When silence takes over
or what’s left of a scene
one decides to walk away from,
it’s hard to tell if it is the mountain
or the table that leaves the other wondering,
“We’re beaten by the hands.”
Another of Sophie’s.
There’s a point where she said in the interview, “Non-smokers are the new smokers.” Well, the whole interview is about the idea–“Irony is a difficult thing to make.” That’s much is true, practically, to any idea, I guess. Because an idea is a difficult thing to make, one waves it away. To wave an idea away engenders culture. In a way culture is an outcome of a decision to cease thinking. Where thinking begins, culture loses its habit. No culture ever sustains itself without interruption. But caught in this predicament, it also commands that we cede thinking to aleatory encounters. But I’m going off on a tangent already. Here is Sophie:
Walter Benjamin, echoing Novalis, argues that ‘perceptibility is a certain kind of attentiveness.’ But faced with a work of art, for instance, to what can one be attentive to? Benjamin argues that one can only be attentive to the aura that a work of art communicates, that is, communicable as a certain function of distance which lends a work of art its symbolic authority. It is in this light that philosophy assumes the task of interpreting the distance as communicable, for instance, through the analysis of the function of language that an art-form instantiates through images. Philosophy represents this distance in terms of reducing images to concepts whose function is to make things of past present.
This familiar role of philosophy presupposes that things do not communicate to one another.
Benjamin argues that things insofar as they belong to a material community communicate to one another by virtue of their own mimetic function, creating similarities in an extended network of things whose language is no less magical in its essence, hence, non-conceptual. When philosophy assumes the task of reducing images, or the communicability of things themselves, to concepts (understood as the functionality of communication in terms of signs or redactional functions of images), there philosophy ignores the link between the human body and the things themselves, both as situated entities within an interactive community creating nonsensuous or distorted similarities (their version of the mimetic function). The human body is an integral member of the material community. In short, it has never belonged to humanity.
In asserting its familiar role, philosophy abducts the human body from the extended network of things. In the wake of this process of reduction we are left with the concept of humanity as the proverbial brain in the vat.
Note: Abstract of my paper presentation for a philosophical conference in the Visayas region (PHAVISMINDA) to be held in Iloilo City, Philippines, on May 21-23, 2015.
In his discussion of Francis Bacon, Deleuze sets up the image of the contour as a sticking point to catastrophe threatening to submerge the whole or a landscape. The goal is to save the contour by creating a space for catastrophe to settle in, as in Bacon’s catastrophe-painting where ‘stubborn geologic lines’ are rather enabled to bring out their readiness to embrace chaos, albeit, in a controlled space such as a painting. In Schelling’s case, these geologic lines would qualify as the very ‘will of the deep,’ an ‘expression of geological potencies in practical intelligence.’ Yet this somehow inverts the function of contour in Deleuze: instead of abstract expressionism, the will of the deep signifies the transcendentalism of nature.
Nonetheless, both accounts of catastrophe may actually complement one another. If the Deleuzian contour is the place of double exchange between the limit and the refiguration of the limit to absorb catastrophe, the Schellingian abyss points to a veritable space of freedom even as the ground (or earth) is embracing the very ungrounding of the will of the deep threatening to unground freedom at a most critical stage. But while the stage is yet to absorb the full extent of geological catastrophe, contours can serve as moving images of the abyss of freedom in the sense that they problematize the relation of freedom to the ground of nature, supposedly contracting to species-extinction, in the same manner
action is problematized (in Deleuze) in a moving image such as the cinema. We can take the cinema to mean the moving image of freedom threatened by the ungrounding of the will itself facing extinction.
In the background of rapid geological transformation modern urban cities are aggressively simulating planetary change in ways that attempt to either refract or absorb or condense into new planes of compositions various conjunctive techniques to bear the cost of mutation. Here, conjunctive techniques are meant to emphasize what Deleuze argued about lines of continuity in the midst of a breaking point, such as a planetary mutation, a tectonic threat, or a natural disaster. Deleuze said about saving the contour in order to avoid being dragged by chaos to suicidal collapse. This may ideally translate into urban planning and management that offer exits to creation that planetary change threatens to block out by erasing traces of human encounters and the lineaments that make up a distinct cartography of a people.
But contours can be negated by underground pressures. What may suffice as bearing the cost of planetary change in this encounter with the abysmal is a redrawing of the city, not in the sense of repeating the anthropological gesture of exiting into a new plane of composition, from one surface to another, but rather of grounding the city deeply into the earth. Barring a worst case scenario, planetary change may recompose the city into hibernatory caves. This much is portrayed by Gabriel Tarde’s Underground Man, a novel of fortunate catastrophe which subtly agrees with a Deleuzian line of flight in which the goal is to save the contour, in the wake of the death of the sun, which roughly translates into a new plane of composition in the cave. By grounding the city deep into the earth, nonetheless, nature is recomposed from out of solar death into an encounter with the geological core, as Ben Woodard describes in On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy, not to reheat the planet but to simulate the death of the city.
Between these techniques of adaptation lies the present city. Does it need recomposition or simulation of its demise? This is not to exclude the question whether the outer reaches have redemptive potentials that far outweigh the urban question—contour or abysmal?
In his essay “Why the rush to declare the anthropocene,” James Westcott writes (full essay here): “Copernicus displaced humans from the center of the universe: now we’re trying to put them back.”
Obviously, there is more in this pronouncement; among others, it is essential that we locate this center: universe for astronomy or physics; text for linguistics; human culture for anthropology; name your ‘center’.
Our time is no longer friendly to Freud but his concept of condensation may perhaps help us re-locate this center, far beyond what science has offered so far. (In this light, the function of Freud I guess is the single greatest strength of Zizek’s Lacanian return to his works, especially, the death drive. This is not however an endorsement of Zizek’s Hegelian twist wedded onto the return to the drive). In fact there is already decentering at play in the unconscious. But the unconscious is a speculative concept: the decentering produces a trace of a fundamental operation whose positivity nonetheless cannot be pinned down as a measurable content, like a golden spike, for instance (in the case of proving the Holocene. See full essay of J. Westcott).
By identifying the unconscious as this liquid trace, we are presented rather with a contingent entity that is not subject to verification (unlike if it is scientific). But it fulfills a certain expectation—if it is a scientifically unverifiable entity, it lends itself to the field of human perception, presumably, a field where the most contingent is allowed to function AS IF it contains, in the same language in which, for instance, it is ever-present in Mallarmé’s celebration of contingency, the VIRGIN CLUE. This is where arguably the Freudian concept of condensation is helpful. Take note also that the virgin clue, the as if clue is as contingent as any scientific clue (more on this later).
In the process of identifying it (as an effect of displacement), the virgin clue condenses into a trace that we can point at, such as something that is either present or absent, or perhaps a play between the two. The effect of displacement is carried over to the next—what condenses is actually already an effect, removed from the object (the effect of the object effectively assumes the place of the object) as if it lost its positivity. One may liken it to the Heideggerian draft to which we may point as if we are pointing to that which withdraws. That which withdraws is the Human, according to Heidegger. The human in this sense may also be seen (or not seen, a way of seeing obliquely) as a condensed clue of something displaced out of an anterior clue, a hominid, then a non-human, then an immanent line, then a blob, then an altogether unintelligible ‘as if’ for knowledge to pursue retroactively. It is of interest to note that the as if clue is always already taken out of a certain ecology, a swarm which may even refuse to allow a clue to isolate itself; hence, the conjectural nature of any clue. (Science would prefer to call an isolated clue as an effect of fine-tuning. This topic of ‘fine-tuning’ is the subject of another wonderful essay that appeared in Aeon magazine. See here).
To digress a bit more, the Heideggerian withdrawal of the Human is the ‘as if’ character of the transitional nature of Man. Heidegger preferred that this transition would produce Da-sein. As a virgin ‘as if’ clue, the ‘draft’ lends itself to human perception—the field where philosophy, through its speculation, can challenge science (which, according to Heidegger, ‘does not think’). It is well to emphasize here that if science does not think, it can only mean for Heidegger that it does not really think the clue. The most decisive clue for him is rather the transitional or ephemeral character of the ontological difference.
Enter Meillassoux. I am not going to discuss in detail what he had labored to explain in his book AFTER FINITUDE (for some this rekindling of Meillassoux may raise eyebrows).* Meillassoux argued that the Copernican revolution of Kant (which emboldened the phenomenological tradition that takes perception to be the ‘clue’) simply restates the speculative flavour of the Ptolemaic paradigm, thereby one can question how radical the supposed break this revolution had really initiated. Or, as it might perforce indicate, are we actually witnessing the revenge of Ptolemy? (This ‘revenge’, a disaster in its own right, can be a candidate for a clue to the anthropocene).
This contradiction (arguably, between the epistemic effects of the Copernican and Ptolemaic paradigms, which is rather settled in Kuhn: the effective winner is of course Copernicus) is not without a conflict of media narratives. I am referring to the ‘medium’ as what suffices as a clue for both science and philosophy. For science, it is verifiable. For philosophy, it is subjective in terms of deflationary movement or descent of being into the shadow of something still unknown to it. For lack of a better term, let us assign it the name experience (not in the empirical sense).
But that is the clue—at least for phenomenology (its similarity to the ludic provocation of postmodern and postructuralist thinking is not unrelated at all)—that is to say, the virginal AS IF. We have the landscape of Cezanne as an example of experiencing the landscape itself without mediation of knowledge; or the water lilies of Monet; but also, the subconscious alterations of consciousness in Artaud’s body without organs, the messianic clue of Benjamin, the ephemeral punctum of Barthes, the Deleuzian virtuality, etc. (the sequencing is not necessarily in historical order)—all of which are not verifiable as detached clues, that is, detached from the human who experiences these alterations. Kant would have said otherwise that experience is already transcendental, meaning it is empirically so in terms of the a priori status of intuitions, namely, time and space immanent to consciousness without which experience would not be experience.
And yet within philosophy, this clue is not a single enjoining term. Starting with the Copernican revolution in philosophy exemplified by Kant (an example of science penetrating the analytic curiosity of philosophy), the clue was wasted, if Meillassoux is to be believed. The clue in the end simply revived the spirit of Ptolemaic centering. In short: the universe was decentered but displaced onto the subject as the new center (providing impetus for Kant to locate the center in morals which he believed would settle the problem of free will vis-à-vis determinism).
The heliocentric model takes the human as a medium, albeit an active, reflexive one. In contrast, the Ptolemaic model takes the medium, the human subject, as an instrument of the divine. More so, in the Copernican, the subject is the medium that consciously interferes in the narrative, yet on many occasions hesitant to proclaim its radical immanence, which perhaps is the meaning of consciousness: always a victim of an apprehensional process which it cannot fully control, thus lending itself entirely serviceable to what Laruelle would describe as decisionality, not without its hallucinatory tendencies.**
To push a bit more, is not the Copernican recentering also a validation of the theological support to Ptolemy’s rather unstated project, that is, to interfere in the narrative of the cosmos, rather inspired by some divine sanctions, except that in the Ptolemaic the interference is supposed to be not as reflexive [the medium is simply an instrument] as the Copernican [where the medium is a sign whose arbitrariness, in the Saussurean sense, points to the metaphysical capacity of the human subject to appropriate language] in terms of conscious invention of a model that works as if it is how reality behaves independently of the model? It may be well to emphasize that Copernicus believed that his model of the cosmos is a necessary fiction. His belief may be restated into a conscious belief, a conscious interference in the manner of a hypothesis but which could only go as far as saving the appearance of a divine order (the model wedded onto a theological inspiration). Suffice it to say that this re-centering is both a displacement and a condensation. Overall, at work here in Freudian terms are the processes of the unconscious behind the ‘media narrative’ or the cosmic model of the Copernican (a linguistic model for all intents and purposes as Morton argued [cited by Westcott in his essay]).
All these narratives (Copernican and Ptolemaic) fulfill certain expectations—the expectation that narratives or models of presentation, the mediate representing of presencing supposed to be immediate in essence, cannot be transparent—each must contain in itself the very kernel of its refigurations (the likeness to Ricoeur’s concept of refiguration is accidentally broached upon here) which build themselves on the supposition that the original cannot do anything more than to hold something back. In the Ptolemaic, what is withheld is the unconscious impulse (a trace) of interference of the medium that it valued for its relationship to the divine. In the Copernican, what is withheld is the impulse of interference of the medium that it valued for its relationship to functions or necessary fictions (what save the appearance). The common ‘unconscious’ of the two is what contemporary scholars would define as the ecology of thinking (the impulse of Guattari, despite his known anti-Oedipal outburst, resonates in this Freudian conception) which predisposed these alterations of the media that each medium (a cognizable object or clue) proposed. (I am more inclined however at this point to recast it in the manner of Benjamin whose appropriation of Freud is well known: a “nonsensuous archive” where the ‘nonsensuous’ is understood not in its metaphysical or idealist sense, but rather in the simple sense of ‘distorted simile’, say, between two things that mimic each other creating a distortion, indicating a crisis on the way). Take note: there is no way each medium could have taken a thoroughly objective standpoint, or an external position from which it can see the entire ecology. It can only assume it has the actual optics necessary to see things in this magnitude.
The human capacity to interfere is already history. What we would like to underscore, apropos of the anthropocene debate, is to what degree this interference has reached the threshold where the human is now actively interfering in the semiotic function of evidence distinct to geological science. But there are two clues to the human; or rather, human-clues: the human as the phenomenological clue, the as if clue, and the human as a reflexive clue. (We underscored previously that these two clues are both contingent, not to mention predisposed to the kind of alterations they propose, without saying that this predisposition is deterministic). Arguably, in light of the debate over the exact status of the anthropocene, the question becomes which clue can qualify as a valid sign for our age, or which is more likely to be taken as interfering in the most intense manner possible with the scientific process of verification. But this will have certain implications.
If it is the phenomenological as if that qualifies as a clue, we may assume it is already taken away from the human by science in the sense that it is now in its possession. Science explains away another clue in order to pinpoint this clue–the phenomenological human–as the perpetrator of the anthropocene. In a word: the integrity of subjective experience, which used to be the defining moment of will to power, has then ceased to be an index of the human at the same time that this loss is wrecking havoc in its death throes. (Nietzsche otherwise defined this as nihilism resulting from scientific or theoretic rationality). The question that comes next is–can the reflexive enterprise of science which exposes this hallucination of free will give in to what is then reduced to, at least until it is decided to be scientific, a quasi-phenomenological as if clue (the anthropocene possesses this characteristic)? In this sense the anthropocene satisfies the ‘clue’ as a crisis on the way (in the Benjaminian sense).
The thing is there can never be an exact agreement of what the human is. (The cave paintings of Neanderthals can belie, for instance, the humanistic claim that artistic pursuit is unique only to our species). There can only be a performative agreement of what constitutes the human, which does not mean that each clue is as valid as the next one. It is in this context that a functional definition is summoned to universalize what in the first instance is simply an accidental claim, that is, accidental to being. And yet this accidentality is not a thing to be ignored for in the end it has sedimented into history that affects all of us. Science is one such and rather successful sedimentation.
“Everything is known or knowable in the anthropocene, except the impulses that got us here and where to go next as a species.”
The real debate is that there is an increasingly aggressive impulse (a claim by the proponents of the anthropocene to replace the Holocene). This impulse aggressively states that the ecology of things is resulting in a crisis of functionality—the human. If we missed the argument so far: are we still the same human today? The idea is that the ecology of things is drastically changing that it is only logical to assume that the human is also altering itself. Whether it is correct to say that this human alteration through the degree of its interference in the medium (in the sense we have discussed so far) is superseding the traditional function of nature (another example of a media narrative) will determine the outcome of the anthropocene debate.
It pays to note here that the Holocene Man was a ‘maker’ (homo faber) like us. The degree of difference is however obvious–we have the kind of technology that interferes in the media narrative in an invasive manner never been seen in the history of humankind in contrast to the simplicity of Holocene there-ness, dominated by the ecology rather than, as the anthropocene proponents suggest, overpowering it (which of course will have collateral damage–the human species as the collateral itself). One may be surprised to find out that this Holocene there-ness may be the exact condition of being sufficient to Heidegger’s (rather conservative) Dasein. On hindsight, Heidegger proposed a transition from human to Dasein. Is he already suggesting that we have understood the point wrongly because the only real way forward is backward? And if science is suggesting a way forward, does it amplify Heidegger’s charge that science does not think? (This may be up to another post).
To conclude, albeit, tentatively, we can agree with Westcott’s argument that what matters is the impulse, if only the emphasis on ‘impulse’ can describe the anthropocenic. The anthropocene is the return arrival in the land of clues, and this ‘land’ is shaking, literally. One returns to the virginal clue before everything else becomes clueless. But one returns to the clue with several other clues (a democracy of clues, perhaps, this time parodying a Latourian proposition that may perhaps be already dated) allowing themselves (phenomenological and reflexive scientific clues) to be organized under a tentative clue—AS IF.
And yet, this clue has to be presupposed this time, and with Barthes here in mind, as having no longer history, or biography, gender or psychology (thus, the as if ceases to be exclusively phenomenological), if not on the way to becoming these absentee terms. The latter aspect points to the uncanny similarities between Barthes’ and Deleuze’s positions, perhaps, a distorted one, which, as any distorted simile, indicates a crisis on the way. But also perhaps more relevant, and to caricature Deleuze: save the clue, nothing is more important. (This can be treated as such–as saving the clue–in the background of condensation where any clue can stand for several associations in which no single association is privileged. But already this is a crisis: Deleuze is averse to Freudianism). Deleuze actually said—save the contour. But the contour can always be negated by underground pressures. The earth is shaking which releases rather a Schellingian clue, the abysmal.
* Part of my decision to rekindle this interest in Meillassoux is my excitement over his new book ‘Science Fiction and Extro-science Fiction’ which I hope I can have time to review in this blog.
** Laruelle’s books ‘Introduction to Non-Marxism’ and ‘General Theory of Victims’ that I have ordered online have yet to arrive, so, besides the Meillassoux book I mentioned, these will certainly demand of me to return to their earlier works, perhaps, for some clues [the perennial uses of clues!]
Each of us has a cave to hide in, otherwise a cave we hide from others. I once had my own; it refused to go until recently.
Rilke reminds me of its insistent character, a simile that echoes an incantation—the likeness of ‘words’ to ‘summer days’, each scarcely containing itself, like a ‘rose-interior,’ like a cave that “[overflows] and [streams] into the days … until all of summer becomes a room, a room within a dream.”
I was sinking in the shallow waters of the marine sanctuary; my feet were touching the tip of my memory; the mangroves were quietly kneeling at their roots, as the silent tide, dearest to a night like this, was starting to mingle around them.
The moon is muted on the far side; on the hither side, a low tide is brainwashing the coral reefs, steady and persevering, in exchange for a night without sin, long enough before the light reclaims its place, before all the little memories bear the cost of a slow, gentle death.
 Rainier Maria Rilke, “Rose-Interior,” in New Poems (1908): The Other Part. A Bilingual Edition, trans. Edward Snow (New York: North Point Press, 1987), 169.
See Steven Shaviro, my post on acceleration, and #ACCELERATE READER
Thanks to Nick Land!
Where to begin with: always a set of parameters.
One must lose a language to be able to write.
In his short “Lesson in Writing” (A Barthes Reader), Barthes employs two correlations crucial to understanding the text, namely,
1) the correlation between Bunraku and Brecht, all instantiated by the effect of distancing:
….on the one hand, Bunraku plays up the tension between gesture and voice: the distance is maintained to allow for what is untranslatable in discursive language;
….on the other hand, Brecht’s alienation effect, the ‘Verfremdungseffekt’: unlike the popular drama, the overall performance does not create the effect of holding the audience in trance (in Derrida, what qualifies as de-effectuation of illusion through the effect of writing [more on this later]) at the same time that it also creates, in a somewhat similar gesture by Artaud, the conditions of producing the effect of something more elemental than conscious language (the subconscious for Artaud but in Brecht would amount to making the audience emotionally involved in the performance [emotions are opposite complements of finished or consummated concepts]), that is, in the act of ‘Gest’ (a technique of Verfremdungseffekt), or ‘gesture with attitude’; and,
2) the correlation between speech and writing which, at least, in the Barthes’ text, is employed to bring out the conditions of possibility of an unusual mutation—as he expresses more clearly in another text (The Empire of Signs): a “revolution in the propriety of symbolic systems” (3).
In all these correlations, what is consistently held problematic is the notion of totality, and although Barthes (and Brecht as well) proceeds to attack it in terms of its constitutive effect on the formulation of the spectacle in the language of dramaturgy, the illusory goal of drama to achieve closure in terms of the synthesis of all elements involved in the performance, from the characters, setting, to lighting, etc., creating the overall impression of a unified plot or emplotment (in Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’, the poetic function), its broader social and political significance is salient in his criticism of emplotment (along Brechtian lines). The poetic function of Aristotle is realizable not only in theatre but also, with the greatest effect, in the modern consummate state of social organization and compossibility.
To set our parameters in motion, permit me at this point to bring Derrida’s critique of phonologism (logocentrism by extension) to our discussion.
What in many ways complements Barthes’ critique of a certain notion of greediness (about which we will discuss later), Derrida’s critique of phonologism exposes how, in a seemingly democratic gesture on the part of the signifier-voice, the phonic signifier creates an illusion of truth (Of Grammatology, 20). The signifier achieves this end by effacing itself in order to make itself transparent; in the process it affords the listener immediate access to the signified. The perennial model is the Socratic effect, the effect of parrhesia, truth-speaking, in a word: the Socrates who did not write.
Crucial here is the effect of self-effacement of the phonic signifier. It effaces itself as signifier, as sound which in turn creates a mental image or concept. Seemingly, a concept is a mute speech (recall a similar argument in Plato about orphan words), devoid of sound. Truth becomes speechless, blind to sound, if that can be said at all.
This blindness is a crucial indicator of truth—it is transparent as nonsensuous. Transparency supposes the absence of an outsider, an onlooker, hence, its absence as the absolute limit of perception. If the phonic signifier has emptied itself of everything it possessed, it follows from this assumption that a feedback loop is unnecessary (the signifier has become a non-reference—irretrievable as sound vanishes into air). All we have is blindness, which, among others, does not discriminate, otherwise an essential function of writing in terms of ‘spacing’ that discriminates by producing an infraction in the non-space of the phonic, differance.
In phonic signification, the absence of space also creates the illusion that there are no gaps between speeches, words or objects (not a criticism of Benjamin; Derrida shares a lot with this predecessor of his, but this is another matter), or between concepts, creating the ultimate illusion of unmediated presence. In this context, Derrida critiques Saussurean linguistics in which the arbitrariness of the relation between signifier and signified is only possible in a situation where one blindly sees truth (seeing truth is sheer blindness) but truth in relation to what is no longer accessible (the self-effaced signifier); doubtless, metaphysical by all means: truth is inaccessible. More than anything, it appeals to a theological truth, the godding of truth, the proposition of revelation viewed from the standpoint of dogma and officialdom, vis-à-vis the act of interpretation, criticism, or, better, in Barthesian language, a ‘lover’s discourse’.
Here discourse acquires a different connotation from that of the Greek conception of logos as unmediated, unified presence.
“To expend without end in sight, without a crisis; to practice a relation without orgasm” (A Lover’s Discourse, 73).
In other words, I will take one more detour. Barthes is doubtless the inspiration.
He takes discourse to mean ‘dis-cursus’ or—
“[Originally] the action of running here and there, comings and goings, measures taken, ‘plots and plan’: the lover, in fact, cannot keep his mind from racing, taking new measures and plotting against himself. His discourse exists only in the outburst of language, which occur at the whim of trivial, of aleatory circumstances” (A Lover’s Discourse, 3).
Discourse from the lover’s position and writing are analogous. In this analogous relation, there is no self-effacement like the phonic signifier pouring out into another to the point of exhaustion, the kind of orgasm typical of the Western injunction to exhaust oneself to achieve the unity of categories (there, one can see truth in its finished form, yet as blind seeing, one sees pornography instead). But there is a kind of orgasm much preferred by lovers in the sense of dis-cursus, that is, without the penetration typical of the aggression of sex that pornography represents:
“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words…. (language experiences orgasm upon touching itself)” (Ibid., 73).
In a chapter on “Dedication,” notice how Barthes positions each (discourse and writing) in a relation steeped in creative tension, roughly, what ‘language’ is, much like a situation in which lovers demand to each other the unforgivable, to be the lover and the beloved at the same time, which effectively dissolves each individual position as a lover, on the side of the lover, and as a beloved, on the side of the beloved: the redundancy is already pathetic at this point, but that is the point:
“We often notice that a writing subject does not have his writing ‘in his own image’: if you love me ‘for myself’ you do not love me for my writing (and I suffer from it). Doubtless, loving simultaneously two signifiers in the same body is too much! It doesn’t happen every day—and if it should happen, by some exception, that is Coincidence, the Sovereign Good)” (Ibid., 79).
The coincidence, this sovereign Good is language itself. But it gets even better.
Good is neither a positive term nor a negative term, rather a nominal image-figure. In short: it is always against itself.
Barthes would tell us, on the one hand, that the lover can be “greedy for coincidence … from which all accounts are banished” (Ibid., 187)
Even supposing, on the other hand, one has to be greedy. It is necessary to ask the lover “Why do you only love me a little?” “How do you manage to love a little?” Here the lover “[lives] under the regime of too much and not enough,” or the effect of the regime of blindness, seeing nothing to discriminate the little from enough; in other words, blindness is not blind enough. Yet it is necessary to be greedy in this sense in order to become, that is, in no time, tired of coincidences, of loving two signifiers, of body and writing, the unforgivable wish to occupy the site of language itself, in order, at last, to love the love for coincidence, which means to ask the question without crisis, perhaps, the only true question:
“Why don’t you tell me that you love me?” (Ibid.)
In Derridean fashion, this paradox without a crisis, without the illusion of being the lover and the beloved at the same time, that is, from the once elusive standpoint of greediness for coincidence, is analogous to the function of writing, which—
“Does not easily lend itself to this illusion or this lure: it wears its artificial status on its face … [It] does not give the impression of transparency…” (Sean Gaston, Reading Derrida’s Of Grammatology,” 114).
This is what the lover mourns; the loss of illusion as it undergoes an unusual, in fact, unwelcome transversal, a new image-figure; one that is not greedy enough. Isn’t a lover naturally greedy by the nature of her desire? And yet: “Isn’t the most sensitive point of this mourning,” Barthes argues, “the fact that I must lose a language—the amorous language?”
In a word, the effect of writing: “No more ‘I love you’s’” (A Lover’s Discourse, 107).
“Writing is after all, in its way, a satori (spiritual illumination): satori (the Zen occurrence) is a more or less powerful (though in no way formal) seism which causes knowledge, or the subject, to vacillate: it creates an emptiness of language. And it is also an emptiness of language which constitutes writing…” (Barthes, Empire of Signs, 4; underscoring mine)
But if one must lose a language to be able to write, it is pertinent to ask, what is a language? Barthes makes his own suggestions: a language is both a site and a regime (A Lover’s Discourse, 187). As a site, it is where “quantities are no longer perceived” and “from which all accounts are banished” (Ibid.) Accounts, quantities are of the familiar kind: measurable units, objectifiable values, signifieds into which signifiers empty themselves. Hence, a language, or any effect of writing is not also a signifier as it has become, in self-emptying, the exhausted. Devoid of desire/dis-cursus, unable to race against itself, it is the effect, the common effect, of stupid consummation, literal, non-pictorial (because the attempt is to penetrate the thing-in-itself): speculative orgasm. As a regime, it is caught in the pathetic pendulum of “too much and not enough,” desire entrapped in the illusion of becoming ‘it’, the enviable orgasm, a steady vitality—to become ‘it’ once and for all, to become the loss itself, to become the site in which loss occurs as an event, to see oneself in this self-emptying whose model is Narcissus; in Freudian idiom, the primal fantasy.
In all these variants of language, a language is the effect of making a loss; in Brechtian language—making strange, distance, alienation, Verfremdungseffekt.
A note of caution: language is not immediately perceived as either a site or a regime. One has to be a lover.
One perceives it as loss only as an outcome of writing. Writing is thus a Verfremdungseffekt, if that can be said of all writing, which attempts to make that loss through distancing; racing [dis-cursus] against the very loss as one loses a language to be able to write this loss under erasure (in Derridean fashion), making oneself estranged from the object of primal fantasy as one becomes it in as alienated manner as possible; in a similar Artaudian fashion, to become a body without organs.
Yet, in a manner more akin to the Brechtian formula, the Bunraku (here, the correlation is in effect) effectuates this alienation in a more perverse manner. There is a perverse relation to fantasy; more Freudian than Freud, that is, to exhibit this loss, self-emptiness—to exhibit language without crisis which makes us not want pornography (it isn’t pornographic enough). Insofar as Bunraku lets the audience see how the act of making strange, distance, and alienation cutting through the surface of writing (which is losing a language; performance is losing a language in a more direct sense), the Japanese art is perverse enough, but not pornographic. Insofar as it is gestural, Bunraku is, in Barthesian language, a skin; there is no appeal to depth and profundity, all the more, nothing to be ashamed of (it is in this sense that pornography, despite itself, still hides something in the same language in which it appeals to the dark, fatty, and if you will, unctuous deep). In a brief note, Barthes says something of Bunraku’s perversity as opposed to Western art (which is the model of pornography in terms of its appeal to depth and profundity), this time exposing how Oriental art, for instance, as instantiated in Bunraku’s characters, mostly transvestite,
“Does not copy the Woman but signifies her; not bogged down with the model but is detached from its signified. Femininity is presented to read, not to see; translation, not transgression…” (Empire of Signs, 53)
Translation is key to Bunraku, but it is a kind of translation from skin to skin, toe to toe, body to body, without appeal to internal organs (Artaud’s body without organs, or organs as invested truth values). As opposed to the transgressive, ejaculatory self-emptying act of phonologism, Bunraku translates losses, signifiers without signifieds to pour into. Bunraku writes loss under erasure, the signifier without crisis—loving two signifiers simultaneously (man and woman in transvestite) is unproblematic—the Sovereign Good.
Translation in the sense of writing the signifiers without crisis amounts in Bunraku to giving the phonic signifier its voice in gesture, enough to pre-empt it from becoming a finished concept, an orgasm. In opposition to that, Barthes celebrates, as instantiated in Bunraku, a kind of coitus reservatus (A Lover’s Discourse, 73).
“[What] the voice ultimately externalizes is not what it carries … but itself, its own prostitution; the signifier cunningly does nothing but turn itself inside out, like a glove” (Empire of Signs., 49).
One can go on, and on.
But like the lover in Barthes:
“I have no language left at all” (A Lover’s Discourse, 89).
If speech is not about exposing its mortality, no speech is possible. Mortality is the key to a freer distribution and circulation of speeches. ‘Mortality’ is the condition of possibility of speech, in a word: the ‘immanence’ of language. In its entire sense, language is resistant to closure or its culmination in transcendent language where language falls like the proverbial Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel is the figure of language falling into a state of paralysis, a failure to communicate as it aims to close the gap between speeches.
The Tower fell because speeches are resistant to totalization and technical mastery. In this light, language must remain unfinished, that speeches must be interrupted to avert the ultimate destruction. Interruption is essential to avoid an otherwise preventable disaster.
Where interruption is essential to the liveliness of speeches or their resistance to closure, ‘translation’ meanwhile secures this interruptive dynamics in terms of, as Benjamin writes, “[refraining] from wanting to communicate something.” Insofar as it is also resistant to closure as a continuing work of speech, translation “has already relieved the translator and his translation of the effort of assembling and expressing what is to be conveyed” (Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn [New York: Schocken Books, 2007], 78). We may find this counter-factual claim of translation similar to the form of Adamic naming that Benjamin explores in “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man.” In Adamic language, it is assumed that language immediately communicates a ‘spiritual’ content without discursive mediation.
Benjamin allowed himself to explore this non-discursive dimension of Adamic naming on the presupposition that there is no ontological coincidence between essence and content, or between concept and essence. The ‘reflexive’ dimension of communicating an inherent meaning behind any object is here rejected in favor of communicative participation within already ‘situated’ entities or speech givens that can be directly apprehended, a kind of communicative ‘affordance’ that precedes the speaker, actor or translator, writer, poet, etc. In this sense, Adam is not alone; besides Eve, there was the environment, the ‘material community’ that Benjamin also described to be “capable of communicating to one another” as a community, in a word: “the magic of matter” (Walter Benjamin, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott [New York: Schoken Books, 1986], 321).
We mean the reflexive dimension as the familiar Cartesian subject that arrogates the sovereign terms of translation, culminating in what we previously called the closure of gaps between speeches. But then, translation presupposes of a community of speakers who themselves resist closure on behalf of speech or language. It is in this sense that translation is also a way to interrupt speeches insofar as it sustains the integrity of language as unfinished, refractory to reflexive claims, yet accommodating to spiritual, but also material, communities.
The site of this transposition, Ranciere states, is the “dividing line that has been the object of [his] constant study” (The Philosopher and His Poor, 225) between a particular distribution of the sensible and the dissensus it calls for out of which a unique subject of politics emerges. Ranciere defines ‘politics’ as “an activity of reconfiguration of that which is given to the sensible” (Dissenting Words: A Conversation with Jacques Ranciere, 115). Only a subject of politics can reconfigure a particular distribution of the sensible, cognizant of the dividing line, which subverts a given perceptual criterion for the right kind of understanding the sensible. The sensible is the only access to reality and an immanent one, characterized by our distinct relation to words (and images as well) that make up the sensory field of experience.That which is given to the sensible is an outcome of a particular configuration of sensory reality which regulates social behaviour through the disciplining power of words (and images). In this sense words and images are immediately political. But the immediate political nature of words and images does not rule out the significance of nuances where the dividing line comes to light.
Nuances are political potentialities in the sense that they bring to light the truth about the sensory field, namely, as Plato once said, ‘words’ require a father to express them because they do not speak (Phaedrus, 275d5-e5). In line with his concept or notion of mute speech (parole muette), Ranciere argues that there is no structural or ontological relation between words and the uses we make of them, let alone, the relation between words and what we actually perceive (images). And yet words and images are the fabric of the social order in the sense that they bring contents to perception, or give form to experience. This is not to ignore the fact that, again, words do not speak; they are indifferent to the form and content we give and divest of them. In the final analysis, words (and images as well) put to question the immediacy or taken for granted nature of the political.
Incidentally, Ranciere’s examination of the historical progress of literature gives this concept or notion of mute speech its distinctive relation to the role of literariness in the transformation of reality. By revisiting Aristotle’s concept of Man as animal rationale, Ranciere explores the nuanced definition of Man by bringing to light the exact status of this animal as a reasoning agent, namely, its literariness, an animal “caught in the circuit of literariness that undoes the relationships between the order of words and the order of bodies that determine the place of each” (Dis-agreement: Politics and Philosophy, 27). In the field of the political, Ranciere would transpose literariness to the notion of democracy or equality, in a sense: equality is literariness. Here, literariness shares a liminal function with mute speech. Both are indifferent to a given relationship between words and bodies, or in the realm of the political, between speech acts and the material life of the community. The mark of literariness is its potentiality as a specific agent of politics to reconfigure this given relationship, a sign of its indifference to it. The agent of literature therefore has the power to reconstitute the political by examining the structural features of language—words and images—to empower individuals to transcend their given place in the social order. Individuals can transcend their place in society by imitating (my interpretation in light of my bias for Walter Benjamin) the function of parole muette, its mimetic faculty, stimulated and awakened by literariness, to become similar to the indifference of words and images.
As literature develops, the stimulation and awakening of this faculty also varies from one historical period (of understanding the sensory field) to another. Ranciere would come up with an ingenious formula—the three regimes of arts or aesthetics, in short, the three historical frames of reference for understanding the significance of literariness to the transformation of reality through the sensory field. We have to underscore here that in each supposed period of literariness, the role of mute speech also varies according to how it functions in each. In the ethical regime, mute speech breaks the division between truth and representation, reality and simulacrum, etc., by exposing the arbitrariness of the dividing line that subsists between them. But it was Plato himself who would give us the clue—truth is justified true belief (this point is not underscored by Ranciere, so I am here inserting my interpretation). Mute speech teased the unconscious out of Plato—truth is a lie, yet a noble one. But even with this admission, Plato’s words would create a new image of literariness, at the expense of ignoring Plato’s words—let us not forget that words are indifferent even to their host.
In Aristotle’s intervention the ethical regime would reconstitute the kind of mute speech that exposed Plato’s lie into one that should reveal what its true aim is—as Ranciere explained earlier, to “[undo] the relationship between the order of words and the order of bodies” (Dis-agreement, 37) in service of the new definition of Man, a rational animal whose essence lies in the “circuit of literariness,” in the interpretation of the sensible based on the undoing of Platonic literariness, the undoing of its noble lie, in favor of the ethical demand of the polis, which is practical rather than metaphysical (although this would constitute a new configuration of mute speech against Aristotle as he would assign the metaphysical to the supervision of experts, unlike Plato who suggested a number of times that metaphysics is reachable in the dream world, practically accessible to everyone). Hence, no longer the whatness of literariness as ‘justified true belief’ (in Plato), what qualifies into the ethical regime because justification requires propriety in training in dialectics, among others; rather its howness, its technique, its method, its syntax as a model for reconfiguring the social in terms of setting up new ways of speaking, doing and being. Over the old Platonic class determination, social class determines one’s place in the order of the sensible, Aristotle would prefer mastery of the syntactical or organizing power of language (he called it the ‘poetic function’) extended to the social field. (Aristotle is therefore a specific subject of politics who broke the Platonic partition of the sensible that has for a time become the dominant ‘sense’ of the political). This part of Aristotle’s intervention would represent the transition to the representative regime of arts in which the poetic function, characterized by logical reduction of time and space to give the overall effect of unity, would become the new configuration of the sensory in terms of cause-effect relations, prefiguring at the same time the rise of modern instrumental reason.
The transition to the aesthetic regime would be the complement of the emergent rise of a new parole muette. In a way the aesthetic regime would mimic the exact function of words. If words are not equal to the uses that a partition of the sensible gives and divests of them, they can become potential sites of democracy. Words are not exhausted by their intended meanings. Here, the aesthetic regime satisfies literariness in undoing established patterns of communication, referential sign-system, or “agreed system of signs” (Benjamin’s description in “On the Mimetic Faculty”), which, by their constituting and regulating power, can at the same time distribute social roles and subject positions. In the aesthetic regime, literariness can redistribute social roles and positionalities into unexpected modes of speaking, being and doing, in short, in a new partition of the sensible, albeit, this time with no telos to pursue. Literariness has no end to achieve, which compliments the indifference of words to origin, agency, purpose and direction.
What we have here is the autonomy of words which can destabilize the hierarchy of genres or aesthetic style and merit. In short: a literary suicide, the new way to imitate the radicality of mute speech, loyal to no word. As Ranciere would argue in the case of Bovary’s literary suicide, Flaubert had to kill his protagonist for confusing her everyday style with the autonomy of reality fashioned in the autonomy of words that stylizes the sensible (in the aesthetic regime, that is); her style as her way of speaking, being and doing, which amounts no less to the becoming similar of art to everyday life (or the equality the mass function of kitsch asserts of the everyday that has the right to become art), in Benjamin: the technical reproduction of art in modern times. So far this is the positive side of Ranciere’s description of the aesthetic regime–one has the license to separate the bad eggs from the good ones. In this sense the parole muette of the aesthetic regime emancipates the words from Emma Bovary whose style with words—her ‘ways’ of speaking, doing and being; in short, words are not just words—also suppresses their desire for silence by bringing their autonomous function to life, thus, bringing them to life in the style of “self-suppression of literature” (“The Politics of Literature,” 22), the equivalent of the everyday becoming art. In this context, Bovary mistakes her everyday for each word of the day.
Unfortunately, there are no right people, no right subjects of politics, people from whom, arguably, it will not make sense to emancipate words and images. There are only wrong people. Ranciere describes the wrong people as “the mode of subjectification in which the assertion of equality takes its political shape” (Dis-agreement, 39). Even supposing, Ranciere would have to mean equality as the right kind of equality, not the equality professed by Emma Bovary who must be killed so that words could be emancipated from her way of speaking, doing and being. Here, Ranciere unlocks the metaphysical secret of words. And the secret is it is better to be indifferent like words, or champion their ‘indifferent’ cause, such as to kill the Bovarys of the world (the right conviction, presumably) than be killed (no less by words). But nothing can prevent ‘Bovary’ to cry foul and here a new image of equality may “take its political shape.” There are no right as opposed to wrong people. Ranciere qualifies: “The concept of wrong is thus not linked to any theatre of victimization” (Ibid.). In the political, the cause of Bovary in this configuration is no different from the position of hard-line advocates and ideologues of the Right. “We, people of the Right, are also the wrong ones.” By becoming its first victims, the Right has become the champion of democracy .
Words, at best, in the aesthetic regime, have the final say: keep quiet. And finally I can conclude. From here, they take over like the police, with words on offer: “You have the right to remain silent.”
Whether people came to Art Fair Philippines (Ayala, Makati) to experience aesthetics cannot be judged by the sheer success of what is dubbed “The Best in Philippine Contemporary Art.” My ticket to the exhibit tells me I should be in for an experience of one of a kind that I would regret if I didn’t show up.
My most recent visit to contemporary art scene (before this one) was last year (at Manila Art Exhibit, SM Aura, Taguig City). From that one to Art Fair Philippines, it was the same experience of the politics of art collection. Both were held in malls which have fast transformed into critical sites of modern art collection. Inside the Mall, art throbs or is made to throb like a respiratory center of culture in which art moves, circulates, and distributes the sensible. The exhibit is a form of collecting cultures, and here the mall is also the site of culture where circuits of capital culminate. But it is also in this sense that the Mall renders obscure the many capillary street topologies of the ‘grey’ urban world which throb on their own but which must be necessarily overshadowed by the contemporary colours, line perspectives, etc. by a kind of directing art precepts, within a location boasting of more than thirty galleries, which the mall serves as its functionality as against the traffic of bodies in the metropolis outside.
I mentioned about the politics of art collection to which I should add a kind of aesthetics that this politics communicates using the sublime aura of art. If art scholars still continue to debate about the “communicability of the sublime,” which relies much on the ambiguity of the art-object not to mention varying degrees of taste that foregrounds aesthetic judgment, here is an example of how the sublime arguably communicates without the mediation of theory. I do not mean to defend the notion of unmediated sublime but something else entirely, without saying that I do not agree that there is a ‘sublime.’
Not all who flock to an art exhibit have theories to color their appreciation of art objects or materials with, and I mean ‘color’ as a sign of learned appreciation. But that does not mean they cannot pretend to have and this pretension does have its purpose. As we will explain later, we may expect this color-sign to dismiss that art speaks for itself, a mute speech, a “thought that does not think” (J. Ranciere) but communicates in a way Benjamin would ascribe to ‘Adamic naming.’ (I am dropping these familiar names to zero in on our point of contention later). And as usual, one way to rationalize that art does not speak for itself is to confer a sense of ambiguity to art objects themselves.
The fact that they are ambiguous calls for a mediatized form of appreciation through which something is conveyed, supposedly unfamiliar to the object (if the object can be said to be aware) only to throw it back in circulation, and I mean the circulation of standard appreciations of art forms. (This already presupposes that what is conveyed should conform to the standard the simplest form of which is that art cannot speak for itself. Usually unrecognized as conformity, ‘conformity’ may take on many odd detours). I do not mean that objects are aware of some sort but it can be said that they convey pre-reflective or pre-analytic affordances (J. Gibson) to conscious appreciation. Consciousness is a matter of intensity and its emergent placement in the intensive assemblage of things. Objects do not possess consciousness as we do; however, they may have their own internal process of translation (to borrow a concept popularized by G. Harman) which are affordances in their own right, embedded in situated networks of relations which they do not by themselves create. All these, however, simply tell that art is not a mute speech.
One way or another, art speaks to the human in varying levels of communicability, including its mute pretext (if it does not, it is not art!) which may simply pertain to how consciousness is compartmentalized so that its analytic contents may be employed for specific purposes, purposes that are already reflexively situated within a specific constellation of signs. In relation to the art exhibit, such form of art collection or staging of art-cultures offers a venue for this kind of analytic employment, at least for a specifically sensitive group among the ‘learned’ audience. In this sense we can allow ourselves to say that the exhibit directs the traffic of analytic employments proper to what the art-form conveys.
What about those who do not have formal color-signs and line-graphemes (to play on words referring to color and line perspectives as art terms which carry extra-artistic meanings) to appreciate an art collection? Here is where aesthetics directs its full force and which would unravel aesthetics to be of a different order yet reflexively disguised. Ranciere’s aesthetic unconscious tells us exactly what we mean—that aesthetics corresponds to “particular historical regime of thinking about art and an idea of thought according to which things of art are things of thought” (p. 5 ). What we obtain here is simple: art thinks, though mute or unconscious, pre-reflexive, pre-figurative. But, and this is our contention, insofar as we are already within a constellation of signs pre-arranged on a plane of organization or signification (best described by Deleuze and Guattari as the unconscious tracing of the semiotic machine), the aesthetic unconscious would be another complement of regimentation. In relation to the exhibit, the Mall is one particular site of this semiotic machine allowing those who do not have formal color-signs or line-graphemes to appreciate art as something that does not speak for itself (here, we are playing up the distinction between ‘mass culture’ and ‘popular culture’ where the latter connotes a more active intervention on signs vis-a-vis their enforced, pre-arranged communicability).
That there is a non-discursive, pre-analytic treatment of art, in the final analysis, occults the view from somewhere—that the non-discursive is immanently inscribed by a reflexive placement of this spiritual or aesthetic or what have you kind of essence. This of course obscures the reality that art is a regime. Or, it tells us in the face but too close to distinguish it from what it says. The proximity of the Mall tells all.
Benjamin, Walter, “On Language as Such and on The Language of Man,” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Schocken Books, 1986).
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983).
Harman, Graham, The Quadruple Object (Winchester, UK and Washington, USA: Zero Books, 2010).
Gibson, James, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (New York and London: Psychology Press, 2015).
Ranciere, Jacques, Aesthetic Unconscious (Cambridge UK and Massachusetts, USA: Polity Press, 2009).
Reading Merleau-Ponty ‘Cezanne’s Doubt,’ one gets an impression that doubt is essential to creating a work of art, and not just a work of art in which, incidentally, and we may have to wander a bit, it may be relevant to infuse something known in physics—that any work is an outcome of how a body undergoes a certain form of displacement. The formula here is W= F x d., where W is work, F is force applied, and d. as displacement. We may take ‘art’ of which it is a work as that body displaced from some unlit region of space (or we should mean spatio-temporality, going by the most familiar description) which, in the case of physics, would be the subject of any scientific analysis to pursue whose technicality (for whatever it is worth) we may leave to science for now. For the aesthetic part of the ‘work’ we are tracing here in relation to art whose mere presence is always an evidence of something already displaced to begin with, we may take Merleau-Ponty’s description of this region as that very ‘facticity of the unreflected,”1 or in Husserl, that ‘vague morphological essence’ (described by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus). 2 Or, just as I wish to inflect my own voice, here in this caesura between physics and art, I may have to describe this space, rather ingenuously, as an outlying area of thought where one can perceive, outside the mediating technique of logic, a certain form of poetic conceit, a kind of ab/presencing (the play of absence and presence) if not of the immediate evidence of ‘without light,’ ‘without illumination,’ without the usual comforts of what we may call a ‘home’.
Such home is a place where philosophy settles itself comfortably—in reflective thought. Thought is understood here to be a well-lit space, like a set piece whose assumed totality is underlined by light, color, or the texture of that invisible feeling of being magnified by the aura of the visible, which is now at risk of becoming invisible in light of our present climate crisis—the visibility of the green (understood to be the dominant light property of Nature) threatened by the overcast of the grey (or the revenge of the inhuman, the climate, by any means, which can reduce the visible to the utter chaos of unbecoming, including the subject’s gaze which anytime can be returned to its inhuman origin, to its one true grey ecology). In the case of Cezanne’s technique or non-technique set against the standard of linear perspective, it comes with the task “to modify all the other colors in the picture so that they take away from the green background its characteristics of a real color.”3
Here, it is important to note the functionality of ‘light’. Cezanne’s doubt about his own work is an important intervention on the function of light which opens up here for a purpose—one has only to associate doubt with the absence of light or certainty, just as when thought faces its own alterity, or the ‘I’ suddenly called to its own vulnerability when the other fixes her gaze on him, or calls out his name, which makes him feel naked for the first time. It is the intention of the Cartesian to prevent such calling out, such noise to infract the self-sheltering silence of solipsism, such chance encounter with the world that doubt is employed to shelter thought from the elements. Doubt guarantees the Cartesian of the movement that he so aspired, the vitality that he truly lacked by mistaking the complex procedure of doubting with the simplicity of having a body to perform a work or a task. But it is here that the first housing or settlement issue finds its most primordial form—the question where reason has to settle. Notice here that reason is that which is without its true home. It must have doubted its own capability to find a home. Reason is homeless by any definition or simply because it resorts to definition that it lacks a proper home. And yet doubt will have to undergo its own displacement from the method of the Cartesian if reason must find a home—one has to give doubt its moment to shine, its own work, its own light without the usual application of force known to it. Just like intelligence which must have a body for it to function, or a continent the cooperation of a cluster of islands, an archipelago, reason will need a force behind it. Throughout known history, we know what obviously comes next—reason will deny the power that had borne it.
From that time on since reason found its home in the comfort of a definition, Man as animal rationale, to what Husserl called the ‘crisis of European sciences,’ reason has to deny its own creative power. It has to deny that very power that could unsettle its home, drag it back to where it used to belong—to the hinterland of thought, to the inhuman dimension, to that dimension of pre-personal, pre-reflective, prescientific ghetto but alive with what Merleau-Ponty would mean by “animistic communions,”4 or Cezanne by his curious displacement of movement onto “frozen objects [hesitating] as at the beginning of the world,”5 even more, where the difficulties of creation are always that of the aliveness of groping for the first word, for language humming, homing, honouring the unsayable, or this nameless art of reason. Reason hates the nameless for it is in it that creation dwells “undivided in several minds,”6 as Merleau-Ponty would care to add, “with a claim on every possible mind like a perennial acquisition,”7 like a work of art, like a true democracy. Art is democracy where art is not “becoming a pure consciousness,”8 but rather the real act of transforming the probable (by which modern homes are transformed into utilitarian designs, courtesy of the rational scientific age) to the less probable in which democracy functions best—a free housing settlement. Free settlement is the less probable that has been assigned to the functionality of a utopia.
Cezanne might have doubted this extension of art to the liberation of squatters, gypsies, informal settlers from around the world, even of the homeless in reason, deprived of education, of enhanced perspective, let alone, nutrition. But it is enough that we can learn from his invocation of the less probable, of the impossibility of a “landscape [thinking] itself in [us].” Merleau-Ponty describes ‘depth’ to mean “the most existential dimension,”9 devoid of the illusion of a “linear third dimension,”10 which is exactly what we mean when we extend Cezanne to the schizophrenia of art in the outskirts of the infirmary of reason.
Image: The Large Bathers. Paul Cezanne
1 See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald A. Landes (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), 62.
2 See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1987), 367.
3 See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Cezanne’s Doubt,” in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting, ed. Galen A. Johnson, trans. Michael B. Smith. Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1993), 64.
4 Ibid., 66.
6 Ibid., 70.
8 Ibid., 74.
9 See Galen A. Johnson, “Phenomenology and Painting: ‘Cezanne’s Doubt,” in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, 12.
[NB: I’m scheduled to deliver a plenary talk somewhere in Central Philippines in an event organized by the Philosophical Circle of the Philippines. Below is a brief sketch of what’s on my mind or something close to ‘mind’].
This short talk will pay attention to what I think has been thoroughly neglected today, with the contemporary attention otherwise paid to one of the most dominant functions of conception, namely, its reproductive capacity. For purposes of my talk, I will borrow and expand in the course of my discussion key insights from Plato, specifically Timaeus, one of his most controversial dialogues, and from there expand these insights to their postmodern appropriation in the works of Julia Kristeva. The focus will be on Plato’s concept of chora which Kristeva would revisit in her most influential work Revolution in Poetic Language.
As a foretaste of what is to come of this talk, we can say in advance that the chora is controversial for many reasons. For one, it is resistant to any definition, or logical representation. We can also note here that Aristotle, in his critique of Plato’s fascination for the ambiguous, would reduce the indefinability of the chora to a kind of logical presence (logos apophantikos). It would seem that Plato deliberately left the concept of chora to its ambiguous state in opposition to ‘conception’ which Aristotle identified with logical reasoning. This logical reduction of chora to rational conception is not without its connection to the definition of Man as animal rationale.
Our basic contention here is that the definition of Man as animal rationale is a productive concept as opposed to the unproductive concept of Plato’s chora. The difference between the two concepts plays on many levels. For one, Plato’s chora is opposed to reproduction on the simple basis that it is opposed to production. We may also connect this to Plato’s opposition to mimesis or the production of reproduction of what is already a reproduced copy—the copy as always already reproduced by something close to what we can name as reason.
And yet, the origin of reason can be traced ultimately to what is not in the essence of reason. In Plato’s Timaeus, the origin of the cosmos, for instance, is ultimately traced to storytelling rather than to logical deduction. The world, in other words, is created by fabulation, itself a ‘force’ of [or] behind reason, not strictly reason. And as long as it is in the order of storytelling and its persuasiveness, that which originates the world is also resistant to any finality, or final causation which otherwise is the case in a logical conclusion as may be applied to cosmology (which Aristotle did).
Another controversial aspect of the concept of chora, which Kristeva would expand later in her work, is its incestual nature. In John Sallis’s contribution to the elaboration of this Platonic concept, the chora is described as the outcome of “incest between Man and his ever virginal mother.” Its relation to incest is not in any way obscene. Freud would tell us that incest is an anthropological fact of our prehistoric past, which nonetheless continues up to our historical present, albeit, in a displaced or condensed manner. Freud is referring here to the two primary workings of the unconscious (displacement and condensation). In other words, the incestual essence of our past continues to influence our present, not because there are cases of incest in our time, rather because it continues to define us unconsciously. For Kristeva, it influences us within the sphere of existence that may be described as pre-reflective, pre-analytic, pre-propositional, pre-logical, or pre-representational. Kristeva identifies this sphere as the body or the flesh itself as a matrix of uncategorized passions, drives and urges. Incidentally, logic (which qualifies here as the representative of society in the education of the human person) would reduce this erotic dimension to a categorically defined moral or epistemic proposition for socially productive ends.
We may argue here with Kristeva that the persistence of the chora in our body which no logic can totalize amounts to infertility in the sense we may describe of love without reproduction, not in the literal sense of opposing sexual reproduction, let alone, the incapacity to reproduce, but rather in the sense of resisting the reproduction of the social symbolic (an act not restricted to the sexually fertile or infertile) which reproduces the dominant function of conception, namely, the logical fertilization of love. We understand this logical fertilization as the opposite of the imaginative fertilization of love. The imaginative pertains to a kind of fertilization of the body, the care of the flesh, its nourishment, its education outside the bounds of biopolitics, or any form of totalization, be it conservative, reformist, progressive, or revolutionary with the end of making life programmable by representation.
Lastly, we understand the body as every-body which connects Kristeva’s project of the care of the body to the realities of the everyday where everyone is a body. If the body sustains the chora (we can say the body is incurably in love with it) despite the history of the totalization of this ‘bastard concept’ to anything other than a body full of love, we may say in conclusion that we have never been an animal rationale. It suffices to say that we continue to defy the definition in the name of love that remains unnameable.
Conford, Francis M. Plato’s Cosmology: The Timaeus of Plato, trans. with running commentary by Francis MacDonald Conford (Indiana/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 1997).
Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).
Sallis, John. Chorology. On Beginnings in Plato’s Timaeus (Bloomington and Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1999).
St. Mary, Nueva Viscaya, Philippines
February 21, 2015
To the extent that we cannot know with absolute certainty why evolution happened and continues to happen (a question that also places us in the equation, much along the mystery of the sex divide), to that extent also, albeit, negatively, we can account for how this question of whyness is important to be problematized.
Yet whyness is not a question that we can answer satisfactorily except in a roundabout process of howness (this makes knowledge therapeutic, as Wittgenstein would say), by a process of approximation in which language is an important functionality. Because language can simply loiter around the how of this important questioning it is always doomed to communicate painfully ever more this ‘why’. With this painful process alone, the why question ceases to be expressible in human terms, which by the way also humanizes us in a different way (there will be more poetry as this communication becomes ever more painful, I guess) but better if it is going to be oriented, finally, towards a more fundamental awareness.
It is the awareness that we co-exist as objects with other objects in this marbled planetary parliament of things (now at the receiving end of the last assault of establishment humanism against infertility, against the happy community of cyborgs that do not reproduce the unhappy humanism of capital, of the Law of the Father, those who are irreducible to the definition of animal rationale [those who love for love’s sake?]), not as a subject privileged by language.
I would like to begin here with a quote from one of my favorite aphoristic writers, Emile Cioran, which reads as follows:
A sudden silence in the middle of a conversation suddenly brings us back to essentials: it reveals how dearly we must pay for the invention of speech. 1
Like Franz Kafka who was a stranger to the German language, Cioran was alien to French. Both writers, however, were able to produce masterpieces which arguably ripped apart the languages of their hosts, or so it seems. In truth these languages were only refashioned in the alien cartography of their own style, mapping out those unlit terrains of thought (dianoia) that these languages sealed off for a time from ever reaching the surface, above which hangs what might be the only way into the work of truth. Truth, as Ricoeur puts it, is a certain communicability2 expressed in a manner or style by which something comes alive once again. The German and the French arguably breathed once again in the singular cases of Kafka and Cioran, each “breaking a path in the real.” 3 In Kafka, it was a singular case that summoned a new rule for German writing;4 in the case of Cioran, at least, how a dispossessed Romanian sought refuge in an alien work of truth, in a language that he confessed “is [an antipode] to his nature,” not to mention “[his] true self,”5 but helped it come alive “when [French] was in full decline… [and] the French themselves do not seem to mind.”6
In the idiom of Ricoeur, the singularities of these two great writers of our time attest to the complementarity of question and response,7 altogether thrown in their midst by a crisis.8 In both cases, the element of distance reveals a crisis is on their way, that is, from the very outset as a diasporic encounter. In a strange land they would have to suffer the banality of its speech and into whose syntax they were forced to breathe a new life, a new being; a new soul. But for any nomad, speech is one thing; legwork is another. Nomads are known in prehistory as capable of taking root wherever there is an exit to creation,9 wanderers of uncharted lands, with only the climate to stop them on their tracks, perhaps, a melting glacier, an unexpected tsunami, a volcanic eruption. Sans the threat of climate, nomads were known for assimilating themselves in the speech of their foreign hosts, but also, in due time, transform that speech as their own, thereby a new people is born.
For a nomad, the island is like a poem or narrative that with her power to refigure would metamorphose into something else but not entirely new. It is arguable to consider here the island as a work of art, with nature as architect, demiurge, so to speak. And equally arguable is the thought that a nomad may be the only authentic model of aesthetic experience whose memory has now retreated into the unconscious of modern humanity. But while we are still alive with a new climate tale about to be told in the next few decades, let us hope, with surviving human witnesses, it may still be relevant to look back and rekindle the wonder, the awe that is now becoming extinct in our species. I would like first to quote Ricoeur before I drive home to my point:
Because, in the last analysis, a painter paints to be seen, a musician writes to be heard. Something of her experience, precisely because it has been carried by a work, is going to be able to be communicated. Her naked experience as such was incommunicable; but, as soon as it can be problematized in the form of a singular question which is adequately answered in the form of a response that is singular as well, then it acquires communicability, it becomes universalizable. 10
Who would have ever thought that with his modern sensibility Ricoeur might be referring to a painter who lived and died in a cave, or a nomad whose bones now dwell among the fossils of a bygone age buried deep beneath the soil of France? In one of the greatest discoveries of human culture, a cave in Southern France astonished the world with its primitive gallery of one of the oldest known paintings, about 32,000 years ago, in the history of humankind. (The oldest in record is found in Spain in Cave Altamira which by far revealed more colourful charcoal paintings, though these works were attributed to Neanderthals, not yet human by anthropological standards. We can wonder here if aesthetic experience is still peculiar to humans. Other more recent cave paintings by our human ancestors are found in Argentina).
Another astonishing fact deserves full attention: in the same cave in France, known as the Chauvet Cave, a footprint of an eight-year old child was found; alongside it, a footprint of a wolf.
The cave bears testimony to what is by any measure incommunicable to us in the modern age, and with the child arguably one among the mystery painters, adding onto the strange, aesthetic experience, as this case may attest to, is not a singularity unique to a learned adult, but even to the young and prehistoric at that, not to mention here a life that was at the total mercy of nature. Alongside its anthropological purchase, the cave paintings might have also been inspired, albeit negatively, by the torments of survival and any sign of neurosis may be inferred as purely speculative. (Neurosis would have to be invented by the modern to give expression to a phenomenon unknown in medical science—pity Van Gogh that he had to endure this assault of calculation). But the paintings on the cave walls—what do they communicate to us in the here and now?
It is of interest to note that Picasso who was born in Spain (but fled to France where he died to escape the persecution of Franco) had seen Spain’s Cave Altamira’s paintings. After coming out of the cave, he was reported as saying—“After Altamira, all is decadence.” Altamira’s cave paintings formed a line of genealogical continuum with Chauvet’s and those in Argentina (at least the first two belonged to the Upper Paleolithic Period). What interests us here is that Picasso may be referring to the modern experience of aesthetics that would pale in comparison to the singularity of these prehistoric artists. Living in unimaginably harsh conditions, these artists produced works of art that would make Adorno envious, real exemplars of artistic autonomy, its distance from the real without the necessity to indulge in hibernatory aesthetics peculiar to late modernity.11
In the essay by Roger Savage, there is a critical mention of hibernatory refuge linking the negative dialectics of Adorno and Horkheimer to a kind of aesthetic experience whose distance from the real identifies, albeit paradoxically, a likely source of human emancipation.12 This so-called aesthetic distance reveals the autonomous essence of art vis-à-vis the world that is not destined for art, so to speak: “What is true in art is something nonexistent.”13 It goes to say that the world cannot tolerate the non-existent; hence, art stands in ceaseless contradiction with it, with no end in sight. Ricoeur, for his part, recovers something which Adorno buried under the shifting sands of modernity. As Savage puts it, “the retreat from the real … is the condition of a work’s power to refigure the practical field of [experience].”14 This leads me back to the cave painting which is made possible by a retreat from the real, from the rising sea level, from the tyranny of the elements.
The cave painting of a prehistoric people, unlike the negative dialectics of Adorno and Horkheimer, exemplified the world through art in order to make it liveable, instead of refracting the real in a hibernatory refuge in the darkness of an age. It is an inversion of referent, 15 in Ricoeur’s idiom, from the incommunicability of the temporal horizon of the cave painting, or rather, the inexpressible of the lived-experience of the [cave] artist,16 to the communicable singularity of survival, of a new consciousness of earth and ocean; likewise, a new myth of creation.17
Make no mistake—the cave is no longer a habitat for us. But the singularity of the cave painting should live among us if only to rekindle the wonder and awe of a prehistoric people who knew ahead of us that distance from the real is not an end in itself. The exemplarity of the cave painting in many ways “makes a claim upon us in demanding a response.”18
To conclude with Savage, the claim if any of the Chauvet cave “lies at the heart of the truth of the work. The claim that a work makes opens us to the world anew.”19
And to this, I should add, in the midst of a real threat to our survival, in the advent of a new cycle of extinction,20 from whose claim upon us we cannot any longer afford to retreat.
1 Emile Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1991), 19.
2 Paul Ricoeur, Critique and Conviction: Conversations with Francois Azouvi and Marc de Launay, trans. Kathreen Blamey (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 179.
3 Ibid., 174.
4 See Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974), ed. David Lapoujade, trans. Michael Taomina (New York: Semiotext(e), 254.
5 Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations, 256.
7 Ricoeur, “Aesthetic Experience,” in Critique, 179.
8 Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, vol. 3, trans. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1988), 162.
9 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis and London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1987), 508.
10 Ricoeur, “Aesthetic Experience,” in Critique, 179.
11 Roger Savage, “Aesthetic Experience, Mimesis and Testimony,” Ricoeur Studies, Vol. 3 1 (2012): 177.
13 Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, 131.
14 Savage, “Aesthetic Experience, Mimesis and Testimony,” 176.
15 Ibid., 181.
16 Ricoeur, “Aesthetic Experience,” in Critique, 179.
17 Deleuze, Desert Islands.13.
18 Savage, “Aesthetic Experience, Mimesis and Testimony,”182.
20 See Eliizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2014); also, Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind (New York: Anchor Books, 1995).
It may be that its inspiration is the wildness it covets; the nonconcept that pre-veils the unveiling of poets—those veiled to a fault; the rubble which sees its own disappearance in modern architecture; the weeds—the entire earth that language must first create.
Mga Damong Ligaw is arguably a testament to this silent war on space, yet attests only to what it can see. It sees only what the brave have dared to step onto. Those whose names we barely remember.
Ecology without nature is a concept that takes nature as dangerous. The danger always goes to the agency that names. Before there were ever names, language “drains away into the impermanent.”
As a testament to the unveiled, Oca Villamiel through his art installation mimics an idiolect unbeknownst to speech such that only with a creolized passage, a passage to speech like art, that a writer may approach what it longs to communicate. Like a writer setting out on an “idiolect … unattested anywhere else in antiquity,” forcing speech to let a thousand memories set in, an artwork must compel a canvas—in the case of Villamiel’s ouvre, a rented space—to accommodate the last few days of God’s creation. But for entities like weeds, what days were there to remember? It is always the case that a creation like a work of art can only get a glimpse of what brings to it a feel for everything it lost. In this sense, every work of art stands in close proximity to extinction.
Mga Damong Ligaw may yet be its perfect witness—how naming reveals the extent to which, by setting out to claim something, desire claims the earth. In the history of names, it is always the earth. Language has always been the enemy of the planet, in itself a world-without-us, before there was ever an earth, “impersonal and anonymous.”
But what is language to the planet? Responding to indifference, desire may still get its revenge with toxicity, rivalling the signature of the ancients with only four to look for in the table of elements: air, water, earth, fire. Toxicity, the rightful fifth and legitimately human, the signature of its proud revenge, wants the entire table condensed into its signature. But ‘what is that to Nature?
What is at issue is actually not a … property of nature but the very nature of nature. The sense in which this discontinuity is an ‘essential’ one is not that nature has a fixed essence, but that nature’s lack of a fixed essence is essential to what it is.
It may be the destiny of art to mimic nature but only what is discontinuous to it, what it should lose in exchange for an idiolect, perhaps, an image as in a painting. A logos for Ereignis, being for Other, a horn for a weed, a carabao for a glimpse of an inner workshop, its lack of fixed grounding on words that it must decide to navigate what lies outside the frontier. It may be the painter’s canvass, or a rented space for a miniature landscape; words draining away into the impermanent.
And yet it faces him, the artist for what he has done. He will want to have an audience if only to deflect this look in the eye, to distribute his sin. In the same manner his audience will look for his unattested ambiguity, where words are redirected to either a canvas or landscape, thereby hangs a second tale—a community of sinners participating in the virility of sin.
Even so, Mga Damong Ligaw is without the marriage of art and human purpose, without the jointure of animal to Man, without the intimacy of being to time for it seeks out what no reservedness can relive, what no being-in-the-world can dwell. It appeals to a world in ruins, if not already beyond repair. This time no more demand to alter Man from animal rationale, the cogitating kind, to the inquiring type as it calls up the birth of the avenger for the uncanny, an artificial intelligence—things growing out of their own without human intervention, if not beyond any purpose that the quiet power of the possible may still convey. This is a true parliament of things.
It allows us to imagine a world without us; the apocalypse, the unattested idiolect of our time.
For recent reviews of Villamiel’s art installation, see:
 Allen Dwight Callahan, “The Language of the Apocalypse,” The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 88, 4 (October 1995), 458.
 Timothy Morton, Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2007).
 Martin Heidegger, On the Grammar and the Etymology of the Word Being,” in Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), 68.
Eugene Thacker. In the Dust of This Planet (United Kingdom: Zero Books, 2011), 16.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic. By way of clarification and supplement to my last book Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Douglas Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 6.
 Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007), 422, footnote 15.
 Martin Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy. From Enowning, trans. Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999), 3.
 Bruno Latour, “On Interobjectivity,” Mind, Culture and Activity: An International Journal, Vol. 3, 4 (1996), 228-245.
First, a poem must be magical,
Then musical as a sea-gull.
It must be a brightness moving
And hold secret a bird’s flowering.
It must be a slender bell,
And it must hold fire as well.
It must have the wisdom of bows
And it must kneel like a rose.
It must be able to hear
The luminance of dove and deer.
It must be able to hide
What it seeks, like a bride.
And over all I would like to hover
God, smiling from the poem’s cover.
If to guess is to see, then I can only guess what the poem means.
Let us see.
Here comes a poem starting to remember itself, which, as will be in the end, has to be witnessed by god, or so it seems.
But the end of the poem may also be its beginning, or rather, the poem can navigate these temporal boundaries that no human has ever approached without losing herself in the process. Either frontier can promise pure memory where forgetting never gets a chance–but what is then to remember?
What is that to the void, deep beyond the frontier, from which nothing escapes? It is a dare that no one can make, nor even unmake for then it would take as a fact that the poem must be entirely complete in the beginning. But there would be no poem. There wouldn’t be you and me.
Precisely for its non-human nature the poem is transversal: it is becoming-end and becoming-origin at the same time—only a poem gets closer to time like this, without dissolving itself in either of the two, without becoming-time, without becoming its slave. Tell me now if it doesn’t sound magical. Only a magic can escape the bounds of time.
Or so, we can wonder from here, should it sound like magic, the poem whose unbecoming-time within time stays afloat in the river of memories where no memory ever gets the chance to sink deep in the riverbed? Or, should it taste like magic? Which one to go with? Ear, tongue, and the proverbial seeing of poetry: “To look in the eye” in which “the Same is the eye and the eye—the matrix of speculation” (from a Non-philosopher). It is going to be a choice between the tongue and the eye, between the lips and the retina; between accommodation and seeing from a distance; between making love which gathers the senses into one bastard copula and a soft allusion to the act of pornography, ah! between ‘you and me shortening the distance’ and ‘you and me separated by an abyss’.
But I have spoken so much already. I have to mention the bride which appeared towards the poem’s end which may promptly suggest a scene from a wedding ceremony; imagine here a bride snatched away from that scene, wherever it might be; or perhaps, not a ceremony at all, this spares us the trouble of going from one place to another, for we can only see an image of a bride. All the resources of the poem were spent entirely for this bride, and what an effort!
But what of the image for which a poem surrenders its secret, its voice, its most prized asset?
The bride’s image stands here for what it is now, a photo, a word processed in speech lab, a word processor, a word for the ‘here and now.’ And to complete an ecology of the image, a still image as in a photo, a foreground must also be seen, along with the figure (the bride) and the background (the magicality that started it all like the instantaneity of the shutter that makes time stand still).
Need we say for now only a god can make time stand still? Only a god can remember? Only a god can make a poem? A non-human seizing a tiny universe from a much larger one; condensing into hallelujah, or whatever sound may seem pertinent to an instance of joyful bliss, approaching saintliness?
And then, god can smile. I see him smile. I, who is not looking.
In his Theses on the Philosophy of History Walter Benjamin made use of Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus or ‘Angel of History’ to present a rather uncanny image of hope blocking the tide of progress blowing from Paradise. Who might be this helpless angel suspended in mid-air, flapping its wings in their full length with all its might, is still a mystery. What is more surprising is that this angel is facing paradise as its back faces the future. Take note it’s a painting and the angel is facing us. And the future—the wall which we are about to hit as we continue to embrace progress.
As we welcome the New Year perhaps it might be time to reflect where we should be standing opposite the angel. I would like to great everyone then a happy new year if only to express hope that we are not about to hit the wall sooner than we can expect. Happy New Year!
We are supposed to be inside a speeding train, the train being capitalism accelerating as ever. If there is supposed to be no outside to capitalism, then we are all by necessity aboard the machine of capital. It is easy to imagine here that labor is placed inside this speeding machine. Labor, as Marx once emphasized, is the actual figure of freedom whose purpose is to free itself from necessity (capital being the actual figure of the latter). And yet, it is also easy to agree that labor has never been successful in reversing the order; it has always been capital determining it. In a rather odd complement, for the scientific socialist that was Marx, the whole idea of communism in which labor wins the battle against capital would have to remain as such, an idea. And here, philosophy has always been our constant companion.
Meanwhile, the Accelerationist Manifesto would have us acknowledge that labor and capital have always been complementing one another, provided that we can see through the inner workings of history. There must be a singular approach here which is quite familiar. If history would be our guide, the approach is to assume the position of capital which has been representing history as far as it can be conceived. One has to have a comprehensive scan of what’s going on, which can only be a view from above. By analogy, one must assume the putative ‘function’ of the brain. Localism would be the equivalent of organs or bodies which have disjunctive relations to intelligence. Organs or bodies can only produce, but not create. Creation must have a preconception of boundaries. Production is quite different—it knows no limit. It may just be the thing that’s really accelerating without end. By a familiar metaphysical route, acceleration would have us recognize the primacy of creation over production, to regularize production which seems to be the one that is more prone to excess.
What we may not be allowed to suspect is that human acceleration prefers a cognitive approach to emancipation, which brings us back to philosophy, our constant companion with respect to speculating about possibilities for production to overturn creation (perhaps, one reason philosophy is always attracted to atheism), bodies claiming the place of intelligence. But one can always find in philosophy a nagging asymmetry between thinking and bodies, conception and production, etc, which makes this constant companion of ours the most misunderstood knowledge form. And it sure has its own share of blame. Philosophy never seems to have learned from its own confusion by appealing to production which, though limitless, is limitless rather within the present. By taking production (actuality) out of time (into the future, into possibility), philosophy deprives productive bodies of their temporal life, hence, skinning these bodies alive until nothing but its ideal form (the thought that counts for a revolutionary) remains. A philosopher is thus a revolutionary in this sense.
But today philosophy would like us to acknowledge its new name, acceleration, which may mean the fastest way to take production out of time at the same time that the possibilities for production to overturn creation are repurposed to make these possibilities realizable within the present. In acceleration, we may mistake philosophy to have learned its lesson alas. Marx was actually the first one to proclaim philosophy’s poverty by advocating for a proto-acceleration of the means of production to draw capitalism to its logical conclusion, so the Accelerationist Manifesto says. For Marx, philosophy was no solution; possibility must be tamed by the actual, production by creation, limitlessness by design. Marx relied on the working class—bodies of production—to realize this conclusion without having to turn bodies into brains, or workers into capitalists. Workers are entrusted with the historical mission to finish the design of capital by dissolving itself in labor, arguably the real capital. If production did not accelerate in Marx’s time, today, however, we have reasons to believe, so we are told, that it is accelerating, and yet, like a body it is proceeding without design, regularity and discipline. One must be ready to accept the new challenge here, which is to imagine, in the most radical way possible, how production can cease to function as bodies, how it can create itself according to design, planning and purposefulness.
Capitalism has actually done us a favor by cognitivizing production, so we need not imagine that much really. Our new task is to radicalize this cognitive direction to a position in which production becomes intelligent design. In this radical mode of imagination, production fuses with creation. It is philosophy coalescing with production by regressing to the present to repurpose its design. The key for a renewed philosophy though is to realize bodies outside of the design of capital which is not accelerating on behalf of bodies, rather on behalf of creation without bodies. Going back to acceleration, one has to imagine that bodies are the ones steering the speeding train, giving the value added impression that bodies are responsible for the speed as well as the upkeep of the train as it accelerates.
They in fact do except that these bodies do not realize, as the new Accelerationism proponents believe, that they are already creating the Outside to capital. They are unaware that they are philosophers. But let us remind ourselves here that once the Outside had been the privileged object of analysis of philosophy until capital stole that object, becoming philosophy itself. Capital is now turning the dream of production and limitlessness into creation as mastery of the Outside, the future. If Marx was a proponent of acceleration, as the manifesto would have us acknowledge, it is to his credit that philosophy must be abandoned, if the goal is to construct the future that capitalism has already foreclosed, in favor of real concrete actions. In an unlikely twist, Marx and capitalism can both sing and dance to the tune of, most familiar to Marxists though, the poverty of philosophy. Its poverty lies in the fact that it does not want to regress, which bespeaks of its hubris, its illusion of being progressive, revolutionary, and axiomatic. What this goes down to in the last instance is that Marx knew there is no alternative to capitalism. Philosophy would never allow itself to regress to the present to change the order of things. But if capitalism can do philosophy, philosophy can become richer by all of history’s combined wealth. And indeed, it is to Marx’s credit that philosophical capitalism will be compelled to accelerate, hence, the emancipation of bodies from their lack of purpose.
Real concrete actions may thus mean changing the way philosophy has been hitherto done. This is perhaps the original contribution of the Accelerationist Manifesto. Following Marx through its timely intervention in contemporary left politics, we can now say that the object of change is not the world vis-à-vis the many interpretations that have been made about its ontological status. Rather, it is how we can do philosophy this time (through a radical unity with bodies, or rather, production, by means of which philosophy regresses to the present which it has until now consistently avoided with its characteristic obsession with possibilities, with option contracts, least to say, under the general rubric of speculative future) which must first presuppose that the world, nonetheless, must not change, if only for philosophical creation, regressing to the present from out of the future, to catch up with the world, that is to say, the actual. Apropos of the famous last thesis of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, our attention draws closer to its secret: Philosophy must either imitate capitalism or become capitalism itself.
In this new light, and arguably so, labor can be emancipated. It can free itself from the illusion of the future—hope, in simple terms—for the future, once a possibility, has reached a dead-end, which is its own actuality, namely, the accelerating present. This, of course, will be made possible by philosophy abandoning the future, the Outside in favor of the pragmatic concerns of the revolution. If this is what Marx meant by the poverty of philosophy, Marxists should take the gesture at its most instructive, namely, and rightly so, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.
NB: See Joseph Weissmann on his unique take on accelerationism, certainly a critical contribution to the topic, though different from ours:
In a recent talk Timothy Morton (1) argues that Nature is a dangerous concept. From what I have gathered in his lecture, nonetheless, Nature is dangerous in its conceptual appeal to the universal which totalizes and is therefore reductive. Many would settle at least in an aesthetic intuition of Nature that seemingly avoids the totalizing direction of universalization as it comfortably settles in the particular, like a coral; least to say, in a quantic indetermination of bodies of Nature (I mean bodies in the sense of a disjunctive relation to a whole as an administrable assemblage). Nature is anthropocentric—I have no objection to this—and yet, when aesthetic is invoked to appeal to Nature as quantic indetermination, seemingly to escape the subjective or sovereign standpoint, we may lose sight of the fact that aesthetic remains a kind of intellectual intuition.
Intellectual intuition is a property of the subject, regardless whether it is questionable these days to appeal to a notion of sovereignty. Property does not equal to sovereignty. And yet when something such an inventory of reason (which Kant did) situates intellectual intuition within the history of the systems of thought in which aesthetics becomes a part of the narrative of how reason achieves a critical relation to itself intellectual intuition is made to serve something greater than itself, such as being productive of a prioris of time and space which alone could initiate a world-ing of world, which would then culminate in the anthropocentrism of the world-order, a highly probable cause of climate change, so we are told. But before this crisis, anthropocentrism has given us wars, economic exploitation, gender abuse, imperialism, etc. The list could go on. We can assume here that part of this familiar narrative of anthropocentrism and its crises is the plasticity of aesthetics (to use Malabou’s concept) made to serve something larger than intuitivity, that is, productivity (this time, Malabou’s plasticity falls short of its promise—insofar as every object is exchangeable for something, noting its lack of ontological ground, what could also be its lack of interest in itself, its readiness for co-optation, say with a dominant or sovereign ecology, is not unlikely).
So how are we to make sense of aesthetics, say, as first philosophy which, as in Harman’s position, must be thought outside of the dominance of subject orientation? Perhaps, we can reformulate the question into ‘how can we make sense of aesthetics as first philosophy without falling back on the inventory of reason that has been going on since Kant?’ Or, perhaps, Laruelle is right that philosophy has yet to realize that its business depends on endless criticism, or a critical inventory of the claims of reason.
Is there a way of doing aesthetics without treating it the way it has been hitherto treated, that is, as an inventoried passage of reason from pre-critical to its critical phase? Didn’t Nietzsche affirm otherwise the importance of tragic consciousness as an aesthetic contemplation but not as an inventoried category of reason, rather as an affirmation of life that will always return to itself?
And yet, we can also treat the problem as historical. Aesthetics may be rethought outside of the critical inventory of reason assuming we can hold a place outside of history within which alone aesthetics may be thought. Outside of history, we may assume aesthetics can be thought outside of reason. If reason claims total determination, then a kind of indetermination may offer an opportunity for rethinking aesthetics, assuming it is worth the while to rethink it. We believe it is. Here, ‘outside of history’ may mean the challenge of indetermination (we always devalue history in our own capacity as individuals) or the challenge of absolute negation. Nietzsche may not be ready for the latter, assuming we are correct in arguing that, although it is debatable that he harbors a position in favor of vitalism he at least is not open to the possibility of the extinction of history where life can no longer return its affirmative neutrality to the existence of the historical species, that is, what has become of us. We are speaking here of actual extinction of the species.
We cannot however agree with Derrida that it is death that always interrupts this return of life to itself. Where death is said to always interrupt, what returns is no longer life but something artificial, say, the signature of the author or his or her name. Derrida’s modus operandi is to historicize death (which is deconstructive enough) in order to interrupt life as bios (2) but where death is understood as the subject (who, as dead, returns, not life), Derrida affirms the subject in its dissimulated affirmation of life (that returns). Life is the undeclared model of the subject who returns. And yet, the subject is the rival of life. Even so, Derrida is not doing aesthetics outside of history. Without belaboring the point, he is deconstructing history, or rather, a progressive, more advanced form of the critical inventory of reason.
Lastly, we may ask: is thinking extinction the right way to do aesthetics outside of history? If history should go extinct, are we not speaking of the extinction of reason, of conception that makes history possible, in favor of the return to the unhistorical, the uncanny (perhaps, the third kind vis-à-vis the binary opposition of being and becoming in Plato’s Timaeus, known as chora), the avenger for what historical reason has repressed? Or, a return to myth (as in Deleuze), a second creation (as in Nietzsche, the rebirth of tragedy), a new humanity? It well to note here that Deleuze also thinks of second creation as a likely result of the “general distribution of continents, the states of the sea, and lines of navigation.” (3) Not far from an ecological apocalypse.
(3) Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974), trans. Michael Taomina, ed. David Lapoujade (New York: Semiotext[e]), 2002, 73.
In the old days people must have observed Christmas as a time for gathering strength, mind and will to face the coming of the unknown, much of it were caused by erratic days of the year drawing to a close, with only the regularity of life, provided by uncountable traces upon which to depend their next steps for tomorrow, giving them the comfort of the uncanny, even so, a comfort to begin with.
With the invention of the new calendar we were offered presumably complete days and nights, with a room for leap years to accommodate what still need to be accounted for, affording chance its moment to shine but shine it does as it can be thought in advance; cycles of birth, and death, and perhaps rebirth, yet much still would leave us with the feeling of being surrounded by a gaping void (to borrow from Nietzsche).
Never therefore has the unpredictable become the real feeling of what is to come with the uncanny guarantee of calculable days and nights, of the regularity of time and familiarity of space, not to mention Christmas that is about to come to pass, few hours from now.
It may be well in this light that perhaps we need to regain the old consciousness of what is to come, unbounded by external principle, the objective measure of time, in the face of the unknown. Perhaps, this could bind us as one in a world that has never been our true home with all its false guarantees of happiness, and human desire rather chased by a measurable object of craving where desire ceased to be what it used to be, arousing noble passions, and more intensely, love that creates all.
And so when people say ‘happy Christmas!’ they say this in the hope that something in this world, notwithstanding, would beckon a new beginning, a new promise that this world would one day become us, no more as that from which we are alienated and estranged, or from which our desires our stolen in favor of the world where we can never fit in. But fit we do, not to mention, in the face of the impossible, through friendship and a shared feeling of vulnerability, by all means love like life, more actual than civility, more real than all the ways of the known world combined; more mysterious than death.
Happy Christmas then!
NB: See http://persistentenlightenment.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/christmas-truce/ for a critical take on the famous ‘Christmas truce’ if not for a bit of Walter Benjamin: “The past carries with it a secret index by which it is referred to redemption.”
While I can agree with Zizek that love is an encounter and that we rarely encounter the encounter in contemporary life, what I find in his proposition with Kafka, that love is an event, is shy of proposing that Latour is right, that we have never been modern, a familiar claim with which nonetheless I cannot entirely agree.
Zizek would give it the usual psychoanalytic twist: we have always been modern, we’re just not aware of it. We have always been in love, yet unaware of it most of the time. How unaware we all are of the encounter that is the event is written in the very heart of the urban world: bars, cafes, restaurants, chat rooms, busy streets, malls, motels, parks, even universities, and any place where architecture, including designs of mobile communication spaces, conspire to keep bodies at their unknowing conditions of metastability. All these at the same time that bodies are moved about, giving the illusion of free mobility, or dragged along pre-arranged spaces where even unanticipated encounters are already designed in advance. The rule is to provoke complexity in encounters, modeled on the dynamics of desire, where complexity drives innovation. No doubt, the rural is also increasingly invaded by the landscaping sensibility of modernity, on the assumption that its dullness and pastoral sickliness are indifferent to encounters—it lacks mobility and so, it would follow, blunts the excitation of desire.
One simply has to extract the event from the swirling vortices of these unwitting encounters by a process of critical retrospection, or rather, a retrieval of the encounter with the “oh my God” feeling of the event. One has to fall, as Zizek argues, to encounter the encounter, to fall in love, to fall in the encounter, to fall the fall. To fall is to arrest the movement already giving us the experience of vertigo yet not so much as to give us the proper dose to rebel against the city, against the modern urban spirit of architecture and spatial planning which runs deep into the subterranean logic of capital accumulation. And why would we rebel if the city affords us the chance of the encounter, the chance of love, of getting into the mix, of the experience of the “oh my God, I was waiting all my life for you.”
We may wonder here how much would be lost if we reduce the urban spirit to a minimum level of excitation, to tweak its noise, its turmoil and agitation to a level approaching the loveless condition of human existence, the not-granting of the encounter or simply the event. Zizek might have anticipated the question already when he argued that love has become rare these days—not any other day but these days—in the midst of the aggressive transformation of the urban world. And yet, it is not difficult to see where Zizek’s valorisation of encounters would lead against the background of lovelessness. The excitation of the urban world, notwithstanding, is a rich potential for the event where there is high probability that bodies fall into the happenstance of their lifetime. We need to sustain the urban world with as much encounters as we can fall into, with as much metastability as we can accomplish to accelerate the frequency of the event. Though he might not like the thought that he is an accelerationist of the encounter that we all need for enriching the human condition threatened by lovelessness, Zizek’s concept of love would lose its appeal if we won’t do our part, that is, to hasten the event, to accommodate further doses of complexity.
The key to unpack Zizek’s enigmatic proposition of the encounter is to see through his ongoing defense of the foremost ideal of modernity; in a nutshell, the ideal of falling in love. Let us not lose sight of the fact that this ideal is achievable in the urban world, at least, for him, the cosmopolitan that he is. And there is only one cosmopolis—the West.
And so Zizek would have us absorb the fact that encounters are pre-arranged in the pre-modern. I am not sure whether Zizek had an overdose of encounters that makes him careless, but he simply bungled historical details. I need not look far. Polygamy was a custom in pre-modern and -colonial times. Those East Dionysian communities so dear to Nietzsche were not strangers to love, which does not mean that they were better than the modern, until they were destroyed by European missionaries at the behest of the Atlantic war machine. I wonder whether Zizek would dismiss these by underscoring the undesirability of pre-arranged marriages of the pre-modern which no doubt there were, but the modern is certainly not the end of pre-arranged encounters. So the question would be, why assign the wider ramification of the unethicality of pre-arranged encounter, lovelessness, to the pre-modern?
As a Western ideologist that he is, Zizek is a total stranger to this history. As he argues so well on Kafka with regard to his influence as a writer—that the writer, invoking Borges this time, has to invent his past, and so the figures that influenced him—Zizek had to force into existence his ‘pre-modern’ condition of Western modernity. Apropos of those pre-arranged encounters that he picked up as an object of criticism—where else is the encounter not pre-arranged by urban spatial constellation? Zizek is idealizing the hyper-modernity of the West by insisting upon the possibility of a chance encounter which is love amidst the spinning landscape of the modern urban spatiality. It is only in hyper-modernity where Zizek’s concept of love can happen. And it is precisely when hyper-modernity is falling out of encounters, the near mass extinction of encounters, or rather, the extinction of desire, that the encounter must be teased out of its unconscious.
Perhaps, that will be Kafka’s last love, his last opportunity to fall the fall, his one true, albeit, brief encounter.
NB: For the video lecture of Zizek on Kafka see Nicholas of installingorder.org at http://installingorder.org/2014/12/12/slavoj-zizek-on-kafka-and-love/
This is a friendly response to darkecologies’ take on Platonism. See http://darkecologies.com/2014/12/07/the-phaedo-part-two-the-art-of-recollection/
The chief problem of reducing Plato to an idealist is the assumption rarely interrogated that Plato is Platonism. History should be our guide. Platonism is not Plato.
The point of the reductive function of any ‘ism’ is to forge an axiomatic memory as against what preceded it—axioms being the destroyer of non-sense, of indefinability and the dark precursor out of which the present emerged. By all means, the present is the founding temporal locus of organization, or rather, a decisionistic displacement of the past onto a memory bank forged in the now. This officially becomes Platonism when, at some point after Plato, philosophy declares (the pronouncement is more evident in Heidegger) that truth cannot be had by fabulation, by storytelling (which in fact Plato did in his theory of recollection) in terms of “defining entities as entities by tracing them back in their origin to some other entities” (Heidegger, Being and Time, 26).
The Phaedo is a case in point when Socrates talked about the origin of everything, by tracing something to another, until the story reached its culmination in death—the origin of everything. But death is not physical death; rather it is traced to an indefinable past that memory attempts to penetrate, not without the difficulties it has to bear. But the difficulty is there to keep thinking alive, to keep it away from the reductive machination of definition, finality and organization. Recollection has the sole function in Plato to sustain something irreducible; something that would linger even after the most systematic reduction of calculative thinking is done with the most sinister intent, beginning with Aristotle. In most recent forays into this irreducible, isn’t Laruelle rehearsing Plato in his concept of Man-in-man in which “Man” (in the Man-in-man) is the irreducible in the reduction of man to animal rationale? The Man-in-man is Laruelle’s generic definition in place of Aristotle’s animal rationale in which arguably man becomes human under the protection of logos apophantikos. Plato is entirely different. The logos is not to be reached by reason alone, but also by the good beyond being, which already offers us an alternative to reason, namely, fabulation. Aristotle rejected fabulation and recollection in favor of reducing the uneasiness of imagination to the categories of reason. This is the start of Platonism proper—the reduction of Plato’s intoxicating irreductions.
In short, the greatest legacy of Platonism is the refusal of storytelling. This is strictly played out in Aristotle’s critique of Plato’s Timaeus in Physics in which Aristotle rejected the former’s concept of the chora, or the third kind that actually preconditions the possibility of being and becoming out of which the physical world emerges; the chora as the errant causality, totally indefinable, something that must be left outside of the bounds of known and intelligible sense. We must not lose sight of Plato’s point that the chora as an errant cause is the whole essence of necessity itself, namely, pace Meillassoux, contingency. Here, contingency is the avenger for the irreducible. In the Timaeus, the cosmos is created by fabulation which the chora demands as no reason can account for it. As characteristic of recollection, fabulation qualifies as the condition of possibility of creation.
So what is Platonism? Our brief answer is: It is the being of us as animal rationale that demands we must secure ourselves against the temptation to indulge in chorology. But isn’t chorology the power of the false?
“Reading the Ethics is supposed to persuade us to change in some way. We are supposed to do things differently than we did before (in particular, we’re supposed to occupy ourselves with organizing joyous encounters and with escape ideas born of the imaginary)” (Larval Subjects)
How To Throw a Principle Away
This is one paradox, the most representative I guess, in Spinoza’s system which can be resolved, without reducing his system to what we believe it actually does, by observing his system from a meta-theoretical standpoint which will need us to utilize, vis-à-vis the Ethics, a meta-ethical frame of analysis. And by that I mean bringing the Ethics into contact with individual experiences, ours I mean, which are multiply framed, most I guess do not enjoy the comfort of taking Spinoza’s concepts in mind.
Or, none of these experiences actually does. Still Spinoza’s system, regardless of its internal inconsistency vis-à-vis his over-all deterministic disposition, is a system that demands a correspondence with experiences, regardless of situations which give birth to them or bring them into light, which is what it does if we agree that Spinoza’s Ethics is a system in itself. Or, we can throw this view away if we come to an agreement that, for all its intents and purposes, Spinoza’s is not a system by any means.
Incidentally, inspite of my own issues with Kant, I take it that Kant to a great extent managed to solve a similar dilemma concerning the antinomies of reason, which were carefully resolved by objectively extending the aprioris to speculations about objects of experiences and by this Kant meant that pure reason had to annul itself. Only when it annuls itself that pure reason can extend itself to objects of experiences (previously inaccessible to pure reason). It goes without saying that in its pre-critical period, pure reason was busy the whole time dogmatically reproducing the principle of determinism, that is to say, extending itself without annulling itself at the same time. Taking Kant into mind, Spinoza’s Ethics is made possible by annulling this principle, that is to say, to give room for practical reason, the sphere in which freedom can make sense, or throwing it away as it turned out to be incompatible with freedom. At least, Spinoza had to suspend its efficacy vis-à-vis the aim of sustaining freedom. The sphere of practical reason is the ethical itself, needless to say. The question that confronts us now is whether Spinoza’s Ethics is actually suspending the principle of determinism.
Take note that in Kant the annulment of pure reason is not absolute. After all we are talking about ‘one cognition’, reason which is both capable of speculation and performance, pure reason and practical reason, etc. This is known as Kant’s concept of reflexivity in which reason interrogates its own assumptions. Reason is therefore doing a critical work, that is, upon itself. My own debate with Kant has something to do with the history of nihilism of which Kant was only partially aware, which makes his so-called inventory of the aprioris of reason (for classifying which ones are speculative, and which ones are practical) incomplete and therefore incapable of dealing with nihilism whose full complement was about to be witnessed by Nietzsche. This is not to say that Nietzsche completed the table of categories. Far from it. Nietzsche shifted the terrain somewhere else. But exactly, the same form of nihilism would confound Spinoza, although it was restricted to the burning issues of his day—does God still matter in the realm of freedom? Here, Spinoza is actually trying to salvage determinism in order to save the value of freedom. Freedom had to be rescued from determinism so that the latter can be saved. But how?
We need not look far. In Spinoza, God assumed the function of Reason. But he lacked the Kantian magic to parcel out reason according to its speculative and performative categories. What Spinoza missed is when to throw a principle (determinism) away. But he did actually do this except that the principle kept coming back that he had to suppress it by axiomatizing the ethical, proofing it against the contamination of the external principle whose arguable strength is that it is a decided mystery—there is God. But another principle takes the place of the one thrown away. Freedom kept coming back which could not under all circumstances assume the function of that which is tossed away. Nostalgia crept in, welcoming the first principle anew. But this time determinism has to be compatible with freedom. Whether Spinoza is prepared to embrace an atheist God is another matter. It looks as though he is.
In Kant, God is reduced to practical reason, to the ethical, a marked contrast with Spinoza where God is extended to the ethical without telling us that pure reason is already extending itself, and is doing so, from the point of view of Kant, dogmatically. It should be the reverse, the ethical, now a pure rational practical faith, extending itself to the speculative that allows itself to think of God, or that which has to be discovered here as though it is for the very first time.
As usual, it goes with the noise carrying the sweat of a crowd too impossible to mistake for angels in a cemetery, the crispness of idle talk which needs this space to become more than what they are, entrapped in the incalculable.
But where it palpitates, there it has never seen action, the onrush of time into space.
Hasn’t anyone heard of it yet? Not long ago ‘Death is beyond experience.’ A false limit whose empty lines spoke only of its quiet power, of the possible being a limit only to calculability.
But where the dead are and where no one else is, curiously said this even goes to them, alive in the stillness of nowhere, calculability gives time its unmistakable context.
Yet the story went on, defying the dead in their own in-crowding, beehive-ing suspicion.
Time is incalculable.
We are all entrapped in it, each for a living soul, the dead takes a life in living memory:
in space, a tomb, in the air, all the same enclosed in a topology—
where time’s the reckoning frame, the dead falls into place.
Night watchers can look up in the sky as children read a few lines from Heidegger. It will be the same stillness.
Another stillness. Another inventoried time
where time sinks under its sole pretext–
a new earth. A new melancholia.
We take it that ‘posthumanism’ has become a needless rhetorical exercise despite tons of works dedicated to its elaboration and presumably its emancipatory potential vis-à-vis the most persistent threat of the day, techno-determinism.  That its persistence is arguably self-reflexive in the sense that it is self-correcting is a sign that it is on to something.
The notion of self has to be implicated here, regardless whether the posthuman is already aggressively disabusing self-reflexivity of its unmistakable Kantian schemata, allegedly because there is no more self to begin with, an outcome of overcoming the self which otherwise played a crucial role in Kant’s system. Arguably, the posthuman advocates a notion of non-self (Bataille comes to mind) whose very act of self-transgression may lead to a relative perfection of knowledge into non-knowledge . But where this relative perfection gives us a glimpse of the post-human, the human as a strict correlate of knowledge, what matters (or what can lay claim to correctness as far as Nietzsche is concerned) is how the attempt to overcome the ‘human’ satisfies at least the minimum requirement of transvaluation. Whether transvaluation gestures a direction towards the ‘posthuman’ is a matter in need of clarification, at least in Nietzsche’s terms.
Nietzsche’s over-all pronouncement in Genealogy, lest we forget, the focal point of the critique of the human, is at least obvious to Deleuze who understood his pronouncements as otherwise urgent, the urgency to raise the question of ‘who will undertake the critique of values’.  It would turn out that the question is really about pursuing a critique of the critic himself who turned out to be the ascetic—Nietzsche’s concept of overcoming is after all directed at the ascetic  that Kant valorised in all his Critiques. The ascetic is charged by Kant with the responsibility to critique the values of the past as they contaminate and underpin the present. The ascetic as critic is the faciality of Kant’s practical reason which is no longer that of the typical human if we can still think of the human as having all the healthy attributes in the wake of the death of God which Kant was also secretly trying to overcome (whose fulfillment, however, would need Nietzsche to explode like one of those machines ).
But the ascetic is the exhausted  face of pure reason, bound to the moral exhortation to save at least the minimum of the human, to save the will itself, as Nietzsche puts it, struggling in the midst of the ruins of the old world. The ascetic is encouraged by the Critiques to still entertain the objective illusion that he is still a subject by any means, and therefore a subject capable of undertaking a critique of how the subject itself has been obscured, displaced or sublated as a precondition for understanding the problem of metaphysics, the progenitor of past values or those which gave us the ruins in their unimaginable proportion (offering us more wars, hunger, famine, ecological disasters, etc.).But this is not only the way past values are wreaking havoc as they are also aggressively laying out the landscapes of the future imaginary which Kant would be happy to re-imagine by means of practical reason.
In other words, Kant resurrected the subject in the person of the ascetic. It is well to note here that the humanism of Kant (which acquires its post-Kantian sense in terms of the asceticism of philosophy) is the correct target of Nietzsche’s overcoming in light of the Kantian imaginary of the kingdom of ends. What underlies this kingdom is the discreet but powerful premise that humans are somehow capable of immortality if only that they could utilize to its moral perfectibility the exhortations of practical reason. Here, Kant has abandoned pure (speculative) reason in favor of practical (moral) reason which alone can figure out a way out of the antinomies of reason (such as played out in either science or philosophy) without incurring self-contradiction, that is to say, to simply exist without the comfort of speculation, or the extrinsic principle of the Idea, a kind of poverty dear to existentialism. It is of course debatable to say that Kant anticipated the existentialist movement, but with Nietzsche prying him open on behalf of our postmodern sensibility, it is fair to say that he rather anticipated a different kind of existentialism whose silent persistence may be aptly termed as posthumanist.
It is our contention here that the posthuman is what Kant was already affirming in the wake of the first Critique. For us, this necessarily requires confronting the question ‘what is Man?’ But we are not trying to revive existentialism here whose ushering in continental philosophy was rather premature. Contemporary existentialism (or at least the movement initiated by Sartre) was rather founded on a misguided relation to Heidegger’s Being and Time. Heidegger himself avoided the problem of the singularity of Man which reached its zenith in his infamous “Letter on Humanism.”7 Heidegger’s eschewal of the question instead favoured an appropriated existentiality that is deemed capable of surpassing nihilism only because this time it is devoid of any kind of attraction for philosophy (its attraction, if at all, has to be favoured rather by the Event, an appropriation of the kind only a releasement to mystery could express ) to raise the question anew as Kant had already buried this concept.
And yet the question ‘what is Man?’ has never been more relevant as we are confronted today with a deluge of post-humanism/s whose Kantian roots have never been problematized to its right context and magnitude. At least Sartre attempted to raise the problem from the ground up but only to find once again that the problem is better left untouched as the question of Man, as it had been raised in existentialism, secretly followed Kant’s clue—that practical reason could save all the antinomies of reason. Sartre was very much a child of continental philosophy with its paradigmatic allegiance to reflexivity, to a celebration of apodictic (moral) freedom. This is where Nietzsche comes in, arguably the outsider vis-à-vis the tradition of continental thought.
The Eschewal of the Question
The failure to raise the question (‘What is Man?’) becomes associated with the rise of the ascetic ideal which Nietzsche connects to the Kantian legacy. The ascetic ideal, as Nietzsche declares, is the existential condition of Man in which he “would rather will nothingness than not will at all. To raise the question ‘What is Man?’ is to thus problematize the nihilism, the will to will nothing, that avoiding the question begets. (The avoidance of the question ironically begets the humanism deemed as antidote to the nagging persistence of the question. If Heidegger hated the term, he was right however in pointing out its conceptual baggage. Yet, he was entirely oblivious of the real question itself. It is no surprise why Heidegger left Being and Time unfinished. The point is–it has never been the question of Being, but rather of the critic, of the ascetic vis-a-vis the death of God). Consequently, the problematization of nihilism modifies the question into the ‘who’ of the agency that can take on the task of transvaluation.
We are therefore not surprised when Kant stopped short of proposing the fourth question a propos of the three famous questions that the Critique of Pure Reason offers to its readers, namely, 1) What can I know? 2) What I ought to do? and 3) What may I hope? . (Kant, however, raised the question in another work, in his lectures on Logic, but the effect is the same, as if the fourth question was never raised. In fact, according to him, the first three questions of the critique is already the question of Man). All throughout this questioning the presupposition of the unity of the ‘I’ gathers the three questions in an appropriative standpoint, that is, the standpoint of Man, but where Man has to be understood notwithstanding as a product of the noumenal appropriation of practical reason concerning the pre-existence of God, freedom and immortality. The fourth question contains a term neglected in Kant, which as Deleuze correctly intimates, is otherwise necessary to make sense of the question who will undertake the critique of values that Kant initiated but failed to provide the right agency capable of achieving the task. 
Is this agency the ‘posthuman’? No. The posthuman is the ascetic of Kant, the human whose exhaustion already provides the answer to the question whether nihilism can be overcome. The exhausted cannot accomplish this task. If Kant valorised the posthuman it is no surprise why. Philosophy remains hostage to Kant’s asceticism as does the ‘general intellect’, for instance, in relation to the power of Capital which can indefinitely delay the question of emancipation, the fourth question that Kant, the real avant-garde of capital, suppressed. It would otherwise require in the Deleuzian sense a counter-philosophy of joy,  a rejuvenation of the body from out of the territorialized landscapes of freedom, yet it is freedom that is no longer attached to an exemplary causality, such as God or the immortality of the soul, and even less to an affirmation that Capital—the most immanent causal form of nihilism—cannot be overcome.
This leads us to the radicalization of the fourth question from out of Nietzsche’s response to Kant’s questions in the Critique, that is, the question ‘who will undertake the critique of values’. Nietzsche charges this ‘who’ with the responsibility to undertake the transvaluation of values, the values that Kant resurrected from out of the ruins of traditional metaphysics while attempting to put a closure to it. In his most representative expression on this matter, Nietzsche says:
“Does one really in all seriousness still think (as the theologians deluded themselves for a while) that, for instance, Kant’s victory over the conceptual dogmas of theology (‘God’, ‘soul’, ‘freedom’, ‘immortality’) harmed [the] ideal? … What is certain is that, since Kant, all kinds of transcendentalists have once again won the day – they are liberated from the theologians: what luck! – Kant revealed to them the secret path along which they may from now on, in independence and with the greatest scientific respectability, pursue their ‘heart’s desire’.”
We have never been posthuman in the same way the Kantian project of modernity, building on the efficacy of practical reason, is never meant as a forward march which arguably begets this post-human of contemporary theory, but as a regressive movement whose intention we were not allowed to suspect. The ‘post’ in the post-human is never meant as a projection, even less a trajectory for Kant lacked a conclusive assumption of time that can get away with the antinomies of reason which can yield equally true and false statements about the beginning and the lack of beginning of time. Recall that Kant dissolved the antinomies in favor of practical reason. But practical reason also lacks a projective aspect; needless to say, it is conservative, the one true virtue of modernity.
This is why we can never agree with Latour that ‘we have never been modern’. Latour is discreetly defending Kant’s ascetic who in our time arguably possesses the power of reflexivity which can disabuse capitalism of its accelerating regression and hence to turn about in order to steer the course of history forward. On the contrary, we have always been modern as we have long before become ascetic whose reflexivity is never meant to raise the question of ‘who’ we have become.
The Way Forward
No doubt, capitalism or modernity has never been this-worldly. It thrives in the imaginary of the old world, its otherworldly character, whose values are the right values for its global dispensation. There lies the real faciality of nihilism—it is a nihilism that is devoid of any purpose except to delay the question of the ‘who’ in relation to the critique of values (or, in relation to the failed moment of existentialism, to suppress the real existentialism that Sartre also denied of us owing to his indebtedness to Kant, glossed over by his Nietzschean prose), and because the right agency to undertake the critique is blotted out in the picture, this nihilism has become a matter of pure willing, of practical reason. The regression of practical reason and the asceticism of philosophy today aims to silence the question, hence to deny the real threat of nihilism. Philosophy has become complicit with capital whose unmistakable goal is to deny the ultimate power of the question itself, the ‘who’ question which no longer requires philosophy and its audience, the question’s intrinsic power of the false  whose audience is rather flourishing beyond the walls of the asceticism of reason, beneath the locating, geo-tagging machines of capital.
The only way therefore is the way forward which requires of us that we turn about and face the real world behind us. But it is a world the posthuman will never ever choose to confront. It is a world already deep in ruins.
But already in this light, Nietzsche could not have chosen a more appropriate occasion to advocate an extreme type of garbage anthropology, the genealogy for our time, which illustrates for us that Kant’s rational anthropology has churned out a lot of cognitive post-human debris and more to pile up to the moral constitution of our psychotic age. It is indeed a stark contrast to the promise of clean and green ecology, what is promised precisely by the Critiques, the reconstruction of the ecology of the moral landscape of reason after destroying the old world along with its signature refuse – the bones of scholasticism. But against the background of climate entropy and ecological disasters, never has the question been more straightforward.
The ‘who question’ now addresses an army of sanitary workers, garbage collectors, waste disposal units, an assemblage of disaster management operatives; climate justice activists, hospice and rehab workers, and the like; peoples of deserted islands – the first victims of climate change, and the last men and women to whom the earth shall leave her place. Indeed, never has Nietzsche been much closer to the pedestrian, even more, truly prophetic of the power of the false – the power of the commons.
1. Excellent summaries of this issue are available at the following sites: http://darkecologies.com/2014/10/28/utopia-or-hell-the-future-as-posthuman-game-strategy/; http://deterritorialinvestigations.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/the-posthuman-and-the-information-guerrilla/. A video lecture of David Roden is available at http://syntheticzero.net/2014/10/28/how-human-will-posthumans-be-david-roden/. David Roden is the author of Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human.
2. Allan Stoekl, Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion and Postsustainability (Minnesota and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 219, n. 10.
3. We are indebted to Deleuze with respect to the formulation of this question in his highly influential work Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983). See Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 88.
4. See Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic. By way of clarification and supplement to my last book Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Douglas Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 136.
5. See Iain Hamilton Grant, ‘At the Mountains of Madness. The Demonology of the New Earth and the Politics of Becoming’, in Keith Ansell Pearson (ed.) Deleuze and Philosophy. The Difference Engineer (Routledge, London and New York), 104.
6. See Gilles Deleuze and Anthony Uhlman, “The Exhausted,” Substance, Vol. 24, No. 3, Issue 78 (1995), 3-28.
7. See Martin Heidegger, “Letter on Humanism,” in Basic Writings of Martin Heidegger, ed. David Farrel Krell (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993).
8. Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking, trans. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 54.
9. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 136.
10. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Werner Pluhar (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1996), 735, A820/B848.
11. Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 88.
12. You may take a look at an example of this Deleuzian gesture at http://stephenvilaseca.wordpress.com/leonidas-martin/.
13. Nietzsche, Genealogy, 130-31.
14. Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993.
15. Deleuze, heavily influenced by Nietzsche, develops this concept of the power of the false in his book Cinema 2: Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (London: Athlone Press, 2000), 121-38.
Paper prepared for the Philippine Studies Annual Conference to be held on November 12 to 14, 2014 at the National Museum of the Philippines
I take it from Adorno that culture is, among others, a mode of confronting nature [or world] (2009, 146).
This definition of culture, provisional as it may seem, overlaps with that of technology being a mode of letting things occur (Heidegger 1977) largely for human purposes, yet most often with a robust kind of intervention for nature or world to speak its inner laws. (We may recall here Aristotle’s concept of logos apophantikos which means to bring to light the hidden principles of nature in its activity). This broadly suggests that culture relates to nature or world by encountering it according to a plan, a scheme, a way of letting things reveal themselves out of their own light.
Already this definition (of culture) is an instance of the antinomial, the equal weight of truth or non-truth percolating evenly into two incompatible terms, namely, encounter (with the connotation of the aleatory, of chance occurrence, or roughly, an event) and purposeful planning whose aim is to dematerialize the contingency of all actual and possible modes of occurrences; in short, to make everything calculable.
This paradox is resolved otherwise by breaking a zone of indetermination in terms of subordinating its non-sense to the axiomatic dictates of human freedom (a la Kant) acting on its own; donating, in the absence of originary sense, a secondary sense to what would have been impervious to meaning. But already the second sense is the originary point of beginning, there being no other way to begin. (Is not this second sense already an act of culture which creates and founds any sense we can conceive, including the opposite complement of culture, namely, nature? Are not the humanities at fault here by setting off these two otherwise exchangeable terms?)
Incidentally, where giving originary sense is concerned, this is also what set-theory in mathematics exactly performs—to nominate a set that is not a member of any set but which necessarily begins the whole study of sets (Badiou 2009); an infinite empty set, to the exclusion of all other sets, that is by no means conceived mathematically, rather by an act similar to that which has turned the world into a fable a la Nietzsche (1968).
Incidentally, the first myths of creation are stories of how the world is created by an originary act of giving, of the gods (always the gods) giving, until its perfection in monotheism where it is rather the One God, excluding all others, not without the violence of wiping them out, including their actual human employers, who gives the ultimate law, the only Law, the supreme sense or meaning.
And voila, the paradox is solved, by any means a leap of faith; a leap into practical reason (where Kant would have much to say). Nietzsche is not so far from Marx on this point. Marx was referring to the early priest-ideologists who created the world that we live in, not that there is no pre-given world, a world that is always already available for capture, for settlement, for dwelling, for building; a world where poetry is already in place, where love speaks a thousand words in a thousand plateaus in a thousand never-ending worlds of make-believe, rather this world would have no use to the species if it is not already transformed for human purposes. As Marx and Engels (1998) put it in The German Ideology: “Individuals have always proceeded from themselves.”
To bring home our point, this capacity of human freedom resonates strongly in Marx’s own subordination of the inherent conflict of capitalism to the one-party dictatorship of the oppressed class. The oppressed class in question here can be afforded, notwithstanding, the same characteristics as those that make culture operational, a way of breaking a paradox whose very nature as indiscernible, to quote Marx, “weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living” (Eighteenth Brumaire). To cast this nightmare, a counter-culture is summoned to carry out what is no different from an exorcising ritual—to cleanse, to purify, to purge; to level everything onto an imagined point of origination where everything begins anew.
This is the utopia of human freedom—to bend necessity, or what qualifies as the all-pervasive determinant of the indeterminate, the ineffable, the inarticulate, the uncanny, the unhomely, the Freudian unconscious, if you will; everything that melts into a paradox, so to speak, to freedom’s own self-unpacking rule. Here, we obtain a homologous network of complementary terms—axiom, freedom, fabulation. In a manner of speaking, an axis of composition whose unifying rhetoric is well-known—the destruction of the old.
Yet, as with Nietzsche, with the destruction of the real world the apparent one sets in with new possibilities on offer; a new mode of godding, of summoning a new god or gods whose goal is ultimate—to turn the world once more into a fable.
In lieu of a conclusion
With the turn of the century, we have welcomed a new mode of godding replacing the ethereal pride of the dreamland of all dreams, heaven they call it, where everyone else who gets to die gets each a big mansion (recall the movie Invention of Lying). This is the hyper-extensive realism of the infosphere commanding new ways of living or not living while still managing to live, the online-offline sway of our being-in-the-world in the present replacing Heidegger’s homely concept of being as the dance, the echo, the swaying to and fro of Being, as poetic clearing (Heidegger 1999). This is the hyper-real world which sets everything in place, in the order of quantum reality, complex algorithms, nano-machine and intelligence; in the order of the becoming-other of human who has never been human, who has always been other than human (ah, the hubris of all elitist inventions!), in an era where economies of confronting scarcity and a dying planet are giving way to precarious adaptation; in the order where capital threatens to finally erase its labor complement in the same manner that culture is overturning the independence of natural ecology. Welcome to the anthropocene.
Again, a whiff of Nietzsche: Are we looking at a new paradox in need of a new culture to break? Or do we need a break?
Adorno, Theodor. 2009. Kultur and Culture. Social Text 99 (27): 145-158.
Badiou, Alain. 2009. Logic of Worlds. Being and Event, 2. Translated by Alberto Toscano. New York and London.
Heidegger, Martin. 1997. Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Translated by William Lovitt. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc.
________. 1999. Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning). Translated by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1968. Twilight of the Idols. Translated R. J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels.1975. Collected Works, Volume 5. New York: International Publishers.
To begin with, I am proposing here a homology between deconstruction and the practice of Cultural Studies premised on a particular conception of culture, following Raymond Williams’s guide definition for the studies (Williams 1983: 87-93). Below is a recent re-translation by Spivak of some passages in Derrida’s famous Of Grammatology.
The movements of deconstruction do not shake up structures from the outside. They are neither possible and effective, nor can they set their aim [ajuster leur coup], except by inhabiting those structures. Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhabits and all the more when one does not suspect it. Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing all the strategic and economic resources of subversion from the old structure, borrowing them structurally, that is to say without being able to isolate their elements and atoms, the enterprise of deconstruction is always, in a certain way, swept away by [emportée par] its own work. (Spivak 2011: xxxii).
It can be argued that Cultural Studies’ conception of culture bears a striking resemblance to deconstruction’s relation to its own practice—‘swept away by its own work.’ Catherine Gallagher (1995) describes this rather positively as an ‘absence of specifics’, a proposition that also furnishes us with a reluctant opening onto a certain consistency with tradition, regarding its conception of ‘culture’:
It is this absence of specifics conjoined with a heavy investment in the idea of specifics that gives the word culture as used by cultural critics an uncanny resemblance to its much-maligned Arnoldian twin, high culture with a capital C. We may have rejected the restriction of culture to a privileged realm of ‘art’ and the belief that its value derives from transcendent human universals rather than from concrete historical circumstances; nevertheless, our use of culture and Arnold’s have more in common than is generally recognized. (Gallagher 1995: 309)
The mere mention of Derrida’s deconstruction and its relation to cultural studies is not given certain theoretical affordances here as to simply amplify the significance of deconstruction to the discipline. What I wish to convey rather is that deconstruction is what the use of ‘culture’ is all about, that is, culture as a text in itself which resists interpretation of the positive representational sort; what Heidegger would describe as presence-at-hand (Heidegger 2001), that which is rendered in and through language. Here, cultural studies’ guide definition for ‘culture’, nonetheless, is not impermeable to critique.
The basic supposition of culture as text is a product of the infiltration of psychoanalysis and its notion of the unconscious to Cultural Studies (Williams 1983: 320-23). I like to note here though that Williams himself in a number of occasions felt that the infiltration of psychoanalysis left more to be desired (Williams 1981: 167). Even so, the force of psychoanalysis is still there, and with Adorno utilizing psychoanalysis in relation to mass media, the infiltration cannot be ignored (see Adorno 1991). The unconscious qualifies, in a manner of speaking, as a dark precursor (physical or biological) that precedes language (which is readily associated with bringing things to light, thus, to illuminate). In Heideggerian terms, it is rather described as the pre-ontological horizon of intelligibility (see Heidegger 2001), that which no amount of representational language can penetrate. Nonetheless, as it is with negentropy in physics (or negating entropy), the use of language to represent a dark assemblage as the unconscious, presumably, a storehouse of forces and energy essential for life to emerge (yet also a minefield that can threaten life’s continuity), comes with the risk of provoking the return of the repressed (Freud 1965; Lacan 1988:171). Language amounts to blowing up a pristine homeostatic condition in which forces of life and death are suspended in a mutually non-active state (Schrodinger 1992). It is in this sense, taking things from here a bit fast to drive home our point, that human organization which is always already mediated by language (language co-arises with the human species) is a risky negotiation with what Freud, and later expanded by Lacan, called the death drive (see Lacan 1988: 27-92). Much to the concern of a cultural theorist like Nietzsche, for instance, it is for this reason that life bears the mark of in-security and thereof the will to negate it (see Nietzsche 1996) by means of securitizing culture. What culture amounts to, in extreme terms, is a biopolitical repression of the death drive.
In general terms, the culture that we believe we can represent in a number of helpful terms can be traced back to the beginnings of agriculture which subsequently evolved into the practice of usury and debt—the first forms of biopolitical organization for the control of population perfected in modern finance capitalism (Graeber 2011). Yet, the control of population is inscribed within the very terms of controlling life, or the deprivation of life, its enabling resources, to those who could be utilized, or made to stand as reserves (in Heidegger’s coinage ) for sustaining a condition in which the maximum goal is to fend off the return of the repressed, the death drive. In the history of humankind this ‘return’ has been objectively qualified as apocalyptic, with the negative connotation accruing upon its destructive power. As a side note, I would like to propose here that the apocalyptic complex that has defined the way life has been hitherto organized is broadly anchored on agri-culture, or the manner in which the sedentarization of people’s movement since the introduction of farming and husbandry has repressed, not without certain positive features (but are now at risk of totalizing human life itself), the nomadic or exilic character of human existence whose model is the pre-primitive (vis-à-vis the ‘primitive’ as a modern ascriptor of the progress of human history), or the pre-historical, pre-sedentary mobility of the nomad.
We can also speak here, not without the risk of being misunderstood, that this character of the human can be identified as pre-cultural. Notwithstanding though, as the notion of ‘the human’ may appear to be pre-fabricated as to warrant a strong correlation between human and culture (in the ‘agreed’ sense, human and culture are synonymous), we are at the ready to extend our assumption further into a more adversarial position—that ‘we have never been human’ in the first place, hence, the questionable term ‘culture’ as coterminous with the human.
That ‘we have never been human’ is our propositional challenge to the unopposed assumption of the human that provides the context for cultural studies. Lest I provoke more criticisms than can be warranted, I must clarify that the proposition ‘we have never been human’ is not a denial of the existence of the species that has for some time now called itself, or has been accustomed to call itself ‘human’. It is rather the particular organization or investment of values to the species (which, I believe, what ‘culture is in a nutshell), in a manner that decides for it, on its behalf, that becomes our target here. For certainly, this kind of investment is neither neutral nor anonymous (see Rosaldo 1989).
A cultural critic may readily oppose us here, especially, in light of deconstructive practice that is still very much a guiding force for cultural studies. A deconstructive ‘use’ of culture for the studies certainly exhibits fluidity, never aspiring to a treatment of culture as a fossil. Yet, deconstruction cannot deconstruct what is undeniably an ontological priority for language—the human who is capable of the highest culture (animals have culture too) which language evidently represents. We can radicalize our critique of deconstruction here to as far as declaring that deconstruction’s influence on cultural studies has made the studies the epitome of the humanism of modernity—this despite the much avowed description of culture as historical and contingent, thus providing theoretical arsenals for the studies to challenge the notoriety of humanistic assumptions prevalent in the West (see Rosaldo 1989:32). The rise of post-colonial studies that complement the study of culture is a case in point. Even so, we have reached a point where post-colonial discourse has to give way to a diffluent force of time.
I am deploying the term ‘diffluent’ (or flowing away) to underscore the fact that not only are we compelled to interrogate our assumptions vis-à-vis the shifting tides of the time, its ebb and flow, but also, in the face of the withdrawal of time itself, its force and influence upon the contemporary in a manner that makes time ironically stand still. To paraphrase Heidegger, we have to learn how to be ‘in the draft’ (1993: 375), and be cast into the sea change at the same time that we are pointing towards that which withdraws. Nevertheless, the greatest challenge lies in how we can still point to time as it withdraws while appearing to be at rest; in more precise terms, the appearance of things that their capacity for change has already been saturated, leaving us with nothing to hope for.
Perhaps, this conviction is best expressed in Fredric Jameson’s words which caution us rather than wallow in defeatism: ‘It is easy to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’ (Jameson 2003). The apocalyptic weight of history has been exhausting the political imagination of the species in such a way that the biopolitical control of life (that we mentioned earlier) has totalized the rest of the earthbound, including us. What we need here, and this is our proposal, is to untangle the humanity ‘at work’, the humanity as ‘material’ for political economy, for biopolitical control, and release this humanity to a serialization process, a de-familiarization process (to parenthesize Bahktin), or better yet a de-materialization of which the species is no stranger after all (imagine here how this once animal assemblage has leaped into consciousness). We can also mean here to de-culture the species. Yet, more than this connotation, we are talking of the nomad as a model whose never-ending quest for virtuality in the sense of resisting finality and organization has never ceased to infiltrate ‘our’ existence as a species, especial mention here is the case of nomad peoples of Southeast Asia (Scott 2009), despite the planetary securitization of culture whose first form was the concentration of life to agri-culture. It is in this sense that humanity has never been in ‘it’, in a culture; rather, most of us, if not all, are formally economized which has made us into the humans that we believe we are, at least in appearance.
And that is the precisely point: what matters for biopolitical control is the formidable appearance of culture.
Adorno, T (1991) Kultur and Culture. Social Text 99 (27): 145-158.
Freud, S (1965) New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, trans. Strachey, J. New York: Norton.
Gallagher, C (1995) ‘Raymond Williams and Cultural Studies.’ In: (ed) Prendergast, C (1995) Cultural Materialism: On Raymond Williams. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
Graeber, D (2009) Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Brooklyn, New York: Melville House.
Heidegger, Martin (1977) The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. Lovitt, W. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.
________. (1993) Basic Writings of Martin Heidegger, ed Krell, D. F. . London: Routledge.
________. (2001) Being and Time, trans. Macquarie, J and Robinson, R. Oxford: Basil, Blackwell.
Jameson, Fredric (2003) Future City. New Left Review 21: 65-79.
Lacan, J (1988) Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II. The Ego in Freud’s Theory in the Technique of Psychoanalysis (1954-1955), trans. Tomaselli, S. ed. Miller, J-A. New York and London: Cambridge University Press.
Nietzsche, F (1996) On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic. By way of clarification and supplement to my last book Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Smith, D. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rosaldo, R (1989) Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston: Benson.
Scott, James (200) The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Schrodinger, E (1992) What is Life? With Mind and Manner and Autobiographical Sketches. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Spivak, G.-C (2011) “Preface: Reading de la Grammatologie.” In: (ed.) Gaston, S, and Maclachlan, I. Reading Derrida’s Of Grammatology.. London and New York: Continuum.
Williams, R (1981) Politics and Letters: Interview with the New Left Review. New York: Verso.
________. (1983) Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. New York: Oxford University Press.
My second Bookforum entry. Here Slavoj Zizek Fans and Haters
P.S. Another spell of Sophie.
While I was revisiting Marcuse last summer, I was fortunate to have extra time to accommodate a personal game of metaphysics. A certain Bruce Lee, in fact threw me a question I couldn’t resist taking on. Obviously, I am not talking of the real Bruce Lee; truth is whether there was a real one I am not sure anymore. Between TV and reality, there is only the couch. And so, with the speed of a kung fu, he asked me if I can reconcile St. Thomas with Daoism, and needless to say, I was amazed at his capacity to defamiliarize a scorching summer afternoon, as if throwing a cold water on my face. This guy is the real Bruce Lee. For an unexplainable aspect even on this part of my association game (identifying his mental (was it?) acts with Bruce Lee’s martial prowess), I rushed to my metaphysical boardroom (there’s no way I could tell how many came and who I was conjuring up to parley with) and started to prepare my answer. He was out for a KFC chicken when I got back with my answer.
The question, in other words, is: Is it possible to reconcile a philosophy that appeals to transcendence with practically a non-philosophy (strictly, where philosophy is not invoked) whose notion of transcendence, if at all, is always already given in the immanence it promotes as the practical ground of the real?
Now you are in my boardroom. Let me continue
If we will choose to reconcile transcendence and immanence in a more general setting, we will need a third term which could structurally unite the two terms whose unity is under consideration here. The third term might be found to be intrinsic to each of the two terms though in some sense repressed, or it might be after all extrinsic to them. On the one hand, the unity of transcendence and immanence may be said to be a taken for granted fact; on the other hand, we can have a unity only if occasioned by an outside force which is neither transcendent nor immanent. The latter case is familiar to Western philosophy.
We are referring to occasionalism which invokes an external causality seeming to lack the constancy of intention to settle the disputations of immanence across the physical and spiritual dimensions of life. The famous occasionalist statement that it is not fire that burns the cotton, rather it is God can however be repaired to recast our option in favor of an external form of causality that is neither transcendent nor immanent, assuming that each position basically requires an intention. If we can demonstrate that this externality does not possess the intention intrinsic to a determinate position (transcendence or immanence), then we may have obtained the perfect recipe for unity. In other words, we need to demonstrate that the unity is not borne by any interest. But first, we need to prove that a basic form of occasionalism pervades the two determinate positions without actually being a part of either position as to warrant an accommodation of causality in the occasional form we have given to this possibility of unity. What we mean here is simple: the unity is neither taken for granted nor anticipated; rather, it comes, arrives without rhyme or reason.
First, how can it be demonstrated vis-à-vis the Thomistic notion of truth? Is there an occasional form of causality that we can identify in Thomism? Is there something of the sort comparable to an arrival of truth in Thomism caused by a lack of intention on the part of that which causes our participation in the intrinsic process of truth? A Thomist would readily dispute our initial questions here. God is not an occasionalist. He does not lack the intention as Creator. The presence of reason meanwhile guarantees that this intention is accessible (in immanence) in the form of partaking in the divine will. It is in fact reason that takes the place of the constancy of intention of God that guarantees that no occasional form of causation can ever take place. Reason therefore must constantly work. It will never run out of conditions against which it must work on behalf of God, for reason by virtue of the constancy of its intention will never finish its work until God makes His appearance. Reason will never know, nonetheless, when God will do so. This is the principle of indeterminacy that gives to God, alas, the occasional form that is discouraged by doctrinal Thomism.
In Thomism there is nothing outside the realm of rational participation in the divine will until the divine wills that reason grind to a halt (such as the case of Thomas when he stopped writing after God appeared to Him). Here, there are consequences to bear. Recall that St. Thomas insists that truth is adequation (between the intellect and the thing). The adequation holds until God wills that reason stop working. In the will of God, truth ceases to be an adequation. But no reason can divine the will of God. Reason must therefore leave it to occasionalism, to the principle of indeterminacy to explain (even so, an explanation that does not explain) why God would will Himself to make an appearance. Beyond the capability of reason to explain lies the opportunity of the occasionalist. And why would God appear to reason? Occasionalism has no answer (that is the answer) except it is in the will of God to will His appearance.
At this point, let us proceed to Daoism as quickly as we can get. In fact, it is not difficult to detect the occasionalist in the Dao. It is said that in the Dao, one lets reality come to you, one never seeks reality. The Dao is the so-called Yin/Yang, complementary forces, so to speak. Yet, this time, rather than the principle of indeterminacy that we briefly explored in Thomism, the Dao is governed by complementarity, similar to a particular strand of quantum physics developed by Niels Bohr. In naïve terms, the principle of complementarity states that there are various approaches to observing reality but one can observe reality only when other approaches are isolated to give preference to one approach. The preference for one approach does not necessarily make the other approaches invalid. The thing is it is physically impossible to do all approaches. Compare this principle to a Daoist saying: “When truth intent does not scatter, yin and yang naturally harmonise.”
From all indications, however, our comparison between the Dao and the complementarity theory of quantum physics seems to stabilise the standpoint of human observation (immanence). By human observation in quantum terms we also mean not scattering the intent of truth in Daoist terms. Here, the crucial index of comparison is intention which is immanent as against the lack of intention of transcendence (as we discussed in Thomism). In Daoism, intention is a key element in understanding reality, whereas in Thomism, intention in the final analysis gives way to the occasionalism of a more universal will. Earlier, we argued that intention should be discounted as an index of unity (of transcendence and immanence). Intention has to give way to a neutral standpoint, neither transcendent nor immanent. In the case of Daoism and quantum physics, intention is a privileged standpoint. If this is so, then, according to our scheme, the yin and yang of Daoism do not satisfy the occasionalism of truth. Occasionalism proposes that the unity of transcendence and immanence must not be borne by interest. The unifier must lack constancy of intention which the principle of complementarity does not satisfy. But, alas, quantum physics tells us that the universe is a superposition rather than a constancy of intention.
As a superposition of different subatomic particles (which makes the universe a wave if seen from a distance), the universe does not have a unified intention. Rather, it is composed of varying standpoints, each may be seen differently from the others (assuming that one particular standpoint is capable of escaping the superposition which is theoretically possible when one begins to observe reality during which time something is released from a superposition: recall here that subatomic particles behave as wave when unobserved [meaning, a kind of observation by the naked eye] and as particles when observed [meaning, with sophisticated instruments) yet side by side are indifferent to one another. Only from an outside vantage point can they be observed seemingly to be a wave functioning reality with all the appearances of unity in terms of undisturbed propagation. In other words, when observed from within reality functions as a particle which is theoretically the true dimension of the real. Here, truth means a particle observing a wave phenomenon which is nonetheless internally also a particle.
It pays to correlate this quantum reality to another saying in Daoism: “When you understand the method of bringing sense to stabilise essence/The human mentality does not arise and the mind of the Tao is complete.” The stability of essence (or depth of reality in terms of particle) is dependent on the correct method of making sense of reality as wave. In the principle of complementarity, the correct understanding of the method is not to utilize all available methods. Even so, understanding in this context requires that mentality does not assert itself or exercise its will to escape from the superposition in order to stabilise reality. By staying within the superposition, one maintains the upkeep of the universe as a wave. Daoism says: “Bathe and incubate/Do not let thoughts arise/Do no let attention scatter.” As a complement of occasionalism, Daoism teaches us to be a non-intending particle (in which one does not scatter his attention in order to be noticed) in whose quietism the universe allows to be seen as a wave, as a unity of transcendence and immanence.
Theoretically, a particle can be seen by another particle, provided that that which observes is not scattering its intent or attention, meaning, it too must not choose to observe and be observed. In other words, in quantum physics a particle cannot choose another particle to observe it. One never seeks (a wave) reality.
At this point, arguably, we have found the third term (in both Thomism and Daoism) that will unite transcendence and immanence, or the reverse complement: we have found the occasional form of unity that will unite Thomism and Daoism. On the part of the third term, the occasional unity is a quantum leap.
And Bruce Lee? I guess he never felt so hungry.
Postscript (The best part of summer)
Two welcome reliefs from ‘Bruce Lee’ courtesy of one of my all-time favorites, Sophie Hunger:
Notes for a Work in Progress
It is known to scholars of Marcuse that his engagement with Heidegger by taking the phenomenological route laid out by Husserlian phenomenology had rekindled his waning Marxist sensibility in the wake of the totalitarian atrocities of Soviet Marxism. This essay takes a view of Marcuse’s early turn to phenomenology as providing Marcuse the perfect opportunity to develop a new theory of socialism, but failed to radicalize in the end. The crux of the matter is that he later rejected the phenomenological reduction (cf. Andrew Feenberg, Heidegger and Marcuse: The Catastrophe and Redemption of History, 2005) that had once provided him a close reading of Heidegger’s text essential in reconfiguring his socialist instinct.
We proceed, hence, with the question: If he was able to restore his Marxist sensibility through an engagement with (Husserlian) phenomenology (culminating in his appropriation of Heidegger) why would he reject the phenomenological reduction later, around the period of the publication of his second book on Hegel, Reason and Revolution? In this work, Marcuse is still reconciling Marx and Heidegger through the lenses of Heidegger charging Hegel (this time, a more serious accusation that Heidegger originally labelled against Hegel) of simply repeating what Aristotle had already said. We may speculate here, not without a basis, that Marcuse is seeking to distance Marx from the influence of Hegel who appeared to have lost originality, therefore preparing the clearing, untouched by Hegel, for the ultimate version of Heidegger-Marxismus. On both occasions, however, Marcuse would not have done anything possible for articulating Heidegger-Marxismus without the phenomenological reduction.
If our conjecture is right, Marcuse would have dispensed with Hegel whose notion of historicity (which he must have assumed Heidegger lacked, which is of course wrong; Heidegger had developed one of the most original conceptions of historicity) had given him philosophical leverage to critique orthodox Marxism (which is right). Here, Marcuse is faced with a dilemma which as one could notice started to arise with a simple shift in his thinking, that is to say, his rejection of phenomenological reduction. We think that this dilemma actually shaped his contradictory embrace of freedom as an end in itself (especially in works such Eros and Civilization and One Dimension Man) which he draws from Hegel as we will try to show in the succeeding discussions.
Confused Marxist sensibility
Marcuse had intuited something of crucial weight to Heidegger-Marxismus (though failed to radicalize, least to say, detected what it was in its determinate form) when he was apparently seeking to distance Marx from Hegel (unlikely, on Heidegger’s prodding as Heidegger was known for his aversion towards Marx and his rather little opinion of Hegel). Hegel’s notion of freedom is problematic for Marx, though you will be surprised what it actually was in Hegel that Marx saw. Marx had only intuited it yet had never developed into a full blown theory. If, again, our conjecture is right, both Marx and Marcuse failed to fully comprehend that Hegel’s notion of freedom is problematic because of its exclusive nature as desire that is resistant to a notion of end. Yet, this failure has to be qualified.
Marcuse failed in his appropriation of Hegel’s notion of freedom by taking it as a positive affirmation of hope for the future of humanity when in fact Hegel took freedom to be the desire for no end, freedom being an end in itself. Freedom has no future, plain and simple.
For his part, Marx failed to see in Hegel what he must see, that freedom is a trap he could get away with from his first attempt at breaking with Hegel’s notion of freedom, that is, a productive principle that knows no end (recall Marx’s critique of the insatiability of bourgeois economy) but eventually held by it as the trap appeared in a better disguise. We are referring here to Marx’s challenge to the production principle of Hegel that dismisses any end, that is to say, his proposition that capitalism will actually end by self-destruction. Here, we are digressing a bit into Marx who is undeniably an important influence on Marcuse.
When Marx expressed his conviction that capitalism would self-destruct by inventing a new labor, a new subjectivity, or the proletariat that would bring it to its knees, he forgot (and he forgot even his own formulation as we will see) that by having invented a new labor and a new subjectivity, which Marx called real subsumption of labor, capitalism has completely broken with the past (or so Marx thought). Capitalism needs to break with the past to deprive the vestiges of the old to disrupt the new order which could still challenge its self-determination. The proletariat who displaced the slave from the old order can therefore be viewed as particularly designed to sustain and perpetuate the new order. In this theoretical sense, capitalism has no rival within history. The bourgeoisie’s fate is sealed.
Theoretically it would follow that the real self-destruction of capitalism, or the possibility of it, was already superseded by real subsumption of labor, or the invention of labor itself, which could continue infinitely. This earlier period in the stage of capital accumulation may be referred to as the time capitalism was still expropriating the existing labor of the old world, dependent on it, the remnants of feudalism or the labor of the slave in relatively advanced form. Marx took a high risk when he discouraged communists to seize power when the mode of production or capital accumulation was still dependent on expropriation of old labor. Politically, nonetheless, that is the perfect opportunity to seize power when capitalism was actually self-destructing, unaware that the labor of the old world could combine against it. Our model is Lenin who was the first to understand the Hegelian mechanism at work in Marx. The moment capitalism surpassed this precarious stage in its history, the world would never be the same again. Once and for all, Marx, a true Hegelian, did not wish the socialist revolution to overtake capitalism. We are not saying it was deliberate on the part of Marx to deceive the communist movement. Rather, it was a simple case of a lingering Hegelianism that shaped his uncanny philosophical militancy.
With Hegel prodding him, Marx got it wrong when he declared that the proletariat is the nemesis of capitalism. The real nemesis of capitalism is the bourgeoisie itself that has perfected the production principle as desire that knows no end. But as nemesis, the bourgeoisie is the perfection of the Hegelian notion of negativity. It does not actually rival itself by opposing itself seriously. This is the rule of the negative—nothing oppositional should be actually sustained; every opposition should be restored to its negative unity. We can qualify the production principle of bourgeois economy then as self-destructive. But it is not actually self-destructing, in the Hegelian sense. Here, we cannot doubt that Marx took the logic of self-destruction (to refer to the positive self-destructing logic of capitalism) from Hegel’s (negative) dialectic. But did Marx intend to radicalize this dialectic to mean actual self-destruction? This we are no longer sure anymore. We may grant an affirmative answer to the question, yet Marx again is mistaken when he chose a wrong agency that could induct capitalism to self-destruction.
On this aspect, Marcuse intuited this new agency in his conviction that capitalism could be challenged from the outside; an agency which refuses to be governed by capitalism. He is right to our estimation. From the outside should mean also ‘not the proletariat’ as it is ingrained in the system itself. It should also be outside of the economy, an aneconomy, so to speak. Perhaps, outside of the capitalist economy, a non-capitalist economy but because it is an absurdity (a non-capitalist economy is no economy at all) let us propose rather an oxymoron, a socialist economy.
Socialism (which is a non-economy) is rather taken here by means of a political act as the economy, the economizing of what is viewed (starting in Hegel) as the foundation of the economic (the insatiability of freedom or desire). This is the kind of socialism we can assert against the Hegelian socialism of Marx. (The scope of this paper, however, dictates us that this aspect should be reserved for a separate topic). Marcuse is a socialist but his socialism due to his misplaced understanding of Hegelian notion of freedom as production is not the socialism that could have been his best theoretical contribution. Owing to this, Marcuse’s self-contradictoriness, which starts with his rejection of the phenomenological reduction, takes an even more unimaginable turn as he proceeds to elaborate his positions. When we turn to his appropriation of Freud’s alleged theory of Desire this has never been more glaring.
The Hegelian ‘Freud’ of Marcuse
In strictly Freudian terms, instincts or drives exhibit unique plasticity in the sense that they can substitute their aims for another, in a way keeping the instinct or drive alive and out of reach by death. In a manner of speaking, instincts are intelligent creatures which can manage to fall apart without actually going into pieces (and they really display some intelligence if by intelligence we can assign an aim-directed energy which involves a considerable amount of calculation). Yet, we have to be careful in equating instincts to desire. Desire is another matter for Freud.
Call it a metaphysical conatus, but Freud understood it quite differently from his fellow Jew, Spinoza. Freud was a serious reader of Schopenhauer and this basically anticipates Freud’s conception of desire vis-à-vis Hegel with whom Schopenhauer had more than a professional issue to settle. Suffice it to say that Freud understood desire according to its representations, its objectifications. Freud has no formal account of desire except when he talks of instincts and drives which point to something no analysis can reach (in the same way, Schopenhauer tells us that the closest we could divine of the will is its representations). But instincts or drives already presuppose of a source which even if science has identified it as somatic is still a qualified statement. Instincts presuppose of a source that is beyond examination for they can surely tell us that they are a product of a long evolutionary pre-history of the species that did not self-originate.
Freud started to tell us a bit of this complicated issue in evolution in his later re-examination of the psychopathology of hysteric patients. Freud observed in his patients a compulsive obsessive tendency to re-experience painful memories. He surmised (this is the controversial death instinct) that this is a sign of a larger than life force which reorients the organism back to an original state of constancy. This force remains enigmatic for Freud, a theoretical compliment of Schopenhauer’s concept of willing, bordering in esoteric Buddhism.
What we are telling here is that Desire for Freud has a more enigmatic origin than the drives whose source of excitation is somatic. Freud however has arrived at this notion of Desire on the strength of observable psychic behaviour which gives us a model of how drives are enigmatically oriented to a larger than life force, but more importantly how drives can be manipulated to orient themselves to a false end or termination in the guise of reconstructing an original state of happiness as is humanly possible. For Freud, the enigma of Desire exacts contradictory demands on our instincts (id) that we find ourselves vulnerable to manipulation without actually being aware of it (where the function of the superego is taken to excess [guilt formation] in the absence of a social relief from those contradictory demands). This leads to his recommendation that a necessary amount of repression is permissible in society to allay the turbulence especially of the ego which is tasked to balance the contradictory demands of the instincts, metaphysically, the demands of life and death.
We know that Marcuse takes this theory of the instincts quite differently from Freud (cf. Eros and Civilization). For Marcuse, banking on the unlimited potential of desire for free creation, instincts should be given leeway to express themselves freely. Marcuse’s conviction rests on his assumption, quite liberally taken from Marx, that the liberation of Man consists in reuniting Him with Nature in the unfolding of a sensuous culture (equivalent to Marx’s species-being). The conditions of possibility for such sensuous culture to be established are already available in the margins of capitalist consumerism. The task of critical theory is to extract, and here we are using Althusser’s notion of determination in the last instance, the hidden or repressed positive kernel of the present historical condition to deliver it to the satisfaction of all (by which Marcuse meant the sensuous deliverance of desire from false gratification which for Marcuse is not sensuous enough, its orientation driven to satisfying false needs).
The aim of capitalism is for gratification not to penetrate deep into the energy pool of instincts where real potentials for free creation, least to say, capacities for destroying a repressive system of gratification, are systematically kept untapped and on purpose as these instincts are being pressed upon with contradictory demands. Marcuse believes that society has long been repressive enough but also at the same time inversely creating perfect opportunities for the instincts to self-manage and self-administer thereby also empowering themselves with little opportunities they have for gratification. These potentials have already matured to take on the responsibility of transforming the social body. Marcuse is critical of Freud’s recommendation for society to repress the instincts on the grounds that Freud misunderstood their self-creating potential. Marcuse draws on Marx on this aspect. In a passage from Marx’s early writings the founder of modern communism says: “Production does not only produce man as a commodity …. Its product is the self-conscious and self-acting commodity.” (As a digression, we can glimpse in Marx the beginnings of an object-oriented ontology much in fashion in Philosophy today; cf. Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things, 2005, although it differs in scope from Marx). In this passage it is clear that Marx understood that no matter how repressive it is the system cannot totally reduce labor into a mere commodity, an object or thing. Insofar as the commodity is a product of his labor, the commodity assumes Man’s potentiality in a new form—that which he could freely enjoy if only the system allows him so. Obviously, this is a needed corrective to Freud’s pessimistic theory of the instinct.
Back to Phenomenology
So far so good. But where did Marcuse get it all wrong? The answer lies in his wrong notion of Freud’s notion of Desire as if Freud had a formal concept of it. He in fact attributed to the instinct what he should have attributed to Desire, except that, as we are arguing, desire is absolutely anterior and ulterior to signification. Marcuse’s notion of instincts as freely creative and resistant to Ananke (necessity) misplaces Freud’s emphasis on instincts. Freud avoided the metaphysical dilemma intrinsic to Desire which explains his focus on the instincts as phenomenologically observable. We are not saying here that Marcuse misread Freud. The crux of the matter is his reading of Freud’s theory of instincts under a Hegelian lens. We recall here that Hegel viewed freedom as desire as self-production that knows no end, the void of negativity. In other words, Hegel’s notion of freedom surreptitiously seeped into his reading of Freud, in that he mistook Freud to be referring to desire when he is referring to the instincts.
Blame it rather on his Marxist sensibility. Again, we can recall here that even Marx fell into the Hegelian trap. As for Marx’s own issue with Hegel, we can reserve it for another discussion. Suffice it to say here that for us Marcuse’s problematic appropriation of Freud can be traced to his problematic relation to phenomenological reduction. Through the phenomenological reduction, he was able to renew his Marxist sensibility, but rejected it later in the attempt to strengthen this Marxist sensibility, this time purifying Marx of Hegelian influence, assuming that he was able to suspend (epoche) the actual influence of Hegel on Marx. Theoretically, this makes for a sound argument in light of the Heidegger-Marxismus where Hegel is apparently relegated to the margins if not completely silenced. But why would he need to silence Hegel? He did not actually silence Hegel, as he wrote another book on Hegel (Reason and Revolution) after his dissertation (Hegel’s Ontology and Theory of Historicity). We claim rather that he was consigning to silence something in Hegel and this is his theory of freedom (as desire that knows no end). He was able to do this—to keep Hegel’s theory of freedom under the radar of critical analysis—by also leaving no trace of the process under which Hegel’s theory of freedom was secretly smuggled into his theory of instincts. We are referring here to his rejection of the phenomenological reduction.
Slavoj Zizek has criticized Marcuse’s appropriation of Freud along similar lines we have taken so far vis-à-vis the theory of instincts and therefore we do not intend to repeat what he has said in his admiringly comprehensive book Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. We agree with Zizek’s critique except that Zizek did not provide us a genealogy of Marcuse’s appropriation of Freud, which to us stared with his problematic relation to phenomenology. On this aspect of Marcuse we are taking the cue from Andrew Feenberg in his book Heidegger and Marcuse: The Catastrophe and Redemption of History (2005) where he mentioned Marcuse’s problematic relation to phenomenological reduction, though, again, did not offer a deeper genealogical background for such problematic appropriation. This essay intends to broaden this cue by revisiting the path Marcuse had taken since his encounter with Heidegger until his turn to aesthetics, as briefly as it could be done here.
On the larger background, our critical analysis of Marcuse along the lines we intend to explore more is rather taken from a more invasive theory of Desire (traversing Hegel, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Deleuze) that we are working on for some time, preceding my interest in Marcuse. (My intended study here is to locate Marcuse within this larger background, so logically Marcuse would occupy a critical section). Marcuse is viewed by many, even within critical theory, as already dated. But they are wrong. Critical theory is in fact wrong. And if we look at the background of Critical Theory’s appropriation of Freud through Hegel (especially the early Frankfurt School), we can say that Critical Theory itself is problematic, not that it is entirely wrong.
My thanks to Jeffrey Occay (Ph.D., University of Macquarie) for rekindling my Marcuse from my former student activism days. Attending his course was well worth braving the untold passion of a mighty Sun going amuck over my side of the world.
That’s a shock advertisement. And the serious side where my work “Designing the Apocalypse” alongside a review of Timothy Morton’s phenomenal Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World is mentioned by Bookforum–
“A showcase for rigorous and elegant writing” (the Village Voice). Founded in 1994, the print magazine is published five times a year and the website is updated daily.
“I love Bookforum, because it gives me intelligent long reviews, and, most importantly, of a range of books not covered in other journals or magazines. Sometimes I think that Bookforum, in its gently subversive way, is America’s real Book Review.”—James Wood
“Bookforum is an essential antidote to complacency in the world of writing and publishing—a shot of oxygen direct to the brain.” —Jonathan Lethem
“Bookforum is a force for good in the literary universe, reliably and brilliantly bringing the primary virtues (intelligence, rigor, passion, depth, knowledge of historical context, generosity of spirit) to bear on contemporary culture. I am always grateful for its reviving presence.” —George Saunders
A little self-promotion:
Long ago the philosophers found the answers and as writers, we articulated these in enduring prose and poetry. It’s the scientists who must now provide this hope, this reality, and for the writers to record the promise and fruition of that reality.
But let us go back to the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, whose radicalization I appreciate. The University has come out with an excellent journal, the Mabini Review. Its first issue contains excellent essays by Virgilio Rivas and Kristoffer Bolanos. Its literary section deserves to be enlarged to include fiction and poetry like the excellent contribution of Dennis Aguinaldo. The review should contain more critical studies on our vernaculars and particularly our English literature to locate it in the context of world literature.
More on the humanities, too, and eventually venture into original thought so that Philippine philosophy will progress beyond the pioneering baseline studies on values by F. Landa Jocano and Leonardo Mercado. Creative thinking will then develop in the manner that German, French, even American philosophies have emerged as distinct additions to classic Western thought.
I promised to National Artist F. Sionil Jose that I would write a review of his novel Viajero which I will be posting here in three or four parts. This is my way of appreciating him for his wonderful words on my essay “Axioms of Choice” which appeared in The Mabini Review. I guess what made the essay into his liking is its kindred treatment of an-arche which I always suspected, since my senior high school days, was the untold philosophical horizon of his many if not all of his creative works. Yet Sionil Jose’s anarchism, as he put it in a personal conversation, is the anarchism of the old. I take it as one that is akin to the anarchism of Jacques Ellul, another philosophical inspiration of mine, and James Scott whose Art of Not Being Governed is certainly a classic of ‘an-arche’ thought. In the following review, nonetheless, I tried to connect his anarchism to Deleuze and Guattari’s more contemporary treatment of rhizomes, of bodies without organs. As soon as I finished posting all the parts here, I will upload the entire review to my academia page.
–To Kafka Ortega
What do we live for but to be a happy witness to a will more powerful than ours?[i]
In his dying moments, afflicted by an unknown disease and a more piercing malady that he hoped to find the cure for his people, Salvador Raza, Viajero’s main protagonist, uttered those words to himself yet unsure even of who he is, much more of that strange bidding that is overpowering him. Was it the numbness of his real origin? Was it the indifference of history? The limitation of the Filipino soul? By the same token, the following lines from Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund capture Salvador’s otherwise than a psychological predicament:
How will you die when your time comes … since you have no mother? Without a mother, one cannot love. Without a mother, one cannot die.”[ii]
And yet, by its portrayal of how the time of men, and women as well, can take root in the quiet realm of the actual, in the otherwise muted gyrations of a people’s soul, Viajero (Wanderer) commands by far a true power of the false.[iii] This we say as the novel, another tour de force by National Artist F. Sionil Jose, brings the whole weight of a people’s history, a power, strangely enough, nurtured by a difficult forbearance of a happy witness, to bear upon a future to come.
But for the future to surface on the horizon of things in their making possible the experience of the time of things, including what exceeds the givenness of their time as things, as time always surprises, the future must first be witnessed. As always, to be a witness is to carry a burden. Such is how the tectonic fluidity of the novel unleashes its force—by invoking a people who do not exist yet, a people as witness to the actualization of a power to falsify the present.
This is for us the unmistakable stamp of the novel. Viajero is a modern tale of ghosts and a narrative of a people whose lives, if still fortunate to cling to life, do not matter for non-people, for the life-nullifying impersonalism of the machine of history whose evil contraption is, in all times, inimitably of the creation of the powers that be. But these lives matter for a novel about zombies. A novel about them is right to the point if it shows a people embracing life in the squalid margins of modern urban landscapes, in the fringes of countryside topography whose tectonic origins underneath its soil are consigned to the unconscious of official history. These are people deprived even of animal decency, what of the esteemed dignity of a spore in these days of genetic mutation! And yet, just as in any mundane Platonic cave, a dreamer would escape.
Such is Salvador Raza, yet a dreamer who is never attached to a dream in a manner that dreamers dream, that it is they who make dreams intelligible, plain, lucid, logical; that an object of vision must first be afflicted by a soul if it is to become an image of thought, a rhizome,[vi] but rather it was a dream that found him. Out of this inversion of dream-dreamer, vision-actor binarity, Buddy emerges as an inadvertent seed that would promise at first to grow into a new arboreal structure of a living history.
In a historical sculpture in progress, such as Viajero, this talk about trees is not a strange addition to their symbolic function: from the canopy of trees where the laid-back stream of sunlight affords a sliver of hope despite the war’s hostility—the orphaned child Badong blinded by the rays of light before emerging from a dream to another, from one’s caring hands to the next, from place to place, from one geography to a distant one, from sunlight to sunlight where nighttime shadows shift in unsinkable diurnal because the revolution must not sleep—to the wistful sunshade of extendable history, an antique shop of memories that can be relived but only in the margins of the present. The list could go on: wood materials for shipbuilders in Cavite, ballasts for Spanish war machines, cannons, etc., mighty contraptions sustaining a trans-Pacific trade.
There is something genealogical about a tree. It is not a method for the people. [viii]
And yet in their place, a rhizome returns to the earth.
to be continued
[i] F. Sionil Jose, Viajero. A Filipino Novel (Manila, Philippines: Solidarida Publishing House, 2010).
[ii] Herman Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund, trans. Ursule Molinaro (New York: Bantam Books, 1971).
[iii] According to Deleuze, Nietzsche speaks of the power of the false, being the other quality of will to power, as “a quality through which the whole of life and its quality is particularly affirmed and has become active” (Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983], 185). “To affirm is not to take responsibility for, to take on the burden of what is, but to release, to set free what lives. To affirm is to unburden; not to load life with the burden of higher values, but to create new values which are those of life, which make life right and active” (Ibid.).
[iv] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis, London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1986), 148.
[vi] That is to say, “stranger to any idea of genetic axis or deep structure” (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizoprenia, trans. Brian Massumi [Minneapolis, London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1987], 12).
[vii] Ibid., 15.
[viii] Ibid., 8.
This paper will build on the rhizomatic intricacies of a cartography of a people in Southeast Asia in James Scott’s (2009) description of the stateless inhabitants of Zomia, arguably lawless peoples whose migration from island assemblages in the region was caused by early 20th century ‘state-making projects’, oppression and colonialism. These peoples to this day still exist in a region assembled by mountain ranges the size of Western Europe.
Escaping state-making projects and their concomitant use of war machines is the imprint of a people who in A Thousand Plateaus (1987) Deleuze and Guattari liken to abstract art: ‘Multidirectional, with neither inside nor outside, form nor background, delimiting nothing, describing no contour, passing between spots or points, filling a smooth space.’ The peoples of Zomia, nonetheless, are prone, much more in these days, to ecological catastrophe that in all likelihood Deleuze must have in mind when he speaks of the earth’s dynamic transformation in terms of ‘the general distribution of continents, the states of the seas, and lines of navigation’ (Desert Islands) which could have sparked a flurry of migrations, especially in Southeast Asia, drowned by melting polar glaciers during the Last Glacial Maximum. If the peoples of Zomia were compelled to escape what was in general the threat of war machines, how about in this age of ecological threat?
The paper will try to revisit Deleuze and Guattari’s work in cartography in order to arrive at a new post-anarchistic understanding of what is now at stake in the model of Zomia as a rhizomatic achievement of abstract machines, which to us remains a potent diagram of a people to come, especially in view of the apocalyptic threat of the new ecological order.
Keywords: abstract machine, cartography, desert islands, people to come, post-anarchism, Zomia
Text of the abstract accepted for presentation by the organizers of the Second International Deleuze Studies Conference in Asia to be held this time in Osaka University, Japan from June 6 to June 8, 2014.This is my second international engagement on Deleuze Studies in Asia. Long live Deleuze!
I would like to begin here with a quote from Gilles Deleuze who has been a true inspiration, at least for me. Here is the quote:
“Literature consists in inventing a people who are missing” (Essays Critical and Clinical).
In many ways, these words resonate in today’s challenge for contemporary philosophy, a challenge that philosophy nonetheless cannot take without also committing itself to a certain kind of deliverance.
But what is this deliverance?
In a manner of speaking, it is deliverance from thought and an entry into the world of the non-thought where everything that is shaped by thought and language by extension falls flat. But it is also in that new world, in the empty space of thinking, of speaking and writing, that everything can start a new process of creation, a new literature, a new consciousness of earth and ocean, which in all known histories of civilization has always been responsible for the birth of a new people.
Incidentally, the beginnings of an ever-changing humankind are always willed by mythologies, by that movement of imagination that creates a void, a vacuüm to fill in if only to separate the past from the present, and by so doing, a process of creation unfolds, ex nihilo. But it is also in this light that the movement of imagination can go wrong in which case Deleuze’s warning in Desert Islands is a compelling reminder:
At the same time, this movement of imagination is subject to those human conditions that make mythology possible. Mythology is not simply willed into existence, and the peoples of the earth quickly ensured they would no longer understand their own myths. It is at this very moment literature begins. Literature is the attempt to interpret, in an ingenious way, the myths we no longer understand, at the moment we no longer understand them, since we no longer know how to dream them or reproduce them. Literature is the competition of misinterpretations that consciousness naturally and necessarily produces on themes of the unconscious, and like every competition it has its prizes.
Here, the unconscious is the force behind why a people succeed or fail, the unconscious as a literary contest of misinterpreting the myths ‘we no longer understand, since we no longer know how to dream them and reproduce them.’ Incidentally, aesthetics has provided an opportunity for this literary contest to immortalize a failure; aesthetics as a misinterpretation of the unconscious force of creation. In a manner of speaking, the way we appreciate literature as an art form, or the way we blur the distinction between imagination and reality, between its form and content, has distinguished ourselves as a people.
I am referring here to aesthetics as seen by proponents of high culture as a matter of taste and judgment, and not as a matter of pursuing a new origin and by implication of a new people’s consciousness; in the language of Deleuze, a prototype of a collective soul. This proto-consciousness is also an aesthetics but a non-standard one, averse to standard taste and judgement, that which does not serve an exemplary causality such as standardized forms of sensibility, of taste and judgement. It is in this context where Deleuze, this time in tandem with Guattari, describe a people as a model of non-standard aesthetics in the form of abstract art:
Multidirectional, with neither inside nor outside, form nor background, delimiting nothing, describing no contour, passing between spots or points, filling a smooth space (A Thousand Plateaus)
Hence, Deleuze and Guattari refer to a people as an abstract machine. As an abstract machine a people is indiscernible to standardized and hegemonic controls of sensibility, of promoting standard taste and judement. It is also in this sense that a people is in itself a power of the false (Cinema 2), in a manner of speaking, of the falsification of aesthetics. Yet, Deleuze and Guattari were not misled into thinking that this people exist in the present. To them this people are still missing, hence, the role of literature to invent them, to summon them, and educate them of the prize of absorbing too much aesthetics in their heads in the sense we described above.
In our history as a people, we get what we deserve for our failure to dream, to reproduce and understand those myths that created us as a people. This failure is what we mean by aesthetics. And its prize has acquired a very consistent form, the consistency of our nation’s tragic betrayal. Quoting from his essay in Philippine Star, National Artist F. Sionil Jose has this to say:
Behind this tragic failure is betrayal — we betray one another — and most of all, we betray ourselves, our ideals, our morality.
Look back: Diego Silang was betrayed. The revolution of 1896 was betrayed by the Pact of Biak-na-Bato — and earlier, Bonifacio was betrayed; and in turn, Aguinaldo was betrayed as well.
In more recent times, today, we are constantly betrayed by political charlatans. (F. Sionil Jose, History as prison, and as liberation)
This is our history as a people, a people misinterpreting the myths that created us. If this is also the history of how aesthetics has held us in submission to protocols of taste and judgement, of satisfaction and enjoyment, in the guise of today’s capitalist culture industry, it is time that we take heed of literature, still a work in progress, and its challenge to standard aesthetics.
It is time we invent ourselves as a people, as embodiment of non-standard aesthetics, as abstract machine, a people as a true work of art.
Text of my welcome remarks read during the Philosophy Circle of the Philippines Panel Discussion on the theme ‘Aesthetics, Oppression, Justice’ held at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines on February 28, 2012.
Text of my short paper (for 20-minute presentation) for the De La Salle University 7th Arts Congress with the theme “Linang Kalikasan, Sining para sa Kapaligiran” in Baguio City, Philippines. See http://www.dlsu.edu.ph/conferences/arts_congress/2014/
I was thinking of forwarding a comment to Adam Robbert’s post at knowledge-ecology.com (Earth’s Aesthetics: Knowledge and Media Ecologies) about his concept of mapping ecology when for some reasons my mind wandered off into Guattari. Nonetheless, I find Robbert’s concept of mapping ecology reminiscent of Guattari’s cartography, though some obvious lines are drawn in Robbert’s that make his initial work considerably way above Guattari’s emphasis on decomposing oedipal desire which, though radical in its gesture, is still dependent on a residual humanistic framing as we will try to illustrate.
Well, this has been a part of the project I’m pursuing, to make sense of the anthropocene about accommodating the apocalypse as a properly post-human standpoint. Accommodation would need designing an anthropocenic apocalypse whose conceptualizations were already implied in pre-anthropocenic models (pre- in terms of before the awareness of what Morton describes as hyperobjects, or the awareness of our enormous influence on geological evolution since the last two hundred years or so). This will implicate modernist paradigms but also post-modernist paradigms as pre-anthropocenic. I am thinking of the direction of post-continental philosophy today as an ongoing foray into the anthropocenic proper in terms of formulating a model of designing the apocalypse of our time. Roughly stated, the apocalypse of our time is one whose requirement is no longer critical (or the business of critique that Kant started), finding the limit, critiquing it, and developing devices to stay within the limit, but rather a post-critical, post-cartographic engagement in terms of performing the limit that humanity has set upon itself since the advent of Enlightenment. This is somehow similar to Latour’s call to arms, to become modern which, among others, necessarily entails that we decompose the knowledge of the limit, centralized in nerve centers or ecologies of knowing and have it made available for a compositional performance (not mastery which requires control) of limit. But above all, this will entail a decomposition of the ‘subject’ that has been the most efficient operator of pre-anthropocenic models of designing the apocalypse, one of which is to protect this ‘subject’ from external danger in terms of providing a map, say, an opportunity for second creation or a serialization (which of course depends on the assumption that the earth will not betray us, a sort of vitalism).
Guattari’s mapping is particularly instructive for us as it provides us key approaches to locating the position of the subject that in Althusserian terms is always interpellated by ideology. Guattari’s schizoanalytic cartography aims to position the subject outside of the totalization of ideology (which operates on the unconscious level) and capital (a stumbling block to intensive flow of desire) by providing the subject of desire a cartography of ins and outs, circuits and flows, exits to creation and deterritorialization, which ideology and capital obstruct by stratifying, denying possibilities of second creations. For Guattari, the best model of this cartographic project is the arts or the way the arts emphasize the process of creating and not of pursuing a goal.[i] The emphasis on process raises a challenge to anthropological biases that have defined human progress since the last two centuries which celebrate goal-oriented activities at the expense of process as an autonomous molecular flow.
In light of the threat of ecological extinction, Guattari’s cartography can be extended to mapping geological possibilities of forging what Morton says of relationship with hyperobjects now poised to dominate the initial phase of what climate science describes as the sixth cycle of mass extinction. Nonetheless, schizoanalytic cartography is limited to flows of desire which are still human-oriented. If anything, geology only serves as the background of nomadic serialization of individual autonomy and its desire to deterritorialize the landscape that capitalism is fast transforming into a system vulnerable to chaos. If there is one singular lesson we can obtain from climate change it is that desire (which traverses the human and animal distribution of difference) is no longer a key object of investigation. If this is really the case, the focus now shifts into the otherwise than human, more specifically, the material vitality of non-human congregation enmeshed in networks of hyperobjects interacting as actants.
Still, Guattari’s transversal approach towards the subject’s autonomy (weaned off the Cartesian influence) provides us a model of the subject as performativity within a creative field of virtualization in which the very expression of performance constitutes its actuality. We contend that this kind of subject is amenable to human extinction just as it is already performing a kind of subjectivity as post-human in terms of allowing itself, just as any artistic subjectivity, to blend with the flows of the non-human, of objects and things populating the strata of known creation.[ii] If not by mixing herself with the flows then by “[throwing] an aesthetic dimension into the mix, causing the materials to engage with each other.”[iii] Guattari calls this subject ‘machinic’ (indeed, post-human) insofar as a machine works in a network of relationality. The ‘human’ is an appropriate description for the Cartesian (modified by Kant); a subject that suppresses relationality in the extent to which it despises the machine which cannot operate without the participation of other machines. Participation is to the machine; introspection is to the calculating subject of modernity.
This is where actor-network theory becomes an important contribution to designing the apocalypse. We are here capitalizing on the non-hierarchical emphasis of actor-network theory or its modern conception of flat ontology in which all beings are actants and as actants they differ just the same in terms of their modes of influencing one another, a process of negotiation, blending, mixing, or getting in the mix in the sense of adaptation and complimentarity.
What actor-network theory can improve in schizoanalytic cartography is its theory of the subject which is rather limited to a conception of human as undergoing changes whose cause is largely of another human making (capitalism). But climate change, though for the most part caused by human activity (anthropocene), threatens to break the causation of change by extinction. What lies at the end of the anthropocene is not human but arguably post-human. Unlike schizoanalytic cartography which still entertains the hope of another order where post-humans could thrive (Marx’s species-being), post-cartography is offering humanity a chance to flourish in an order without a world. This is different from the ordering world or the capitalist world order that Guattari is challenging.
But unlike Kant who offered humanity a way to live without a world (because ultimately the world, that which exists outside of cognition, is unknowable) by assuming a different world (the moral world) populated by values and not by objects of experience, such as Morton’s hyperobjects, post-cartography (similar to Latour’s interobjectivity) encourages us to abandon the moral world that is the kind of world that thrives in anthropological prejudices; in a nutshell, humans taking charge of objects by investing values in them because they could not speak for themselves. It is in this light that Guattari’s cartography remains within the fold of the moral by challenging a moral hegemony in terms of creating new (human) values. The post-human sense we can therefore obtain from Guattari’s cartographic project is simply ‘another-human’, presumably, better than the moral hominid. Needless to say, this is perfectly intelligible in a Kantian world. Donna Haraway offers an ethical alternative, cognizant of the Kantian trap, of “caring for entanglement, learning the art of paying attention”—a multi-critter thinking, patterned after the critter relating to its own environment.[iv]
But that is no longer the case with the anthropocene (to designate the assemblages of ecological threats). The post-human that is already this humanity is being prepared for an appropriate kind of dwelling without a world. The challenge is to make sense of being deprived of a promise of another world. The aim is to design a better apocalypse by performing the apocalypse of our time. In this light, designing the apocalypse of our time would mean making extinction actual, here and now.
See Adam Robbert’s post :
[i] It is in this sense that Guattari speaks of a new aesthetic paradigm: “The aesthetic power of feeling, although equal in principle with the other powers of thinking philosophically, knowing scientifically, acting politically, seems on the verge of occupying a privileged position within the collective Assemblages of enunciation of our era” (Felix Guattari, “A New Aesthetic Paradigm,” in Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis [Bloomington and Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995], 101).
[ii] This I think is well summarized as follows: “I am once my body proper…the build environment I inhabit… my creative ideas… and the relations between those three elements. In Guattari’s mapping of subjectivity, there is a continual interplay between content, that which is represented (an idea, a concept, a physical body, lived space and its representation or expression… (Stephen Luis Vilaseca, “Felix Guattari and urban cultural studies,” in Journal of Urban Cultural Studies, Vol. 2, 3 ,140)”
[iv] Isabelle Stengers, Heather Davis and Etiiene Turpin, “Isabelle Stengers in Conversation with Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin,” in Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy (Michigan: Open Humanities Press, 2013),179.
To followers of this blog and to blogs that keep this blog blazing life lines may a thousand plateaus bear for you new myths of second creations, grow roots as you move along, will everything but the ascetic, and bind the loss of worlds with the promise that every newborn brings…
What a hardcore Kantian is capable of
In one word, freedom, this is the secret to Kant’s Copernican revolution in philosophy. We agree with this except for the uncanny side Kant made freedom to perform. For purposes of this post, I will call this ‘substance abuse.’
Certainly the Copernican gesture of changing the way we look at things, a perspectival shift from ‘knowledge conforming to objects’ (arguably, the legacy of the dogmatism of Ptolemaic theory) to ‘objects conforming to cognition’ (the advent of a new science treading along a secure path) already reveals a secret—that the arbitrariness of changing the focus is not legislated by any a priori of reason. It is freedom as pure performativity which precedes the act of freely arriving at the a prioris of pure reason. Nonetheless, and in spite of appearances, freedom, even for Kant, does not possess an absolute founding character (more on this later). It is not difficult to argue here that as performance freedom is a non-intellectual value, an act that is not conceivable within the a prioris. The question that comes up immediately is whether freedom precedes the determinism of the a prioris or is revealed rather later as a consequence of applying the a prioris to objects of experience which for Kant necessitates that reason annuls itself. Simply put, the pure exercise of pure reason (intellectual or theoretical) succumbs to the unknowable which can only be approached by means of the practical use of pure reason.
As we emphasized in our earlier post, everything has to be given first to cognizability before ‘everything’ takes the form of the thinkability or transparency of appearing. Freedom as antecedent can only be revealed retroactively from the standpoint of pure reason. Yet, even as antecedent freedom has to be intrinsically cognizable which illustrates how Kant held on to the correlation between cognition and the cognizability of being as a permanent correlation. It must be cognizable; otherwise the retroactive standpoint of pure reason would fall under its own weight. Retroaction demands that the object of its examination must conform to its a priori demands. (That much can be said of how Kant defended the dogmatic procedure of knowledge without falling into dogmatism). Beyond this correlation freedom is non-existent.
But freedom exists, in fact, allowed by Kant to exist rather as a metaphysical postulate only that its certainty as knowledge is questionable from the standpoint of pure reason. Kant’s project is to investigate how such postulate could exist without legislation (of the a prioris). We learn from Kant that the key to unlocking the secret to this absurdity is a natural disposition. We are all predisposed to do metaphysics before the work of pure reason could initiate a reverse engineering. This engineering technique is cognitive and retroactive. In contrast, for a natural, that is, unlearned metaphysician, his belief in God is not achieved by any retroactive procedure, rather by simple and absolute performance. He performs God in the very act of performing his belief which makes God actual for him. Performing God is performing a natural metaphysics by non-intellectual means. In spite of appearances, however, Kant would not allow that this is an exercise of freedom on the part of the natural metaphysician for a natural metaphysician is simply ignorant of the cognizable condition on the level of reason’s practical use of the possibility of God! The level of his ignorance is such that it yields high risk of insanity which arguably treats freedom as transcendent to the givenness of limitation in which reality (or reality principle) breaks down (more on this).
Even so, insofar as the experience of God by an unlearned or pre-critical metaphysician does not need the precondition of cognizability of God for God to become an object of experience in the metaphysical sense, freedom actually precedes the a prioris of reason. He knows God exists because his belief is capable of moving him (close to Kierkegaard’s notion of subjectivity is actuality). This runs counter to the unknowability of the object of experience from the standpoint of the pure exercise of pure reason which can only allow itself to reduce an object of experience to its thinkability but not its knowability. Hence, a natural metaphysician is actually capable of knowing an object of experience by alone utilizing the practical side of pure reason. Though even at this point that he is performing something that he is not actually free to do so he is ignorant that he deploys the a prioris of reason. The poor fellow is actually predetermined. Like it or not, even an unlearned man has a prioris in his mind!
Indeed, the condition of possibility of a metaphysical postulate such as God is the annulment of the a prioris of pure reason (though, again, the poor believer is ignorant that his is an act of annulment). Someone like Kant has to tell our poor fellow that he is not actually experiencing an object of experience but simply believing he experiences the non-experienceable. But with uncanny twist, a natural metaphysician can unlearn his ignorance or his predisposition to dogmatic metaphysics if he learns the a prioris that for Kant actually condition his belief. (On hindsight, Kant himself was awakened from his dogmatic slumber).This is the kernel of what we described beforehand as substance abuse. What follows is our elaboration:
Let us administer an a priori ‘pill’ to a natural metaphysician. When the drug kicks in our guinea pig will be transported to a dimension in the past when he could see how he was not actually being himself when he was at his best self. The drug works as a liberator of ignorance. But the wonder of the pill is more than that. It actually allows the subject of the experiment an experience of the redoubtable—that with the pill he can experience freedom. This time freedom loses its metaphysical character. It becomes a permissible experience of metaphysics, a critical act. There metaphysics is liberated from natural disposition—a post-human metaphysics.
No sooner than reality barges in after the expiration of the pill another pill must be administered. Presumably this time it is the subject of the experiment asking for a much higher dose. It is precisely at this point when the subject becomes free, not anymore in the metaphysical sense, rather in the transcendental sense. The subject is now capable of explaining the possibility of metaphysics.
We can also argue that this experiment also works for the Copernican revolution in philosophy initiated by Kant. The perspectival shift of the Copernican is not dictated by the a priori rather by freedom. Freedom is not an apriori but performance. We have covered this already. Nonetheless we can extend the argument.
As performance however pure reason has no concept for it. Let us say it is pure sensibility, pure affect, without which no object can be experienced (‘thoughts without contents are blind’). Kant would further his argument in terms of introducing another correlation between intuition and concept—intuitions without concepts are empty. From the latter correlation we can obtain the conception that freedom (which is the result of the intuition of time and space initially producing an awareness of boundaries and limitations in which alone freedom can operate) cannot be actually free until it is given to cognizability or to the categories of understanding. So far this is Copernican—actuality is produced by the a prioris being made to reduce objects to conforming to reason. Yet we all know that as a consequence of Kant’s Newtonian view of science objects cannot of their own making conform to cognition. Objects are inert in a Newtonian universe. Cognition must rather make objects behave according to its designs which correspond to the categories of understanding. But, realistically speaking, this is only half-Copernican.
Recall here that freedom is what allowed the perspectival shift. It is not cognition that makes objects conform to it, rather something entirely non-cognitive, practical, to say the least. As we have emphasized in the preceding section, freedom has to be cognizable first before it can penetrate human understanding. Thus, what the Copernican revolution is all about is the cognizability of freedom to allow the perspectival shift to transform our scientific view of the world. And yet freedom is not an a priori for it to be cognizable. Even as a practical value, it cannot be recognized as performativity until the a prioris are suspended—in other words, the a prioris have to be first tested. They have to be there all along, at least, for Kant.
Nonetheless, the necessary presence of the a prioris does not prove anything. They cannot be assuming the necessary had not something entirely non-cognitive allowed their necessity. For purposes of consistency, the non-cognitive that we are referring here must not be a part of pure reason (its practical side) otherwise freedom would lose its integrity as that which purely allows the perspectival shift, a change of method of acquiring knowledge (from Ptolemaic to the Copernican) precisely because it would simply be the other side of pure reason, yet the same pure reason allowing its other side to maintain its self-coherence, calling the shots. Thus, there is no point to the assumption that the change of perspective initiated by Copernicus in science (and extended to philosophy by Kant) is made possible by the pure exercise of freedom, not reason, either intellectual or practical, rather by pure willing, or the will to truth that is irreducible to cognition and the cognizability of its practical value.
But to insist that it is pure willing would entirely belie Kant’s Copernican revolution. Certainly in the sense of will to truth Kant anticipates the ascetic ideal that Nietzsche accuses him of endorsing beneath his famous exhortation to dare use the full powers of reason. In a nutshell, the ascetic (nihilistic) ideal means that with the collapse of reason (prefigured in Kant by the annulment of reason to give room for faith) only the will can provide comfort. Yet even the will has to be suspended for it was the will in the pure sense that encouraged the will to truth (the change of perspective from Ptolemy to Copernicus and now to the ever-increasing complexity of science that corresponds to the complexity of its objects of study) that shattered the illusion of willing that truth is attainable. Nonetheless, in spite of appearances, the will itself must be saved, as Nietzsche speaks of the last resort of the ascetic (in On the Genealogy of Morals).
I would like to end here with a question: Can we now say with utmost clarity (the dogmatic side of our position vis-à-vis Kant’s own) that to save the appearance of health, sanity and virtuous living, of necessity the ascetic must take substance abuse to a secure path?
A Rehearsal in Anti-correlationism
1. With mathematical proofs, for the first time, as Kant says, objects are made to conform to cognition. But if we pay close attention to this formulation the success of mathematics not only lies in objects being made to conform to a cognitive design but also, seemingly, in a pre-existing correlation between mind and object. That seems to be the revolution ignited by mathematical science, a revolution that would change the intellectual landscape of Europe that was long before divided between dogmatic and skeptical persuasions. This revolution however was more than what it had been acknowledge for.
2. If we are to radicalize this revolution in terms of the conditions of possibility of knowledge, mathematical science discovered the critical correlation between mind and object, and for there to be something like an objective conformity to mathematical proofs this correlation must pre-exist mathematics. Naively put, take away one term in the correlation and there would be no mathematical proof. So far that makes sense. But, in spite of appearances, this correlation exhibits a metaphysical tendency. Taken to its extreme, the pre-existing correlation between mind and object guarantees a certain positive telos to our quest for certainty. It may take time to achieve certainty but it is guaranteed by the correlation. But this telos is not only applicable to the future but much more to the past. Here, we can mention a certain intelligible design or the metaphysics of a pre-ordered cosmos.
3. For instance, what can we make of phenomena that preceded the advent of human intelligence? Certainly, there was no correlation in this dimension of the past when humans were yet to emerge in the planet. What about the Big Bang? What about the Nebulae theory of Kant (with Laplace) when certainly there was no human in the scene? By invoking the correlation in the investigation of past phenomena, we end up with the anthropic principle—that the universe is created such that it would evolve into a situation in which physical and organic conditions are ripe for the emergence of the human species. This is obviously metaphysical in the dogmatic sense—what appeared to be independent of all experiences, which is how we define metaphysics, suddenly becomes without explication dependent on human emergence. In other words, there is no metaphysics apart from the fact that human signification forces its realization into exclusive communicable codes.
4. Initially, this answers the question of the possibility of metaphysics. It was there all along, but, as Althusser would put it, reified. As a human disposition it was there already but whether it can lead to any real knowledge is questionable, especially, when a metaphysician does not acknowledge his self-generating power to do metaphysics, meaning, when he otherwise believes that metaphysics is independent of the immanent conditions of reasoning that can produce metaphysics. But only metaphysics can redeem itself from its pre-critical disposition, hence, the reason Kant calls his metaphysics critical. In other words, metaphysics cannot be deployed to understand the world itself but only how our own faculties deploy themselves in understanding and judging our own acts. This makes critical metaphysics a proper ethical discipline. Put in radical terms, however, the world is unknown to a self-understanding reason, that we cannot approach the world through the categories of reason. Now, there’s the rub.
5. We cannot understand the world but can will a world instead that will have to be unknown to reason granting that Kant is right about the world resistant to human categories. In the final analysis, the correlation between mind and world or nature or anything outside the mind holds tight in Kant. There has to be an unknown world for there to be a cognitive activity and this world has to be willed rather than understood. Let us say, in light of contemporary problems, there has to be climate change, an ungraspable phenomenon after all by virtue of its occurrence in the world that is resistant to human signification, for there to be such response as mitigation and reduction of carbon emissions. What this formulation neglects, aside from the absurdity it conveys, is that by rendering the world unknown we deny our contribution to how this world turns out to be. We cannot know if our carbon emissions are really changing the physical laws of the planet. Does this amount to stating that we have all the reasons to deny that climate change is happening and that it is happening because of the way we have treated the world as unresponsive to human acts? The culprit in this form of climate change denial is the presupposition that humans must will a world according to how they structure their minds, and they have obviously structured their minds in such a way that the world is for the mind a potential for metaphysics to become dogmatic in terms of applying metaphysics to the world. (This prefigures the ascetic ideal that Nietzsche attributed to Kant—the subtle but dangerous denial of the world). But the consequence of not applying metaphysics to the world reveals a more dangerous tendency: the world is turned into an unresponsive hyperobject which puts the blame of climate change on the world itself by not being responsive to human abuse which could have otherwise rechanneled human inertia into to a more desirable direction. The world becomes a hyperobject in proportion to how it is blown out of proportion by giving it incredible substances and properties such as would fit the cognitive construction of a world indifferent to human values. Here, we can see the danger of Kantian correlation that puts much premium on the subject which alone can mobilize the correlation such as between mind and object.
6. Another problematic value we can detect in the Kantian correlation is, where there is a mind objects can be made to become part of a cognitive design which makes objects belong to nature. The reason I mention nature here has something to do with the function of mathematics to science. Through mathematics, science can naturalize objects in terms of determining them as a prioris of the mathematical mind, which is also a scientific mind. Through mathematical proofs science can make objects belong to a domain called Nature that, in spite of appearances, is constructed by man, contrary to the prevailing claim that Nature is non-constructible by man. There is a particular man invoked here, that is, the mathematical or scientific man, not man in the universal sense. But this man is also a metaphysical term in the dogmatic sense for it conceals its particularity in mathematical and scientific activity. Taking Heidegger’s cue, this is no less a metaphysics of subjectivity.
7. Another metaphysical value we can identify with these mathematical and scientific endeavours (as Kant understood them) has something to do with how through mathematics science constructs Nature. There is no Nature to begin with other than what science can determine of objects that conform to its idea of what constitutes Nature. Science can determine objects as prioris in a constructible domain of Nature in the sense of naturalizing them. What we obtain here is a politics of nature, or naturalizing Nature by non-natural means, not Nature, say, as wilderness or untamed. We can say this is metaphysical in the sense that we are led to believe that Nature is an objective phenomenon, totally apart from human signification or construction. In this light, there is the Heideggerian sense of concealment.
8. But, and this goes through the heart of Heidegger’s concept of aletheia: what gets unconcealed or really discovered in the process of scientific naturalization of objects are those objects which cannot be placed under scientific experiment guided by empirical and theoretical principles, after much scientific work is done. These unconcealed objects challenge the a prioris of scientific mind. For instance, what about objects of nature such as those produced by a mysterious leap of genetic mutation? These molecular objects are produced by sheer chance and accident. They cannot become part of the constructible design of scientific a prioris. By all means it is an Event, that is to say, it is unpredictable. Hence, they escape the categories of understanding or the a priori principles of reason.
9. Most crucially, concerning the status of objects, what becomes of the debris or waste materials generated by scientific experiments, and those by technological and economic production spurred by scientific advancement? As waste or toxic materials, are they still part of the constellation of objects determined by science as belonging to Nature? When these toxic materials penetrate the earth’s crust, they are assuming the function of Nature in the sense that they are determining the laws of life on earth, but no longer Nature as it were for they are not induced by Nature understood as that which stands apart from humans capable of doing science that is capable of naturalizing Nature. Certainly, they are induced through the uncanny concept of scientific Nature extended into technological and biopolitical forms of inventing Nature to be harnessed for human ends. Now, the question we raise for Kant—what is the reality of this Nature he is talking about when he mentions mathematics and science as determinative of objects of Nature according to certain definable a prioris?
10. But it is more complicated than that. The necessary dualism that is invoked by science in constructing Nature from not-yet-constructible Nature, or the Alien Other that is yet to penetrate the language of science through placing this Other under scientific experiment by means of validating and nullifying a given hypothesis, becomes non-functional in the sense that the real dualism that is secretly invoked by science is to be found rather within a self-dividing act of the scientific mind. In other words, the scientific mind traverses both the constructible and the not-yet-constructible. But the not-yet-constructible is also given in advance by a constructing mind of science or what belongs to Nature not-yet. This not-yet Nature is illegitimate until science can make objects in the not-yet conform to what is intelligible based on a given set of a prioris. In the final analysis, there is no dualism between mind and Nature, or between phenomena and noumena, from the objective or non-subjective standpoint. But this standpoint is impossible. No science can occupy an external objective standpoint. There is only dualism from a strictly subjective standpoint. Hence, there are no real objects to begin with. The radical implication of which is to deny climate change, for instance. What is climate change if not the phenomenon of objects asserting they are real? That is to say, real in the sense that they cannot be tamed by the categories of reason.
In light of our ecological crisis, this calls for a new approach to objects. But there are only real subjects, arguing from what we can radicalize of Kant. Again, back to the metaphysics of subjectivity.
These nomadic people, arguably from Austronesian descent, will know how to rebuild their lives from the ruins as had their ancestors during the Last Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago when villages were drowned by melting polar glaciers.
My father’s town is now barely recognizable, his place of origin, a place that taught him how to swim. No one in the town was a stranger to the sea; they knew of sea monsters, strange creatures frolicking behind the sea crests, outlines on a bubbly, treacherous canvass of a moonlit Pacific that is home to pearls. Finding their ways on plateaus to create a people whose myths were those of pearls, tectonic treasures of molten memories buried deep beneath the roaring earth, these pearls inspired ferment, revolutions, music and poetry of resistance against all types of war machines of the great Atlantic dream. Shy of accepting defeat in a face-to-face combat against the natives, once, the Americans scorched the entire region, rendering the soil unfit for agriculture for decades to come. Faced with the wrath of either glaciers or hellish contraption, the natives nonetheless proved their resilience. They were nomadic.
Looking at the pictures of destruction wreaked by Yolanda, I wonder if my father would have a word to say—against imperial America, against the waves, against the looters of his town’s treasures feeding up the global rich who, with the help of native elites, then and now, continue to conspire against their remaining wealth, their bodies, surpluses of biopower that fuel the machines of global capital. Economists call these surpluses ‘domestic helpers’. Indeed, when economy has something to say about a person’s character by the intensity she can offer, it is when economy traces its genealogy in morals. Most of my relatives (who were at one point employed as OFWs) living in the region however choose to ignore the label. (I haven’t heard from them since after the devastation). It is something they are neither proud nor shameful. Nomadic bloods running in their veins, these people are ardent believers in the economy to come. For the time being let things run their course. All that is solid will soon melt into thin air.
I heard a story from a survivor of Bohol earthquake, weeks before Yolanda, that people were seeing ghostly strangers. It was not difficult to detect who is a neighbour or stranger in a town galvanized by a myth. But a stranger has a role to perform (the stranger as a performative principle)—to warn of the unpredictable. These apparitions were complemented by animal cries at night that they were mistaking for those of creatures whose existence they only learned from legends and myths—whatever cry they could make, these creatures have only been in existence in as far as people could divine an acoustic image. Apparitions and acoustic image—both warn of the coming of the unspeakable, of the aneconomy, of the amoral, the epiphany of an ancient formerity. The myth as a leveling political imaginary.
But this time we have to arm this myth with the weapon of the speculative, a myth folded, redoubled. With a power to heal and forget—we will have to forge a new myth, create a new island, a new people, a new consciousness of earth and ocean, a new second creation.
As flood myths have always taught people of deserted islands, creating a new myth will have to be preceded by a leveling cataclysm, not to mention a new people’s consciousness — in the words of Deleuze, radical and absolute (Desert Islands). It is in this sense that a power to heal and forget can be lethal. Beware, defenders of moral economy!
A new literature is about to unfold.
1. Estado ng Matinding Kalungkutan (http://s0metim3s.com/2013/11/11/storms/)
Originally posted on My Desiring-Machines:
Back in April I posted a translation of the first half of this excellent blog post by Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago. I finally had time to complete the (rough) translation.
Urban counter-hegemonies for transforming Madrid
Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago (March 8, 2015)
My translation of the original Spanish
Two weeks ago we participated in an event organized by the Right to the City Circle of Podemos that, under the rubric of Reboot Madrid, served as a space of debate to encourage ideas in alliance with Ganemos and Podemos, the formations that – currently and under the name ‘Ahora Madrid’ (Madrid Now) – converged in a joint bid of the popular front in the next elections to the City Council of Madrid. The discussion in the forum on urbanism (there were three more, on local democracy, urban economics, and rights and social inclusion) was animated, with an audience primarily made up of veteran professionals but…
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‘The crash soft epidermal’- Dean Baker on how each attempt to discard a myth in one’s skin rekindles the skin that knows a thing or two-to touch and be touched.
Between night and nothingness is this lack that looks at you in return…
Originally posted on alterities - sublime hysterics and the unconscious:
Kafka on emptying oneself out to bare one’s lack as space for love through first going into the dark repulsive places of nightly writing.
“By renewing texts of the past in the present”: Deleuze sustains this intensive form of creation in his concept of second origin as original creation. Thanks for sharing.
Originally posted on My Desiring-Machines:
&&& (Triple Ampersand) just released an English translation of a “near-complete transcription/ lecture notes taken by a student enrolled in the earliest recorded course offered by Gilles Deleuze, What is grounding? (Qu’est-ce que fonder?).” It is free and open-access; all you need to do is provide your email address to receive a download link.
It is the first text to be released as part of &&&’s MÉMOIRES INVOLUNTAIRE series, whose mission, as the editors describe it, is:
“interven[ing] in the prevelant (sic) understandings of cultural, theoretical, and other literary canons by renewing texts of the past in the present, for the construction of alternate futures. By disturbing collective memories that have either forgotten about such works or were never aware of them originally, the series not only invigorates memory, but also intensifies imagination.”
Very exciting news!