Zizek on Lacan & Karl Popper

For Lacan, the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real are the three fundamental dimensions in which a human being dwells. The Imaginary dimension is our direct lived experience of reality, but also of our dreams and nightmares – it is the domain of appearing, of how things appear to us. The Symbolic dimension is what Lacan calls the ‘big Other,’ the invisible order that structures our experience of reality, the complex network of rules and meanings which makes us see what we see the way we see it (and what we don’t see the way we don’t see it). The Real, however, is not simply external reality; it is rather, as Lacan put it, ‘impossible’: something which can neither be directly experienced nor symbolized – like a traumatic encounter of extreme violence which destabilizes our entire universe of meaning. As such, the Real can only be discerned in its traces, effects or aftershocks.

This triad is far from exclusively Lacanian – another version of it was proposed by Karl Popper (1902– 94) in his theory of the Third World (which is Popper’s name for the symbolic dimension or order).  Popper became aware that the usual classification of all phenomena into external material reality (from atoms to arms) and our inner psychic reality (of emotions, wishes, experiences) is not enough: ideas we talk about are not just passing thoughts in our minds, since these thoughts refer to something which remains the same while our thoughts pass away or change (when I think about 2 + 2 = 4 and my colleague thinks about it, we are thinking about the same thing, although our thoughts are materially different; when, in a conversation, a group of people talk about a triangle, they somehow talk about the same thing). Popper is, of course, not an Idealist: ideas do not exist independently of our minds, they are the result of our mental operations , but they are nonetheless not directly reducible to them – they possess a minimum of ideal objectivity. It is in order to capture this realm of ideal objects that Popper coined the term ‘Third World,’ and this Third World vaguely fits the Lacanian ‘big Other’. However, the word ‘order’ should not lead us astray here: Lacan’s symbolic order is not a fixed network of ideal categories or norms. The standard deconstructionist/ feminist reproach to the Lacanian theory targets its alleged implicit normative content: Lacan’s notion of the Name-of-the-Father, the agent of the symbolic Law which regulates sexual difference, allegedly introduces a norm which, even if it is never fully actualized, nonetheless imposes a standard on sexuality, somehow excluding those who occupy a marginal position (gays, transsexuals, etc.); furthermore, this norm is clearly historically conditioned, it is not a universal feature of being human, as Lacan allegedly claims. However, this reproach to Lacan relies on confusion apropos the word ‘order’ in the phrase ‘symbolic order’:

‘Order,’ in the legitimate sense of the term, designates nothing more than a specific domain: it does not indicate an order to be respected or obeyed, and even less an ideal to be conformed to or a harmony. The symbolic in Lacan’s sense says nothing but the essential disorder which emerges at the juncture of language and the sexual.

The Lacanian symbolic order is thus inherently inconsistent, antagonistic, flawed, ‘barred,’ an order of fictions whose authority is that of a fraud. It is on account of this inconsistency that, for Lacan, the three dimensions of Imaginary, Real and Symbolic are worlds intertwined like the famous Escher drawing ‘Waterfall,’ which shows a perpetually descending circuit of water. Our question here is: what type of event fits each of these dimensions? What is an imaginary event, a real event, a symbolic event? The question is so vast that we cannot deal with it in one stop – we have to change lines and make three connections from this stop.1

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-08-26). Event: A Philosophical Journey Through A Concept (p. 107-108). Melville House. Kindle Edition.

Slavoj Zizek: Thought of the Day

At first approach, an event is thus the effect that seems to exceed its causes – and the space of an event is that which opens up by the gap that separates an effect from its causes . Already with this approximate definition, we find ourselves at the very heart of philosophy, since causality is one of the basic problems philosophy deals with: are all things connected with causal links? Does everything that exists have to be grounded in sufficient reasons? Or are there things that somehow happen out of nowhere? How, then, can philosophy help us to determine what an event – an occurrence not grounded in sufficient reasons – is and how it is possible?


Our first tentative definition of event as an effect which exceeds its causes thus brings us back to an inconsistent multiplicity: is an event a change in the way reality appears to us, or is it a shattering transformation of reality itself? Does philosophy reduce the autonomy of an event or can it account for this very autonomy? So again: is there a way to introduce some order into this conundrum? The obvious procedure would have been to classify events into species and sub-species – to distinguish between material and immaterial events, between artistic, scientific, political and intimate events, etc. However, such an approach ignores the basic feature of an event: the surprising emergence of something new which undermines every stable scheme. The only appropriate solution is thus to approach events in an evental way – to pass from one to another notion of event by way of bringing out the pervading deadlocks of each, so that our journey is one through the transformations of universality itself, coming close – so I hope – to what Hegel called ‘concrete universality,’ a universality ‘which is not just the empty container of its particular content, but which engenders this content through the deployment of its immanent antagonisms, deadlocks and inconsistencies’.

– Slavoj Zizek, Event: A Philosophical Journey Through A Concept

The Phaedo: (Part Two) The Art of Recollection

…such is also the case if that theory is true that you are accustomed to mention frequently, that for us learning is no other than recollection. According to this, we must at some previous time have learned what we now recollect. This is possible only if our soul existed somewhere before it took on this human shape. So according to this theory too, the soul is likely to be something immortal.

– Plato, The Pheado

Cebes friend, Simmias, will ask him to recount this strange truth so that he might remember the details more clearly. Cebes will continue telling Simmias that there is an old argument that if a person is interrogated correctly they will always give the right answer of their own accord. Why? Because as he states it “they could not do this if they did not possess the knowledge and the right explanation inside them”.1 This notion that we are born with all the knowledge we need, that knowledge is immanent to the mind continues from Socrates previous apology that everything comes out of its opposite: life out of death, and death out of life, etc. (as we saw in the previous post). As Iain Hamilton Grant (Idealist) will affirm in the excellent Idealism: A History of a Philosophy: this is a Platonism of “immanent law” or causal efficacy:

The world of change, birth and decay is not a world causally isolated from that of Ideas since, as the Phaedo, for instance, makes clear, the Idea has as its nature to be causal in respect to becoming.2

The main point of Grant and his cohorts is that against the two-worlds theory of Platonism espoused by most detractors of Idealism, based on a notion of the abstract universal, they will affirm instead a one-world Idealism based on Hegel’s notion of the “concrete universal”:

…or the whole determined by the particulars it generates and the differentiate it in turn, is the Idea exactly as Platonism conceived it: as the cause of the approximations of becomings to particular forms, and as the “setting into order of this universe” from disorder (ataxia), as organization (ibid. p. 8).

As Socrates, Cebes, and Simmias discuss this strange anomaly of recollection of knowledge from previous lives one wonders why none of them asks the simple question: Why should knowledge come by way of recollection? Why not that the senses and our struggle with things around us provide this ability to gain knowledge not as recollection but as invention. But they never discuss this because for Plato the senses and the body are anathema to any form of acquiring knowledge, instead as Socrates (Plato’s mouthpiece) will say: “our souls also existed apart from the body before they took on human form, and they had intelligence” (KL 2350).

It is at this point that Plato’s Socrates will make his bid against Grant and company for a two-world Platonism:

If those realities we are always talking about exist, the Beautiful and the Good and all that kind of reality, and we refer all the things we perceive to that reality, discovering that it existed before and is ours, and we compare these things with it, then, just as they exist, so our soul must exist before we are born. If these realities do not exist, then this argument is altogether futile. Is this the position, that there is an equal necessity for those realities to exist, and for our souls to exist before we were born? If the former do not exist, neither do the latter? (KL 2356-2360)

The point here is that these other realities exist independent of our physical world, and that everything we see in this physical realm is referred to that other reality as something that comes before and after our sojourn here in this realm. What’s interesting is that just at this point Plato realizes he’s just worked himself into a corner with no way out, and instead of resolving this dilemma he closes it off:

I do not think, Socrates, said Simmias, that there is any possible doubt that it is equally necessary for both to exist, and it is opportune that our argument comes to the conclusion that our soul exists before we are born, and equally so that reality of which you are now speaking. (KL 2360-2362)

So without proof other than the rhetoric of recollection he leaves it at that, as if no one will “doubt” his wonderful argument. As Plato’s Socrates will so eloquently put it in such dogmatic terms: “Nothing is so evident to me personally as that all such things must certainly exist, the Beautiful, the Good, and all those you mentioned just now. I also think that sufficient proof of this has been given.” (KL 2362-2364)

It’s at this juncture that things get tricky for Old Plato, for he will have Socrates juxtapose things of the senses against things of the mind comparing the former as things that always change, and the latter as things that never change but always stay in the same state:

These latter you could touch and see and perceive with the other senses, but those that always remain the same can be grasped only by the reasoning power of the mind? They are not seen but are invisible? (KL 2405-2406)

Then will come the question from Cebes: “Do you then want us to assume two kinds of existences, the visible and the invisible?” And, Socrates: “Let us assume this.” If this isn’t a two-world thesis, then what is? This division of visible/invisible or in Kantian terms phenomenal/noumenal cannot be more clear. But let’s listen further. At this point Socrates will initiate his famous body/soul dualism arguing that that the body is of the visible, while the soul of the invisible, etc., and that the body always changes, while the soul stays the same through all the bodily changes, etc.  Then the litany of tropes opposing the soul as master over the body: “the soul is most like the divine, deathless, intelligible, uniform, indissoluble, always the same as itself, whereas the body is most like that which is human, mortal, multiform, unintelligible, soluble and never consistently the same.” (KL 2440-2441)

And again Socrates will tie this all back to his original theme of the undying immortal soul that leaves mortal death behind, and that philosophy is nothing if it is not a “training for death”:

if it is pure when it leaves the body and drags nothing bodily with it, as it had no willing association with the body in life, but avoided it and gathered itself together by itself and always practiced this, which is no other than practising philosophy in the right way, in fact,  training to die easily. Or is this not training for death? (KL 2453-2455) A soul in this state makes its way to the invisible, which is like itself, the divine and immortal and wise, and arriving there it can be happy, having rid itself of confusion, ignorance, fear, violent desires and the other human ills and, as is said of the initiates, truly spend the rest of time with the gods.(KL 2456-2458)

Plato must have been happy with himself coming to this conclusion so succinctly. Finally the release from the disgusting bodily life he’d so hated for so long. Having his mentor spout a new credo of release: the purification of the mind from its entrapment in the illusory world, etc. I could imagine a self-satisfying smug smile on his face when he first read this work at the Academy, his students mesmerized by this wonderful news. And, yet, it wouldn’t have been so bad if Plato would’ve stopped there, but no he wants to get even with all those fierce sensualists and politicians, war-mongers, and physicalists and lovers of the body, placing them in the unenviable situation of becoming incarcerated ghosts wandering the graveyard of time forever:

We must believe, my friend, that this bodily element is heavy, ponderous, earthy and visible. Through it, such a soul has become heavy and is dragged back to the visible region in fear of the unseen and of Hades. It wanders, as we are told, around graves and monuments, where shadowy phantoms, images that such souls produce, have been seen, souls that have not been freed and purified but share in the visible, and are therefore seen. (KL 2467-2470)

This notion of the impure dead ones, the ones not worthy of life with the gods in some divine realm of purity, but caught in the impure stasis of their impure acts, caged in the interminable realms between Hades and Life, only able to project images on the screen of reality seen by the living, etc. Plato was a sadist at heart. One can see why the early Church Fathers loved this sort of thing. And, again, he will make even a further distinction, that it is only the philosophers who have practiced Plato’s divine art that will enter into the glorious realms:

No one may join the company of the gods who has not practiced philosophy and is not completely pure when he departs from life, no one but the lover of learning. It is for this reason, my friends Simmias and Cebes, that those who practice philosophy in the right way keep away from all bodily passions, master them and do not surrender themselves to them… (KL 2487)

One can see why the Stoics and the Medieval Church so loved this philosopher of the divine against the sensual, etc. This hatred of the flesh and mortality would define philosophy of two-millennia, with those on one side or the other of the debate. No wonder Plato denied even mentioning Democritus, who was called the “happy philosopher” and diametrically opposed such notions of the immortal soul with his own belief in the mortal soul, which even Aristotle, Plato’s antagonistic pupil, would take up and champion.  

This is where we come upon Plato’s Socrates statement at its most Buddhistic, and I quote at length:

The lovers of learning know that when philosophy gets hold of their soul, it is imprisoned in and clinging to the body, and that it is forced to examine other things through it as through a cage and not by itself, and that it wallows in every kind of ignorance. Philosophy sees that the worst feature of this imprisonment is that it is due to desires, so that the prisoner himself is contributing to his own incarceration most  of all. As I say, the lovers of learning know that philosophy gets hold of their soul when it is in that state, then gently encourages it and tries to free it by showing them that investigation through the eyes is full of deceit, as is that through the ears and the other senses. Philosophy then persuades the soul to withdraw from the senses in so far as it is not compelled to use them and bids the soul to gather itself together by itself, to trust only itself and whatever reality, existing by itself, the soul by itself understands, and not to consider as true whatever it examines by other means, for this is different in different circumstances and is sensible and visible, whereas what the soul itself sees is intelligible and invisible. The soul of the true philosopher thinks that this deliverance must not be opposed and so keeps away from pleasures and desires and pains as far as he can; he reflects that violent pleasure or pain or passion does not cause merely such evils as one might expect, such as one suffers when one has been sick or extravagant  through desire, but the greatest and most extreme evil, though one does not reflect on this. (KL 2496-2507)

Again philosophy for Plato became this path of teaching the slow withdrawal from the world of the body and senses into the soul’s realm of pure truth, mind, reality, etc., along with his instigation of a normative vision of purification by way of denying bodily pleasures, desires, and pain, etc. The Philosopher as an ascetic creature of moderation and passionless existence based on the purity of contemplation. One wonders where Plato learned such dark dualisms and moralism’s, such hatred of the flesh and of life? Was he after all a student of Orpheus and the Orphics? A mystagogue in the guise of a philosopher: a teacher of death rather than life? Yes, for in this mid part of the dialogue we come to another closure in which Socrates will reiterate that the path of the lover of learning or philosopher as envisioned by Plato “achieves a calm from such emotions; it follows reason and ever stays with it contemplating the true, the divine, which is not the object of opinion. Nurtured by this, it believes that one should live in this manner as long [b] as one is alive and, after death, arrive at what is akin and of the same kind, and escape from human evils” (KL 2522-2524).

This is part two of three on the Phaedo…. (post one)

1. Plato; Cooper, John M.; Hutchinson, D. S. (2011-08-25). Complete Works (Kindle Locations 2254-2256). Hackett Publishing. Kindle Edition.
2. Idealism: The History of a Philosophy. Dunham, Grant, Watson editors. (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011)

The Phaedo: The Art of Dying

I am afraid that other people do not realize that the one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death.

Plato, Phaedo

In my pursuit of tracing down the battles of philosophy between the Parmedian (Idealist) and Democretian (Materialist) traditions there is probably no better place to start than with Plato’s great manifesto on the Art of Dying: the Phaedo.

Plato found the body disgusting and a detriment to the pursuit of reality and truth. His hatred of the senses and the physical realm of bodily pleasure is well known. It is this long shadow of Plato’s conceptions of reality and truth that still haunt philosophy like an insidious worm that gnaws at its entrails. His belief in an immortal soul that could be slowly purified of the senses and raised to know the truth is at the heart of this so called Art of Dying:

“There is likely to be something such as a path to guide us out of our confusion, because as long as we have a body and our soul is fused with such an evil we shall never adequately attain what we desire, which we affirm to be the truth.”1

This notion that the truth will never be attained through the senses is at the core of Plato’s dialogue in the Phaedo, along with the ensuing notion that there is a true art of philosophy and that Plato himself can teach it through the imaginative figure of his fictional Socrates. He will place a high price on this acetic practice of attaining truth through purity and against the body and all its desires: “if we are ever to have pure knowledge, [e] we must escape from the body and observe things-in-themselves with the soul by itself.”2 (One wonders if the old Kant was looking at this passage when he forever closed the door on things-in-themselves”; the noumenal realm? Closing us off in finitude, limited to intuition and the curse of the body, etc.)

Plato through the mouth of his figural Socrates on his deathbed will promote this practice of purification as the only possible way to truth: “[a]nd does purification not turn out to be what we mentioned in our argument some time ago, namely, to separate the soul as far as possible from the body and accustom it to gather itself and collect itself out of [d] every part of the body and to dwell by itself as far as it can both now and in the future, freed, as it were, from the bonds of the body?” This art of dying well is actually an apology for suicide, which is the point Socrates makes with his friends. The idea that it “is only those who practice philosophy in the right way, we say, who always most want to free the soul; and this release and separation of the soul from the body is the preoccupation of the philosophers?”4

The whole opening of the Phaedo is Socrates’s apology against resentment, against resenting dying and death; instead, for Socrates we should affirm death and dying as the ultimate goal of philosophy and wisdom: the purification of the mind in truth. Reading the Phaedo one gets the feeling that Plato is more of an Orphic Priest than a philosopher, and that his philosophy is not truly about understanding truth as it is a spiritual practice and path to purification and transcendence rather than philosophy as we’ve come to know it. Of course one can point to such books as Algis Uzdavinys’s Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism that affirm that as the central tenet of Plato’s program, etc., and that the Phaedo is the first manifesto of this new praxis: the Orphico-Pythagorean soteriological manifesto.5 As Uzdavinys reminds us, for Plato “the souls of pious philosophers (the knowers of Ideas, or Forms) are purified of the mortal body and thereby join the immortal gods” (76-77).

Plato’s Socrates will admit: “

Will then a true lover of wisdom, who has a similar hope and knows that he will never find it to any extent except in Hades, be resentful of dying and not gladly undertake the journey thither?6

At every point Plato will pit the “lover of wisdom” against the  “lover of the body” as if to have been born were itself the most heinous of crimes against the gods. Yet, this would also be false, because for Plato humans are and will remain slaves of the gods, subordinated to their hierarchical dictates.7 Against the lovers of body these lovers of wisdom will enact moderation, courage, and justice; and, most of all they will enact wisdom, which “itself is a kind of cleansing or purification”.8 Plato will even buy into the Orphic mythologies and their mystics, saying: “

It is likely that those who established the mystic rites for us were not inferior persons but were speaking in riddles long ago when they said that whoever arrives in the underworld uninitiated and unsanctified will wallow in the mire, whereas he who arrives there purified and initiated will dwell with the gods.9

 This opposition of the uninitiated and unsanctified “lovers of the body”, against the purified and initiated “lovers of wisdom” is central to his program attack on the Athenians of his day who killed or murdered Socrates. For the Phaedo above all things is a final tribute to his master, Socrates. A promissory note marking both goodbye and Plato’s own manifesto and stretching of his young wings toward his own projects.  

After the long defense and preamble of Socrates defending dying and death, initiation and the purification of the soul of the body his friend Cebes will tell him that it is all good and well but that most people will not get it, that most people will plainly disagree with Socrates and argue for the mortality of the soul along with the body rather than the immortal transcension of the soul into a realm of wisdom, saying, of the soul that

…after it has left the body it no longer exists anywhere, but that it is destroyed and dissolved on the day the man dies, as soon as it leaves the body; and that, on leaving it, it is dispersed like breath or smoke, has flown away and gone and is no longer anything anywhere.10

Socrates for his part will begin a discussion on causality (i.e., whence the emergence of humans, animals, plants, etc. in the world?) Everything that is or comes to be must come out of it’s opposite will be his starting point in the discussion. Old Socrates once again is shown to be a master of rhetoric and dialectic in these passages, as if he’d finally succumbed to the art of the Sophist and Dialectician, leading poor Cebes through a gallery of objects that arise out of their opposite, and coming to a final resolution of life arising out of death and vice versa:

What comes to be from being alive? Being dead.
And what comes to be from being dead?
One must agree that it is being alive.
Then, Cebes, living creatures and things come to be from the dead?11

Poor Cebes seems so befuddled at this point that his question seems more tentative as if he were in a state of utter confusion and was unsure if he had just been tricked by Socrates or not. Socrates, ever the rhetorician, outdoes all Sophists everywhere with his dialectical tricks. Yet, one wonders why he did not win his freedom from the Athenian judges? Or did he? Maybe the truth is that Plato’s Socrates always did want to be free in the Plato’s philosophical sense: of his own purification of the body and mind by way of death, etc. At least this is what Plato imagines for us. The actual Socrates of the body is gone beyond that strange shadow world forever. What remains is the fictions of Plato and others figural plays of rhetoric, pages filled with this mind that floats through time on the mind’s of those who have battled with such things: the philosophers.

In my next post I’ll take up the Phaedo again demarcating Plato’s emerging Theory of substantial forms or Ideas, etc.

1. Plato; Cooper, John M.; Hutchinson, D. S. (2011-08-25). Complete Works (Kindle Locations 2096-2098). Hackett Publishing. Kindle Edition.
2. ibid. (KL 2104-2105).
3. ibid. (KL 2118-2120).
4. ibid. (KL 2123-2124).
5. Algis Uzdavinys. Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism. (Matheson Trust, 2011)
6. ibid. (KL 2134-2135).
7. ibid. (KL 2139)
8. ibid. (KL 2163-2164)
9. ibid. (KL 2164-2166).
10. ibid. (KL 2174-2176).
11. ibid. (KL 2219-2222).

Slavoj Zizek: On Hegel’s Identity of Opposites

The same goes for crime and the law, for the passage from crime as the distortion (negation) of the law to crime as sustaining the law itself, that is, to the idea of the law itself as universalized crime. One should note that, in this notion of the negation of negation, the encompassing unity of the two opposed terms is the “lowest,” “transgressive,” one: it is not crime which is a moment of law’s self-mediation (or theft which is a moment of property’s self-mediation); the opposition of crime and law is inherent to crime, law is a subspecies of crime, crime’s self-relating negation (in the same way that property is theft’s self-relating negation).

A Habermasian “normative” approach imposes itself here immediately: how can we talk about crime if we do not have a prior notion of a legal order violated by the criminal transgression? In other words, is not the notion of law as universalized/ self-negated crime ultimately self-destructive ? But this is precisely what a properly dialectical approach rejects: what is before transgression is just a neutral state of things, neither good nor bad (neither property nor theft, neither law nor crime); the balance of this state is then violated, and the positive norm (law, property) arises as a secondary move, an attempt to counteract and contain the transgression. In Martin Cruz Smith’s novel Havana Bay, set in Cuba , a visiting American gets caught up in a high nomenklatura plot against Fidel Castro, but then discovers that the plot was organized by Castro himself. 30 Castro is well aware of the growing discontent with his rule even in the top circle of functionaries around him, so every couple of years his most trusted agent starts to organize a plot to overthrow him in order to entrap the discontented functionaries; just before the plot is supposed to be enacted, they are all arrested and liquidated. Why does Castro do this? He knows that the discontent will eventually culminate in a plot to depose him, so he organizes the plot himself to flush out potential plotters and eliminate them. What if we imagine God doing something similar? In order to prevent a rebellion against His rule by His creatures, He Himself— masked as the Devil— sets a rebellion in motion so that He can control it and crush it. But is this mode of the “coincidence of the opposites” radical enough? No, for a very precise reason: because Castro-God functions as the unity of himself (his regime) and his opposite (his political opponents), basically playing a game with himself. One has to imagine the same process under the domination of the opposite pole, as in the kind of paranoiac scenario often used in popular literature and films. For example: when the internet becomes infected by a series of dangerous viruses, a big digital company saves the day by creating the ultimate anti-virus program. The twist, however, is that this same company had manufactured the dangerous viruses in the first place— and the program designed to fight them is itself the virus that enables the company to control the entire network. Here we have a more accurate narrative version of the Hegelian identity of opposites.

V for Vendetta deploys a political version of this same identity. The film takes place in the near future when Britain is ruled by a totalitarian party called Norsefire; the film’s main protagonists are a masked vigilante known as “V” and Adam Sutler, the country’s leader. Although V for Vendetta was praised (by none other than Toni Negri, among others) and, even more so, criticized for its “radical”— pro-terrorist, even— stance, it does not have the courage of its convictions: in particular, it shrinks from drawing the consequences of the parallels between V and Sutler. 31 The Norsefire party , we learn, is the instigator of the terrorism it is fighting against—but what about the further identity of Sutler and V? We never see either of their faces in the flesh (except the scared Sutler at the very end, when he is about to die): we see Sutler only on TV screens, and V is a specialist in manipulating the screen. Furthermore , V’s dead body is placed on a train with explosives, in a kind of Viking funeral strangely evoking the name of the ruling party: Norsefire. So when Evey— the young girl (played by Natalie Portman) who joins V— is imprisoned and tortured by V in order to learn to overcome her fear and be free, does this not parallel what Sutler does to the entire British population, terrorizing them so that they rebel? Since the model for V is Guy Fawkes (he wears a Guy mask), it is all the more strange that the film refuses to draw the obvious Chestertonian lesson of its own plot: that of the ultimate identity of V and Sutler. (There is a brief hint in this direction in the middle of the film, but it remains unexploited.) In other words, the missing scene in the film is the one in which, when Evey removes the mask from the dying V, we see Sutler’s face. How would we have to read this identity? Not in the sense of a totalitarian power manipulating its own opposition, playing a game with itself by creating its enemy and then destroying it, but in the opposite sense: in the unity of Sutler and V, V is the universal encompassing moment that contains both itself and Sutler as its two moments. Applying this logic to God himself, we are compelled to endorse the most radical reading of the Book of Job proposed in the 1930s by the Norwegian theologian Peter Wessel Zapffe, who accentuated Job’s “boundless perplexity” when God himself finally appears to him.

Expecting a sacred and pure God whose intellect is infinitely superior to ours, Job finds himself confronted with a world ruler of grotesque primitiveness, a cosmic cave-dweller, a braggart and blusterer, almost agreeable in his total ignorance of spiritual culture …

What is new for Job is not God’s greatness in quantifiable terms; that he knew fully in advance … what is new is the qualitative baseness. In other words, God— the God of the Real— is like the Lady in courtly love, He is das Ding, a capricious cruel master who simply has no sense of universal justice . God-the-Father thus quite literally does not know what He is doing, and Christ is the one who does know, but is reduced to an impotent compassionate observer, addressing his father with “Father, can’t you see I’m burning?”— burning together with all the victims of the father’s rage. Only by falling into His own creation and wandering around in it as an impassive observer can God perceive the horror of His creation and the fact that He, the highest Law-giver, is Himself the supreme Criminal. Since God-the-Demiurge is not so much evil as a stupid brute lacking all moral sensitivity, we should forgive Him because He does not know what He is doing. In the standard onto-theological vision, only the demiurge elevated above reality sees the entire picture, while the particular agents caught up in their struggles have only partial misleading insights. At the core of Christianity, we find a different vision— the demiurge is a brute, unaware of the horror he has created, and only when he enters his own creation and experiences it from within, as its inhabitant, can he see the nightmare he has fathered.

Slavoj  Zizek, (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 269-271).

Adorno on Kant and Enlightenment (in 1959)

James Schmidt, Professor of History, Philosophy, and Political Science
Boston University, in this essay clears up some of the confusions and doubts that have for too long been cast on both Horkheimer, and especially Adorno’s work and their relations to Kant and the Enlightenment. Well worth the read… it may surprise you!
Schmidt brings clarity and insight in a way that sends you back to those originals to reread and rethink and re- see (not a revisioning, but rather an envisioning) just what they were up too. I’m glad to see Adorno’s work being investigated again. He’s had a great influence on my own thinking over the years (although I admit until recently I’d not reread his works ). I read him heavily for music theory and aesthetics in my younger years, but have of late been spending more time on the political, sociological, and philosophical tracts – along with many of the others of the Frankfurt Institute. Either way… read Schmidt, he has a keen eye and is a closer reader of this tradition he terms the Persistent Enlightenment!

Persistent Enlightenment

Over the last decade or so, the publication and translation of Michel Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France have led to a broader reconsideration of how his work ought to be understood. But, unless I’ve missed something, the publication and translation of Theodor Adorno’s lectures at the University for Frankfurt have generated considerably less interest.0804744262 In part, the difference is not entirely surprising. Foucault’s influence has, if anything, grown since his death, while Adorno’s work tends to be regarded with an ambivalence tempered by incomprehension. But the neglect of Adorno’s Frankfurt lecture is unfortunate, if only because (as is also the case with Foucault’s lectures) they sometimes help us to avoid misunderstanding what he was trying to accomplish in his published work. For example, consider his 1959 lectures on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and, in particular, the discussion of Kant’s relationship to the Enlightenment.1 What we find…

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The Aphorisms of Adorno: In The Face of Despair

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption.

– Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

Having been a fan of the aphoristic style ever since reading Nietzsche as a young man it was a pleasant surprise to refresh my mind with Theodor W. Adorno’s Minima Moralia which of course he began during WWII and its aftermath. The cynicism and despair of the world, of the bourgeoisie, of the fabled hopes of communism – all these become so much bittersweet castigations and incriminations in this deft text. I’m almost hard put to find someone, even E.M. Cioran, who was more bitter and spiteful about his lot – maybe, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes? Yes, this is a work of solitude, of one who has read too long, hoped too well, fallen from the grace of his own being.

Most of the basic triggers, the subjects or objects of his titles are but sparks of spite, goads of a dark intent… yet, intent is not the correct term, for there is no directedness in this, no sense of attentive appraisal with a goal in mind, rather we have the full stop, the judgment of history itself using Adorno’s pen like a saber to cut through the knots of some Gordian priesthood’s mythical attachment to power. No. Adorno could care less of his audience, this is a personal book, a book of meditations on a culture of death, a culture that has, frankly, imploded and is now on the verge to total apocalypse.

He begins with a high point in bourgeois culture, with the author of that book of memory and time, Marcel Proust. Yet, it is not Marcel to which he speaks, rather this is a meditation of bourgeois culture itself, its disdain of such beings as Marcel. “It is not merely that his independence is envied, the seriousness of his intentions mistrusted, and that he is suspected of being a secret envoy of the establishment powers. Such suspicions, though betraying a deep-seated resentment, would usually prove well-founded. But the real resistances lie elsewhere.” Already Adorno sets the stage, reminds us that this is an investigation not into the particular characters, not a moraliste – an aphoristic study in the morality of an age, rather it is an investigation into the structure and the actual material energies that brought such things to pass. It is about power and control, about the machine of civilization itself in the hands of Capital: “The urge to suspend the division of labour which, within certain limits, his economic situation enables him to satisfy, is thought particularly disreputable: it betrays a disinclination to sanction the operations imposed by society, and domineering competence per- mits no such idiosyncrasies. The departmentalization of mind is a means of abolishing mind where it is not exercised ex officio, under contract.” Summing up those like Marcel, who have dared to retreat, dared to escape the machine, to hide out and seek refuge from the hard worlds of work and late capitalism were at last neither envied nor praise, but were judged as expendable: “It is as if the class from which independent intellectuals have defected takes its revenge, by pressing its demands home In the very domain where the deserter seeks refuge.”

And don’t expect that powerhouse of the bourgeoisie, the family, to escape the eye of this harbinger of the demise of Capital: “Our relationship to parents is beginning to undergo a sad, shadowy transformation. Through their economic impotence they have lost their awesomeness. … With the demise of the family there passes away, while the system lasts, not only the most effective agency of the bourgeoisie, but also the resistance which, though repressing the individual, also strengthened, perhaps even produced him.” One remembers that this was written at a time when the institution of the family attacked by the modernists had at last begun to fall away. Women were working in factories, becoming more independent – so to speak, for the truth was that the capitalists needed them out of the home and working alongside men to get ready for that new consumerist economy that was in the offing. So that it was the capitalists themselves that brought about the demise of this fabled institution of the family. But it would loosen desires and strange new illnesses never before seen, schizophrenia would run rampant across the earth like a desiring-machine that had no center: and, it didn’t, the family Oedipal authority was vanishing, the power that had kept this machine under control was dissolving and allowing all the forces latent in this tribal time between times to vacate the rational hold of its caged existence. One need not read Deleuze and Guattari or R.D. Laing to see that as women escaped the bond of the family circle the men went ape, lost their center, their mother, not their father – the drift of this disconnect loosened those bonds around the hearth fires that had stilled the beast. As Adorno would remark: “The rising collectivist order is a mockery of a classless one: together with the bourgeois it liquidates the Utopia that once drew sustenance from motherly love.”

So Adorno was a pop-psychologist, too. Zizek before Žižek – a sort of non-Lacanian mode of analysis, a critical gaze on the failure of the Enlightenment to stay the tide against barbarism. “Since the all-embracing distributive machinery of highly-concentrated industry has superseded the sphere of circulation, the latter has begun a strange post-existence.” The wheels-within-wheels are churning, but going nowhere, while capitalism unbound from its purpose accelerates out of control toward the abyss: “The irrationality of the system is expressed scarcely less clearly in the parasitic psychology of the individual than in his economic fate.” And, the whole notion that there is a private sphere, that an individual could actually have a home, a family, a wife and kids, a place to spend time and energy: “Today it is seen as arrogant, alien and improper to engage in private activity without any evident ulterior motive.” This is a time of probabilities, of calculations, of the mathematical engineering of a planned society, the construction of a free market. The new Spirit of Capitalism: “The evil principle that was always latent in affability unfurls its full bestiality in the egalitarian spirit. Condescension, and thinking oneself no better, are the same. To adapt to the weakness of the oppressed is to affirm in it the pre-condition of power, and to develop in oneself the coarseness, insensibility and violence needed to exert domination.”

Adorno doesn’t leave the Left out of the bag either, his admonitions of those who seek to sympathize, to enter into and live in the midst of these societies (and where else would we live now?) must beware of the temptation to detach oneself, to become indifferent and aloof, to think that one can create a life in a pocket of safety: “He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his aitique of society as an ideology for his private interest. While he gropingly forms his own life in the frail image of a true existence, he should never forget its frailty, nor how little the image is a substitute for true life.” Even with the best intentions the new intellectual, the Marxist in hiding, the agitator, the worker in transit who assumes the mantle of the critical enterprise should beware in this time of laxity and hedonistic implication: “We shudder at the brutalization of life, but lacking any objectively binding morality we are forced at every step into actions and words, into calculations that are by humane standards barbaric, and even by the dubious values of good society, tactless.”

The dark undertow of the oppressed harbors a special place in the memory system that was Adorno: “The dialectic stems from the sophists; it was a mode of discussion whereby dogmatic assertions were shaken and, as the public prosecutors and comic writers put it, the lesser word made the stronger. It subsequently developed, as against philosophia perennis, into a perennial method of criticism, a refuge for all the thoughts of the oppressed, even those unthought by them.” The negative dialectic unlike its progenitors became in the hands of Adorno an acid bath in which late capitalism was thrown, yet as in all things he knew it would leave bones – and, as we all know, bones can rise and live again: “Negative philosophy, dissolving everything, dissolves even the dissolvent. But the new form in which it claims to suspend and preserve both, dissolved and dissolvent, can never emerge in a pure state from an antagonistic society.” Yet, even the negative is not immune from the enslavement of hell’s own brood: “[Negative dialectic] But it is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes a standpoint removed, even though by a hait’s breadth, from the scope of existence, whereas we well know that any possible knowledge must not only be first wrested from what is, ifit shall hold good, but is also marked, for this very reason, by the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to escape.”

But what to do? How to live? “The only responsible course is to deny oneself the ideological misuse of one’s own existence, and for the rest to conduct oneself in private as modestly, unobtrusively and unpretentiously as is required, no longer by good upbringing, but by the shame of still having air to breathe, in hell.” Yet, even envious demons – like the cowards they are, run rampant in the visible darkness of this hollow cave, and like celebrants in a Burning Man festival, they spin their unlucky nights under false stars navel-gazing, not realizing that hell never ends but only burns deeper and redder as the noise drowns out all thought of escape.

– Theodor W. Adorno. Minima Moralia. (Suhrkamp Verlag 1951)

Lucretius and The Making of Modernity

Karl Marx would relate in his essay on French Materialsm the “overthrow of the metaphysics of the seventeenth century could be explained from the materialistic theory of the eighteenth century only in so far as this theoretical movement was itself explicable by the practical shape of the French life of that time. This life was directed to the immediate present, to worldly enjoyment and worldly interests, to the secular world. It was inevitable that anti-theological, anti-metaphysical, materialistic theories should correspond to its anti-theological, anti-metaphysical, its materialistic practice. In practice metaphysics had lost all credit.”

In our time we’ve seen a resurgence in the other direction which seems to me a dangerous reversion to pre-critical thinking and practice. What was it that brought us to the materialist vision of reality and life to begin with? What seemed so attractive to those of the past few centuries that materialism came to the for rather than the continued dogmatic imposition of theology, metaphysics, and the humanist traditions? We see in such works as Words of Life: New Theological Turns in French Phenomenology (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy) by Bruce Ellis Benson we see such philosophers as -Luc Marion, Jean-Yves Lacoste, Kevin Hart, Anthony J. Steinbock, Jeffrey Bloechl, Jeffrey L. Kosky, Clayton Crockett, Brian Treanor, and Christina Gschwandtner, Dominique Janicaud, Jean-Francois Courtine, Jean-Louis Chrtien, Michel Henry, Jean-Luc Marion, and Paul Ricoeur all enquiring into and revitalizing theological notions, concepts, and frameworks in their own theories and practices. And that’s just in the world of French philosophy and phenomenology in particular. I could name philosopher after philosopher from the Continental and even American Analytical streams who seem to be teasing with this supposed theological turn in philosophy.

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Do Mental States Exist? – The Problem of Intentionality

Maybe I should rephrase it this way: Does the Mind even Exist? Why not the brain only? Reading Philosophy of Mind you get the itchy feeling that these philosophers, who spend so much time trying to understand the Mind-Brain correlations that one wonders if the effort is at all worth it. What if all we have is the brain itself doing what it does moment by moment, processing the environment, analyzing its findings, then making decisions based on its own intricate evolutionary needs. What if the Mind is just an illusion of the philosophers? I mean we’ve built up over centuries all these accrued correlations between the brain and mind just to prove the Mind exists. But what if we were wrong, what if all this work is just a lot of bickering over nothing. What if the Mind is in itself just an empty philosophical category filled with illusionary propaganda of the philosophers?

What set me off on this tangent is trying to understand whether ‘mental states’ exist or not, and if they don’t then why is there so many philosophers still hooked to the notion of intentionality? It was Betrand Russell who gave a specific name to these mental states, he referred to them as propositional verbs or “propositional attitudes”:

What sort of name shall we give to verbs like ‘believe’ and ‘wish’ and so forth? I should be inclined to call them ‘propositional verbs’. This is merely a suggested name for convenience, because they are verbs which have the form of relating an object to a proposition. As I have been explaining, that is not what they really do, but it is convenient to call them propositional verbs. Of course you might call them ‘attitudes’, but I should not like that because it is a psychological term, and although all the instances in our experience are psychological, there is no reason to suppose that all the verbs I am talking of are psychological. There is never any reason to suppose that sort of thing. (Russell 1918, 227).

Now the term intentionality refers to the ability of the mind to form representations and has nothing to do with intention. The term dates from medieval Scholastic philosophy, but was resurrected by Franz Brentano and adopted by Edmund Husserl. The earliest theory of intentionality is associated with St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God and his tenets distinguishing between objects that exist in the understanding and objects that exist in reality.

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Levi R. Bryant: First Impressions on Onto-Cartography

Onto-cartography is the investigation of structural couplings between machines and how they modify the becoming, activities, movements, and ways in which the coupled machines relate to the world about them. It is a mapping of these couplings between machines and their vectors of becoming, movement, and activity.

– Levi R. Bryant, Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media

I have barely even begun to delve into Levi’s new work but already I’m pleased with the way he is approaching his investment in materialism. There is an opening preface by Graham Harman that introduces Levi’s previous and current work and situates it within Speculative Realism. Harman is generous with his praise telling us that Onto-Cartagraphy “is not only a thought-provoking and erudite book, but also a thoroughly enjoyable one”.1 I concur so far I’m impressed with Levi’s keen sense of materialism’s many traditions and how he differentiates the subtitles and nuances of these various forms. One thing he does right off the bat is to let the reader in on his own philosophical conversion. Levi like many of us had been weaned on twentieth-century Continental philosophy or as many term it the ‘Linguistic Turn’. Levi had gone the full gamut and become convinced that the socio-cultural or discursive materialism arising out of this era was the only way to go. Yet, something happened.

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Radical Change equals Radical Reformation: The Politics of Saul Alinsky

Over the years I’ve kept a promise to myself, one that through everything has helped me to survive, and not only survive but to actually keep my mind alive and radical. Radical? Do we even know what that means anymore? We like to tout our heritage. Oh, let’s say Thomas Paine. Yes, yes, he was a radical, a man of the enlightenment, a creature who paid the price of his beliefs in a radical democracy. Imprisoned by  Robespierre – who was himself the betrayer of the revolution, Paine barely escaped the fate of the chopping block during the great purge. With the ascendency of Robespierre to the Committee an era of anti-radicalism took charge of the revolution. It was a full-blooded Counter-Enlightenment. Condorcet was outlawed and sentenced to confiscation of his possessions in October 1793, Brissot guillotined on 31 October, Pierre-Louis Manuel following a fortnight later. Olympe de Gouges was guillotined on 3 and Bailly on 12 November. In December, Tom Paine, ‘the most violent of the American democrats’ in Madame de Staël’s words, in whose eyes the ‘principles of the Revolution, which philosophy had first diffused’, were ‘departed from, and philosophy itself rejected’ by the Robespierristes, was first expelled from the Convention and then arrested and imprisoned. Already months before, he had become entirely convinced that the Jacobin government was a tyranny ‘without either principle or authority’. Left in his cell, the United States government made remarkably little effort to extricate him.1

At the end of his life the writer and orator Robert G. Ingersoll wrote:

Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts. On the 8th of June, 1809, death came – Death, almost his only friend. At his funeral no pomp, no pageantry, no civic procession, no military display. In a carriage, a woman and her son who had lived on the bounty of the dead – on horseback, a Quaker, the humanity of whose heart dominated the creed of his head – and, following on foot, two negroes filled with gratitude – constituted the funeral cortege of Thomas Paine.2

Such was a radical democrat in the enlightenment era. When I grew up there was another radical who I did not discover till later in life. I will hold off from sharing his name till you read one of his most pungent statements:

First , there are no rules for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness, but there are rules for radicals who want to change their world; there are certain central concepts of action in human politics that operate regardless of the scene or the time. To know these is basic to a pragmatic attack on the system. These rules make the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one who uses the tired old words and slogans, calls the police “pig” or “white fascist racist” or “motherfucker” and has so stereotyped himself that others react by saying, “Oh, he’s one of those,” and then promptly turn off.

This failure of many of our younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous. Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his audience — and gives full respect to the other’s values — would have ruled out attacks on the American flag. The responsible organizer would have known that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, itself, remains the glorious symbol of America’s hopes and aspirations, and he would have conveyed this message to his audience. On another level of communication, humor is essential, for through humor much is accepted that would have been rejected if presented seriously. This is a sad and lonely generation. It laughs too little, and this, too, is tragic.

For the real radical, doing “his thing” is to do the social thing, for and with people. In a world where everything is so interrelated that one feels helpless to know where or how to grab hold and act, defeat sets in; for years there have been people who’ve found society too overwhelming and have withdrawn, concentrated on “doing their own thing.” Generally we have put them into mental hospitals and diagnosed them as schizophrenics. If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up psychological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair. If I were organizing in an orthodox Jewish community I would not walk in there eating a ham sandwich, unless I wanted to be rejected so I could have an excuse to cop out. My “thing,” if I want to organize, is solid communication with the people in the community. Lacking communication I am in reality silent; throughout history silence has been regarded as assent — in this case assent to the system.

The words above are from none other than Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and was based on the basic assumption that to change things one first needs to understand not only what communication is but also, and more important one needs to know how to communicate effectively. Without the ability to break down the barriers that divide us from each other democracy is impossible. Humans have got to start from the ground floor, and that entails a total behavioral change in one’s approach to communication. Being radical isn’t dressing up in black and red and bombing institutions, it isn’t sitting on Wall-Street decrying the power of the system, it’s not even bellowing on in blog after blog about the great struggle, etc. No. It’s about the simple things in our everyday lives. As Alinsky reminds us:

As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be — it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.

Notice he does not say we should destroy the system to change it. No. He says we should start with what is right in front of our noses and begin there working in the midst of the ruins of democracy. We have no other choice. This is our home, our earth, our habitat. If we destroy it what then? Yet, there is another reason:

There’s another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevski said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution.

And, yet, we live in a time when people demand change now, as if the only thing viable were a year of living dangerously, of entering some apocalyptic pact or revolutionary moment of pure violence that would forever change the world. But is this really what we want and need? –

Our youth are impatient with the preliminaries that are essential to purposeful action. Effective organization is thwarted by the desire for instant and dramatic change, or as I have phrased it elsewhere the demand for revelation rather than revolution.

There are those that would say: What’s the point of working within the system? How has change ever come about from within a failing system? Wouldn’t it be better just to lay it to death, slay the system and start from the beginning? –

What is the alternative to working “inside” the system? A mess of rhetorical garbage about “Burn the system down!” Yippie yells of “Do it!” or “Do your thing.” What else? Bombs? Sniping? Silence when police are killed and screams of “murdering fascist pigs” when others are killed? Attacking and baiting the police? Public suicide? “Power comes out of the barrel of a gun!” is an absurd rallying cry when the other side has all the guns. Lenin was a pragmatist; when he returned to what was then Petrograd from exile, he said that the Bolsheviks stood for getting power through the ballot but would reconsider after they got the guns! Militant mouthings? Spouting quotes from Mao, Castro, and Che Guevara, which are as germane to our highly technological, computerized, cybernetic, nuclear-powered, mass media society as a stagecoach on a jet runway at Kennedy airport?

The point of starting with the system is simple: there is no other place to start from except political lunacy. It is most important for those of us who want revolutionary change to understand that revolution must be preceded by reformation. To assume that a political revolution can survive without the supporting base of a popular reformation is to ask for the impossible in politics.(ibid.)

Did you understand that? No revolution can hope to survive unless there is a strong base of popular support organized around a set of reforms based on a knowledge and understanding of the current ills and malpractices of the current system. Without reformation no revolution will succeed.

Men don’t like to step abruptly out of the security of familiar experience; they need a bridge to cross from their own experience to a new way. A revolutionary organizer must shake up the prevailing patterns of their lives— agitate, create disenchantment and discontent with the current values, to produce, if not a passion for change, at least a passive, affirmative, non-challenging climate. “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced,” John Adams wrote. “The Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.” A revolution without a prior reformation would collapse or become a totalitarian tyranny. A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with past ways and values. They don’t know what will work but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and hopeless. They won’t act for change but won’t strongly oppose those who do. The time is then ripe for revolution.(ibid.)

A revolution of the Mind rather than of brute fact is the order of the day when one wants radical change permanent and lasting.


1. Israel, Jonathan (2011-08-11). Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790 (pp. 947-948). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Paine, Thomas (2008). Works of Thomas Paine. MobileReference. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
3. Alinsky, Saul (2010-06-22). Rules for Radicals (Vintage) (Kindle Locations 87-91). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Reza Negarestani: On Inhumanism

Inhumanism, as will be argued in the next installment of this essay, is both the extended elaboration of the ramifications of making a commitment to humanity, and the practical elaboration of the content of human as provided by reason and the sapient’s capacity to functionally distinguish itself and engage in discursive social practices.

– Reza Negarestani, The Labor of the Inhuman, Part I: Human

On e-flux journal   Reza enjoins us to move beyond both humanism and anti-humanism, as well as all forms of a current sub-set of Marxist theoretic he terms “the fashionable stance of kitsch Marxism today”. Taking up both Sellarsian notions of the “space of reasons” as well as the inferential and normative challenges offered by Robert Brandom. Brandom developed a new linguistic model, or “pragmatics”, in which the “things we do” with language is prior to semantics, for the reason that claiming and knowing are actings, production of a form of spontaneity that Brandom assimilates to the normative “space of reasons” (Articulating Reasons 2000).1

Reza starts with the premise that inhumanism is a progressive shift situated within the “enlightened humanism” project. As a revisionary project it seeks to erase the former traces within this semiotic field of discursive practices and replace it with something else, not something distinctly oppositional but rather a revision of the universal node that this field of forces is. It will be a positive project, one based on notions of “contructivism”: “to define what it means to be human by treating human as a constructible hypothesis, a space of navigation and intervention.” I’m always a little wary of such notions as models, construction, constructible hypothesis, as if we could simulate the possible movement of the real within some information processing model of mathematical or hyperlinguistic, algorithmic programming. We need to understand just what Reza is attempting with such positive notions of constructions or models otherwise we may follow blindly down that path that led through structuralism, post-structuralism, and deconstruction: all those anti-realist projects situated in varying forms of social constructivsm and its modifications (i.e., certain Idealist modeling techniques based as they were on the Linguistic Turn).

Right off the bat he qualifies his stance against all those philosophies of finitude or even the current trend in speculative realism of the Great Outdoors (Meillassoux, Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harmon). Against in sense of an essence of the human as pre-determined or theological jurisdictions. Against even the anti-humanist tendencies of both an inflationary and deflationary notion of the human that he perceives even in microhistorical claims that tend toward atomism, he offers a return to the universalist ambitions of the original enlightenment project voided of its hypostasis in glorified Reason. Against such anti-humanist moves he seeks a way forward, a way that involves a collaborative project that redefines the enlightenment tradition and its progeny and achieves the “common task for breaking out of the current planetary morass”.

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Antonio Negri: Reflections on Accelerazionista Policy of Williams and Srnicek

I noticed Edumund Berger on Deterritorial Investigations Unit had posted a snippet of Antonion Negri’s take on Williams and Srnicek #Acclerate Manifesto. I discovered a few snippets worth noting.

After a slight introduction Negri tells us that Williams and Srnicek return us to a Communist discourse for today. They offer a return of revolutionary thinking, a “new movement” in form – a discourse of power against power, biopolitics against Biopolitics. Theirs is a return to an emancipatory vision that takes as the basic subversive premise the notion of the “One divided into two”.

Negri sees in this a accelerationist move a return that would force a renovation of the operaista tradition with its notions of an “inside-against” refrain. In this tradition the concept of a hands-on investigation of class compostion came to the fore. It provided a detailed analysis of the real conditions of workers that is necessary to validate an analysis of contemporary capitalism, as well as its potential sites of struggle; only thus can the conceptsof immaterial and affective labour be useful politically. As Negri remarks: “The process of liberation may not be accelerating capitalist development, without however (this is important) confusing “acceleration speed”: because here the acceleration has all the characteristics of a device-engine, an experimental process of discovery and creation, within the space of possibilities determined by capitalism itself.” He also sees the need for the revitalization of the concept of “trend” within Marxian analysis and its insistence on “spatial analysis of the parameters of development” aligned with such notions as territorialisation and/or deterritorialization from Deleuze and Guattari.

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Gilles Deleuze: Hume and the Problem of the Self

Are we not, then, at this point capable of solving the problem of the self, by giving a sense to Hume’s hope?

– Gilles Deleuze, Empricism and Subjectivity

In a previous post we were left with another question by Deleuze: “We do not really understand how we can move from dispositions to the self, or from the subject to the self. How can the subject and the mind, in the last analysis, be one and the same inside the self? The self must be both a collection of ideas and a disposition, mind and subject. It is a synthesis, which is incomprehensible, since it ties together in its notion, without ever reconciling them, origin and qualification.”(31)

As we see in the above we have dispositions, subject, and self: three terms in relation that is both one and two, origin and qualification, source and reflection – a double issue unresolved by the theory of passions and the theory of knowledge of which Hume aware of this difficulty would work through certain general rules to provide a distinct answer to the problem posed. As Deleuze states it we are capable of stating what the idea of subjectivity is: the “subject is not a quality but rather a qualification of a collection of ideas” (64). It is not a particularized or determinate quality of the mind but an “impression of reflection” (26). It’s not a fixed substance but a tendency or disposition that affects the imagination. “To say that imagination is affected by principles amounts to saying that a given collection [of ideas] is qualified as a partial, actual subject” (64). He continues:

The idea of subjectivity is from then on the reflection of the affection in the imagination and the general rule itself. The idea is no longer here the object of a thought or the quality of a thing; it is not representational. It is a governing principle, a schema, a rule of construction. Transcending the partiality of the subject whose idea it is, the idea of subjectivity includes within each collection under consideration the principle and the rule of a possible agreement between subjects. Thus, the problem of the self, insoluble at the level of the understanding finds, uniquely within culture, a moral and political solution.(64)

He reminds us that in the original question we came to the conclusion that there could be no reconciliation at the level of origin and affection because there is a great difference between “principles and fancy” (64). But what is possible is the constitution of the self as a “synthesis of the affection and its reflection, the synthesis of affection which fixes the imagination and of an imagination which reflects the affection” (64). This reflexive movement of synthesis is an intervention or cut in time and its extension in historical reflection upon that cut or splice in time. It is this gap between two intervals, the time of intervention and the time of reflection between affection marked and affection reflected that produces the sense or synthesis of self. The self is this process of a double reflection. Neither form nor substance the self is the gap or cut between two modalities that is resolved not at the level of understanding but within the moral and political domain of culture. Neither intentional nor directed the self becomes a synthetic unity brought into play by the mind’s own innate processes, and yet these very processes cannot be reduced to the physical manifestations of the brain itself which is both origin and qualifier of the mind’s reflexive nature. It is the general rules of culture manifested in morals and politics which harbor the solution to this movement between knowledge and passion as reflected in the self as a collection of ideas.

1. Gilles Deleuze. Empiricism and Subjectivity An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. trans. by Constantin V. Boundas (Columbia University Press, 1991)

Gilles Deleuze: On Hume’s Theory of Society

He presents us with a critique of the social contract…

– Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity

About half way through his essay on Hume Cultural World and General Rules Deleuze comes upon the central tenet of Hume’s theory of Society: “the main idea is this: the essence of society is not the law but rather the institution” (45). As he relates it the law is the negative underbelly of society, and that the institution, unlike law, “is not a limitation but rather a model of actions, a veritable enterprise, an invented system of positive means or a positive invention of indirect means” (45-46). Against those political philosophers who base their theories on law rather than the institution he has this to say:

The fault of contractual theories is that they present us with a society whose essence is the law, that is, with a society which has no other objective than to guarantee certain preexisting natural rights and no other origin than the contract (45).

He tells us the problem with such theories is that it is an impossibility for society to guarantee natural rights. Why? Because people enter into society precisely for the simple reason that they do not have preexisting rights natural or otherwise. The notion of institution reverses the usual theories by its insistence that outside the social order only the negative, lack, and need exist. He admits that society has always been an artificial construct, an invented whole or totality, not a natural preexisting entity. At the root of the institution of society is the notion of convention which is an important concept for Hume. As Deleuze reminds us placing “convention at the base of the institution signifies only that the system of means represented by the institution is a system indirect, oblique, and invented – in a word, cultural” (46).

“Society is a set of conventions founded on utility, not a set of obligations founded on a contract” (45). In this view the law is a negative factor whose only job is to limit the institution. The corollary to this is the sense of the legislator not as one who legislates but the one who institutes. In this view the notion of natural law and rights is confounded and overturned, even reversed in the order of practice: “there is no question any longer of the relation between rights and the law, but of needs and institutions” (46). This shift to actions and affects rather than the abstractions of rights and the law informs Hume’s theory of society much as it did his understanding of subjectivity. In fact as Deleuze comments:

This idea implies an entire remodeling of rights and an original vision of the science of humanity, that is, of the new conception of social psychology.(46)

What binds need and the institution is utility. But we must not see in this some form of reductionism Deleuze reminds us. Against any “functionalist” reduction of society to nature, and the explanatory framework in which society is explained by utility, and the institution by drives and needs we must refrain because for Hume a drive is satisfied within the institution not the other way around.(46) Of course this is about social institutions not governmental: in marriage, sexuality is satisfied; in property, greed. (47) The institution is a model, a construct, of possible actions, and because it is it does not “satisfy the drive without also constraining it” (47). There is a double edge in every institution of satisfaction and constraint, a normative extension and regulation.

Again we learn that the drive does not explain the institution, but that it is the “reflection of the drive in the imagination” that does. Just as we learned that subjectivity is an affect, an “impression in reflection”(48). So too we learn that association of the drive in the imagination is revealed “as a veritable production of extremely diverse models: when drives are reflected in an imagination submitted to the principle of association, institutions are determined by the figures traced by the drives according to the circumstances” (49). For this reason Hume does not equate the drives to instincts but to the “reflective drive” in the imagination. As Deleuze states it:

This is the meaning of institution, in its difference from the instincts. We can then conclude that nature and culture, drive and institution, are one to the extent that the one is satisfied by the other; but they are also two insofar as the latter is not explained by the former. (49)

That political philosophy is founded on a sense of Justice goes without saying, but for Hume it is where it is situated that counts. Morality is addressed only to those who exist in the State: it “does not involve the change of human nature but the invention of artificial and objective conditions in order for the bad aspects of this nature not to triumph” (50). Once again the notion of a social contract comes under fire. The notion of founding a government as a promise to the people is erroneous, because the “promise is an effect of the specification of justice, and loyalty, its support”(51). The notion of the promise is not the cause of government but an effect of it. The point for Hume is this, that the state is not charged with representing the general interest of the people, but rather with making the general interest an object of belief (51).

Yet, this brings Hume to another conclusion: that of inequality and scarcity. Because of favorable circumstance and acquisition of properties a new rule must be implemented or enabled to bring about a balance: a rule of political economy. At the center of Hume’s theory is the problem of property. As Deleuze relates it property “presents a problem of quantity: goods are scarce, and they are unstable because they are rare” (53). For Hume society offers a quantitative harmony of economic activities which are mechanically established which is not true of property. Out of this Deleuze formulates Hume’s moral categories and rules as follows:

1. Content of the general rule: the stability of possession.
1.1 Support of the general rule: loyalty to the government
1.2 Complement of the general rule: the prosperity of commerce.

2. Specification of the general rules: immediate possession, occupation, etc.
2.1 Specification of support: long possession, accession, etc.
2.2 Specification of the complement: monetary circulation, capital, etc.

3. Correction of the preceding specification by means of general rules, promise, transfer
3.1 Correction: resistance
3.2 Correction: taxes, state service, etc.

I can see here that Hume and Rousseau would have been enemies. For Hume society was a protection against the brute violence of nature, while for Rousseau society was evil incarnate. Hume unlike the utilitarians that would follow did not reduce ethics to nature, but instead offered the reverse course and saw humans utilizing their native gifts within the artificially fabricated institutions based on a sense of justice and harmony that is mechanically established: wherever disputes arise, in philosophy or common life, the best way to settle the question is by ascertaining, on any side, “…the true interests of mankind.” This is the principle of utility that Hume offered. Outside society humans had no recourse but to the violence of nature.

1. Gilles Deleuze. Empiricism and Subjectivity An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. trans. by Constantin V. Boundas (Columbia University Press, 1991)

Gilles Deleuze: Hume and Subjectivity

As Deleuze breaks down the components of Hume’s philosophical system into its differing layers he exposes the specificity of subjectivity as an effect: “it is in fact an impression of reflection“(26).1 He qualifies this stating: “When Hume speaks of an act of the mind – of a disposition – he does not mean to say that the mind is active but that it is activated and that it has become subject” (26). Many terms have been used to describe what Hume means by dispositions: ‘power’ (Locke’s term), ‘dunamis’ (Aristotle’s term), ‘ability’, ‘potency’, ‘capability’, ‘tendency’, ‘potentiality’, ‘proclivity’, ‘capacity’, and so forth. This sense of power or disposition according to Deleuze is termed a tendency. As he tells us in another passage the effect of association in the mind appears in three ways: first, through resemblance an idea has the capacity or power to represent all the ideas it is associated with; second, is the notion of substance and mode: the unity of ideas in the mind form a regularity they did not previously have; and, third, the notion of relation, that one idea can introduce another.(25) As Steven Mumford states it:

Hume knew of the causal powers view as an alternative to his own. But he thought that such a view would mean that causes had to necessitate their effects. If there is a power for a certain effect , he argued, it would mean that it had to produce its effect when it operated. But this need not be the position. A power might only dispose towards a certain effect. There can be cases where it succeeds in producing that effect, but in other cases it could be prevented from doing its job. The effects that we see around us are often the result of many different factors working together. When a paper aeroplane is thrown, for instance , its trajectory is determined by its aerodynamic shape but also gravity, gusts of wind, electrostatic attractions and repulsions, and so on. It could be that some of those factors dispose it in one direction while others dispose it in an opposite one.2

Deleuze makes a key point regarding Hume’s study of Human Nature as a “science”. The first concerns Hume’s atomism, the notion that the psychology of mind is a psychology of ideas, of “simple elements, of minima or indivisibles” (26). Such notions as he explores in his system of understanding concerning such ideas as “space and time”. The second concerns his psychology of dispositions that Deleuze likens to an anthropology, “a science of practice, especially morality, politics, and history” (27). The point of the atomization of ideas Deleuze tells us is that for Hume there can be no atomistic psychology, therefore he affirms the truth as well that there can be no psychology of mind. As Deleuze argues this is why all “serious writers agree on the impossibility of a psychology of the mind” (27). He continues: “[t]his is why they criticize so meticulously every single identification between consciousness and knowledge. They differ only in the way they determine the factors which give a nature to the mind” (27-28). In this he alludes to the notions of the mind-body debates that are still carried on in our contemporary settings. As he tells us sometimes the shift moves toward the body or matter, at other times the factors concern specific principles that replace the body or matter in which psychology finds its “unique, and possible object and its scientific condition” (28). Hume takes this second path: the notion of the principles of association. This is Deleuze reminds us where Hume’s ambiguous relationship to materialism comes to the fore.

Deleuze sums up the Humean project as the problem of subjectivity, that Hume’s basic question is one of empirical proof: “how does the mind become a nature?” He tells us that Hume starts with the impossible contradiction of the idea itself: “Show me the idea you claim to have.” As he states it:

What’s at stake in the challenge is the very psychology of mind. In fact, the given and experience have now two inverse meanings. The given is the idea as it is given in the mind, without anything transcending it – not even the mind, which is therefore identical with the idea. But, the transcendence itself is also given, in an altogether different sense and manner – it is given in practice, as an affection of the mind, and as an impression of reflection: passion, says Hume, does not have to be defined: by the same token, belief is a je ne sais quoi adequately felt by everyone. (28-29)

Deleuze next gives us an argument against the essentialism of subjectivity: “Empirical subjectivity is constituted in the mind under the influence of principles affecting it; the mind therefore does not have the characteristics of a preexisting subject” (29). True psychology, he tells us, is of the affections as well as a critique of the false psychology of the mind; in fact, as he states it, the “latter is incapable of grasping without contradiction the constitutive element of human reality” (29).

At this point he asks: Why is it finally necessary  that philosophy undertake this critique, express the transcendence in an idea, produce the contradiction, and manifest the incompatibility under discussion? The answer: “because the transcendence under discussion is not given in an idea, but is rather referred to the mind; it qualifies the mind” (29). The point of this is the simple fact that we can never have access to the mind(brain) itself, no amount of reflection will ever allow us access to the processes of the mind, it is closed off and we are incapable of reflecting on it, we are, in fact, blind to its processes. But, as Deleuze suggests, we have a negative relation to the ideas which transcend it because within the “structures of transcendence, the mind finds a kind of positivity which comes to it from outside” (29).

Since we do not have access to the mind itself, we turn to the affections it produces: this is the psychology of affections to which Hume refers us, and as Deleuze relates “the psychology of affections becomes the philosophy of the constituted subject” (30). For Hume this is where Rationalism fell into error with its reliance on a theory of representation, and as Deleuze remarks Hume’s philosophy is a “sharp critique of representation” (30). Not being a critique of relations Hume was able to show that it was impossible for representations to represent relations. As Deleuze explains it by “making representations into a criteria and by placing ideas within reason, rationalism expects ideas to stand for something, which cannot be constituted within experience or be given in an idea without contradiction…”(30). Rationalism objectified mental determinations by placing them in external objects, taking away thereby, Deleuze says, “from philosophy the meaning and the intelligibility of practice and the subject” (30).

The Rationalists had fallen into another error Hume tells us, they had equated reason and mind, when in fact “reason is an affection of the mind” (30). It was for this reason that Hume would equate reason with terms such as instinct, habit, or nature.(30) Reason as an affection moves through a cycle of skepticism of reason to a positivism of feeling, in which the latter becomes a reflection of feeling within the qualified mind (30). Ultimately this notion led to a contradiction for Hume, or as Deleuze states it:

We do not really understand how we can move from dispositions to the self, or from the subject to the self. How can the subject and the mind, in the last analysis, be one and the same inside the self? The self must be both a collection of ideas and a disposition, mind and subject. It is a synthesis, which is incomprehensible, since it ties together in its notion, without ever reconciling them, origin and qualification. (31)

Deleuze tells us that Hume would present possible solutions later in his speculations. ( I will have another post, or update this one with those sooner or later)

What’s interesting in this early work is how many threads would be taken up from it time and again by Deleuze altered in form of terminological practice but essentially the same set of notions that led him to understand Hume’s theoretical discourse in the first place. I do not see it mentioned as much in the secondary literature as I do other of his works within the history of philosophy. Either way the notion of the subject as affect, as impression on reflection, an insertion or action that constitutes the subject as non-essentialist but a part of the very processes of the brain, as well as the elision of mind from access to its own processes, all these notions would show up in other works. I’ll add other posts as I have time on Deleuze’s speculations in the history of philosophy that were relevant to his project and problems.

…. follow up: Hume and the Problem of the Self

1. Gilles Deleuze. Empiricism and Subjectivity An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. trans. by Constantin V. Boundas (Columbia University Press, 1991)
2. Mumford, Stephen (2012-08-30). Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (p. 53). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Gilles Deleuze: The Affirmation of Lucretian Naturalism

Jues Bastien-Lepage, “Potato Gatherers,” 1879

One of the most profound constants of Naturalism is to denounce everything that is sadness, everything that is the cause of sadness, and everything that needs sadness to exercise its power. From Lucretius to Nietzsche, the same end is pursued and attained. Naturalism makes of thought and sensibility an affirmation. It directs its attack against the prestige of the negative: it deprives the negative of all its power; it refuses to the spirit of the negative the right to speak in the name of philosophy. … Lucretius established for a long time to come the implications of naturalism: the positivity of Nature; Naturalism as the philosophy of affirmation; pluralism linked with multiple affirmation; sensualism connected with the joy of the diverse; and the practical critique of all mystifications.

– Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (279)

Deleuze and Guattari – Rhizomatic Writing: Abstract Machines and Social Critique

Notes on A Thousand Plateaus Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Sorry, going to be making some notes toward an approach in experimental writing. This is not in my usual style: not an essay, but just a series of working notes, more of a writer’s question session. But thought it might be beneficial to show others how I think through things, the processual processes  that go on behind the scenes of any writer as he gathers, collates, works through, and questions his aesthetic or artistic stylistics, as well as the tasking aspect of experimental writing in itself. Deleuze and Guattari always seem to be criticized for their two experimental works, but to me they were looking for new forms, ways of bringing their unique blend of relations, with each other, the world, etc. to bear on certain issues that interested them and exposed their ventures in schizoanalytic theory and practice.

Rereading the Intro to A Thousand Plateaus I was reminded of the statement: “A book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification” (2).1 The other is their sense of what they describe in their collaboration of reaching a point where it no longer matters nor important of who is behind the words: “we are no longer ourselves, each will know his own.” This sort of schizoanalytic mode of writing. The book as assemblage and multiplicity. When they ask the question: “What is the body without organs of a book?” They see the book as a literary machine that is plugged into other machines. As they tell it: “…when one writes the only question is which other machine must be plugged into in order to work: “writing has nothing to do with signifying, it has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come”.

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Georges Canguilhem: A Short History of Milieu: 1800 to the 1960’s

The notion of milieu is becoming a universal and obligatory mode of apprehending the experience and existence of living beings…

– Georges Canguilhem, Knowledge of Life

Reading these essays by Georges Canguilhem I can understand why he had such an impact on many of those like Michael Foucault, Gilbert Simondon to name only two French Intellectuals of that era. He brings not only an in depth understanding of the historical dimensions of concepts, but he conveys it in such a way that one makes the connections among its various mutations and uses with such gusto and even handed brilliance that one forgets that one is reading what might otherwise be a purely abstract theatre of concepts in their milieu. Even if I might disagree with his conclusions I think he had such a wide influence on those younger philosophers that it behooves us to study his works. In the The Living in its Milieu he gives a short history of this concept as it is used by scientists, artists and philosophers. The notion of milieu came into biology by way of mechanics as defined by Newton and explicated in the entry on milieu in the Encyclopédie Methodique of Diderot and d’Alembert attributed to Johann (Jean) Bernoulli. From here it was incorporated both in a plural and a singular form by other biologists and philosophers in the 19th Century. Among them Lamark, inspired by Buffon in its plural form, and established by Henri de Blainville; while in the singular form it was Auguste Comte and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire who clarified its use. Yet, for most people of the 19th Century is through the work of Honoré de Balzac (in his preface to his La Comédie humaine), as well as in the work of Hippolyte Taine who used the term as one of three analytic explanatory concepts guiding his historical vision, the other two being race and moment. After 1870 the neo-Lamarckian biologists would inherit this term from Taine ( such biologists as Alfred Girard, Félix Le Dantec, Frédéric Houssay, Johann Costantin, Gaston Bonnier, and Louis Roule).

The eighteenth century mechanists used the term milieu to denote what Newton referred to as “fluid”. As Canguilhem relates the problem that Newton and others in his time faced was the central problem in mechanics of action of distinct physical bodies at a distance (99).1 For Descartes this was not an issue since for him there was only one mode of action – that of collision, as well as one possible physical situation – contact (99). Yet, when early experimental or empirical scientists tried to use Descartes theory they discovered a flaw: bodies blend together. While Newton solving this issue discovered that instead what was needed was a medium within which these operations could take place: so he developed the notion of ‘ether‘. The luminiferous ether in Newton’s theory became an intermediary between two bodies, it is their milieu; and insofar as the fluid penetrates all these bodies, they are situated in the middle of it [au milieu de lui]. In Newton’s theory of forces one could speak of the milieu as the environment (milieu) in which there was a center of force.

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Canguilhem, Simondan, Deleuze

Tracing certain concepts back into the murky pool of influence can be both interesting but at the same time troubling. The more I study Deleuze the more perplexed I become. Was he a vitalist as some suggest? Or, was he against such notions in his conception of life? Trying to understand just where the truth is to be found has taken me into the work of two other French thinkers, one a philosopher of the sciences, Georges Canguilhem; and, the other, a philosopher of technology, Gilbert Simondon.

On Canguilhem

We learn from Wikipedia (here) that Canguilhem’s principal work in philosophy of science is presented in two books, Le Normal et le pathologique, first published in 1943 and then expanded in 1968, and La Connaissance de la vie (1952). Le Normal et la pathologique is an extended exploration into the nature and meaning of normality in medicine and biology, the production and institutionalization of medical knowledge. It is still a seminal work in medical anthropology and the history of ideas, and is widely influential in part thanks to Canguilhem’s influence on Michel Foucault [and, thereby, indirectly on the work of Gilles Deleuze]. La Connaissance de la vie is an extended study of the specificity of biology as a science, the historical and conceptual significance of vitalism, and the possibility of conceiving organisms not on the basis of mechanical and technical models that would reduce the organism to a machine, but rather on the basis of the organism’s relation to the milieu in which it lives, its successful survival in this milieu, and its status as something greater than “the sum of its parts.” Canguilhem argued strongly for these positions, criticising 18th and 19th century vitalism (and its politics) but also cautioning against the reduction of biology to a “physical science.” He believed such a reduction deprived biology of a proper field of study, ideologically transforming living beings into mechanical structures serving a chemical/physical equilibrium that cannot account for the particularity of organisms or for the complexity of life. He furthered and altered these critiques in a later book, Ideology and Rationality in the History of the Life Sciences.

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A New Individuation: Deleuze’s Simondon Connection

Looks like Andrew Iliadis’s from Philosophy of Information & Communcation blog has a new paper out showing the connections and influence of Gilbert Simondon’s work on Gilles Deleuze. He mentions the work of Alberto Toscana The Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuation between Kant and Deleuze and its tracing of the lines of flight of the concept of individuation within several philosophers. An excellent read in itself. For what is at stake in both Simondon and Deleuze Iliadis following Toscana, says, “is a critique of the Aristotelian notion of hylomorphism”. What interests Iliadis in Simondon is that his resuscitation of the conceptual framework of the philosophy of individuation allows for a contribution to what is “really a new type of philosophy of information that found similarities with but remained opposed to the mathematical theory of communication”. It also “made our understanding of information more dynamic and in so doing also our understanding of ourselves as individuals… and the world around us from an epistemic-ontological point of view”. Finally, he sees Simondan’s legacy as offering “us a political perspective from which to engage the neoliberal world around us”. I’ll leave it to the reader to investigate the rest of Iliadis’s excellent investigation into Simondon’s concepts. It centers on Simondon’s critique of Aristotle’s hylomorphism, as well as the continuing relevance of three key concepts that Simondan introduced and Deleuze made the bedrock of his own philosophy: information, individuation, and disparation.

Gilbert Simondon: The Conditions of Technical Evolution

What are the reasons for the convergence manifest in the evolution of technical structures?

– Gilbert Simondon, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects

In my last post on Simondon’s early dissertation we saw the impetus in his thought toward defining an evolutionary sequence for technics, the technical object, and technical culture. One was tempted to see his critique in both negative and positive light. On the he saw a certain manifestation of regulatory processes guiding both the genesis and telos of the technological object and its culture, and on the other he saw another tendency toward negentropy and resistance to these very processes within the evolutionary sequences that brought about the genesis and evolution of this very technics: “the machine is something which fights against the death of the universe; it slows down, as life does, the degradation of energy, and becomes a stabilizer of the world”.

In describing the process of standardization and replacement of parts within the mode of existence of a technical object Simondon tells us it is neither the extrinsic causes (although they, too apply pressure), but is the necessary conditions of the intrinsic nature of the technical object itself that produce the very concretion of what is in fact contingent: “its being based on an analytical organization which always leaves the way clear for new possibilities, possibilities which are the exterior manifestation of an interior contingency”. 1

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Gilbert Ryle: The Concept of Mind

I wanted to apply, and be seen to be applying to some large -scale philosophical crux the answer to the question that had preoccupied us in the 1920s, and especially in the 1930s , the question namely ‘What constitutes a philosophical problem; and what is the way to solve it?’ … by the late 1940s it was time , I thought, to exhibit a sustained piece of analytical hatchet-work being directed upon some notorious and large-sized Gordian Knot…. For a time I thought of the problem of the Freedom of the Will as the most suitable Gordian Knot; but in the end I opted for the Concept of Mind— though the book’s actual title did not occur to me until the printers were hankering to begin printing the first proofs

– Gilbert Ryle,  The Concept of Mind

Been a long while since I first read this work as an undergraduate at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. Boy, how time flies… Reading some of the current work by neuroscientists made me remember this now classic philosophical polemic. Many of the traces and patterns one finds in these new works and practices first saw the light of day within the short pages of this book: embodied and ‘situated’ cognition; your mind is not in your brain; skill is not represented; intelligence without representation— to name only the most obvious. The notion that he approached this as philosophical hatchet-work is telling. As one commentator says “Ryle himself certainly did not understand his ideas in the way we are tempted to understand these returning versions of them. Today’s problems—the theoretical problems to which his ideas might be part of the solution— were largely un-imagined by Ryle. How did he arrive at his ideas , then? I think the answer lies in his method, which more than most methods welds its strengths and weaknesses into an indivisible lump, take it or leave it”.1 That I disagree with Ryle now on almost everything is not the point of this post, it is really about how philosophy is still caught in the web of its own illusory pursuits while the sciences have moved on.

It was in this book that Ryle coined the memorable line ‘the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine.’ This introspective scheme would now be a part of the history of self-reflexivity and internal conversation, etc. Even these notions that still hold onto some form of Subject Theory are being questioned in the cognitive neurosciences, but that is another tale. What’s more telling in the next passage is how all of our fictive frameworks, whether in philosophy or the sciences are not only logical muddles but are in need of revamping. We always seem to be bound within methodological framework horizons that produce a certain limit or closure to what can be thought in any one era. Why is this? What moves us forward? How do we arrive at newer inventive explanatory frameworks in the sciences and philosophy? I’ll not go into this at the moment, just a few questions nibbling under the surface. Such notions as Kuhn’s Scientific Revolutions have tried to map this with little success, yet it sits there waiting to be teased out. Foucault’s notions of discursive practices etc. All these for future development… Back to Gilbert Ryle….

On the view for which I am arguing consciousness and introspection cannot be what they are officially described as being, since their supposed objects are myths; but champions of the dogma of the ghost in the machine tend to argue that the imputed objects of consciousness and introspection cannot be myths, since we are conscious of them and can introspectively observe them. …I try to show that the official theories of consciousness and introspection are logical muddles. (Kindle Locations 2927-2930).

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