Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bloch warns us that relentless novelty can itself become wearyingly repetitious and static

God, or the Body without Organs Steven Shaviro
Deleuze and Guattari warn us that a synthesis, or a process of production, "must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself; nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself" (1983, 5). It is oriented towards becoming, rather than continuation. More generally, there is a subtle, and never fully explored, tension in Deleuze’s work (both with and without Guattari) between two different ways – closely related but nonetheless distinct – of conceiving the process of auto-creation. On the one hand, there is Spinoza’s conatus, best defined as "a tendency to maintain and maximize the ability to be affected" (Deleuze 1988, 99, citing Spinoza’s Ethics IV 38). Conatus is quite close to Varela’s concept of autopoiesis, the process by which a relational system maintains itself through dynamic interaction with its environment, recreating the very processes that produce it.
On the other hand, there is Gilbert Simondon’s notion of individuation, the process by which an entity continually reconstitutes itself by actualizing potentials that pre-exist in a metastable environment. Individuation has strong affinities with Whitehead’s concrescence, the way that an entity constitutes itself as something radically new, by selecting among, and recombining, aspects of already-existing entities. All four of these terms (conatus, autopoiesis, individuation, concrescence) imply a certain sort of auto-creation, in which virtualities are actualized. But in conatus and autopoiesis, the emphasis is on a continuity that is created and preserved in and through continual change and interaction with the environment; whereas, in individuation and concresence, the emphasis is on the production of novelty, the entity’s continual redefinition, or becoming-other than what it was...
It is precisely on these grounds that Ernst Bloch (1986, 201) criticizes Bergson, the common predecessor of Whitehead and Deleuze. Bloch warns us that relentless novelty can itself become wearyingly repetitious and static. Incessant innovation, without real consequence, simply results in boredom: the continual passage of "senselessly changing fashions," the "rigidity of a surprise that is always the same." A "constantly required change of direction, required for its own sake," ends up taking us nowhere in particular, but only through the endless "zig-zag" of a random walk. The trouble with a process metaphysics, Bloch says, is that "the process remains empty and repeatedly produces nothing but process." It never arrives at any finished product; and therefore it never arrives at the Novum, the genuinely new. Instead, "the process remains empty and repeatedly produces nothing but process." ...
This is why Deleuze (explicitly) and Whitehead (implicitly) both reject the Hegelian notion of contradiction as the motor of change, or of history. Deleuze is always concerned to define philosophical thought as a power of affirmation, rather than one of negation. But he is always quick to add that the negative still has its place, as long as we see "negations as powers of affirming," instead of invoking negativity "as a motor, a power, and a quality" in its own right (1983, 179). Every New necessarily provides its own negations; but negativity is not in any sense the inner principle of the New...
Deleuze and Guattari’s revision or correction of Kant in Anti-Oedipus consists in referring each of these clusters of Idea, category, and relation back to a corresponding synthesis. The Idea of Self is derived from the conjunctive synthesis; the Idea of the World from the connective synthesis, and the Idea of God from the disjunctive synthesis...
In The Logic of Sense, Oedipus is the "pacifying hero" who "dispelled the infernal power of depths and the celestial power of heights, and now claims only a third empire, the surface, nothing but the surface" (1990, 201). In Anti-Oedipus, this function is condemned rather than celebrated; but it remains the case "that Oedipus is a requirement or a consequence of social reproduction, insofar as this latter aims at domesticating a genealogical form and content that are in every way intractable" (1983, 13). In both texts, Oedipal quasi-causality tames (but cannot altogether master) the schizophrenic intensities produced in the depths of materiality and of bodies.
Anti-Oedipus is usually read as repudiating the depth/surface opposition that structured The Logic of Sense. But the actual relation between the two books is more complicated than such a formulation would indicate. In The Logic of Sense, quasi-causality is described as an effect of the surface; to the contrary, Artaud’s Body without Organs is presented as a pure experience of the depths (1990, 82-93 passim). In Anti-Oedipus, however, the imageless figures of quasi-causality on the surface, and of the Body without Organs in the depths, are equated with one another. This is why the Body without Organs is described as both a "recording surface" and a "full body." The "nondifferentiated" blankness of antiproduction is both a surface effect, and a deep "counterflow of amorphous, undifferentiated fluid" (1983, 9). Thus Anti-Oedipus retains both the distinction between surfaces and depths, and the distinction between material causality (production) and quasicausality (antiproduction); only it redistributes these two distinctions, instead of aligning them with one another...
I will only touch briefly here on the vexed question of the relation between what Whitehead calls the "primordial" and "consequent" natures of God. The primordial nature of God is purely conceptual, as it involves potentiality or virtuality: "viewed as primordial, he is the unlimited conceptual realization of the absolute wealth of potentiality. In this aspect, he is not before all creation, but with all creation" (1929/1978, 343). This is God as "the principle of concretion – the principle whereby there is initated a definite outcome from a situation riddled with ambiguity" (345). The consequent nature of God, on the other hand, is physical and actual. It "is derived from the objectification of the world in God. . . the concrescent creature is objectified in God as a novel element in God’s objectification of that actual world" (345). That is to say, the consequent nature of God involves something like the inscription, or recording, of everything that has happened in all actual occasions. The primordial nature of God is an opening towards futurity, the condition of possibility for every becoming. The consequent nature of God is like Bergsonian memory, or "pure recollection": the "being in itself of the past" (Deleuze 1991, 60), or its preservation as past. Very roughly speaking, the primordial nature of God corresponds to the Body without Organs as virtual "full body"; while the consequent nature of God corresponds to the Body without Organs as "recording surface."
This is what differentiates process thought from any form of the dialectic. For Bergson, Whitehead, and Deleuze, and contrary to Hegel (1977, 407), "the wounds of the Spirit" can never be made whole; and they always do leave scars behind. The past persists as past, in its entirety: an "objective immortality" that cannot be subsumed or sublated. But this persistence is itself the condition for a radically open future, one that cannot be prefigured or contained by any sort of dialectical movement...
This is yet another way in which Whitehead remains an heir to Kant’s critical revolution, rather than reverting to pre-critical thought. Deleuze lists as one of Kant’s great "poetic formulas" the way that "Kant reverses the relationship of the law and the Good." Where traditional metaphysics, from Plato onward, derives all moral laws from the the ideal of the Good, for Kant "it is the Good which depends on the Law, and not vice versa. . . The Law as empty form in the Critique of Practical Reason corresponds to time as pure form in the Critique of Pure Reason" (Deleuze 1984, x). Whitehead replaces Kant’s "empty form" of the Categorical Imperative with God’s merely empirical arbitrariness; but he remains Kantian in his refusal to subject this arbitrary "decision" to any pre-existing standard of rationality or Goodness, or to any higher form of justi-fication. "What is metaphysically indeterminate has nevertheless to be categorically determinate. We have come to the limits of rationality" (Whitehead 1925/1967, 178)...
Tim Clark, in his lucid and powerful discussion of Deleuze’s encounter with Whitehead (2002), argues against Deleuze’s reading of Whitehead’s God as a figure of affirmation and metamorphosis. For Clark, Whitehead’s God never performs the disjunctive synthesis in a fully af-firmative or Deleuzian manner. Rather, since for Whitehead "restriction and limitation are the conditions of value," Whitehead’s God "is still required to enact, or at least to found, disjunctions that are not yet positively synthetic or wholly affirmative" (198). Whitehead never quite reaches the condition of a Deleuzian "chaosmos," because "within Whitehead’s system the universe remains, in principle, only semi-open and therefore partially predictable" (202). Deleuze is misreading, therefore, when he attributes his own "total affirmation" of difference to Whitehead, who never fully escapes "the weight of ontotheological tradition bearing down upon him" (205).
I have learned a lot from Clark’s discussion; in particular, I am indebted to him for reading Whitehead’s notion of God in the light of Deleuze’s discussion of the Kantian (and Klossowskian) disjunctive syllogism. And Clark is entirely right to see elements of limitation and exclusion at work in Whitehead’s account of God. I differ from Clark in that I see a movement between the exclusive and inclusive uses of the disjunctive synthesis at work in both Whitehead’s account of God and Deleuze’s account of the Body without Organs – and, indeed, already in Kant’s account of God. Though Deleuze tends to describe the opposition between the two uses of the synthesis polemically and absolutely, in practice he slides back and forth between them – because every actualization of the virtual unavoidably involves some sort of limitation, and because the analysis of forms of coding and capture, on the one hand, and of the mobilization of "lines of flight" on the other, necessarily makes reference to the tension between these two uses...
On the technical level of Whitehead’s metaphysics, this account of God is needed in order to resolve the difficulties raised by the Category of Conceptual Reversion. Whitehead initially formulates this Category as follows: "There is secondary origination of conceptual feelings with data which are partially identical with, and partially diverse from, the eternal objects forming the data in the first phase of the mental pole. The diversity is a relevant diversity determined by the subjective aim" (1929/1978, 26). That is to say, an actual occasion is not limited to prehending only those eternal objects that are realized in the empirical data in front of it. Even if everything that it sees is blue, it is also able to imagine red. It is capable of forming feelings, and yearning after potentialities, that are "diverse from" those provided by "the data in the first phase" of experience.
Now, this is a categorical requirement of Whitehead’s system, or what Kant would call a necessary "transcendental presupposition": for otherwise novelty would be impossible. Without some notion of "conceptual reversion," an actual entity that prehended only blue-colored data would never be able to posit redness. But it is hard to see how the Category of Conceptual Reversion is consistent, or coherent, with Whitehead’s basic ontological principle, which states that "every condition to which the process of becoming conforms in any particular instance has its reason either in the character of some actual entity in the actual world of that concrescence, or in the character of the subject which is in process of concrescence" (24). Where, then, does the imagination of redness come from? Since, by definition, the datum of a novel conceptual prehension is not present in any "actual entity in the actual world of that concrescence," it must arise out of "the character of the subject which is in process of concrescence," which is to say, out of the entity’s "subjective aim."
But how does such a previously "unfelt eternal object" (249) ingress into, and alter, an entity’s subjective aim in the first place? What enables "the positive conceptual prehension of relevant alternatives" (249)? Traditional idealist metaphysics resolves this problem by appealing to some Platonic principle of recollection: the Idea of red exists in itself, independently of my thinking it; and for that very reason accessible to my thought. Today’s cognitive science, following Kant, retains this argument by subjectivizing it: the Idea of red may not exist in and of itself, but it is a necessary product of innate structures of the human mind. But Whitehead is loath to accept this line of reasoning – even though he compares what he calls "eternal objects" to the Platonic forms (44). For any appeal to already-given forms would mean limiting the scope of novelty, by reducing it to mere structural permutations, or variations of a theme.
At first, Whitehead entertains the idea that eternal objects might have the power within themselves to refer to other, related eternal objects: "the determinate definiteness of each actuality is an expression of a selection from these forms. It grades them in a diversity of relevance. This ordering of relevance starts from those forms which are, in the fullest sense, exemplified, and passes through grades of relevance down to those forms which in some faint sense are proximately relevant by reason of contrast with actual fact" (43-44). But ultimately Whitehead rejects this argument, because "the question, how, and in what sense, one unrealized eternal object can be more, or less, proximate to an eternal object in realized ingression – that is to say, in comparison with any other unfelt eternal object – is left unanswered by this Category of Reversion" (249-250).
The "grades of relevance" and proximity among eternal objects can only be determined to the extent that these objects can be ordered in a closed and well-defined set. But this is belied by the fact that "nature is never complete," that "it is always passing beyond itself" (289). Whitehead states that "there are no novel eternal objects" (22); but he also requires us to conceive the "whole" of eternal objects as something other than a closed set. (The notion of a whole that is not a closed set is formulated by Deleuze in relation to Bergson: Deleuze 1986, 10-11).
These considerations lead Whitehead to insist that the question of the ingression of previously unrealized eternal objects "can be answered only by reference to some actual entity." In accordance with the ontological principle, there must be some empirical source for the "missing" eternal objects. The "conceptual prehension" of alternative potentialities must have its roots in a prior "physical prehension." God is the actual entity who fulfills this condition – or, whose existence Whitehead infers from the requirement to fulfill this condition. God prehends all eternal objects indiscriminately, and thereby makes them available to any "temporal entity" whatsoever. Through this appeal to God, "the Category of [Conceptual] Reversion is then abolished, and Hume’s principle of the derivation of conceptual experience from physical experience remains without any exception" (250).
Whitehead’s struggle with this problem, and his initial assertion, and subsequent rejection, of the Category of Conceptual Reversion, is traced in detail by Lewis S. Ford (1984, 211-241 passim). The crucial point is that Whitehead’s recourse to God is in fact, odd as this might seem, a way of rejecting transcendent solutions, and embracing instead an immanent one. God is the correlate of Whitehead’s "transcendental empiricism," just as the Body without Organs is of Deleuze’s...
Kant is careful to point out that "this moral necessity is subjective, i.e. a need, and not objective, i.e. itself a duty; for there can be no duty whatever to assume the existence of a thing (because doing so concerns only the theoretical use of reason)" (2002, 159). It is not even our duty to believe in God; it is only the case that we are pragmatically forced to believe in God – i.e. that we are unable not to believe in God – to the extent that we follow the commands of moral obligation. God cannot even be invoked as the basis of moral obligation; rather, moral obligation itself provides the sole basis for any belief in God. Whitehead follows Kant in the way that he posits God’s existence adjunctively, rather than foundationally. But for Whitehead, it is aesthetics, rather than morality, that forces us to assume the existence of God...
As Whitehead dryly says, "God’s purpose in the creative advance is the evocation of intensities. The evocation of societies is purely subsidiary to this absolute end" (105). This "evocation of societies" means precisely the self-perpetuation of living organisms such as ourselves.

Delanda has no account of process. His ontology is excessively, and needlessly, static

Delanda follows Deleuze in insisting that, although an entity is always involved in relations with other entities, "a relation may change without the terms changing" (Delanda 2006, 11, citing Deleuze and Parnet 2002, 55). An entity is never fully defined by its relations; for it is always possible to detach an entity from one particular set of relations, and insert it instead in a different set of relations, with different other entities. Every entity has certain "properties" that are not defined by the set of relations it finds itself in at a given moment; the entity can take these properties with it when it moves from one context (or one set of relations) to another. At the same time, an entity is never devoid of (some sort of) relations: the world is a plenum, indeed it is over-full, and solipsism or atomistic isolation is impossible.
Put differently, no entity can be entirely isolated, because it is always involved in multiple relations of one sort or another, and these relations affect the entity, cause it to change. But this is not to say that the entity is determined by these relations. For the entity has an existence apart from these particular relations, and apart from the other "terms" of the relation, precisely insofar as it is something that is able to affect, and to be affected by, other entities. The entity is not just a function of its present relations, but of a whole history of relations in which it has affected other entities and been affected by them.
DeLanda thus distinguishes between the properties of an entity (which are what it takes with it to another context) and the capacities of that same entity (its potential to affect, and to be affected by, other entities). "These capacities do depend on a component’s properties but cannot be reduced to them since they involve reference to the properties of other interacting entities" (2006, 11). An entity’s capacities are as real as its properties; but we cannot deduce the capacities from the properties; nor can we know (entirely) what these capacities are, aside from how they come into play in particular interactions with other particular entities.
Whitehead’s notion of coherence is largely consistent with Delanda’s account of relations of exteriority. The difference is that Delanda has no account of process, or of how the shift from one set of relations to another actually occurs. His ontology is excessively, and needlessly, static. Whitehead avoids this problem, because he identifies entities with processes, which all at once become and thereby perish. Delanda’s entities correspond, not to Whitehead’s "actual entities," but rather to what Whitehead calls societies. Societies are aggregations of actual entities; these aggregations possess spatial extent and temporal duration, which is what allows them to affect and be affected by other societies. What Delanda calls the innate "properties" of an entity (as distinct from its capacities) would be defined by Whitehead rather as the aggregate of the free (not predetermined) "decisions" made by all the actual entities that constitute the society in question.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Life-changing experiences as a result of their studies in humanities

The Uses of the Humanities, Part Two Stanley Fish NYT January 13, 2008 Tags: , ,
Note that what we’re talking about here is the study, not the production, of humanistic texts. The question I posed in the column was not do works of literature, philosophy and history have instrumental value, but does the academic analysis of works of literature, philosophy and history have instrumental value. When Jeffrey Sachs says that “in the real world” the distinction between the humanities and the sciences on the basis of utility does not hold because “philosophers have made important contributions to the sciences” and “the hard sciences have had a profound impact on the humanities,” he doesn’t come within 100 miles of refuting anything I say. Whatever does or does not happen in the “real world” is not the issue; the issue is what happens in the academic world, where the distinctions Sachs dismisses do hold. It may be, as George Mobus maintains, that “only in academia where you are supposed to be a specialist . . . do we parse the world into silos,” but the academic world is by definition parsed into silos and when the utility of one of them is questioned, it is not to any point to say that in some other world everything exists in some great big mix.
In general those who disagree with my assertions do what Sachs and Mobus do — slide (without acknowledgment or awareness) back and forth between the precincts of academia (which, to make the point again, are the precincts where the dispute is located) to the precincts, often larger, of some other enterprise. When I declare that the humanities are of no use whatsoever, I am talking about humanities departments (“the humanities” is an academic, not a cultural category), not about poets and philosophers and the effects they do or do not have in the world and on those who read them.
The funding of the humanities in colleges and universities cannot be justified by pointing to the fact that poems and philosophical arguments have changed lives and started movements. (I was surprised that no one mentioned “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a book Lincoln is said to have credited with the starting of the Civil War.) The pertinent question is, Do humanities courses change lives and start movements? Does one teach with that purpose, and if one did could it be realized?
If the answers to these questions are (as I contend) “no” – one teaches the subject matter and any delayed effect of what happens in a classroom is contingent and cannot be aimed at – then the route of external justification of the humanities, of a justification that depends on the calculation of measurable results, is closed down. The fact that some commentators, including a few of my former students, report life-changing experiences as a result of their studies is heartening (although I am sure that the vast majority would report something quite different), but it hardly amounts to a reason for supporting the entire apparatus of departments, degrees, colloquia etc. that has grown up around the academic study of humanistic texts...
All of this should not be taken to mean, as it was by some, that I am attacking the humanities or denigrating them or declaring them worthless. I am saying that the value of the humanities cannot be validated by some measure external to the obsessions that lead some (like me) to devote their working lives to them – measures like increased economic productivity, or the fashioning of an informed citizenry, or the sharpening of moral perceptions, or the lessening of prejudice and discrimination. If these or some other instrumental benchmarks – instrumental in the sense that they are tied to a secondary effect rather than to an internal economy – are what the humanities must meet, they will always fall short. But the refusal of the humanities to acknowledge or bow to an end they do not contemplate is, I argue, their salvation and their value. As Stacia says in words more precise than mine, “The subject of these studies are not to be used as tools to achieve something else . . . they are the achievement.”
Of course, this does not mean that anyone will pay for them. In fact, as several posters observed, my argument (and it isn’t only mine) that the humanities are their own good and aren’t much good for anything else can be used to justify turning humanities departments into service departments and cutting funding for humanities research.
About Stanley Fish - Think Again
Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

There is a poetic quality to some of Deleuze's thinking

Against Bodies from Fido the Yak by Fido the Yak
The Logic of Sense reads like a polemic against bodies. This is clearly evident in the way Deleuze addresses one of my favorite questions: how is language possible? He asks whether bodies would be able to ground language and he answers,

"When sounds fall back on (se rabattent sur) bodies and become the actions and passions of mixed bodies, they are no more than the bearers of agonized nonsense" (p. 134).

Bodies are schematically or paradigmatically "down" in Deleuze's thought; the body can only be reached by descent, and depth or the depths can substitute for anything that occurs in the body or between bodies. For language to descend to the body can only mean that violence is done to it; the body has no creative power, but only the power to destroy. The idea that language is an intelligent extension of the body must be rejected by Deleuze. In his view it is the
"world of incorporeal effects or surface effects which makes language possible" (p. 166).
Bodies and sense, depths and surfaces are mutually exclusive. Mixing only pertains to bodies. To even think that language might have several conditions of possibility is to bring the question of language down to the level of the body where it is splintered, where it can only be noise and passionate nonsense.
So Deleuze views language as incorporeal. How exactly is he defining language? He says language is a "system of propositions" (p. 167). This is a rather arboreal view. Let's see that in a little context:

The most general operation of sense is this: it brings that which expresses it into existence; and from that point on, as pure inherence, it brings itself to exist within that which expresses it. It rests therefore with the Aion, as the milieu of surface effects or events, to trace a frontier between things and propostitions; and the Aion traces it with its entire straight line [the labyrinth of the straight line, the eternal return: it's all here]. Without it, sounds would fall back on bodies, and propositions themselves would not be "possible." Language is rendered possible by the frontier which separates it from things and from bodies (including those which speak). (p. 166)


[T]he straight line which extends simultaneously in two directions traces the frontier between bodies and language, states of affairs and propositions. Language, or the system of propositions, would not exist without this frontier which renders it possible. (p. 167)

Deleuze says that events make language possible. In making this argument he is greatly concerned to persuade us that the ground cannot resemble what it grounds. He says,
"Language is rendered possible by that which distinguishes it. What separates sounds from bodies makes sounds into the elements of a language" (p. 186).
Or, again,
"What renders language possible is that which separates sounds from bodies and organizes them into propositions, freeing them for the expressive function" (p. 181).
This is not a poet's sensibility, which is somewhat ironic because there is a poetic quality to some of Deleuze's thinking, about the Aion for instance. Perhaps we might leave it at that. However I will reach this one conclusion: in the wake of Deleuze (and given the sentiments of the Deleuzians) the body and each and every one of its entailments must be philosophically defended.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Restriction to grammar, delinked from ‘language'

The Primacy of Grammar: Explorations in the Philosophy of Linguistics [Nearly done]
Biolinguistics has been able to maintain some distance from topics that are traditionally thought to be central to the study of language: meaning, concepts, truth-conditions, and communication. From the perspective of familiar notions of language, this could be viewed as a shortcoming of the biolinguistics programme. From the point of view of biolinguistics, however, it is just a fact. Against the current perhaps, I take the isolation of this rather austere object to be the central contribution of Noam Chomsky; its significance lies in its frugality. This is not to suggest that what currently falls under the non-grammatical aspects of language will never be a part of grammatical theory:
‘No one familiar with the field has any illusion today that the horizons of inquiry are even visible, let alone at hand, in any domain’ (Chomsky 2005).
As we will see, there are constant attempts to enlarge the scope of grammatical theory to incorporate other aspects of language and its use. But, as with matured sciences, the chances are that each such incorporation will be hard-fought, since it will have to be formulated, not due to pressures from ‘outside,’ but from within the evolving framework of biolinguistics. This restriction to grammar, so delinked from ‘language,’ opens the possibility that the computational system of human language maybe involved in each cognitive system that requires similar computational resources. A mixture of analytical argumentation, varieties of empirical (including introspective) evidence, and some speculation suggests a picture in which a computational system consisting of very specific principles and operations is likely to be centrally involved in each articulatory symbol system that manifests unboundedness.
In this restricted sense, the object of biolinguistics exemplifies the Cartesian picture of a united mind. In other words, the suggestion is that the following things converge:
(a) the scientific character of biolinguistics,
(b) its isolation from the rest of science and, thus, from the rest of human inquiry,
(c) its basic explanatory form, namely, the computational-representational framework, and
(d) the domains of its application.
From this perspective, the real gain of the biolinguistic approach to cognitive phenomena is that the approach may have identified, after thousands of years of inquiry, a specific structure of the human mind, perhaps a real joint of nature.

Nirmalangshu Mukherji
Professor, Department of Philosophy, Delhi University, Delhi 110007, India
e-mail: Telephone: +91-11-27666629 (Off), +91-11-27666253 (Res)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Oedipal structure is always open to a much broader social, political, and historical milieu

When Deleuze refers to a “sensibility of the senses”, he is not referring to sensations, but rather to the real conditions for the possibility of sensation. That is, what are the conditions or processes by which this domain of sensibility is generated. I do not encounter the world through sonar, nor can I hear the world like a cat, nor do I smell the world like a dog. All of these fields of sensibility are the result of specific individuations that create their own unique universes of retention and expectation. When Deleuze refers to a passive synthesis as opposed to an active synthesis, he seeks to underline that these syntheses are not actively carried out by the mind or will.
“Although it is constitutive it is not, for all that, active. It is not carried out by the mind, but occurs in the mind…” (71).
Sensation or sensibility is not supplemented from above by categories (as in Kant) that would hold for all possible universes, but instead have their own immanent logos or structure of relations pertaining to the field of engagement characterizing the being in question. If we are led to miss this domain of the transcendental aesthetic, then this is because in our engagement with the world, this domain of the transcendental is surpassed in favor of the signs constituted by the pre-individual field out of which sensibility becomes capable of sensing. Deleuze is not, of course, reducing all sensibility to the domain of “vital sensibility” or the biological. As he puts it,
“We must therefore distinguish not only the forms of repetition in relation to passive synthesis but also the levels of passive synthesis and the combinations of these levels with one another” (73).
These levels would include the biological (as understood by contemporary evolutionary theory), the life of the individual in its ongoing individuation or unfurling, and in relation to the social, political, and historical milieu in which the individual is individuated or comes to be. For instance, in Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari take great pains to show how the Oedipal structure is always open to a much broader social, political, and historical milieu wherein parents function as conduits or “transistors” in relation to the developing child. There is nothing, for example, that is specifically familial about language.
The question of aesthetics thus turns out to be far broader than that of art. Aesthetics has tended to be treated as a marginal or “ghetto” discipline within philosophy, remote from the “big questions” of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. Yet, prior to any inquiry into these fields, the objects of these fields must first be given. Traditionally aesthetics has been understood to refer to the theory of the beautiful and, more recently, questions of what constitutes art.
In the Kant of the first Critique, aesthetics is treated rigorously in terms of its etymology as aisthesis, and refers to the domain of sensibility. For Kant there is thus a “transcendental aesthetic”, or the pure, a priori, forms of sensibility or space and time, and an empirical aesthetic referring to the various sensations that populate sensibility such as the various feels, sounds, tastes, and smells we encounter in space and time. Deleuze proposes to unite these two senses of the aesthetic so as to account for the very production of sensibility in a “distribution of the sensible”:
No wonder… that aesthetics should be divided into two irreducible domains: that of the theory of the sensible which captures only the real’s conformity with possible experience; and that of the theory of the beautiful, which deals with the reality of the real in so far as it is thought. Everything changes once we determine the conditions of real experience, which are not larger than the conditioned and which differ in kind from the categories: the two senses of the aesthetic become one, to the point where the being of the sensible reveals itself in the work of art, while at the same time the work of art appears as experimentation. (68)
Sensibility itself becomes a field of artistic creation and experimentation. Following Ranciere, such a thesis invites us to examine the distribution of the sensible in the social field, investigating what is visible and invisible in terms of public discourse, various social identities, and so on. These are all questions of social and political individuation. The question becomes one of how new individuations that depart from the police order might be strategized and produced. In the domain of epistemology and metaphysics, the question is no longer that of the ultimate nature of reality, but rather of the distribution of the sensible within which we find ourselves immersed.
In their attention to how scientific objects are produced or generated, the work of Stengers, Latour, Foucault, and Kuhn come to mind. Why is it, for example, that such and such a field of objectivity becomes visible at such and such a time? Here also the work of Kittler and Ong are especially relevant by virtue of their attentiveness to how new writing and communications technologies impact social individuation, allowing new possibilities of thought without determining what is thought. In all of these cases the question is one of the genesis of sensibility with its own immanent logos, not one of mere receptivity. Of special importance here are questions of the space and time of these fields of sensibility, and the forms of embodiment they produce along with their accompanying fields of objectivity. by larvalsubjects

Monday, January 07, 2008

“Emotions” are visceral before they are mental

Some modes of consciousness are more expansive (or, to the contrary, more sharply focused) than others; some are more clear and distinct than others; some are more bound up with logical precision, while others give freer reign to imaginative leaps and to insights that break away from our ingrained habits of association. But in Warren’s account, none of these modes seem to be modulated by different affective tones, and none of them seem to be pushed by any sort of desire, passion, or obsession. Affects and desires would seem to be, for Warren, nothing more than genetically determined programs inherited from our reptilian ancestors (and exaggerated in importance by the likes of Steven Pinker) which our consciousness largely allows us to transcend.
Another way to put this is to say that Warren writes as if we could separate the states (or formal structures) of attentiveness, awareness, relaxation, concern, focus, self-reflection, and so on, from the contents that inhabit these states or structures. This is more or less equivalent to the idea — common in old-style AI research — that we can separate syntactics from semantics, and simply ignore the latter. Such a separation has never worked out in practice: it has entirely failed in AI research and elsewhere. And we may well say that this separation is absurd and impossible in principle. Yet we make this kind of separation implicitly, and nearly all the time; it strikes us as almost axiomatic. We may well be conscious of “having” certain emotions; but we cannot help conceiving how we have these emotions as something entirely separate from the emotions themselves.
It may be that consciousness studies and affect studies are too different as approaches to the mind (or, as I’d rather say, to experience) to be integrated at all easily). Indeed, in this discussion I have simply elided the difference between “affect” and “emotion”: the terms are sometimes used more or less interchangeably, but I think any sort of coherent explanation requires a distinction between the two. Brian Massumi uses “affect” to refer to the pre-personal aspects (both physical and mental) of feelings, the ways that these forces form and impel us; he reserves “emotion” to designate feelings to the extent that we experience them as already-constituted conscious selves or subjects. By this account, affects are the grounds of conscious experience, even though they may not themselves be conscious. Crucial here is James’ sense of how what he calls “emotions” are visceral before they are mental: my stomach doesn’t start churning because I feel afraid; rather, I feel afraid because my stomach has started churning (as a pre-conscious reaction to some encounter with the outside world, or to some internally generated apprehension).
The affect is an overall neurological and bodily experience; the emotion is secondary, a result of my becoming-conscious of the affect, or focusing on it self-reflexively. This means that my affective or mental life is not centered upon consciousness; although it gives a different account of non-conscious mental life than either psychoanalysis (which sees it in terms of basic sexual drives) or cognitive theory (which sees non-conscious activity only as “computation”).

Multiculturalism and moral relativism promote an idealization of tribal life

Blind Faiths By AYAAN HIRSI ALI The New York Times: January 6, 2008
Enlightenment thinkers, preoccupied with both individual freedom and secular and limited government, argued that human reason is fallible. They understood that reason is more than just rational thought; it is also a process of trial and error, the ability to learn from past mistakes. The Enlightenment cannot be fully appreciated without a strong awareness of just how frail human reason is. That is why concepts like doubt and reflection are central to any form of decision-making based on reason.
Harris is pessimistic in a way that the Enlightenment thinkers were not. He takes a Darwinian view of the struggle between clashing cultures, criticizing the West for an ethos of selfishness, and he follows Hegel in asserting that where the interest of the individual collides with that of the state, it is the state that should prevail. This is why he attributes such strength to Islamic fanaticism. The collectivity of the umma elevates the communal interest above that of the individual believer. Each Muslim is a slave, first of God, then of the caliphate. Although Harris does not condone this extreme subversion of the self, still a note of admiration seems to creep into his descriptions of Islam’s fierce solidarity, its adherence to tradition and the willingness of individual Muslims to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the greater good.
In addition, Harris extols American exceptionalism together with Hegel as if there were no contradiction between the two. But what makes America unique, especially in contrast to Europe, is its resistance to the philosophy of Hegel with its concept of a unifying world spirit. It is the individual that matters most in the United States. And more generally, it is individuals who make cultures and who break them. Social and cultural evolution has always relied on individuals — to reform, persuade, cajole or force. Culture is formed by the collective agreement of individuals. At the same time, it is crucial that we not fall into the trap of assuming that the survival tactics of individuals living in tribal societies — like lying, hypocrisy, secrecy, violence, intimidation, and so forth — are in the interest of the modern individual or his culture.
I was not born in the West. I was raised with the code of Islam, and from birth I was indoctrinated into a tribal mind-set. Yet I have changed, I have adopted the values of the Enlightenment, and as a result I have to live with the rejection of my native clan as well as the Islamic tribe. Why have I done so? Because in a tribal society, life is cruel and terrible. And I am not alone. Muslims have been migrating to the West in droves for decades now. They are in search of a better life. Yet their tribal and cultural constraints have traveled with them. And the multiculturalism and moral relativism that reign in the West have accommodated this.
Harris is correct, I believe, that many Western leaders are terribly confused about the Islamic world. They are woefully uninformed and often unwilling to confront the tribal nature of Islam. The problem, however, is not too much reason but too little. Harris also fails to address the enemies of reason within the West: religion and the Romantic movement. It is out of rejection of religion that the Enlightenment emerged; Romanticism was a revolt against reason.
Both the Romantic movement and organized religion have contributed a great deal to the arts and to the spirituality of the Western mind, but they share a hostility to modernity. Moral and cultural relativism (and their popular manifestation, multiculturalism) are the hallmarks of the Romantics. To argue that reason is the mother of the current mess the West is in is to miss the major impact this movement has had, first in the West and perhaps even more profoundly outside the West, particularly in Muslim lands.
Thus, it is not reason that accommodates and encourages the persistent segregation and tribalism of immigrant Muslim populations in the West. It is Romanticism. Multiculturalism and moral relativism promote an idealization of tribal life and have shown themselves to be impervious to empirical criticism.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, is the author of “Infidel.” 8:47 AM 9:05 AM

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Who is the real God?

The problem is, how do you have a timeless and unalterable truth geared toward individuals? In reality, it's not a problem at all -- it's like asking how can you have a thing called "life," and yet, all these diverse species. Or how can consciousness exist with all these individuals walking around calling themselves "I." Who is the real I?
Likewise, who is the real God? The answer may surprise you. In fact, if it doesn't surprise you, it's probably the wrong answer. More on that later. But to say that God knows the number of hairs on your head is a way of saying that he values your uniqueness.
Now, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Bolton says what amounts to the same thing in his Keys of Gnosis: "Because of the presence of its immanent principle or 'divine spark,' the soul can thus align itself with forces and influences which share its true nature, or it can align itself with forces which are alien to it and which tend to make it more and more a part of a physical system in which individuality would ultimately be lost."
Precisely. The exertion of free will becomes relevant here, for "the less free the will is, the more it functions simply in reaction to outside forces with standard responses to standard stimuli and stimulations." This is the Big Mac person, whom it is so easy for Demogogocrats to control. In all of their policies and pronouncements, they are always speaking to this type of unthinking McDullard. Occasionally the MSM gets hip to the spell, but then they fall right back to sleep, since the platitudes of contemporary liberalism speak to them on a very deeply shallow level, no matter how much they admit it to themselves.
A free will is a will that doesn't react, but acts. I think we'll be getting into this more deeply later in the week, but this is the true meaning of "turning the other cheek." For example, if someone pulls a knife on you, it is perfectly acceptable to pull a gun on them, so long as the act is not "kind for kind" on an emotional or spiritual level. This is a spiritually perilous area, and one must "walk the razor's edge" to not fall into the trap of retaliation, even while administering disinterested cosmic justice, for if done in the wrong spirit, then the wrong will return to you. I mentioned this last year, in reference to the barbarous spirit in which Saddam was put to death, in contrast to the sober manner in which Americans do the necessary deed. Those folks who were whooping it up are asking for it, karmically speaking.