Sunday, July 29, 2007

Where the idealism of George Berkeley is viewed as common sense

Philosophical themes
Through the vehicle of fantasy or speculative fiction, this story playfully explores several philosophical questions and themes. These include, above all, an effort by Borges to imagine a world (Tlön) where the 18th century philosophical idealism of George Berkeley is viewed as common sense and "the doctrine of materialism" is considered a heresy, a scandal, and a paradox ["Tlön...", p.117]. Through describing the languages of Tlön, the story also plays with the epistemological question of how language influences what thoughts are possible. The story also contains several metaphors for the way ideas influence reality. This last theme is first explored cleverly, by way of describing physical objects being willed into existence by the force of imagination, but later returns darker, as fascination with the idea of Tlön begins to distract people from paying adequate attention to the reality of earth.
Much of the story engages with the philosophical idealism of George Berkeley, perhaps best known for questioning whether a tree falling unobserved in the forest makes a sound. (Berkeley, an Anglican bishop, resolved that question to his own satisfaction by saying that there is a sound because God is always there to hear it.) Berkeley's philosophy privileges perceptions over any notion of the "thing in itself." Immanuel Kant accused Berkeley of going so far as to deny objective reality.
In the imagined world of Tlön, an exaggerated Berkeleian idealism without God passes for common sense. The Tlönian view recognizes perceptions as primary and denies the existence of any underlying reality. At the end of the main portion of the story, immediately before the postscript, Borges stretches this toward its logical breaking point by imagining that, "Occasionally a few birds, a horse perhaps, have saved the ruins of an amphitheater" by continuing to perceive it.[14] Besides commenting on Berkeley's philosophy, this and other aspects of Borges' story can be taken as a commentary on the ability of ideas to influence reality. For example, in Tlön there are objects known as hrönir[15] that arise when two different people find the "same" lost object in different places.
Borges imagines a Tlönite working his way out of the problem of solipsism by reasoning that if all people are actually aspects of one being, then perhaps the universe is consistent because that one being is consistent in his imagining. This is, effectively, a near-reconstruction of the Berkeleian God: perhaps not omnipresent, but bringing together all perceptions that do, indeed, occur.
This story is not the only place where Borges engages with Berkeleian idealism and with the related 20th century philosophy of phenomenology. Phenomenology privileges psychical phenomena over physical phenomena and "brackets off" objective reality as unknowable. In the world of Tlön, as in Borges's essay New refutation of time (1947), there is (as Emir Rodriguez Monegal and Alastair Reid comment) a "denial of space, time, and the individual I."[16] This worldview does not merely "bracket off" objective reality, but also parcels it separately into all its successive moments. Even the continuity of the individual self is open to question.
When Borges writes "The metaphysicians of Tlön are not looking for truth or even an approximation to it: they are after a kind of amazement. They consider metaphysics a branch of fantastic literature,"[17] he can be seen either as anticipating the extreme relativism that underlies some postmodernism or simply as taking a swipe at those who take metaphysics too seriously.

Literary themes
The story also anticipates, in miniature, several key formal ideas that were later played out in the works of Vladimir Nabokov. At one point Borges has Adolfo Bioy Casares propose to "writ[e] a novel in the first person, using a narrator who omitted or corrupted what happened and who ran into various contradictions," which arguably anticipates the strategy of Nabokov's Lolita (1955) and precisely anticipates the strategy of his Pale Fire (1962). At the same time, Earth's obsession with Tlön in Borges's story anticipates the central conceit of Nabokov's Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969), where the narrator's world has a similar obsession with Terra. In both works, the people of the narrator's world become obsessed with an imaginary world (Tlön/Terra) to the point of being more interested in that fiction than in their own lives. The parallel is not perfect: in Borges's story, the narrator's world is essentially our own world, and Tlön is a fiction that gradually intrudes upon it; in Nabokov's novel, the narrator's world is a parallel world and Terra is our Earth, misperceived as a place of almost uniform peace and happiness.
In the context of the imagined world of Tlön, Borges describes a school of literary criticism that arbitrarily assumes that two works are by the same person and, based on that, deduces things about the imagined author.
The story also plays with the theme of the love of books in general, and of encyclopedias and atlases in particular — books that are each themselves, in some sense, a world.
Like many of Borges's works, the story challenges the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. It mentions several quite real historical human beings (himself, his friend Bioy Casares, Thomas de Quincey, et al.) but often attributes fictional aspects to them; the story also contains many fictional characters and others whose factuality may be open to question.

Other themes
While this might seem quite enough material for any short story, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" also engages a number of other related themes. The story begins and ends with issues of reflection, replication, and reproduction — both perfect and imperfect — and the related issue of the power of language and ideas to make or remake the world.
At the start of the story, we have an "unnerving" and "grotesque" mirror reflecting the room, a "literal if inadequate" (and presumably plagiarized) reproduction of the Encyclopedia Britannica, an apt misquotation by Bioy Casares, and the issue of whether one should be able to trust whether the various copies of a single book will have the same content.[18] At the end Borges is working on a "tentative translation" of an English-language work into Spanish, while the power of the ideas of "a scattered dynasty of solitaries" remakes the world in the image of Tlön.[19]
Along the way we have stone mirrors;[20] the idea of reconstructing an entire encyclopedia of an imaginary world based on a single volume;[21] the analogy of that encyclopedia to a "cosmos" governed by "strict laws";[22] a worldview in which our normal notions of "thing" are rejected, but "ideal objects abound, invoked and dissolved momentarily, according to poetic necessity";[23] the universe conceived as "the handwriting of a minor god to communicate with a demon" or a "code system… in which not all symbols have meaning";[24] hrönir, duplicates of objects called into existence by ignorance or hope, and where "those of the eleventh degree have a purity of form that the originals do not possess";[25] and Ezra Buckley's wish "to demonstrate to a nonexistent God that mortal men were capable of conceiving a world."

Friday, July 27, 2007

What philosophy must be, what it must look like

All of these interweaving dialogues have left me wondering what philosophy must be, what it must look like, when the mediated and contextual nature of agency is recognized. When one can no longer posit the subject as a ground of transparency and immediate presence, where does one begin without falling into a programmatic dogmatism? How does one begin to ground claims in such a universe? What does an epoche look like when it is no longer the delivery of a pure subject? I have no idea of how to formulate such questions and the alien that has decided to inhabit my stomach makes it difficult to even think about these questions. I certainly don’t wish to assert that philosophy is at an end, though I find myself concerned with what strikes me as dogmatism among a number of structurally influenced thinkers.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Baudrillard needs to be re-read and re-engaged

Baudrillard needs to be re-read and re-engaged, I think. He is too often folded into Deleuzian readings or "corrected" by Zizekian analysis, as if Baudrillard hadn't already laid out thorough, nuanced, and rather impressive criticisms of the internal heuristic limits of both the desiring machine and psychoanalysis. He is said to ignore class conditions and the necessity of Marxist critique, as well as the reality of suffering, even as he spends entire books detailing his objections to Marxism and essay after essay explaining the role of the reality-principle in the portrayal of suffering.
He is declared a (bad) nihilist and a misogynist, as if he never accounted for and addressed criticism of his work after the 80s, and as if he never further extended and enriched his analysis. That this sort of short-thrift, simulation-via-assumption engagement has become so commonplace, and that it confirms much of his take-down of critical theory, should hardly be surprising. If anything, it seems banal, perhaps even oafish, to take note of it. Nevertheless... Tags: Posted on July 25, 2007 5:18 PM

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I am inter-penetrated by the texts I allow to enter me

Tue 24 Jul 2007 Reading as a Material Event Posted by larvalsubjects
Discourse with another is here no longer an innocent way of passing the time like Socrates beneath the tree with the young, charming and hansom Phaedrus, but is to transform, if only in a small way, both of those involved in a way that is irresolvable and that even has its own chemistry. Somewhere in the film Boogie Nights, Mark Wahlberg’s character speaks of wanting to pull his brain from his head so that he might scrub it clean of the things he’s seen. Isn’t that what it’s like?
After we’ve read Marquis de Sade’s Justine or Levinas or Marx or Levi Strauss or Lacan or Plato or Kino Fist or Spurious an irreversible event has taken place, a material transformation has occurred. I choose such a disparate collection intentionally. I am not the same after these things, but rather the trace now clouds those information events taking place in the present, filling the present with echoes of these traces, crowding the present with these echoes, rendering the present always an absence.
In the end it is amazing that we take the act of reading and discoursing so lightly. I would like to think the texts I read are something external to me, something I can cast aside when I grow bored or horrified, thereby being done, but really if I’m a physical system this cannot be done. I am inter-penetrated by the texts I allow to enter me and I cannot be done with them even when I think that I’ve forgotten or finished with them.
Perhaps this lends credence to Deleuze’s eternal return in a way that is not simply arrogance or pretension: I shall have been all the names of history in the precise sense that I shall have been the discourses that flow through me, as trace, as an anonymous murmur, where I am naught but the eccentric subject striving to grasp myself in this field of endless traces.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Yoga helps to illuminate many hidden or underemphasized dimensions in Christianity

Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death!
One Cosmos Under God Robert W. Godwin Tuesday, July 17, 2007
So, Schopenhauer realized that Kant had made several serious boo-boos in his analysis. For one thing, Kant regarded the noumenal as consisting of things (plural) in themselves, uncolored by our perceptions of them. But in order for anything to be different from anything else, it must occupy a different space or be in a different time. If it occupies the same time and space, then it is the same thing. In fact, "the very concept of number would be impossible without the concept of succession, and the concept of succession presupposes either spatial or temporal concepts, or both" (Magee). So everything from mathematics to music to evolution can only occur in a universe in which there is differentiation and succession.
But -- as Kant pointed out, space and time are forms of human sensibility. Remove the human subject, and they vanish. For as I pointed out on page 55 of the Coonifesto -- which, thanks to the many supporters of this blog, continues to bubble under the top 300,000 sellers on amazon -- the cosmos actually has no qualities at all in the absence of a subject in space and time. I won't repeat my reasoning here, since I know you already have the book and can look it up yourself.
Schopenhauer concluded from this that whatever it is that abides outside experience must be undifferentiated. He didn't say "one," because even that presupposes its opposite, i.e., "many." Furthermore, being that knowledge implies differentiation between a subject and an object, a knower and something known, there can only be knowledge within the phenomenal world. We can know about the noumenal, in the same sense that I can know many things about another person and still never know what it is actually like to be him. There is a kind of absolute barrier that exists between the noumenal subject of any two people.
Schopenhauer's conclusion -- which seems to me unassailable, as far as it goes -- is that "there is an immaterial, undifferentiated, timeless, spaceless something of which we can never have direct knowledge but which manifests itself to us as this differentiated phenomenal world of material objects (including us) in space and time."
In my book, I used the symbol O to stand for this reality. Interestingly, Schopenhauer arrived at this conclusion using pure metaphysics alone. Only much later in life did one of the first copies of the Upanishads available in the West fall into his hands -- a Latin translation of a Persian translation. He would read a few pages before going to bed each night, and wrote of them that they were "the consolation of my life and will be that of my death."
But little did Schopenhauer know that there was actually no conflict between the Upanishads and the religious traditions of the West. Showing this to be so was one of the elephantine tusks I set before myself in writing One Cosmos, even if you think the book a pachydermented trunk full of junk. Again, it is not as if Christianity is in need of yoga, only that the latter -- at least for me -- helps to illuminate many hidden or underemphasized dimensions in the former. This is all I mean by "Christian yoga."
Getting back to Schopenhauer for a moment, although like all Raccoons he recognized that science was one of the glories of man, he was also fully aware of its sharp limitations with regard to metaphysics. As Magee writes, science can never be complete or exhaustive because "it explains things in terms that are themselves left unexplained," and is therefore inevitably circular. If you want to know what the world is as such, it is not in the nature of science to provide it: "Ultimate explanations, then, are not to be looked for in science. The insistence that they are is not a scientific belief but a belief in science, a metaphysical belief, an act of faith whose inadequacy [is] fairly easy to demonstrate. At its crudest it takes the form of materialism," which Schopenhauer described as "the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself." In fact, nothing that is mere knowledge can ever be ultimate, by definition.
Again, Schopenhauer's battle cry was that "the solution to the riddle of the world is only possible through the proper connection of outer with inner experience." "This being so," according to Magee, "it would seem that the royal road to a deeper understanding of the nature of things must pass through the investigation of inner as well as outer experience, and if anything, more the former than the latter." In fact, Schopenhauer was of the belief that "philosophy has so long been in vain because it was sought by way of the sciences instead of by way of the arts."
And exactly what did he mean by this? Of all the arts, he especially felt that music was the most adequate expression of the way in which the noumenal passes into the phenomenal, or the manner in which we may trace the phenomenal back to the noumenal. This is discussed on pp. 106-107 of the Coonifesto, so I won't rebeat myhorse here.
Rather, I would like to go down a tangent that I don't think I ever explicitly considered before. In a certain sense, Shopenhauer was a precursor of Freud's discoveries of the unconscious, in that he recognized that our own interior structure mirrored that of the cosmos. That is to say, we have an outward "phenomenal" ego that floats atop, so to speak, "an underlying reality that remains hidden from us and can never be met with in experience." Not only is this realm "unconscious," but it is incapable of being conscious (to us, not for itself, a key point). For ultimately it is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream, the ineffable background subject of human experience.
This being so, I wonder if it proves the existence of our own immortality -- not of the ego, which, of course, is phenomenal and therefore of the passing moment, but of its source and ground, which necessarily transcends space and time. My favorite Christian yogi, Meister Eckhart, certainly thought so, for
There is something in the soul which is above the soul, divine, simple, an absolute nothing; rather unnamed than named; unknown than known.... higher than knowledge, higher than love, higher than grace, for in all these there is still a distinction. posted by Gagdad Bob at 7/17/2007 08:25:00 AM 17 comments links to this post

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why does the world take the form it takes at this particular point in history?

I had a fruitful though short exchange with N Pepperell over at Rough Theory late yesterday about some issues raised at Larval Subjects. Distilled like a fine Whiskey, Pepperell concentrates on some questions about change, raised as elaborations of a kind of return to Marx’s “aim of philosophy,” put forth by Sinthome. They are:
1. What is to be changed?
2. How is it to be changed?
3. Why does the world take the form it takes at this particular point in history?
In my comments on Pepperell, I jump at what I saw. These are three questions that seem quite old actually, almost worn out and deceptively practical. I would like to suggest that these questions and their ilk are worth raising only if they point us back– and I think they can– to a more core issue for the cause of revolution and freedom: if the aim of philosophy for Marx is not merely to explain the world, but to change it, than our pre-occupation should not be with the world as much as with change itself. In other words, the appropriate question is:what is change?.
This is what I feel Zizek is up to in his jesterly Leninist moments. As I explained somewhat in my entry last week on Repeating Lenin, and re-iterated in my comments with Pepperell, the concern with change must be dead-serious at its core. This means avoiding the cynical gesture that, as soon as we begin to engage the question of what change is really about, change is impossible and necessarily to be avoided. We should adopt an ironic gesture of confronting this apparent impossibility for change, which confronts us with an almost humorous absurdity, with the intent of taking it as seriously as can be. The point is, of course, that change conceived as a co-ordinate in the present hegemonic-ideological field is by definition an impossibility, as it is (at this point anyway, after the great revolutionary attempts of the 19th and 20th Centuries) the repressed kernel effectively making the reproduction of the ideological field possible. This is what Zizek is getting at when he tells us that
The point is that there is a certain something not going on when all we feel compelled to ask are questions like those I quote from Sinthome above. Masked in such seriousness, this is an activity “of doing things not to achieve something, but to PREVENT from something really happening, really changing” (ibid). The most radical question we should be asking, if we are to return to Marx’s aim of philosophy, is that which confronts change head-on and takes it seriously and not its impossibility. That is why I think there is something important to this repetition of Lenin. It takes us back to “the Lenin-in-becoming, the Lenin whose fundamental experience was that of being thrown into a catastrophic new constellation in which old coordinates proved useless, and who was thus compelled to REINVENT Marxism” (ibid)– the Lenin who had the depth and courage to ask in all seriousness: what is change?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Lying for the better good of the general public

The sci/religion is composed of three interlocking components.
1) Theory 2) Observation 3) technology
Ever since Socrates, political economy and science have been interlinked, as detailed in professor Lummis’ recent book on radical democracy. Radical Democracy by C. Douglas Lummis (1997)
Socrates, the first prophet of sci/religion, argued that every one can be a ruler—become aristocracy—by studying philosophy and geometry. Socrates also argued that a person should lie if it will stop another person considered mad from harming themselves. The example Socrates gives is that if you have a mad person’s sword and that mad person asks for it back you should lie so that the mad person does not harm himself.
This teaching—lying for the better good of the general public—is justified through the mathematics—the geometry—of iron technology (the sword) based in the ancient Solar Dynasty city-state empires.
Iron became more valuable than silver as a currency in India because geometric mathematics, started in ritual sacrifice altar technology, enabled better iron technology for chariot warfare.
Socrates and Plato are held up as the bastions of reason and the founders of western civilization when in fact Socrates and Plato both advocated Lying—the Straussian Means of Power—in deference to the Power of Geometry.
This lying is what Einstein means when he refers to learning “the Secrets of the Old Ones.” Freemasonry. Einstein had to lie. The physicists lie and the technology they use transforms humans into cogs in the cycling of the elements.
Axiomatic mathematics relies on phonetic-letter based symbols (magnitude units) as hidden constants to justify “the actual infinite” as transcendental truth. The question remains in math “Whats the point?”—quite literally—as the logical fallacies of geometry are exposed in Cantor, Dedekind, Kronecker, Russell, Godel, etc.
As math becomes more and more esoteric the numbers rely more and more on symbolic logic that is utterly absurd. In other words math, as the foundation of Reason, is reverting back to a mythology of multi-variant non-phonetic language.
The essential issue is that Time, defined by Number, is Asymmetrical but Logic does not use Time. This is the foundation of the Cretin’s Liar Paradox: “The Cretin said, “all Cretins are Liars.” The paradox of Logical Sets and “the actual infinity” is the reason that Cantor’s arguments were dismissed by Russell and many others. The infinite set of no members is not a set.
Quantum Chaos science, the military mad science basis for nanotechnology and neural networks, relies on Gregory Bateson’s social system engineering analysis whereby people are cogs in the cycling of elements defined by analog feedback systems. In other words the question should not be “what’s the point” but “what’s the wave?” (the answer is the sine wave: Ohm/Tai Chi/Tetrad)
As France’s top mathematician, Alain Connes, argues in his recent book, the basis for new quantum technology is literally using Music as the Formal Logic framework. Triangle of Thought by Alain Connes, Andre Lichnerowicz, Marcel Paul Schutzenberger, and Jennifer Gage ( 2001)
But since quantum mechanics is based on statistics, using equal-tempered Number, instead of Asymmetrical Number defined by Pythagoras—the Imperial Framework of Science remains hidden.
In fact the Lambda of Einstein and current cosmology (a run away spacetime) is merely a reflection of the accelerating destruction of left-hand directed carbon-based ecology. As satellite telescopes document supernovas indicating the accelerating expansion of space-time, the means to implement such measures (relativized satellites) is insuring the implosion of empire.
Technology is Tantra. Science is Religion.

I confess that I find this conception of constructivism extremely attractive

Sat 7 Jul 2007 Shaviro, Whitehead, and Constructivism Posted by larvalsubjects under WhiteheadNo Comments Shaviro has a new chapter (warning PDF) up from his book on Whitehead and Deleuze. Well worth the read! From a footnote:
My sense of Whitehead as a constructivist philosopher comes from Isabelle Stengers’ great book on Whitehead (2002). For Stengers, philosophical constructivism is non-foundationalist: it rejects the notion that truth is already there in the world, or in the mind, independent of all experience and just waiting to be discovered. Instead, constructivism looks at how truths are produced within experience, through a variety of processes and practices. This does not mean that nothing is true, or that truth is merely subjective; but rather that truth is always embodied in an actual process, and that it cannot be disentangled from this process. Human subjectivity is one such process, but not the only one. Constructivism does not place human cognition at the center of everything, because the processes that produce and embody truth are not necessarily human ones.
For Stengers, as for Bruno Latour (2005), the practices and processes that produce truth involve such “actors” as animals, viruses, rocks, weather systems, and neutrinos, as well as human beings. Constructivism also does not imply relativism; in a phrase that Stengers borrows from Deleuze and Guattari, constructivism posits “not a relativity of truth, but, on the contrary, a truth of the relative” (Stengers 2006, 170, citing Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 130). In insisting upon the truth of the relative, and upon nonhuman agents in the production of this truth, constructivism is ultimately a realism, in contrast to the anthropocentrism and antirealism of so much postmodern, and indeed post-Kantian, philosophy.
I confess that I find this conception of constructivism extremely attractive. Those who followed the link to Luhmann’s brief discussion of sociological systems theory will recall that for Luhmann the elementary distinction operating systems theory is the distinction between system and environment. This, incidentally, is a distinction absent in most structural, post-structural, and a good deal of Frankfurt school theory. It could also be said that it is entirely absent in Hegel.
Deleuze seems to be a unique case by virtue of his distinction between the clear and confused with respect to Ideas or multiplicities in Difference and Repetition. For Luhmann, the key point is that the environment is always more complex than the system. In a very real sense, a system functions to manage complexity. Stengers’ and Latour’s constructivism is interesting in how it works with this phenomenon. As Stengers argues in Power and Invention, constructivism is certainly an inventiveness, but it is not an artificiality. That is, we cannot say that there is one thing, culture, and another thing, nature, such that culture is always construction that distorts nature and prevents us from ever relating to it.
Construction, rather, is a slice of chaos, or the production of a zone of clarity amidst the buzzing confusion of the world. Take the chemistry laboratory. The chemist works with elements and compounds that literally do not occur in “nature” in this particular form. A good deal of the work undertaken by the chemist concerns the purification and isolation of particular compounds so that they might be investigated under specified conditions. This construction is not an artificiality, it does not produce something “unreal” or merely cultural, but reveals real features of the world. These features are revealed in interactions. Unlike the old Aristotlean conception of entities in terms of predicates that inhere in a substance, an entity is a pattern of interactions with other entities.
We discover what something is by examining how it interacts with other entities (its dynamic relations) and intensities and how it interacts with us. In a very real sense it could be said that every entity is a field of entities, of relations, of dynamic interactions. The thought of a predicate is just the thought of an entity divested of its relations to its morphogenetic field (the milieu of individuation, or the context, in which an entity takes on its properties). It is an abstraction. I am inclined, for instance, to say that my coffee mug is blue. Yet my coffee cup only is blue in being perturbed in a particular way, i.e., in being stimulated by the light of my lamp and sun such that light comes to reflect in a particular way.
All of this should lead us to wrinkle our nose at the much ballyhood claims of quantum mechanics, where it is argued that quantum properties are a function of the measurements of the observer. It is not that this thesis is mistaken, not at all. Rather, the problem is that such claims assume that there is something like quantum particles in themselves. Rather, quantum phenomena, like anything else in the universe, take on their properties as a function of their interrelations with other phenomena: In this case, the observer. What is to be thought here is the primacy of relations and interactions over predicates, properties, and substances. Here a thesis that is all too often taken as epistemological (a thesis about what we can know about quantum phenomena) becomes properly ontological: A thesis about how entities are, not how we represent entities.
I suspect that a good number of skeptics that claim the world can never be known implicitly continue to adhere to substance ontologies. They assume that knowledge, were it possible, would be a representation of the object as it is in-itself sans relation, and then rightfully point out that any engagement with the world involves relations that prevent us from encountering the object as it is in-itself or its self-standing substantiality. All that is required to overcome this position is to point out that the object is nothing but these relations, such that skepticism need only a slight shift in perspective to become an ontology and critique of an inadequate metaphysics.
Constructivism, as described by Stengers and Latour, can, I think, be understood as the analysis of the way in which various systems manage complexity in their interactions with other elements of the world. These processes hold as much for observers, agents, rocks, birds, stars, planetary systems, and so on as it does for observing agents. In all cases what we get is selective sensitivity to certain features of the world for the entity in question, such that the object can never be thought as an in-itself sans relation and the subject can never be thought as transcendent to world or divorced from a world. Larval Subjects

Sri Aurobindo went much, much further than Whitehead

Whitehead’s process philosophy and how it relates to Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga:
Sri Aurobindo and Alfred North Whitehead were approaching Reality from two very different perspectives. Sri Aurobindo, being a master of the via mystica, was observing from an occult perspective, whereas Whitehead was working solely from the intellect’s perspective. Yet the two arrived at astonishingly similar panentheistic worldviews, with similar notions of evolution and causality, though of course I think Sri Aurobindo went much, much further than Whitehead. Whitehead built his panentheistic worldview on the basis of his knowledge of mathematics, quantum physics, and philosophy. What made Whitehead — a contemporary of Bertrand Russell — turn from atheism to panentheism? And what can practitioners of integral yoga learn from Whitehead’s reading of quantum physics? (Needless to say, Whitehead was a master of the intellect, and is a welcome relief to “New Age” quantum soup experiments.)
I’ve been recently reading a book by Professor Satya Prakash Singh on this subject entitled Nature of God: A Comparative Study in Sri Aurobindo and Whitehead. Posted by ned on July 8, 2007. Filed under Notes and Speculations.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Foucault, Zizek, Badiou, and Butler

It is clear that some social theories focus on vectors.
  • Foucault and Butler are often interested in vectors pertaining to the formation of social-elements or different types of agencies. That is, they often focused on questions pertaining to processes of “subjectivization”.
  • Zizek appears to be interested in questions pertaining to reproduction in time, or our attachment, through jouissance, to various social-formations. Those engaged in identity politics are interested in attractors pertaining to elements of the social system, or the relative place of a status-group within the social-formation. Here the status-group (the ethnic or gendered subject) is treated as a given (i.e., the vectors of production are ignored, if acknowledged at all), and the question is one of how to reconfigure the place of the status-group within the social-formation while preserving the identity as it is.
  • Badiou is interested in transformations of the social-formation itself and consequently with those vectors pertaining to how new social-formations, new social-organizations, might emerge. Etc. Fri 6 Jul 2007 Random Thoughts on Social Dynamics, Vectors, and Attractors Posted by larvalsubjects under Constellation , Individuation , Assemblages , Relation , Networks , Politics , Systems , Uncategorized

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Critique does not operate by opposing artificial to real

"As I see it, Hegel's switch from fantasies of individual salvation through contact with a blurry other world to fantasies of the blurry end of a historical sequence was a step forward. That is because it adumbrated a sort of protopragmatism. It helped us stop talking about the way things were always meant to be - God's will, Nature's way - and begin talking about the way things never were but might, with our help, become. With Hegel, intellectuals began to switch over from fantasies of contacting eternity to fantasies of construction a better future. Hegel helped us start substituting hope for knowledge." -Richard Rorty, Truth and Progress 1998, p. 232-33
Silent Weaving Posted by N Pepperell 04/07/2007 @ 12:49 am Filed in Critical Theory, Philosophy of History, Scratchpad, Conversations, Negations Regular readers of this blog will know that I have engaged in a sustained collaborative interaction with Sinthome from Larval Subjects for some time. The two blogs are criss-crossed with mutual references, trackbacks, and links - the material traces of the threads of our conversations over the past year. And, even when public discussion has grown momentarily quiet, Sinthome’s questions and comments often lie just beneath the surface of what I write. Hopefully Sinthome won’t object if I reflect on some of those questions and comments in this post - at least as a placeholder for discussion at a later time.
The question that is currently echoing in my thoughts concerns the role of the terms “negation” and “contradiction” in my theoretical work. Sinthome has wondered whether these terms might toss readers into a thoughtspace that sits in tension with some of the other ways that I describe the work of critique. I generally describe critique, for example, as a process of exploring and rendering explicit potentials for practice that have been constituted within a determinate situation, but that contain the potential to react back on that situation itself. Sinthome has suggested that this is not how most readers will hear or understand a theoretical system that deploys terms like “contradiction” or “negation” - that these terms are historically and currently associated with a very different, perhaps more proscriptive, or perhaps more abstract, vision of the work of critique...
Moving right along… Sinthome also questioned the use of the term “negation”, suggesting that a theory that understands critique as the identification of potentials might not be well-served by the terminology of negation. Here the issue is somewhat complex: my position would be that I do need to retain the term “negation” - or at least some close equivalent - but that I don’t intend this term as a descriptor of what I am doing when speaking in my own voice. One of the central theoretical problems I’m am trying to resolve is how it should come to be the case that certain things that I believe I can thematise as determinate, immanent, potentials generated by collective human practices specific to our social context, should instead come to be viewed in some other traditions as negatives - as nothing - as what is left behind when all positive determinations have been stripped away.
This task is made more complicated by the fact that I am trying to offer an immanent theory - which means, among other things, that my own approach doesn’t give me privileged access to an “outside” from which I can criticise competing positions as “objectively” wrong. Instead, critique has to take the form of demonstrating the plausibility of competing positions - explaining why the forms of subjectivity expressed in competing theoretical approaches plausibly exist in the social world I am analysing - while also demonstrating these positions to be partial and criticisable, when viewed from other collectively-available perspectives (again, a highly abbreviated comment that I can’t develop fully here).
When I mention potentials that are perceived to express what remains when everything all positive determinations have been stripped away, I have in mind affirmative notions of scientific objectivity or neutrality, but also many critical perspectives - for example, approaches that see critique as a standpoint that expresses a form of subjectivity that results from some sort of total exclusion from society, or a critical perspective that arises from an abstraction to a mere biological existence, or a critical ideal that relates to some sort of vision of an underlying human nature: I believe that I can show how such positions, that understand themselves as expressive of a perspective devoid of arbitrary social determinations - that thematise critique quintessentially in terms of the criticism of arbitrary determinations - instead express determinate sensibilities that relate to identifiable forms of collective practice that are specific to capitalist society. What other approaches might see as an undetermined remainder, I think I can grasp as a determinate potential - a potential whose specific qualitative characteristics I can link back to interrelated forms of practice and shapes of consciousness that are generated as moments of a capitalist society - but that can also point beyond the circumstances in which they have arisen.
A key element to this kind of critique is that it does not function to unmask and debunk the forms of thought or practice to which it draws attention. The core point is not to demonstrate that competing understandings of critique are “wrong”, but rather to show how they deflect attention away from specific dimensions of social practice that are generative of the forms of critical sensibility associated with “negation”, while channelling critical attention in a one-sided way toward what I tend to call concrete social relations. As a consequence (and I am painfully aware of how undeveloped and unsubstantiated this point will be, raised in this way), these forms of critique can tend to focus attention on potentials to transform institutions whose existence is already constituted as radically contingent within capitalism, while obscuring and thus shielding from critique other key dimensions of a capitalist context.
In Benjaminian terms, such forms of critique don’t allow history - our history, our constituted present - to become “citable in all its moments”. The consequences can range from inappropriate pessimism due to the perception that the social context is more impervious to transformation than it actually is, all the way through to catastrophic failures of utopian revolutionary movements. I am trying to develop a better theoretical scaffolding for making sense of how such consequences become likely - and how we might possibly prevent them.
Within this framework, I am developing a critique of negation: I am attempting to understand why some forms of critical sensibility seem to have difficulties understanding their own imbrication in the world they criticise, and therefore perceive themselves as existing in a purely or abstractly negative, rather than a determinate, relationship with their object of critique - to understand why the object of critique is often easily thematised as artificial and socially determined, while critique itself is not so easily conceptualised in its particular constituted social determinacy. This isn’t, of course, at all to claim that I’m the only person doing offering this kind of analysis.
I’m just trying to clarify that, when I’m talking about “negation”, I am specifically positioning my work in relation to approaches - critical or affirmative, tacit or explicit - that understand themselves to be criticising the “artificial”, while tacitly or explicitly treating the standpoint of their own critique as somehow less artificial or more “real” than what they are criticising. My position is that critique does not operate by opposing artificial to real, but by exploring and unfolding the implications of specific constituted potentials, relative to other constituted potentials - and that understanding the determinate processes through which we constitute potentials for both reproduction and transcendence is an integral element of this exploration.
This said (and said unclearly at that…), I have recently been expressing these sorts of concepts with the Hegelian loan term “determinate negation” - mainly because the term strikes me as a sort of historical precursor for the concept I’m fumbling toward - an attempt to capture the notion that there is an actual substantive content to negation - that, in Hegel’s inimitable

Whitehead’s philosophy “attributes ‘feeling’ throughout the actual world”

James describes emotion as a particular sort of experience. Whitehead radicalizes this argument, and expands its scope, by describing all experience as emotional. This includes bare sense-perception; it also includes modes of “experience” that are not conscious, and not necessarily human. Indeed, Whitehead’s philosophy “attributes ‘feeling’ throughout the actual world” (1929/1978, 177). For Whitehead, “feelings” are identical with “positive prehensions” in general, which are all the ways in which entities interact with one another, or affect one another (220).13
To feel something means to be affected by that something. And the way that the feeling entity is affected, or changed, is the very content of what it feels. Everything that happens in the universe is thus in some sense an episode of feeling: even the “actual occasions in so-called ‘empty space’ ” discovered by modern physics (177). Of course, quantum fluctuations in the void do not involve anything like consciousness or sense-perception.
But when we examine these fluctuations, “the influx of feeling with vague qualitative and ‘vector’ definition is what we find” (177). Overall, there is “a hierarchy of categories of feeling” (166), from the “wave-lengths and vibrations” of subatomic physics (163) to the finest subtleties of human subjective experience. But in every case, phenomena are felt, and grasped as modes of feeling, before they can be cognized and categorized.
In this way, Whitehead posits feeling as a basic condition of experience, much as Kant establishes space and time as transcendental conditions of sensibility. This brings us back to the “Transcendental Aesthetic.” If time and space are the forms, respectively, of inner and outer intuition, then feeling is their common generative matrix. It is by the receptive act of feeling that I locate things in space and in time. In other words, feeling is the process by which all entities get spatialized and temporalized. Steven Shaviro The Pinocchio Theory

Kant’s “Transcendental Aesthetic” provides the basis for Whitehead’s “subjective form”

Kant’s great mistake, according to Whitehead (1929/1978), is to accept Hume’s founding assumption: a complete atomism of subjective sensations, or “the radical disconnection of impressions qua data” from one another (113). For Hume, “the primary activity in the act of experience is the bare subjective entertainment of the datum, devoid of any subjective form of reception” (157). Kant’s aim, in the Critique of Pure Reason, is to avoid the skeptical consequences of this position. But Kant never questions the premise of starting out with the chaos of “mere sensation”; he only tries to show how this chaos can be ordered, and its elements connected, in a more satisfactory way than Hume was able to accomplish.
Hume offers nothing but mere habit as an explanation for the basic stability of experience. In Kant’s account in the “Transcendental Logic,” the understanding, with its Categories, forcefully imposes a conceptual order upon an otherwise disconnected and featureless flux of individual impressions. In resolving the matter in this way, Kant relies exclusively upon “the higher of the human modes of functioning,” and ignores the more “primitive types of experience” (113). He retains what Whitehead riticizes as “the overintellectualist bias prevalent among philosophers” (141).
By ordering experience as he does in the “Transcendental Logic,” Kant remains within the tradition – stretching back at least to Aristotle – of what Gilbert Simondon (2005) calls hylomorphism (45-60). This is the dualism of form and matter. Hylomorphism presumes that materiality, or the “sensible” (that which can be apprehended by the senses alone), is passive, inert, and intrinsically shapeless, and that it can only be organized by an intelligible form that is imposed upon it from outside, or from above. Simondon argues that hylomorphism, with its rigid dualism, ignores all the intermediaries that are at work in any actual process of formation or construction. In fact, matter is never entirely passive and inert, for it always contains incipient structures. Matter already contains distributions of energy, and potentials for being shaped in particular directions or ways. (It’s easier to plane a piece of wood if you work in the direction of the grain, rather than across it – cf. Massumi 1992, 10).
For its part, form is never absolute, and never simply imposed from the outside, since it can only be effective to the extent that it is able to translate or “transduce” itself into one or another material. That is to say, form is energetic: it works by a series of transformations that transmit energy, and thereby “inform” matter, affecting it or modulating it in a process of exchange and communication. (The medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan puts it; contrary to the hylomorphic assumptions of Shannon’s theory of communication, no message, or formal structure, can be indifferent to the medium by and through which it is transmitted).
In the “Transcendental Aesthetic,” in contrast to the “Transcendental Logic,” Kant does not altogther adhere to hylomorphism. He does indeed say that space and time are the “pure forms” of perception, and that “sensation as such is its matter” (1996, 95). But his discussion also bears the traces of a different logic, one more open to intermediaries. Because time and space are not categories or concepts, they do not relate to their objects in the way that the forms of logical intelligibility (“causation, substance, quality, quantity”) do. They are not organizing principles actively imprinted upon an otherwise shapeless and disorganized matter.
In Simondon’s terminology, space and time are the media of a flexible, always-varying modulation, while the Categories are the principles of a rigid and always-identical molding (2005, 47).9 Space and time have a certain flexibility, because they are modes of receptivity rather than spontaneity. Kant says that sensibility or receptivity “remains as different as day and night from cognition of the object in itself”; rather than being cognitive, sensibility has to do with “the appearance of something, and the way we are affected by that something” (1996, 96; italics added).
And that is the crucial point. Even though the “thing in itself” is unknowable, or uncognizable, nevertheless it affects us, in a particular way. And by conveying and expressing “the way we are affected,” space and time establish immanent, non-cognitive connections among objects, between the object and the subject, and between the subject and itself. These affective connections are intrinsic to the very course of any experience in space and time. Whitehead laments the fact that Kant “conceives his transcendental aesthetic to be the mere description of a subjective process” (1929/1978, 113), and reserves for the “Transcendental Logic” the more basic task of giving an account of the necessary conditions of all experience.
But once we take the “Transcendental Aesthetic” in the more radical manner that Whitehead suggests, there is no problem of formlessness, or of disconnected, atomistic impressions; and therefore there is no need to impose the Categories of understanding from above, in order to give these impressions form, or to yoke them together. As Whitehead puts it, in such a process of feeling causality does not need to be established extrinsically, since “the datum includes its own interconnections” already (113). Understood in this way, Kant’s “Transcendental Aesthetic” provides the basis for one of Whitehead’s most important notions, that of “subjective form.”
7 It is crucial to remember that, despite these critical revisions of Kant, Whitehead nonetheless maintains that “the order [from subjectivity to objectivity, or from objectivity to subjectivity] is immaterial in comparison with [Kant’s] general idea” of experience as “constructive functioning,” which is the really important thing (156).
8 Kant is often taken, even by Whitehead, as having sought to “save” Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry by giving them an a priori grounding. But I agree with Kojin Karatani (2003, 63) that, in fact, “just the opposite is closer to the truth.” As Karatani shows, the whole point behind Kant’s discussion of time and space, and the mathematics of time and space, is to show that these are synthetic conditions, rather than analytic logical necessities, and hence that theyactually need to be constructed, and cannot simply be taken for granted, or presupposed (55-63).
9 As Deleuze (1997) puts it, traditional philosophy posits “a concept-object relation in which the concept is an active form, and the object a merely potential matter. It is a mold, a process of molding.” But with Kant, thanks to his new treatment of time and space, everything changes: “The concept-object relation subsists in Kant, but it is doubled by the I-Self relation,which constitutes a modulation and no longer a mold” (30). Steven Shaviro The Pinocchio Theory