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

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