Monday, April 30, 2007

I believe in psychoanalysis as subversion

A number of religious movements have functioned as apologetics for economic and political conditions throughout history.
Dr. Sinthome, I haven’t researched the Texan situation enough to assess whether or not it is true, but if it is, then the liberal-democratic movement to which you apparently belong is equally complicit in the apology. However you have persistently and with such consequential rigor refused to put Saint Zizek and Saint Clinton under criticial scrutiny, that you have perpretrated the fundemantalist operation yourself, much more than I see Anthony or Adam doing it. Furthermore it’s nearly ridiculous for someone who believes in Lacan to have such a distrustful view of religion. Lacan studied Kabala vigorously, for God’s sakes! parodycenter said this on April 30th, 2007 at 4:12 am
Untrue Dejan, you just need to dig through the archives more. I’ve been consistently critical of liberal-democratic movements in a variety of contexts and have levelled some pretty scathing critiques against Zizek on a number of occasions. I just don’t have a black and white view of the world where because I see one aspect of something problematic the whole thing must be rejected, that’s all. A lot in Zizek leaves me grumbling and I find other things to be illuminating.
I think you’ve misread Lacan if you believe he endorses religion. He studies religion in much the same way Freud studies religion in Civilization and its Discontents: As a phenomena of the subject and desire that must be explained immanently in terms of desire, drive, and jouissance. Lacan clearly states, on a number of occasions, that he’s an atheist. Of course, in the clinic this shouldn’t matter as the analyst’s beliefs are irrelevant. larvalsubjects said this on April 30th, 2007 at 4:26 am
It seems a bit strange to use a political system that is necessarily one-dimensional to measure the diversity, or lack thereof, of anything, much less religious belief. Chris said this on April 30th, 2007 at 4:38 am
I just don’t have a black and white view of the world where because I see one aspect of something problematic the whole thing must be rejected, that’s all
OK I will do that, although with respect to Zizek, it is precisely that one crucial ”aspect of it” that you refused to look into, because if you did, you would see democratic fascists, and I think that idea is a ”heresy” in your system. I think you really believe the American Left is GOOD, and that’s why the fundamentalist right is such a BAD threat.
Lacan’s musings on the Real as Paradise Lost, the Phallic order, his explanation of Desire and the petit objet a, and ultimately even the idea of the de-centered self, all resonate strongly with Christianity, as does his oft-repeated injunction to ”die for something” et cetera and so forth. I didn’t know that he declared himself atheist, but then I get the impression he was not as wary of religion as you are. parodycenter said this on April 30th, 2007 at 4:44 am
Lacan’s musings on the Real as Paradise Lost, the Phallic order, his explanation of Desire and the petit objet a, and ultimately even the idea of the de-centered self, all resonate strongly with Christianity, as does his oft-repeated injunction to ”die for something” et cetera and so forth. I didn’t know that he declared himself atheist, but then I get the impression he was not as wary of religion as you are.
He repeats this on a number of occasions, claiming that psychoanalysis is the only truly atheistic discourse (Seminar 11) and even going so far as to proclaim psychoanalysis an a-theology. Lacan always recommended the study of theology. My take is that he saw theology as tracing the fetishized structure of the unconscious and desire, in much the same way the Feurbach felt that religion contains truth but in an inverted and distorted form. Your remarks are interesting. You seem to suggest that aspects of Lacan ring true because of his Christianity. Why not instead say that aspects of Christianity ring true because they are manifestations of psychoanalytic structures of desire? If psychoanalysis gives us an accurate picture of the subject, then we would expect to find psychoanalytic themes in any cultural formation. The real as “paradise lost” is not unique to Christianity, but nearly every religion has a nostalgic myth of a time before time from which we are fallen. I’m not seeing the other connections you’re making, so I’ll leave it there.
As for the American left… I don’t believe it exists. I dislike fundamentalists of all sorts, whether they be religious or otherwise. larvalsubjects said this on April 30th, 2007 at 4:50 am
and even going so far as to proclaim psychoanalysis an a-theology.
the way this was explained to me by other Lacanians and psychoanalysts, and I believe it myself, is that analysis was never meant as priesthood, or a method of deliverance. While many people who don’t dig analysis see it as a form of confession. But analysis won’t save you. Once you’re rid of the neurosis, it’s up to you what you do with your life.So Lacan’s remark this way makes perfect sense.
The real as “paradise lost” is not unique to Christianity, but nearly every religion has a nostalgic myth of a time before time from which we are fallen
However I was addressing HOW the Paradise is lost. I can only make a parallel between Christianity and the psychoanalytic account of the Oedipus narrative. As dr. Zizek duly noted in PUPPET AND DWARF, it is Christianity that proposes la differance, isn’t it? I don’t see strong parallels between that and Buddhism, really.
I dislike fundamentalists of all sorts, whether they be religious or otherwise.
However there are fundamentalists (in this case: Slovenian nationalists) in leftian disguise, … but never mind. The thing is since the external policy of the American Right and Left does not differ one tiny bit, and I know that the fate of Yugoslavia would have been the same under Clinton and Bush, I tend to see your Left and Right as being in a Moebius strip style relationship. parodycenter said this on April 30th, 2007 at 5:01 am
I don’t like Zizek’s fundamentalism. Happy?
The way this was explained to me by other Lacanians and psychoanalysts, and I believe it myself, is that analysis was never meant as priesthood, or a method of deliverance. While many people who don’t dig analysis see it as a form of confession. But analysis won’t save you. Once you’re rid of the neurosis, it’s up to you what you do with your life. So Lacan’s remark this way makes perfect sense.
All of this is true, though I think Lacan is saying something more substantial than what you here describe. Recall that for Lacan traversing the fantasy consists in overcoming one’s belief in the big Other. Recall that the symbolic is organized around a master-signifier that transcends all the other signifiers and holds them in place. Recall that this structure is represented on the masculine side of the graphs of sexuation, where one term is subtracted from symbolic castration. For Lacan the masculine side of sexuation is theology. It would be organized around unconscious belief in something like the primal father of Totem and Taboo, call him Yahweh if you like, or some equivalent structural placeholder whether it be dear leader, the king, God, the primal father, etc. An a-theology would be a form of desire that is no longer organized in this way or no longer premised on belief in a subject not subject to symbolic castration. That is, psychoanalysis is a-theological in the precise sense that it rejects the discourse of the master or is the other side of the discourse of the master.
Now, it’s perfectly fair to ask whether or not Lacan has a suitably sophisticated understanding of theology. One could, perhaps, show that theology doesn’t necessarily entail a transcendent term like a God or primal father. But this, I take it, is nonetheless what Lacan has in mind when he describes psychoanalysis as a-theological. larvalsubjects said this on April 30th, 2007 at 5:11 am
And you know dr. Sinthome the really terrifying and apocalyptic thought about fundamentalism is THIS, namely that the Left and the Right merely mirror each other, and are at the same time completely united in their common goal - the imperial spread of capitalism. So the identity crisis that the Left experiences is a faux-crisis, we all know what the REAL crisis is. parodycenter said this on April 30th, 2007 at 5:12 am
That is, psychoanalysis is a-theological in the precise sense that it rejects the discourse of the master or is the other side of the discourse of the master.
Of course I understand that, dr. Sinthome, you know I believe in psychoanalysis as subversion, however what makes you think that Christianity is a Master discourse? I for one do not experience it as such. I believe Christianity also asks you to give up on the Master discourse, the big Other, in a number of ways, the most important being its request to abandon the illusion of selfhood. This what would be troublesome about only considering religion in terms of its sociological consequence, because I know from Christian Orthodoxy that faith IS the praxis. parodycenter said this on April 30th, 2007 at 5:24 am
I mean the Christian subjet is the decentered subjet, fundamentally split, and Christ is adamant in the Bible on earthly Paradise being inaccessible to humans in THIS life, so whatever fool (like a rabid US Christian fundamentalist) tries to bring it into this life will be judged hardly later, in Kingdomcome. parodycenter said this on April 30th, 2007 at 5:29 am

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Certain kinds of ideological errors react with material histories, and alter them

It is time, at last, for me to confront Andrew Scull’s recent review (now a little less so) of Michel Foucault’s book Madness and Civilization. The book has come out in an expanded and newly translated edition.
I will be brief. Scull’s review is a disaster, and the worst of it is that some of his criticisms are undoubtedly just. Furthermore, some of what has been written against Scull is useless.
This post follows up on Scott Eric Kaufman’s two excellent posts on the subject, here (1) and here (2). I’m indebted to Scott for the links below. Though I disagree with him about the value of Foucault’s book, I think his comparison of “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” with Madness and Civilization is very helpful.
I am not merely aiming to pick apart Scull’s response to Foucault; my real target is Scull’s blithe cynicism about the 1960s. That decade, which already signifies an irresponsible utopianism in most public discourse, is now slowly being rejected by academia as an embarrassment. We literally run the risk of losing works like Madness and Civilization, Eros and Civilization, and Life Against Death to this smug and unreasoning process of expulsion...
Scull may be right that the real historical conditions in mental institutions did not always match the rhetoric of the age. He calls Foucault out as a fortunate deceiver, “cynical” and “shameless,” and hints darkly at Foucault’s effect on “people’s lives.” But if we have learned anything from Foucault, and from his predecessor Nietzsche, it is that certain kinds of ideological errors react with material histories, and alter them. To treat the lot of Foucault’s textual criticism of madness as nothing – that is pure, indefensible ideology. It endeavors to silence Foucault, and restores to us a good conscience we have done nothing to deserve. Published in: Art & Aesthetics Utopian thought The Valve Foucault Ethics & Morality Philosophy Deleuze Psychoanalysis Politics on April 29, 2007 at 4:44 am Comments (0)

Be it textual or sexual, be it sadistic or masochistic

Posted by whetted on April 28th, 2007
After two remarkable assessments of decadence (the first by A White Bear, the second by Joseph Kugelmass), I wanted to add some of my own thoughts to the pot, as it were. White Bear convincingly argues for two kinds of decadance: sadistic and masochistic. It seems White Bear and Kugelmass would agree with me—as per the former blogger’s remarks on Pater and Wilde in Kugelmass’s entry and the latter’s Paterian “gem-like flame”allusion in his own entry—that masochistic decadence is the more generative of the two. That is, of course, if we think of them as separate and distinct; I will come back to this shortly. I think they might also agree with me that, in terms of historicizing decadence (in tandem with the then-inchoate discourses of psychoanalysis) it is also masochistic decadence which remains outside our current cultural understanding of pleasure and the erotics system.
The extreme distance between self and other that marks our lives now is a direct result of the distancing effects of media and technology, causing violence to be consumed on a daily basis—both on television news programs and in other ostensibly mundane realms such as cinema, video games, ad infinitum—and forcing our relation to eroticism and 21st-century decadence into an almost culturally-valorized sadism. Perhaps this is, as White Bear says, precisely what makes historicizing decadence so difficult for students more accustomed to the culturally-assigned “brand” of contemporary decadence—namely, the sadistic brand of pleasure-taking:
My students, I think, are having a hard time grasping what constitutes the decadent because they don’t really understand what a pre-decadent era felt like. All along in my survey class, we’ve discussed how we must look at the causality of texts to determine their ethics, and they get that “back then” people felt this or that way about, e.g., female chastity. But when we’re talking about Dracula or Freud, perhaps it mirrors their own sense of self and pleasure too much to allow them to be analytical about it.
I think it is important to historicize decadence in terms of aestheticism, for without this marker we’ll forever be at sea in a world in which the generative signifier of decadence has long since left us. Perhaps it is useful to understand the aesthetic-decadent relationship in its historicized version though, as White Bear notes, this is difficult to accomplish on a pedagogical level when sadistic decadence is our sociocultural “norm.” I would argue that masochistic decadence—as generative, as “mov[ing] orthogonally against [instead of parallel to] suffering”—is what we seek to expose our students to in teaching figures like Pater and Wilde, and that, in order to see the true sexual and textual power inherent in aestheticism/decadence and sadism/masochism, we need to realize there is, in fact, no separatrix, no binarism.
Commenting on White Bear’s concluding image of the decadent self “feeling [like] an angry bull” in a pen, Kugelmass pinpoints nondualistic qualities that might help us in rethinking 19th-century decadence (masochism) versus 21st-century decadence (sadism). Kugelmass writes that, “[t]here is a symmetry between the gorgeous lucidity of AWB’s initial binary (sadistic and masochistic decadence), and the specificity of the image of the penned bull. The psychic event becomes reified, contained not only by its pen, but by its image.”
That the psychic event—be it textual or sexual, be it sadistic or masochistic—“becomes reified … by its own image” is a revolutionary way of interrogating both the historicized brand of Paterian aestheticism (which I think crucial in analyzing decadence in any Western form) and the sadism/masochism dichotomy that culturally freezes “us sadists” in relation to those (even more) other, 19th-century masochists. We might do well here to briefly recall Freud’s theory of primary masochism and we might also do well here to remember the dead bodies with which Pater is so fascinated and which held aestheticism and decadence in thrall, littering the movement’s works from the father figure Winckelmann’s own body (of work) to Salomé’s figural and prosodic decapitations. Since contemporary culture wishes us to believe we are passive consumers and active, sadistic neo-decadents, it is hard to find the road into that “other,” masochistic decadence (the Wildean “New Hedonism”) precisely because it is anterior to us, pre-dates us, and, as such, exists in the primary position of masochism so that we can deny it. The primary processes have worked their sociocultural and psychical magic, causing us to utterly disavow any association with masochism (in terms of pleasure-taking, specifically, and the erotics system, more generally) and, logically enough, this overturns textual pleasure, in the masochistic model, in favor of violent, sexual pleasure.
This friction or schism is what prevents students from moving into the more “neutral” position of sadomasochism—putting, in effect, masochism back into sadism—and is really the cause of why students, as White Bear observes, have “a hard time grasping what constitutes the decadent because they don’t really understand what a pre-decadent era felt like.” It certainly has a lot less to do with binarisms than we thought, as Kugelmass points out in de-bunking the separatrix by reminding us that one term exists only in relation to the other. Also, a more productive means of “accessing” this other kind of masochism that is 19th-century aestheticism and decadence exists in an image: the superfluous surface (what Sontag famously called “camp”) and the lack of depth; the image valorized in aesthetic-decadent work because it is both a passive object of beauty and an active agent of seduction.
Perhaps in rethinking culturally-assigned positions, in terms of violence and sexuality, we can also begin to understand that we’re not that far away from the “road in” to that primary masochism that is “primary decadence”: we’ve only to realize the displacements and sublimations; we’ve only to acknowledge the masochism in ourselves in order to reveal the road back—a road that leads back towards both textual understanding (of aestheticism, of historicized decadence) and sexual realization. This is promising and also potentially revolutionary in that the image—of our own psychosexual fantasies and of Pater’s and Winckelmann’s prized Apollo Belvedere—constitutes both self and other, jouissance and death, sadism and masochism in one, fixed but fluid, organizational system. We might even find a resonant sexual, political, and creative impetus in Pater’s words from The Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998):
With this sense of the splendour of our experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have time to make theories about the things we see or touch. What we have to do is to be for ever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile orthodoxy. (152)
Obviously, all of these thoughts are fragmentary, but the idea of making a bridge between self and other is essential to uncover within the sadistic/masochistic breach which sociocultural norms regenerate and encourage to mark division concretely. Neither aestheticism-decadence nor sexuality works in that way, to put it simply. I think it might serve us well to not forget the “camp” Sontag found in aesthetic and decadent works of art and to use queerness to theorize decadence, to further stress that self/other and sadist/masochist are not lost within a maze of intended ambiguities (in aestheticism) or culturally-mandated positions of sexual power (in sadism). Instead, there is an ongoing discourse and exchange between the textual and the sexual that queer theorizations of aestheticism and decadence might help us to engage with rather than pit one other against the other other. There is hope and there is value—on pedagogical, textual, and sexual levels, particularly in their intersections—in taking stock of Kevin Ohi’s program of queer aestheticism in Innocence and Rapture: The Erotic Child in Pater, Wilde, James, and Nabokov (New York: Palgrave, 2005):
Aestheticism is queer, but not because it presents positive or charismatic representations of deviant desire, although it often does do that. Rather, it is queer because it articulates desire while refusing to recognize the desire’s representation as necessary for that articulation. Put another way, the disruption of representability inherent in the aestheticist reversal of style and matter is queer. Thus, the recursive turn whereby style or manner becomes the ‘content’ of the text is, for these writers, an experience of eroticism, and the erotic child in aestheticism provides an exemplary instance of an eroticism inseparable from the stylistic, figural, narrative, and aesthetic effects through which its appeal is announced. (3-4) Posted in aestheticism, decadence, queer studies, Walter Pater, Kevin Ohi, Susan Sontag, Freud, pedagogy, sexuality, cultural studies, Oscar Wilde, literature No Comments »

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Between appetite and desire there is no difference

Spinoza Today BOOK III, PROP. IX. The mind, both in so far as it has clear and distinct ideas, and also in so far as it has confused ideas, endeavours to persist in its being for an indefinite period, and of this endeavour it is conscious.
Note. – This endeavour, when referred solely to the mind, is called will, when referred to the mind and body in conjunction it is called appetite; it is, in fact, nothing else but man’s essence, from the nature of which necessarily follow all those results which tend to its preservation; and which man has thus been determined to perform.
Further, between appetite and desire there is no difference, except that the term desire is generally applied to men, in so far as they are conscious of their appetite, and may accordingly be thus defined: Desire is appetite with consciousness thereof. It is thus plain from what has been said, that in no case do we strive for, wish for, long for, or desire anything, because we deem it to be good, but on the other hand we deem a thing to be good, because we strive for it, wish for it, long for it, or desire it. ~ by larvalsubjects on April 25, 2007. One Response to “Spinoza Today”
how very interesting! WHitehead talks about appetition in a similar way:
“Appetition is at once the conceptual valuation of an immediate physical feeling combined with the urge towards realization of the datum conceptually prehended. For example, ‘thirst’ is an immediate physical feeling integrated with the conceptual prehension of its quenching.” (process & Reality 32) glen said this on April 25th, 2007 at 11:33 pm

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

‘What can a body do?’ is one of Spinoza’s fundamental question

Spinoza Today BOOK III, PROP. VII. The endeavour, wherewith everything endeavours to persist in its own being, is nothing else but the actual essence of the thing in question.
~ by larvalsubjects on April 23, 2007. One Response to “Spinoza Today”
Here is a great Spinoza quote. I am emale has recently been poring over Spivak’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari. Her critique of their work stems from a ideology of US intellectual culture which appropriates and organises the whole body of their work into “totalising” conceptions of “desire” and “power,” further perpetuating an ongoing, globalising hegemony, inaugurating a sovereign Subject. The “-ings” have it.
To ecko Mr Nietzsche from the Gay Science, “often I have asked myself whether taking a large view, philosophy has not been merely an interpretation of the body and a misunderstanding of the body.”
Deleuze also quotes this line in Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. ‘What can a body do?’ is one of Spinoza’s fundamental question. Becoming: an infinitive present participle. “Becoming is a verb with a consistency all its own; it does not reduce to, or lead back to, ‘appearing,’ ‘being,’ ‘equaling,’ or ‘producing.’” A becoming could be mistaken for an imitation of the state of affairs instead of a double involvement, an involution, falling back upon a body without organs. Experimentation injected with caution.
It seems the US professors (preferring essays and interviews like the fanzines of ‘pop stars’) Spivak is implicitly critiquing by way of Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, fail to consider the body of their works in a line of becoming, a striving in the history of an endeavour (Lucretius, Spinoza, Bergson etc) to give art and becoming to a critical experience of the cogito.
The US professors and their students are public intellectuals for the most part I am emale suspects, as opposed to the private thinker. A rigorous reading of Spinoza (which is not as easy as reading interviews – this is an economic issue, not of ideology, the question of the supplement and the main body of work) might alleviate the dangers Spivak raises in relation to the body of work by Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari.
The quote you posted would be a good starting place. ecko4inc said this on April 23rd, 2007 at 10:32 pm

Charting a course between Husserl and Bergson via Merleau-Ponty

What the Hell is Invariant Vitalism? April 15th, 2007 I’m sure some of you were thinking this after you read my post below. It is a fair enough question and so I’m going to give a sketch of what this might mean, with lots of reference to Renaud Barbaras’ remarkable book Desire and Distance: An Introduction to a Phenomenology of Desire.
From a phenomenological standpoint, and here I am bracketing the very question of how the subject thinking thinks the object outside (or ‘correlationism’), there is always an invariant that is contrasted with movement. Following upon the work done by Husserl in his fragment ‘The originary ark, the earth, does not move’ (described delightfully described as a ’subversion of the Copernican thesis’) and that of Merleau-Ponty in his lecture course ‘Husserl at the Limits of Phenomenology’, Barbaras goes on to say that the invariant contrasted with bodily movement is grasped as the world and not as a thing. I should note here that I’ve tried to make a big deal about the difference (and co-implication) of world and earth, and it is here where such a notion may actually be helpful. One thing I like about this is that it fosters a better notion of nature than what we normal get when we posit something beyond nature, or the ‘non-natural’. Both the world and the earth are natural, whereas one is constructed and the other is the material for that construction. (Is my thinking here not exactly terracentric? Yes, yes it is. Perhaps a problem. We will see.) Now, I think this differentiation may be of interest to Barbaras because he goes on to tell us that the phenomenological reduction is ultimately a critique of pure nothingness and the principle of sufficient reason (encapsulated in the question why is there something rather than nothing?). Now, this is interesting in and of itself and I’ve written on it elsewhere, but it also opens up to the question of what do we have then if we bracket the world, which can be bracketed because it’s being is conditional, whereas the being of the earth is not conditional but neither is it fully positive.
Barbaras’ goes on to show how this negation of pure nothingness opens up to the notion of ‘being-at-a-distance’. He believes this moves beyond the shortcomings of thinking being as a play between positive being and negative nothingness. Being-at-a-distance is indebted to the Bergsonian transfer of ontological positivity to duration what traditional metaphysics had accorded to essence. What Barbaras adds to this is a kind of Deleuzian notion of desire. Desire, for Barbaras, does not refer to a lack, but this does not then mean that desire is complete, rather it is always referred to an originary incompleteness. Which is to say, when we say that desire does not lack we are saying that nothing can fulfil it. Yet, somewhat paradoxically, we can describe this incompleteness as fullness following on fullness evidenced by the fact that we do not experience pure nothingness.
So, back to invariant vitalism. What Barbaras goes on to do with these notions is bestow upon life the properity of subject or that which can act (and here this complicates his correlationist tendencies since the world itself also acts, leading him to posit that the only true cosmology would be a cosmobiology). The very heart of subjectivity is desire, the being-incomplete, and desire is always a desire for the world, which is to say for a continuation of experience. No longer can the world/earth simply be said to be the invariant of perception, for something lies even behind both world and earth. The name of this is being-incomplete which is the invariant principle - or life. Which is to say that the invariance of this vitalism, or the notion that there is something pushing material forward that is not reducible to mechanics, is this being-at-a-distance or being-incomplete of the world soul and organism of the earth (two heteroaffective modalities of life).
I think this lays out a pretty decent sketch of what I’m getting at here. I’ve simplified much of Barbaras here, which is unfortunate as his account of motion or life as motion is also interesting. But there seems to be a lack of consistency in some of his account, partly due to his charting a course between Husserl and Bergson via Merleau-Ponty. I’m sure my own paper will suffer from this lack due to its coordinates. Posted by Anthony Paul Smith Filed in vitalism, philosophy 6 Comments »

Our European models are already incredibly commentary-heavy

Kyle, Interesting observations. I think Caputo is what Lacan had in mind when he claimed that theologians are the true atheists. In this lecture he claimed that religion is composed of potently powerful stories and compared it to novels, all the while defending religion. He seemed bothered by Marion’s hardline stance without scripture. Oddly I found myself on the side of Marion here. I just can’t understand why someone would continue to defend Christianity while placing it on par with novels and films. If that’s all it is, then I’m not sure why one wouldn’t simply dispense with religion altogether and simply set about interpreting literature and art. I find Marion or Kierkegaard to be far more admirable, and largely in part of the way they refuse a historicist hermeneutics of the Bible. Chances are I’m not expressing my discomfort here quite clearly.
I wasn’t trying to dismiss textual engagement, but it does seem to me that there’s a strong prohibition against “direct theory” as it’s practiced in the United States. I am unclear as to why it has developed in this way. larvalsubjects said this on April 21st, 2007 at 4:08 am
Let’s absolutely not get into a discussion of religion, but I must say I have some reservations about what you’ve said about Kierkegaard’s relation to Scripture. In fact, although Marion is undoubtedly a very conservative Roman Catholic, I don’t think that that binds him to a “non-historicist” reading of the Bible. I agree that Caputo’s project leaves much to be desired (though it’s in a nice long line of liberal Catholics in the 20th Century — David Tracy being the most famous). I just wonder if there’s a difference between being a Christian and being dumb — as though you need to believe there’s some “guy out there” named God, etc. Everyone acts like anything short of the most crassly mythological version of Christianity is equivocating cowardice, and… Yeah, but not going to get into that. (But why the hell is it somehow “admirable” to be a fundamentalist? “At least they’re consistent.” WHAT?! Anyway…)
I read an article recently about an American theologian who doesn’t get much attention, and the author of this article argued that it’s because of a bias against Americans writing “primary sources.” This theologian is trying to do the same kind of thing that, say, Karl Barth did, rather than just endlessly commentating on Karl Barth. But Americans don’t do that — they comment. American theology is pretty heavily European in orientation and so is more comparable to “continental” philosophy than to “analytic” in terms of its practices. I’m sure some degree of cultural inferiority is at play here — how many American continentalists secretly wish they had been born French? (I’d say at least 70%.)
It’s kind of constraining, but I honestly don’t really get impatient with the textual commentary thing. And anyway, our European models are already incredibly commentary-heavy. That’s just how the tradition is. Maybe it’s Heidegger’s fault. (Probably.)
I don’t know that the emphasis on textual commentary is necessarily tied up with semiotics, etc. It’s not like there was this wonderland of totally primary sources before Pierce. And of course the “commentary on commentary” format thrived in the middle ages (and not just in theology), when there was no particular skepticism about our ability to know the world. Adam Kotsko said this on April 25th, 2007 at 3:55 am

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Secularism, per se, doesn’t intrinsically tell us anything about subject-object dualism

N Pepperell wrote: Okay…Now we’ll move into the part that I’ll undoubtedly say very badly: in both of our ways of understanding the narrow sense of immanence, my sense is that this narrow meaning does not follow in any inevitable way from the broad meaning - that secularism, per se, doesn’t intrinsically tell us anything about subject-object dualism. I’m very happy to be corrected here - this is an open question. It’s just that, while I know that these issues intertwine around one another in practice - with questions about secularism twisting around questions of subject-object dualism - I’m not clear that the connection is as necessary as the practical or intuitive interconnection suggests. The intuitive connection reminds me, in some ways, of Hacking’s analysis of the dual meanings of the concept of probability - refering both to aleatory conditions and to degrees of belief. Hacking asks how these two things should come to be perceived as intertwined into the same term. I have a similar curiosity, I think, about the notion of immanence.
Hypothetically (there are, of course, real-world examples) one could embrace immanence in the sense of rejecting subject-object dualism, while retaining a religious worldview; and one could also assert a secular worldview, and retain various forms of subject-object dualism. So the two moments within our concepts of immanence can in principle be separated - and yet, here both of us are, albeit with perhaps different emphases, grouping these moments comfortably under the umbrella of a single term. Just as a placeholder, I am curious about the intuitiveness of this combination. I can’t go anywhere with this curiosity at this time - but just raise it as something to bracket for the future. I’m open to the suggestion that I am puzzled about something profoundly stupid here (I’m very tired - this tangent may be in the character of one of those things that strikes one as significant in a dream, and gets disspelled as irrelevant on waking - perhaps this is why I can’t go anywhere with my curiosity)… ;-P And, in any event, this point has nothing to do with what you were asking, and I raise it more as a placeholder for my own thinking…
On the question you’ve actually asked, of whether I think I am analysing something that is immanent to something else: my position here is strange, I think. I suspect that most social scientists - probably most social theorists - are doing exactly what worries you. I’m not sure that I am doing the same thing - I might be, but I suspect what I’m doing looks more similar than it should to a standard “embedded in culture” or “embedded in history” analysis, because of the specific sorts of issues I tend to write about. I suspect, if I were speaking on a different level of abstraction, or on a longer historical register, I would probably start sounding much more similar to you, than I sound when I speak about the narrow collection of historically-specified issues that tend to draw my attention.
My immanence, I think, is perhaps a bit… lumpy, particularly once one zooms in to a particular moment in time. So I see part of what I’m trying to do is to understand how, to persons individuated in a particular moment, the way things operate - around these parts, around this time - might render it plausible to characterise, experience and practice that moment in particular ways (because that is, in fact, what it’s like “around here, at the moment” - things appear as they are…). This doesn’t mean that our moment is immanent to something else (although this might be a plausible Newtonian approximation of the experience, so to speak) - but that immanence in our moment instantiates itself in a specific way, and I focus most of my thought on understanding that specificity, rather than on a more general ontology. Apologies for how exceptionally poorly formulated all this is… If you ask me about this in public, I’ll deny every word… ;-P ...Sorry that this is such a ramble…Tuesday, 24/04/2007 at 12:41 pm Permalink

Lest you worry that I’m trying to premise philosophical claims on scientific claims

Sinthome wrote: I guess I’ve never found the question of normativity that vexing. It seems to me that life evaluates.
The reference to bat sonar was only meant as a metaphor or analogy, not as complex theoretical assertion. I think that we’re often stuck with an alternative between sense-data empiricism or rationalism or some combination thereof. I’m not suggesting you’re guilty of this, just situating my own thoughts. The common root is the idea that thought represents a world that exists independently of it, and the question is one of how it is possible to represent that world truthfully or accurately. After Darwin things get interesting as it becomes possible to imagine not only an evolution of species, but an evolution of umwelts or worlds as well, where we are talking about something less than a rationalism and more than an empiricism. That is, there’s structure here, a sort of “a priori” or pattern to experience, but it is not a distinction between what is thought (the rationalist) and what is experienced (the empiricist), but an ordering style immanent to a form of life (where style is something less than a logico-deductive rationalism, but more than empiricist, sense-data empiricism).
Lest you worry that I’m trying to premise philosophical claims on scientific claims, Darwin seems to be very much an incarnation of the spirit of his time. We see this ontological perspectivism all over the place in philosophy and literature during the 19th century. I call it ontological perspectivism, because epistemological perspectivism continues to believe in a thing-in-itself independent of perspective that all perspectives more or less converge on, whereas ontological perspectivism treats being as such as difference or multiplicity and perspective as an emergent ontological strata that exists in its own right and which isn’t a convergence on self-same and independent objects. This is difficult to articulate.
At any rate, this sort of ontological perspectivism can be seen in the work of Nietzsche and Bergson, as well as thinkers like James, Dewey, and Peirce, and is also found in literature like that of Henry James, Proust, and Joyce. A good deal of the historicists like Hegel, Dilthey, and Marx approach it, I think, without quite articulating it. Forerunners of this form of thought can also be found among 17th and 18th century thinkers like Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hume. I think Darwin just gives a particularly striking formulation of this thesis by virtue of his cross-species analysis, rather than focusing on the “human” alone (”human” must be put in square quotes now as different fields of individuation or ecologies allow the possibility of an identity of species when thought abstractly, but very different structures of cognition and affect due to emerging in different ecologies).
I am not convinced that the shared context issue is so problematic. If we’re thinking ecologically, then we can think about co-development of elements in a field that begin to develop their own rhythms of exchange, dependency, and communication, much like the orchid and the wasp come to develop together without encountering the world in the same way. There are all sorts of questions to ask here about assemblage formations surrounding environment, economics, etc., that are not themselves communications but that imbricate groups and promote networks (that can either be harmonious or conflictual or other things as well).
What’s interesting here, I think, is that such formations do not presuppose a shared perspective or way of seeing things. They can still be quite divergent, extremely so, while nonetheless interacting. This is one of the reasons I’m coming to prefer assemblage theory to systems. An assemblage is more than an atomism (that only grants existence to individuals) and less than a homogenizing system (that claims systems constitute their elements). You and I belong to lots of different and divergent assemblages (our employment, various friendships, local and national governments, etc., etc., etc) and form an assemblage here in the blogosphere, but nonetheless retain our individuality within this assemblage. Thus, unlike a system in Luhmann’s formulation, we’re not constituted by some totality from above, but constitute one another in our interactions and constitute ourselves, etc. It allows for a high degree of divergence among the elements entering into an assemblage, simultaneously seeing an assemblage (such as a society or ecosystem) as an individual while also allowing us to see individuals as belonging to that assemblage.
I’d like to steal Benjamin’s term “constellation” to refer to such assemblages, though this might be confusing. As you no, I’ve read little Benjamin, so I have no idea if I’m using the term in the way he does. Rather, I’m thinking of a singular, existing, formation of elements thrown together and which hang together, like a stellar constellation that has its own immanent statistical regularities. I think of a constellation as almost being like pastiche, where a bunch of things are thrown together forming a sort of mad combination that may or may not have conatus or a power to endure.
Benjamin is in no way guilty of my usage… I just find the word productive for thinking the contingency of existence. Today, in Spinoza, I read “By reality and perfection I understand the same thing” (Book II, Definition 6). One reading of this definition, mistaken I think, would be a Hegelian reading that claims that perfection is what is really real (much like Hegel’s understanding of truth and actuality as the identity of a thing with its notion). Another, stronger reading, would be that existence need not be contaminated by the notion, but is itself perfection. The aim here would be to think singular existence, rather than obfuscating it with the notion or representation. I think we need a new philosophy that thinks what I call “constellations” in their singular richness, resisting generalizing urges. Monday, 23/04/2007 at 9:08 am Permalink
Sinthome wrote: Assemblages, incidentally, can only be studied empirically. No one could deduce my relationship to you or others in the blogosphere without actually tracing the networks. These configurations or constellations can’t be deduced. Consequently, not an a priori, but a historical a priori or a material a priori that must be found through the investigation of a constellation and a tracing of its fiberous networks and singular points, rather than deduced through thought. Monday, 23/04/2007 at 9:10 am Permalink

A mysterious kernel — something ‘theological’ almost — at the heart of realist approaches

I am by no means a ‘natural’ realist. I do not share the breezy confidence that lies behind many realist intuitions and maxims: that constructed values or objects are no real objects at; that the phenomenology of experience is undeniably realist in its content; that to provide a genealogy of belief is a dubious tactic, often guilty of the naturalistic fallacy, for demonstrating it to be epistemically suspicious; etc. My sympathies had always instinctively lay with anti- or at least non-realist positions. This was reinforced by my commitment to immanent, secular and (more or less) materialist modes of explanation. In fact, there often seemed to me to be a mysterious kernel — something ‘theological’ almost — at the heart of realist approaches, whether they were realism about theoretical norms, moral entities, or whatever. This objection would often centre upon the possible relation between our practices and the posits of realism. All I ever saw was an outmoded representationalism, or problems related to these posits’ causal isolation. And, in the Wittgensteinian dictum: “a wheel that be can turned though nothing else moves with it, is not part of the mechanism.” (PI, §271)
The immediate impetus for my turn against anti-realism was the realisation as to just how much Rorty’s staid liberalism was bound up with his epistemological commitments — commitments that were not very far from my own. The full story of this, however, I shall save for another post. On the positive side, it was my increased admiration for and exposure to Kant and Hegel that helped me to see that some form of realism may, in fact, be viable after all. That may seem perverse, for surely Berkeley is the only philosopher more associated with idealism than them. How could an avowedly sympathetic reading of Kant and Hegel lead me to a realist position? To cut a long story short, it was a more thorough understanding of their rejection of a crude model of ‘the given’ and ‘the imposed’ in experience (the sort of clumsy scheme/content distinction that is still often attributed to Kant). If, as Kant thought, experience is always-already in some sense conceptually structured, then this seems to allow it to stand in normative relations — experiences themselves, and not simply propositions about or caused by them, can then act as reasons. Even more enticingly, if — as I believe Hegel’s position to be — we can somehow show that the conceptual is ‘unbounded’, that nothing falls outside of it, then the space of reasons is extended indefinitely.
This is the strategy that I take to underlie Hegel’s absolute idealism, dissolving the distinction between a mentalistic conception of subjectivity as opposed to a mechanistic logic of worldly objects. It is this picture that leads me to take seriously Hegel’s claims to have somehow overcome subjective idealism and to have combined idealism with realism (although obviously this claim takes some defending!). It is these very McDowellian thoughts that have tempted me to try and explore to what extent some form of normative realism is possible, even if it is not exactly along these lines. There is much more to be said, especially with respect to such a realism’s relation to the socio-historical, but that will have to wait. Posted in Normativity, Anti-realism, Hegel, Realism, Kant, Epistemology No Comments » Grundlegung, A philosophy blog. March 28th, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

An identity separate from its elements plus a consciousness and intellect greater than its elements

Spirits are often visualized as being interconnected to all others and The Spirit (singular capitalized) refers to the theories of a unified spirituality, universal consciousness and some concepts of Deity. All "spirits" connected, form a greater unity, the Spirit, which has both an identity separate from its elements plus a consciousness and intellect greater than its elements; an ultimate, unified, non-dual awareness or force of life combining or transcending all individual units of consciousness. The experience of such a connection can be a primary basis for spiritual belief. The term spirit has been used in this sense by at least Anthroposophy, Aurobindo, A Course In Miracles, Hegel, and Ken Wilber. In this use, the term is conceptually identical to Plotinus's "One" and Friedrich Schelling's "Absolute." Written by logos210

The books that gain esteem often strike me as books that appeal to human narcissism

3 Responses to “Different Types of Books” ~ by larvalsubjects on April 19, 2007.
One of Lichtenberg’s Waste Books entries observes that if libraries become cities (as, he says, some say they will or are doing), they’ll have slums, too. (Had I the book with me I’d quote it accurately.) ben wolfson said this on April 23rd, 2007 at 2:05 am
Ben, This is interesting. Could you maybe say more as to what sorts of books you would see in the slums? And is this a perjorative sorting? Freud, for instance, sometimes referred to psychoanalysis as a “ghetto science”. I suspect that psychoanalytic work will always be in the slums or ghettos due to the nature of resistance and defense surrounding the ego, making it perpetually difficult to accept the unconscious. It seems to me that something is similarly the case with Marx, Lucretius, Machiavelli, or Nietzsche. The books that gain esteem often strike me as books that appeal to human narcissism, whereas there’s a whole body of works that always haunt the shadows because of the way in which they wound narcissism. Consequently, being relegated to the slums might not be such a bad thing. What did you have in mind? larvalsubjects said this on April 23rd, 2007 at 2:42 am
I didn’t have anything in particular in mind, honest. The post just reminded me of that comment of Lichtenberg’s (there’s actually more than one that are very similar).
I don’t know if Lichtenberg thought the books in the slums would be actively bad books, or books of a determinate sort; he certainly did have strong opinions about the badness of many books produced in his time, so it’s possible he meant the comment pejoratively. But it needn’t be interpreted that way; compare Wittgenstein likening (a) language to a city. I don’t think he thought that in the slums of that city one would find the déclassé speech. But as for what sorts of books or speech one would find there, I’m not sure I’ve got an opinion. ben wolfson said this on April 23rd, 2007 at 3:07 am

Paul de Man’s Misreadings: A Critique of Aesthetic Ideology

Oublié Sur La Carte is sad to announce that fellow blogger Joseph Kugelmass is about to close shop over at The Kugelmass Episodes in order to begin blogging anew under an assumed name, of which he plans to inform us in some roundabout way. You can read the death notice here while the site is still up. Once it’s gone, pay attention to my blogroll, as I’ll surely post a link to the new site as soon as it becomes known to me.
In the mean time, Joe has been courteous enough to allow me to repost his two posts on De Man, complete with comment threads, so that the context of my posts on irony will not be lost, and the rich commentary from Joe, myself, and others will be preserved. You can find the threads here:

Deleuze saw strong parallels between Nietzsche’s will to power and Spinoza’s conatus

Thanks, Orla. I quite agree, and also feel that affects are themsleves productive even when occasionally negative and painful. As you may or may not know, Deleuze wrote two books on Spinoza. Deleuze’s understanding of becoming is deeply indebted to Spinoza, among others. Deleuze saw strong parallels between Nietzsche’s will to power (as he understood it) and Spinoza’s conatus. Moreover, Spinoza is one of the few philosophers that Nietzsche repeatedly celebrates as an affirmative thinker. I think Deleuze’s relation to Spinoza sheds quite a different light on Deleuze’s own project… Especially when one investigates Spinoza’s own place in the Enlightenment. larvalsubjects said this on April 22nd, 2007 at 11:14 pm

The new technologies of speed and transmission may well converge with the existential priority of eliminating distance

enowning Sunday, April 22, 2007 Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht on changing distances.
The emergence of new political, economic, and cultural Centers outside Europe, beyond the traditionally unmarked Center in relation to which the rest of the world has been defined as Periphery, transforms the parameters of spatial perception. The other source of dramatic change on this level of experience is the vast range of new devices in transportation and communication, which are bringing far-flung points on the globe closer together.
Martin Heidegger establishes an explicit relationship between the new technological possibilities for bridging distance and his own analysis, in Being and Time, of space as a frame-condition for human existence. Through one of those hyphenations which are characteristic of his style as a philosopher and writer, Heidegger turns Entfernung ("distance") into its opposite, Ent-fernung ("undoing of farness"). This wordplay leads Heidegger to the thesis--analogous to and derived from the priority of Zuhandenheit ("ready to hand") over Vorhandenheit ("present at hand")--that, from an existential point of view, closeness (the result of an undoing of farness) has priority over distance. This thesis, however, obliges Heidegger to acknowledge--not without hesitation--that the new technologies of speed and transmission may well converge with the existential priority of eliminating distance:
"In Dasein there is an essential tendency toward closeness. All the ways in which we speed things up, as we are more or less compelled to do today, push us on toward the conquest of remoteness [Entferntheit]. With the 'radio', for example, Dasein has so expanded its everyday environment that it has accomplished a de-distancing [Ent-fernung] of the 'world'--a de-distancing whose implications for the meaning of Dasein cannot yet be visualized". Pp. 364-3653:24 PM 0 comments

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bataille seeks sovereignty; Weil seeks abdication

The experience of sovereignty, which Irwin reads as “the basis for an effective resistance to political tyranny,” is a self-enclosed experience, “an experience of the self as sacred.” In Erotism, Bataille explains that humans are “discontinuous” beings, which is more or less to say that we are alone in our heads:
Each being is distinct from all others. His birth, his death, the events of his life may have an interest for others, but he alone is directly concerned in them. He is born alone. He dies alone. Between one being and another, there is a gulf, a discontinuity.
This creates a profound sense of loss, Bataille theorizes, wherein we yearn for the imagined continuity that links everything outside of us; we long to “exist in the world like a wave lost among many other waves.” This sense of loss is what motivates human endeavors such as love, religion, and violence, none of which in its ordinary form can ever really heal over this imagined loss. Death is imagined as a return to continuity, but actual death does not allow its subject to continue to exist and reap the benefits — so Bataille’s mystical practice aims instead at the shattering of the subject, which is a kind of death-while-still-conscious. Eroticism is the name he gives to his mystical practice in this particular book, and he names three varieties: physical, emotional, and religious.
Troppmann and Dirty engage at the physical level, wherein the transgressing of taboos and the unselfconsciousness of orgasm offer “little deaths” and the experience of sovereignty described above. The emotional level is tied to romantic love, wherein one can imagine oneself dissolving into one’s beloved. Both of these practices do involve the participation of another person, but the experience of the subject as Bataille conceives it is profoundly isolated; the importance of the encounter with the other lies in the trauma it inflicts on the self, trauma that can cause the desired shattering. In the third level, that of religious mysticism, the other is no longer necessary at all and the required trauma is internalized, imagined through meditation.
Faced with the same gulf between human beings, Weil turns not inward but outward. Bataille seems to conclude that, since inner experience is the only kind available, the best one can do is to cultivate that experience to its extremes. Weil, on the other hand, finds her inner experience boring and trivial, choosing instead to focus on the challenge presented by the unknowable outside world. In her ethical practice, this takes the form of attention to the suffering other; in her religious practice, it takes the form of attention to God.
Bataille seeks sovereignty; Weil seeks abdication. Both seek to liberate us from unexamined, fictively unified notions of self, and this has important ethical consequences. Peter Connor (in Georges Bataille and the Mysticism of Sin) calls our attention to an exchange between Bataille and Sartre that took place in March of 1944, in which Sartre points out that Bataille’s valorization of “evil” seems less like a rejection of moral systems than like an alternative moral system. Bataille responds by explaining that, in the overturning of “good” morality by “evil” morality, what is really important is the overturning itself. The process he is describing is not one of abandoning the search for morality, but rather one of an infinite search that seems to have something in common with Weil’s infinite wait for the commands of her absent God. uncomplicatedly

Saturday, April 21, 2007

As if there is a prohibition against directly speaking about the world and persons

The Textual Turn In The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics, Antonio Negri writes:
Existence is not a problem. The immediacy of being reveals itself in non-problematic terms to the pure intellect. Existence, as such, does not demand definition. It is the spontaneity of being. Philosophy affirms, is a system of affirmations, inasmuch as it expresses directly and immediately the interlaced networks of existence. But existence is always qualified, and every existence is essential; every existence exists, that is, as essence. The relationship between existence and essence is the primary ontological form: the relation and tension between names that cannot be otherwise predicated, which take form in the determination of the nexus that unites them. The thing and the substance are the foundation. This given complex of being is the element in which we live, the fabric from which all is woven. (45)
It is it still possible to speak of existence with this sort of innocence, this sort of directness, today? In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel shows how, with the very first moment of thought, sense-certainty, it is impossible to say the thing itself. In his own way, though for the sake of very different ends, Kierkegaard repeats this thesis, enacting a style that performs the impossibility of speaking the singular, while nonetheless pointing to the singular. Later Sartre will talk about the inexpressible singularity of the oak tree in Nauseau, and Wittgenstein will try to encircle the limits of what can be expressed. Lacan will demonstrate a constitutive alienation in the signifier that subsequently separates us from being or any immediacy. Henceforth, with the introduction into language, all presence, all flesh, all existence, will be haunted by the absence that only the signifier can bring.
Last weekend I presented a paper on Deleuze’s account of individuation. John Caputo was kind enough to ask some questions and expressed reservations about the relationship of Deleuze to science. My paper certainly didn’t appeal to scientific examples after the fashion of DeLanda’s Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, but simply outlined the contours of Deleuze’s account of individuation. Coming from the author of Radical Hermeneutics, I couldn’t help but feel that what Caputo was really objecting to was any sort of direct reference to the world, to existence. Later I had the pleasure of attending Charles Bambach’s paper, which turned out to be a close reading of Holderlin’s poem, The Ister. Similarly, Caputo gave a talk on Jean-Luc Marion’s Being Given, comparing it to Plato’s analogy of the divided line.
Everywhere I look I see philosophy being practiced as a textual affair, where it’s as if there is a prohibition against directly speaking about the world and persons. There are exceptions to this, Deleuze and Badiou, but for the most part continental philosophy has become commentary on other texts.
  • With Foucault we have the endless analysis of the great archive.
  • With Zizek we have the analysis of pop-culture texts and the texts of other philosophers.
  • With Derrida, well Derrida. Everywhere we have texts about texts, as if we would be violating something to speak directly about the world in non-textual worlds.

I am, of course, cognizant of the arguments that all of our experience is historically and textually mediated. I accept those arguments and am not calling for some unmediated relationship to the world. Yet what I find interesting is the way anything independent of text seems to have disappeared. I cannot help but feel that this is the result of the great critiques between the 17th and 20th century. Ultimately these critiques demonstrated the impossibility of any grounding of knowledge, whether through reason or sensation. In addition to this, there are socio-historical questions to be asked.

  • What conditions have led to the virtualization of the world?
  • What, for instance, suddenly made it plausible for Peirce to develop a metaphysics of signs in and through his semiotics, such that all being came to be seen as concatations of various types of signs?

As Derrida points out, this was not unheard of as the world has often been described as a book. Nonetheless, it seems to me that Peirce is unprecidented in conceiving things themselves as signs. These are not the questions I’m focused on or interested in pursuing in this context, though they’re worth asking. At any rate, in the current academic climate, if we wish to speak of world today we cannot do so directly, but must pass through the interval of another text, through a close reading of another philosopher, rather than to make claims directly about the world. We speak indirectly of the world through another naive philosopher or thinker that believes that he or she can speak directly of the world by writing a commentary on their text.

  • Is there a way that it is possible today to renew discourse about the world, or are we irrevocably doomed to commentaries on texts? ~ by larvalsubjects on April 20, 2007. 3 Responses to “The Textual Turn”
Last weekend I presented a paper on Deleuze’s account of individuation. Would you be willing to share this paper with us here. I’m extremely interested in this particular topic. Orla Schantz said this on April 20th, 2007 at 5:20 pm
Orla, It was just a variation of this post:
Thanks for asking! larvalsubjects said this on April 20th, 2007 at 5:25 pm
Caputo gave that talk at SPEP last September in Philadelphia. I found it unconvincing, and unhelpful to boot. It screamed: Reduce the novel to the familiar. However, I haven’t gotten to read the text yet (is it available anywhere?). Some of us thought that his criticism - that the saturated phenomenon of the highest level, Revelation-with-a-capital-R, is hermeneutically impossible - stemmed from the fact that it problematizes his own project of a radical hermeneutics, rather than from a consideration of the nature of the topics of phenomena that Marion deploys in Being Given - in that vein, Caputo is directly in line with your thoughts in this post.
I think you’ve arrested one of the primary problems that American Continental philosophy has with itself (and, undoubtedly, that others have with it). There is a certain diffidence in theory (perhaps this is one factor in theory’s constant attempts to justify itself?) stemming from the idea that the thing itself always eludes us, a presupposition many of us share.
I’m convinced that this needs to change - not the presupposition I’ve identified (I think it is accurate), but the endless construction of endnotes, the commentaries on commentaries. And I’m also convinced that this cannot be done on a large scale, but calls for a local solution. We can’t all be luminaries (Zizeks, Badious, Agambens, Nancys, etc), but a good many of us have something to contribute. I think (aside from dissertations) American philosophers need to give themselves more credit, as it were, and tackle the problems themselves rather than explaining and critiquing what luminaries think. It’s more exciting to be in the parade than to watch it go by.
(I’m aware that academic philosophers of all bents will say: I am tackling “the problems themselves,” and the fact that I couch that thought in terms of explanation or critique of someone else’s work doesn’t mean it’s any less original, etc. And there is merit to this argument. But it’s only a half-truth at best.) Kyle said this on April 21st, 2007 at 2:50 am

Friday, April 20, 2007

As if words have meanings intrinsically independent of their use and context

From a critical theoretic perspective, Weber’s position is pessimistic (not that this diagnosis would startle Weber…): it posits that meaning and identity formation requires a certain kind of statis in the surrounding social environment. The critical theoretic response would be to ask whether the problem is really the dynamism in our society - a feature that, as came out in the previous iteration of this discussion, we may not wish to sacrifice. Conventional sociology is willing, then, to naturalise this tradeoff - to say that living in a complex, dynamic, differentiated social environment necessarily carries as its cost a certain level of social and individual dysfunction - and that the only way to address the issue would, in effect, be to regress back to simpler times.
The critical theoretic question (I don’t believe there has yet been an attempt at critical theory that has managed to produce an adequate answer to this question) is whether the problem arises because of complexity, dynamism and difference per se - or whether the problem has arisen because of the specific kind of dynamism that perhaps exacts a heavier psychological or subjective toll on individuals attempting to navigate identity formation in our specific context. Critical theory asks whether we might perhaps understand the potentials for complexity, dynamism and difference as alienated possibilities - things that we can seize and preserve, in a transformed context.
This is related to the felt perception that something has collapsed - a perception that implicitly directs critique in a nostalgic or utopian (in the sense of positing unrealisable goals) direction - and I know that you are neither nostalgic nor utopian, but am just picking up on the implications of the language used, which is a very common language when such issues are discussed. The critical theoretic gamble would be that this experience of collapse points to something different than what it appears to refer to - that it does not arise from some sort of “natural” human preference for socialisation in a particular kind of (stable, undifferentiated, simple) social context, and that it does not reflect any actual experience of some earlier historical period in which identity formation took place in a better way. Instead, the argument would be that the experience of collapse is something like a misrecognised experience of potential - that our dynamic, differentiated, complex social world itself whispers to us that something else and something more is possible - that we dream dreams that have no place in transhistorical human nature, and that would not have arisen in the past, but are the dreams of the society we know we might have.
When Joe commented in the previous thread: I hope for a common project of sanity emerging from a common recognition of one’s own madness. A madness that lacks even the distinction of being individual, being one’s own possession.
I had wondered if perhaps he might have had something like this in mind: a collectively-shared “madness” - in the sense that we are together dreaming a counter-factual, dreaming something that is specifically not real - but that reflects a real potential. In this case, then reflecting on our shared madness would indeed be a common project of sanity. N Pepperell said this on April 18th, 2007 at 10:41 pm
An experience once articulated has theoretical content - and therefore assumptions and tacit or explicit frameworks, like any other theoretical content. This theoretical content then carries implications for the form of action someone believes might be possible, as a response to their experience.
So if, for example, someone articulates their experience in terms of a category like “collapse”, this suggests that there may have been a past period in which things had not yet collapsed - and that the appropriate action might be to try to recapture that time (romantic critique) or a resignation if they believe that time cannot be recaptured (pessimistic critique).
Conventional sociology falls into pessimism (this is why I quoted the Weber passage): it believes that, if we wish to retain a dynamic, diverse, complex social environment, then the loss of meaning is an inevitable corrollary. Critical theory tries to suggest that an alternative might be possible - that the loss of meaning may not relate to dynamism, or complexity, or diversity per se - but to the specific form in which such qualities have been achieved in our social context. This then suggests a potential target for political action directed toward the realisation of a different form of complex and dynamic society.
I’m therefore not at all questioning that many people experience a lack of purposiveness - nor am I trying to devalue this experience, suggest that it reflects some kind of “false consciousness”, or anything of this sort. I am simply asking why it might occur - and exploring a bit about the ways in which the articulation of an experience might opwn up or wall off possibilities for action.
When I emphasise that the notion of “collapse” is an interpretation or theoretisation of an experience, rather than the experience directly, I say this in part because most people would not claim to have personally experienced an alternative that has collapsed in their direct experience - the world in living memory would be difficult to articulate as characterised by a set law - the experiential issue would seem therefore to be lack, not loss - and the question would be why the one comes to be articulated as the other. I don’t believe this articulation is simply a perception, either - I don’t think it’s random or arbitrary articulation. I would like to explore, though, whether this non-random perception is fully adequate to the experience it attempts to articulate - or whether there might be other articulations that might open up better potentials for practice. Recognising the articulated or theoretical dimension of this expression is, I think, a necessary part of this kind of exploration - an element of trying to think about whether we can do justice to the validity of this experience, while still not falling into a pessimistic resignation that a dynamic, diverse, complex society condemns us to a loss of meaning.
I agree absolutely on the need to take seriously the toll of our form of complex society - this is one of the things that has always drawn me to Adorno, as I think, even with his many flaws, this is an issue that is always front and centre in his philosophy. Part of this toll, in his argument, is actually caused by the existence of the potentials that other theories may focus on in a one-sided way: our awareness that unnecessary sacrifices have been imposed generates enormous anxiety, fear - and rage. And this kind of analysis then makes the political space far more complex - I think you’re absolutely correct here - than many theoretical approaches seem to appreciate.
Apologies if something in my original approach sounded more “ideology critique” than I intended - I’m very tired, and it’s been a stressful couple of days - my expressions may not have been best chosen. I’m just trying to suggest that thinking these things together in their complexity - thinking the potential contingency of the experience of loss of meaning, while also recognising the genuineness and power of this experience, is essential to the development of non-pessimistic critique. N Pepperell said this on April 19th, 2007 at 4:53 am
I don’t really see the connotations of the term “collapse” that you’re citing. Tyrannical regimes collapse. The feudal system collapsed. Pointing this out doesn’t necessarily entail a romantic yearning to overcome this collapse. I believe the original post on insanity was already exploring these potentials you’re looking for, and I don’t see how anything I’ve said denies contingency. larvalsubjects said this on April 19th, 2007 at 2:59 pm
I’ve sketched three potential alternative theoretical positionings above: romantic, pessimistic, and critical. I’ve suggested that the articulation in terms of “collapse” can point in either romantic or pessimistic directions - but not in a critical one. Weber - with whom I directly associated your earlier post - is not romantic: he doesn’t desire to go back to anything. He does not portray our current moment, though, in glowing terms, or suggest that we can “adjust” to it in some fashion - it remains, experentially, an “iron cage”, in which we will continue to feel trapped. His is a fundamentally pessimistic position (and he would acknowledge this - much like Freud, he would hold that this is simply part of the intrinsic tragedy of rationalisation).
You may not hold a similar view at all: you may believe that our current situation is something to which we could adjust - that a negatively-articulated subjective experience is not intrinsic or inevitable. That the experience of meaninglessness is, like the collapse of a tyrannical regime, something that might provoke a momentary fear of what might replace it, but in which we will revel in the long run, as we realise the greater freedom that has resulted. In this case, you don’t need a critical theory per se, because you wouldn’t believe anything structurally needs to be transformed, and wouldn’t see the subjective experience of meaninglessness as a problem. I took you not to be meaning such things because there is a strong critical edge in each of your posts on this topic.
Or you may believe that something structurally does need to be changed - and that a different range of subjective experiences and objective possibilities would open up as a result. This would be a critical position. In this case, though, I’m suggesting that the category of “collapse”, as a way of expressing or diagnosing the target for political action, has drawbacks, as it more easily directs practice in nostalgic or pessimistic directions.
The categories of nostalgic, pessimistic, and critical are intended simply descriptively - it’s not more “cool” to hold a critical position, etc. There are areas, for example, where some critical approaches believe that elements of experience can be transformed, where I personally believe these elements are intrinsic - I would be “pessimistic” in relation to whether such things could be transformed, and I would argue that such theoretical positions are “utopian”, in the sense of trying to overcome something that cannot be overcome. You may believe - may be able to make a convincing case - that my own position on the issue of the loss of meaning is utopian in this sense.
I just tend to search for categories that make targets for action clearer, and that it make it a bit easier to grasp what we are trying to create - this is what I’m referring to, when I talk about the normative standpoint of a theoretical approach.
I’m not completely sure, though, that you want to be discussing the issue in these terms? Apologies if I have been imposing my own theoretical interests on the discussion. N Pepperell said this on April 19th, 2007 at 11:10 pm
I simply disagree with your discussion of the term “collapse”, as I can easily imagine someone saying “x has collapsed” and seeing that as ripe with possibilities for what you refer to as a critical approach. You seem to be attributing a lot of semantic richness to this term as if words have meanings intrinsically independent of their use and context. This use of collapse, for instance, is how Nietzsche takes the death of God, which he sees as ripe with potentials but also as a very dark event in other respects. At any rate, these weren’t the issues of the two original posts in question, which weren’t raising questions of “target for action”, or looking for solutions, or posing a problem. Both of those posts were discussing a state of mind that I’m finding myself in and weren’t casting about for solutions to that state of mind or critical potentials, or even raising social questions…
Except with regard to how I intersubjectively experience others. A good analytic stance is often a stance of passivity on the part of the analyst that sometimes simply allows things to develop themselves of their own accord without stepping in and trying to fix or solve. I’m certainly not up for such a discussion right now and am mostly thinking about tending my garden. Elsewhere I’ve discussed a number of the issues you’re raising here with regard to Zizek, Badiou, and Deleuze and Guattari and have little inclination to repeat those thoughts again here or defend them all over at this moment. I was genuinely interested in hearing Joseph expand more on his thoughts which struck me as extremely provocative yet also cryptic. Thanks for the clarification, though. larvalsubjects said this on April 19th, 2007 at 11:29 pm
Apologies for intruding. N Pepperell said this on April 20th, 2007 at 1:14 am