Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gould goes to make difference a fundamental ontological principle

Towards a New Transcendental Aesthetic by larvalsubjects

This has actually been a pet project of mine for a long time and is one of the key themes of my book, Difference and Givenness. In Difference and Repetition Deleuze calls for a new transcendental aesthetic that would be capable of overcoming the split between aesthetics as the doctrine of sensibility or what can be sensed and aesthetics as the theory of artistic production. The first form of aesthetics might be traced back to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason where the transcendental aesthetic refers to the a priori forms of sensibility or intuition defining, as it were, the frame within which any object must be encountered or experienced. [...]

When Deleuze declares that we must reunite the two sundered halves of the aesthetic– the aesthetics as a theory of sensibility and the aesthetic as a theory of art –he is declaring that we must see sensibility as the result of a sort of artistic production wherein what can be sensed is the result of a process, a creation, in which a form (the forms of time and space) is not simply being imposed on objects, but rather in which there is a dynamic interplay through which forms of sensibility are produced or generated. This is the secret of the role played by Deleuze’s many forays into painting, music, and literature. What interests Deleuze in art is not so much the interpretation of works of arts, but rather the analysis of how different artists literally created new forms of sensibility. Deleuze attributes Darwin with a third Copernican revolution.

  • With Copernicus we get the first Copernican revolution in which man and the earth are dethroned from being at the center of the universe.
  • With Kant we get a strange second Copernican revolution– a revolution that arguably perverts the core significance and meaning of Copernicus’ revolution –where mind and the human are placed at the center.
  • Finally, with Darwin we get a third Copernican revolution where individual difference makes all the difference.

For Darwin, individual differences are no longer mere accidents with respect to species-difference, such that these individual differences are negligible differences that have no bearing on true knowledge in the form of a knowledge of the species or essence. Rather, the revolution effected by Darwin is one in which individual difference is the engine of speciation. Everything is suddenly turned upside down. For where before it was species-difference that was most important and individual difference that was subordinated to species difference, it is now individual difference that is the real motor of evolution and species-difference is merely a statistical effect or approximation. In the Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Gould actually goes so far as to make difference a fundamental ontological principle, treating variation as a fundamental feature of being. Dennett does something similar in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.

The upshot of all this is that the Darwinian revolution is not simply a transformation of the role played by individual and free floating differences, but is also a transformation of any sort of Kantianism. Kant envisions form of sensibility girded in by the pure a priori forms of time and space imposed by mind on beings. However, with Darwin we get a proliferation of forms of sensibility. Sensibility truly becomes artistic and creative, rather than being merely a form of receptivity or the framework of what can be sensed.

We get bat sensibility, aardvark sensibility, dog sensibility, whale sensibility, wasp sensibility, hummingbird sensibility, etc., etc. All of these forms of sensibility encounter very different worlds such that we cannot say what world is the true world. In this respect, there would be a way in which these sensibilities create a world or grasp the world in a particular way. Deleuze thus sees a continuum between the biological production of sensibility in processes of speciation and the artistic production of sensibility carried out by the writer, painter, director, or musician. What we get are the production of different rhythms of time and space through which the agent encounters the world.

However, here’s the rub. The sensibility produced is not the result of the agent as in the case of Kant with mind imposing the forms of sensibility on the world. Readers of Deleuze will be familiar with concepts such as the pre-individual, the transcendental field, the pre-personal, etc. I am not sure how closely Deleuze had read Whitehead. He mentions him a couple of times in Difference and Repetition, and also devotes a chapter to his thought in The Fold. However, it seems to me that Deleuze’s thought here shares close affinities to Whitehead’s arguments against correlationism.

Where Kant argues that mathematics is possible because mind imposes a priori forms of sensibility on the world, Whitehead argues that the subject is not an origin, a ground, that then imposes form on the world, but is rather a superject, product, or result of a dynamic interplay with the world. If something like a mathematics where thought applies to objects in the world is possible, this is not because the mind imposes forms of intuition on the world, but because the “superject” develops within a world. Or at least this seems to be Whitehead’s argument insofar as I understand it.

In Deleuze’s version, what we get is a play of pre-personal singularities, points of density, points of condensation, that preside over the becoming of actualities without the final result being pre-determined. Along these lines, an artistic production wouldn’t be a product of an artists mind then imposed on matter (say oil paints or signifiers) functioning as passive stuff in need of formatting. No, matter is already formatted, matter already contains singularities. Rather, an artistic production would be the product of an assemblage of singularities involving the artist, the material, the world, society, and much else beside. It would then be the navigation or negotiation of these constellations of singularities that would account for the creation of something new in the world. Posted by larvalsubjects under Affect, Assemblages, Constellation, Darwin, Deleuze, Difference, Epistemology, Individuation, Multiplicity, Object-Oriented Philosophy, Ontic, Ontology, Power, Whitehead

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