It is always a difficulty writing on an other’s work in that one usually begins by clarifying something that captures your own thought, and then trying to isolate an aspect of it, abstract it out, seek to understand whether it is viable or not, living or dead; and, then, whether one can either appropriate and incorporate it into one’s own ongoing project or exclude it and – yes, critique it. Sometimes as a commentator I plunder other’s works for my own ongoing project, which I’m sure as many on my blog have pointed out comes into conflict with the actual and real meaning or… and, I hate to use the word, “intentions” of the author, since I no longer believe or accept the essentialist argument of there being an author behind the work, etc.. There being nothing essential behind the mask of the name or title other than the fictional appellation or designation which is bound to the cultural logics and legalisms we are captured by. No intentional being resides there behind the mask of author, but rather a process of thinking connected to the traditions of symbolic accord that travel across time through processes of externalization, memory, and technology (i.e., print, trace, etc.). (Much more on this in the future!)
Once one has left the fold, no longer believes in the property or proprietary intentions of an author… that all writing is technics and technology… one lives in a alter-framework. An alterity that blows away the metaphysical structures underpinning our legal and secular regimes. Even as I write these words the illusion of my own Self/Subject persists, yet what do we trace in an author’s work: Do we ever know what is behind the work, or are we more concerned with what that work offers us as challenge or confirmation of our own stance and thoughts in regards of the wider frame of culture? There is no singular language, therefore no singular vision or collective being, self, etc., we are all already collective processes rather than beings operating in and on an external world or symbolic order. Detached from any conception of metaphysical Being one is rather a writing, and being written by impersonal forces of which one is barer or victim. That is all.
As an anti-philosopher for me the whole tradition of philosophy begins and ends on the question not of Being, but of Process and Becoming – Change and Movement. Against the essentialism of substantive formalism, the static and fixed relations of objectified Being there is force, flux, and fluctuation – the chaos of process and happening. As collective processes ourselves we tap or plug into these external systems of writing (i.e., Stiegler’s sense of “grammatization”, etc.) that fold us into the collective systems of cultural praxis and memory. The boundaries of one’s life are circumscribed by language(s). Those who inhabit multiple languages know and see the world differently than those of a monocultural system. Language is the first contract we as humans enter into on becoming part of the culture we inhabit. Language forms our perceptions of what is possible, locks us into a metaphysical layer of thought that is usually never questioned. We grow up immersed in this virtual prison house of language never realizing that other cultures (i.e., indigenous, or otherwise) may perceive what we term reality differently than we do. I admire the iconoclastic Brazilian anthropologist and theoretician Eduardo Viveiros de Castro work, an yet his “ontological turn,” is still part of the tradition of metaphysics as Being, and even though he offers a vision of anthropology as “the practice of the permanent decolonization of thought,” it is based on concepts and propositions that lead him into certain errors. (This is not the place to go into that!)
We are not singular, but multiplicities. Even as we emerge into that wider cultural frame from childhood, we belong and are captured by systems of control from the earliest age. Deleuze/Guattari’s project was beginning to trace this antagonistic relationship within an anti-philosophical framework, disturbing the surface tensions in it to bring forward the underlying non-signifying relations of its unconscious productivity in our cultural praxis. The difficulty lies not in language per se, but rather in its signifying and non-signifying layers. We are sorely in need of a theory of meaning, our metaphysical heritage works against conveying such thoughts beyond the encapsulated concepts that capture us. Term this “correlationsism” (Quentin Meillassoux) if you will, we are bound to the logics of noun/predicate: I and Thou… this whole metaphysical system of signs that cannot be exited or excluded without losing the very texture of the one thing we must have: communication. One begins with Two: this movement in-between two processes, two forms of communicative necessity. Whether the signals are bounded by electrical impulses or some other mechanism communication is the cornerstone. Influence is the key.
Communication as Influence
late 14c., an astrological term, “streaming ethereal power from the stars when in certain positions, acting upon character or destiny of men,” from Old French influence “emanation from the stars that acts upon one’s character and destiny” (13c.), also “a flow of water, a flowing in,” from Medieval Latin influentia “a flowing in” (also used in the astrological sense), from Latin influentem (nominative influens), present participle of influere “to flow into, stream in, pour in,” from in- “into, in, on, upon” (see in- (2)) + fluere “to flow” (see fluent).
The range of senses in Middle English were non-personal, in reference to any outflowing of energy that produces effect, of fluid or vaporous substance as well as immaterial or unobservable forces. Meaning “exertion of unseen influence by persons” is from 1580s (a sense already in Medieval Latin, for instance Aquinas); meaning “capacity for producing effects by insensible or invisible means” is from 1650s.
This sense of being influenced or of influencing is at the heart of this capture system of desire. A sense of a flowing in from the impersonal or noumenal alterity, regions of some inhuman realm were at the forefront of the older meaning of this term. Isn’t culture itself alien to the creature born into the world? Do we come already equipped with the structural capacity to learn language and enter into the relations with others as a part of our animal heritage or not? Theories of language abound, and all of them hinge on this structural question. Most of this has been of late dismissed. The debates on the supposed Linguistic Turn are seen as passé and offer no further vision or revision. Yet, nothing was ever concluded on the matter. It’s as muddled now as it was then in the structuralist and post-structuralist and deconstructive gang who ended it.
Philosophers have a built in anti-influence antipathy for their immediate predecessors to the point that when one brings up such thought one gets the slight nod, boredom sweep, and the typical refrain “That’s all over, now. Nothing new there. It’s all old hat.” As if there had been some definitive answer forthcoming from all this muddle, which of course is itself pure non-sense and aberration. Nothing was concluded in the now much vaunted post-modern turn, etc. As typical what’s happened is that a new generation in seeking to discover its own voice, its own place in the sun, ousts the parental authorities of the previous generation (usually by way of seeking authority figures in some farther back or previous generation of thinkers, etc.). No philosopher lives in a vacuum. There is no unique thought, ever. One is always re-beginning from some point in the cultural matrix of thought.
Theories of meaning begin and end with theories of influence. The ways in which one is influenced by the cultural world, and the way one in turn shapes and influences, disturbs that world. Although Harold Bloom’s abstruse and somewhat Romantic theories of influence are a muddle, he has at least opened the door onto the process itself. Bloom himself is very much captured by the whole metaphysical tradition I seek to escape and exit from, and yet there is much to learn in what he uncovered about influence. Philosophers like poets are influenced by each other, the in-roads between concepts and thought is something one can verify and trace methodically on a graph, down the pipe to certain well-trod sources. It’s not difficult. Obviously as the tradition grows what become more difficult is its encyclopedic breadth. One cannot encompass or read every work in the tradition anymore, one relies on short-cuts, filtered summations, the drift of import and transport that speaks to one’s perspective. One reads the extreme measure of what is both agreeable and in opposition to one’s stance. But how did we get a stance in regards to this cultural matrix to begin with? What shaped us into our likes and dislikes? Family, education, local flavors of thought and culture? What?
These are the kinds of questions I’ve asked myself for years. When we speak of being human, of having a personality, a Self, etc. What do we mean by this? What is the traditions that have influenced and shaped such habits, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings (affects)? Most of the time we never stop and question why we think the way we do, nor why our thoughts come into conflict with others around us? We assume much, we assume we are the one’s holding the Truth… as if we just know things, when in fact what we know is something that influenced us, captured our minds, locked us into a fictional world or culture that spoke of its own truths, its own likes and dislikes. Love, hate, like, dislike… the capture systems of specific cultural frameworks. We are not ourselves, we are the mind’s of our culture. And, for the most part, ubiquitous. We never even question why we think the way we do, we just accept it as valid and move on. Never understanding we were shaped and influenced by invisible and immaterial relations that have repercussions in the material world around us. Do these thoughts come from the outside-in or the inside-out? On this hinges a two-thousand year old argument.
Trapped in the enemies house we seek an escape hatch, an exit point and find none. Or do we? How would it be possible to leave the cultural matrix one is trapped in? Would one begin first by inhabiting the enemy’s point of view, and seeing one’s alterity from there? Becoming the enemy of one’s perspective, tracing the vectors of uninhibited desire through the logics of the trap? Disturbing the enemy’s sleep from within the circle of power, language?
Self-consciousness is reached not through confrontation with the other and subsequent self-return but through temporarily occupying, as dramatized by the Tupian cannibalistic sacrificial rituals that this book’s title references, the enemy’s point of view, and seeing “oneself” from there. 1
But what does one see when there is no ‘self’ there? What image in the mirror returns in the enemy’s colors? To dance with the enemy is to become the enemy, or are we merely playing with a false image, a copy, a simulacrum? Ontology, flat or otherwise, lives in a cage of Being without outlet. This is no escape hatch into alterity, only the great labyrinth within which Derrida in all his ironizing lost his way among the mazings of différends. This is the alterity of endless ironies, not the movement of the real and change. As Nick Land reminds us:
This is not only a matter of ontotheology being rooted in a specific amnesia. A delirium integral to the western graphic order implies, more radically, that any possible history must arise out of the forgetting (or secondary repression) of a constitutive arche-amnesia (the ellipsis integral to inscription). Klossowski has even been led to suggest that western science is aphasic, because it is initiated in the default of a foundational discourse. This default is not merely a passively accepted pathology, it is an inscribed, prescribed, or actively administered pharmaco-pathology. The response of the West to the writing of itself has been that of a poisoning. This is why the fact that Selanna substitutes for a delirium without origin – which is equally a delirium of origins – seems to resonate with what Derrida entitles an aggression pharmakographique.2
This sense of the West’s “writing of itself” as poison is Stiegler’s process of Pharmakon as grammatization,
I call grammatisation the process whereby the flux and flow networking our existences become discreet elements: writing is thus, as the breaking into discreet elements of the flux of speech a stage in grammatisation. Now, the process of grammatisation, which is the dawn of the industrial revolution, certainly surpasses the sphere of language, one wants to say that the same thing happens to the sphere of logos, and invades the sphere of the body, first and foremost the gestures of workers which are discredited in view of their automatic reproduction while at the same time the machines and apparatuses of reproducibilities of the visible and the audible appear on the scene. This grammatisation of gesture which is the key to what Marx describes as the process of proletarianization that is to say is the loss of knowledge and of know-how, and which continues with cognitive technologies as the grammatisation of all kinds of knowledge in general, including linguistic knowledge now transformed into technologies and industries of language. But also the knowledge inherent in what can remain in French as savoir vivre, that is to say behavior in general. From user profiling to the grammatisation of affects as cognition of emotions, leading to what is known today as cognitive capitalism, which is also cultural capitalism, which I analyze elsewhere as hyper industrial cognitive capitalism, where new forms of transductive relations between process of psychic, social, technical and scientific individuation are seen to appear.3
Culture is an abstract writing machine whose production is us, a story whose plot is not discernable on the surface but rather is the surface as its ubiquitous and aggressive formatting in operative mode. We are written even as we write and inscribe and influence each other. Capitalism is an abstract machine whose power gained over bodies and to this extent as disciplinary society has focused, rapidly becomes a dispositif in the control of consciousness and ultimately of the unconscious of individuals that is to say of that which assures the composition of consciousness and the body. Capitalism thus mutates from disciplinary societies to control societies as Deleuze says. And, yet, the unconscious is uncontrollable and is the one thing that has escaped capture up till now. Now we are entering the neuroengineerd society, a society and cultural logics in which the last bastion of independence is becoming itself trapped in the apparatus of capture. Stiegler will describe this in his formula: the new formula which connects and disconnects power, knowledge and will while grammatising them at the same time is what leads to uncontrollable societies by producing essentially powerlessness of the rational. (ibid.) Or, as Land more efficiently explicated: “The response of the West to the writing of itself has been that of a poisoning.” This slow and methodical self-destruction at the very hands of our own accumulation of knowledge and power is the ironic twist in the apocalyptic messages that strewn our current malaise.
R. Scott Bakker in his short story “Crash Space” (pdf) will fictionalize this process of poisoning. Even his famed fantasy series – two trilogy’s at this time, is an grand portrayal of this poisoning at the hands of Culture. As Scott will put it:
The problem with writing is that it is competitive precisely in Krakauer’s sense: it’s a ladder we cannot kick away. What Plato could not foresee, of course, was the way writing would fundamentally transform human cognitive ecology. … Since our growing cognitive dependency on our technology always involves trade-offs, it should remain an important concern (as it clearly seems to be, given the endless stream of works devoted to the downside of this or that technology in this or that context). The dependency we really need to worry about, however, is our cognitive biological dependency on ancestral environmental correlations, simply because we have good reason to believe those cognitive ecologies will very soon cease to exist. Human cognition is thoroughly heuristic, which is to say, thoroughly dependent on cues reliably correlated to whatever environmental system requires solution. AI constitutes a particular threat because no form of human cognition is more heuristic, more cue dependent, than social cognition. Humans are very easily duped into anthropomorphizing given the barest cues, let alone processes possessing AI.
All of our linguistic markers are keyed to a natural world that is in our time being replaced by an artificial cognitive environment, we are disconnecting from the natural and plugging into the artificial. One could say the hopes of neuroscientists of the naturalization of the mind, is in deed and fact actually its complete artificialization. Which as Scott concludes is to realize that our dependency on natural cues for our cognitive capacities is being cut and spliced by our very toxic abstract machines, and in the process will unmake the very conceptual and heuristic resources that bound us to the natural world. In this sense we are now unbinding the Void.
- Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. Cannibal Metaphysics (Univocal) (Kindle Locations 97-100). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
- Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 1282-1289). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
- Stiegler, Bernard. Individuation, hypomnemata and grammatization. http://www.2nd.moscowbiennale.ru/en/stiegler_report_en/