Giorgio Agamben: Standing before the Gate

What is the nature of a knowledge that has as its correlate no longer the opening to a world and to truth, but only life and its errancy?

Giorgio Agamben, potentialities – collected essays in philosophy

For many Kabbalists, language was thought to be both the vehicle of creation and the substance of the world. Already in the earliest proto-Kabbalistic work Sefer Yetzirah  we find a theory of creation in which the universe is said to have been created via the 22 consonant/letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  These letters and the ten Sefirot, which in Sefer Yetzirah constitute a parallel, numerical metaphor for creation, together constitute “the thirty wondrous paths of creation.”

– Moshe Idel, Messianic Mystics

In Messina, between 1280 and 1290, Abraham Abulafia composed the Cabalistic treatises that remained in European libraries in manuscript form for centuries and that were brought to the attention of nonspecialists only in the twentieth century (thanks to Gershom Scholem and Moshe Idel). In these works, divine creation is conceived as an act of writing…

– Giorgio Agamben, Bartleby, or on Contingency

Agamben in his essay Absolute Immanence  juxtaposes Foucault and Deleuze as calling for a philosophy of the future, one based on a knowledge of life rather than on truth, one that sees in the errancy of humanity a way forward. The essay itself provides a strange reading of Deleuze’s last work Immanence: A Life which appeared for the first time two months before the philosopher’s death. Deleuze gets excited when speaking about his ‘transcendental empiricism’ in the opening paragraph of this work, saying, there “is something wild and powerful in this transcendental empiricism that is of course not the element of sensation (simple empiricism), for sensation is only a break within the flow of absolute consciousness”.1 What’s “wild and powerful” is that this is the pre-reflexivity of a pure impersonal consciousness, a “qualitative consciousness without self”. He terms this the ‘transcendental field’, which can be differentiated from our experiential phenomenal world because it does not refer either to an object nor a subject but as a subjectless awareness.

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Deleuze/Guattari: Prelude to an Event

What is important is that the action took place, at a time when everyone judged it to be unthinkable. If it took place, then it can happen again. . . .

— Jean-Paul Sartre, 1968

As a prelude to my own reading of Intersecting Lives by Francoise Dosse about the lives of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari I decided to go back and do some parallel reading about the history of that period. Found two newer works May ’68 and its Afterlives by Kristin Ross as well as From Revolution to Ethics: May 1968 and Contemporary French Thought by Julian Bourg.

In the years after 1968, France did experience a revolution. In 1968 that word – revolution – was on everyone’s lips. By the early 1980s and especially by the 1990s, everywhere one turned, there was talk of ethics. What had been revolutionized was the very notion of revolution itself.

 – Julian Bourg,  From Revolution to Ethics

As the twentieth anniversary of May ’68 neared, the dwindling list of witnesses to just a few authorized spokesmen, the corrosion of forgetting, and the disinformation at work in representations like “Le procès de Mai” had made May into something of a cipher. Disembodied, increasingly vague in it contours and plural, even inchoate in its aims, it was thus more available to treatment as a purely discursive phenomenon: a set of ideas rather than a political event, a disembodied spirit or ethos rather than an alternative social form. But if it was a cipher, it was still a necessary cipher.

– Kristin Ross, May ’68 and Its Afterlives

  For one who lived in the midst of such worlds, without ever participating in the events described, yet being in the same air on a turning globe that lived through such events its is odd to read these histories that pretend to described such strange days. Am I, too, a part of history, already receding into the hinterlands of a cipher? One can read memoirs, novels, documentaries, journals, scholarly quarterlies of the era, etc. till one is blue in the face, but what really is it that happened in the event we call ’68? Many of our so called philosophers, journalists, essayists, etc., some living, some dead, have yet to answer that question. What happened? Was it a failure? Or the beginning of something else? A turn toward a new type of ethics as Joulian Bourg would have us believe? Do Jaques Derrida, Michael Focault, Eliphas Levi, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, and a myriad of women philosophers from Simone de Beauvoir to Catherine Malabou have an answer?

Be that as it may we move on with our reading of those twined lives, two friends who in the midst of this were on the edge of such events, or to the side of them. One Felix Guattari was a student of Lacan. Guattari had been a disciple of Lacan, and he was beginning to position himself as Lacan’s interlocutor, hoping that the master would anoint him as a preferred partner. But Lacan’s attitude toward him was ambiguous; he preferred the Maoist-Althusserian clique from the rue d’Ulm, which included Jacques-Alain Miller and Milner. Guattari was left out in the cold.1

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Deleuze/Guattari: The Arrangement -The Wasp and The Orchid

Just a short entry from my reading of Francois Dosse’s Intersecting Lives…

The tendency today is to forget Guattari’s name and remember only Deleuze’s. Yet Dosse emphasizes that What Is Philosophy? cannot be read as a return to “true” philosophy by Deleuze without Guattari. Its contents, style, and concepts make it impossible to imagine how the book could be “de-Guattarized” to make Deleuze its sole author. This would be to ignore the way the two authors worked together, similar to what they described in their Rhizome, of branching, of the arrangement between a wasp and an orchid.

The orchid leaves its own territory by forming an image, by imitating a wasp; but the wasp returns to its territory in this image while leaving its turf at the same time and becoming part of the orchid’s reproduction apparatus; the wasp reterritorializes the orchid by carrying pollen . . . capture code, surplus-value code, increase of valence, a true becoming, becoming-the-wasp of the orchid, becoming-the-orchid of the wasp.(15)1

Of course one could might still need to go back to works such as Ronald Bogue’s Deleuze and Guattari, or that of Philip Goodchild’s Deleuze and Guattari: An Introduction to the Politics of Desire for certain nuances and productive information left out of this account. In some ways any author misreads other authors, one always has blind spots in one’s apprehension of an other’s work. Paul DeMan is out of vogue today because of his early affiliations, yet his first book Blindness and Insight is still of use in detecting the blindspots in one’s own rhetoric. The key problem of scholarship on Deleuze seem to be precisely how to read him — is the project Deleuze has laid out to reread his texts as he has reread others? How is one to be Deluezian? Do we follow the auspices of someone like Harold Bloom and always read for the sparks, the auras; an aesthetic approach, a misprisioning of the text? Or, do we do a subtle and evaluative, almost scientific, close reading like the early modernist critics? There can never be any literal readings, to read literally is to repeat the markers of a dead spirit, to resurrect a memory that was always already a lie. Instead we appraise the work either philosophically or as secondary literature. Biography is secondary, yet is a good source for nuances that are otherwise missed in one’s primary readings, a sort of background hum that registers the subtle truths in a way that otherwise would fall through the cracks of rhetoric.

1. Dosse, Francois (2010-06-22). Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Intersecting Lives (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism). Columbia University Press.

Deleuze/Guattari: The Opening Gambit

From the beginning things were touch and go, Guattari a little fearful of the overpowering presence of Deleuze. “Guattari was anxious about meeting with Deleuze. He had always worked in groups and would have preferred that his friends at the Center for Institutional Study, Research, and Training (CERFI) be involved” (7)

From the start, their relationship centered on theoretical issues; their immediate complicity was personal and intellectual, but they never became profoundly close. They came from two very different worlds, and each respected the other’s network of relationships. The success of their common intellectual work depended on mobilizing and using everything that made them different, rather than pretending that they worked in osmosis. Each had an exalted idea of friendship. (6)

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1968: Friends, History, and Philosophy

WELL, IT’S ALL OVER. The Odéon has fallen! And today, which is June 16th, a Sunday, the police on orders of the Government entered and took over the Sorbonne on some unclear and garbled pretext about some man who was wounded by a knife. There was some rioting this afternoon, but the police handled it fairly easily. So that is it. And I sit here at my window on the river in the crepuscular light of that peculiar gray-blue Paris twilight which is so beautiful and like no other light anywhere on earth, and I wonder, What now?

– James Jones, The Merry Month of May

1968. I was a runaway. I’d left Austin, Texas, thumb out, shifting the skies blue and black, night and day, till I found the Rainbow Wagon People tumbling toward me. Sitting on my pack, parked just outside a truck stop near Amarillo, I had a sign roped to my shoulder that read: California or bust. Tripper Jack stuck his head out at me and yelled, “One more for the road, Ginny! Cmon’ in boy we got plenty room.” Tripper Jack was a burly black bearded old hippie, who wore a red bandanna, flip-top shades, old cutoff jeans and shirt made of strips of multi-colored ribbons. His lady, Dreamwitch, was skinny as a bean pole, but her jet black eyes shone like some beautiful death-angel piercing me like two black opals, their strange fire reading my soul like a half-tattered set of old Tarot Cards. What she saw in my own bloodshot eyes is still a mystery to me, but her laughter warmed me to her wicked ways, and as I entered the bus she gave me a hug and put a set of paisley beads over my head chanting some kind of blessing under her breath. Once inside I realized it wasn’t so much a school-bus I’d entered, as it was a dream machine for lost souls; or, should I say, fried souls.

We were a psycho-squad tripping purple double-domes like candy seeking neither shamanistic travel-guides to nowhere nor religious ecstasy on the road to hell. We just liked to get high, live life, fuck all night, and let rock n’ roll ride us through the merry world.  It was our age of wreckage, drugs, and freedom. Our escape from the authorities of life… We were the last ghost-riders,  a sort of death troupe riding to the last apocalypse, where oblivion was our only savior, and the only place we were going to end up was either jail or some beach head on the edge of an ocean-side beach-combers paradise in Southern California.

– S.C. Hickman, my personal journal

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Base Materialism: Bataille, Land, and Harry Potter

It’s like some old joke: “What do Bataille, Land and Harry Potter have in common?” Punch line: they cannot speak the name of that “which cannot be named”. Well, of course, this is a ruse, for the truth of it is that they all name it, yet do they? What is materialism? More specifically what is libidinal materialism? Or, closer yet, What is base materialism? And, to top it off: What is more disgusting than asking for the name of Lord Voldemort, he-who-must-not-be-named?  Hyperbole, superbole? A switch and bait routine between high/low, ideal/material, oppositions to the nth… The whole point of this exercise is nothing, nothing at all is represented here; for every name that we use to qualify that which cannot ever be named, because to name it is to distort it, reduce it, qualify it, measure it, bring it under the sway of language and all the oppositional movements of that linguistic atrocity of the reasoning mind. The naming that Bataille performs is closer to the form of an unnaming, a negating of all positing whatsoever, that Basilides the Gnostic long ago performed (Hippolytus):

There was a time, says he, when there was nothing; not even the nothing was there, but simply, clearly, and without any sophistry there was nothing at all. When I say “there was” he says, I do not indicate a being…

Since therefore there was nothing, no matter, no substance, nothing insubstantial, nothing simple, nothing composite, nothing imperceptible (non-subjective), no man, no angel, no god, nothing at all that can be named or can be apprehended by sense-perception, nothing of the mental things and thus (also nothing of all that which can be simply described in even more subtle ways) the non-existent God … without intelligence, without perception, without will, without resolve, without impulse, without desire, wished to make a world. I say “he wished,” he says, for want of a word, wish, intelligence, and perception being excluded. By “world” (I mean) not the flat, divisible world which later divided itself, but the world seed…

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Daniel Tutt, on Spirit is a Bone, has very informative and timely piece on Christopher Watkin’s book, Difficult Atheism: Is Philosophy Finally Without God? As he states it:

We learn very soon into the book that atheism is only one response to the death of God, and each thinker with the exception of Badiou claims that we should move entirely beyond atheism. …

;

We should begin our journey into the difficult terrain of atheism with a reminder from another great French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, who wrote, “we are always forced to think. Thinking is like a shove in our back. Thought is neither pleasant nor desired. It is a violence done to us.”

Daniel Tutt

This piece was originally published by Berfrois
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Book Review: Difficult Atheism: Post-theological Thinking in Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy and Quentin Meillassoux(2011) by Christopher Watkin

Declaring oneself an “atheist” isn’t what it used to be. Growing numbers of Generation Y prefer to remain agnostic, which is why so many of them go by the “nones,” or those with no religious preference. My wife used to work at a large university and she told me that on standardized tests many of the students write in “human” in the ethnic and racial identity box. A friend of mine launched a social media campaign to have “Jedi” recognized as a religion in Great Britain. It took off like wild fire and in 2006; Jedi’s were the fourth largest religion in all of Great Britain. Occupying these undecided identities: “none,” “Jedi” and “human” make a lot of sense. In so doing…

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Deleuze/Guattari, Kant, and Friendship: Old age and philosophy…

The question of what is philosophy? can perhaps be posed only late in life, with the arrival of old age and the time for speaking concretely.

– Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?

Having reached the ripe old age of sixty this year I understand the reflections that Deleuze harbored as he began this reminiscence of life in What is Philosophy? And, yes, this was his form of autobiography; for, how else does a philosopher write about his dual life: the life of a dual author? The Mind floats over the strangeness of it all, the memories that rise and dip out of one’s life retrieving the moments of pain and pleasure; yet, as we know, it is the pain that lasts, the problems that were never resolved, never overcome, without solution because there can be no ultimate solution, no resting place for the never-resting mind. There is only the search, the quest, the slow growth over years of more and more questions. It is not the solutions that last, it is the problems, the problematic aspects of life and thought that keep us going, keep us moving, keep us rising daily to understand and solve the indissoluable.

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History, Cosmology, and Philosophy

Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going. … We seem to be at a critical point in the history of science, in which we must alter our conception of goals and of what makes a physical theory acceptable. It appears that the fundamental numbers, and even the form, of the apparent laws of nature are not demanded by logic or physical principle.

– Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design

Anytime we mention history we discover a truth: history is always past, beyond us, transcendent. So if history is always and forever fallen into past time, the flow of an irreversible zone of non-meaning that we can neither contemplate nor imagine, then what are the conditions  necessary for its arising in discourse? We never have direct access to history – unless there are time-travelers among us; we only ever have indirect access to it through thinking it. But then is history nothing but fantasy? How do we think something that can never be directly or indirectly known? And, what of that greatest of all histories, the Universe itself? Cosmological history? How do those strange travelers of time, the physicists, cosmologists of the Big Bang and other theories, formulate their grand histories of the universe (or multiverse) when they never have direct access to that strange history? More importantly how can our understanding of cosmology and the sciences help us transform philosophy as we’ve come to know it into a instrument that allows us to both epistemologically and ontologically evaluate it and justify the truth of it by these sciences and their physical and mathematical theories? Or is it science itself that should be transformed by philosophy?

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Cengiz Erdem has great post on Zizek’s lecture On Melacholy. Well worth a read in that it also brings in Deleuze : “This requires the production of a new mode of being in the world in such a way as to be in relation to the without within this world, to an outside inside this world, a non-correlationist relation to nothing itself. Is it worth mentioning that Deleuze’s “impersonal consciousness” is something akin to that mode of being? It is this transcendental inconsistency itself that regulates, governs and drives the Deleuzean plane of immanence, and precisely for this reason Deleuze calls it the transcendental field of immanence in his last book, Immanence: A Life, where he attempts to clarify his “transcendental empiricism.” He continues saying,

The Deleuzean “univocity of being” is the flow itself, it is the flow of being becoming in-itself, and it is only death that brings about the completion of this process, it is only in death that being becomes in-itself, that is, as nothingness, as a void, as an absence, as non-being. And there, where something is split from nothing, novelty takes place, it takes the place of nothingness and death, hence giving birth to new life, an impersonal life, the life that is not of something, but the life that is non-being itself, the being of death within life which drives it as an undercurrent. And therein also resides the link between Deleuze’s concept of the impersonal consciousness, Jung’s collective unconscious and what Nick Land would later call cosmic schizophrenia.…

Let it suffice for the time being to say that transcendental materialism is repetitively different from transcendental empiricism, in that what’s at stake in transemp is the action of the unconscious upon the subject, whereas in transmat the situation is retroactively reversed in a progressive way; it is the subject’s indiscernibility from the unconscious that’s at stake in transmat. Influenced by and influencing Zizek, Adrian Johnston’s transmat adds to Deleuze’s transemp the role of the external matter itself as internally constituted in the self-constitutive process of the subject. Profoundly Hegelian indeed to say the least…

Senselogic

is there a female genius

In his lecture On Melancholy and an essay entitled Melancholy and the Act, Zizek claims that melancholia occurs not when we lose the object, but rather when the object is still here although we no longer desire it. According to Zizek, melancholia as Freud defines it in Mourning and Melancholia, shouldn’t be interpreted as if it is a product of the failure of mourning, but rather as the premature mourning for an object before it is lost. According to the orthodox interpretation of Freud’s essay, the work of mourning is to symbolize the loss and transcend it, so that one can go on with one’s life as usual. Melancholia takes over the subject if the work of mourning fails in rendering the subject capable of accepting the loss. A melancholic is s/he who cannot come to terms with the loss and turns the lost object into an unattainable object of…

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Nick Land: The Moldy Bug Variations

“I am neither a baboon nor a monarchist. .. In my ideal neocameralist state, there is no political freedom because there is no politics.  Perhaps the government has a comment box where you can express your opinion.  Perhaps it does customer surveys and even polls.  But there is no organization and no reason to organize, because no combination of residents can influence government policy by coercion.”

– Mencius Moldbug, Against political freedom…

“Our catalogued, ecumenical clearing house of knowledge was running amok…”

 Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations

Maybe one should rephrase that Moldy variation as “I am both a baboon and a monarchist.” Either way one can understand that the reactionary variations that this neocameralist enacts is a libertarian Punch and Judy fetishization of all the world’s commodities under the banner of corporate monarchism.

Nick Land is nothing if not persistent. In his latest installment of what I like to call: “The Moldy Bug Variations”, in honor of that ill-famed reactionary that we’ve all come to hate, Mencius Moldbug, one of Land’s favorite respites or barbs for the meat-grinder of socio-blastotomy (Reactionary Enlightenment). “To be a reactionary, minimally speaking, requires no more than a recognition that things are going to hell,” so begins this tirade, aimed not so much at the man on horseback as toward all those knee-jerk right wingers that inhabit the contagious dreams of American luridness.

From Moldbug, immoderate neo-reaction has learnt many essential and startling facts about the genealogy and tendency of history’s central affliction, newly baptized the Cathedral. It has been liberated from the mesmerism of ‘democratic universalism’ – or evangelical ultra-puritanism – and trained back towards honest (and thus forbidden) books. It has re-learnt class analysis, of unprecedented explanatory power. Much else could have been added, before arriving at our destination: the schematic outline for a ‘neocameral’ alternative to the manifestly perishing global political order.

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Nick Land: The Master of the Infernal Wisdom

True poetry is hideous, because it is base communication… Poetry does not strut logically amongst convictions, it seeps through the crevices; a magmic flux resuscitated amongst vermin.

– Nick Land

There has always been a little of the stench of hell in Land’s infernal writings, a sort of theatre of blood wherein God is slaughtered over and over again for his crimes against creation – of which the greatest truth is that creation itself is the greatest crime: the ultimate catastrophe; neither designed nor fabricated, but born out of the marriage of two voids, the void that is more than something but less than nothing, arising from the dependent void that is the crack we call the universe. The Ruins of Time: the truth of god’s creation… “No profound exploration can be launched from the ruins of monotheism unless it draws its resources from damnation” (216).1 One would rather say: One is creative to the extent that she gathers her truths from the bloody lips of the damned. One must have an inferno within, be singed by the sulfurous flames of the pit, know the blindness of those dark precursors below the surface where the black hells lick the belly of the beast that is Time to speak of paradise. We all seek our infernal paradises like fallen angels of a lost thought, gathering within our minds the trajectories of insane wisdom, marshaling the secret vectors of a frozen insight into futurity. Land has been there before us, wandered the dank cavities of this bleak realm, gathered the flowers of death with glee, and brought back out of that shamanic realm truths that bleed.

The death of God is a religious event – a transgression, experiment in damnation, and stroke of antitheistic warfare – but this is not to say it is pre-eminently a crime. Hell has no interest in our debauched moral currency. To confuse reactive dabblings in sin with expeditions in damnation is Christian superficiality; the Dantean error of imagining that one could earn oneself an excursion in Hell, as if the infernal too was matter of justice. (216)

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Nick Land: Where do the lies stop?

There is no question of ‘error’, ‘weakness in reasoning’, or ‘mistaken judgment’ when addressing the authoritative discourses on truth in the western tradition, those cathedrals of theological concept building that ground our ‘common sense’; no, here one can only speak of a deeply rooted and fanatical discipline of lying.

– Nick Land, Shamanic Nietzsche

Nick Land in this series of essays gathered together by Ray Brassier in Fanged Noumena opens us to an atheistic reading of western metaphysics. As he tells us in a central essay, Shamanic Nietzsche, the radical investigations of such atheistic philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Bataille go against the grain of all those ‘high-bourgeois apologetic-epistemological’ problematiques of philosophy by asking for the first time: “where do the lies stop?” (206). 1

Land would have us neither accept nor reject the whole gamut of western metaphysics and its onto-theological heritage, instead he proposes that the problematique itself be done away with: “the glory and also the indignity of philosophy is to have sought the end of knowing, and no more” (207). The whole point of this is that philosophy relies on certain beliefs, and that these beliefs can neither be held nor discarded. Why? “We know nothing of course, but we do not remotely know even this, and mere assertion in no way ameliorates our destitution” (207). So for Socrates knowledge started by way of an acknowledgement of our ignorance not its justification. As Land reiterates: “Belief is not a possession but a prison, and we continue to believe in achieved knowledge even after denying it with intellectual comprehensiveness” (207).

It was Bataille who gave us the figure of Nietzsche as Shaman: “Bataille’s Nietzsche is not a locus of secular reason but a shamanic religion; a writer who escapes philosophical conceptuality in the direction of ulterior zones, and dispenses with the thing in itself because it is an item of intelligible representation with no consequence as a vector of becoming (of travel)” (210). The truth of this shamanic traveler between the worlds is that he discovered a open secret, the whole problematique of phenomena/noumena split or dichotomy was a false one. Why? Because things do not exists: “There are no things-in-themselves because there are no things: ‘thingness has only been invented by us owing to the requirements of logic’ (Nietzsche, The Will to Power, section 558)” (210).  Or as Land eloquently suggests: “Materialism is not a doctrine but an expedition, an Alpine break-out from socially policed conviction” (211).

In a prelude to an almost Deleuzian reading Land tells us this form of materialism and acategorical reading of matter “navigates thought as chance and matter as turbulence ‘beyond all regulation’ (Bataille, Oeuvres Completes, vol. 1, 220). It yields no propositions to judge, but only paths to explore” (211). Instead of epistemic knowledge we wander in the interzones of being like psychonauts of ontic awareness in which neither positive nor negative knowledge can be resolved into a propositional lie as truth. As a final touchstone I quote at length this central passage:

This is a Nietzsche as a fanged poet at war with the philosophers (with the new priests), a thinker who seeks to make life more problematic. Bataille locks onto a desire that resonates with the reality that confounds us, and not with a ‘rationality’ that would extricate us from the labyrinth. Nietzsche is the great exemplar of complicating thought, exploiting knowledge in the interest of interrogations… Complicating thought strengthens the impetus of an active or energetic confusion – delirium – against the reactive forces whose obsessive tendency is to resolve or conclude. Rebelling against the fundamental drift of philosophical reasoning, it sides with thought against knowledge, against the tranquillizing prescriptions of the ‘will to truth’. (211- 212)

1. Nick Land. Fanged Noumena Collected Writings 1987-2007. Edited by Robin Mckay and Ray Brassier. (Urbannomic 2011)

Heidegger, Poetic Dwelling and escaping the literal-minded gnosis…

dmf made a great comment in a previous post (here):

I have never bought into ideas of epochal shifts of Thinking, We the people have never been modern to borrow a phrase never really come to grips with Darwin and all, reminds me of earlier discussions of drug induced states for some these are felt as Keys to deep Universal truths for others of us just visceral experiences of the ideas we have learned about the chemical aspects of our being. Poetic dwelling is about our synthetic powers and not about literal-minded Gnosis.

I replied to this here, but want to actually tease this out a little more. The idea that he is alluding to as ‘epochal shifts in Thinking’ is in some ways a reference to Thomas Kuhn’s use of the term ‘paradigm shift’:

A paradigm shift (or revolutionary science) is, according to Thomas Kuhn, in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science. It is in contrast to his idea of normal science. According to Kuhn, “A paradigm is what members of a scientific community, and they alone, share” (The Essential Tension, 1977). Unlike a normal scientist, Kuhn held, “a student in the humanities has constantly before him a number of competing and incommensurable solutions to these problems, solutions that he must ultimately examine for himself” (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions).

Once a paradigm shift is complete, a scientist cannot, for example, reject the germ theory of disease to posit the possibility that miasma causes disease or reject modern physics and optics to posit that ether carries light. In contrast, a critic in the humanities can choose to adopt an array of stances (e.g., Marxist criticism, Freudian criticism, Deconstruction, 19th-century-style literary criticism), which may be more or less fashionable during any given period but which are all regarded as legitimate. Since the 1960s, the term has also been used in numerous non-scientific contexts to describe a profound change in a fundamental model or perception of events, even though Kuhn himself restricted the use of the term to the hard sciences.  (see wiki)

When I started thinking about this I see that Kuhn stipulates one thing: that his ideas pertain only to ‘science’ not to any other domain of thought. I’ll agree with that much. And, I’ll agree that his whole conception has nothing to do with what I’m saying about change in Philosophy. So what do I mean? What I’m saying is that since Kant we’ve been in a box, and that this box is bound to the limits of human knowledge and finitude, and that philosophers since Kant have either accepted the truth of his framework or they haven’t; yet, all are agreed that his conceptual modifications in thought changed the game in philosophy. Philosophers since his time have struggled with or against this limiting finitude, and now in our time we are seeing a resurgence of those in favor of breaking out of the box and into – to use a term coined by Quentin Meillessoux, the ‘great outdoors’.

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Nick Land: Quote of the Day!

The authoritarian tradition of European reason tried to pull the plug on the great voyages at exactly the point they first became interesting, which is to say: atheistic, inhuman, experimental, and dangerous. Schopenhauer – refusing the agnostic stand-off of antinomy – was the first rallying  zone for all those disgusted by the contrived peace entitled ‘the end of metaphysics’. Bataille is the most recent successor. The forces of antichrist are emerging fanged and encouraged from their scorched rat-holes in the wake of monotheistic hegemony, without the slightest attachment to the paralytic tinkerings of deconstructive undecidability. ‘An attitude which is neither military nor religious becomes insupportable in principle the moment of death’s arrival.’ The war has scarcely begun.

– Nick Land, Shamanic Nietzsche

Are we in the midst of a Conceptual Revolution?

Having at last escaped from the torture-palace of authoritarian love we shuffle about, numb and confused, flinching from the twisted septic wound of our past… It is painfully evident that post-Christian humanity is a pack of broken dogs.

– Nick Land, Shamanic Nietzsche

Having escaped the dark shadows of the supernatural, having overcome the fear of death, opened up our lives to the sciences of the Enlightenment, are we so quickly ready to fall back under the black hand of this bleak religious vision. Or is there an alternative? Is the Hermetic Revival the dark secret of materialism? Even that great materialist and mathematician Sir Isaak Newton spent his late nights mastering the hermetic worlds of alchemy.  Sir Arthur Eddington says: “The science in which Newton seems to have been chiefly  interested, and on which he spent most of his time was alchemy. He read widely and made innumerable experiments, entirely without fruit so far as we know.” One of his servants records: “He very rarely went to bed until two or three of the clock,  sometimes not till five or six, lying about four or five hours, especially at springtime  or autumn, at which time he used to employ about six weeks in his laboratory, the fire  scarce going out night or day. What his aim might be I was unable to penetrate into.”    The answer is that Newton’s experiments were concerned with nothing more or less than  alchemy.

Why at the summit of the Enlightenment did a counter-reaction arise in the power of the Romantic movement and a return to myth, magic, mysticism, and the gothic nightmare worlds of vampires, werewolves, and other metamorphic creatures come about? In the midst of Reason, the old supernatural worlds repressed and hidden found other outlets other forms. Is it possible that these returns are not supernatural at all, that the dark worlds of this resurgence is rather a return of the repressed Parmedian traditions, and that in Germanic Naturphilosophe – in the four greats of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, with their involvement in a subjectalist turn,  rather than in the inner dynamism of an immanent revolution, philosophy had forgotten its material roots and resolved itself into a reemergence of the World Soul? The metaphysical thesis of the (proportional) correlation of existence and cognition seems to have started even with Plato’s conception of the World Soul whose function is to come to know, and make (conjectural or categorical) judgments of the identity and difference of every finite thing it comes across in its circular movement in and around the world.1

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Deleuze as Hierophant: The Fate of Philosophy

Joshua Ramey in his new book The Hermetic Deleuze almost wants to resurrect this master of the obscure into a hierophantic world where philosophical speculation and transcendental empiricism merge into a new mythologizing therapeutics, a modernist version of the ancient Greek religions and mysteries so well documented by Walter Burkert. One wonders reading Ramey if Deleuze is a philosopher or a sorcerer. Here is Ramey at the end of a chapter that has delved into post-modern occultism in the guise of Antoine Faivre, entered the primitivist world of magic and sorcery, and returned with a gnosis that is at once the deep immanence of our virtual earth as well as the awakening to active imagination that reminds one more of C.G. Jung and Henry Corbin:

Deleuze designed his conceptual operations to exceed cognitive limits, evoking new figures, personae, and forms of life. Inspired in his adolescence by hermetic dreams of a mathesis universalis, and convinced by his own Spinozism and Bergsonism of a deep rapport of mind with nature, Deleuze developed a reading of symbolist and modern art as an oblique flowering of perennial hermetic aspirations. In the course of attempting to rethink philosophy in view of these alternate modes of thought, Deleuze developed a new image of thought, one ultimately linked to the intensities of spiritual ordeal. This ordeal is grounded in a certain nonidentical repetition of Platonism, a redirection of the sense of Platonic anamnesis toward an excavation of the interiors of nature’s cave and the vertiginous realm of simulacra. This philosophy’s peculiar mode of becoming is uncanny, humorous, and intense. It forges concepts linked to an abridgement of the intensive, and unfolds through the strategic evocation of enigmatic conceptual personae forming a plane of immanence: the creation of concepts. Deleuze finally attempted in What Is Philosophy? to clarify the different relations of art, science, and philosophy to a common plane of immanence, pointing to a new vision of immanent thought that might be sustained in the life of “a people to come.”1

Are we really ready for such a Hierophantic Mystery Religion for a people to come? What Deleuze called the “ecology of the virtual”? It was Deleuze himself in his last work Pure Immanence who told us that “we now have only instances where thought bridles and mutilates life, making it sensible, and where life takes revenge and drives thought mad, losing itself along the way. Now we only have the choice between mediocre lives and mad thinkers” (PI, 67). Some say that Nick Land followed Deleuze into the abyss but pulled back just before the full madness of this Dionysian truth broke him into a thousand fragments. Now he filters cultural criticism in a harmless blog. One wonders just why this epigone of Deleuze left the race, fell away from such mysteries? We remember the fate of Holderlin, Rimbaud, and Artaud… why do such truths enforce such dark worlds on us? What did these harbingers of thought see that drove some of them mad, others to withdraw into solitude away from their fellow philosophers?

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Vita Activa: Deleuze against the Contemplative Life?

“Bergson invokes metaphysics to show how a memory is not constituted after present perception, but is strictly contemporaneous with it, since at each instant duration divides into two simultaneous tendencies, one of which goes toward the future and the others falls back into the past.”

– Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism

In my continuing reading of Joshua Ramey’s interesting hermetic turn in Deleuzean thought he comes to a point where he takes up Deleuze’s Bergsonism. Here he sees Bergson’s figure of the mystic as a legislator, as “a leader who enables the life of the society to grow into a more vital expression” (KL 2409).1 He goes on to say,

In Bergsonian terms, the mystic’s intense spirituality is in fact a kind of “innate science of matter,” a deep connection between unconscious mind and material depth that enables an extreme degree of freedom, even up to the capacity to re-create the instincts. (Pico della Mirandola’s vision of humanity as free because excessive, displaced, and neither finite nor infinite anticipates this dimension of Bergsonism.) Mysticism is thus, for Bergson-and one might add, retrospectively, for Renaissance hermeticism-not so much an ability to distance oneself from time and circumstance through identification with God, but an intensification of cosmic memory, an involution in the past of a universe become a “machine for the making of gods.”” What is important for Deleuze is that the mystic is not an exception to but rather an ideal type of human life. (Kindle Locations 2410-2414).

The conception of the universe as a ‘machine for the making of the gods’, and of the enfoldings of cosmic memory through intensification and creative expressiveness as active and participatory agency rather than as some hybrid mystical identification through contemplation is key to Deleuze’s involvement in Bergsonism. Yet, I have problems with this last sentence where Ramey sees Deleuze’s use of the mystic figure as an ideal type. Why? Well Deleuze in his Bergsonism was not seeking some ideal type but the pragmatic figuration of a very earthly incarnation or materialization of the Vita Activa principle rather than the Vita Contemplativa of the god fearing Mystic type of the Christian variety. A radical immanence mystic of the earth, rather than an objectalist mystic of some contemplative world of God or Platonic realm of Ideas. The mystic as artist and co-creator of the real through active participation in its material judgments in which Deleuze divines the finite or mortal god in sense-datum is closer to the truth. Deleuze inverts our ideal type of the Mystic, reversing its contemplation of an objective Other, and instead shows the deus in the mud of existence; yet, this is no deus absconditus of Thomas Aquinas, this is the active principle of emergence and of that indefinable elan vital that is the creative movement of the ‘intenstive spatium’ itself.

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Wild Empiricism: Deleuze and the Hermetic Turn

As I’ve been reading Joshua Ramey’s work The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and the Spiritual Ordeal I kept asking myself: Why am I interested in such a book? What does it truly say about Deleuze? I know that Deleuze pushed the limits of philosophical speculation, that he was very much an independent thinker, who was schooled and trained in the disciplines of a stringent academic world; yet, he formulated an aesthetic philosophy that followed the fine lines between material anorganic and organic life, its affective relations, its uncanny demarcations in the nerve center of time. Even his concepts of time are not our normal ones.

I still return to Ray Brassier’s Nihil Unbound with its unique reading of Deleuze from time to time. The thing about Brassier’s writing is its density, its weight, which forces one to return again and again, to repeat the process of ingesting little nuggets rather than chewing the cud of the whole discursive cow in one sitting. Brassier presents a Deleuze as a philosopher of Time, a psychonaut of the fly lines of temporal differentiation (NU 162).1 This is the being qua time of Deleuze’s ontological univocity. Yet, as Brassier notes the modality of this being is of a special type, because of his reinterpretation of univocity is brought under the sway of time what we get in Deleuze is a “modality of individuation, that of the psyche” (163). It is just here that Deleuze formulates what Brassier terms a third sense of time based on Freud’s ‘death-instinct’: the psyche is the battlefield of immanent forces in which “individuation becomes fully potentiated as the differentiator of difference” (163).

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Short note on Laruelle’s Anti-Badiou

Up until Badiou, philosophy was educative and pedagogical; with him, it is re-educated by mathematics.

– Francois Laruelle,  Anti-Badiou

Just began reading Laruelle’s new book on Badiou tonight. Already he sets up an oppositional thematics with Badiou’s philosophical project seen as a re-education of philosophy that incorporates a conservative and authoritarian stance:  “mathematicism is the condition of communism, with the authoritarian Platonist model finding a new lease of life in Maoism.” 1 As Laurelle states it, “Is this not a new, Maoist, avatar of universal Aufhebung, a manner of conserving philosophy through its re-education by means of dismemberment, redistribution and subtraction?”

Against such authoritarian re-education Non-philosophy, according to Laruelle, “seeks a way of depotentializing philosophy and making another use of it, but via other, more positive and less authoritarian procedures— formerly on the “non-Euclidean” model, and at present through a scientific (physical) experimentation and performation of philosophy— not at all through a scholarly and “cultural” breaking-in.”

He likens Badiou’s approach as a great Maoist bootcamp for re-education, one in which the new cadre of philosophers will under the rule of mathematics, logic, and a stringent pedagogical discipline enforce a specific, correct ‘image of thought’. Laurelle tells us that Badiou contents himself once more with a “revolutionary philosophy,” a “cultural” revolution “within the limits of philosophy, rather than a scientific and non-philosophical revolution in philosophy”. There will be purges as well, a new purification of philosophy, Laruelle tells us. In fact “the entire system, in its “metaphysical” depths, in its ultimate axioms, can be read as a manifesto of terror or of “cultural revolution” in philosophy.”

Ultimately with or without mathematics, in Badiou it is not a question simply of a “philosophy of force but of a political practice of philosophy (Lenin) conjugated with the mathematical void, a practice of the force of the void in all domains of thought, in the name of philosophy”. Laruelle asks the question: “How can we oppose Badiou without entering into a mere “relation of forces,” setting against him a force of the same nature as his own?”

Laruelle invites us to join in this struggle or agon against the authoritarian proclivities of such a project asking us if “to protect philosophy against itself, must we purify it through the entirely specular mediation of mathematics, making of it a superior politico-cultural doxa that exalts mathematics as force of the void (like a kind of philosophical brainwashing)? Or should we rather aim for a scientific-type knowledge of philosophy, a knowledge that would no doubt be contingent, but which, this time, would truly escape such doxa?” In the end he describes what must be done:

“The introduction of Maoism into philosophy cannot be a conjunctural accident, even if it is also a matter of a certain conjuncture; this would be to underestimate Badiou as a philosopher. No, it is an essential possibility of philosophy, one that philosophy makes available alongside others; a possibility first actualized by Plato, but one that is profoundly inscribed in the very axioms of philosophical decision, albeit more or less inert or apparently inactive at any given time. We require further details as to the new version of non-philosophy, and as to the analytic means that will allow us to detect in Badiou the indestructible residue of philosophy, and its conservation-reeducation by Cantor and Mao under the sign of Plato.” (ibid)

Looks like this will enact one of Laruelle’s gnosis-fictions: a dualysis masquerade between himself and Badiou, a knowing by way of a dislodgement, an escape from the prison house of Platonism under the sign of Badiou-Mao. But this is no ordinary gnosis, this is the inversion of Gnosticism without god, and venture into the democracy of thought, that is at once an attack upon the academic aristocracy, and a realignment with the scientific movement of thinking and knowing at the conjuncture of the real. And, yet, as we will learn it is not to gnosis that this strange non-philosophy turns, but to philo-fiction where it “becomes possible to transform philosophy, Parmenides’ formula, into a mere symptom of the Real, and then into the material of philo-fiction, and moreover into a model of philo-fiction”. This new form of philosophy must “act upon philosophy, rather than to contemplate it one more time— this is our imperative, and quantum theory is of the order of the means of man as Last Instance; it is not the mirror in which philosophy admires itself again and always.”

The new philosopher “tells a philosophical tale about a positive science”— he repeats the mythological style, whereas the Greek physiologists (rather than Plato) inaugurated a scientific vision of the object “philosophy.” This is a tale that renders philosophy of sciences themselves inventive. He continues, saying,

The Real of immanence, by virtue of the particle that it configures, is the non-dialectical solution to contradiction and to antinomies. It impossibilizes logic and theory without destroying them, instead simplifying them into their materiality, reducing them to the state of fiction— but a logic-fiction or philo-fiction. It gives to deployed theory, to all of fictional materiality, its force of “formalism,” for which reality, the empirical, and ideality are all of fictional materiality, but without constitutive effect upon it. (Kindle Locations 3247-3251).

He envisions a fusion of quatum theory and philosopy, a science ficitionalization of non-philosophy in which the new philosopher must treat metaphor generically, and not leave it either to internal relations or external relations; the correlation, or rather “unilation, of unilateral complementarity is neither substantial nor atomic”. Out of this new creed is born a new ethics, it “will be a matter of passing from absolute poverty (the philosophical loss of philosophy) to radical poverty as non-philosophical loss of philosophy”.

 

1. Laruelle, Francois (2013-01-03). Anti-Badiou: The Introduction of Maoism into Philosophy (Kindle Locations 87-88). Bloomsbury Academic. (all quotes from the preface)

Deleuze, Kant, and the Shock of Pure Difference in Art

To invert Platonism is to discover a thought that remains within signs, rather than reaching beyond them. Overturning Platonism involves a kind of cognitive vertigo: disconnected from ideal reference points, signs are destined to remain obscure.

– Joshua Ramey. The Hermetic Deleuze

I’m enjoying this new work by Joshua Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal. I must admit that Deleuze has always been a thorn in my side. One cannot discount this idealist and his philosophical project. Most of those who now call themselves New Materialists were schooled in Deleuze’s thought, which shows how idealism and materialism are still twin sisters, and are subtly united by threads of thought that are more alike than not. That Deleuze was a realist of Ideas is without doubt a commonplace, but that he was a materialist in the old sense of the word is no longer a truth we can hold. He moved into the full Idealist camp with his transcendental turn when he formulated a ‘transcendental empiricism’.

Let’s face it the whole empirical tradition grew out of a revival of the Epicurean tradition during the Renaissance with the rediscovery of Lucretius’s The Order of Things, so well documented by among others Stephen Greenblatt, in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. We all know their names: Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, Pierre Gassendi, members of The Royal Society of London, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume. Each resuming that ancient heritage of Democritus and his atomistic universe. It was Plato who first wiped Democritus from the philosophical world by not even mentioning his name in his own works, that was how much he hated this anti-formalist. For Democritus above all things did not believe in the eternal world of Ideas or Forms.

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Listening to Emerson….

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson comes to us at certain points in our lives like an old nabi of the desert, a cantankerous older brother who has wandered the world and brought back the wisdom of the ages only to discover that the truth was always and forever in our own lived lives rather than in something we would find in some objective object. One wants to agree with John Milton: “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Sometimes even poets and philosophers need to remember the truth of which Emerson was a harbinger; as member of that tribe, those dark precursors and rebels, eccentrics, social critics or philosophers for whom truth was not some fixed commodity, but was an ever illusive transitory manifestation of process and becoming rather than of Being. There are moments when we need to step out of the shadows, free ourselves of the burden of the past, come clean, own up to the truth of our own mentation’s dark valve, trust in the life of our own mind’s strange life and speak the truth out of our own light. Do we have a truth to speak? What is this burden of wisdom we have chased after for so long? Can the Mind like some ouroboros know its own curved plenty?

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Anthony Paul Smith and a group of other scholars will be discussing The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal by Joshua Ramey from the January 29th to February the 8th… should be an interesting discussion. I’ve found the book to open avenues of thought and speculation in Deleuze’s project that are revealing…

Deleuze: Transcendental Empiricist? – Fidelity and Betrayal

In Nabokov’s short story “Signs and Symbols” a suicidal son “imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence. …Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme”. Of course this is closer to R.D. Laing’s sense of the delusional references of a paranoiac: ‘in typical paranoid ideas of reference, the person feels that the murmurings and mutterings he hears as he walks past a street crowd are about him. In a bar, a burst of laughter behind his back is at some joke cracked about him’ that deeper acquaintance with the patient reveals in fact that ‘what tortures him is not so much his delusions of reference, but his harrowing suspicion that he is of no importance to anyone, that no one is referring to him at all’.

But what do we call the delusions of philosophers who reduce the thought and systems of another philosopher to one conceptual thought or ruling idea? What of fidelity and betrayal? I was thinking of this when reading Eleanor Kaufman’s new work on Deleuze, The Dark Precursor Dialectic, Structure, Being, which is an excellent read so far. In it she mentions the work of Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, and Peter Hallward in relation to Deleuze. As she states it:

AS WITH MANY PROMINENT thinkers, there is a striking imperative that circulates among those who read Deleuze: a drive to fidelity, or more nearly to not betray the master’s thought, the trap that so many who write in his wake purportedly fall into. The world of Deleuze criticism is rarely immune from the dialectic of fidelity and betrayal that is arguably so far removed from Deleuze’s thought. (87)

All three of these authors seem to attack those disciples of Deleuze who have fallen into the trap of literalizing the Master’s work, instead one must betray the Master “to remain faithful to (and repeat) the ‘spirit’ of his thought” (87). Yet, as concerns Deleuze, there are those who have betrayed the master by taking one part of his work – the complicit co-authored works of Deleuze and Guattari – for the singular splendor of the Master’s truth. Kaufman cites Badiou in this regard:

“That Deleuze never did anything of an explicit nature to dissipate this [misunderstanding] is linked to that weakness rife among philosophers— in fact, none of us escape it— regarding the equivocal role of disciples. As a general rule, disciples have been won over for the wrong reasons, are faithful to a misinterpretation, overdogmatic in their exposition, and too liberal in debate. They almost always end up by betraying us…” (87-88)

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Symbols of Life: Deleuze reading D.H. Lawrence

“If we are steeped in the Apocalypse, it is rather because it inspires ways of living, surviving, and judging in each of us. It is a book for all those who think of themselves as survivors. It is the book of Zombies.”

– Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical

Deleuze in Nietzsche and St. Paul, Lawrence and John of Patmos, juxtaposes the John of the Gospel of Love with the other, John of Patmos and the Gospel of Terror: the Book of the Apocalypse. He tells us that Christ brought love, but that John of Patmos brought us the tools of terror and judgment, revenge and hate. In Nietzsche, there is the great opposition between Christ and Saint Paul: Christ, the softest, most amorous of the decadents, a kind of Buddha who frees us from the
domination of priests and the ideas of fault, punishment, reward, judgment, death, and what follows death this bearer of glad tidings is doubled by the black Saint Paul, who keeps Christ on the cross, ceaselessly leading him back to it, making him rise from the dead, displacing the center of gravity toward eternal life, and inventing a new type of priest even more terrible than its predecessors.1 (CC 37)

Lawrence takes from Nietzsche only the fire of the argument, but redirects it between Christ and Red John. In this black book of death we see the betrayal of Christ and his gospel, the redemption turned apocalyptic, the enforcement of a new justice, the iron hammer coming down upon the collective madness of the world:

“In truth, it is Christianity that becomes the Antichrist; ‘. it betrays Christ, it forces a collective soul on him behind his back, and , in return it gives the collective soul a superficial individual figure, the .. little lamb. Christianity, and above all John of Patmos, founded a new type of man, and a type of thinker that still exists today, enjoying a new reign: the carnivorous lamb, the lamb that bites …”(CC 39)

This is the thinker of the collective soul of the great hordes of Zombies that hide among the late and belated worlds of Capitalism. This collective soul wants power, but not the simple power of the despot; instead what it seeks is to “penetrate into every pore of power, to swarm in its centers, to multiply them throughout the universe. It wants a cosmopolitan power, not in full view like the Empire, but rather in every nook and cranny, in every dark corner, in every fold…” of every last zombie (CC 39). So begins the Age of Judgment: the power of the weak-souled ones, where “power no longer exists except as the long politics of vengeance, the long enterprise of the collective soul’s narcissism. The revenge and self-glorification of the weak…”(CC 39).

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Gilles Deleuze: The Expressive Aesthetic

In Proust and Signs, Deleuze writes,

Certain Neoplatonists used a profound word to designate the original state that proceeds any development, any “explication”: complication, which envelops the many in the One and affirms the unity of the multiple. Eternity did not seem to them the absence of change, nor even the extension of a limitless existence, but the complicated state of time itself (uno ictu mutationes was compiectitur). The Word, omnia compiicans, and containing all essences, was defined as the supreme complication, the complication of contraries, the unstable opposition. From this they derived the notion of an essentially expressive universe, organized according to degrees of immanent complications and following an order of descending explications. (ps, 45) 1

Deleuze affirms the univocity of being, but he does so not at the level of substance, but at the level of expression itself. For Deleuze, univocity is not a given, but a generated and generative power, productive only as a “power of thinking which is in itself equal to the power of producing or acting” (E, 181).2 He goes on to say that “expression characterizes both being and knowing. But only univocal being, only univocal consciousness, are expressive. Substance and modes, cause and effects, only have being and are only known through common forms that actually constitute the essence of the one, and actually contain the essence of the others. (E, 181)

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Henry Miller: A Sacred Monstrosity

Cengiz Erdem of Senslogi quotes Henry Miller on Creative Death: read here! Cengiz as always enlightens even as he instructs us! When I read this selection from Miller’s works I was astounded by the synchronicity of it all. In my last post I had written about Nick Land, but without mentioning his involvement in Henry Miller’s work. Nick acknowledges Miller as the patron saint of ‘base materialism’, as well as inscribing Miller’s great book, The Tropic of Cancer as its Bible and most sacred text. Having come upon Miller myself during the 60’s (yes, I’m an old hippie at heart) I’ve thumbed through several copies of his key works, and even now hold in my hand the tattered cover of my original copy of his Tropic along with Black Spring and Tropic of Capricorn. I want go into a litany of his full oeuvre. Instead I’ll give you a few excellent quotes from that monstrous creature himself:

 

“Today I am aware of my lineage. I have no need to consult my horoscope or my genealogical chart. What is written in the stars, or in my blood, I know nothing of. I know that I spring from the mythological founders of the race. The man who raises the holy bottle to his lips, the criminal who kneels in the marketplace, the innocent one who discovers that all corpses stink, the madman who dances with lightning in his hands, the friar who lifts his skirts to pee over the world, the fanatic who ransacks libraries in order to find the Word— all these are fused in me, all these make my confusion, my ecstasy. If I am inhuman it is because my world has slopped over its human bounds, because to be human seems like a poor, sorry, miserable affair, limited by the senses, restricted by moralities and codes, defined by platitudes and isms. I am pouring the juice of the grape down my gullet and I find wisdom in it, but my wisdom is not born of the grape, my intoxication owes nothing to wine…” (149).

“I love everything that flows,” said the great blind Milton of our times. I was thinking of him this morning when I awoke with a great bloody shout of joy: I was thinking of his rivers and trees and all that world of night which he is exploring. Yes, I said to myself, I too love everything that flows: rivers, sewers, lava, semen, blood, bile, words, sentences. I love the amniotic fluid when it spills out of the bag. I love the kidney with its painful gall stones, its gravel and what-not; I love the urine that pours out scalding and the clap that runs endlessly; I love the words of hysterics and the sentences that flow on like dysentery and mirror all the sick images of the soul; I love the great rivers like the Amazon and the Orinoco, where crazy men like Moravagine float on through dream and legend in an open boat and drown in the blind mouths of the river. I love everything that flows, even the menstrual flow that carries away the seed unfecund. I love scripts that flow, be they hieratic, esoteric, perverse, polymorph, or unilateral. I love everything that flows, everything that has time in it and becoming, that brings us back to the beginning where there is never end: the violence of the prophets, the obscenity that is ecstasy, the wisdom of the fanatic, the priest with his rubber litany, the foul words of the whore, the spittle that floats away in the gutter, the milk of the breast and the bitter honey that pours from the womb, all that is fluid, melting, dissolute and dissolvent, all the pus and dirt that in flowing is purified, that loses its sense of origin, that makes the great circuit toward death and dissolution. The great incestuous wish is to flow on, one with time, to merge the great image of the beyond with the here and now. A fatuous, suicidal wish that is constipated by words and paralyzed by thought” (150-151).

 

 

1. Miller, Henry. Tropic of Cancer

Nick Land: Death is Immense

 “Base matter is external and foreign to ideal human aspirations, and it refuses to allow itself to be reduced to the great ontological machines resulting from these aspirations…”

– Georges Bataille

What are those forces below the threshold that escape all those investigative reporters of our darkening humanity? There is an excess that escapes the light, that flows out of the zero sum nullity of a non-space and non-time of which our philosophical harbingers are unaware. What if everything was already contaminated, already part of the base slime of existence? What if it were the most vile, disgusting, sacrilegious, and profane excesses; the most foreign and degrading aspects of existence that reveal the truth we are in need of? “Bataille’s matter is that which must be repressed as the condition of articulation, whereby immanent continuity is vivisected in transcendence (122).” 1

E.M. Cioran whose excesses lead him to a gnostic inversion, one that touches not the a-Cosmic god beyond the cosmos but instead drifts with the slime of this degradation, this catastrophe of the kenoma: our universe of death. Cioran sides with all that is base, all that is excluded, ungrounded, cold, and inhuman. Like Cioran, Georges Bataille, followed the Discordia of Gnostic thought hoping to carry its black “germs of a bizzare but mortal subversion of the ideal” into our modern world. 2 As Benjamin Noys tells us: “Gnosticism is important to Bataille because it leads to ‘the most monstrous dualistic and therefore strangely abased cosmogonies” (502). As his ephebe Nick Land states it:

“Base materialism is the plague of unilateral difference, which is difference that only operates from out of the undifferentiated. … A unilateral difference is the simultaneity of a tendency to separation and a persistence of continuity, which is a thought that cannot be grasped, but only succumbed to in delirium. For any ardent materialism truth is madness” (TA 123-125).

 Following the ancient theurgy Bataille practices a new form of magical practice, he teaches us dip our hands in mud and shit, shape figures of monstrous proportion based on the ‘non-logical difference’ of this strange excess inscribed in the darkest particles and particulates of non-being within the void of the Void. Levi R. Bryant in a new post tell us “don’t track in abstractions”. Nick Land also taught that for Bataille, abstraction keeps us from the delirium of the real:

“The dominant tendencies in philosophy are complicit with ordinary language in their suppression of unilateral differences. Because separation is normally thought of as mutual discontinuity, the world is interpreted as an aggregate of isolated beings, which are extrinsically amalgamated into structures, systems, and societies. Such thinking precludes in principle all possibility of base contact or communion” (TA 124).

And, it is the need for an affective relation, a base contact and communion, an orgy of the senses in the theatre of mater materia that we seek. Base matter is external and foreign to ideal human aspirations, and it refuses to allow itself to be reduced to the great ontological machines resulting from these aspirations. But the psychological process brought to light by Gnosticism had the same impact: it was a question of disconcerting the human spirit and idealism before something base, to the extent that one recognized the helplessness of superior principles. Even becoming and time are contaminated, fractured and “subordinated to a transcendent law, allowing it to be judged, denigrated, and condemned” (TA 129). Lost among our memories, living our tributary deaths, we learn the harshest truth:

“Humanity is a petrified fiction hiding from zero, a purgatorial imprisonment of dissolution, but to be stricken with sanctity is to bask in death like a reptile in the sun. God is dead, but more importantly, God is Death. The beginning of the secret is that death is immense” (TA 131).

1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge 1992)
2. Benjamin Noys. Georges Bataille’s Base Materialism (Cultural Values Volumes 2 Number 4 1998 499-517) (pdf)

A Short Note on Zizek

Reading and rereading parts of Slavoj Zizek’s Less than Nothing it came to me that the central figure within this work is not Hegel, but Lacan; and, its not Lacan as Lacan, but the repetition of Lacan as Hegel in Zizek. This strange misprisioning work continues Zizek’s long journey toward a political  emancipatory vision grounded in the gap, where reason and drive touch what is left of our fragile fractured being. What was once said of Lacan will be said of Zizek, that one will need to repeat his gestures, walk in his shoes, travel down those dark roads toward a world without Masters…

“The only way beyond Lacan is through Lacan.”

Lacan unveiled the illusions on which capitalist reality as well as its false transgressions are based, but his final result is that we are condemned to domination— the Master is the constitutive ingredient of the very symbolic order, so the attempts to overcome domination only generate new figures of the Master. The great task of those who are ready to go through Lacan is thus to articulate the space for a revolt which will not be recaptured by one or another version of the discourse of the Master.1

The only way beyond Zizek is to meet him at the world’s crack…

1. Zizek, Slavoj  Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 616-620). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Quote of the Day: The Blind Passenger

We are here back at the notion of den in Democritus: a “something cheaper than nothing,” a weird pre-ontological “something” which is less than nothing.

– Slavoj Zizek

Notes on Democritus

Obscurantist idealists like to vary the motif of “almost nothing”: a minimum of being which nonetheless bears witness to divinity (“ God is also present in the tiniest speck of dust …”). The materialist answer to this is the less than nothing. The first to propose this answer was Democritus, the father of Ancient Greek materialism…

The Ancient Greeks had two words for nothing, meden and ouden, which stand for two types of negation: ouden is a factual negation, something that is not but could have been; meden is, on the contrary, something that in principle cannot be. From meden we get to den not simply by negating the negation in meden, but by displacing negation, or, rather, by supplementing negation with a subtraction. That is to say, we arrive at den when we take away from meden not the whole negating prefix, but only its first two letters: meden is med’hen, the negation of hen (one): not-one. Democritus arrives at den by leaving out only me and thus creating a totally artificial word den. Den is thus not nothing without “no,” not a thing, but an othing, a something but still within the domain of nothing, like an ontological living dead, a spectral nothing-appearing-as-something. Or, as Lacan put it: “Nothing, perhaps? No— perhaps nothing, but not nothing”;  to which Cassin adds: “I would love to make him say: Pas rien, mais moins que rien (Not nothing, but less than nothing)” — den is a “blind passenger” of every ontology. As such, it is “the radical real,” and Democritus is a true materialist: “No more materialist in this matter than anyone with his senses, than me or than Marx, for example.

Notes on Karen Barad

What quantum physics proposes is … global instability as the basis of local stability: entities within a universe have to obey stable rules, they are part of a causal chain, but what is contingent is the very totality of this chain. Does this mean, however, that at this level of the pure potentiality of the Void, there are no differences? No: there is pure difference in the guise of the gap between two vacuums, the topic of the Higgs field.

Is not the Epicurean notion of the clinamen the first philosophical model of this structure of the double vacuum, of the idea that an entity only is insofar as it “comes too late” with regard to itself, to its own identity? In contrast to Democritus, who claimed that atoms fall straight down in empty space, Epicurus attributed to them the spontaneous tendency to deviate from their straight paths. This is why, in Lacanese, one could say that the passage from Democritus to Epicurus is the passage from the One to the surplus-object: Democritus’s atoms are “ones,” while Epicurus’s atoms are surplus-objects— no wonder that Marx’s theoretical path begins with his doctoral thesis on the difference between the philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus.

… Barad proposes a list of features opposing (“ good”) diffraction and (“ bad”) reflection: diffraction pattern versus mirror image, differences versus sameness, relationalities versus mimesis, performativity versus representationalism, entangled ontology versus separate entities, intra-action versus interaction of separate entities, phenomena versus things, attending to detailed patterns and fine-grained features versus reifying simplification, the entanglement of subject and object within a phenomenon versus the fixed opposition between the two, complex network versus binary oppositions, etc. But is not this very opposition between diffraction and reflection (or between performativity and representation) itself a rude binary opposition between truth and illusion?

…Barad repeatedly deploys the motif of the Cartesian subject as the external agent of disentangled observation, to be replaced by agential entanglement: we are part of the observed reality, the cut between subject and object is contingently enacted, and so on. But the true problem is to explain how this “false” appearance of a disentangled subject can emerge in the first place: can it really be accounted for in the terms of the agential cut within the entanglement of a phenomenon? Is it not that we have to presuppose a more radical trans-phenomenal cut as a kind of transcendental a priori that makes intra-active agential cuts possible?

[Notes on Barad’s diffraction]…duality refers to two aspects of one and the same process: diffraction is a splitting which generates what it splits into two, for there is no unity preceding the split. In other words, we should conceive diffraction not as a liberating dehiscence of the One, but as the very movement of the constitution of the One, as the disunity, the gap, which gives birth to the One. Thus radicalized, diffraction is revealed as another name for parallax, the shift of perspective needed to produce the effect of the depth of the Real, as if an object acquires the impenetrable density of the Real only when its reality reveals itself to be inconsistent: the observed X is real only insofar as it is the impossible point at which two incompatible realities overlap— now it is a wave, but if we measure it differently, it is a particle.

Complementarity in quantum physics (wave or particle) excludes any dialectical relationship, there is no mediation between the parallax gap that separates the two aspects— is this gap the non-dialectical ground of negativity? The old metaphysical problem of how to name the nameless abyss pops up here in the context of how to name the primordial gap: contradiction, antagonism, symbolic castration, parallax, diffraction, complementarity … up to difference. As Jameson hinted, perhaps one should leave this gap nameless, but what we should not abstain from is at least an interim outline of the ontology implied by such a universe.

– Slavoj Zizek,
Less Than Nothing:
Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

Slavoj Zizek: Contingency and Ontological Incompleteness

“Materialism has nothing to do with the assertion of the inert density of matter; it is, on the contrary, a position which accepts the ultimate Void of reality—the consequence of its central thesis on the primordial multiplicity is that there is no ‘substantial reality’, that the only ‘substance’ of the multiplicity is Void.”

– Slavoj Zizek, Speculative Turn

“But, as I have shown,  the world is not formed of solid substance, since there is an admixture of void in things…”

– Lucretius, On the Nature of Things

I wager that Zizek will more and more come to be known as an Epicurean materialist in the tradition of that great formulator, Lucretius. Zizek’s admixture of atheism and Christianity in dialectical process weans us from the corrosive affects of that religion, while inserting the Void itself – as the central figure, rather than Christ, in a drama that has more to do with the unshackling of human finitude from its roots in false-consciousness than it does of some religious vision of pure transcendence.  Against the substantial formalism of Plato and his progeny, up too and including certain forms of speculative realism, Zizek follows the secret life of both material and immaterial phenomena, and their irreducibility in the natural order of things that is imperfect, contingent, incomplete and open.

His version of the great tradition begins and ends with the logic of quantum physics, but read through the lens of Hegel and Lacan. Disputing with Zizek is like entering a chameleon’s den, not realizing the enemy is oneself rather than the dialectician sitting across from one; one who has already attuned himself to the full panoply of effective argumentation you so carefully brought to the table; having quickly replaced its ill-understood truths with with a jouissance that is both disarming of your uncertain mind, and a partial completion of the very truth of Zizek’s own irreducible thoughts on the Void.

At the center of Zizek’s involvement with quantum physics is a sense that our understanding of reality is incomplete: an ontological incompleteness informs all aspects of our imperfect knowledge (Zizek: “its premise is the ‘non-All’ of reality, its ontological incompleteness”… one can think of this as well within mathematics, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems.). This imperfect, incomplete reality is shaped by the necessity of contingency as well as founded on the contingency of necessity.  This irreducible and immaterial materialism sets itself against both idealization of matter (cognitive naturalism) and the materialization of thoughts (material idealism). As Zizek would have it, the opposite of materialism is not – as some would say, idealism, but its vulgarization within the cognitive sciences (i.e., Churchland): the presumption of certain cognitive scientists who presume to make of ‘self-awarness’ of consciousness itself a fundamental force within the natural order of things; its “quintessence”(407).1

In an interview at the tail-end of the first Speculative Turn Zizek plunges ahead making his most radical turn toward a new materialism, telling us that if reality is ontologically incomplete, if the ‘non-All’ of matter is equated with the Void, then “this means that a truly radical materialism is by definition non-reductionist: far from claiming that ‘everything is matter’, it confers upon the ‘immaterial’ phenomena a specific positive non-being” (407). A materialism that is both non-reductive and immaterial would suddenly turn the tables on the history of materialism from Democritus to today, a rejection of ‘objective reality’: the insubstantial reality that undermines the logic of a consistent subjectivity, that brings with it an ontological openness breaks with Kant’s second antinomy of pure reason, and one that Plato in the Parmenides qualified: ‘Then may we not sum up the argument in a word and say truly; If one is not, then nothing is?’ (408). Rather, nothing exists; rejected by Kant, yet accepted in the qualification of a materialism in which “‘material reality is non-all’, as against the saying: ‘material reality is all there is'”(408).

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Nick Land: Naked before the Cyclone

“Politics is the archaic and inadequate name for something that must pass away into the religious history of capital.”

– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

When will we accept our death? Vampires, all, we do not even realize that we are feeding on each others foul blood. The spectre of a two-thousand year old community enfolds us all within its dark force. The onto-theological riptide of its stark ascetic plumage trails along our shadowy streets infesting us with its bloated glut of putrid stench. “The theology of the One, rooted in concrete beliefs and codes that summarize and defend the vital interests of a community, and therefore affiliated to a tenacious anthropomorphism, is gradually corroded down to the impersonal zero of catastrophic religion” (113). 1

It was up to Bataille, then Deleuze to undercut the Kantian dance of noumenon and zero, to blast the distance between Void and Being, to dissolve the human in the very gap of its own wound, expose the narcissistic excess of its own asceticism, its investment in an economy of death and desire.  As Bataille would have it: “…the unknown demands in the end an empire without division” (114). Against the four categories of ‘nothing’ that Kant erects, Bataille decreates them within an inverse dance of terror turning subtraction to undifferentiable, deprivation to pre-unitary, impotence to extravagance, and dialectic to both the unilateral and impossible (115). For Bataille the noumenon was not so much a philosophical problem as it was a religious one:

“… a sort of rupture – in anguish – leaves us at the limits of tears: thus we lose ourselves, we forget ourselves and communicate with an ungraspable beyond. … Despair is simple, it is the absence of all hope, of every lure. It is the state of desolate expanses and … of the sun” (115).

As Land states it this is the “terrain of immanence or the unknown; positive death as zero-intensity, unilaterally differentiated from ecstasy or naked sensation” (115). He continues in an extended foray of insight, saying,

” Throughout his writings Bataille implicitly or explicitly repeats a deft materialist gesture, indicating that transcendent dogma does not lie in the positing of an outside to experience, but rather, in the positing of experience as dissociated from its slide into oblivion. Experience can never comprehend or define dissolvent immanence, and the claim that it might can be symptomatologically interpreted as the consequence of a utilitarian reconstruction into objectivity. It is thus that Bataille reiterates Nietzsche’s diagnosis concerning the moral basis of epistemology. The very possibility of a problem about the relation between experience and the real – requiring a theory of representation – presupposes the deformation of experience in terms of the ‘good’, or, in other words, the stable, isolated, and determinate, correlated to the caging of the noumenon in the form of the object. In wild variance to the basic presupposition of overt or cunning idealism, experience is not given in reality as knowledge, but as collapse (115-116).”

This collapse is not a positive affirmation of knowledge, but rather a gnosis, a movement from the kenoma (emptiness, void) to the pleroma (fullness) where the question becomes not how to distinguish true ideas from false, but how to discover more adequate or more comprehensive and “intense” levels of thought and being. The search for adequate “common notions” of nature, for the structures of the one Animal that is the Beast: God or Nature, which leads us immediately to quest for how to intensify thought itself. In some ways this is the optimization of thought – thought reaching beyond itself in an effort not to transcend its own limits, but rather to break the resistance, the hold those limits impose, thereby revealing the structure of the Real against which we struggle and strive with for the prize of Being itself.

Escaping the epistemic dilemmas of Kant’s duplicitous rift between noumenon and zero, Bataille collapses them in a libidinal or base materialism wherein the continuum “is wrested definitively from humanist containment, the order of the object is contested with the profundity at the scale of zero, and the interiority is denuded to the point of impersonal intensity” (116). Like some schizo-nomad from the future, Bataille liberates the solar economy through sacrifice, the zombies and vampires of Capital eat dogsbody: the torrent of an intensity in excess of itself, a last supper as an orgy: gods-body, a eucharist for the earth.

“Desire responds to the cosmic madness pulsed out of the sun, and slides beyond love towards utter communication. This is a final break with Christendom, the disconnection of base flow from the terminal sentimentalism …nihilism as nakedness before the cyclone” (119).

This is the communion of the Last Men…

1.  Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)