, jurist and theologian born in Córdoba, present-day Spain wrote The Ring of the Dove (Arabic: طوق الحمامة, Ṭawq al-Ḥamāmah) is a treatise on love in 1022. Another Islamic scholar  Ibn Dawud wrote The Book of the Flower, whose first half deals with love poetry and is considered the prototype of the “theory of love” genre in Arabic literature, of which we have dozens of exemplars extending into at least the eighteenth century.

Continue reading

Deleuze: The Philosophy of Crime Novels

Going back through these older essays one is struck by Deleuze’s curious mind. He didn’t have some ultimate plan, instead he had that empowering curiosity that allowed him to wander the highways and byways of life and thought and thereby shed light on both the sublime and the most mundane objects. In his short essay on The Philosophy of Crime Novels, gathered together in Desert Islands, we see his fascination with two aspects of the detective mind. Literature has for the most part always lagged behind the cultural matrix within which it finds itself. Crime novels have been a staple in French society since their inception and one of the editors and promoters of this captivating art form Deleuze honors in this essay was Marcel Duhamel of the famed La Série noire (Éditions Gallimard).

In 1945, under the editorship of Marcel Duhamel , Gallimard  started publishing its translations of British and American crime novels in the La Serie Noire .  In 1946, echoing the Gallimard label, the French critics Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier wrote the two earliest essays to identify a departure in film-making, the American ‘film noir ‘.  Although they were not thought of in the United States as films noirs  (the French label did not become widely known there until the 1970s), numerous postwar Hollywood movies seemed to confirm the French judgment that a new type of  American film had emerged, very different from the usual studio product and  capable of conveying an impression ‘of certain disagreeable realities that do in truth exist’. 

Deleuze acknowledges the power of both deductive and inductive reasoning and attributes it too earlier forms of detective fiction, as well as to the dialectical interplay between the French and English approaches to the art of both philosophy and crime detection. From the beginnings in the 19th Century the detective novel devoted itself to the ‘power of the Mind’ and the genius of the Detective to elucidate the activities of the criminal world. At the center of this Deleuze tells us was the deep seated need know the truth about such things:

“The idea of truth in the classic detective novel was totally philosophical, that is, it was the product of the effort and the operations of the mind. So it is that police investigation modeled itself on philosophical inquiry, and conversely, gave to philosophy an unusual object to elucidate: crime” (Desert Islands, 2004. 81).

What’s fascinating to me about Deleuze is much the same I find in Slovoj Zizek, his ability to take even the most mundane aspect of culture and turn his curiosity as a philosopher into something that sheds light on both the cultural artifact and the philosophical world upon which it is based into something that enlightens as it instructs. He had a light touch, he was neither pedantic, nor a full blown pedagoge, he was able to see with a double eye or vision the dual aspects of our cultural life. In the crime novel he discovered the art of detection, the uncovering of truth as method and quest, and what he discovered was two schools of truth: the dialectical interplay between two cultures – the French and the English.

Continue reading

Meillassoux’s Problematique: Factial Speculation

Adam Kosko from An und fur sich has an interesting post on Zizek’s reading of Quentin Meillassoux in his new book Less Than Nothing. It’s not the critique by Zizek that I’m interested in as much as the comments by several bloggers in response to Adam’s post. There are so many differing stances regarding the work of Meillassoux one wonders just what it is he is describing in his Factial Speculative Philosophy.

I mean listen to the sentence that Adam quotes from Zizek: “The critical implication with regard to Meillassoux is that the true problem is not to think pre-subjective reality, but to think how something like a subject could have emerged within it; without this (properly Hegelian) gesture…”. One would wonder if Zizek is truly talking about Meillassoux here at all, much rather Zizek is carrying on a monologue with Zizek about his arguments with Hegel rather than with Meillassoux. In other words Zizek does not so much portray Meillassoux’s work as use it as a sounding board for his own internal debate with Hegelian thought.

Even in his Berlin Lecture (read here: pdf!) Meillassoux tries once again to clarify his position. He tells us that for years now his main thrust in philosophy has been speculations about the “capacities of thought”, the discovery of what thought can do rather than what it is. Thought as active happening, as something productive and capable. Capable of even producing something like ‘eternal truths’. His path was toward developing an absolutizing  capacity for thought, and that to do this he needed first to invent its opposite, its critique, a model of anti-absolutizing thought: the correlationist circle – correlationism or correlational facticity.

Continue reading

Deleuze: Another Path

Yet, Deleuze offers us another path against substantive formalisms:

“…a plastic, anarchic and nomadic principle, contemporaneous with the process of individuation, no less capable of dissolving and destroying individuals than of constituting them temporarily; intrinsic modalities of being, passing from one ‘individual’ to another, circulating and communicating underneath matters and forms. The individuating is not the simple individual. In these conditions, it is not enough to say that individuation differs in kind from the determination of species. It is not even enough to say this in the manner of Duns Scotus, who was nevertheless not content to analyse the elements of an individual but went as far as the conception of individuation as the ‘ultimate actuality of form’. We must show not only how individuating difference differs in kind from specific difference, but primarily and above all how individuation properly precedes matter and form, species and parts, and every other element of the constituted individual. (DR, 38)

He felt it was essential to overturn the primacy of substance, of the self subsistent or identical, and so too any infinite being that transcends and governs the world of finite beings and becoming. It is necessary to situate an originary web of difference from which individual identities both appear and dissolve. Accomplishing this would not only demolish the onto-theological, but affirm the differences by which individuals always exceed categorization according to similarity and sameness. These differences could be neither indifferent to one another – for this would imply their being self-contained – nor related through a common identity. They would instead have to be linked through their difference – a disjoining that univocity has always embodied. Univocity might still imply a sameness, but it is nothing other than this ‘same’ excessiveness of all beings. In this way, univocal being is said no longer indifferently of fully-constituted beings that ‘share nothing in common’, but of the difference immanent to them that escapes representation and compels their self-overcoming. It is said, in short, of difference itself.1

Continue reading

Brandom and Brassier: Hegel Redivivus

In my previous post on Whitehead Leon made an acute observation, saying:

Brandom is definitely overlooked.  His sort of Hegelianism is the “least offensive” to those who are all out materialists – but what interests me the most is the cross-over between that sort of Hegelian idealism/realism, and contemporary “speculative idealism.”  It is the latter that Brassier’s current thinking seems to be nearing: through Hegel, through Plato, through naturalism, through pragmatism, through Sellars, and so on (and I should emphasize that the Plato/naturalism re-connection is just brilliant).  If there is one figure in addition to Whitehead that speculative philosophers must “work through” today – or encounter, or engage and appropriate in some way – it is Hegel.  There is no doubt in my mind about that.

And, yes, Robert Brandom offers a glimpse onto certain unresolved issues. Brandom felt that Hegel resolved some of the issues of Kant concerning certain unresolved dualisms, such as that between ontology and deontology. To quote Brandom:

Kant… punted many hard questions about the nature and origins of normativity, of the blindingness of concepts, out of the familiar phenomenol realm of experience into the noumenal realm. Hegel brought these back to earth by understanding normative statuses as social statuses – by developing a view according to which … all transcendental constitution is social institution. The background against which the conceptual activity of making things explicit is intelligible is taken to be implicitly normative essentially social practice. (Brandom, 2000 Making it Explicit: 33-34)

It’s this dependence on the normative which aligns Brandom and Brassier in that both push the justification of normative practices into the social. For Brassier this would be the social practices of scientists as they endlessly debate and revise their knowledge and claims about the world. The whole point of this is to move conceptual practices from a conceptual idealism and into a “space of reasons” or conceptual reasoning. If it is a social practice that entails continuous negotiation of conceptual clarity through progressive elaboration or making explicit that which is implicit in conceptual content then we see how both Brandom and Brassier endorse such a community of normativity about such claims. Instead of relying on subjective appeal we enter into sociality of knowledge.

Continue reading

Whitehead’s Speculative Philosophy: Speculum of Experience

Let’s face it Whitehead is important in so many ways we still have not caught up with his basic philosophical heritage. Even if I disagree with his Idealism, I still have much to learn from his philosophical approach to speculation. Time and time again I return to his simple and definitive statement and definition of Speculative Philosophy:

“Speculative Philosophy is the endeavor to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted. By this notion of interpretation’ I mean that everything of which we are conscious, as enjoyed, perceived, willed, or thought, shall have the character of a particular instance of the general scheme. Thus the philosophical scheme should be coherent, logical, and, in respect to its interpretation, applicable and adequate. Here ‘applicable’ means that some items of experience are thus interpretable, and ‘adequate’ means that there are no items incapable of such interpretation.”

– Alfred North Whitehead, In Defense of Speculative Philosophy

I think the key words above is ‘interpretable’, ‘applicable’, and ‘adequate’. Hermes as the tutelary divinity of speech, writing, and eloquence was the giver of the gift of interpretation: the hermetic art. The idea of Hermeneutics goes back at least to Aristotle, but it is simply the art of interpretation. Translators have long been aware of the difficulties of capturing the ideas as expressed in one language to the mechanics of another language. But there are difficulties even within the same language, since we all use words in a slightly different way; we have different associations and connotations, etc.

Speculative philosophy is often associated with speculum, mirror, was a common name for philosophical enquiries dealing in a conjectural rather than inferential way with the larger generalities of human life, nature, history, or reality in Anglo-American philosophy from the early nineteenth century, when Hegel’s influence began to be felt in England, well until the second of third decade of the last century. The term ‘speculative’ derives from the latin speculari, to look around, specula, vantage point, but the link with speculum, mirror, has been the more common since late antiquity, designating a form of knowledge of God in which mind and matter are seen as mirroring God (Ebbersmeyer 1995).

Continue reading

Louis Althusser: Aleatory Materialism

Althusser’s work emerges fitfully toward the end of his career, scattered across a few brief texts (1982-86) that were published posthumously and whose recent publication is only now prompting an engagement with Althusser’s later allusions to an aleatory materialism. In these essays, Althusser refers to materialism as the hardest question of all. Aleatory materialism, or a “materialism of the encounter;” refers to an underground current in the history of philosophy that he finds running from Epicurus through Spinoza, Marx, and Wittgenstein, to Heidegger and himself. It is distinguished by its nonteleological principles and its consequent ignoring of origins or ends. Instead, it emphasizes emptiness, contingency, and chance. Althusser implies that materialism might itself be no more than a temporarily convenient label and that its aim might be to engender a certain sensitivity – a theoretical practice – rather than to define an ontology as such.

The idea of the encounter alludes to a chance conjuncture of atoms, the event, whose consequence may be the provisional configuring of facts or forms. History emerges here as the continuous transformation of provisional forms by new, indecipherable and unanticipated events, with the corollary lesson that an aleatory intervention may be more efficacious than the patient understanding of trajectories and working through of continuities whose internal logic of development is assumed to endure. In politics, this means that the state is always inscribed with the possibility of its imminent collapse or reconfiguration, where the utter indifference of the people to rule and their unresponsiveness to interpellation by the state apparatus yields the permanent possibility of a revolutionary event capable of halting the political machine. Such events occur in what Althusser calls the void: the space in which the encounter occurs that reconfigures the current conjuncture’s elements. Remember Lucretius! However, although the constitution of new phenomena (such as western capitalism) is now viewed as entirely contingent rather than as the destiny of forces maturing in an earlier phase, such phenomena may still have necessary effects and persist for a greater or lesser period of time. While the choreography of the encounter suggests an affinity with chaos theory, Althusser’s own approach suggests that he was not equating aleatory materialism with a new set of theoretical, systemic abstractions but with an empirical, concrete analysis of the forms and forces at work. What we would like to emphasize here is that in a multimodal materialist analysis of relationships of power, it is important to recognize their diverse temporalities by examining their more enduring structures and operations as well as their vulnerability to ruptures and transformation – all the while acknowledging that they have no predestined, necessary, or predictable trajectory.

Althusser’s work provocatively suggests how ordinary material practices might be critically investigated. He encourages us to explore the complex ways in which such familiar practices are effects of more distant power relations that they also help to reproduce. And contra Foucault’s insistence on his own nonnormative positivism, what makes such analyses grist for the critical materialist is the recognition that such dense networks of relationships support socioeconomic structures that sustain the privileges and interests of some rather than others, that these advantages are not randomly, much less fairly, distributed, and that understanding how they operate and are maintained is a crucial task for the engaged social theorist, especially one who eschews any lingering faith in the inevitability of either the present or the future.

The Philodemus Project: Recovering the Epicurean World

Philodemus of Gadara was an Epicurean philosopher and poet who in later life lived in Herculaneum during the first century of the Common Era. Many of his works at the at the Villa of the Papyri included writings on ethics, theology, rhetoric, music, poetry, and the history of various philosophical schools. The Philodemus Project is an international effort which aims, supported by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and by the generous contributions of individuals and participating universities, to reconstruct new texts of Philodemus’ works on Poetics, Rhetoric, and Music.

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., it buried two towns. One of these was Pompeii, now among the most familiar archaeological sites in the world. The other was Herculaneum, a seaside resort which was home to the villas of wealthy Romans who would come to the beautiful Bay of Naples to escape the heat and hubbub of the capital. Herculaneum has proved difficult to excavate, buried as it is beneath ca. 20 meters of concrete-like material, the hardened volcanic mud which covered it 2,000 years ago and to whose thickness subsequent lava flows have added. Early excavations in the city were conducted by digging wells and tunnels into this rock and exploring for ancient treasures.

In 1752 workers tunneling into a large, wealthy villa which would have overlooked the Bay in antiquity discovered a large number of what appeared to be sticks of charcoal, some of them bundled together. Upon closer inspection, these sticks proved to be rolls of the ancient writing material papyrus. Numerous attempts to open these rolls and read their contents failed, due to their extreme fragility and the fact that they were burnt by the ca. 300 degree Celsius volcanic flow, compressed by the weight of rubble and mud, and congealed by water. Eventually, several hundred of the rolls were partly cut apart and partly unrolled. Most turned out to be works of Epicurean philosophy, with books by the first century B.C. Epicurean philosopher Philodemus of Gadara, who came to Italy around 80 B.C., especially well represented. Apparently, the Villa of the Papyri contained an extensive library, a significant part of which was formed by a library of Epicurean texts, some of which were present in more than one copy.

Continue reading

Nick Land: Smeared Ash and Flame

“No ontology of time is possible, and yet ontology remains the sole foundation for discursive practices. There are only the shattered spars and the parodies of philosophy, as ruinous time pounds thought into the embers of an unwitting sacrifice, wreathed in a laughter as cold and nakedly joyous as the void.”

– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

The poetry of the void should be our battle cry, instead it has become our burial tomb. We live in caves of self-immolation, frightened by the very powers, the forces of existence below us that – if we would only allow them into our lives – might give us an existence worth living, rather than the embers of a consumptive nightmare. Nick Land saw time as mattering, as power and flow; not as a mode of being, nor a category of the mind’s perceptive faculties. Land ties his battle against Augustine and the scholastics, and especially their premier philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas when he says:

“Time is the suicidal jealousy of God, to which each being – even the highest – must fall victim. It is thus the ultimate ocean of immanence, from which nothing can separate itself, and in which everything loses itself irremediably. The black mass of jealous rage swells like a cancer  at the core of the universe, or like a volcanic ulceration in the guts of God, and its catastrophic eruption consumes all established things in the acidic lava of impersonality” (95).1

For Land Time is the Great Destroyer: the entropic impulse at the heart of reality. And, as we all learned in school, the second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium — the state of maximum entropy. This is what the physicists all mean by the heat-death of the universe. It’s all winding down. According to the second law, the entropy of any isolated system, such as the entire universe, never decreases. If the entropy of the universe has no maximum upper bound then eventually the universe will have no thermodynamic free energy to sustain motion or life, that is, the heat death is reached. Of course we could debate this, and many physicists now argue for alternative visions of our universe. Current debates not withstanding what is important is not entropy itself but the order that is produced within an entropic system.

Continue reading

Quote of the Day: Emile Cioran

Fate’s Mask

However far our thought ventures, however detached it is from our interests, it still hesitates to call certain things by their names. Where our supreme terrors are concerned, the mind evades them, spares and flatters us. Thus, after so many ordeals, when “fate” reveals itself to us, our mind bids us see it as a limit, a reality beyond which any quest would be pointless. But is it really that limit, that reality, as our mind pretends? We doubt it, so suspect does our mind seem to us when it seeks to bind us here and impose a destiny upon us. We realize that there cannot be an end, and that through it is manifested another force, this one supreme. Whatever artifices and efforts our mind produces to dissimulate it, we end nonetheless by identifying it, by naming it even. Then what seemed to accumulate all the claims of reality is no longer anything but a face? A face? Not even that, but a disguise, a simple appearance used by this force to destroy us without colliding with us.

“Fate” was only a mask, as everything is a mask that is not death.

– E. M. Cioran, The Temptation To Exist

For the fallen in NewTown, Connecticut

There is a sadness in America today.
To say anything at all is almost too much.
An irreparable loss darkens us all.

If I had the power to restore life,
To turn time back, to reach into the depths,
Return again to that stark moment

Before violence like some broken thing
Sundered all from those innocent eyes
And forged in chains a terrible burden

That even the Fates wailing break.
Would I do it? Would I reach down
grasp the tender flowers of the dead,

Raise them up to the light,
Return them to that bright life,
Give them once again their sight?

What black paths we tread in time
That like old gods from troubled myths
We allow this world to be, and be so full of hate?

– S.C. Hickman (2012)

A Foreign Country

Before the baroque it was, however, still possible to say whether the artistic approach of an age was fundamentally naturalistic or anti-naturalistic, making for unity or differentiation, classicistic or anti-classicistic—but now art no longer has a uniform stylistic character in this strict sense, it is naturalistic and classicistic, analytical and synthetic at the same time. We are the witnesses of the simultaneous blossoming of absolutely opposite tendencies…

– Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art

The baroque is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

– John Law, Assembling the Baroque

In the Neo-Baroque on the other hand we see another tendency: the hidden dance of material and idealist discourses, ontological and epistemic, anti-representational and representational, realist and anti-realist worlds all enmeshed in modes of being and becoming that are neither one nor the other but both at the same time, and sometimes within the same person, thing, or object. We all feel that the Age of Self is over, the great battles of the inner-life of humans is at an end. We all feel that something new is emerging, wandering round us in tentative measures of silence, muteness, and the patter of both philosophical and nonphilosophical discourse and nondiscourse. In fact that is the key: no one will speak what this thing is, no one will ‘name’ it, reduce it to some simple sign or significant figure or form, tie it to something that will not waver and vanish before our very eyes in the moment of its appearance.

Beware of philosophers baring gifts, my friends, those gifts may be bombs… Deleuze tells us that psychosocial “types are historical, but conceptual personae are events” (110, What is Philosophy?). History is death, but the event escapes history. So goes the myth. The Event is an ‘experiment in thinking’ (111). Events are the new, remarkable, and “replace the appearance of truth and are more demanding than it is” (111). History is devoid of experimentation, it holds within its dark negativity the conditions for the possibility of freedom, for the “experimentation of something that escapes history” (111). The Event and Experimentation together comprise the philosophical gesture. The Cheshire’s smile withdraws in the moment we recognize it for what it is: it is this aftering that philosophy philosophizes. Death is inherent in this enterprise. Laruelle tells us that it is the “World and History that are imaginary and have a terrible materiality…” (18, Struggle and Utopia).

I will say that Deleuze belongs to the tribe of Spinozists, but with a difference: he came to correct the master not to live in his shadow. He believed that the master had not gone far enough. As he tells us:

All that Spinozoism needed to do for the univocal to become an object of pure affirmation was to make substance turn around the modes – in other words, to realize univocity in the form of repetition in the eternal return” (304).

This pure affirmation is the state of excess of the multitude where the singular ‘clamour of Being’ for all beings steps beyond itself unveiling those traces of identity that for so long have displaced and disguised the difference that is the kernel of this singularity. In the moment of this unveiling, on the “mobile cusp” they begin to turn, to return again, to dance the dance that never ends:

“…the eternal return is indeed Similar, repetition in the eternal return is indeed the Identical – but precisely the resemblance and the identity do not pre-exist the return of that which returns” (300).

That in one dark insight is the crux of Deleuze’s freedom. The metalepsis or turning that is a return is one that is not founded on a pre-existing representation or identity, but of a breaking of representation; neither mirror nor lamp, but a turning that is a “complete reversal of the world of representation, and of the sense of the ‘identical’ and ‘similar’ had in that world” (301). Meaning is what escapes representation. The philosophy of difference is a baroque turn, what Ocatavio Paz once called the “transgression of the art of the metamorphosis of the object” (53, Sor Juana or, The Traps of Faith). He goes on to say that the baroque is intellectual and active, in the baroque transgressions lead to the appearance of an unheard-of-object; in fact, the subject vanishes into the baroque object (53, ibid). Paz also concluded that poetry reveals a world within our world, the other world that is this world. We seem to be in a time when that world is pulling and tugging at us, letting us know that it has things to say if we will only listen and see what it is offering both within its world and in the other world of this world. Matter and Idea may never merge into an identity, just like thinking and being will never be one either. For if they ever did come together, merge into a unity of thinking/being where would difference be found? Maybe the ‘Concept’? Maybe in that bridge between two worlds: those worlds of thinking and being no longer bound to their respective domains, but caught in the net of the concept, riven of their blankness, a fusion of otherwise disparate worlds. Maybe in this strange heterotopia of philosophy the world begins to know itself… let the agon begin! A war of worlds that can never fuse, but are always in movement-through-concept between a past that is forever dead and a future that is always coming toward us out of that nonphilosophical horizon of chaos.

1. Hauser, Arnold (2007-04-16). The Social History of Art: Volume 2 – Renaissance, Mannersim, Baroque, (Kindle Locations 3909-3913). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.

Laruelle: Prophet or Charlatan? – Or, Philosophy as Neo-Baroque

“The baroque style always arises at the time of decay of a great art, when the demands of art in classical expression have become too great. It is a natural phenomenon which will be observed with melancholy—for it is a forerunner of the night—but at the same time with admiration for its peculiar compensatory arts of expression and narration.”

– Fredrich Nietzsche

In the last paragraph of D&G’s What is Philosophy? we discover something strange, something that in the previous two hundred or so pages has never entered thought, the term nonphilosophy:

“The plane of philosophy is prephilosophical insofar as we consider it in itself independently of the concepts that come to occupy it, but nonphilosophy is found where the plane confronts chaos” (218).1

Just after this statement we find Deleuze quoting Laruelle:

“Philosophy needs nonphilosophy that comprehends it; it needs a nonphilosophical comprehension just as art needs nonart and science needs nonscience” (218).

Why this sudden intrusion of non-philosophy just here at the moment of finalization of a movement whose trajectory has taken us through the events of philosophy itself. At the beginning we heard those primal keys ring out:

“The greatness of philosophy is measured by the nature of the events to which its concepts summon us or that it enables us to release in concepts.  So the unique, exclusive bond between concepts and philosophy as a creative discipline must be tested in its finest details. The concept belongs to philosophy and only to philosophy” (34).

So what is it that intrigues Deleuze about nonphilosophy? Surprisingly it comes here at the end again when we see D&G qualifying this nonphilosophical subterranean submersion remark “… it seems that there is extracted from chaos the shadow of the “people to come” in the form that art, but also philosophy and science, summon forth; mass-people, world-people, brain-people, chaos-people – nonthinking thought that lodges in the three, like Klee’s nonconceptual concept or Kandinsky’s internal silence” (218).

So we listen to this strange and prophetic tone about nonphilosophy, its facing toward chaos, its submersion in this nonceptual sea where a praxis is performed, one that is proleptic and as Laruelle will tell us in a later work it is part of a “lost paradigm” coming to us from the future. That what is extracted from the chaos of the future is “another image of man; a being that does not live, which stopped living on earth or in the heavens, the nomad of the future” (4).2

Continue reading

Deleuze: The Emptiness of Things

“All sensation is composed with the void in compositing itself with itself, and everything holds together on earth and in the air, and preserves the void, is preserved in the void by preserving itself.”

– Gilles Deleuze, What is Philosophy?

“Lucretius, whom you, oh Virgil, do not honor less than all of us, Lucretius, no less great than you, Virgil, although no greater, he was granted the comprehension of the law of reality, and the song into which he composed it came to be one of truth and beauty…”

– Hermann Broch, Death of Vergil

There are some limits beyond which thinking cannot reach, and if it does it cuts itself off from those primal concepts that tie it to the world; or, so goes the Sellarsian ‘myth of the given’. What is the compositional structure of the Void? What is time that its ‘fractures’ allow for thought and being to momentarily converge, splice, mangle, entwine indelibly, their filaments touching, entangled in a mesh of membranous surfaces, interpenetrating each others alternate domains of being and becoming in a dialectical dance of pure negativity? Deleuze in one of those sublime moments states:

“It is the empty form of time that introduces and constitutes Difference in thought; the difference on the basis of which thought thinks, as the difference between the indeterminate and determination. It is the empty form of time that distributes along both its sides an I that is fractured by the abstract line of time, and a passive self that has emerged from the groundlessness which it contemplates. It is the empty form of time that engenders thinking in thought, for thinking only thinks with difference, orbiting around this point of ungrounding.”

(Delezuze 1968: 354, 1994:276: tm)

Between the larval subject of habit and the individuated self of thinking the indeterminate differentiation of thought and thinking mesh in the fracture that splices in being into time’s multiplicities. Thought does not preexist thinking but emerges out of the intensive difference of those entanglements of differentiation of thinking itself. As Ray Brassier tells us it “is this act of ontological repetition that produces thinking as a ‘caesura’ in the order of time, which in turn introduces the fracture of time into thinking… The caesura establishes an order, a totality and a series of time” (182). 2 It is this subtle pause, the caesura, that throws time itself out of joint, that brings about the principle of non-identity, the fracture in identity as eternal return of difference. It is this principle of non-identity that overthrows the old Hegelian dialectic. No longer are we bound to the recursion of endless repetitions of the Same. Instead we live within the irreducible matrix of a multiplicity of times. How can time be multiple in itself and generate multiplicities while resisting any reduction to a space–time continuum? The original and foremost answer is that time must be a multiplicity of processes, where times are dimensions of one another according to asymmetrical syntheses. This is a time of resistance to settlement and to wholeness. It is a time forever inviting new, transformational and ephemeral constructions:

‘Thus ends the history of time: it undoes its physical or natural circles as too well-centered; it then forms a straight line, but one driven by its longueurs to reform an eternally decentered circle’ (DRf, 152–3).

But the structure of the resulting dialectic is very different from the Hegelian one. At the beginning, in this new dialectic, there is non-identity—at the end, open unfinished totality. In between, irreducible material structure and heteronomy, deep negativity and emergent spatio-temporality. Deleuze was on to something great. In its most general sense, this dialectic has come to signify more or less intricate process of conceptual or social (and sometimes even natural) conflict, interconnection and change, in which the generation, interpenetration and clash of oppositions, leading to their transcendence in a fuller or more adequate mode of thought or form of life (or being), plays a key role. But, as we shall see, dialectical processes and configurations are not always sublatory (i.e. supersessive), let alone preservative. Nor are they necessarily characterized by opposition or antagonism, rather than mere connection, separation or juxtaposition. Nor, finally, are they invariably, or even typically, triadic in form. To what may such processes, to the extent that they occur, be applied? Obviously to being, in which case we may talk about ontological dialectics, or dialectical ontologies which may operate at different levels.

“Alas, he knew this language, this twilight speech of literature and philosophy, the language of the benumbed, unborn word, dead before it was born; it had once been familiar to him also, and certainly he had believed then in what it expressed, believed or thought that he believed; now, however, it sounded alien, almost incomprehensible.”

– Hermann Broch, Death of Virgil

Continue reading

The Aesthetics of Deleuze

“Bacon’s bodies, heads, Figures are made of flesh, and what fascinates him are the invisible forces that model flesh or shake it. This is the relationship not of form and matter, but of materials and forces making these forces visible through their effects on the flesh.”

– Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation


The ripple of flesh, the slippery lushness just below the surface plane, the immanent materials and forces, the “violence of a sensation (and not of a representation), a static or potential violence, a violence of reaction and expression” (x), these are demarcations of a philosophy of life rather than death. Against the old religions, the monotheistic tribalism of the sky: the dark powers of hierarchy, of the One who beholds, who sees all, whose gaze orders everything into a system of justice and retribution: under the law that keeps everything bound to its harsh justice and stringent banishments; instead of this dead and deadening judgment that hands down decrees and punishments, enforces the legal inducements of final Heavens of the Immortals or Eternal Judgments in Lakes of Fire (for all who do not follow the dictates of this fierce power).

Against this harsh world Deleuze offers us the immanent law of rebellion, of force, of flows that churn within like so many coagulating sperm infested snakes that want to escape: the spasmodic, the serpentine liquidity, the “revelation of the body beneath the organism, which makes organisms and their elements crack or swell, imposes a spasm on them, and puts them into relation with forces sometimes with an inner force that arouses them, sometimes with external forces that traverse them, sometimes with the eternal force of an unchanging time. sometimes with the variable forces of a flowing time” (160).

Continue reading

Quote of the Day: Alphonso Lingis

Material things do not just lie naked about us; they engender perspectival deformations, halos, mirages, scattering their colors in the light and casting their images on surrounding things. Living bodies rest rumbling and move rustling, striking up echoes; they push on leaving traces and stains, projecting telescoping images of themselves in the transparent air and into translucent substances, casting profiles of themselves and shadows on opaque surfaces. They do not occupy their spot in space and time, filling it to capacity. The names, the classifications, and the concepts with which we recognize them does not grip on to some inner coherence; they only skim over streams of departing images. Living bodies decompose whatever nature they were given and whatever form culture put on them, leaving in the streets and the fields the lines their fingers or feet dance, leaving their warmth in the hands of others and in the winds, their fluids on tools and chairs, their visions in the night. They abandon these fragmentary surfaces, images, mirages, shadows as they move, but these interact with other surfaces and mirages and also with eyes that are moved and shocked and delighted by them. Living bodies that can see do not for the most part look at themselves or see the images they scatter as they go, and do not turn back to gather them up.

 – Alphonso Lingis, Wonders Seen in Forsaken Places (p. 126). 

Heroes of Science: Arthur Galston

In his early research the biologist, Arthur Galston experimented with a plant growth regulator, triiodobenzoic acid, and found that it could induce soybeans to flower and grow more rapidly. However, he also noted that if applied in excess, the compound would cause the plant to shed its leaves.

The Military-Industrial Complex of the era used Galston’s findings in the development of the powerful defoliant Agent Orange, named for the orange stripe painted around steel drums that contained it. The chemical is now known to have contained dioxins, which have proven to be associated with cancers, birth defects and learning disabilities. From 1962 to 1970, American troops released an estimated 20 million gallons of the chemical defoliant to destroy crops and expose Viet Cong positions and routes of movement during the Vietnam War.

As an activist he wrote letters, academic papers, broadcasts and seminars, thet described the environmental damage wrought by Agent Orange, noting that the spraying on riverbank mangroves in Vietnam was eliminating “one of the most important ecological niches for the completion of the life cycle of certain shellfish and migratory fish.” Galston traveled to Vietnam to monitor the impact of the chemical. In 1970, with Matthew S. Meselson of Harvard University and other scientists, Galston charged that Agent Orange also presented a potential risk to humans. The scientists lobbied the Department of Defense to conduct toxicological studies, which found that compounds in Agent Orange could be linked to birth defects in laboratory rats. The revelation led President Richard M. Nixon to order a halt to the spraying of Agent Orange.

Continue reading

Emergence of Scientific Culture

Just started reading Stephen Gaukroger’s The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity 1210-1685. This is the first in a projected series of works that will trace the historical emergence and consolidation of scientific culture in the West during the modern era. The second volume The Collapse of Mechanisim and the Rise of Sensibility: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1680-1760 was recently published as well. Another volume The Naturalisation of the Human and the Humanisation of Nature: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1750-1825 should follow soon. He says in the forward that future volumes will bring us right up to current debates over the unification of Science and scientific naturalism. What I do like is that he doesn’t seem to have any axe to grind. He includes both the religious and non-theistic philosophical and cultural perspectives that underpin that history.

At the center of this work is the theme of natural philosophy as it emerged out of scholastic Aristotelianism during the thirteenth century. It was this enterprise that underpinned the systematic theology of that era, as well as “giving natural philosophy a cognitive priority that was to become one of the key features of early-modern scientific culture” (17). It was during this era that “natural philosophy was transformed from a wholly marginal enterprise into the unique model of cognitive inquiry generally” (17).

I’ve barely begun to skim the surface of this promising work, but am already fascinated by the richness and depth of detail that I see in its 500 or so pages. For those interested he has a short introductory on his second volume on berfrois:

Natural Philosophy and a New World Picture

Vulcan’s Hands

“You will now hear a thing perhaps incredible but true. I committed to Vulcan’s hands for his correction at least a thousand and more of all kinds and varieties of poems and friendly letters, not because nothing in them pleased me but because to sort them would have required more work than pleasure.”

– Francesco Petrarch, Letters on Familiar Matters

One wonders just what was lost amid those flames, what worlds of thought and rhyme, the power of a mind pondering the classical world at the beginning of humanistic tradition. In our time humanistic learning and classical tradition is under fire itself. Everywhere you turn the older forms of humanistic learning are being overthrown in the academic halls. Yet, before we consign that world to Vulcan’s hands should we not first discover just what it is we’re destroying? It was the work of those Italian and English Renaissance humanists that gave us the very philosophical tools we now have, and forged the links between the ancients and what is left of our modern heritage. Obviously we know that it is not this ancient discipline that is under attack, but the centering of learning on human kind at the expense of the non-human world that is.

One of the tendencies in this new post-humanist or anti-humanist movement in art and philosophy is a position that deprivileges human ways of encountering and evaluating the world, and replacing them instead with attempts to explore how other non-human entities encounter the world. In this sense many of the artists and philosophers are following Nietzschean perspectivism in pluralizing the way that our own human awareness is but one among many views onto life and the world.

I think for many it comes down to a reductionary view of post-Enlightenment ideology rather than classical learning in itself. One might term this the scientistic reduction that needs to be consigned to the flames. Scientism in this sense refers to science applied “in excess”. The term scientism can apply in either of two equally pejorative senses:

  1. To indicate the improper usage of science or scientific claims. This usage applies equally in contexts where science might not apply, such as when the topic is perceived to be beyond the scope of scientific inquiry, and in contexts where there is insufficient empirical evidence to justify a scientific conclusion. It includes an excessive deference to claims made by scientists or an uncritical eagerness to accept any result described as scientific. In this case, the term is a counterargument to appeals to scientific authority.
  2. To refer to “the belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry,” or that “science, and only science, describes the world as it is in itself, independent of perspective” with a concomitant “elimination of the psychological dimensions of experience.”

And ultimately the term is also used to highlight the possible dangers of lapses towards excessive reductionism in all fields of human knowledge. That much of this is a battle with straw figures will be accepted, for much of science has moved far beyond the reductionism of earlier forms of positivistic science. I think the key is more a problem not in science but in philosophical perspectives on science. That current science is in the midst of a revolution is without doubt, that it is no longer some monolithic methodological edifice is becoming day by day a truism. Instead of Science we have sciences, each with its own hard won sets of methodologies and practices. I do not think we will ever again have one unified field theory of Science, nor a univocal and tyrannical scheme that will fit everything under the rubric of naturalism per se. Yet, this cannot discount the truths that are still shaped by a naturalistic perspective as one among many differing versions of the world we all live in. Is this relativism? No. It is just an acceptance that dogmatism must be rooted out wherever it hides its dark power: even if that beast calls itself Science. The dogmatic scientism of our day is just another bit player in the long line of dogmatisms that have all failed both humans and non-humans alike.

Heroes of Science: Pierre Gassendi

Pierre Gassendi,  was one of the prodigies of the early seventeenth century. He was born in 1592 in Provence, went to college at Digne, and by the age of sixteen was lecturing there. After studying theology at Aix-en-Provence, he taught theology at Digne in 1612. When he received his doctorate in theology, he became a lecturer in philosophy at Aix, and then canon of Grenoble. Quite early in life, Gassendi began his extensive scientific researches, assisted and encouraged by some of the leading intellectuals of Aix, like Peiresc. The philosophy course that he taught led Gassendi to compile his extended critique of Aristotelianism, the first part of which appeared as his earliest publication in 1624, the Exercitationes Paradoxicae adversus Aristoteleos. This was followed by several scientific and philosophical works, which gained Gassendi great renown in the intellectual world and brought him into contact with the man who was to be his lifelong friend, Father Marin Mersenne. In 1633, Gassendi was appointed Provost of the Cathedral of Digne, and in 1645, professor of mathematics at the Collège Royal in Paris. Gassendi retired in 1648 and died in 1655.

In spite of his tremendous role in the formation of “the new science” and “the new philosophy,” Gassendi’s fame has survived mainly for his criticisms of Descartes’ Meditations and not for his own theories, which throughout the seventeenth century had rivaled those of his opponent. He is also remembered for the part he played in reviving the atomic theory of Epicurus. But, by and large, until quite recently, Gassendi’s status as an independent thinker has been most neglected. Perhaps this is due in part to Descartes’ judgment of him, and in part to the fact that he usually presented his ideas in extremely lengthy Latin tomes, which are only now being translated into French.

But Gassendi, in his lifetime, had an extremely important intellectual career, whose development, perhaps more than that of René Descartes, indicates and illustrates what J. H. Randall called “the making of the modern mind.” Gassendi started out his philosophical journey as a sceptic, apparently heavily influenced by his reading of the edition of Sextus brought out in 1621, as well as by the works of Montaigne and Charron. This phase of “scientific Pyrrhonism” served as the basis for Gassendi’s attacks on Aristotle as well as on the contemporary pseudoscientists and made Gassendi one of the leaders of the Tétrade. However, he found the negative and defeatist attitude of humanistic scepticism unsatisfactory, especially in terms of his knowledge of, and interest in, the “new science.” He announced then that he was seeking a via media between Pyrrhonism and Dogmatism. He found this in his tentative, hypothetical formulation of Epicurean atomism, a formulation that, in many respects, comes close to the empiricism of modern British philosophy.

– Richard H. Popkin, The History of Scepticism

Note: adding a new category that will offer historical and critical biographical details on the history of science and key players within that history.

The Obscurity of Things

Roanne, May 24, 1941

– Francis Ponge, Mute Objects of Expression

From now on, may nothing ever cause me to go back on my resolve: never sacrifice the object of my study in order to enhance some verbal turn discovered on the subject, nor piece together any such discoveries in a poem.

Always go back to the object itself, to its raw quality, its difference: particularly its difference from what I’ve (just then) written about it.

May my work be one of continual rectification of expression on behalf of the raw object (with no a priori concern about the form of that expression).

Therefore, writing about the Loire from a place along the banks of the river, I must constantly immerse my eyes and mind in it. Any time they dry up over an expression, dip them back into the waters of the river.

Recognize the greater right of the object, its inalienable right, in relation to any poem . . . No poem ever being free from absolute judgment a minima on the part of the poem’s object, nor from accusation of counterfeit.

The object is always more important, more interesting, more capable (full of rights): it has no duty whatsoever toward me, it is I who am obliged to it.

What the preceding lines do not adequately emphasize: consequently, never leave off at the poetic form – though it must be used at some point in my study because it produces a play of mirrors that can reveal certain persistently obscure aspects of the object. The reciprocal clash of words, the verbal analogies are one of the means for studying the object in depth.

Never try to arrange things. Objects and poems are irreconcilable.

The point is knowing whether you wish to make a poem or comprehend an object (in the hope that the mind wins out, comes up with something new on the subject). It is the second phase of this alternative that my taste (a violent taste for things, and for advances of the mind) leads me to choose without hesitation.

So my resolve has been reached . . .

After that I hardly care whether someone chooses to call the outcome a poem. As for me, the slightest hint of poetic droning simply reminds me that I’m slipping back onto the old merry-go-round and need to thrust my way off.

The Imbibing Sand

“In the same way we see the seashell tribe painting the lap of earth,
where ocean waves, soft on a crescent shore, slake the imbibing sands.”

– Lucretius, On the Nature of Things

The De Rerum Natura of Lucretius is the first great work of poetry in which knowledge of the world tends to dissolve the solidity of the world, leading to a perception of all that is infinitely minute, light, and mobile. Lucretius set out to write the poem of physical matter, but he warns us at the outset that this matter is made up of invisible particles. He is the poet of physical concreteness, viewed in its permanent and immutable substance, but the first thing he tells us is that emptiness is just as concrete as solid bodies. Lucretius’ chief concern is to prevent the weight of matter from crushing us. Even while laying down the rigorous mechanical laws that determine every event, he feels the need to allow atoms to make unpredictable deviations from the straight line, thereby ensuring freedom both to atoms and to human beings. The poetry of the invisible, of infinite unexpected possibilities—even the poetry of nothingness—issues from a poet who had no doubts whatever about the physical reality of the world.

– Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millenium