Saturday, September 29, 2007

Philosophers can be "prophets"

Frederick C. Copleston (1907-1994) on Philosophical Revisionism
A philosopher can of course try to alter our way of seeing the world by developing what P. F. Strawson has described as a revisionary metaphysics. Such an attempt obviously presupposes the judgment that our way of seeing the world ought to be altered or that another way of seeing it would be truer or more valuable. (But all philosophical inquiry, of any kind, presupposes a judgment of value.) And "the world" can be understood as including human life and history and the social-political sphere. If people complain that philosophers offer no "visions," this may be empirically true in a great many instances; but it is obviously not necessarily true, even if we are none too enthusiastic about the effects of apocalyptic thinkers such as Nietzsche and Marx. Philosophers can be "prophets." They can be, because they have been. It is indeed understandable if a good many philosophers turn with relief to a rather dry conception of philosophy and studiously avoid what they regard as wild and uncontrolled speculation, disguised poetic visions, religious edification, social-political propaganda, and what not. I sometimes feel that way myself.
(Frederick C. Copleston, "Philosophy as I See It," chap. 9 in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, ed. Charles J. Bontempo and S. Jack Odell [New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975], 153-61, at 161) Posted by Keith Burgess-Jackson at 5:59 PM 28 September 2007 Philosophy @ UTA

Friday, September 28, 2007

The reproach of anthropomorphism and anthropolatry cannot deter him

An impersonal Presence has dominated from above or penetrated and occupied his nature; a Light descending has suffused his mind, life-power, the very cells of his body, illumined them with knowledge, revealed him to himself down to his most disguised and unsuspected movements, exposing, purifying, destroying or brilliantly changing all that belonged to the Ignorance. A Force has poured into him in currents or like a sea, worked in his being and all its members, dissolved, new-made, reshaped, transfigured everywhere. A Bliss has invaded him and shown that it can make suffering and sorrow impossible and turn pain itself into divine pleasure. A Love without limits has joined him to all creatures or revealed to him a world of inseparable intimacy and unspeakable sweetness and beauty and begun to impose its law of perfection and its ecstasy even amidst the disharmony of terrestrial life. A spiritual Truth and Right have convicted the good and evil of this world of imperfection or of falsehood and unveiled a supreme good and its clue of subtle harmony and its sublimation of action and feeling and knowledge. But behind all these and in them he has felt a Divinity who is all these things, a Bringer of Light, a Guide and All-Knower, a Master of Force, a Giver of Bliss, Friend, Helper, Father, Mother, Playmate in the world-game, an absolute Master of his being, his soul's Beloved and Lover. All relations known to human personality are there in the soul's contact with the Divine; but they rise towards superhuman levels and compel him towards a divine nature.
It is an integral knowledge that is being sought, an integral force, a total amplitude of union with the All and Infinite behind existence. For the seeker of the integral Yoga no single experience, no one Divine Aspect, – however overwhelming to the human mind, sufficient for its capacity, easily accepted as the sole or the ultimate reality, – can figure as the exclusive truth of the Eternal. For him the experience of the Divine Oneness carried to its extreme is more deeply embraced and amply fathomed by following out to the full the experience of the Divine Multiplicity. All that is true behind polytheism as well as behind monotheism falls within the scope of his seeking; but he passes beyond their superficial sense to human mind to grasp their mystic truth in the Divine. He sees what is aimed at by the jarring sects and philosophies and accepts each facet of the Reality in its own place, but rejects their narrownesses and errors and proceeds farther till he discovers the One Truth that binds them together. The reproach of anthropomorphism and anthropolatry cannot deter him, – for he sees them to be prejudices of the ignorant and arrogant reasoning intelligence, the abstracting mind turning on itself in its own cramped circle.
If human relations as practised now by man are full of smallness and perversity and ignorance, yet are they disfigured shadows of something in the Divine and by turning them to the Divine he finds that of which they are a shadow and brings it down for manifestation in life. It is through the human exceeding itself and opening itself to a supreme plenitude that the Divine must manifest itself here, since that comes inevitably in the course and process of the spiritual evolution, and therefore he will not despise or blind himself to the Godhead because it is lodged in a human body, mānuşīm tanum āśritam. Beyond the limited human conception of God, he will pass to the one divine Eternal, but also he will meet him in the faces of the Gods, his cosmic personalities supporting the World-Play, detect him behind the mask of the Vibhutis, embodied World-Forces or human Leaders, reverence and obey him in the Guru, worship him in the Avatar. This will be to him his exceeding good fortune if he can meet one who has realised or is becoming That which he seeks for and can by opening to it in this vessel of its manifestation himself realise it. For that is the most palpable sign of the growing fulfilment, the promise of the great mystery of the progressive Descent into Matter which is the secret sense of the material creation and the justification of terrestrial existence.

Tengelyi endorses Levinas' idea

Tengelyi endorses Levinas' idea that we see in the gestures of other bodies the expression of an alien sense "which proves to be irreducible to any sense bestowal based upon one's own experiences" (p. 110). Is the alien sense, however, reducible to a sense in the making? Perhaps. Tengelyi says that "the relationship between oneself and the other is embedded in the process of the emergence of sense rather than in the process of the unfolding of being" (p. 112). I would have expected at this point for Tengelyi to elaborate on his thinking of singularity. Although he does make a brief nod to the idea of positionality (p. 115), he doesn't develop the idea of singularity that was promised in the preface.
We may conclude that for Tengelyi singularity is not an issue of the unfolding of being. Regarding the relationship between singularity and experience, however, I find it provocative that Tengelyi cannot avoid saying "one's own experience." The association of a sphere of anonymity with the disowned is problematical, because the disowned suggests a prior ownership. There may be a sense in which taking up a positional singularity requires a disowning of experience and the acknowledgement of an alien sense as well as a wild alterity within one's own experience. This is a problem that could be further explored.

Scotus’ first move is to present the infinite as perfect rather than imperfect

According to Hegel, we abstract the notions of finitude and infinitude and tend to set these up as opposite notions. However, according to Hegel, if you analyze the notion of absolute infinity, the infinite must include the finite or else it is itself finite. A consequence of this reasoning results in Hegel’s claim that God must create. Contrast this with Scotus’ definition of the infinite:
“What I call ‘infinite’ is what excels any actual or possible finite being to a degree beyond any determinate measure you take or could take.”[1]
Scotus recognizes that the notion of infinity as a perfection is not self-evident. For example, in Greek philosophy infinity was a sign of imperfection-of that which lacked form. That which was infinite lacked form and consequently was dominated by matter or potentiality. Interestingly, the transformation of this concept took place largely via Christians. Given the dominant Greek understanding of infinity,
  • Scotus’ first move is to present the infinite as perfect rather than imperfect.
  • Second, Scotus had to move beyond the notion of the infinite understood mathematically-i.e., in extensive terms where 10 is greater 9 and so on ad infinitum. This is to understand the infinite in a strictly quantitative sense.
  • Third, Scotus develops an understanding of the infinite in an intensive sense.

If you consider a number sequence in which you can always add an additional number (the idea of 1, 2, 3., n+1…), this sequence is dominated by potentiality. Scotus then engages in a thought experiment in which this infinite sequence is understood in act. In other words, he asks us to imagine the sequence being finished. If we can think of the sequence as finished, we have an infinite quantity in actuality. If we grant Scotus’ thought experience, then we have an (actual) quantitative infinite.

Scotus then moves away from mathematical examples and speaks of entities. That is, he moves from quantity actualized to entity in terms of degrees of perfection. Here one has to accept that it is intelligible say that one being is more complete or better than another (a human e.g., is better than a dog). If we have the sequence A is less than B is less than C etc. and I = Infinite Being (God)-even if creatures were not created, God would persist in undiminished being and goodness. However, it does not follow from that that creatures are nothing, but it will appear that way if you approach the sequence (A, B, C=various creatures) as additive. In contrast, consider Aristotle’s god, who is the “best part” of the whole. For Aristotle, it would unintelligible to say that there is god and nothing else. Hence, the fact that this notion of the infinite applied to entity takes place in Christian philosophy is not accidental.
For Scotus, being is a perfection which is open to degrees of perfection; it is open to finite perfection which involves a large sequence of degrees, but with the infinite the difference is only one-and it is an infinite difference.*
*The reflections on Scotus are based largely on lectures given by Dr. W.A. Frank at the University of Dallas. [1] Wolter and Frank. Duns Scotus Metaphysician, p. 59. [As found in Reportatio IA in the “reply to the third question”].

Destruction of meanings is concomitant to a commitment to expressivity

Fido the Yak Chiasmus, perigrinations, ruminations, dilemmas Thursday, September 27, 2007
Faithless Metaphor
Kristeva writes about "processes that underpin symbolicity":
Contrary to what enters the mouth and nourishes, what goes out of the body, out of its pores and openings, points to the infinitude of the body proper and gives rise to abjection. Fecal matter signifies, as it were, what never ceases to separate from a body in a state of permanent loss in order to become autonomous, distinct from the mixtures, alterations, and decay that run through it. That is the price the body must pay if it is to become clean and proper. Psychoanalysis has indeed seen that anal dejections constitute the first material separation that is controllable by the human being. It has also deciphered, in that very rejection, the mastered repetition of a more archaic separation (from the maternal body) as well as the condition of division (high-low), of discretion, of difference, of recurrence, in short the condition of the processes that underpin symbolicity (The Powers of Horror, p. 108)
From my vantage point, which is rather removed, this is a case of the psychologist believing too strongly in her metaphors. I'd prefer not to doubt Kristeva's idea of an archaic separation, yet our separations from our mothers are many and complex. Here I question the belief in repetition not in order to supplant it with an idea of the ongoing, but rather to clear a space to question what it means to have faith in a metaphor. To be faithful to metaphor, what beliefs are required? Must we believe in source (mouth) and target (anus)? Must we believe that boundaries may be crossed, and if so, must we believe in boundaries? If we take seriously the defense of the psychoanalytic position, according to which the metaphor belongs to and is perhaps bodied forth by the in-fant, then must we also believe in conditions of processes that underpin symbolicity? Must we beleive in meaning? To use another metaphor, does metaphor ask us to become monotheistic or polytheistic in our beliefs? Possibly metaphor doesn't ask us to believe anything. Being faithful to metaphor expresses a commitment to expressivity or even a commitment to meaning, but such commitments do not require a foundation of belief. They require a sending with, but who can say what the truth of the sending is.
Since I don't believe in the clean and proper body (corps propre) its infinitude doesn't impress me. But I'll play along. Is infinitude an entailment of metaphor itself? Faithfulness to metaphor situates itself within the disorientation of metaphor, betwixt widdershins and deasil flows of sense. Neither difference of flows nor senses across boundaries hit me over the head with infinity, though disorientation does appear to carry beyond finite points. It's a mystery to me how finite ever got to be infinite, unless it was by a short cut–metaphor is the long way home.
The paradox of infinite becoming, i.e., the paradox of infinite identity, has not yet become a real problem for me (Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, "First Series of Paradoxes of Pure Becoming"). By the same token, I neither believe nor disbelieve in the pause. Possibly the pause is relative to the speed of metaphor, although the speed of metaphor is not constant. Metaphor is an upper mantle beneath a subterranean dualism of the hard and the soft, of that which receives and that which eludes the kneading of Dough. Metaphor can just as easily be a Tree. Metaphor disorients without asking that we be sent to infinity.
Is this a paradox? Metaphor is a parable, a circumlocution. Would the infinity that metaphor would carry over to–were we prepared to believe it–be a meaninglessness? That might contain a genuine paradox, though I might still hestitate to call it a problem. The destruction of meanings is de rigueur in metaphor; it happens most casually. Does the destruction of meanings requires a faith in meaninglessness or a faithlessness in meanings or neither. Perhaps a commitment to the destruction of meanings is concomitant to a commitment to expressivity. If only to clear a path. I remain agnostic about metaphor, though I follow its path. Labels: , , , , posted by Fido the Yak at 3:42 PM.

Poiesis as a kind of praxis

Fido the Yak Chiasmus, perigrinations, ruminations, dilemmas Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Metaphor as Praxis
Nancy argues in favor of the transcendence of freedom:
The freedom of existence to exist is existence itself in its "essence," insofar as existence is itself essence. This "essence" consists in being brought directly to this limit where the existent is only what it is in its transcendence. "Transcendence" itself is nothing other than the passage to the limit, not its attainment: it is the being-exposed at, on, and as the limit. Here the limit does not signify the arrested circumspection of a domain or figure, but signifies rather that the essence of existence consists in this being-taken-to-the-edge resulting from what has no "essence" that is enclosed and reserved in any immanence present to the interior of the border. That existsence is its own essence means that it has not "interiority," without, however, being "entirely in exteriority" (for example, in the way that Hegel's inorganic thing is). Existence keeps itself, "through its essence," on the undecidable limit of its own decision to exist. In this way, freedom belongs to existence not as a property, but as its fact, its factum rationis which can also be understood as "the fact of its reason for existing," which is similarly "the reason for the fact of its existence." Freedom is the transcendence of the self toward the self, or from the self to the self–which in no way excludes, but on the contrary requires, as we can henceforth clearly see, that the "self" not be understood as subjectivity, if subjectivity designates the relation of a substance to itself; and which requires at the same time, as we will show later, that this "self" only takes place according to a being-in-common of singularities. (The Experience of Freedom, pp. 29-30, Nancy's emphasis)
Nancy's reconceptualization of transcendence would be interesting enough, but he adds a wrinkle.
[T]he very factuality of freedom is the very factuality of what is not done [fait], but which will be done–not in the sense of a project or plan that remains to be executed, but in the sense of that which in its very reality does not yet have the presence of its reality, and which must–but infinitely–deliver itself for reality. In this way existence is actually in the world. What remains "to be done" is not situated on the register of a poiesis, like a work whose schema would be given, but on the register of praxis, which "produces" only its own agent or actor and which would therefore more closely resemble the action of a schematization considered for itself. (p. 31, Nancy's emphasis, my bold)
I am skeptical of the idea that freedom delivers itself infinitely for reality. This skepticism is related to doubts I have about Nancy's ideal understanding of praxis, and therefore also the distinction he draws between praxis and poiesis. Nancy cites as a source Book 1 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, an august source, but perhaps not the best way to start to think the problem of praxis. The observation that praxis "produces" its own agent is a keen one; however, I feel that actual practices also produce "goods," and I feel that there is a surplus of production (of goods and of agency) that should be considered.
It seems that praxis needs to be rescued from its friends, but I'm not sure that it's my feelings that aren't putting it in danger. In any event, the view that goods are more highly valued than than the practice which produces goods reflects an unexamined judgement rather than a deep appreciation of praxis. This is evident if we look at poiesis as a kind of praxis. There is a view according to which the poem is more valuable than the making of poetry, and yet there are contrary views according to which making poetry–and therefore making poets–and also reading poetry (aloud and/or in silence) are more highly valued than the poems themselves.
Metaphor, the emblem of poetry in Western languages, is a passage to the bournes of meaning. As Ernesto Grassi would remind us, metaphor is a passionate journey. It is a way that language actually exists in the world, neither infinitely nor finitely, neither in isolation nor in exile, but at the bournes. The question I would raise, then, is whether the self that is reached towards but never grasped in the practice of metaphor–having some relation to the agency that metaphor engenders–exists passionately, and, if so, whether we can think its passions apart from a subjectivity or a process of subjectification. How can we think its freedom, the freedom appropriate to metaphor? Labels: , , , , , , posted by Fido the Yak at 10:26 AM.

Repetition and negativity do not take place in the present for Heidegger. They take place in the future of Dasein

The Joyful Knowing philosophy, literature, art, and other things Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Negativity, Repetition, and das Geschehen das Daseins
The "historizing" of Dasein, or, rather, das Geschehen das Daseins, is repetition at the same time as it is negativity, Heidegger says. At first, this appears to be the same thing that Hegel claims.For Hegel, consciousness lifts itself to the level of Spirit, and thus to history, whenever it negates itself determinately, when it employs the power of Spirit and not merely just consciousness. Employing this other power, it becomes other than itself, obviously. But it becomes other than itself in such a way that it reasserts itself as itself, takes all of itself up into itself and comprehends this self through negating the whole of it. This is repetition of the self, but repetition in such a way that it is the repetition and also the denial of repetition, in having this repetition make consciousness other. In other words, it is a repetition that does not just merely reassert, but reasserts so consciousness is lifted into a higher sphere of consciousness, i.e. Spirit, the Concept in its work.
For Heidegger, however, we must reevaluate precisely what we mean by negativity and repetition. Historizing then will still be a matter of repetition through negation, but it will not be a reassertion of a consciousness after it comprehends its own action on the level of the Concept. Rather, it will be repetition as understood through what Hegel calls abstract negation. In other words, it will not be repetition through determinate negation. The negation that Dasein will undergo will be a holding fast to a negativity that is not merely the death-in-life of determinate negativity, of negativity that produces being and is produced by the being that it negates. Rather, this abstract negativity is a death that is abstract, that is, in Hegelian language, pure nothingness, except that it does not, like in Hegel's Science of Logic, remain commensurate with pure being. It is a holding fast to a death that is indeterminate in its negativity, in its lack of being, in its nothingness--this is why we call it "abstract."
The sense of repetition through negation that Heidegger employs is one that is true of a being "frei fur seinen Tod an ihm zerschellend auf sein faktisches Da such zuruckwerfen lassen kann," that is, free for its death in such a way that in breaking itself against it, this being can get thrown back to the fact of its openness, into its "there" (Sein und Zeit, 509; Being and Time 437). The breaking or shattering of oneself against death is an act of negation that holds fast to death as indeterminate and uncertain: it is what Heidegger calls Sein zum Tode, being-towards-death. Thus, it is negation in the abstract, in its indeterminacy.
As such a negation, we can see that it produces repetition not in the sense that in this negation Dasein takes up all of itself into itself and annhilates it determinately. No. Dasein takes itself and shatters itself against annhilation itself, its own possibility of not being in the abstract; that is, its own possibility of being nothing at any time, in any place; its own indeterminate possibility of being nothing. Put a different way, this is Dasein's access to the withdrawal of its own Being. It is not access to Being itself. Rather, it is the access of Dasein to the potential for its Being to not be, to go away from it, and thus in this access Being itself withdraws, or at least unconceals itself in its withdrawing as the withdrawal of Being. Heidegger will later say that this point of access is the enowning of Being, Ereignis, the acceptance of a being into the play of the movement of Being in its withdrawal and the giving of Being. Regardless, it is clear that this negation repeats in a way in which it repeats itself as the shattering against death that it is.
Repetition through this shattering of Dasein against death then is the movement in negation in which Dasein gets thrown back into its openness, into its potential to shatter itself. It is not a repetition of the identical, but of a holding together of the Same (cf. Identity and Difference). Why does it get thrown back?
Well, if Dasein is not taking itself up into itself and annhilating this totality, it must be a sort of taking-up that cannot be a taking-up of something. In other words, it cannot be a taking-up at all, a reassertion, a return of the identical (for the identical is always what gets taken up; what gets taken up is taken up by something that can comprehend it, and therefore that for it is selfsame, never shifty, never able to become something different so as not to be taken up by what comprehends it). Nothing is doing any comprehending here, any totalizing, that would require the reassertion of what is comprehended as "a totality," as "the comprehended." Rather, by a process of standing out into a void, indeterminate nothing, Dasein is sustains itself as this indeterminacy, because it is this indeterminacy, it is this potential that is, at this moment, in being-towards-death or abstract negation, the potential for itself not to be. In relentlessly remaining here, in the nothing, Dasein gets thrown or projected back (zuruckwerfen) onto itself.
In other words, the self that projects itself into the nothing brings itself with it into the nothing, into the indeterminacy of the potential to be nothing. This bringing-along is what Heidegger means by "throwing back." The "back," is also a "forward into." Projecting itself into the nothing in its indeterminacy, Dasein throws itself back into what is projected forward into the nothing, the projection itself. Thus it repeats: it returns to itself as itself.This is das Geschen das Daseins, "historicity." The "bringing-along" or "stretching itself along," (Sicherstreckens, cf. Being and Time, 427) is the process that makes up the historicality of the Being of Dasein. In other words, historicality is the holding together of Dasein in the withdrawing of its Being, the effacement or sending away of itself in such a way that Being is sent back, given as it is, i.e. again as itself. History is not the presence or return of past moments of presence. It is what happens as we lead ourselves into the future, into nothing. But back to repetition.
The "stretching itself along" into indeterminate nothingness is distinct from the projection itself only in its inauthenticity. Authentically, the bringing-along of Dasein into the nothing is the same as the projection of Dasein into indeterminacy itself. It is this projection "explicitly," as Heidegger says. The explicitness is only there because the same is not what we are used to seeing. Explictly being itself, in this moment Dasein repeats itself, because it is itself (the bringing-along of itself) going back into (brought along into) itself (the projection of itself). The bringing along of itself is brought along into the projecting of itself into the nothing. This is what Heidegger means when he says that "repetition is a [delivering, destining, handing-over Uberlieferung] explicitly--that is to say, a going back into the possibilities [or projecting-power] of Dasein" "Die Wiederholung ist die ausdrukliche Uberlieferung, das heisst der Ruckgang in Moglichkeiten des dagewesenen Daseins..." (Being and Time, 437, Sein und Zeit, 509).
The handing-over of itself to itself in bringing itself along into its projecting of itself into nothing--this is repetition according to Heidegger, the repetition that takes place in abstract negation. Thinking through this is absolutely astounding, and it is the most crucial task that anyone had performed with Hegelian negativity after Marx and Kierkegaard. But both Marx and Kierkegaard, while inquiring into negativity (the first through the his dialectic, the second through his analysis of anxiety), did not inquire into the repetition that this determinate negativity entailed. For Hegel, repetition is the bringing back of a past moment. As Heidegger comes to show, a repetition that takes place in an abstract negation would not focus on a bringing back of what is past, of what gets determined and then negated: it would have to be a "repeating of what is possible," or, in other words, a bringing oneself along into the possibility that one is in indeterminate nothingness. As Heidegger says, "die Wiederholung des Moglichen is weder ein Wiederbringen des 'Vergangenen,' noch ein Zuruckbinden 'Gegenwart' an das 'Uberholte,'"
"The repeating of that which is possible does not bring again something that is 'past,' nor does it bind the 'present' back to that which has already been 'outstripped'" (Sein und Zeit, 509-10, Being and Time, 436). Repetition is the negation taking place indeterminately and manifests itself in a historizing, a bringing along of possibility. As such, it takes place not in a present, but in the future as what is pure, indeterminate possibility. Therefore repetition does not bind a present to an occurance that is-not-now. Repetition brings Dasein along into the future as possible, or historizes into the future, into abstract nothingness. Historizing then is the withdrawing of presence, the withdrawing of presence itself into abstract negativity, the futural possibility of itself as a future. In fact, it has no concern for a present in a Hegelian sense. As withdrawal of presence itself, it is the trace of the future, the trace of nothingness.
I put these last reflections down quickly and without clarity, but I hope the general sense of "historizing" and its difference from a Hegelian historizing will be made clear. Historizing is repetition in negativity, but it is indeed this in a very specific sense that requires one to dispense with the notion of the present. Repetition and negativity do not take place in the present for Heidegger. They take place in the future of Dasein, as the coming-to-itself and bringing-itself-along of Dasein, i.e. as historizing. Posted by Mike at 12:35 PM Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Where the future is always deferred, and desire desires through the surrogate

In The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek argues that ideology should not be sought in the conscious thoughts and intentions of a person, but rather ideology is to be found in the objects themselves. It is not persons who have ideological beliefs, but rather objects behave in our stead. Zizek is, of course, being cute and dramatic in this claim; however, his point is that the ordinary bourgeois knows very well that, for instance, there is nothing magical about money, that it is simply a sign representing a value, and that it has no worth. However, despite the bourgeois’ sound, nominalistic reasoning, the bourgeois nonetheless behaves towards money as if it were something magical, as if it contained value in and of itself. Zizek provides a number of examples to illustrate this point.
Thus, for example, the Tibetan prayer wheel prays on our behalf, relieving us of the need to pray for ourselves. We simply attach our prayer to the wheel, and the wheel does the work for us, leaving us free to go about our business. The television laugh track experiences the show for us, relieving us of the exhausting activity of having to laugh while watching the show or feel sorrow when witnessing certain terrible events. When I watch a comedy with a friend I might very well laugh out loud, but when alone the show does the work for me. Nonetheless, I speak of the show the following day to my colleagues, talking about how amusing I found it. According to Zizek there are even people who hire professional grievers to wail at funerals of loved ones. A friend and I used to joke that online dating follows this model. You place your romantic ad on a website and it is the ad itself that enjoys in your place by virtue of the number of views it gets. In this way you’re relieved of the irritation of dating and can go about your ordinary business.
In citing these examples Zizek is, of course, expanding Marx’s analysis of commodity fetishism. According to Marx, commodity fetishism is that feature of capitalism such that social relations come to appear not as relations among people, but rather as relations among things. Our social relations, as it were, come to be embodied in things rather than as relations between people.
All of this begs the question of what it is that we’re really consuming when we’re consuming commodities. Take the Hummer. The reality of the Hummer is certainly very different than what I see advertised on television. I cannot drive my Hummer off a cliff into the ocean and drive under water like a submarine, nor do I generally conquer the world and nature with my muscular vehicle. Rather, it is likely that I use this massive truck to drive back and forth between the office and home. I remain locked in traffic just as I was before. Indeed, far from decreasing my level of stress, it is likely that the Hummer increases my stress as it is a large car that takes up most of the lane, thereby perpetually generating the worry that someone else will run into me.
The case is similar with the iPhone. The iPhone commercials present a world where technology finally overcomes all its limitations, becomes rational, and where the various functions of technology are localized in one convenient, aesthetically appealing device. The well manicured hand that touches the buttons in the commercial, coupled with the timber of the man’s voice, evoke images of hip regions of the country such as San Francisco, Seattle, or Greenwich Village, where people wear corduroy pants and J. Crew sweaters, have leftist political orientations, are interested in interesting things, and are kind to one another. The whimsical music in the background evokes images of a sunny day in a happy world, where everything is amusing and everything is done for the sake of amusement. In short, the commercials evoke a world that is entertaining and characterized by rich friendships, not a world of labor or work. Yet it is likely that the reality of the iPhone is a reality where the phone is used for work and labor, where most of the functions are never used, and where the phone is an integral part of the daily drudgery that characterizes life.
It would seem that what we are consuming when we consume the commodity, is not so much the commodity itself, it’s “use-value”, but rather its symbolic-value. Part of this symbolic-value is, of course, the prestige that it confers. But another part of this symbolic-value is not the commodity as a sign of status, but rather the commodity as a proxy for utopia. It is sometimes suggested that images of the future, images of utopia, have disappeared from the world. We are said to live in an age that is pervaded by cynicism, where the great political imaginaries of the 19th century and early 20th century, have departed from the world such that they are obtrusive in their absence.
However, precisely the opposite is true. The world in which we live is a world pervaded by utopian imaginaries. In and through advertising– and examples from other areas could be evoked –we live in a world that is literally saturated by utopian imaginaries and visions: Utopian images of sexual and romantic relations that surmount the impossibility of the sexual relation, where an Herbal Essence shampoo or Axe body spray can prove more satisfying than the most intense amorous encounter; imaginaries of technological utopia where the frustrations that characterize our current techno-sphere are surmounted and all the irritations that populate are mundane dailiness are solved; social utopias where people are kind to one another and needs and desires are filled, and where we have winding empty, scenic, roads where we can drive for hours (perhaps utopia in this imaginary shouldn’t be thought as “nowhere”, but rather as noone… But of course, me).
In consuming the product we also give voice to our utopian yearnings by proxy, in absentia, as a supplement or remainder… But in such a way as to not change this present, this world, but in the fullest sense of a supplement: as something that intervenes in this world to render it tolerable without risking the disappointed of failed attempts to change this world. Perhaps when Zizek or Jodi Dean evokes the values of sacrifice to revolutionary politics, this sacrifice should not be thought as a necessary sacrifice to throw a wrench into the mechanisms of capitalist production, but rather the sacrifice of a desire based on supplementarity, where the future is always deferred, and desire desires through the surrogate.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Michael Tratner’s paper, Derrida’s Debt to Milton Friedman

Est Un Autre About Bataille and Agamben 13 Sep 07
I have not read any serious Agamben, apart from his Paul book. The question that strikes me after an extremely vague look at his other texts and what I have learnt through philosophical osmosis is: has anyone done anything on Bataille’s concept of heterogenous matter and Agamben dealings with related concepts such as soveignity? For in Bataille, heterogenous matter both constitutes the strange and powerful force external to political community that is thought to be responsible for its constitution, for example, the leader in a fascist state, the Hobbesian king (high) and elements that are forced out of the community, the unclean, the poor, the filthy etc (low). Clearly the latter could be considered something akin to homo sacer, no? Amazon tells me that he refers to Bataille on a few pages of Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, but I am wondering if this is a big engagement or just a passing reference. Filed under: Agamben, Bataille 2 Comments
Georges Bataille as Ray Brassier Avant La Lettre 08 Sep 07
Digging around, I always thought that despite the scientific gleen of Ray Brassier’s intriguing project, that I recognised something of the Bataille’s base-materialism underneath.
Most materialists, even though they may have wanted to do away with all spiritual entities, ended up positing an order of things whose hierarchical relations mark it as specifically idealist. They situated dead matter at the summit of a conventional hierarchy of diverse facts, without perceiving that in this way they gave in to an obsession with the ideal form of matter, with a form thai was closer than any other to what matter should be.
Materialism in Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess : Selected Writings, 1927-1939, p 15.
This amphiboly, we shall argue, leads to an fundamental indiscernibility between the theoretical postures of materialism and idealism, an indiscernibility in virtue of which philosophical materialism remains incapable of distinguishing itself from idealism. Consequently, ‘the decline of materialism in the name of matter’ describes that movement whereby any philosophical materialism which accepts the premise of a transcendental distinction between ‘thought’ and ‘matter’ must forsake the attempt to encompass matter in the concept and abandon the materiological register in order to initiate a theoretical posture whereby not only does materialism no longer presume to circumscribe matter by way of a concept, it is now matter which determines materialism through its very foreclosure to every concept. In other words, Part I argues that transcendental materialism achieves its most rigorous theoretical consummation at the point where it necessitates its own elimination as a system of discursive statements ‘about’ matter.
Ray Brassier, Alien Theory: The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter
Note to self: look into this. Further note to self: write something as good as Alien Theory for PHD thesis. Filed under: Bataille, Materialism, Ray Brassier, Speculative Realism 0 Comments
Strange Discoveries 07 Sep 07
There are times when one is browsing through one’s favourite online paper repository when one is struck by a paper which is so out-there that it cannot pass without a digital leaf through and maybe more. Such a paper is Michael Tratner’s Derrida’s Debt to Milton Friedman. Nuts - but the essay does go for it. Derridians, some commentary?
In summary, then, I suggest we add to the list of disciplines that have contributed to deconstruction. In Of Grammatology, Derrida credits numerous fields, including philosophy (Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Husserl), linguistics (Saussure), ethnography (Lévi-Strauss), and psychology (Freud). To this list, let’s add economics, citing Keynes, who marks the end of production as the basis of economics, but who maintains the belief that individuals in powerful enough positions can still act to counter the effects of the system, and Friedman, who brings in the notion that the sign system operates separate from any individual agency. Historians of theory would probably prefer to cite Marcel Mauss and George Bataille as the ones who led Derrida to the concepts of gifts and of mysterious, uncontrollable economic structures. It is probably true that they figure more consciously in Derrida’s own thinking than do Keynes and Friedman. But the emergence of deconstruction and its rapid spread during the 1970s are not merely events in the history of highly intellectual disciplines; they are also events in the broader history shaped by the changes in everyday economics and governmental practices. Keynes and Friedman developed theories which had material consequences; Mauss and Bataille were in effect mythologizing the events going on in mainstream economics.Mauss and Bataille may seem better predecessors because they were critics of capitalism, as Derrida is, but if mainstream twentieth-century economic practices in effect involve the deconstruction of signs as an everyday part of their functioning, then perhaps deconstruction should not be considered inherently anti-capitalist or even anti-authoritarian. Derridean theorists need to be careful when they generalize that a deconstructive challenge to one form of authority (such as the authority given to production as the source of economic value and the source of linguistic meaning) carries with it a challenge to authority in other realms, or even a challenge to the very idea of authority entirely. Derrida makes such an unwarranted leap when he argues in his essay that the power of a counterfeit coin to generate real wealth is equivalent to a radical disruption of patriarchy: the power of the counterfeit coin in Baudelaire’s story, Derrida claims, reveals that “the phantasm” has “the power . . . of producing, of engendering, giving, rather than the ‘True Father’” (GT 161). The image of a True Father, Derrida implies, depends on theories of production and human giving as the basis of prosperity, in other words, on outdated economic theories. In noting that the phantasm, the sign, the code, has more power of “engendering” and of “giving” than the True Father, Derrida might be tracing not the demise of patriarchy but simply the demise of Keynesian economics and [End Page 804] of the liberalism of the 1960s, the demise of the notion that the government can wrap itself in the guise of the True Father and maintain the economic system by appearing to give gifts whenever recession threatens.By describing the results of the economic transformations he has traced as the end of patriarchy, Derrida’s theory implies much more than has happened. The deconstructive revision of money into a system of signifiers in endless freeplay may be a modification of capitalism, one that capitalists and patriarchs opposed for centuries, but it turns out that it is possible to perform such a deconstruction without undoing much of capitalism or patriarchy at all—and Friedman did just that. Twentieth-century economics reveals that non-logocentric sign systems can coexist quite well with capitalism and can even play a crucial role in the functioning of structures of authority, which apparently can operate quite well without invoking any True Fathers at all. Filed under: Uncategorized 1 Comment
Just In Time… 04 Sep 07
On Monday I give my paper on Bataille and Catholicity at Oxford. Today I found this interview with Andres Serrano regarding his work “Piss Christ”, his views on religion and other work.
Coco Fusco: Your use of Catholic symbolism stands out in part because you are operating in a predominantly Protestant context. An attraction to the sensuality and the carnality that you bring out in your Catholic iconography can develop, since Protestant symbolism looks rather pale by comparison. How would it affect your work to be exhibited in a Catholic context?
Andres Serrano: I have always felt that my work is religious, not sacrilegious. I would say that there are many individuals in the Church who appreciate it and who do not have a problem with it. The best place for Piss Christ is in a church. In fact, I recently had a show in Marseilles in an actual church that also functions as an exhibition space, and the work looked great there. I think if the Vatican is smart, someday they’ll collect my work.
CF: Does your interest in Catholicism have to do more with an attraction to the iconography or is it about wanting to make a social or political comment about what the Church represents?
AS: Look at my apartment. I am drawn to the symbols of the Church. I like the aesthetics of the Church. I like Church furniture. I like going to Church for aesthetic reasons, rather than spiritual ones. In my work, I explore my own Catholic obsessions. An artist is nothing without his or her obsessions, and I have mine. One of the things that always bothered me was the fundamentalist labeling of my work as “anti-Christian bigotry.” As a former Catholic, and as someone who even today is not opposed to being called a Christian, I felt I had every right to use the symbols of the Church and resented being told not to.
CF: So you do see yourself carrying on a tradition of religious art?
AS: Absolutely. I am not a heretic. I like to believe that rather than destroy icons, I make new ones. Filed under: Andres Serrano, Art, Bataille, Conference, Photos, Surrealism 0 Comments

Without a rational metaphysics--or worldview--and without an epistemology, it is easy to enforce conformity, and totalitarian thinking

Dr. Sanity Shining a psychological spotlight on a few of the insanities of life Monday, September 24, 2007 THE CHILDREN OF POSTMODERN NIHILISM AND THEIR NARCISSISTIC SELF-INDULGENCE
As a vehicle for obtaining political power, postmodern philosophy and its attendant rhetoric are unparalleled in today's academic world. Through the deliberate manipulation of reality, truth, and reason, the children of postmodern nihilism have figured out a way to win any and all arguments. They have pretty much taken over the curriculum from kindergarden through college and thus no major area of that curriculum is now free from political interference.In the UK, for example, this report on the educational systems found that:

"The traditional subject areas have been hijacked to promote fashionable causes such as gender awareness, the environment and anti-racism, while teachers are expected to help to achieve the Government's social goals instead of imparting a body of academic knowledge to their students...."

It goes on further to say:

History has become so divorced from facts and chronology that pupils might learn the new "skills and perspectives" through a work of fiction, such as Lord of the Rings, it says.

Teenagers studying for GCSEs are being asked to write about the September 11 atrocities using Arab media reports and speeches from Osama bin Laden as sources without balancing material from America, it reveals.

Does this sound familiar? It should, because the same process has been ongoing on American campuses for the last few decades. Professors not only expound on their area of expertise, they now also are inclined to indoctrinate their students in politics, specifically their politics. And they use "academic freedom" to justify the brainwashing. For more on postmodernism and its rhetorical techniques, see here, here, here, here, here and here, for example.
The children of postmodern nihilism are not afraid of someone like Ahmadinejad. They completely understand someone like him from the top of his irrational little head to the tips of his anti-semitic toes. No, the children tremble in fear whenever the real world presents them with something or someone who contradicts their religiously held beliefs and thus threatens their self-indulgent narcissism.
They are in a great deal of terror at the moment. Not, of course from Jihadis or terrorists (which would be rational) but because their world view is under attack whenever a George W. Bush is elected; or a Sarkozy or Merkel. They cling to the Hugo Chavez types for dear life, celebrating them openly; and pray that thugs like Ahmadinejad and Zawahiri are able to humiliate and defeat their real enemy--which is America and all it stands for.
These children were raised on postmodern milk; and their brain development has reached a point of no return and is functioning now for the sole purpose of blocking out the real world; rather than trying to understand it. Reality, truth and reason are far too dangerously threatening to their childish beliefs and behaviors. So are genuine committments to free speech, academic freedom or political liberty.
If you can convince children that objective reality is an illusion; that A does not equal A; that black is white; and that good is bad; if you can make them accept that everything is subjective and relative; then you own them. They will believe any drivel. Through the appropriate manipulation of language, everything can be distorted, without the messy need to resort to facts, logic, or reason.
Without a rational metaphysics--or worldview--that explains the nature of existence and reality; and without an epistemology that says our minds are able to acquire knowledge of that reality; then it is easy to enforce conformity, totalitarian thinking, and political passivity.
Ethics, or the study of how man should behave in the world--or, what is good and what is evil--is totally dependent on both metaphysics and epistemology, because it is impossible to make choices withoug knowledge; just as it is impossible to have knowledge without a reality that can be known by our minds.
What matters in the postmodernist's convoluted thinking is not truth or falsity--only the effectiveness of the language used. Lies, distortions, ad hominem attacks; attempts to silence opposing views--all are strategies that are perfectly satisfactory if they achieve the desired effect. Ideas and reason must make way for reification of feelings; and freedom is replaced by thought control.
If you wonder why they exhibit so much animosity and emotional hysteria directed against traditional values and ideas; and against Republicans, neocons, Christians, Males etc. etc.; then understand the nature of the postmodern nihilism that defines and sustains them. The pervasive and unrelenting trickle down of postmodern theories and thinking in education, art, politics and all the social areas of life has resulted in a crop of humans who are opposed to thinking because it is far too dangerous to their secular religious beliefs. Even science has not been immune from the nihilism and anti-reason, anti-reality agenda of the postmodernists (just consider the hysteria regarding global warming and the attempts to convert a scientific issue into a political one).
If you want to understand why nothing seems to make sense and the most blatant contradictions and relativistic meanderings are presented as absolute truth; why language is abused and words don't seem to have the same definitions anymore; and can sometimes even mean the opposite of what they used to; why photographs can lie; why contradictory discourses and distortion of truth; and ad hominem attacks and a distinct reluctance to face reality are all a part of the "reality-based" community--you need look no further than postmodernism.
If you want to understand why a presumably serious institution of higher learning, founded on the principles of truth and knowledge, reaches out to a confirmed and dedicated apocalyptic terrorist; a man who has repeatedly announced his intention of destroying Israel and the Jews; a man who cheerfully oppresses his own citizens--including those in academia; a man who is a focal point for holocaust denial; who encourages the hanging of homosexuals and uppity women; a man who has declared war on our country; a complete and total lunatic who desires to hold the world hostage with nuclear weapons...then you need not look any further than the toxic relativism and endless narcissim of children like Bollinger and his ilk.
And finally, if you want to understand why that which is truly evil --embracing death, slavery, and nihilism--is now presented and even trumpeted as the "good" while the good is dismissed, denigrated and mocked; then you would do well to understand the psychology and ideology of the covert enemies of America and of civilization--the adult children of postmodern nihilism. - Diagnosed by Dr. Sanity @ 6:58 AM Comments (23) Trackback (0)<<>

Monday, September 24, 2007

The hunger for absolute leaders and absolute truth that probably besets us all

Freud himself was drawn to authority. He liked to lord it over his disciples; he liked to make pronouncements; he liked — as schoolchildren say at recess — to act big. When Freud presented himself to the public, he almost never forgot the lessons that he had learned about authority in his consulting room and through his studies of the church, the army and tribal societies. “The autocratic pose” clung to him, said Auden.
Freud still manifests himself to us as a grand patriarch. Collectively we have thought about him as the father, as the one who is supposed to know. We have hoped he’d confer the truth — make us whole and happy. Of course, he cannot. But he has been different from all the other aspiring masters in that he has taught nothing so insistently as the need to dissolve our illusions about masters, and to be responsive to more moderate, subtle and humane sources of authority.
Such a figure — authoritarian and anti-authoritarian at the same time — cannot help but be confusing. But once we understand our confusion, Freud can also be quite illuminating. Among other things, his ideas about authority help us understand (and in some measure sympathize with) the hunger for absolute leaders and absolute truth that probably besets us all, but that has overwhelmed many of our fellow humans who find themselves living under tyrannical governments and fundamentalist faiths.
But the best of Freud will not be available to us until we can work through the transference he provoked. We need to see him as a great patriarch, yes, but as one who struggled for nothing so much as for the abolition of patriarchy. Mark Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, is the author, most recently, of “The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days.”

Sunday, September 23, 2007

One is what one does

Summarising in a late essay some of his famous arguments about writing, Blanchot takes up Hegel's general claim that doing takes precedence over being. Consciousness, for Hegel, is the act of relating to oneself, from which the world outside the 'I' cannot stand apart. Consciousness and world interpenetrate; the talents, strengths and abilities of the individual unfold through his actions. For Hegel, it is through the transformation of the world through negation that we might learn who we are, which means we can only know what we were working on as the exercise comes to an end.
Hegel can write the preface to The Phenomenology of Spirit only once the owl of Minerva has spread her wings, making sense of his project as a whole - and the project that the whole of human history has been. Hegel can only know the project by what has already been done - as a re-ject, as Sinthome once wrote, playing on the etymology of this word. Hegel's philosophy is lived, his thought is experiential and experimental; but still, Hegel himself had faith it might be brought to an end. He writes a preface, which as everyone knows, makes sense after you've read the Phenomenology, and rounds off the book, and with it, the whole of human history.
The Blanchotian writer, however, is engaged by what can never promise to round itself off, nor even, properly speaking, to begin. He experiences language, the claim of language, as it refuses to provide the support from the presentation of particular theses, nor indeed for the subject who would articulate them. Literature, for Blanchot, bears upon a fascination with the literary act itself, insofar as it brings the writer into contact with an experience of language as the outside, as it is turned from its usual role of referring to things in the world, of facilitating communication. True, one can never turn language altogether from this role. But by way of the capacity to refer, by way of communication, Blanchot shows us how a different sense of communication, even a kind of community is shared between the writer and the readers of a book.
What, now, is important, is the way language, in respect of its capacity to refer, is experienced in its retreat. Blanchot argues that the writer senses this retreat in his or her awareness of the fascination of what he calls the work that lies beyond any particular book. The work is Blanchot's name for the experience of the murmuring anonymity of a language that permits of neither subjects nor substantives - of the fact of language, whose impersonal streaming he allows to run close to the surface of his own fiction, and detects in the fiction and poetry of writers he admires.
The literary writer will discover what he has achieved in a finished book even as a re-ject, since he cannot present what he has done thetically, as a theoretical position or argument that can be stated unequivocally. His own work is like a riddle he cannot solve, but to which his life as a writer is bound. Who is he? An answer cannot be found to this question, since if, like Hegel, one believes one is what one does, then the writer can be said to be perpetually in lieu of what he sought to achieve. The work rides ahead of him, without him; but it also stretches back behind him, beyond him such that he was only ever a latecomer to the creative process he set in motion. As unseizable Eurydice, as the Sirens' song, the work never lets itself be grasped as a project that unfolded through the writer's life... September 22, 2007 in Blanchot spurious

Hegel's "Love"

Anonymous said... I encountered your blog using google's blog search. As a high school student who's just scratching the surface of continental philosophy, it has been really useful. I've read a good chunk of Zizek, but if I were to try to read Hegel and Heidegger, where, in your opinion, should I start? Thanks September 22, 2007 12:04 PM
Mike said... Geez, what a question! For Heidegger, I'll copy on this blog a great 3 page reflection he has in his book The Phenomenology of Religious Life which is a great intro, so read that sometime (the rest of the book isn't as helpful for getting into Heidegger), but besides that a good place to start is "What is Metaphysics?" and "The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking," as well as just the very first few pages of the Intro to Being and Time--all of which can be found in the great cheap book Basic Writings edited by David Farrell Krell. There's a lot you can't understand at first, but my suggestion, as with Hegel, is just to skim widely so you get the feel for the thinking going on and the main issues he's raising. Only after you get that will something like Being and Time make sense.
As for Hegel, the Introduction (NOT the preface) to the Phenomenology of Spirit is a good place to start, probably after reading his early writing on "Love," which gives you a flavor of what he's working through (you can find the latter in The Hegel Reader). I also recommend reading (just) Kant's Introduction to his Critique of Pure Reason, which will give you a sense of what Hegel is reacting to. September 22, 2007 1:41 PM

Saturday, September 22, 2007

An an-aesthetic is what we have to stop us feeling something

Philosophy Beauty and Truth The True Philosophy of Beauty
Philosophy Beauty and Truth are unrelated according to the modern view of the world.
When the poet wrote: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" - That is all Ye know on earth and all ye need to know. Most people assume that what is being said is at best charming and sentimental, but ultimately meaningless in terms of real philosophy. However, the poet's words are precisely orthodox in terms of Platonic thought, of Vedic or Taoist thought. Indeed of all the traditional thinking of humanity. When Plato refers to the Absolute as to kalon, the Beautiful, he is making a statement that logically entails that of the poet - that Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty.
So why is this interrelation of philosophy beauty and truth so alien to the modern mind? The answer lies in two radically opposed theories of what beauty is. According to the materialist doctrine, human beings are merely animals and the world is a mere accident of physics and biology. Nothing exists beyond the material and tangible. Science is a method based upon the strict consideration only of material things. This is perfectly legitimate, just as it is legitimate for plane geometry to confine itself to two dimensions. If plane geometry were to deny the third dimension it would be stepping outside its defined area and making statements that were inherently absurd.
Similarly if scientists were to declare that nothing beyond the material can exist, they would be stepping outside their sphere and giving voice to what is - within the very terms of their discipline - absurd and illegitimate. And of course science does not do this. But many ill-educated people who treat science as a sort of pseudo-religion do think this way. And to a large extent the thinking of the modern world is based on this pseudo-scientific superstition of a purely-material world.
What has this to do with the philosophy of beauty? Simply this. If there is nothing beyond the material, then beauty can be nothing more than the subjective perception of human individuals. The very name of the modern so-called "philosophy of beauty" presupposes this. It is called aesthetics - the study of feeling (an an-aesthetic is what we have to stop us feeling something). As Ananda Coomaraswamy has said, aesthetics is the mere study of human irritability. To the traditional philosophy beauty is not a mere human feeling. Feeling is simply a reaction to beauty. Beauty exists before we feel it and independently or whether we feel it or not. As Miss Alice Lucy Trent says:

...let us pause and consider the possibility that beauty is not a relative human perception, but an objective reality. That, indeed, Beauty is a cosmic reality that characterises all sorts of different things - a flower, a star, a song, an angel - just as surely as hotness characterises a sun and a fire, or wetness an ocean and a drop of dew.

We should be grateful if you would pause for just a moment in reading this page, and think about this most important concept - that beauty is a cosmic reality, not merely a human perception. That beauty is as objectively real as heat or light or weight. Because if, even for a moment, even partially, you can let this truth take hold of you, you will have broken one of the chains that bind you, and will have seen a glimpse of the cosmos as it really is. From The Feminine Universe Chapter IV

Every beautiful thing in creation is beautiful because it shares, to some degree, in the Absolute Beauty which is Dea. The Philosophy of Beauty (as opposed to mere aesthetics) teaches us that Beauty and Truth are one. Why Beauty and Truth? Because according to traditional philosophy Beauty is the aspect of the Absolute that we perceive through love while Truth is the aspect of the Absolute that we perceive through Intelligence. Intelligence, is not mere reason (which simply manipulates and organises the information of the five senses) but the means by which the contemplative may see things that lie beyond the material.
Traditional thought always speaks of two paths to God, or to the Absolute: jnana marga - the Path of Light, or Intelligence and bhakti marga the Path of Love. Now the Object of Intelligence is Truth and the Object of Love is Beauty. And the ultimate Truth and the ultimate Beauty are One and the same - the Absolute. Thus, as we are taught by true philosophy Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty. And while that may not be all we know, our other knowledge belongs in the sphere of contingent things - things that might or might not be. In the sphere, in fact, that is currently called "science".
For the serious scientist knows that science can never speak of what is, only of what is probable. So, as we know from our philosophy Beauty and Truth are the only things we can truly Know. The Path of Love and the Path of Light are our only ways to the knowledge of That which Is rather than the shifting flux of material things. The Philosophy of Beauty is thus one half of the most fundamental philosophy of all.
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Friday, September 21, 2007

There is a coefficient of revealing and concealing, an alethetics, of the body

The Alethetics of Rhetoric Posted by larvalsubjects under Antagonism , Assemblages , Communication , Deleuze , Heidegger , Politics , Rhetoric , Systems , Uncategorized September 21, 2007
A Disclosure
One of Heidegger’s central contributions to philosophy was his concept of truth as aletheia. Ordinarily truth is understood as a correspondence between a proposition and a state-of-affairs. For instance, the proposition “the sun is shining” is true if, in fact, the sun is shining. A key feature of this conception of truth is that the state-of-affairs to which the proposition refers is transcendent to the proposition, independent of the proposition, and exists in its own right regardless of whether or not the proposition is enunciated. The proposition in no way effects the thing itself. Another theory of truth treats truth as coherence. A proposition here is true if it coheres with a body or web of propositions as in the case, perhaps, of Hegel’s system.
For Heidegger, by contrast, truth is aletheia or the disclosedness or revealing of being. Lest I earn the condemnation of the Heideggarians, I will say upfront that I will not here do Heidegger’s conception of truth as aletheia justice, nor is it my intention to give a careful analysis of his claims. Rather, I wish to indicate how it might be of use in thinking certain rhetorical phenomena.
To claim that truth is aletheia or disclosedness is to claim that an entity must first disclose or reveal itself as a particular sort of entity prior any statements we might make about it. Perhaps this idea can best be elucidated by way of the human body. In encountering the body as a seat of action, an object of medical intervention, a sexual object, and so on, is the body disclosed or revealed in the same way? In living my body, there’s a way in which its physicality, its nature as a volume, flesh, a surface, disappears. Far from being an object like other objects in the world, there’s an invisibility about my lived body, a specific bodily intentionality, such that it is not my body that is the focus of engagement, but rather the destinations towards which I move and the objects with which I am engaged. My hand is not this geometry of flesh, bone, and sinew, but rather is a grasping that is entirely exhausted in this act of typing or this grasping of my coffee cup. To say that my lived body is “exhausted” in this act of typing or in taking hold of the coffee cup and drinking is not to say that it is fatigued, but rather that it disappears in these acts by virtue of the very activity of revealing the world that it is engaged in. It is the coffee cup that is disclosed, the words on the screen, the destination towards which I am moving, not the lived body itself. As such, the lived body is more a collection of vectors, trajectories, directions, illuminating the world independent of it, rather than a geometrical shape and configuration of flesh, bone, and sinew.
Indeed, this can be seen with great clarity in the case of very young children, prior to the mirror stage. Often, as the child is learning how to crawl, it will attempt to enter spaces too small for its body to pass. In frustration the child will bang its head against the narrow opening, unable to get through, and more importantly, unable to understand why it cannot get through. This is because the young infant does not yet have a physical body, but only vectors of movement. It will only acquire a body gradually through encountering the many resistances of the world, the various breakdowns of the body, but also the gaze of others.
When Deleuze and Guattari speak of the “facialization” of the body, of parts of the body, part of what they’re referring to is the way in which the body as a surface is constituted in the gaze of others. That is, the body only discloses itself as a surface, a volume, the flesh in and through experiences of fatigue, sickness, the gaze, and resistance that gradually generate a sort of mental map of the body as a surface in contrast to the body as a set of vectors. The more the vectors of my body break down, the more my body as a surface, as brute meat, begins to reveal itself. Thus there is a coefficient of revealing and concealing, an alethetics, of the body. The more the vector nature of my body is enacted, the less my body as meat appears. We experience this, for instance, in moments where we are entirely involved in what we are doing, such as when we are at the top of our game when running or involved in a sporting event or when writing. Duchamp captured this well with his famous painting “Nude Descending a Staircase”:

Paul did not intend to warn us against philosophy

Philosophy is thought of being nothing more than thinkers thinking up weird and lofty ideas that have no application in the real world. As such, philosophy receives a bad rap and little attention in our world today. This sentiment is especially true among Christians. I will venture to say that when most Christians think of philosophy, they think of evil ideas and theories expounded by men and women set up against the Jesus Christ and the Gospel. The popular verse referred to as a warning against philosophy is Colossians 2:8:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (NASB)
Yet, as previously pointed out, Paul did not intend to warn us against philosophy itself, but against philosophies that set itself up against God and Jesus Christ. Instead of shunning philosophy, Paul utilizes philosophy in the very logic and argumentation used in his letters! So, if Paul used philosophical principles of logic and argumentation, should we as Christians today avoid philosophy as a whole, or can we employ philosophy, without shame, for the furtherance of God’s kingdom and for the defense of His Gospel?
This semester I am taking History of Philosophy I taught by Dr. Ted Cabal. This course, in conjunction with my previous philosophy courses, has fostered in me not only a joy for philosophy, but also an awareness of its place and role in Christianity. Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ted Cabal, Professor of Christian Philosophy and Applied Apologetics, for a short interview on the issue of philosophy in the Christian’s life and its proper place. Below is his biography from his faculty page on Dr. Cabal has sought to instill in his students a drive for academic excellence, as well as devotion to Christian apologetics. This entry was posted on Thursday, September 20th, 2007 at 9:50 pm and is filed under interviews, philosophy, theology.

Nietzsche makes the persuasive claim that Apollonian culture is a form of alchemy that overcomes the horror of being born into death

At the end of my last post on hedonism, I wrote: “At least, since we have to start somewhere, to start by tackling the relationship between consumption and pleasure, and the silent withdrawal of the festival from daily life.” Consumerism is not a process of enjoyment, to be resisted through sacrifice and Grecian discipline. It is a betrayal of enjoyment, a form of usurpation. The imposition of new political guilt, justified through the fantasy of a non-existent Leninist vanguard, piling sacrifice upon sacrifice, drives me to the same sorts of questions expressed so eloquently at Larval Subjects:
When I hear calls to give up enjoyment such as they are issuing from Jodi Dean or Zizek, I hear the thesis that somehow social change should consist in rendering our living conditions even more intolerable than they currently are. Why is this a form of social transformation that anyone should desire? To put it in crude and less than trendy-jargonistic terms, if social transformation does not lead to better work and living conditions, better, more equitable, more just, more satisfying, and more meaningful ways of relating to one another, more freedom to pursue our desires and cultivate ourselves, why should these forms of social transformation be desired at all?
So, for me, the return to the Greeks will be a search for pleasure. Rather than asking why people aren’t more disciplined, I am interested in why they should be so miserable. It is not enough just to accuse consumers of being insatiable; one has to trace the losses of solidarity and vision that accompany the crippling of pleasure.
Friedrich Nietzsche still holds title to the most influential study of pleasure in Greece ever written, The Birth of Tragedy. In that book he famously divided Greek culture into two halves, named after Apollo and Dionysus. He then described the decline of both cultures after the advent of philosophy, and blamed Socrates and Plato for an optimistic account of truth that banished the fundamental pessimism of both Apollonian and Dionysian art.
Here are Nietzsche’s rather inescapable descriptions of the Dionysian mood (from the Modern Library’s Basic Writings):
Either under the influence of the narcotic draught, of which the songs of all primitive men and peoples speak, or with the potent coming of spring that penetrates all nature with joy, these Dionysian emotions awake, and as they grow in intensity everything subjective vanishes into complete self-forgetfulness….Under the charm of the Dionysian not only is the union between man and man reaffirmed, but nature which has become alienated, hostile, or subjugated, celebrates once more her reconciliation with her lost son, man. (36-37)
In the Dionysian dithyramb man is incited to the greatest exaltation of all his symbolic faculties; something never before experienced struggles for utterance—the annihilation of the veil of maya, oneness as the soul of the race and of nature itself. The essence of nature is now to be expressed symbolically; we need a new world of symbols; and the entire symbolism of the body is called into play, not the mere symbolism of the lips, face, and speech but the whole pantomime of dancing, forcing every member into rhythmic movement. Then the other symbolic powers suddenly press forward, particularly those of music, in rhythmics, dynamics, and harmony. (40)
For Nietzsche, all of these experiences are built upon a “hidden substratum of suffering and of knowledge” (46). This is why Nietzsche ultimately identifies Dionysian culture with tragedy, and with philosophical pessimism.
American popular culture has always had an immense fund of pessimism in the form of its musical traditions, most archetypally via country music and the blues. This compensated for the exclusion of pessimism elsewhere, by the optimism of enterprise and the Protestant work ethic. (The only American holiday faintly resembling a “bacchanal” is New Year’s Eve, and even that carries with it the tradition of making resolutions.) For example, Greil Marcus, discussing Robert Johnson in Mystery Train, duplicates almost every one of Nietzsche’s terms:
In “Stones in My Passway” terror is too ubiquitous to have a face: it is formless, elusive, overpowering….The idea simply takes shape as the song draws in all the echoes of hellhounds, devils, the weirdness of blues walking like a man, draws in those images and goes past them. If those images were a means to expression, they are no longer necessary—they are no longer good enough. Because not even his body is how own, Johnson cannot satisfy his woman. Because that matters more than anything else in his life, that fact, as a symbol, expands to create more facts, more symbols. Finally, with stones in every passway and no way clear, there is a way in which the singer’s life is resolved: he has seen all around his life, for as long as he can hold onto the image….It communicates so directly any distance between the singer and the listener is smashed. (36)
Here is the recurrence of “terror” as a primary impulsion towards ecstasy. Here is the moment when the image fails, to be replaced by mythic symbols, which themselves prove to be fleeting manifestations of a primal formlessness that affirms and resolves life. The bounds of subjectivity are broken. Johnson is no longer himself, and the “union between man and man” is reaffirmed when the distance between him and us goes smash.
So, what happens to these musical traditions in a stubbornly optimistic country? The “primal unity” of its ritual gets torn apart into two separate and vulnerable practices: pessimism and dancing (”the whole pantomime of dancing”).
Dancing, on its own, reverts to optimism. Going out to clubs or bars, for example, has nothing to do with some German philosopher’s vision of “these dancers of St. John and St. Vitus, [in whom] we rediscover the Bacchic choruses of the Greeks” (36). It is an opportunity to socialize and flirt, thoroughly hedged in by work schedules for everyone except some college students. The wilder the party, the more likely somebody is about to get married. And yet, despite the fact that these outings are sources of terrible anxiety for many people, and manifestations of loneliness, boredom, and need, they still get the shakedown. Philosophy blogger Grundlegung writes,
In the spirit of Zizekian austerity….I am somewhat attracted to this inversion of Emma Goldman’s notorious demand: “If I can dance, it’s not my revolution.”
He’s not being entirely serious, but the irony only goes as far as a “somewhat.” Above all, dancing is something young people do. Chris Rock put it well: “Every man has to settle down, eventually. You know why you gotta settle down eventually? Because you don’t want to be the old man in the club. You know what I’m talking about. Every club you go into, there’s always some old guy. He ain’t really old, just a little too old to be in the club.” The perfection of the sketch is twofold: You know what I’m talking about, because of the universal prohibition, and He ain’t really old, because real age isn’t the point. The point is settling down: catharsis and courtship, not hedonism. The one kind of dance culture really devoted to self-forgetfulness, rave culture, regresses all the way back to costumes that signify infancy and childhood, and the fantasia of childhood as we dream it.
The other element of Dionysian culture, pessimism, becomes mired in puerility just as much. We call it angst, and put it squarely on the shoulders of adolescents, who have to go through both generalized existential angst and the angst of unrequited love. In the place of Robert Johnson’s actual pessimism, or the actual revelation of futility, we get a contemptible epiphenomenon. In fact, even Nietzsche himself falls in. There are two Nietzsches who now live side-by-side: the “serious” Nietzsche, author of the genealogical critiques of morals and metaphysics, and the adolescent Nietzsche, author of most of Friedrich Nietzsche’s books. As waxbanks put it, in an eloquent comment elsewhere: “Only asshole teenagers read Nietzsche, right?!” Or look at Feministe, where criticism of the eminently criticizable Avril Lavigne went like this:
You’re a married grown-up now; the middle school mall-punk “Ugh, this suuuucks” schtick is a little tired. We all have our teenage angst, but at some point, you move on.
Of course it’s tired. It has to dress up like high school every time.
So what becomes of Apollonian culture? What enters into its spirit when its opposite is transformed into a discourse for children? After all, Nietzsche makes the persuasive claim that Apollonian culture is a form of alchemy that overcomes the horror of being born into death:
The same impulse which calls art into being, as the complement and consummation of existence, seducing one to a continuation of life, was also the cause of the Olympian world which the Hellenic ” will made use of as a transfiguring mirror….Where we encounter the “naïve” in art, we should recognize the highest effect of Apollonian culture—which always must first overthrow an empire of Titans and slay monsters, and which must have triumphed over an abysmal and terrifying view of the world and the keenest susceptibility to suffering through recourse to the most forceful and pleasurable illusions. (43)
In the absence of a legitimate Dionysian culture, Apollonian culture becomes likewise regressive, veering towards adolescent romantic plots and nostalgic genre references. At other points, I’ve written about regressive art, of which the best example continues to be Harry Potter. But here I want to emphasize, not the aesthetic limitations of regression, but the paralyzing effect it has on creativity. The real risk one takes writing a poem, or a novel, or even a series of reflections, is that of becoming a child — a real risk, not something to be shrugged off heroically, because childlike perceptions and plots have been blended with the authentic impulse. The only remainder, subtracted from the childlike experience, is ethics, the discourse of iron. Ethics intrudes everywhere, with its relentless speechifying: every episode of The West Wing ends with a speech, and so does Benjamin Kunkel’s Indecision, just as Dumbledore’s speeches echo through Harry’s adventures. Zizek’s review of 300, with which this whole investigation began, hones in on the film’s “programmatic statement” about freedom and reason. Where the impulse towards puerility has been successfully avoided, one rarely escapes an equal loss of Hellenic lambency: the remainder is Cormac McCarthy.
So, for the consumer, the irony is that the conjunction of adolescent pessimism, nostalgic escapism, and inviolable ethics puts the work of art continually out of reach, while making it simultaneously necessary as a form of relief. In fact, the work of art escapes even when it is right there, in front of us, thanks to the “criticism of purpose” described so well by Caroline Levine, or else remains uncomprehended. The phenomenon of consumption is not, ironically enough, the result of too much engagement with things. It is actually the symptom of a lack of engagement with things: an inability to carry on a lasting study of a piece of culture, an inability to wrench material objects away from the advertisements or stigmas that constitute them. In the Apollonian dream, things have to be what they are, and be subject to the perceptual discipline that realizes beauty in things without the missing term of the purchase.
In his study of Giorgione, Walter Pater wrote:
In these then, the favourite incidents of Giorgione’s school, music or the musical intervals in our existence, life itself is conceived as a sort of listening—listening to music, to the reading of Bandello’s novels, to the sound of water, to time as it flies. Often such moments are really our moments of play, and we are suprised at the unexpected blessedness of what may seem our least important part of time; not merely because play is in many instances that to which people really apply their own best powers, but also because at such times, the stress of our servile, everyday attentiveness being relaxed, the happier powers in things without are permitted free passage, and have their way with us. (from The Renaissance)
So, having established the principle of play, in a way that recalls childhood without becoming bound to it, Pater himself begins to engage more deeply with Giorgione’s Fête Champêtre in the mode of play. As he does so, first water, and then air, become the symbols of desires awakened and satisfied, questions asked and answered:
But when people are happy in this thirsty land water will not be far off; and in the school of Giorgione, the presence of water—the well, or marble-rimmed pool, the drawing or pouring of water, as the woman pours it from a pitcher with her jewelled hand in the Fête Champêtre, listening, perhaps, to the cool sound as it falls, blent with the music of the pipes—is as characteristic, and almost as suggestive, as that of music itself. And the landscape feels, and is glad of it also—a landscape full of clearness, of the effects of water, of fresh rain newly passed through the air, and collected into the grassy channels.
The whole thing is instinct with joy. It ventures inside of the original work, but also surpasses it through the playful exposition of a reverie, one whose limpid depths are clear all the way to the bottom, where are thirsts and tears. In the hope that media like blogs will prove to be some means of access to the happier powers in things, I will end with a landscape full of clearness, of the effects of water, of fresh rain newly passed through the air. From the art blog Big Window: Published in: Art & Aesthetics Blogroll Ethics & Morality Marxism & Culture Music Nietzsche Pater Philosophy Politics Utopian thoughton May 13, 2007 at 8:14 pm Comments (0)