Zizek & Deleuze: On Desire

Of late I’ve been tracing down the two forms of desire that interplay through much of the past two-hundred years in discourse. I was rereading Zizek who is a student and epigone of Lacan/Hegel who both conceived desire as lack, while Deleuze on the other hand conceived desire as fully positive. I had discovered in Nick Land’s works this same sense of desire as in Deleuze. There is this undercurrent of philosophers that seem to battle between these conceptions of desire as if it were a central trope and mask for aspects of drive and energy that those following the transcendental Idealists despise with a passion. I’m just taking a few notes here and there as I trace this strange battle of the philosophers over conceptions of desire. It seems important.

 Below is a quote from Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences by Slavoj Zizek:

…Deleuze insists that desire has no object (whose lack would trigger and sustain its movement): desire is “a purely virtual ‘movement’ that has always reached its destination, whose moving is itself its own destination.” This is the thrust of Deleuze’s reading of masochism and courtly love— in both cases, not logic of sacrifice, but how to sustain the desire … According to the standard reading of masochism, the masochist, like everyone, also looks for pleasure; his problem is that, because of the internalized superego, he has to pay for his access to pleasure with the pain, to pacify the oppressive agency which finds pleasure intolerable. For Deleuze, on the contrary, the masochist chooses pain in order to

dissolve the pseudo-link of desire with pleasure as its extrinsic measure. Pleasure is in no way something that can only be reached via the detour of pain, but that which has to be delayed to the maximum since it is something which interrupts the continuous process of the positive desire. There is an immanent joy of desire, as if desire fills itself with itself and its contemplations, and which does not imply any lack, any impossibility.

And the same goes for courtly love : its eternal postponement of fulfilment does not obey a law of lack or an ideal of transcendence: here also, it signals a desire which lacks nothing, since it finds its fulfilment in itself, in its own immanence; every pleasure is, on the contrary, already a re-territorialization of the free flux of desire.

Of course Zizek goes ballistic at Deleuze’s insistence on the notion that desire lacks nothing… Zizek being a faithful child of Hegel gets exasperated and wants to say, ah ha, I got you Deleuze when he says:

Therein resides the ultimate irony of Deleuze’s critique of Hegel: when, against Hegel, Deleuze claims that creation “is immediately creative; there is no transcendent or negating subject of creation that might need time in order to become conscious of itself or otherwise catch up with itself,”  he thereby imputes to Hegel a substantialization-reification which is not there and, in this way, obliterates precisely that dimension in Hegel which is the closest to Deleuze himself. Hegel repeatedly insists that Spirit is “a product of itself”: it is not a pre-existing Subject intervening into objectivity, sublating-mediating it, but the result of its own movement, i.e., pure processuality. As such, it does not need time to “catch up with itself,” but simply to generate itself. (ibid, KL 169)

What’s truly ironic is that for Hegel ‘Spirit’ is a mask for desire, so that it is Zizek not Deleuze who is bound to a misprisioning of Hegel and Deleuze both. Zizek has a fetish for the self-reflecting nothingness at the center of his own empty being: what he calls subjectivity. He could not find desire there so he has been chasing after it through all the worlds of philosophy, film, art, trash, culture, Lacan, Hegel… will he find it? All he need do is give up his love of nothingness. But that’s the key he desires less than nothing so will continue to revolve in his own black hole of non-being.

Yet, if we remember from his opus Less Than Nothing the basic theme was on desire:

This book tries to demonstrate that the Freudian drive cannot be reduced to what Buddhism denounces as desire or to what Heidegger denounces as the Will: even after we reach the end of this critical overcoming of desire-will-subjectivity, something continues to move. What survives death is the Holy Spirit sustained by an obscene “partial object” that stands for the indestructible drive. One should thus (also) invert Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of how we relate to the proximity of death in the Kierkegaardian sense of the “sickness unto death,” as the series of five attitudes towards the unbearable fact of immortality. One first denies it: “What immortality? After my death, I will just dissolve into dust!” Then, one explodes into anger: “What a terrible predicament I’m in! No way out !” One continues to bargain: “OK, but it is not me who is immortal, only the undead part of me, so one can live with it …” Then one falls into depression: “What can I do with myself when I am condemned to stay here forever?” Finally, one accepts the burden of immortality.2

And, of course, one realizes that Zizek is being beyond ironic in such statements since he is a purist of atheists. Zizek is after that “something continues to move”. The burden of life and immortality for Zizek is to be condemned to this life forever, to repeat it ad infinitum like Kafka’s surveyor in The Castle he is condemned to a novel that will never end because the author left the stage before it was completed. An irony too sweet to be missed: one can also conceive desire as a mode of avoiding the circularity of the drive: the self-enclosed rotary movement is recast as a repeated failure to reach a transcendent object which always eludes its grasp (Zizek, KL 5319). This is Zizek’s desire as lack. A sort of hell where one is condemned like Dante’s lovers to whirl in the winds of infinity just out of reach of each other, condemned to an eternity of longing that can never be fulfilled.

Deleuze will offer his own view on desire in which he will point out that desire always flows from within an assemblage. To desire is to construct and assemblage, to construct and aggregate – a dress, a sun ray, a woman or assemblage of a woman, a vista, a color, etc. To be abstract about it: desire is a constructivism. Everytime someone says they desire something, they first of all desire to construct an assemblage, to shape their desire around a mileu:

 

In the video he goes on to speak of the three points he and Felix Guattari had in disagreement with classic forms of psychoanalysis:

1) they were persuaded with the notion that the unconscious is not a theatre, a place where Hamlet and Oedipus continually play out their scenes. It’s not a theatre but a factory, a production… the unconscious produces, continuously produces… ;

2) the theme of delirium, which is closely linked to desire… to desire is to become delirious… it is opposite to what psychoanalysts discuss – it’s not about the father and mother… the great secret of delirium is that we desire about the whole world… one desires about history, geography, tribes, deserts, people, climates, etc. … it’s not about family, its about tribes and milieu, about one’s place within these…the determinants.

3) desire always constructs assemblages and establishes itself in assemblages, always putting several factors into play, while psychoanalysis is just the opposites and reduces the factors to a single factor: the father, the mother, etc.  While assemblages are a multiplicity, psychoanalysis is a reduction to the one. 

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-05-04). Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences (Routledge Classics) (Kindle Locations 156-169). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 313-321). Norton. Kindle Edition.

The Curse of the Sun: Libidinal Materialism as the Composition of the Universe

…philosophy is a machine that transforms the prospect of thought into excitation; a generator.

– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Nick Land like his compeers – Nietzsche, Bataille, and Cioran has that quality of aphoristic power that keeps one returning here and there to his dark disquisitions and divigations into the night worlds between desire and death. I’ve asked myself many times why certain writers force me to reread them over and over and over again; and, as such, why with each new reading I discover bits and pieces of something I’d missed, or not been aware of within the last set of notations. For, yes, these are writers for whom one takes notes, jots down certain aphoristic sentences that suddenly awaken one’s own machine, one’s own mind, exciting it and generating other thoughts.  There seems to be under the darkening layers or scales of his thought an energetics, a theory of composition that seeks its habitation at the crossroads of eroticism, death, and the infinite inroads of desire. Life is a child of the sun, and its curse: to wander in a maze without outlet bound to an infernal machine of desire that seeks only ever more powerful ways of dodging the fatal Minotaur of inexistence.

As a pariah and outlaw philosopher Land in his one book and several essays pushed the limits of mind like some Rimbaud of the last thought. No need to go over the history of that again. Too many superficial readings of his physical and mental breakthroughs and breakdowns into vastation or emptiness are already misunderstood. And, that he has returned not as his former self, but as a gnomic agent proclaiming his cultural provocations to a certain reactionary mindset is only another masked distancing from his earlier wildness.

As he will remind us Bataille’s “thirst for annihilation is the same as the sun” (33).1 Yet, it is not a “desire man directs toward the sun, but the solar trajectory itself, the sun as the unconscious subject of terrestrial history” (33). This notion that the history of the earth is guided by a secret history of the sun, its dark proclivities and mythologies guiding the pathology of human civilization and the inhuman forms that shadow us. Is this not the truth we seem to fear? We seem to hide from the white death of its blinding gold mask, the eye of death that would turn us to ash if we were not protected by the ions swirling in the ocean of our atmosphere. That the ancients who sacrificed to the sun, who with obsidian or bone knives cut the living hearts of its victims from their chests and held them to the sun as to the great glory and splendor of heavenly sovereignty. That blood, and only blood; the violence of death could keep this great power churning in the heavens, this furnace of life, this engine of all creation: was this not at the heart of all ancient religion? Human life consumed in the furnace of the sun? Is not all economics an economy of the Sun? As Land will tell us:

Excess or surplus precedes production, work, seriousness, exchange, and lack. The primordial task of life is not to produce or survive, but to consume the clogging floods of riches – of energy – pour down upon it.

The notion that all organic life on earth is part of a vast consumption machine, a living mouth. Is this not the truth of it? And, what are we consuming? Is it not the excess of the living Sun itself? Are we not fed by the sun and its excessive life? Sometimes I think of those nineteenth century mythologizers who sought to understand ancient religious practices under the auspices of solar mythologies; or, as Land will have it, there “is no difference between desire and the sun: sexuality is not psychological but cosmo-illogical” (37). Land will obliterate the Physicalism of science or philosophical thought through the light of the sun, and out of its ashes – like some new born phoenix, “libidinal materialism” will arise: a theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire, which as he satirically put it “a scorch-mark from the expository diagnosis of the physicalistic prejudice” (38).

Physicalism was bound to theology, to the One. It was a dualism, having formulated matter as dead and passive and mind as other than this stuff. It was already caught in its on fly-trap, bound to false assumptions before it even began explaining the universe of its reasoning madness. After a thorough investigation of thermodynamics, entropy, negentropy and Boltzmann’s mathematics and findings he will recenter his understanding of “libidinal matter” saying,

“Libidinal matter is that which resists a relation of reciprocal transcendence against time, and departs from the rigorous passivity of physical substance without recourse to dualistic, idealistic, or theistic conceptuality. It implies a process of mutation… (following  Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud ) entitling it ‘drive’. Drive is that which explains, rather than presupposing, the cause/effect couple of classical physics. … drives are irruptive dynamics of matter in advance of natural law. (42)”

In his theory Land is moving toward a non-intentional philosophy, one that is “not a transformation of intentional theories of desire, of desire as understood as lack, as transcendence, as dialectic” (42). So against Hegel, Marx and their progeny Land offers another libidinal materialism. One must turn to thermodynamics and ‘energy’ for an alternative view of materialism. Two-thousand years of metaphysical blundering is overthrown and new tropes rearrange our relations to science and philosophy: Chance, Tendency, Energy, and Information. He will offer a new cosmographic cosmos:

“…thermospasm is reality as undiluted chaos. It is where we all came from. The death-drive is the longing to return there, just as salmon would return upstream to perish at the origin. … Life is able to deviate from death only because it also propagates it, and the propagation of disorder is always more successful than the deviation. (43)”

The universe is an open, rather than closed system: “no closed systems, no stable codes, no recuperable origins. There is only the thermospasmic shock wave, tendential energy flux, degradation of energy,. A receipt of information – of intensity – carried downstream” (43). Yet, against Boltzmann who built his notions of thermodynamics within an ontology, libidinal materialism sits in chaos outside any thought of Being. What Land offers is a processual theory based on composition, one in which Being is an effect of chaos composition rather than some static substance: the “effect of being is derivative from process…” (44).

Out of Nietzsche he will demarcate a general libidinal energetics: 1) a questioning of the mathematical underpinnings of science as same, equal, or identical – as essentializing; 2) the figure of eternal recurrence as libidinal engine producing energetics; and, 3) a general theory of hierarchies, of order as rank-order (composition). Idealism and Physicalism collapse, transcendental philosophy from Kant till now is decapitated; finished; and, finally, 4) a diagnosis of nihilism, of the hyperbolic of desire (the terminal end-point of humanity in null or God). (44-45).

Land will admit Freud into the new philosophical world of libidinal materialism: he, too, is an energeticist: “he does not conceive of desire as lack, representation, or intention, but as dissipative energetic flow, inhibited by the damming and channeling apparatus of the secondary process. Yet, Freud – even though recognizing the truth of the drives will bolster up the old metaphysics of ego and the reality principle against their force, going against the very truth of the pressure of the drives as modulation of self not as intentional agent but as temporary control point for the drives in their fluxuations and endless compositions. Land will discover in Freud another Solar Mythologist, one found within his Beyond the Pleasure Principle where he discovers life as a mazing in complex escape from death or null zero, an endless wandering in the labyrinth of time against death: “a maze wanderer” (47). Then Land asks: “What is the source of the ‘decisive external influences’ that propel the mazings of life, if not the sun?”

Life is not an accident as some suggest, but is rather the curse of the sun. Land is our postmodern Lucretius teaching us that death is nothing to be feared, death is merely the form life takes in its infinite mazings and compositions under the gaze of the Apollonian eye of the Sun. “Confronting the absolute posed by our inevitable extinction, we feel brave, proud of ourselves, we permit ourselves a little indulgence, swooning in the delectations of morbidity. … Across the aeons our mass hydro-carbon enjoys a veritable harem of souls.” Desire continues its quest for the sun. Or, as that Shaman of the Evening Lands says it:

Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.

My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.
– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

The secret of the labyrinth is in its “scalings” – like dark matter and dark energy which structurate and energize the visible matter we see in the universe the drives within that chaotic sea produce the veritable universe of light and suns and galaxies around us. Composing and decomposing and recomposing matter in an infinite play without purpose or teleological goal.  There is no whole, no totality, there is nothing but the labyrinth and process, comings and goings and returnings, endlessly all the way up and all the way down.

Land will remind us that for Bataille the natural and cultural worlds that envelope the earth or nothing more than the evolution of death. Why? Because in “death life becomes an echo of the sun, realizing its inevitable destiny, which is pure loss” (56). He will add that such a materialist discourse is free of that intentional subject that mars all idealist discourse, and that it offers a non-metaphysical and non-intentional understanding of the of the economy as pure poetry rather than philosophical plunderings of either Descartes dualism or Marx’s dialectical modes of thought. Instead, as Bataille will affirm, poetry is a “holocaust of words” (56).

In fact bourgeois culture is not an expression of capitalism, it is its antithesis: capitalism is anti-culture (56). In the older feudalism of the aristocracy and Catholicism the notion of “expenditure” and pure loss were central, in the new modern economies cannot accept the need for expenditure or even admit that overproduction is an issue or problem. Instead of waste and excess, sacrifice and pot-latch festivals of total expenditure we get endless cycles of overproduction, deflation, and depression.

One remembers those anthropologists who studied the notion of potlatch:

“In the potlatch, the host in effect challenged a guest chieftain to exceed him in his ‘power’ to give away or to destroy goods. If the guest did not return 100 percent on the gifts received and destroy even more wealth in a bigger and better bonfire, he and his people lost face and so his ‘power’ was diminished”.2

As Earnest Becker in his Escape from Evil will remind us “primitive man created an economic surplus beyond basic human need so that he would have something to give to the gods; the giving of surplus was an offering to the gods who controlled the entire economy of nature in the first place”3, so that he needed to give to keep the power flowing, the cosmological circuit of power from sun to earth and back again moving, allowing the obligation and expiation to channel its forces of accumulated riches rather than hording them. In the potlatch when the entire goods of a community and a chieftain were destroyed and annihilated it was to open up the power of the gods and sun to the community as a whole: “the eternal flux of power in the broad stream of life was generated by the greatest possible expenditure; man wanted that stream to flow as bountifully as possible” (30). 

In our time War is the potlatch feast of nations, the way in which nations sacrifice to the gods of life and expend their generosity and glory to the ancient sun and death. As Paul Virilio in Pure War speaking of the atrocities of Pol Pot will tells us: “If they had let Pol Pot act as he saw fit, there would have been no one left. Cambodia is the scale-model of the suicide State which no longer gathers populations in order to exploit territory, but which infinitely dissolves it” and allows the festival of a endless annihilation of expenditure.4

In our time philanthropy and other so to speak redistributions of wealth back to the community have become parodies and examples of the forgotten truth of those ancient potlatches. Even in the latest democratic pitch to redistribute the wealth to those in need is a parody. We’ve lost the truth of giving, of expenditure, or the pure waste of goods to the gods and sun. We live now in that labyrinth without outlet where no expenditure and no waste exist, only the endless cycles of repetition and economic depression. The riches of the world continue to be accumulated in the hands of a few who will never all those to return to the community or the sun. Yet, as the debt and guilt of this accumulate the earth and sun will have their day, too.

As Land will tell us the “mobility peculiar to the labyrinth – real cosmic motion or liquidation – is not confined by the scales, instead it finds a shaft of facilitation passing from one to another, a “slippage”, the full consequence of which is an illimitable dispersion across the strata: communication through death” (203). Harold Bloom in a book on The Labyrinth will tell us that the ancient identity of rhetoric, psychology, and cosmology is preserved in the figuration of imaginative literature “as a breathing, moving labyrinth”.5 James Joyce once said that “history is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake”, and Finnegan’s Wake is a figural labyrinth within which both secular and sacred mazings repeat themselves in moving kaleidoscope of pun in which the reader is condemned to wander between sea and sea. But then again maybe the truth is that the living labyrinth doesn’t want you to escape, that in truth it lulls you into wandering its dark corridors forever in hopes that you will never discover the exit; for to find the exit is to discover neither escape nor freedom, but the final termination: death. 

Land will leave us one last sublime darkening, a philosophical knowing (kairos-happening) or gnosis (not Gnosticism but a knowing that is at once a corruption and a degradation of all we have been or will be):

Poetry is this slippage that is broken upon the end of poetry, erased in a desert as ‘beautiful as death’. There is no question of affirmation, achievement, gain, but only a catastrophe without mitigation compared to which everything is poverty and imprisonment.

 

1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992).
2. Potlatch. Wikipedia.
3. Escape from Evil. Ernest Becker. (Free Press, 1975)
4. Pure War. Paul Virilio ( Semiotext(e), 2008)
5. The Labyrinth. Harold Bloom. (InfoBase, 2009)

 

Levi R. Bryant: Powers, Dispositions and the Analytical Debate

Meaning depends on rules governing use. To say what an expression means is to say what criteria govern its application across all the contexts in which it can be applied.

the late George Molnar. Powers: A Study in Metaphysics

In analytical circles the very notion of disposition is controversial, much less trying to define just what it is. Instead we might ask: What do powers and dispositions do?

Continuing my reading of Levi R. Bryant’s new book Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media under the heading “Machines Are Split Between their Powers and Products” he makes the assertion that the “being of a machine is defined not by its qualities or properties, but rather by the operations of which it is capable” (40).1 First we need to return to what Levi means by “operations”. What Levi is trying to do is move the ball out of the older ontological perspective of subject/object debates. When we think of objects we automatically infer that there must be a relation to a subject and vice versa. But is this true? It may or may not be, but that’s Levi’s point, metaphysics has a history of debating this from every angle to the point that any further debate seems futile. So instead of continuing the debate Levi has changed the terms of the debate from one of subject and objects to the notion of units and operations, or machines and their input/outputs, etc. Relying on Ian Bogost’s articulation of the notion of an operation who defined “…an operation is a basic process that takes one or more inputs and performs a transformation on it”2. Bogost explicating this in a previous book:

I use the term operation very generally, covering not only this traditional understanding but also many more. Brewing tea is an operation. Steering a car to avoid a pedestrian is an operation. Falling in love is an operation. Operations can be mechanical, such as adjusting the position of an airplane flap; they can be tactical, such as sending a regiment of troops into battle; or they can be discursive, such as interviewing for a job. A material and conceptual logic always rules operations. In their general form, the two logics that interest the present study are the logic of units and the logic of systems. In the language of Heidegger, unit operations are creative, whereas system operations are static. In the language of software engineering, unit operations are procedural, whereas system operations are structured.3

For Levi its this sense of a procedural rather than a structural operation that counts for the actions of machines as they provide outputs or receive inputs. So that instead of an ontology based on a structural descriptive approach we get one based on the pragmatic performance of the operations of machines and processing entities that provide inputs and outputs according to the dictates of particular powers and dispositions.

Continue reading

The Exterminating Angel: The Dark Flows of Capital

The schizophrenic deliberately seeks out the very limit of capitalism: he is its inherent tendency brought to fulfillment, its surplus product, its proletariat, and its exterminating angel.

– Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

 

The State and its bureaucracies, the forces of law and order, try to stem the tide of these flows – split them among the dark contours of accumulated violence: the schizophrenic pulse accelerating onward toward oblivion on the extended wings of an exterminating angel. “When we say that schizophrenia is our characteristic malady, the malady of our era, we do not merely mean to say that modern life drives people mad. It is not a question of a way of life, but of a process of production” (34).1 Yet, as they continually remind us, there “is only one kind of production, the production of the real” (32). But what is produced by its inversion in capital is the production of fantasy – a group fantasia for zombies, a consumers purgatory where even angels dare to tread.

In another context they tell us desire produces reality, but that one might also say, “desiring production is one and the same thing as social production” (30). The production of the socious they contend is tripartite: the body of the Earth, the body of the Despot, and the body of Money (33). Under capitalism all three forms can be found intermixed among the codes of a wandering flow within States, nations, and families. Capitalism founded on abstract quatities, on things, on the lack of impossible objects and of the acquisition of those objects as our desires. In nihilistic delirium we yearn for those impossible substances that capital produces in parody of real desires. At the heart of capital is the production not of the real but of the unreal, of fantasies, impossible dreams. We follow these impossible dreams as zombies in a consuming cannibalistic frenzy, the flesh of the world dripping from our mouths as we build our towers of Babel to strange gods.

Continue reading

Deleuze & Guattari: Process, Virtuality, and Multiplicity

What the schizophrenic experiences, both as an individual and as a member of the human species, is not at all any one specific aspect of nature, but nature as a process of production.

– Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Deleuze and Guattari ask in response to the quote above: What do we mean here by process? “For the real truth of the matter – the glaring, sober truth that resides in delirium – is that there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits: production is immediately consumption and a recording process without any sort of mediation, and the recording process and consumption directly determine production” (4).1 This notion that recording and consumption are immanent to production itself is the first meaning of process, and to this belongs the production of the “subject” that is produced immanently by a recording that qualifies itself as the recording it consumes.

Continue reading

Biomechanical Dividuals: Techne and Technology in the 21st Century

Technology is, as Deleuze stated, an expression of how we live. Technology expresses how we live our day-to-day existence and how we organize ourselves, in terms of both our relations to one another and the sorts of subjects we constitute ourselves as.

– David Savat, Uncoding the Digital: Technology, Subjectivity and Action in the Control Society

The word “biomechanics” (1899) and the related “biomechanical” (1856) were coined by Nikolai Bernstein from the Ancient Greek words βίος bios “life” and μηχανική, mēchanikē “mechanics”, to refer to the study of the mechanical principles of living organisms, particularly their movement and structure.1. In his recent work Levi R. Bryant puts forth the notion that we are machines, and tells us that a “machinic conception of objects leads us to think of entities in a very different way.”2 Even Deleuze believed that technology is an expression of how we live. For him technology expresses how we live our day-today existence and how we organize ourselves in terms of both our relations to one another and how we constitute ourselves as machinic-assemblages. But it was Deleuze’s friend Guattari who argued emphatically that digital technologies were constructing human-machine assemblages that would enable entirely new and different forms of subjectivity to emerge.3

 The first question to ask of any machine is not “what are its properties?”, but rather “what does it do?”

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

David Savat in an essay within Deleuze and New Technology, describes how a particular digital technology (databases) incorporates and adheres to Foucault’s notion of the disciplinary society in which discipline in the form of a Panopticon molds humans according to its own dictates through techniques of surveillance and self imposed discipline. He affirms that the central goal of this form of discipline that pervaded many sites within 19th and 20th Century society: factories, prisons, schools, etc. all had the objective of creating a new sense of subjectivity and what it meant to be an individual. That this has not gone away with our new digital technologies Savat argues against Deleuze who in his ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’ (1992), felt that we had entered a new era beyond discipline in which the modulation of power was transforming the individual into a new subject, the dividual. For Savat we can see neither one nor the other, but both forms of power being enacted at the same time within the digital spectrum.

Continue reading

Notes on Levi R. Bryant’s Onto-Cartography: Chapter One

Young Man: In this process of “working up to the matter” is it your idea to work up to the proposition that man and a machine are about the same thing, and that there is no personal merit in the performance of either?

Old Man: Yes—but do not be offended; I am meaning no offense.

– from Mark Twain,  What is Man?

Mark Twain lived in a deterministic universe. For him the environment ruled all, external influences controlled, directed, and commanded both human and inhuman agencies from end to end. He might also be the progenitor of what my friend R. Scott Bakker terms the Blind Brain Theory:

Young Man: Oh, come! Where did I get my opinion that this which you are talking is all foolishness?

Old Man: It is a quite natural opinion—indeed an inevitable opinion—but you did not create the materials out of which it is formed. They are odds and ends of thoughts, impressions, feelings, gathered unconsciously from a thousand books, a thousand conversations, and from streams of thought and feeling which have flowed down into your heart and brain out of the hearts and brains of centuries of ancestors. Personally you did not create even the smallest microscopic fragment of the materials out of which your opinion is made; and personally you cannot claim even the slender merit of putting the borrowed materials together. That was done automatically—by your mental machinery, in strict accordance with the law of that machinery’s construction. And you not only did not make that machinery yourself, but you have not even any command over it.1

For Twain the presumption of free will was erroneous, a belief that would fall away one day.  We are the end product of the brain’s ongoing processes, temporary agents or functions in a never-ending cycle of environment testing. We are blind to the very processes of choice and decision that control our lives. We are in fact according to Twain nothing more than mere automata – biological machines built by natural selection over the course of history. The young man of the tale argues that we are free and willing creatures. But the old man says: “I am sorry, but you see, yourself, that your mind is merely a machine, nothing more. You have no command over it, it has no command over itself—it is worked solely from the outside. That is the law of its make; it is the law of all machines.”

Continue reading

The Rise of the Machines: Brandom, Negarestani, and Bakker

Modern technological society constitutes a vast, species-wide attempt to become more mechanical, more efficiently integrated in nested levels of superordinate machinery.

– R. Scott Bakker, The Blind Mechanic

Ants that encounter in their path a dead philosopher may make good use of him.

– Stanislaw Lem, His Master’s Voice 

We can imagine in some near future my friend R. Scott Bakker will be brought to trial before a tribunal of philosophers he has for so long sung his jeremiads on ignorance and blindness; or as he puts it ‘medial neglect’ (i.e., “Medial neglect simply means the brain cannot cognize itself as a brain”). One need only remember that old nabi of the desert Jeremiah and God’s prognostications: Attack you they will, overcome you they can’t… And, like Jeremiah, these philosophers will attack him from every philosophical angle but will be unable to overcome his scientific tenacity.

Continue reading

Reza Negarestani: Back to the Future

Sufficiently elaborated, humanism—it shall be argued—is the initial condition of inhumanism as a force that travels back from the future to alter, if not to completely discontinue, the command of its origin.

– Reza Negarestani, The Labor of the Inhuman, Part II: The Inhuman

In my first post I elaborated the specific elements of Negarestani’s return to the Enlightenment humanist project (see post). He reiterates again in this essay the basic thematic of his program: the notion that inhumanism is what precedes humanity, that humanity is a model, a construct; yet, not a static model but an ongoing processual development of collective production that is in continuous revisioning process, and that this project is shaped by a normative commitment, a commitment within a “space of reasons” that enforces the stringent task of social constructivism:   a commitment to humanity must fully elaborate how the abilities of reason functionally convert sentience to sapience. As he remarks: “Humanism is by definition a project to amplify the space of reason through elaborating what the autonomy of reason entails and what demands it makes upon us.”

When he tells us that this project has a commitment to the autonomy of reason (via the project of humanism) and is a commitment to the autonomy of reason’s revisionary program over which human has no hold. One wants to rephrase that last italic to which human has no control. That this binding act that puts returns us to that rational world of the enlightenment almost seems like a parody at first take. As if Reza was traveling back to revise the whole history of the enlightenment project from within and show that it was correct all along. That yes, we have always been inhuman, but never human, and that now “we” the collective will begin constructing the new humanity according to an autonomous plan based of that greatest of autonomous agents, autonomous reason.

Yet, this erasure of the human by way of the inhuman is not a return of the Same, but something else: “Once you commit to human, you effectively start erasing its canonical portrait backward from the future. It is, as Foucault suggests, the unyielding wager on the fact that the self-portrait of man will be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.” It’s as if he were saying: yes, we great ones are going to rewrite history, erase all the bad effects of the past two hundred years, and replace this image of the human with our own thereby inhabiting a time-machine that will conquer two hundred years of mistakes, of war, famine, genocide, ethnocide, etc.

Continue reading

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”.

Continue reading

Thomas Nagel: Idealism and the Theological Turn in the Sciences

The view that rational intelligibility is at the root of the natural order makes me, in a broad sense, an idealist— not a subjective idealist, since it doesn’t amount to the claim that all reality is ultimately appearance— but an objective idealist in the tradition of Plato and perhaps also of certain post-Kantians, such as Schelling and Hegel, who are usually called absolute idealists. I suspect that there must be a strain of this kind of idealism in every theoretical scientist: pure empiricism is not enough.

– Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos

Now we know the truth of it, and why Thomas Nagel has such an apparent agenda to ridicule and topple the materialist world view that he seems to see as the main enemy of his own brand of neutral monism: a realist of the Idea, whether one call it mind or matter – it’s neutral. What’s sad is his attack on scientific naturalism and its traditions even comes to the point where he offers the conclusion that even religion upholds a more appropriate view of reality than the naturalist:

A theistic account has the advantage over a reductive naturalistic one that it admits the reality of more of what is so evidently the case, and tries to explain it all. But even if theism is filled out with the doctrines of a particular religion (which will not be accessible to evidence and reason alone), it offers a very partial explanation of our place in the world.(25)

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Franz Brentano: The Age of Intentionalism

One of the most important innovations is that I am no longer of the opinion that mental relation can have something other than a thing [Reales] as its object. In order to justify this new point of view, I had to explore entirely new questions, for example I had to go into the investigation of the modes of presentation.

Franz Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint

The recursive nature of the mind goes back as far a Kant (1787) who spoke explicitly of ‘inner sense,’ and Locke (1690) defined consciousness as the ‘perception of what passes in a man’s mind.’ Brentano (controversially) interpreted Aristotle’s enigmatic and terse discussion of “seeing that one sees” in De Anima III.2 as an anticipation of his own ‘inner perception’ view.

In some ways the Age of Intentionalism is coming to an end. We’ve been skirting around this issue for some time now but have yet to meet it on its own terms. If we are moving toward a post-Intentional view of the Mind then we should be reminded once again of Wilfred Sellars admonition:

Once again, as so often in the history of philosophy, there is a danger that a position will be abandoned before the reasons for its inadequacy are fully understood, with the twin results that: (a) it will not be noticed that its successor, to all appearances a direct contrary, shares some of its mistakes; (b) the truths contained in the old position will be cast aside with its errors. The almost inevitable result of these stampedes has been the ‘swing of the pendulum’ character of philosophical thought; the partial truth of the old position reasserts itself in the long run and brings the rest of the tangle with it.

– Wilfred Sellars, Phenomenalism

Continue reading

Rosi Braidotti: Nomadic Ethics and Subjectivity

The notion of the non-human, in-human, or post-human emerges as the defining trait of nomadic ethical subjectivity.

– Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic ethics

Bruno Latour once argued that the modernist distinction between nature and culture never existed.1 He claimed we must rework our thinking about such distinctions as to conceive of a “Parliament of Things” wherein natural phenomena, social phenomena and the discourse about them are not seen as separate objects to be studied by specialists, but as hybrids made and scrutinized by the public interaction of people, things and concepts (ibid. 142-145).

Rosi Braidotti offers us a reading of Deleuze as neo-Vitalist, a neo-Spinozist whose ethics is activated by a specific subjectivity and mode of ontological life (zoe). She defends Deleuze against the post-Hedeggerians (Foucault, Derrida, Agamben, etc.) saying that he espouses the generative force of Zoê and a culture of affirmation rather than negation:

Life is not an a priori that gets individuated in single instances, but it is immanent to and thus coincides with its multiple material actualizations. … Deleuze’s immanence … locates the affirmation in the exteriority, the cruel, messy, outside-ness of Life itself.2 (172)

Braidotti argues that the Liberal Subject is no longer viable, the called for in this post-liberal era are new modes of ethical behavior.  Beyond the liberal universalistic and individual core lies the realm of an ethics of forces, desires, and values that act as “empowering modes of becoming”, rather than the moralistic framework of established protocols and sets of rules and guidelines for behavior (173). That there are certain prerequisites and preconditions for such move is without doubt and Braidtotti situates her stance within a framework that entails a new understanding of subjectivity. She follows Deleuze in affirming Life as central, but this vital force is defined within the older Greek notion of zoe – Zoê (from ancient Greek ζωή, meaning spiritual life, in contrast to Bios, meaning bological life): as a vital force that is non-human, impersonal, generative, trans-individual, post-anthropocentric, and post-finitude dimension of subjectivity (173-174).

Continue reading

Gilles Deleuze: What is immanence?

“What is immanence? A life… No one has described what a life is better than Charles Dickens, if we take the indefinite article as an index of the transcendental. A disreputable man, a rogue, held in contempt by everyone, is found as he lies dying. Suddenly, those taking care of him manifest an eagerness, respect, even love, for this slightest sign of life. Everybody bustles about to save him, to the point where, in his deepest coma, this wicked man himself senses something soft and sweet penetrating him. But to the degree that he comes back to life, his saviors turn colder, and he becomes once again mean and crude. Between his life and his death, there is a moment that is only that of a life playing with death. The life of the individual gives way to an impersonal and yet singular life that releases a pure event freed from the accidents of internal and external life, that is, from the subjectivity and objectivity of what happens: a “Homo tantum” with whom everyone empathizes and who attains a sort of beatitude. It is a haecceity no longer of individuation but of singularization: a life of pure immanence, neutral, beyond good and evil, for it was only the subject that incarnated it in the midst of things that made it good or bad. The life of such individuality fades away in favor of the singular life immanent to a man who no longer has a name, though he can be mistaken for no other. A singular essence, a life…”

– Deleuze, from Immanence: A Life…

Giorgio Agamben: Standing before the Gate

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

Giorgio Agamben, potentialities – collected essays in philosophy

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

– Moshe Idel, Messianic Mystics

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

– Giorgio Agamben, Bartleby, or on Contingency

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

Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deleuze/Guattari: The Opening Gambit

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

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

Continue reading

1968: Friends, History, and Philosophy

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

– James Jones, The Merry Month of May

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

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

– S.C. Hickman, my personal journal

Continue reading

History, Cosmology, and Philosophy

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

– Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design

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

Continue reading

Deleuze as Hierophant: The Fate of Philosophy

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

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

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

Continue reading

Vita Activa: Deleuze against the Contemplative Life?

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

– Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism

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

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

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

Continue reading

Gilles Deleuze: Quote of the Day

“In Spinoza the whole theory of expression supports univocity; and its whole import is to free univocal Being from a state of indifference or neutrality, to make it the object of a pure affirmation, which is actually realized in an expressive pantheism or immanence. Here, I feel, lies the real opposition between Spinoza and Leibniz: the theory of univocal expressions in the one should be opposed to the equivocal expressions in the other.

Representation is thus located in a certain extrinsic relation of idea and object, where each enjoys an expressivity over and above representation. In short, what is expressed everywhere intervenes as a third term that transforms dualities.

What is expressed is sense: deeper than the relation of causality, deeper than the relation of representation. The body has a mechanism in reality, there is an automatism of thought in the order of ideality; but we learn that the corporeal mechanism and the spiritual automaton are most expressive when they find their “sense” and their “correspondence” in the necessary reason that was everywhere lacking in Cartesianism.”

– Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (333-335)

Deleuze: The Philosophy of Crime Novels

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Deleuze: Another Path

Yet, Deleuze offers us another path against substantive formalisms:

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

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

Continue reading

Brandom and Brassier: Hegel Redivivus

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Whitehead’s Speculative Philosophy: Speculum of Experience

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

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

– Alfred North Whitehead, In Defense of Speculative Philosophy

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

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

Continue reading

The Aesthetics of Deleuze

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

– Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation

 

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

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

Continue reading

Notes on the Theory of Forms: Plato, Aristotle, and…

Sometimes we need to spend time tracing down both the etymological and philosophical history of certain terms that have subtly ensconced themselves within our discourse. Our theoretical understanding of Forms is one such term. The Greek concept of form is represented by a number of words mainly having to do with vision: the sight or appearance of a thing. The main words, εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea) come from the Indo-European root *weid-, “see”. Both words are already there in the works of Homer, the earliest Greek literature. Equally ancient is μορφή (morphē), “shape”, from an obscure root. The φαινόμενα (phainomena), “appearances”, from φαίνω (phainō), “shine”, Indo-European *bhā-, was a synonym.1

What’s interesting is that all these etymological derivations return us to perception, sight, vision, shape, shine, appearance. And that eidos and idea are rooted in seeing or sighting. Why should human perception of things come into play at all? Why is our study of natural processes always based on sight? Is the tyranny of all the eye what forces us to make such distinctions as form and content as if form (eidos, idea, etc.) is the active element and content (substance, matter, content, material, etc.) as passive?

We know that Plato was a realist of Ideas, that he formulated a theory of Forms or theory of Ideas which asserts that non-material abstract (but substantial) forms (or ideas) were the only real, and that the material world of change known to us through sensation was a shadow world of mimicry and play. For Plato the Forms are the only true objects of study, and they are the only source of all genuine knowledge. Most philosophers have disagreed with Plato’s assessment of Forms. Even Plato himself through his fictional young and older versions of Socrates plays with the dangerous notion of representationalism to account for the truth of universals and particulars, introducing the notions that particulars do not exist as such, that whatever they are, they “mime” the Forms, appearing to be particulars. This dualism of universals in particulars, appearance and reality is with us still.

Continue reading

Gilles Deleuze: Transcendental Empiricism as Idealism?

“All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for ever apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight… The reason is that this, most of all the sense, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things.”

– Aristotle, Metaphysics

“The west’s eye-intense pagan line begins in Egypt as does the hard persona of art and politics. Egypt created the distance between eye and object which is a hallmark of western philosophy and aesthetics. The distance is a charged force field, a dangerous temenos.”

– Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

“As long as we stick to things and words we can believe that we are speaking of what we see, that we see what we are speaking of, and that the two are linked.”

– Gilles Deleuze, Foucault

The problems of representationalism are with us still. Deleuze’s philosophy might well be caught up in this fatal flaw, enmeshed within a tributary Idealism, an Idealism that investigates the central problem-idea that has plagued philosophy since Plato: how to overcome this linkage between things and words, mind and world, subject and object. This link or gap between, the dualism or duel between things and their generative forces, powers, and intensities.

Is sight the disease of all Idealisms?  In their new work Dunham, Grant, and Watson tell us that if “we put together our view that idealism is realist in respect to Ideas with the argument that the philosophy of nature forms a crucial component of it, we arrive at a conception not of the two-worlds idealism beloved of interpretations of Plato, but of a one-world inflationary idealism.”1  Between the abstract universal and the concrete universal, between Plato and Hegel, the rift that is history of Idealism plays itself out:

“The concrete universal, or the whole determined by the particulars it generates and that 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 the universe’ (Ti, 53a) from disorder (ataxia), as organization. When idealism is presented as realism concerning the Idea, this means: first, that the Idea is causal in terms of organization; second, that this is an organization that is not formal or abstract in the separable sense, but rather concretely relates part to whole as the whole; and third, therefore that such an idealism is a one-world idealism that must, accordingly, take nature seriously” (8).

Continue reading

Plato’s Camera, Paul Bowles Travels, and Beauty and Truth: or, Art and Junk

“My literary activities in Paris that winter were confined to the search for missing issues of certain defunct and moribund magazines of which I wanted to have a complete collection. This took more time and energy than one might expect. The publications of particular interest were Minotaure, Bifur and Documents, a short-lived review edited by Carl Einstein. These were not to be found at the stalls along the quays, but in small second-hand bookshops scattered across the city, so that in my search for them I was obliged to do a good deal of walking. This however suited me perfectly, as there was nothing I enjoyed more than wandering on foot through the less frequented streets of Paris, which I continued to find mysterious and inexhaustible.”

                     – Paul Bowles,  Travels

On Sundays I allow myself a reprieve from philosophical studies and wander through my library of lost adventures. I came across a collection of old books by Paul Bowles today and decided to read a few of his delightful essays on traveling. I lied… my travails led me into Paul Churchland’s new book, Plato’s Camera, as well as Ray Brassier, Steven Shaviro and… oh well, I did try to stay away from philosophical topics, but my mind needs satisfaction and this always seems to lead toward philosophical topics. Here we go…

Paul Bowles was the last surviving representative of a generation of artists whose work has shaped 20th century literature and music. Among those lives that intersected with Paul Bowles during the “beat generation” were Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Aaron Copeland and Gertrude Stein. Paul Bowles achieved critical and popular acclaim with the publication of his first novel The Sheltering Sky, in 1949 set in French North Africa. The Sheltering Sky was later filmed in 1990 by Bernardo Bertolucci. The film was shot in Morocco  as well as Algeria and Niger and features actors Deborah Winger John Malkovich and Timothy Spall. The Sheltering Sky tells a dangerous and erotic journey of an American artist couple, Port and Kit Mores, and their aimless travels through Africa in search of new experiences. In 1947 Paul Bowles settled in Tangier, Morocco, and his wife, Jane Bowles followed in 1948. Except for winters spent in Sri Lanka during the early 1950’s Tangier, Morocco was his home for the remainder of his life.

The first essay in the series is of his stay in Paris during the late 20’s and early 30’s and his meetings with both the famous and infamous artists, writers, poets, and others of that era. He relates an incident in which he was given some artistic assemblages made of wood, plaster, and bits of rope from the Joan Miro collection across the street from his small apartment on 17 Quai Voltaire:

“These were made of wood, plaster, and bits of rope, somewhat reminiscent of parts of Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau, but conceived with an eye to please. Harry visited the Galerie Pierre and came back with three of these Mirós. They livened up the place, and made me feel that I was really in Paris and that it was the year 1932. The Foujitas had suggested another era – the preceding decade. (When one is twenty years old, a decade is a long time.) We put the Foujitas into a closet. Scarcely a fortnight later I came home one afternoon to find that the studio seemed unusually dim. It took only a few seconds for me to realize that the Foujitas were back in their accustomed places on the wall, and that the Mirós had disappeared. The maid would not have done this; it could only have been the concierge or Mme. Ovise herself. I rushed downstairs to speak with the concierge. At first she had no idea of what I was talking about (or pretended to have none.) This was because I described the missing Mirós as pictures. Eventually she did understand, saying: “Monsieur means those old pieces of wood that someone had put on the wall? I threw them out. I thought monsieur would be glad to be rid of them.” A search of the cellar was undertaken, and the constructions, to which I kept referring as works of art, much to the concierge’s bewilderment, were found in a corner with a pile of kindling wood. They were not in prime condition, and had to be taken back to the Galerie Pierre for repairs. It was finally Miró himself who rebuilt them” (T 24-25).1

Continue reading

The New Materialsm

“In the language of physical science, the change from materialism to ‘organic realism’— as the new outlook may be termed— is the displacement of the notion of static stuff by the notion of fluent energy. Such energy has its structure of action and flow, and is inconceivable apart from such structure.”

                                –  Alfred North Whitehead,  Process and Reality

To many people materialism is still under the shadow of Descartes. Many of our ideas about materiality in fact remain indebted to Descartes, who defined matter in the seventeenth century as corporeal substance constituted of length, breadth, and thickness; as extended, uniform, and inert. This provided the basis for modern ideas of nature as quantifiable and measurable and hence for Euclidian geometry and Newtonian physics. According to this model, material objects are identifiably discrete; they move only upon an encounter with an external force or agent, and they do so according to a linear logic of cause and effect. It seems intuitively congruent with what common sense tells us is the “real” material world of solid, bounded objects that occupy space and whose movements or behaviors are predictable, controllable, and replicable because they obey fundamental and invariable laws of motion. One might term this the extensive worldview of dead matter.

That philosophy has been conditioned and informed by non-philosophical domains is a truism, as Alain Badiou tells us: “I am perfectly in agreement with the statement that philosophy depends on certain nonphilosophical domains, which I have proposed to call the ‘conditions’ of philosophy” (PM 212 KL*).1 For Badiou there are four such condtions or non-philosophical domains: science, art, politics, and love. This essay deals with science in our own era and the indicative aspects of how it is informing philosophical speculations. Alfred North Whitehead was one of the first philosophers of the twientieth-century to observe the birth of a new approach to physics and cosmology within the work of Albert Einstein (Relativity) and Max Born (Quantum Physics). Along with it came a new sense of what matter is and this changed everything. The worldview of the Cartesian cogito and Newtonian physics was overturned. After this even the work of such materialists visions as Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud put forward within a Newtonian-Cartesian framework suddenly came into question, as well as many of the followers of the supposed Kantian Copernican Revolution in philosophy. Since that time new views on mind, thought, and matter have vied for a place in the sun.

Continue reading