Friday, March 30, 2007

Empty vessel

Edward Berge Says: March 27th, 2007 at 6:25 am Just a quickie cut-and-paste from kela at Lightmind, from his “Are Emptiness and Brahman the Same: Part III”:
Thus, the Madhyamaka’s conception of reality and the Advaitin’s conception of reality are diametrically opposed to one another. For the Advaitin, reality is ultimately that which is the self-existent, while for the Madhyamaka, reality is ultimately empty of such self-existence. While both indeed refer to the ultimate truth as “signless” (animitta), the similarity stops there as their conceptions of reality are completely contrary to one another.
There is another manner in which the Madhyamika and the Advaita Vedanta are fundamentally opposed in their conceptions of reality. As noted above, part of the point of Nagarjuna’s analysis is to undermine the way in which language and conceptualization serve to reify “things” in the world. Although Nagarjuna does not specify in his analysis any theory as to how words are related to reality, other than to say that they are conventional and relational, it may be possible to abstract certain assumptions from the Prasangikas’ presentation that are suggestive as to how they might be related for them. To begin, for the Prasangikas, words do not obtain their meaning by referring to “objects” in the world. Nor do they obtain their meaning due to the effect of some transcendental essence.
In other words, the Prasangikas accept neither an extensionalist nor an intensionalist theory of meaning. Rather, words have meaning, and are able to predicate objects, primarily by virtue of their use (prayojana) and imputation (aropita). In this sense, words are mere nominal signifiers (prajnapti) and their application is merely conventional (vyavahara). This line is in general keeping with the Buddhist tendency toward nominalism. Drawing upon this analysis, later Buddhist thinkers will articulate a theory of meaning something like Saussure’s: words refer to objects by virtue of the exclusion (apoha) of their counter-positives.
There are parallels here with the thoughts of Wittgenstein on such matters, though it is important not to emphasize such similarities beyond the point of their being mere heuristic devices for understanding the Madhyamika. Wittgenstein, for example, also held that words do not obtain meaning by reference to objects. For him, the primary determinant in meaning is how words are used. The Madhyamakas, however, go further than Wittgenstein by insisting that, in reality there is no “thing” as such to which words refer, and that all such “things” are but conceptual constructs that are logically dependent upon their conceptually constructed counter-positives. At this point, a better analog for Prasangika thought might be the Derridean analysis of the Husserlian conception of “essence.”
According to Derrida, there is no unchanging self-same “essence” that fixes the denotation of signifiers — no “transcendent referent” that anchors meaning. This is because “essence” is as much determined by its own iterations as it determines those iterations. Like the Prasangikas, Derrida argues that “meaning” is determined by a series of oppositional relations — signifier/signified, universal/particular, substance/attribute, essence/iteration, concept/thing, scheme/content, map/territory — in which both poles are mutually determinate, and in which no priority can be granted to one of the poles.
Similarly, for the Prasangikas, there is no independent thing or essence that determines meaning. Thus, for the Prasangikas, there is no transcendent referent that determines and has priority over the term “emptiness”. As Chandrakirti says, “emptiness” is itself empty of any essential nature. There is, then, no ultimate “thing” to which the term “emptiness” refers.

Zizek has little more than a passing familiarity with Levinas

Passing Irritations March 30, 2007 • 2 Comments In his essay “Robespierre, Or, the ‘Divine Violence’ of Terror”, Zizek writes, In today’s ‘post-deconstructionist’ thought…, the term ‘inhuman’ has gained new weight, especially in the work of Agamben and Badiou....
While I’m not great enthusiast of Levinas, passages such as this, scattered throughout his work, irritate the hell out of me. Am I alone in suspecting that he’s never read a single word of Levinas? Certainly the above remarks suggest that this is the case. ~ by larvalsubjects on March 30, 2007.
Kyle said this on March 30th, 2007 at 2:39 am Well, it’s very cool to bash Levinas nowadays. I think you’re right to suspect that Zizek has little more than a passing familiarity with Levinas. Theorists seem to think they are challenging Levinas’s project when they attack the dialogical tradition of Rosenzweig and Buber or the notion of “responsibility.” For instance, Agamben (and this is one of only two major problems I have with Agamben) in Remnants of Auschwitz assigns the category of responsibility to the realm of the juridical and thereby denounces it as irrelevant, impotent, etc. And it would seem (given other allusions in the same work) that this is directed toward Levinasian responsibility-for-the-other; however, the latter concept is anything but juridical - it is a theory of individuation (Levinas makes this blindingly explicit in the lecture series God, Death, and Time, in case it wasn’t already obvious in Otherwise than Being). So Agamben (in this case) and Zizek (just about everywhere) are merely constructing and defeating a straw-Levinas. Zizek’s statement, that Levinas “fails to take into account… the radically ‘inhuman’ Otherness itself,” is patently ludicrous, and I’m not sure that even one of the many Zizekian zombies could fail to wince at that statement.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Heidegger, Gaylen, and Plessner

A society of narcissists? Heidegger attempts to uncover the nature of being using the concept of Dasein; one that was left untouched by earlier philosophers. In contrast to Gaylen’s view, Heidegger believes that man is not fundamentally liked to technology, but instead uses technology to understand ourselves and the world around us. Ready-at-hand and present-to-hand are ways that he describes our interactions with the world. Most of us understand it through the first, meaning that we interact with objects without concern for how it came to be, the object is invisible to us until it breaks and we are forced to observe it just as it is. Authenticity is what the dasein ultimately strives for; a way of coming to grips with our projects. Often times though people are in an inauthentic state in which they are simply filling their lives with idle talk, rather than focusing their energies on tasks to be done.
One of the concepts that pushed me towards Heidegger’s side was his belief about new technology and old technology being fundamentally different. The description of being unfree and chained to new technology, in the way that are trapped and have no understanding of the essence really made sense to me. With all the technological advancements, human beings are consumed by materialistic items; they will go to great links to obtain them. We look at the world as a standing reserve, there for us to use it, with no concern about the long-term effects of our actions. We essentially have lost what it means to be human, because we don’t stop for long enough to view the through poesis.
Both poesis and techne are ways of revealing the world to us, but one represents a huge threat. Techne overrides our need for self-discovery and undermines us in an existential sense. When we have all of these material things that take up time and space, we don’t feel the need to start our own projects, we simply use ones that are already there. I propose we all take the time in our lives to slow down a little and really appreciate the vast world were living in. 3.28.07 Andrea Fish Philosophy Permalink
We have examined two very interesting views on technology recently; one of which is Heidegger’s and one Plessner’s. Plessner stresses the idea that our bodies can take over our minds when we, for example, laugh or cry. He believes humans are unique to this trait. Heidegger stresses the authenticity and individual essence an object emits. Technology isn’t just a mere ”human doing,” but it is a revealing and a true understanding.
Human emotions are more advanced, maybe more complicated, when it comes to showing emotion. Sometimes we cry when we wish not too; sometimes people laugh at inappropriate moments when they try to force themselves not to. I think this could be because, as we have discussed in earlier classes, humans have a deeper sense of understanding. We understand what a friend’s funny expression means. We understand the grief we see on a movie screen. Animals cannot express these emotions because they are not capable of them. Therefore, I agree with Plessner that this ability to cry and laugh without any physical influence is unique to humans. I say physical influence because, yes, animals can whimper and babies and cry, but it is usually because of a physical factor, such as being hit or injured.
Heidegger takes our usual definition and idea of technology and gives it a deeper meaning. He writes that technology is not merely a means of arriving at a certain conclusion, but it has its own essence, and can portray that essence to us. “What has the essence of technology have to do with revealing? The answer: everything…Technology is a way of revealing. If we give heed to this, then another whole realm for the essence of technology will open itself up to us. It is the realm of revealing, i.e., of truth (126).”
I find it interesting that Heidegger identifies revealing with the truth. He sees technology not as a controlled object, but as something that can express itself to us through several factors. His opinion in some ways is difficult to grasp during parts of his article, but, overall, his idea that technology is attaining more and more power over humans today is valid. 3.28.07 Jennifer Crabill Philosophy Permalink

poesis and techne From what I understood from class on Tuesday is that Heidegger thinks there are two different ways of revealing truths of the world- through poesis and techne. Poesis is made referenced to as poetry and our thoughtful expressions of truth. This means we can merely sense the world for what it is up front and through our experiences with it come to the understanding of truths. Thus, there are plenty of literary works representing truths of the world applicable to life or merely for the world’s sake. (I easily associate the world with the environment and nature I don’t know if this is the wrong mindset).

A practical example of poesis is this: one can apply and express the crashing of waves on the rocks and turning current flows a river to the sappy break up of a girlfriend who has found new meaning and outlook on relationships with a social change occurring in her life (sounds like a top hit emo song…but I digress). Where as techne is the understanding of finding truth through the world as means for our projects that further out ends. For example, we intentionally look at a river as a resource to generate power that will produce electricity in a factory that slaughters meat for me to eat. Okay, so we have an understanding of these 2 things…

I think Heidegger won’t fully comprehend the truths of the world by only using poesis methods. He won’t do so because poesis limits truth to world’s natural process (however that is defined) and provides some sort of aesthetic significance when the world’s capabilities are so much more when we recognize them and utilize them to our advantage, hence techne methods. I wont know the truths that a river could generate electricity if I was only sold on thinking about the river as a body of water, which begins from some mountain top and ends in the ocean, and not to mention the processes of evaporation and precipitation.

By all means am I not saying its right or just to utilize the world in whatever way it holds capability to further or advantage humans’ ends. But I would hold fast that Heidegger won’t find all the truths possible of the world without reasoning and thinking through the processes of techne. Good. 3.28.07 John Creger Philosophy Permalink

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Is it really an integration or a mish-mosh?

Edward Berge Says: March 26th, 2007 at 5:40 pm Let me state at the outset that I do not have the answers. I have questions that lead to tentative hypotheses that often have to be modified if not discarded outright with further inquiry. For me the process of group inquiry is essential to my understanding; I cannot do this by myself. There’s a lot I don’t understand here. For example, where did you get the material on embedded perceptions and could you expand on that? I’m not quite getting it.
I get the notion of the top wave being a part of the ocean, etc. Holons, all the way up and down. And Ken even said per above that “Spirit is not found as the upper limit of finite things but as their ever-present Ground, and therefore there is no final destination upward.” So in that sense the ocean is not the “final destination,” or a metaphor for the infinite, as it cannot be finally determined.
However, in the meantime, we go ahead and try to name it anyway, calling it Spirit, the All, the Whole, nondual, whatever. And that will look differently per above: “the intrinsic features themselves are not pregiven but are simply the products of the highest level of consciousness making the claim….but intrinsic features of a turquoise worldspace (which will, of course, be largely rejected by indigo, whose own intrinsic features will be rejected by violet, and so on).”
So one of my points is that we have at least 2 types of ways to interpret these “intepretively intrinsic features” nondually: 1) the causal, differentiated nondual and 2) the monist nondual, as per Ken’s own words. And per Ken these are distinguished by “the level of consciousness” perceiving/interpreting them. And also per above, turquoise will be largely rejected by indigo, and then by violet, and so on. Note Ken did not say “integrated” here. So one question for me is when Ken mixes and matches the types of nondual language is it really an integration or a mish-mosh?
I provided some research by kela and if one has time they can explore this same topic in the Lightmind forum. But kela notes there that “Ken may be influenced by Tibetan Buddhist conceptions of consciouness here, which are based on the conception of consciousness in Yogachara thought. These conceptions of consciousness are fundamentally at odds with Shankara’s.” Are we to suppose that Ken has found a way to reconcile them when Shankara and other luminaries have not? Maybe, but highly doubtful. There is much more to ponder here but I’ve run out of time and have other commitments to attend to. To be continued…

How Kant’s critiques bracket God ‘provisionally,’ making thought possible without him

Hi Adam. I like the idea of memes, but I try to avoid the term. It seems to me that Dawkin’s et al have basically discovered the idea of materialist semiotics. I think the idea is useful in allowing us to think about how a certain repetitive bit of information, whether true or false, comes to proliferate through the social sphere like a contagion. A long while back I wrote a silly post on the introduction of cane toads into Australia and their subsequent proliferation in analogy to communication, trying to get at exactly this point. I was wondering why certain communications are so successful and, in Badiou’s language, take on such a high degree of “intensity” or existence in a particular situation. I worry a bit, however, about all the comparisons to natural selection. larvalsubjects said this on March 26th, 2007 at 6:28 pm
I think I’ve gathered what you think about ideology critique and the value of divisiveness — I brought up Latour because he does exactly what you want to be doing — understanding how assemblages are constructed — though as his emphasis is on the lack of meaningful division between human and non-human ‘actors’ it is not a political analysis in the strict disciplinary sense of the term. But I think Latour argues that ontological and epistemological questions are inseparable from understanding these assemblages and how they move through the social world, especially given situations where rationalist commitments are explicitly involved — i.e. one cannot bracket these questions temporarily to neutrally observe assemblages with the underlying motive of eventually strengthening some prior set of commitments — to really pursue a thoroughgoing understanding of assemblages requires that all such commitments be submitted to the task, i.e. understanding assemblages itself involves a commitment to a neutrality that cannot be regarded as ‘merely’ methodological, which may have regrettable consequences for whatever one’s prior attachments are.
Something like how Kant’s critiques bracket God ‘provisionally,’ making thought possible without him, and inadvertently making atheism possible. This is the problem Latour has run in to, as I see it, and it seems like one you may encounter, unless you had in mind a kind of empirical and pragmatic common sense approach that would leave the structure of your own commitments unquestioned (not necessarily a bad thing, and perhaps even necessary). traxus4420 said this on March 26th, 2007 at 7:02 pm
Thanks for the comments Traxus. I’ll have to think on them more. I have very limited familiarity with Latour, having only read portions of his book on the social sciences and getting irritated with what I took to be his agnosticism in evaluating a number of claims. A further difficulty with what I’ve been articulating would relate to certain claims I’ve made about Hegel in relation to his critique of the “thing-in-itself”, where some of the claims I’m made seem to recapitulate something like a Kantian division between the phenomenal and the noumenal. Incidentally, Delanda attempts to develop a realist account of the social in and through assemblages based on Deleuze and Guattari that perhaps tries to avoid some of the concerns you’re raising in his most recent book, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. I have not yet read it, though it’s short and sitting here on my pile of books. If anyone has I’d be interested in hearing their thoughts.
As for ideology critique, it really depends on the day you’re talking to me. I think a strong argument could be made that ideology critique is part and parcel of the emergence of certain types of movements and thus cannot be dismissed. One need only think of Voltaire’s Candide or Spinoza’s Theologico-Politico Treatise and the role that texts like this played during the Enlightenment (assuming that these can be thought of as quasi-ideology critiques).
My antipathy towards ideology critique more recently has had to do with discerning a lot of it going on in academia– film analysis, literary analysis, etc –while not seeing a lot of movement building taking place. Consequently, you get a sort of theoretical pessimism that moans about the intractability of power structures, ideology, capitalism, biopower, etc., which leads one to say “well of course, if you don’t do anything at all then nothing changes.” It’s almost as if there’s a holding fast to an all or nothing ideal where one’s political aspirations must be maintained in their pristine purity and protected against contamination by falling into material practice that always leads to unexpected results. It could, however, be that I’m not looking hard enough for the practices connected to these critiques.
At any rate, as Adam observes, I’m far from being consistent in my thoughts on these matters. It all depends on where I’m at conceptually at a particular moment. larvalsubjects said this on March 26th, 2007 at 7:45 pm

Monday, March 26, 2007

I read these texts essentially as political tracts

"Frankly I think you are very convinced and even the discussion of empirical evidence to the contrary concerning the role of religion in intellectual and political life in the middle ages will fail to persuade you of anything other than the average historical summary found in most history of philosophy books."
Anthony, I'm sorry you feel this way. I think it really depends on what you're trying to convince me of. If you're trying to convince me of belief in the supernatural and the divine, then you're right I won't be convinced. I'm not really sure what it is that you're advocating or defending. I certainly would not disagree that religion has played an important role in history that is often positive just as it has often been negative. If you bring up empirical examples regarding contributions that Christianity made during the Middle Ages as Adam just did, I won't disagree with you. Nor do I have the belief that religion is the source of all evil or injustice. Maybe you could be a bit more clear as to what, exactly, you're defending.
I disagree, of course, with the thesis that the Gospels aren't instrumental in the way you suggest. I read these texts essentially as political tracts, much like pamplets handed out on street corners prior to the Russian revolution, designed to form a new people and new way of thinking about the social. This seems suggested to me by the way in which they were distributed throughout the old world and written. That said, I fully confess that I cannot demonstrate this, nor do I think you can demonstrate the contrary. It's just what strikes me as most plausable given the socio-historical circumstances and the emergence of the early church. You, of course, know much more about this than me. Posted by: Sinthome March 25, 2007 at 04:42 PM
Adam, Sinthome, Anthony: Your discussion is fascinating and probably too intricate at this point to intercede. But I will venture that it is now off-topic. History is hardly relevant in the question of whether instrumental use of a religious vocabulary and tradition in order to temporarily suspend the emotional reaction of a fundamentalist to rational discourse is justified, productive, or in short, opens up more 'possibilities'.
On the one hand, I would posit that contemporary philosophy, in a way that would confound Hume, Voltaire or most pre- or early enlightenment thinkers, is perfectly comfortable with religious language in discourse at 'the fringes' of reason. But from the perspective of the rather mundane factual question of whether global warming exists, someone either is cognizant and open to verifiable evidence according to scientific method, or one is not. Because a discussion with a fundamentalist on this question would not be grounded in any mutual agreement on right reason, the possibilities of admitting religious tradition into argument would be wholly tied to irrational, perhaps even sophistical uses of rhetoric to confound the interlocutor. Put simply, there would be the appearance of agreement without any movement in their soul, to ironically put it in typically Socratic religious language. Posted by: Floyd March 25, 2007 at 05:04 PM

Friday, March 23, 2007

How relational ontology changes our view of temporality

Turning Things Inside Out with Hegel Back to Sinthome’s post I mentioned earlier, although I really have time now for no more than a gloss on it. Hegel’s Science of Logic contains (as Zizek realised) in the ‘Logic of Essence’ one of the most sustained and subversive assaults on the idea of essence. The need for such a protracted, complex and forbidding exercise lies in the continual temptation of philosophy to betray its inherent atheism, the demand of immanence. Sceptical critiques of an accepted authority, that which stands outside the field of dispute, surveys the territory and settles the terms of the conflict, constantly advance only to fall back on a new authority, a new figurehead who embodies (in Kant’s language) the transcendental right to critique outside of time and space. Descartes furnishes the ego and its unchanging relation to being, Kant returns us to reason as the unmoved transcendental lawyer.
Hegel proposes in the Phenomenology to do without this constant return to the presupposed viewpoint of a theoros, the observer who is wholly separate from that which is observed. The subject and object are co-constitutive, and are not given to us as fixed instances of the sanctified knower and the veiled to-be-known. As Sinthome puts it: The epistemological question is thus poorly posed, abstractly posed, stupidly posed, so long as we think of it as a question of how an independent mind (a mind-in-itself) can know an independent object as it-itself is (a being-in-itself). It is in these interrelations that both the properties of subject and the properties of object come-to-be. Hegel’s conception of the in-itself will thus be one of becoming or coming to be.
The ‘Logic of Essence’ in the Science of Logic attempts to carry this forward by mounting a full-on critique of the separation between essence and ‘mere’ reflection, essence and appearance, ground and grounded, and substance and accidents. Through this movement, the concept of relation - Kant’s third causal category of reciprocity - receives a full articulation as the primary means of thinking identity dynamically. As Sinthome writes, there is no inner core to things that provides their effectivity, their capacity to produce an effect autonomously. There are only the relationships between things that govern the ongoing expression of their potential: Hegel writes (I don’t have the exact reference to hand) of the idea of existence, not as the achievement of a finished, settled accretion of individual being, but as a process of coming-to-be through which the interrelated conditions of a thing’s existence complete or augment [ergänzt] themselves in another thing. This is to foreshadow the conceptual universe of complexity theory, in which co-constitutive, dynamic, non-linear relations are shown to subvert putatively unidirectional causal series. Sinthome notes that the predilection for a fixed relationship between a veiled to-be-known and a pure knower are reflected, in slightly differing configurations, across a ‘wide variety of skepticisms common to thought today’. The habit of mind that refers causality and determination to the equivalent of the efficient cause - just one out of Aristotle’s four modes of aition - is one to which we return just as often. For example, I noted recently how trying to force empirical evidence into this mode of explanation was at the heart of Martin Durkin’s recent ‘documentary’ on climate change.
Ultimately, Hegel’s Logic is perhaps best seen as an account of how determination in general is possible and how it become actual - not so much ‘why is there anything rather than nothing’ but ‘why is anything even capable of being considered as different from nothing’. To answer the first question, you have to have assumed a particular answer to the second (and with it, a particularly constituted knower) - which is perhaps the core of a Hegelian response to Schelling. As such, it bears direct comparison with Deleuze’s account of individuation - a link which Sinthome continues to explore, and which I look forward to reading more about. I think it’s clear that there is territory to be productively explored between the account of relational being as self-augmenting which Hegel gives and Deleuze’s concept of the virtual-actual. Particularly, there’s the temporal aspects of these concepts - such as the idea that the unfinished, inherently futural nature of things is a positive constituent of their actual being, and moreover that their potential or futurity is inherently and always already determinate - differentiated if not differenciated, in Deleuze’s language, inwardly relational potential or reflection into self in Hegel’s.
With respect to my own obsessions, there is clearly here much to be said about how relational ontology of this kind changes our view of temporality - producing a rather different view of the reality of the future than is traditionally allowed. Thursday Hegel This entry was posted on Thursday, March 22nd, 2007 at 3:52 pm and is filed under philosophische, deleuze, hegel, time.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Heidegger hardly gives clear, distinct definitions of the words

Monday, March 19, 2007 In-der-Blog-sein Geworfenheit, the blog, on the Heideggereanisms of glossolalics.
I believe the problem lies not so much on the new terms themselves because anyway Heidegger still uses human languages despite his efforts to find the originary meanings of the words. He digs up some ancient Greek words and creates new German words. The thing is he hardly gives clear, distinct definitions of the words. Even if he does, the meaning often changes or being redefined throughout his scattered essays or writings. 6:27 AM 0 comments
Friday, March 16, 2007 In-der-Blog-sein Hybridenergy explains the living truths.
Heidegger says that the will to power is Nietzsche's attempt at metaphysics, but after reading the book and other articles, and knowing that perspectivism dominates his philosophy, I can pretty much say that Heidegger was mistaken. Nietzsche doesn't go for 'truth for its own sake'. He knows that truths are instruments of our physiology.
I'm glad that's all cleared up now. enowning 8:58 AM 0 comments

Effort and resistance from a fixed point

I hear a number of my fellow colleagues in the humanities complain about how students can’t read, how unreflective they are, how poor their critical skills are, etc., all with the implicit suggestion that perhaps they’re stupid. I think this sort analysis fails to take into account the field of individuation in which students have emerged, glossing over how cognitive development now occurs in a mediatized space and is structured in terms of these technologies.
Levi, this is a really interesting and I believe correct observation about the new forms of individuation and cognition we are seeing in these waning days of the Guttenberg galaxy, as it were. The paradigm is shifting. In Deleuze’s “Pourparlez 1973-1990” he describes his own attempts (often failed) at creating and treating text as a stream, and not as a code. In other words: reading and creating are exercises in intensities. As he writes in “Spokesmen”, taking his analogy from the world of sports (Olympian and Greek) which was characterized by effort and resistance from a fixed point, as in running, discus and javelin throwing, shot putting the new forms of sports today like surfing, paragliding and windsurfing are about riding on an already existing wave.
The fundamental thing now is how to be incorporated into the movement which is performed by a wave or an ascending stream of air – whereby you “enter” a movement rather than being the starting point of an effort. The same goes for philosophy today which still returns to the “fixed” values and to the concept of the intellectual as the guardian of eternal values. As soon as philosophy finds itself in a vacant period it takes refuge in the reflection “on” something like the eternal or the historical. If it can not create movement or ride it philosophy starts impotently reflecting. Orla Schantz said this on March 21st, 2007 at 7:43 pm

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bruno, Maimon, Simondon

Giordano Bruno Library > Reference > Early Modern History: At the center of Bruno's philosophy lies his new picture of an infinite, homogeneous, atomistically articulated cosmos, full of infinite life. From this idea derives his concept of God as Monad, or the ineffable One whose seal or shadow is the infinite world; his refusal of the Christian incarnation on the basis that the whole universe, filled with the divine spirit, is an incarnation of God; his search for that God through a logical hunt that follows the traces of divine order observable within the natural universe; his idea of magic as filling the gap that opens up between the infinite whole and the finite mind of the philosopher, entrapped in time and space; his search for new mathematical and mnemonic arts capable of comprehending the infinite, universal whole.
Considered a precursor of major philosophers such as Baruch Spinoza or Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Bruno was appreciated in the nineteenth century above all for his contribution to the scientific revolution and in the twentieth for his Hermetic magic and interest in the occult. The agenda for the new century appears oriented toward a more balanced and complete view of him as a thinker who amalgamated apparently conflicting doctrines of knowledge in a complex but rich oeuvre that Bruno himself referred to as "the Nolan philosophy."
Salomon Maimon Wikipedia: He seizes upon the fundamental incompatibility of a consciousness which can apprehend, and yet is separated from, the thing-in-itself. That which is object of thought cannot be outside consciousness; just as in mathematics - 1 is an unreal quantity, so things-in-themselves are ex hypothesi outside consciousness, i.e. are unthinkable. The Kantian. paradox he explains as the result of an attempt to explain the origin of the given in consciousness. The form of things is admittedly subjective; the mind endeavours to explain the material of the given in the same terms, an attempt which is not only impossible but involves a denial of the elementary laws of thought. Knowledge of the given is, therefore, essentially incomplete. Complete or perfect knowledge is confined to the domain of pure thought, to logic and mathematics.
Thus the problem of the thing-in-itself is dismissed from the inquiry, and philosophy is limited to the sphere of pure thought. The Kantian categories are, indeed... demonstrable and true, but their application to the given is meaningless and unthinkable. By this critical scepticism Maimon takes up a position intermediate between Kant and Hume. Hume's attitude to the empirical is entirely supported by Maimon. The causal concept, as given by experience, expresses not a necessary objective order of things, but an ordered scheme of perception; it is subjective and cannot be postulated as a concrete law apart from consciousness. The main argument of the Transcendentalphilosophie not only drew from Kant, who saw it in MS. and remarked that Maimon alone of his all critics had mastered the true meaning of his philosophy, but also directed the path of most subsequent criticism.
Gilbert Simondon (19241989) studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and Sorbonne University. His major works are Du mode d'existence des objets techniques and L'individuation psychique et collective, which was also his thesis. In the latter work, Simondon developed a theory of individual and collective individuation, in which the individual subject is considered as an effect of individuation, rather than a cause. Thus the individual atom is replaced by the neverending ontological process of individuation.
Simondon also conceived of "pre-individual fields" as the funds making individuation itself possible. Individuation is an always incomplete process, always leaving a "pre-individual" left-over, itself making possible future individuations. Furthermore, individuation always creates both an individual and a collective subject, which individuate themselves together. Wikipedia

Monday, March 19, 2007

Derrida presents philosophical postmodernism at its best

Gregory Desilet is author of various writings on language and culture, such as Cult of the Kill: Traditional Metaphysics of Rhetoric, Truth, and Violence in a Postmodern World and Our Faith in Evil: Melodrama and the Effects of Entertainment Violence. See also:, which hosts an eulogy for Derrida. In this essay for Integral World Desilet questions Wilber's understanding of Derrida.
"Despite his sophistication, Wilber appears to have missed the point of deconstructive postmodernism." Misunderstanding Derrida and Postmodernism: Ken Wilber and “Post-Metaphysics” Integral Spirituality Gregory Desilet
At an Integral Spirituality book signing in Boulder (November, 2006) Ken Wilber and I had a brief exchange about postmodernism and specifically his understanding of Derrida. Based on comments he made during the talk prior to the signing, I was most interested in his response to the question: “Do you believe Derrida errs by offering what amounts to a false critique of absolute transcendence?” Wilber answered “Yes,” without hesitation. Derrida's approach, Wilber believes, contains a fundamental flaw in his specious critique of transcendence, epitomized in his deconstruction of the transcendental signifier/signified. Wilber claimed that Derrida himself came to understand the overstatement of his case and in an interview published in Positions (1981) reversed himself by acknowledging the transcendental signifier/signified's necessary role in language.
The relevant passage in the interview centers on the topic of translation. In Derrida's discussion he admits, according to Wilber, that the “transcendental signifier/signified” is ultimately necessary in order for translation to be possible. Since the critique of the transcendental figures prominently in the foundation of deconstruction, this admission undermines the radical thrust of Derrida's work. For Wilber, Derrida's admission marks his grudging capitulation to the inescapable role of absolute transcendence in systems of meaning. Since Derrida is famous for extending his critique of language and “the text” to include the “textuality” of Being, his deconstruction of the transcendental signifier/signified also initiates a thorough disillusionment with the possibilities for any form of absolute transcendence. These broader implications of Derrida's views explain Wilber's interest in the passage in Positions.
Being familiar with Derrida's work, I was fairly certain he did not, and would never, make any such admission or reversal as Wilber was suggesting. A few days after this meeting I located my copy of Positions and found the passage Wilber had referenced. What follows is an account of what I discovered and the conclusions that can be drawn about Wilber's reading of Derrida and the implications of that reading in relation to a more general assessment of his integral spirituality approach...
Where traditional metaphysics understands transcendence, deconstructive postmodernism understands forms of “quasi-transcendence” in the continual mitosis and reconstitution of self and awareness and the boundaries of both. The “normal self,” contrary to the assertions of integral post-metaphysics, never consists entirely of illusion but instead grounds itself upon the condition of becoming—as an unholy (unwholly) marriage of the tension between the real and the construct. This “what is” and “yet to come” everywhere constitute the structure of the self as well as the Kosmos.
With the possible exception of Gilles Deleuze, Derrida stands alone among postmodern theorists in his insistence upon the paradoxical “one that is also two” structure at the core of Being. Consequently, Derrida presents philosophical postmodernism at its best. Although offering no ultimate escape from metaphysics, Derrida's approach offers an escape from traditional metaphysics and its construction of notions of absolute transcendence that easily slide, however unintentionally, toward authorization of modes of certainty that do little more than contribute to predispositions of non-negotiation and systems of exclusionary discrimination. Based on the sobering history of human experience, these systems of exclusionary choice-making lead communities down the destructive trail of rituals of purification, often ending in deadly conflict and the violence of suicide, homicide, or genocide. This trail of death is, in itself, sufficient reason to avoid the traps of traditional metaphysics—a metaphysics that underlies most, if not all, of the world's major religions, including their mystical variations.
Derrida acknowledges that since there would appear to be no escape from metaphysics there can be no escape from violence. A measure of violence is built into the nature of what is. But the violence of transformation may be a preferable substitute for the violence of death-dealing just as the violence of translation may be preferable to the violence of book-burning. This less violent alternative metaphysical stance subverts the exclusionary structure built into the modes of absolute transcendence conjured by versions of traditional metaphysics. For this reason understanding the difference presented in Derridean deconstructive postmodernism remains crucial to overcoming the mistakes of the past and highlights the importance of avoiding the misunderstandings evident in Wilber's (and others') misreadings of Derrida.
Undoubtedly Wilber would not be happy to find his “integral” views associated in any way with “exclusionary” forms of metaphysics. Clearly he wants to dissociate himself from such traditions of thinking and spirituality. Nevertheless, attempts to depart from exclusionary forms of metaphysics cannot succeed by reaffirming orientations that give renewed meaning and prime significance to states of transcendental awareness implied in notions such as “transcendental signifiers,” “pure consciousness,” and “realizations of oneness.” The deconstructive critique of transcendence appears to be a part of Derridean postmodernism that Wilber and other integral theorists have not so much overlooked as underestimated.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Deleuze has constructed a formidable and elaborate ontology

What we get is a postmodern Deleuze that is more personal fantasy and what one expects to find, rather than a Deleuze who has constructed a formidable and elaborate ontology in close, vigorous dialogue with thinkers such as Parmindes, Plato, Aristotle, Scotus, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Maimon, Hegel, Husserl, Sartre, Heidegger, Bergson, Nietzsche, Simondon, the Stoics, Lucretius, and a host of other thinkers that currently escape my recollection.
Moreover, there’s been a tendency for this scholarship to be organized around unproductive friend/enemy distinctions (Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Hegel are bad guys and Hume, Spinoza, Leibniz, Nietzsche, and Bergson are good guys) where arguments and thinkers can simply be rejected as being “philosophers of the State” without argumentation. Admittedly I take delight in writing about Hegel, Descartes, phenomenology, or Lacan in part simply because it violates and disrupts this code that I see to be unthinking and unphilosophical; though this probably is not good for my credibility as a Deleuze scholar.
Oh well, I’m not certain I ever wanted to be a scholar anyway, but would prefer to draw on thinkers that give me conceptual resources to articulate what I only vaguely am trying to say (a lot of times I feel like a croaking frog, unsure of what I’m trying to get at)...Deleuze is a far more rigorous and careful thinker than his defenders often give him credit for being. ~ by larvalsubjects on March 17, 2007

A gross distortion of the phenomenological method instituted by Husserl

Kelamuni on Ken: Kela’s home page here Kela at Lightmind
Throughout his writings, and notably in “Integral Spirituality,” Ken speaks of “phenomenology” in terms of a “first person” account or description of the contents of consciousness. This usage is idiosyncratic and it reveals a rather skewed understanding of what phenomenology is concerned with and how it goes about dealing with its subject matter. Ken often associates phenomenology with a kind of “introspective” procedure. In this regard, he appears to be drawing upon what is sometimes called “phenomenlogical psychology,” an approach that is associated with a description based upon acts of introspection. To be fair, at one point in “Integral Spirituality,” Ken says that this is one sense of what we mean by “phenomenology.” But he also often speaks of phenomenology in general as that which is concerned with “first person” descriptions. And to generalize phenomenological psychology in this manner, to the point where it becomes identified with phenomenology in general, is, I suggest, a gross distortion of the phenomenological method instituted by Husserl.
Why is this imporant? It is important since much of Ken’s argument in “Integral Spirituality” hinges upon the shortcomings and inadequacies of phenomenology. At several points, Ken refers to –but never really elucidates — the structuralist critiques of phenomenology. And historically speaking, there is something to this. There were implied critiques of phenomenology to be found in the works of Levi Strauss, Barthes, etc., critiques that were later elucidated by Derrida and especially Foucault. Ken’s understading of such critiques appears to be based on the idea that structures do not present themselves, are not given, to consciousness. Besides Piaget and the rest, among the structualists” Ken refers to appears the name of Jean Gebser. But is Gebser really a “structuralist” in the same manner as Levi-Strauss? I would suggest that he is not. And indeed, the entire dicussion presented in “Integral Spirituality” concerning “phenomenology” and “structuralism,” is, I would suggest, highly misleading. In general, phenomenology is not primarily concerned with “first person” accounts, though this may be an accurate description of “phenomenological psychology.” Phenomenology attempts to mediate purely subjective accounts with those that claim to be “objective.” Its value in this regard is that it is, in ways, a more apt method where the social and cultural sciences are concerned, more apt than a purely empirical “third person” account.
Contrary to what Ken seems to suggest, phenomenology does not primarily aim to describe the contents of consciousness in terms a reference to my “inner experience.” It aims to describe what Husserl referred to as the “essence” or “eidos” of a phenomenon. This it attempts to do by “bracketing” the subjective and “judgmental” components that we add to the phenomenon being described. The important point here, however, is that phenomenology attempts to describe phenomena in terms of generalities, in terms of universals. This is really what we mean by the “essence” or eidos of a thing.
Phenomenology found a particularly useful and powerful application in the domain of religious studies (Religionswissenschaft). There, through a simultaneous application of the comparative method, various “universals” were described by several noted scholars of the field. Rudolph Otto (The Idea of the Holy) may be said to be the grandfather of this method, but it is first fully elucidated as a method by Joachim Wach. Perhaps the most prominent and well known of the phenomenologists of religion was M. Eliade. Now it is interesting to note that Eliade often spoke in terms of not essences, but “structures.” Gustav Mensching, another phenomenologist of religion, also spoke in terms of “structures.” It is within this camp, I would suggest, that Gebser should be associated and not that of Levi-Strauss.
Much of Wilber’s early work also belongs in this camp; and it is easy to see why. With its intimation that it describes the “timeless essences” of the world’s religions, the phenomenological method well serves the needs of the perennialist. We see the remnants of this method in Ken’s references to, and continued reliance upon, “Transformations of Consciousness,” in particular, Ken’s references to the work of Washburn, who compared the Yoga Sutra and its commentaries, with the Theravada manual on meditation, the Vissuddhimagga, and manuals on the practice of Mahamudra meditation. In “Integral Spirituality,” Ken refers to the idea that the “structure” of the meditative path is “essentially” the same for these three traditions (though it is not at all clear what the implication of this idea should be vis a vis the emerging “post-metaphysical spirituality” that Ken attempts to be heralding). While the actual structualist method offers an alternative, and in ways superior, accounting of the subject matter of the Geisteswissenschaft (I do not have the time nor the desire to delve into the actual relationship between the two), the more immediate problem with phenomenology, which Ken also touches upon in “Integral Spirituality” vis a vis his discussion of Habermas, is its utterly ahistorical manner, and its naivity where historicity is concerned — an inadequacy that is revealed by the critical theory of the Frankfurters and Foucault’s geneological approach, and for which Gadamer and Ricouer attempt to compensate by recourse to their respective versions of hermeneutics.
This naivity of the phenomenological method is caricatured by an example sometimes given in graduate methodology seminars, in which a phenomenologal anthropologist arrives at an island in the pacific, only to discover that the “structures” and patterns of belief on the island correspond almost in their entirety to European patterns, upon which he declares their “universality,” all the while completely ignorant of the fact that the Portugese had arrived on the island 200 years earlier, wiped out the indigenous system of belief there and replaced it with their own. While Washburn is not so naive as this, what his account, and accounts of that ilk, ignore is the historical and philological context in which the textual relations he describes obtain. In any case, in terms of the above, I see a continued reliance upon the phenomenological method in Ken’s most recent work, as well as an inaccurate presentation of the phenomenological method, a presentation that tends to mask this reliance. Posted in Integral Metatheory openintegral

The strange attractors of human psychology, evolution, and culture

Re: integral ideologies 101 by Richard Carlson by Rich on Sat 17 Mar 2007 04:11 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
Bourdieu is acknowledging that in epistemological shifts from embodied to discursive ways of knowing meanings are often dislodged and reconfigured in terms of analytical schema alien to their embodied source.
What Jung and Pauli are attempting is to locate the psychic and physical gradients that unify the complimentary realities of archetypes and mathematics which are the strange attractors of human psychology, evolution, and culture. In the Jung quote the "non-psychic element of archetypes" refers to their cybernetic relationship with the phenomena of physics and the feedback loop between the physical world and our psychic apprehension of it.
Bourdieu demonstrates through developing notions of “habitus”, that our knowledge of the physical world is backgrounded by our embodiement in it and insists that we primarily encounter this world through enactive engagement which cuts across physical, vital, and metal boundaries. He distinguishes such multiple ways of enactive knowing, which are imperceptible to theoretical constructions and discursive language regimes, from the mechanisms of ratiocination. The articulation and transfer of knowledge between embodied and informational (theoretical) context therefore becomes problematic.
For their part Jung and Pauli erase the -“cut” - between the poles of psyche and physics and show that their relationship- before it crosses the threshold of consciousness - are complimentary polarities of a wider synchronicity comprising a unified field of consciousness, which can not be defined exclusively as either subjective or objective.
So what is commons to both Jung’s and Bourdieu’s accounts is the problem of the observer, and the attempt to straddle the Cartisian divide which separates object and observation, information and embodiment, through existentsional encounters which allow one to know the world through direct sensorial contact, through an interpenetration of psyche with physics, which need not be articulated consciously or formulated rationally to be effective.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The main problem posed to theory is how it abstracts embodied practices

Re: integral ideologies 101 by Richard Carlson by Rich on Fri 16 Mar 2007 06:00 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
I am currently in dialog with a text of N. Katherine Hayles who considers just this type of problem as she reflects on the problems associated with defining humans as essentially information versus as embodied beings whose materiality can never be abstracted into cybernetic categories. Below she writes the following about the work of Pierre Bourdieu.
"A further implication of embodied interaction with the environment is developed by Pierre Bourdieu. He argues that even if one is successful in reducing some area of embodied knowledge to analytical categories and explicit procedures , one has in the process changed the kind of knowledge it is, for the fluid contextual interconnections that define the open horizons of embodied interactions would have solidified into discrete entities and sequential instructions. He makes this point – that largely unnoticed and unacknowledged changes occur when embodied knowledge is expressed the analytical schema – in his discussion of the season ritual of the Kabyle , a group of Berber tribes living in Algeria and Tunisia . The calendar that the Kabyle enact through improvisational embodied practice is not the same calendar that the anthropologist extracts in schematic forms from data provided by informants Whereas the anthropologist schema will show fields, houses, and calendars arranged through such dualities as hot and cold , male and female , for the Kabyle this knowledge exists not as abstractions but as patterns of daily life learned by practicing actions until the y become habitual. Abstractions thus not only affects how one describes learning but also changes the account on what is learned.
Bourdieu’s work illustrates how embodied knowledge can be structured elaborately, conceptually, coherent, and durably installed without ever having to be cognitively recognized as such. “Through observation and repetition the child attains a practical state of mastery of the classifications schemes which in no way implies symbolic mastery” By transposing terms of symmetry relations, the child is able to grasp the rationale of what Bourdieu calls “habitus” defined as the durably installed generative principles of regulated improvisations” The habitus which is learned perpetuated and changed through embodied processes, should not be thought of as a collection of rules but as a series of dispositions and inclinations which are both subject to the circumstances of orientation and movement of the body as it traverses cultural spaces and experiences of temporal rhythms . For the Kabyle the spatial arrangements of home, village and field instantiate the dichotomies that server as generative principles stimulating improvisation within the regulated exchanges defined by habitus. Living in these spaces and participating in the organization form the body in characteristic ways , which in turn provides a matrix for permutations of thought and action.
To look at thought in this way is to turn Descartes upside down The central premise is not that the cogitating mind can be certain of its ability to be present to itself but rather that the body exists in space time and that through its interactions with the environment , it defines the parameters within which the cogitating mind can arrive at certainties which not coincidentally almost never include the fundamental homologies generating the boundaries of thought . What counts as knowledge is radically revised, for conscious thought becomes an epiphenomena corresponding to the phenomenal base the body provides. In eye of mind Merleau-Ponty articulates a similar vision to Bourdieu’s when he states that the body is not “ a chunk of space or a bundle of functions “ but an intertwining vision and movement. Whereas the casual thinking of Descartes admired in geometry and sought to emulate in philosophy erases context by abstracting experience into generalized patterns , embodiment creates context by forging connections between instantiated action and environmental conditions… (Hayles: How we became Posthuman 1999)
by rjon on Fri 16 Mar 2007 08:10 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
Hi Rich, C. G. Jung has written about this unavoidable subjectivity of our perception (and theories) of the world. I just reread a posting I made a couple of weeks ago, and was again struck by how prescient his thinking was ...
Here's the ref: On ... the Psyche" by C. G. Jung E.g., Jung quotes Wolfgang Pauli:
"It is undeniable that the development of 'microphysics' has brought the way in which nature is described in this science very much closer to that of the newer psychology: but whereas the former, on account of the basic 'complementarity' situation, is faced with the impossibility of eliminating the effects of the observer by determinable correctives, and has therefore to abandon in principle any objective understanding of physical phenomena, ..." which I think supports your point "that largely unnoticed and unacknowledged changes occur when embodied knowledge is expressed [in] the analytical schema ..."
Interestingly, the Pauli quote continues with this:
"... the latter can supplement the purely subjective psychology of consciousness by postulating the existence of an unconscious that possesses a large measure of objective reality." Jung emphasizes this idea in his essay referenced above. As he puts it, "... archetypes must have a nonpsychic aspect..." Which sounds a bit like Sri Aurobindo's idea of the psychic center. What do you think Rich? ~ ron

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Nietzsche's ideal is to maintain this depth and yet not be ashamed of our animal instincts

Genealogy of Morals : Overall Analysis and Themes
Nietzsche is difficult to read because he demands that we overturn or suspend many of the assumptions that our very reasoning relies upon. He is one of the Western tradition's deepest thinkers precisely because he calls so much into question. If we can come to understand Nietzsche's genealogical method, his doctrine of the will to power, and his perspectivism as all linked, his arguments will become much easier to follow.
In Nietzsche's distinction between a thing and its meaning, we find the initial doubt with which Nietzsche unravels so many of our assumptions. We are generally tempted to see things as having inherent meanings. For instance, punishment is at once the act of punishing and the reason behind the punishment. However, Nietzsche argues, these things have had different meanings at different times. For instance, the act of punishment has been at times a celebration of one's power, at times an act of cruelty, at times a simple tit-for-tat. We cannot understand a thing, and we certainly cannot understand its origin, if we assume that it has always held the same meaning.
Central to Nietzsche's critique, then, is an attempt at genealogy that will show the winding and undirected route our different moral concepts have taken to arrive in their present shape. Morality is generally treated as sacred because we assume that there is some transcendental ground for our morals, be it God, reason, tradition, or something else. Yet contrary to our assumption that "good," "bad," or "evil" have always had the same meanings, Nietzsche's genealogical method shows how these terms have evolved, shattering any illusion as to the continuity or absolute truth of our present moral concepts.
Because they can have different, even contradictory, meanings over the course of their long life spans, Nietzsche does not believe that concepts or things are the fundamental stuff that makes up reality. Instead, he looks beneath these things to see what drives the different meanings that they adopt over time. Hiding beneath he finds force and will. All of existence, Nietzsche asserts, is a struggle between different wills for the feeling of power. This "will to power" is most evident on a human level, where we see people constantly competing with one another, often for no other purpose than to feel superior to those that they overcome.
That a thing has a meaning at all means that there is some will dominating it, bending it toward a certain interpretation. That a thing may have different meanings over time suggests that different wills have come to dominate it. For instance, the concept of "good" was once dominated by the will of healthy, strong barbarians, and had the opposite meaning that it does now that it is dominated by the will of weak, "sick" ascetics.
According to Nietzsche, then, a belief in an absolute truth or an absolute anything is to give in to one particular meaning, one particular interpretation of a thing. It is essentially to allow oneself to be dominated by a particular will. A will that wishes to remain free will shun absolutes of all kinds and try to look at a matter from as many different perspectives as possible in order to gain its own. This doctrine that has deeply influenced postmodern thought is called "perspectivism."
Nietzsche's inquiries are thus conducted in a very irreverent spirit. Nothing is sacred, nothing is absolute, nothing, we might even say, is true. Our morality is not a set of duties passed down from God but an arbitrary code that has evolved as randomly as the human species itself. The only constant is that we, and everything else, are constantly striving for more power, and the only constant virtue is a will that is powerful, and free from bad conscience, hatred, and ressentiment.
Nietzsche's main project in the Genealogy is to question the value of our morality. Ultimately, he argues that our present morality is born out of a resentment and hatred that was felt toward anything that was powerful, strong, or healthy. As such, he sees our present morality as harmful to the future health and prosperity of our species. While the "blonde beasts" and barbarians of primitive master morality are animalistic brutes, at least they are strong and healthy. On the other hand, our present ascetic morality has "deepened" us by turning our aggressive instincts inward and seeing ourselves as a new wilderness to struggle against. Nietzsche's ideal is to maintain this depth and yet not be ashamed of our animal instincts or of the life that glows within us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Merleau-Ponty's way of engaging the reader to explore subtleties and obscure facets

Three New Books posted by Fido the Yak at 5:27 PM Saturday, March 03, 2007 I went to the bookstore this past week and picked up three titles:
  • Desire and Distance: Introduction to a Phenomenology of Perception, by Renaud Barbaras (translated by Paul B. Milan, Stanford University Press, 2007). I thought Merleau-Ponty had already written the book on the subject, but Barbaras impressed me at several points for his willingness to go through and beyond Merleau-Ponty. His first sentence reads: "The question of perception not only has a 'technical' or a 'regional' scope, as we often tend to think; it merges in reality with the ontological question in its simplest sense, namely as an inquiry into the meaning of the being of what is" (p. 1).
  • The Present Personal: Philosophy and the Hidden Face of Language, by Hagi Kenaan (Columbia University Press, 2005). Kenaan describes his book as "a philosophical attempt to think the depth of the possibility of listening to the other person" (p. ix). He asks, "How do you inhabit your language, or, in what way is it you that inhabits the language that you speak to me?" (p. 1). Neither Kenaan nor Cavarero appear to be aware of one another's work.
  • Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, by Maurice Merleau-Ponty (translated by Hugh J. Silverman, Northwestern University Press, 1973). The book is comprised of lecture notes from a course taught by Merleau-Ponty at the Sorbonne. The notes were taken by students and approved for publication by Merleau-Ponty. The book is missing a lot of what I love about Merleau-Ponty–not simply his style, as if that could be reduced to a kind of belletristic display, but his way of engaging the reader to explore subtleties and obscure facets of a philosophical problem. I want to study the book, though, because the topic has arisen in my own thinking, and because Merleau-Ponty's approach to language is so startling even today that I want to fully appreciate where he was coming from and how his thinking developed.

Because it can always be written anew

The Pleasure of the Text From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Pleasure of the Text is a short book published in 1973 by Roland Barthes. In the book, Barthes divides the effects of texts into two: pleasure and bliss.
  • The pleasure of the text corresponds to the readerly text, which does not challenge the reader's subject position.
  • The blissful text provides Jouissance (bliss, orgasm, explosion of codes) which allows the reader to break out of his/her subject position. This type of text corresponds to the "writerly" text.

The "readerly" and the "writerly" texts are identified and explained in Barthes's S/Z: An Essay (ISBN 0-374-52167-0). Barthes feels that "writerly" is much more important than "readerly" because he sees the text's unity as forever being re-established by its composition, the codes that form and constantly slide around within the text. It is thus that one may passively read, but actively write, even in a fashion that is a re-enactment of the writer himself.

The different levels of codes (hermeneutic, action, symbolic, semic, and historical) inform and reinforce one another, making for an open text that is indeterminant precisely because it can always be written anew. As such, although one may experience pleasure in the readerly text, it is when one sees the text from the writerly point of view that the experience is blissful.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

An immanent account of the emergence of critical subjectivity

Indeed, this is one of the central themes of my study of Deleuze’s thought, Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence, where I
1) strive to show why Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism is not a return to dogmatic metaphysics,
2) give an account of why the illusions of transcendence and representation emerge, and
3) provide an immanent account of the emergence of critical subjectivity.
~ by larvalsubjects on March 12, 2007

Seduction as the removal of dimensions

Thus, causation could be considered a transcendental condition of experience - a subjectivity which did not employ the concept of causation at all is (arguably) beyond the limits of our imagination. What the transcendental does not allow us to do is to jump to the claim that we live in a completely causally-determined universe - and this is precisely where Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism is of value. As far as I can tell, his point is that the number of things ‘a body can do’ (to quote Spinoza) is infinite. It’s this concept of infinity which allows Deleuze to reconcile a universe which conforms to laws with a universe which is not strongly-determined in the classical sense. Causes can be actualized through investigation, but not in a simple sense: the search for causes changes the phenomenon under investigation. This is why I read Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism in terms of deterritorialization, although Sinthome of Larval Subjects (who knows way more about Deleuze than me) has cautioned against this after reading a recent post of mine.
So blobs, ghosts, voices… To say that these things can just appear mystically out-of-nothing is not going to satisfy Deleuze, nor Christopher French. But the viral form of pure appearance posits (implicitly) as an ontological fact that there can never be such a thing as a blank piece of paper (a spot will always appear), there can never be any such thing as a completely sterile operating theatre (a contamination will always appear), there can never be any such thing as a perfect speech (a slip-of-the-tongue will always appear). In other words, there is no such thing as purity - contamination always occurs and its form is always one of pure appearance, an appearance without cause. Of course, one can always find a cause, an alibi of some sort.
Take the slip-of-the-tongue, for instance: psychoanalysis can suggest an intentionality which caused the slip. So why, on the Baudrillardian view, is this interpretative gesture the wrong step? The answer is not that the interpretation falls short of the truth but, rather, that the moment of contamination is a pure form, whilst any interpretative gesture is an attempt to reassert a pure totality (eg. a completely determined universe). Of course, Deleuze’s vitalist transcendental empiricism can respond to Baudrillard’s viral-ist notion of pure appearance: one reasserts the infinity of life itself through an interpretation which works through the materialist principles Deleuze describes in Difference and Repetition and elsewhere in his work.
Of course, Baudrillard knows it is not possible to live without the illusion of causation, just as Einstein knew it wasn’t possible to live without the illusion of free will. But just as we have rare moments of deja vu, we can experience rare moments of pure appearance also. However, Zizek misses the point completely when he writes...
What Zizek gets wrong here (if this passage is meant to be taken as a reading of Baudrillard) is that the fleeting experience of pure appearance is not a glimpse of another domain or dimension (characterized here by Zizek as ‘Eternity’). It is exactly the opposite: in his book Seduction, Baudrillard explicitly theorises the concept of seduction as the removal of dimensions. For example, the trompe-l’oeil painting seduces us, not by evoking a sublime experience of some transcendent dimension but, rather, by removing a dimension from our experience (removing a transcendental condition of experience, if you want to think of that way). When we try to step into a trompe-l’oeil (mentally or otherwise), our failure delivers us an experience of pure appearance. Of course, we can immediately abolish this pure appearance via interpretation: “oh, it’s just a visual illusion” et cetera...Foucault Is Dead March 12th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Monday, March 12, 2007

Stupidity perpetually haunts thought and practice

In a previous post I attempted to work through Deleuze’s thesis that stupidity is a transcendental structure of thought, an illusion internal to thought, similar to Kant’s transcendental illusions produced in and through reason. In intervening days I’ve continued thinking about this, trying to think more specifically about what challenges thought, making it so difficult to think. It seems to me that this question is not only vital to the more remote concerns of philosophy such as those belonging to metaphysics and epistemology, but also to concrete issues in politics and ethics.
Once again it is necessary to emphasize that stupidity, if it is a sort of transcendental illusion, would not be a cognitive failing resulting from poor development or inadequate neurology. Neurologically, one could be quite intelligent and still be embroiled in stupidity. On the other hand, I don’t particularly like the word “stupidity”, though I confess that I gravitate towards this word as I see so much of it in the world about me. I suppose that says something about the structure of my desire. Hopefully no one will cleverly lay me bare in terms of Hegel’s logic of the beautiful soul. In his magnificent Commentary to Hegel’s Science of Logic, David Gray Carlson writes...
It will be recalled that for Deleuze stupidity was to be thought as an inability to conceive and pose problems, or draw distinctions. Stupidity is a certain way of tarrying with identity. As always it is worthwhile to remember that Deleuze uses the term “problem” in an idiosyncratic way. For Deleuze a problem-multiplicity-Idea is not a negativity or absence of solution, but instead the ontological ground of individuation or the field out of which an entity is individuated. Although Deleuze would strongly object to this language, problems mediate solutions (entities) and give them their sense. Darwin, for instance, discovered this during his journey on the Beagle with regard to finches and other species. When Hegel speaks of immediacy, abstraction, and self-identity, he seems to refer to something similar with regard to the understanding. Take the following passage from Hegel’s famous article “Who Thinks Abstractly?“. There Hegel writes...
For Hegel, the criminal is here treated in terms of immediacy, and consequently as self-identical. The criminal is reduced to his status as a criminal and this property is treated as an intrinsic property of what he is. For instance, we can imagine a neuropsychologist studying the brain or DNA of the executed criminal, searching for that elusive property that determines his identity. Indeed, millions of dollars are spent every year for precisely such research projects. Additionally, this relation to the criminal is “abstract” in the sense that it reduces the being of the criminal to a single property– “criminality” –relating to him as if her were devoid of other properties. This, according to Hegel, is the work of the understanding.
In constrast to the work of the understanding, dialectical and speculative reason unfolds the mediations that are involved in the notion. In the case of the criminal, these “mediations” refer to a history, a genesis, involving family, education, the social order, and so on. Indeed, this is the secret of Hegel’s various dialectics: Each time one begins with something taken as immediate and self-sufficient, and then it is unfolded to that point where the mediations and otherness are found necessarily dwelling within it. All of these ideas are familiar to anyone who has worked with the various social sciences, so I am almost embarrassed to repeat them. However, what is interesting here is the way in which Hegel emphasizes how these mediations conceal and erase themselves in the determinate being. Moreover, it is striking that as various forms of dialectical thought have risen into prominence in the last two centuries– often forms of dialectical thought much at odds with Hegel such as Deleuze’s ontology –the push-back has been to erase mediation altogether. The political and ethical stakes of mediacy are obvious. They certainly don’t favor a particular orientation. At any rate, Deleuze and Guattari put the illusion of the immediate nicely in Anti-Oedipus...
The task of dialectical thought, then, is to reveal how these mediations are at work in immediacy or how immediacy is mediated, or yet again how the immediate contains the other within it. As Carlson so nicely puts it, “Dialectical Reason merely expresses what was previously hidden” (29). I purposely leave the details of this task vague and open as it will differ from field to field, so we will have to develop, as it were, tools on the ground and must see the very process of producing these tools as a result of the way in which our own immediacy is mediated. That is, it must not be forgotten that the actor and observer is herself a part of this process.
There is a sort of transcendental illusion at the heart of experience itself that invites relating to the world in a particular way at the level of praxis which is borne of the detachment of “immediacy” from its mediations. This can be seen at the level of therapy where a psychological disorder is seen as a part of the self-identity of the suffering patient, such that the social and family context are ignored. It can be seen in the way certain questions are posed in the field of genetics, where the interactive relation of organisms to the environment are ignored. It can be seen in a series of presuppositions revolving around the war on terror, where it is assumed that terrorists are simple things that can be simply eradicated, thereby ignoring the social field out of which terrorists emerge or are individuated. It can be seen in United States education reform policies, where it is assumed that teachers are broken and the problem can simply be solved through more extensive training and testing, thereby ignoring shifts in the social world. Examples could be multiplied. In all these instances immediacy and self-identity are privileged, subtracting mediation from the thought of the thing.
Stupidity would thus be something that perpetually haunts thought and practice as we are perpetually presented with the world as a series of immediacies. In a luminous passage from Matter and Memory, Bergson writes...
I’ve always had a certain fondness for Bergson’s theory of the perception-image. For Bergson, perception is possible action. Put more forcefully, I perceive that which is within my power to act upon. Bergson refers to it as “virtual action”. Consequently, Bergson speaks of increasing and decreasing powers of my body. My perception is a coordination between the action of the body and the world that gives itself to that body, as if in a reflected mirror. Here, of course, Bergson discovers in his own way the thesis of the identity of subject and object developed by Hegel in the Phenomenology.
In this connection it could be said that the question of the relation between the immediate and the mediate takes on a special urgency. For the question of what is given as immediate is a question of that upon which one can act or that which one can affect and be affected by. As such, the question of overcoming stupidity is also, not surprisingly, a question of acting well… Which has little or nothing to do with being well behaved. ~ by larvalsubjects on March 9, 2007

Friday, March 09, 2007

Deleuze is an incredibly challenging philosopher. He’s also very poetic in his style

larvalsubjects // Mar 1st 2007 at 9:48 pm Is this an accurate representation of Deleuze and Guattari though? Look at the figures they choose as models and study according to their methodology: Proust, Kafka, Bacon, Melville, Cezanne, etc. Or look at his elaborate analysis of cinema in the two cinema books. Robert, do these figures strike you as being characterized by fluxes of relations devoid of content? My gripe with the “Deleuzians” is that they seem to take a few slogans and words from Deleuze’s work without reading that work: Rhizome, Deteritorialization, Nomad, Crowned Anarchy, etc. Thus you get purely empty and superficial productions that lack any inventiveness and are already highly normative in character, i.e., “you gotta be ‘fluxy’”.
With all due respect to FiD here, I find his characterization of transcendental empiricism unrecognizable. I don’t see where D&G describe transcendental empiricism as “deterritorialization”. Deterritorialization is something that happens in the world. One part of a code gets drawn up into something else. If you want to know what transcendental empiricism is, you have to consult Difference and Repetition and carefully work through Deleuze’s account of problems, structure, differential relations, and singularities as conditions for real experience, rather than possible (abstract) experience. That is, all transcendental empiricism is, is the thesis that everything in the world is a solution to a particular problem, and that one gives the sufficient reason of a thing by unfolding the problem to which it responds. This opens a whole domain of quite nuanced and interesting analysis that is a far cry from the pap we see among the anarcho-desiring machines in the world of theory and art. I entirely sympathize with FiD’s criticisms of a certain fad that passes as theory these days, but perhaps he could avoid attributing these views to Deleuze and Guattari themselves and take a look at what the authors themselves actually say through engaging in the sorts of close textual analysis he’s often so good at.
larvalsubjects // Mar 2nd 2007 at 12:26 am Ken, my take is basically that it’s institutional. D&G filtered into America through the literature and cultural studies departments. My hunch is that the appropriations of their work have not been informed by the philosophical background of that work because your average lit person doesn’t have a strong background in Plato, Aristotle, Duns Scotus, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Maimon, Hegel, Nietzsche, Bergson, Husserl, Sartre, Simondon, and Heidegger. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t exceptions to this rule, but as a general principle lit folk are faced with an impossible task where their training is concerned: They must acquaint themselves with a wide body of literature and theory. To be fully adequate to what’s expected in lit departments you’d have to have four or five PhD’s– Literature, Philosophy, Linguistics, Sociology, Psychoanalysis, and so on. In my view, Deleuze is an incredibly challenging philosopher and not just for stylistic reasons, but because he draws heavily on the history of philosophy in a rich, nuanced, and informed way. He’s also very poetic in his style.
Now I agree, there is something in these texts that invites these sorts of interpretations. I bet we could do a statistical study of the secondary literature on Deleuze out there and we would find that a few passages from various works are cited again and again. For instance, you would find citations of the crowned anarchy passage from the chapter on difference, the chapter on difference as bundles and networks on pages 50-51, a couple of famous quotes from the Rhizome essay, here and there a striking description of the schizo. The problem is that without the philosophical background, you get a thoroughly facile picture of Deleuze where “Being Deleuzian” means imitating Antonin Artaud or something to that effect. In addition to this, I think the sociological reasons you hint at are relevant here as well. For instance, the established “common sense” of the academy that Deleuze is a “postmodern thinker” and that postmodernism means x, etc. I just feel that there’s overwhelming textual evidence to support the thesis that there’s a very different Deleuze who is, from my perspective as a philosopher, far more interesting.